It was a warm, sunny, quiet and tranquil autumn afternoon in Colorado. The leaves of the scrub oaks were already brown, soon to be wind blown and piled among the trees. Above was the clear blue sky. I could hear the call of a red tailed hawk as she circled, soaring in the distance. I came to this hundred acre pasture seeking inner peace. I was reminded of so many times and places in the past where I had sought out the same sort of experience. There was very little green left amongst the dusty brown grasses. I crawled into a thicket of scrub oaks and sat cross legged on the ground.
As if in meditation I listened to my breath. I felt the coolness of the ground beneath me. Pine needles from surrounding trees poked at me. Breezes danced around my face. I listened deeply to the barely audible noises of the quiet around me. Nearby were nine horses, nibbling at grasses, watching me and making sounds of contentment. They were barely moving, but as they did they seemed to be a cohesive unit. Some lifted heads and acknowledged me with soft eyes in greeting. They treated me as if I was one of them, sensing that I had not come to impose anything upon them. I just wanted to be with them. Their sweet horse odors scented the air. Some might find the horsey smell somewhat offensive. I wanted to drink it in. I could smell the remnants of the grass that they were munching.
Horses grazing in a natural environment are content. They are aware and present, fully in each moment. Rarely do horses or humans in the world that we live in get the opportunity to experience, to be content, at peace for more than a few moments. I long to capture the essence of peace and contentment; carry it with me, reflecting on it. Mostly people try to master life, going from one task to another, and ask horses to do the same.
As the small herd begins to move past me, one horse nibbles, approaching closer in my direction, her eyes softly seeking me out. All of the horses recognize me as I am a daily visitor in their world. But this horse has begun to bond with me. We are creating a connection. We have something to share with one another. She has become my teacher and my confidant. I tell her secrets. She has never known kindness before. Her life was one of force. I call her Last Chance Candy, knowing that she was once on her way to be sold across the border as meat. At a young age she performed until crippling arthritis set in in all the delicate bones of her feet. Since she can no longer be ridden or shown, she is no longer of value. Except that I recognized her defensive, painful behavior. I can no longer ride horses as I am aging, riddled with injuries and arthritic deterioration. Candy has begun to trust me and look to me for guidance, security and safety. Her predicament expanded my consciousness. I view her as curiously as she views me. Deep down we are both seeking peace, wanting to make peace with our situations. We are creating something new together. We may not be able to work in the way we once did- but we are working together in a different way. We are purposeful and useful. We are unique. Most precious of all is that being-ness of togetherness and the peace it creates in the space we have been given. It is a gift.
The herd then progressed just over a hillside. I could see their tails swishing. Candy has chosen to be with me. She stays within just a few feet of me. I was reminded of a mother horse, waiting by the side of her foal as it sleeps.
My mind meanders back to other times, other places and seeking peace with the many horses that I have shared moments with. These spaces seemed sacred then. I wished that they had remained so. Peaceful pastures were replaced by urban development. Growing up in suburbia I had little chance to experience horses or pastoral settings. I read everything I could about horses, and watched TV shows about horses. I watched Westerns, not because I liked the Wild West, but I just wanted to see the horses. Years later I did learn the essentials regarding the usual things required by horse owners, general care, riding and training. I mastered many things and gained confidence. What I sought the most though however, was that peaceful contentment of just being with the horses, and observing the interactions of the herd in a pasture environment. It fascinated me. I communed with nature as they did. I sadly miss the large canopies, twisted branches and huge trunks of overhanging cottonwood trees. Horses often seek shelter beneath them, just as I did.
Due to old age or injury, I was present when some horses have crossed over to reap the ultimate peace in the realm of spirit. Time suspended itself in the morning hours with their passing. I sat with them and I touched them knowing that soon their physical body would be forever removed. Photos, memories and time fade and blur. Horses have so much to teach us, and remind us of sensing abilities that seem lost to us now.
I once wrote a poem asking that when I die to scatter my ashes where the wild horses run free:
There was a small band of horses,
about twenty or so,
They called forty acres of pasture their home.
They spent their days as horses do.
Grazing, socializing, swatting flies-
And trotting back and forth to the water hole
a time or two.
The mountains the perfect backdrop,
with hawks and eagles aloft.
Coyotes scratched out soft earth,
to make dens for pups.
Prairie dog and rabbit holes tripped the horses up.
Deer wandered through,
a time or two.
I sat upon old fallen cottonwood logs,
and watched the seasons change.
I felt one with the horses,
The grasses, the weeds and pasture blooms,
the sky above, the hum of insects and the flight of birds,
the fragrance of earth and manure beneath my boots.
The city took five acres along one side,
for Open Space, they said.
The new golf course bought the irrigation rights,
and built a dam.
That little bit of country at the edge of the city,
Is now a river of concrete.
What critters are left, vie for a hiding place.
Numerous little lives squashed out on the street.
Does anyone know of my silent grief?
The horses are gone,
Along with that once western tradition
of trail rides on horseback.
I’ve been a time or two.
The new shopping mall, erected a bronze statue
of a bucking bronc.
Perhaps in tribute to what has been lost.
I refuse to look at it. It brings tears to my eyes
and a lump of bile I can’t swallow to my throat.
And when I’m gone…
Scatter me where the wild horses run free.
So that I can Trail Ride through eternity.
At peace with wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
My husband took me on a trip to visit wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin of Colorado a few years ago. We camped out beneath the stars in a wild horse herd management area. For me it was one of those peak experiences one hears about. It had nothing to do with a fancy vacation. It was out in the open, raw, under masses of stars. I could hear the horses around us, not far at nighttime, but could not see them. We tracked the family bands, stallions, mares and offspring during the day. I wanted to know what they ate and where they found water, where they might find shelter. The wild horses are held by the Government on god-forsaken lands. I can’t fathom how they survive. We had several close encounters with the horses. They always stood just beyond reach. They were curious and not afraid. To me the wild horses are sentient beings, a symbol of freedom and family. They hold a sacred space on this earth, just as many other creatures do. These magnificent creatures are relegated to the harshest of environments. Cattle owners, wild life advocates and those wanting to harvest oil and minerals from the ground find the wild horses worthy of annihilation. A few of my best horse friends were removed from the wild at a young age to manage the population. They tell a story of displacement and mute acceptance to become either domesticated or destroyed. I have made peace and find contentment when creating a connection with the once wild ones. Seeking peace with them in their homelands is inspiring.
Recently peace has moved up on my list of what I value most in life. It has more to do with my own inner peace. I have been guided to seek the path that brings peace to my heart when making decisions. Asking my inner self which direction will create peace in my life is not as simple as it seems. Nor is it as difficult as I may perceive either. It certainly is a different way for me to evaluate decision making though. I am known to seek meaning in all things, and constantly ask why, why, why? Sometimes it involves not really wanting to repeat costly emotional experiences from my past. For me it has become something more. It has moved from why, to why not? I can torture myself about the why’s of a situation, or I can expand how I look at things and ask what the greater good was that came out of the difficult situation. Seeking the easier path is not always the most peaceful one.
When I can sit cross-legged on the ground and observe a horse approach me and choose to stay nearby me and she gazes at me from time to time with peace and contentment in her eyes I know I made a decision that eventually brought peace. Candy’s eyes were once filled with fear and pain. Not anymore. I know her life will be cut short one day, and that I will need to be the person to release her from debilitating pain. Until then we have each day together. There was a horse before Candy that taught me about this path. Her name was Firefly. It was painful for her and painful for me. The journey was beautiful in spite of that. It is going to that deep place inside of me to retrieve the inner peace of that journey that gave me the strength to try once more. Inner peace moved me from why, why, WHY to why not? Why would I adopt an un-rideable horse that would cost lots of money, time, energy and effort and emotional commitment and investment? Well, why not? To see her happy, content, coming when called and nickering and choosing to hang out and enjoying the life she has, well why not?
It was the path of peace for Candy and it led to the path of peace for me. I now get to join her in a beautiful hundred acre pasture where she found sanctuary and healing. This is a sacred place where I am also enjoying inner peace with horses. I have realized that in twenty-five years of experiencing horses, I have continued to seek out, find and inhale the peace of horses in a pastoral environment. The peace of these sacred beings nourishes me. This has likely been a contributing factor to the coaching/healing work that I do, partnering with horses through their experience to bring the horses’ sentient magic to humans.