Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Lesson from Sonny

I am finding myself at a loss for words recently. And I don’t miss them. There is something important that I need to find in the space where there is no speaking or writing.  I discovered this while I was up at Blue Star Equiculture a few weeks ago, working on a project with Pamela and Paul.  As I was videotaping a group of Ag students who were taking a class on working with draft horses, I saw that the moments that were most expressive and beautiful were the one where people and horses were communicating without speaking. 

Pamela gives everyone who comes there the opportunity to open themselves up to new experiences, which can sort of naturally leads to facing one’s fears. It occurs in a remarkable atmosphere of no pressure or expectations or judgment, with an enormous amount of encouragement and freedom.  That was how I found myself in a stall with Sonny, the young stallion rescued from near starvation who was so weak that he fell and fractured his pelvis a few months ago.  One morning, when I asked Pamela if she needed help, she suggested that I groom Sonny and rub him down with towels soaked in warm water and Absorbine. 

Sonny is a sweetheart, with a twinkle of mischief and a fair dose of pent-up energy, healing and feeling frisky after being confined for so long as part of his recovery process.  The grooming was not a problem since I did not feel any anxiety about doing it.  The rubdown with the towels was more challenging.  Sonny was safely haltered and tied with a lead rope, so all he could really do was swing his back end from side to side.  As I lifted the wet, warm towel onto his back, I could see he wasn’t sure if he was going to like it.  Pamela magically appeared to stand by his head outside the stall and offer us encouragement. 

Gradually, Sonny stood still and started to enjoy the soothing rubdown. I relaxed until I had to go around to his left side, which was close to the wall.  I imagined him swinging back, knocking me against the wall, and I could feel my adrenaline rising. Ever since I broke my right arm, I have a serious fear of re-injuring it.  I stopped and stood quietly breathing, with one hand on Sonny’s back before I lifted the wet towel.  In that moment, I felt this strong similarity between Sonny and my Siete. She knows how to push my buttons, and I sometimes feel weak compared to her young, vital strength.

It was that moment of knowing what I was about to do needed to happen, but also seeing the potential danger if the horse decided to challenge me or over-react.  I had to step through my fear - not by pretending that it didn’t exist-  but by asking the horse to work with me to keep me safe.  It didn’t involve words, it involved some highly emotional silent communication between me and Sonny that permitted me to relax and trust him. He let me know he understood where I was coming from.  I lifted the towel to his back and rubbed him with it. Everything was fine. Still,  I knew I wasn’t done yet.  After doing that side, I went back around, re-soaked the towel and did the other side again. Then, I came back next to the wall and cleared my mind of all thoughts except for how good and healing this rubdown was for Sonny.  Later, Pamela reminded me that it’s not about the horse, it’s about you and what you are feeling.

So, since I’ve returned home from this visit, I’ve given Siete a lot more attention, telling her how much I love her, what a good little horse she is and how beautiful she looks. She loves it.  I realized that I have felt guilty for a long time about how I care for Silk so much, like a mother favoring one of her children over the other.  I had jokingly given Siete the nickname “Punky”.  She does challenge me regularly to see if she can get away with it. My reaction is usually, really? Why now, when I’m feeling tired or my arm aches or I’m in a hurry.  Which is, of course, exactly why she is doing it – to teach me to wake up, stand strong, be more patient. She's helping me, just like Sonny was. 

Pamela has been saying that Chief Philip Whiteman, the Northern Cheyenne Elder and revered horseman who is coming to Blue Star this weekend, believes that horses are the Creator’s Universal tool to help mankind be better in every possible way.  My husband and I will be meeting him in a few days to take part in his Medicine Wheel Model workshop.  I have no idea what I will experience, but I am going there with no expectations, an open heart and the strong sense that we are being given a very special gift.  It will be interesting to see what Silk and Siete think about it when I return.