When I ride Theo, this is the world she takes me to. My focus turns inward and my emotions turn on. When I am with my horse, I feel more than analyze, move more than ponder, accept instead of judge.
Her unity with the outside world is so absolute that I have no choice but to follow her into it. I must stop thinking about deadlines and the grocery list and the clinic I'm scheduled to give next month because they have no place in the world my equine guide is showing me. I can't help but open my eyes to what she sees and my ears to what she hears. I note the flicker of a cottontail disappearing into the brush ahead and hear the call of the meadowlark before spotting it. I swim in her quiet.
|What I have learned about hallowed places is that my altars and shrines are where horses run.|
As minutes tick by to the rhythm of Theo's hooves, my most timid inner voice begins to speak. It is timid because it is accustomed to being drowned by the clatter of the world I live in away from Theo. With a horse in my company and a horse in my consciousness, I am guided. Alone with this guide mare, the voice raises itself to remark on the beauty and variability of the creation around me, on the difference even a slight breeze feels brushing my bare arms, on the fact that spring smells like a greeting while fall holds the scent of things past. I find myself reassured that, no matter how much my material world changes, the world Theo takes me to offers constants I can return to again and again without ever wearing them out. Making my way through a moment with my horse, I am reminded of what is enduring and what is only passing, and this reminder helps me put my daily challenges into healthier perspective.
While we are journeying, Theo's animal spirit envelops me. Her breathing rises to match my breathing. Her animal warmth becomes my warmth. If Theo weren't carrying me into her moment, I could find a moment of my own, but it would not be the same. It is in part the softness of fur against my skin, the sparkle of her coat in the sun, and the warmth of her existence warming my existence that lifts me out of the corporeal world and gently sets me in a spiritual one. I become the goddess who is alive to the fullest only when astride her mare.
One of the spiritual riches that have been wrung out of modern life is the luxury of meditation, which takes the form of prayer for some people but takes many other forms, as well. Meditation offers us an oasis of rest from the spiritually parched stretches of our daily travels. It is an act that calls upon us to set aside the mundane and immediate and seek the mystical and universal. To me, the essence of meditation is any personal time given over to reflection that feeds the soul, a time--in the words of aviatrix and author Beryl Markham--when "I think, I ponder, I recall a hundred things--little things, foolish things that come to me without reason and fade again." .
Horses give us a place where we may meditate. I recently participated in a workshop on creativity and empowerment for women in the second half of their lives. Each workshop began with a period when we were to turn inward in a way I was unaccustomed to: within walls and in human company. With practice, I was able to find my quiet place in this new setting but, whenever I succeeded, I felt as if I were with Theo! In Eastern cultures, people often create altars in their homes or visit shrines where they meditate. What I have learned about hallowed places is that my altars and shrines are where horses run....
The Indian spiritual and political leader Mohandas K. Gandhi said that fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. I like to think he was pointing out that until we face life and our own hearts with confidence, we will lack the courage to venture beyond the concrete and familiar into the more intangible realm of the sacred.
Theo and my other horses have not made me fearless. I'm not sure I know anybody who is totally without fear. But my horses have led me toward fearlessness. The physicality required to work successfully with a horse has given me confidence in my body. The uncanny way horses reveal my feelings and nature, good and bad, has conditioned me to candor with myself and others.
Horses put distance between me and the trepidations that might otherwise lay hold of me. In their company, I feel my apprehensions falling away and my spirit rising on the updraft of growing confidence. I look around and find I am no longer tethered to the earth. The cares that weigh me down are temporarily lifted. I touch the clouds and hear the whispers of the divine.
In tribal cultures, there is a recurrent theme of humans coming into the world under the stewardship of a specific animal that confers its own characteristic strengths upon its horse.No doubt I was born under the stewardship for the horse. The attributes I wish for myself are the attributes I find in horses: power, athleticism, confidence, respect, honesty, trust, sensitivity, calm, peace, and a capacity to be at rest and ease in an outdoor environment. When Theo is excited, she seems to grow with her excitement: She arches her neck, she prances. When I am dancing or animated by excitement, I think of the spirit and energy of my horse, and I will the same into my motions. By claiming her spirit for myself, it becomes part of me.
The horse is my talisman and my guide. It is the spirit I claim for myself and the leader I trust to carry me beyond my material world into a holier place. The horse is not every woman's talisman. For one woman it may be the cat, for another the bird, for still another a wild creature she may never see but can always dream of. We know we have found our own talisman when we touch an image or presence that lifts us out of our material world and carries us so high above it that we begin to see the threads that connect us to the rest of the universe.