You can't lie to a horse.
This is what I've heard over and over from the various teachers and mentors who are considered "expert horse-people." Horses evolved alongside humans over the past hundreds of thousands of years with no defensive mechanisms apart from their strong legs and emotional intuition. From a small prey animal the size of a dog to the tall and powerful beings they are today, the journey of the horse is inextricable from the journey of humanity. And, as prey animals coexisting with predators (that's us folks!) they have had to develop an uncanny sense of emotional intelligence. They can perceive your intentions before you do, and they react accordingly. You can't lie to a horse, mentors will say, and the horse never lies to you.
I don't remember the first time I rode (I was probably around four or five) but I do remember the feeling of riding without thought when I was about ten years old. Eddie was a little stocky pony and one day in the ring, we clicked. I couldn't tell where my legs ended and his began. His feet pounded the sand and I *felt* it in the soles of my feet. It seems to me that moments when the lines of the self are blurred and expanded are few and far between. Something to be celebrated and wondered at. And, a free gift of connection.
Perhaps it was a distant memory of that connection that gave me the emotional push to start looking for a horse this past fall. I remember hounding my parents each Christmas while growing up, and going out to the backyard each year looking for the surprise pony that would surely be waiting. It never came (and that was probably a good thing in retrospect). Whatever it was, I found myself being handed a lead rope on a brisk November morning and a smiling woman said, "Here he is." And then, indeed, there he was! One thousand pounds of muscle, curiosity, desire-for-cookies, and intuition waiting to see what I would do.
We walked to the field. After all, you can't lie to a horse, so I needed to let him know that I was confident and friendly. Inside I was wondering - can I really do this? He's so much bigger than me? What if I get it wrong?
I've spent the last four months wondering those questions from time to time, and thank God, they're getting fewer and farther between. But not the way I expected. I'm learning from him, Tom (who had about fifteen names before one seemed to stick...and I'll occasionally call him by one of the other names!). I'm learning that it's OK for me to take up space - as a woman in this society that is not a natural resting posture. I'm learning that there's my time...and then there's horse time. I'm learning that when something goes wrong, I need to examine how I'm making the request rather than thinking "What's wrong with him today?" The question becomes "What am I actually communicating with my body right now?"
You can't lie to a horse, and a horse won't lie to you.
If I'd known how much personal transformation would be invited by bringing Tom to our farmstead - I honestly don't know if I would have had the courage. And, I know that I'll continue to be surprised with new learning every time I walk over to him - in ways that I cannot even imagine or guess. What comes to me, more than anything else, is a sometimes overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the learning, gratitude for his ability to let a predator animal climb all over him (there was a moment in which I hadn't fastened the cinch properly and I was scrabbling all over his side as if he were a haystack. He stood stone still and sighed.), and gratitude for the opening up of truth from his eyes to mine.
In the coming years, Jonathan and I are planning to continue our work with horses. To even deepen our connection and work with a draft horse for occasional collection of firewood and moving round bales. Rather than cultivating a relationship with a tractor, we'll be cultivating a relationship with another creature. Another being who loves, wonders, plays, and desires. What a gift. What an opportunity. What a grounding in gratitude.
"Ask the beasts of the field and they will teach you the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In her hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind." Job 12:7-10