I have always resonated with John Welwood’s words and the simple wisdom represented in his books and essays. As I was reading these words I recalled a session I had many years ago with a client. She had traveled far to join me and the horses at Epona for a 4 day intensive. As an accomplished equestrian and a successful psychologist she had experience and a room full of knowledge. Like many others who are drawn to this work with horses, she was seeking the implicit knowing that comes only from direct experience. (see Implicit Knowing versus Explicit Knowledge).
She engaged in a variety of equine experiences both on the ground and mounted on the horse. I had a body worker come in for a massage and we practiced daily the Spring Forest form of QiGong. Her busy life with a husband, a child, and a full psychotherapy practice was put on hold. She fell in love with Noche, our wise older Mustang. I believe Noche helped her “listen to the wind singing in her veins”. I asked her towards the end of our time together what she wanted to take away from her experience. She replied simply and with an open heart, “Noche told me all I needed to do was Breathe.”
I was touched by this simple statement. It is a constant reminder for me to remember that “pure consciousness” only happens when we drop all of our doing, our roles and live fully in the moment between each breath.
The following story is told by one of my students about her experience with a client and a horse called JR. As she told me about this experience I found myself with tears rolling down my face and was deeply moved by JR’s wisdom and her courage to trust her heart, her intuition and his guidance. She said this was an example of what is possible when we allow the horses to do their work.
In the Company of Horses:
J.R. is a 14 year old registered Paint gelding, retired from mounted shooting competition. A gentle giant weighing between 1400 and 1500 pounds, this sweet soul is always honest and present for any client who wishes to learn more about life.
This day a man enters the round pen, not by his own accord but assisted by another young man, pushing the wheel chair that as of late has become part of his life. The man appeared to be in his 50’s, worn and tired as addiction will do to a person. It was apparent by the scars that this man has experienced extreme trauma in his lifetime and struggles to survive. The trauma even took his legs. J.R. retreats to the rail of the round pen, where he waits a few minutes assessing the situation. With J.R on the lead line, we approach the man whom I will call David with soft but deliberate steps. David calls to J.R., “Please, come see me J.R.” J.R. approaches David, breathing in information as his nose connects to the tips of David’s fingers. David responds, “Hello, J.R., it is so good to meet you.” David reaches to rub J.R.’s neck and smiles. Continuing to talk to J.R. and maintaining touch, I am able to see David’s body relax, along with his breathing. David is unable to identify his feelings as he shut down years ago as a way to survive, or at least exist. David leaves the round pen, his face brighter than when he entered. The rest of the group continues to make their personal introductions to JR.
Today’s activity would allow the clients to work on trust, communication, and letting go. It involved leading the horse around obstacles in the round pen. It was David’s turn for the obstacle course. He wanted desperately to participate, but knew it wouldn’t be easy getting around in the sand. The group sat in silence, watching and waiting to see what might be possible. Again, a fellow client says to him, “Hey man, I’ll push you around the obstacles; we can do this.” David engaged without hesitation. They again enter the round pen.
With safety in the forefront, I asked David if I could be part of his team as a buffer between him and J.R.This would be new for J.R.; being led by a person in a wheelchair.
I wanted David to have this experience, but it would have to be safe for him to do so. Again, J.R. was given plenty of time to acclimate to the wheel chair along with the sound of the wheels going through the sand. We started out very slow. We created our grouping with J.R. on a lunge line, then myself, and finally David holding the end of the line. As I monitored J.R.’s response, I noticed his head lower; his neck was soft, and his eyes kind and gentle. There were a total of 4 obstacles. As we walked the perimeter of the round pen, past obstacle number 2, J.R. seemed to turn his nose into my chest ever so softly and I let go of the rope, still maintaining my spot in the group.
Continuing on, J.R again touched me gently and this time I stepped out of position ever so slightly. J.R. began to align with the wheelchair, maintaining a respectful distance. Past the final obstacle, it was David and J.R. in partnership. We came to a stop and J.R. again circled David in the chair, acknowledging each of David’s visible scars, focusing especially on the burn on his arm. David was quiet. J.R. then positions himself close to David, putting his head on David’s shoulder. David wraps his arm around J.R.’s neck for a long embrace and says “thank you J.R., thank you.”
I asked David what he would be able to take away from today. His response…”J.R. likes me. It doesn’t matter what I look like.” As he was wheeled out of the round pen, his group members gave a clap that could have been confused with thunder. The group was very emotional.
Though this story is about the connection between J.R. and David, everyone there was touched by this sentient being. I feel so honored to witness these acts of courage. As I learned early on in my journey; miracles happen when in the company of horses.