As we prepare for the upcoming season around the barns and yards, I am reminded why it is that I decided to pursue activities in the field of equine assisted wellness. It began one fine day, when a friend and I were very content, chatting away a lazy, summer afternoon grooming our horses. I suddenly realized that when humans and horses come together, some very marvelous and beneficial things can happen - especially if we are aware of the possibility and take steps to facilitate it. That pursuit has taken a few different forms and I am now partnered in a small endeavour where two of us humans and our horses are enhancing lives by facilitating equine assisted experiences for healthcare groups, corporate interests, entrepreneurs, youth organizations and a few others. It's fun, interesting, intuitive, creative, rewarding, fulfilling - all of those things that you would expect when you happen to direct yourself into a field of activity that allows you to express your passion. There are surprising, revealing, touching and learning moments with every experience and there is no doubt, ever, that it's so worthwhile.
Today, I am thinking about a young man who will be coming weekly to visit with the horses. He came out weekly all last summer and into the fall, as long as we humans could be comfortable outside. His mom called today to say they are ready to hit the road and I was so happy to receive that call! Matthew (name changed) and his family live with the particular challenges of Down Syndrome and he is always accompanied by one or two family members for the outing which is a chance for a nice drive, the visit here, a fun meal out. For my part, I am here at the barn, with the horses, ready to spend some quiet time with them for an hour or so. No lofty goals, but rather - we take an intuitive approach and always end up doing something interesting. Grooming and carrots are a sure thing every time.
There are specific benefits in these activities that can be described in detail, but I will leave those for another kind of article because in this one I want to express, very simply, the connections I have discovered during these visits, from the perspective of a lifelong horse person who has branched into this field. Presence. Mindfulness. Being. Whatever you choose to call it, there is a gift that comes to me - from Matthew and his family - every time we get together. First, it's the reminder of - that 'thing' - that feeling - that original discovery the first time that I 'got' it - or rather - was reminded of it from so many years earlier. A child's intuition. And then, I am reminded of the connection to the affinities we share with the horse that make this special engagement work. Their presence, their mindful nature that they model so well for us. I discover yet another nuance with every visit.
Here's the deal with horses. In general, they come to us with the broad slate of possible archetypes that we have created for them. We have such a long history together - in myth, literature and everyday life. Most of that history involves the horse as a utility animal, working for us, in some way or another, to achieve some human objective such as - fighting on the battlefield - plowing a field - transporting us around town, the city, the world - carrying freight - competing in a sport - providing us with fun recreation. There is much 'doing' in all of those things and usually limited time to be quiet together, without agenda, because - that isn't really the main objective.
So, when most people come to interact with the horse, usually the first notion that comes to mind is - what does this horse 'do' to serve people or what will he/she do to serve me? What gear will I need to put on this horse and what 'training' will I have to do to reach my goal? Who else will be involved, where will we go, what will we do there and what does that future activity look like? Let's schedule all of that and get to it.
Most of us come to the horse with a very specific 'to do' list of objectives and needs already all mapped out in our minds, but - not Matthew. See, he is one of those rare people who has a different kind of relationship with the horse. It's not more complicated, or more sophisticated or more of anything - it's actually less of everything and has none of the baggage or expectations of some future accomplishment that must be attained. It's the very relationship that so many of us horse folks sought in the beginning of our journey with the horse. At one point we just wanted to - be with a horse. Yep. That was the original dream, the seed, the thing that kept us up reading horse books under the covers until the wee hours, planning a way to figure out how to get near a horse and be there in the same space. Smell that smell. Feel that silky coat, put a cheek on that warm neck. Grab a brush and hope to make a new friend through that nurturing gesture. Be present. Be. With the horse. We already knew - there would be peace and contentment in that space, if only we could just get there! Once we accomplished it, all of the 'doing' came after that and manifested in any number of ways.
When Matthew holds the brush to groom, he is so focused and gentle. It is the very definition of presence. Mindfulness. Congruence. He moves slowly, takes a deep breath now and again - like a horse does - chuckles sporadically and methodically, quietly works his way all around. He pauses often for a few seconds. Even the task of grooming becomes an act of just being and any thoughts the rest of us had about rushing through the day evaporate into thin air as we become engrossed in it ourselves. He and the horse take us there. Pause. Just - be. The lucky horse usually falls half asleep, standing in the soft breeze of the barn aisle, enjoying the attention. Who doesn't like to have their hair brushed? Connection. Appreciation. Mutuality. The horses, of course, are completely at home with this kind of mindful energy - it is their natural way of being. When we do different activities, it's the same approach. Quiet, slow, steady, focused, in the moment.
Now, someone looking on - especially someone who has a previous notion about how people usually interact with horses - might think 'there really isn't much going on there'. But, there actually is something so very huge happening and that is - the simple act of being present together, enjoying each other's company, performing a nurturing gesture like grooming - in a mindful way. There is no past and no future right there in that moment - only the present. The scientifically-proven benefits of such mindful activity are rich and will be a topic of a future post. The world's most progressive organizations are now offering mindfulness programs to their people and we are doing the same practice - with the horse.
As someone who spent some time in the 'other' horse world - the one where there is lots to do to work toward some future goal - it's such a gift to be able to live these afternoons and be reminded why I pursued this - how the horses, the humans, the mindfulness and the peace and wellbeing are all connected. When I see Matthew and the horse together in that space - I flash back to the very first time I met a real, live horse and I have the same feeling that I did then. It's such a joy to be able to share that with others, and it's why I will continue to bring horses and humans together for mutual healing experiences. Soon, Matthew will be back with the gang and we will all be transported together to that peaceful, horsey place - our little quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world - for awhile!