Sitting at my computer thinking today is a day I would be riding my Sparkle Plenty. The leaves are red and gold, new green is spreading across earth dampened from autumn rain, air crisp, invigorating… a deep inhale of the exuberant breath of the season. I am not riding. I am at the computer. I haven’t ridden for a year. Due to the physical changes of lives long and well lived Sparkle Plenty and I are retired. The fluidity of body is crystallizing. She is twenty-five years old and I am seventy-one in just over a month. Even as our bodies stiffen our spirits expand. I go out to the pasture and she greets me with ears erect, eyes alive with expectation of goodies and grooming, head held high in anticipation and then she canters, a bit stiff legged, up to my heart. I love this horse, I have loved her from her birth. I and my beloved recently returned from a first time trip to the Hawaiian Island of Kauai and I did not feel grounded until I hugged my Sparkle Plenty and I rested my head on her rump listening to the rhythmic sound of her chewing the grass hay I brought her.
Tom Dorrance writes in True Unity, “Often when working with riders and their horses, I will mention the need for self-preservation; this to me includes the physical and the mental – and a third factor. I’ve been trying for some time to think of words to get this third factor to where it comes to light; to show how it blends in with the other two – physical and the mental. It is the least mentioned, but I am beginning to believe it is the most important factor to recognize: the rider needs to recognize the horse’s need for self-preservation in Mind, Body and the third factor, Spirit. He needs to realize what that means to the horse so he can benefit from what it is in the horse, what it means to the horse. He needs to realize how the person’s approach can assure the horse that he can have his self preservation and still respond to what the person is asking him to do. This is going to be a useful thing to both the person and the horse.”
Spirit – is it not spirit and freedom in spirit manifested in horse that first brought us front and center into the world of horses? Are stories still written as they were when I became enamored of horse spirit? The Stories of indomitable spirit and heart when horse and human were brought together in immense challenge and companionship? Marguerite Henry, Sam Savitt, Walter Farley, Will James, C.W. Anderson and of course the all time classic Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Spirit comes first. We just forget in the process of learning the mechanics of tools and integrating tools with living beings. We are the tool maker, we harness power with tools. And so we learn about harnessing the power of horse with the implementation of halters, ropes, bits and bridles, saddles and cinches. Which bit to use when, what saddle works best for the job at hand, how should weight be distributed? And the horse is to stand still while we work out the correct type and use of the tools we have created until the horse itself becomes a tool to be manipulated. “Just livestock,” as one person said to me.
We are living, thankfully, in a time when horse spirit is being validated. Explorers of this new relationship include: the McCormick Family, authors of Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path; Linda Kohanov, author of The Tao of Equus and Riding Between the Worlds; Mark Rashid, author of A Horse Never Lies and Considering the Horse. At the leading edge of research into the horse human relationship are the Therapeutic Equine Programs, especially EGALA, Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association with many certified Equine Assisted Psychotherapy programs across the US.
My passion for horses is still there but showing up at a new level of relationship and spirit. I peruse the old books and stories and explore new stories and horse-human dynamics. I find connection in all of it and the connection is SPIRIT. Sparkle’s spirit and my spirit have danced and embraced over time, place, and life changes. When I lean into her warmth, her energy, her soul, I wonder afterwards how I will ever live without her.