So was my one-week-old foal delivering a spiritual message and facilitating emotional healing for me; or was he just attacking me for fun, or testing me? Let’s start with a bit of background…
Last August, when Kesia and I had our horses together, Kesia’s horse Amalia had a foal. So I was there for the pregnancy, there for part of the labor, and for a few months afterward. Long enough to remember that little foals – very much like puppies and kittens – have no idea of the ways their body parts can damage humans and they just want to PLAY!!
Now I must also tell you that I have something in me that brings out the bugger in kids, foals, puppies etc. Whether it’s because they instinctively sense I’m up for a bit of spunkiness, or whether they are triggered by the vein of anger that runs through me from past experiences, I’m not sure.
So stay with me as we trace a bit of a journey here through other territories – this is worthwhile because of the horse-as-mirror phenomena. And the better we can understand ourselves; our stories, our default settings, our triggers etc, the quicker we can move forward into healing and even greater relationship with our equines and humans.
This story started one day when a friend was visiting the herd and meeting Juno for the first time. He was only 7 days old so I was quite surprised when he kicked out at her hard, sideways, but about 2 feet from any point of contact. Experienced horsewoman though she is, she was still taken by surprise and she scooted sideways away from him, putting out her hands defensively to say, “No. Don’t come any closer.”
As I watched this I perceived a flame of fear/anger whoosh up her body; from the soles of her feet, up over her head. And I thought, “Oh that looks/feels familiar. She must have been in the victim position as a child.”
In my experience, those of us who grew up with a larger person (parent, sibling, school bully, etc) who repeatedly abused us physically or emotionally, in a way that forced us to be a helpless victim – over and over again – have a rage/fear response that is pretty significant. Now we may have learned to hide or mask our intense reaction – maybe even from ourselves – but kids and animals are not fooled regardless.
Still, I was kinda glad he kicked at her first and not me, as I had thought I would have a few more weeks before I’d have to deal with that! And I was not looking forward to it. Because I had not yet learned how to handle young animals wanting to spar with me. Let me explain…
Vader the Buck Goat
Before Kesia’s foal came along, there was a young unneutered goat on the property named Vader. One day I was filling slow feeders in the barn and he rose up on his hind legs and charged at me. Well, this triggered my 7 years of martial arts training (karate, tae kwon do and kickboxing) and I gave him a front push kick off his horns to send him back away from me.
I tell you, if you’ve ever seen a goat react with utter glee, that was Vader as he realized the game had gone to a whole new, delicious level. He charged me over and over again as I blocked his charges with kicks to his horns. Personally I was amazed my aim was so good (I didn’t want to hurt him, so aimed only for the base of his horns) after decades of not training. At the same time feeling a bit panicked as to when he was going to stop as my legs were getting tired!
From then on, whenever Vader saw me arrive, he would scamper with glee to the horse area and attack me as soon as possible. I could NOT get him to stop, no matter what I tried. Eventually, I resorted to flipping him by the horns and pinning him on his side until he relaxed (submitted), then I’d let him up. Sometimes I’d have to do this two or three times before he’d finally leave me alone. Sometimes the horses came to my rescue and herded him off.
Then, when Kesia’s foal, Firefly was born, within a few weeks guess what happened? Yep, she would come at me either rearing up and striking with her front legs, or kicking out. I would just scootch away and if Kesia was there she would step in and re-direct Firefly away from me as I hid behind Kesia!
In both instances, I was unable to find a way to stop these attacks, nor was I able to figure out definitively why I triggered such aggression.
And then, my own foal comes along (well, Audelina’s foal – but she’s letting me be Mama #2) and I think, “Oh shit. I’m in for it now.” Keep in mind, this is a colt that I dearly hope to be able to leave a stallion – with just a vasectomy (Section Ligation Release – SLR), so that all his hormone production and stallion behaviours remain intact.
As a hopeful preventative measure, I make sure to move Montaro (herd boss) around in front of Juno, so that he can see that even Montaro listens to me! Although Montaro does what I ask, I can see he is disappointed, and a little disgusted at my display of ‘look how I can make Montaro do what I say, even though it’s for no reason/purpose other than to demonstrate my dominance’. But I am already on the downslide here and I don’t know what else to do, other than thank Montaro for his tolerance and patience.
The very next day, at 8 days old, I’m scratching Juno (which he loves) and he humps up his bum, gives a little hop, then kicks out sideways at me. I move away and he follows me, kicking sideways or backwards, depending on where I’m standing.
Of course, I have no idea what to do! I instinctively attempt to push on his bum to move him away from me. This just makes him madder. Then I try to push down on his bum, to stop him from humping up, nope, that pisses him off more too. I notice how as his aggression escalates, my fear escalates, and underneath that fear is a vein of rage.
It used to be a river of rage, but I have done a shit-ton of healing work on myself and I notice that it is now more the dimensions of a skein of gold that runs through rock. As Juno escalates his attacks – and yes, he is strong enough to break my kneecap so the threat is real – my initial fear and “Stop Juno – easy!” turns into, “Yeah, you wanna go? You little bugger, you wanna piece of me?” Followed quickly by this rising tide of anger and the desire to smash him. As he lashes out with one hoof close by my leg the thought flashes, “I wonder if I should grab his hoof the next time he kicks?” And I see myself grabbing onto that hoof and not letting go until he surrenders with spent exhaustion and the resignation that I am stronger and I cannot be beaten and he will respect me forever for I will have crushed him!!
At that moment Audelina leaves her hay and calmly walks right in between the two of us. Like a good mama separating her two scrapping kids before someone gets hurt. She says gently and with kindness, “You’ve both lost it. I’m stepping in before someone gets hurt. Both of you take a break.”
“Oh thank you Aude!” I huff and puff and gratefully step back to face my shame. The sheer speed with which I default to dominance, still, after decades of healing the child who was beaten and wondered each time whether today would be a good day to die, astounds me.
I am still, after all this time, only a hair-trigger away from, “I’m gonna smash you and crush you so you can never hurt me!”
Likewise, I believe inside every bully, every convict, and every gang member crouches a small, weak child who was pulverized and utterly helpless to stop the obliteration of mind, body and spirit.
I head off to the welcome release of chores waiting to be done. And by the time I’ve flowed out the residual anger, fear and pain into physical labor, the horses are in the big barn meditating. I feel ready to join them.
After an hour of meditating together, I still don’t have any answers. For how to manage his attacks, or my anger, or how to keep us both safe. But one thing is clear to me and that is that I need to apologize to Juno. He rises from his sleep and comes over the slow feeder I’m sitting on. I tell him I’m sorry, that I totally screwed up, and that I don’t know how to handle it the next time it happens either, but I’m committed to whatever it takes to learn/shift/heal whatever I need to.
And as I’m apologizing, he comes round the side of the feeder and gently places the side of his head against my palm, then moves my hand to cup his eye – the most fragile, vulnerable part of his body – and gently rubs his eye against my palm. I receive his message with an open, grateful heart. I feel he is saying, “I completely forgive you. I trust you with the most vulnerable parts of me.”
I figure that’s a real good note to end the day on. I feel spent and ready to go home, have a shower, eat, a change of gears and sleep on it all.
I load the dogs and a few things into my truck parked outside the paddock gate and as I’m climbing into the cab, I notice that Juno has left his mama and has come over to stare entreatingly at me. The intensity of his gaze stops me in my tracks – so of course I take a photo! I tell him goodbye again, but he does not stop his magnetic gaze. I try to tell him that I’m too tired for anything more, but I love him and I’ll see him tomorrow.
Then he motions me with the language we have already developed for, “Come scratch me here”. Then gazes at me intently. How can I abandon such focused intent? So I agree to a few more minutes and climb down from the truck.
As I walk up to the gate – feeling like I have zero energy left for another scratching session with the tension/fear of whether he’s going to try to kick me, or not – I realize what he is saying. He is asking me to scratch him, through the gate. I spend the next five minutes working over all his ticklish, jumpy spots – including his hind legs – with the bars of the gate keeping us both safe. I feel him saying, “See, even if you scratch my hock and it’s almost a reflex for me to kick out, my leg will just thunk the side of the bar – which won’t hurt me and won’t hurt you. So now I can relax too, knowing I’m not going to hurt you, and I have the space to train myself not to be so jumpy.”
Here he has just presented me a with a solution whereby we can stay in relationship, maintain closeness, touch each other – yet both remain perfectly safe. I am overcome, yet again, by the privilege of being in relationship with such spiritual masters as these horses – even the newborn has huge wisdom to share with me.
But guess what? This story is not over yet!
Kick-Dancing With Anger
Two days later, Kesia arrives to meet Juno and trim the horses’ hooves. I tell her what’s been happening – everything I’ve just told you above. We weave in and out of each other’s space as the afternoon wears on. And then I look over and see that Juno has just humped up his butt and kicked out at Kesia.
I drop my manure fork and walk over for a closer look – but far enough away that my energy/being doesn’t enter their dynamic. Kesia is a 3rd Dan (third degree black belt) instructor of Ki Aikido. She has spent most of her life learning how to take an attacker’s aggressive energy and flow, or re-direct it, away from herself, so that she remains safe. Other martial arts (like the styles I studied) involve combat – you stop/block the other’s attack and then counter-attack.
In Ki Aikido the goal is to be a peacemaker, to hold the energy and space of love and just flow nasty shit around and away from you – remaining peaceful, centered, and grounded throughout. There is no judgment, no outrage, no sense of violation at the other’s actions. Like yin and yang, light and dark, fast and slow, it all simply IS. There is no charge or anger at ‘being attacked’. It is just energy coming toward you of a certain quality and speed and so you simply meet it, align with it’s flow/thrust and re-direct it; to the side, beyond you, or drop it to the ground.
I saw Kesia’s body instinctively move into Aikido stance. Like me, and my horsewoman friend, she too had both arms outstretched towards Juno. One was placed lightly against his shoulder, the other against his rump. But that’s where the similarities ended.
When Juno swung his rump into Kesia, she smoothly backstepped in a circular motion – so instead of moving straight back, she moved back and over to one side (less steps, less distance travelled, less effort expended), so that Juno was swinging his rump in a circle. Likewise if he tried to swing his shoulder into her; she stepped back and around. As they moved back and forth, left and right, but always in rounded, circular patterns, it looked as though they were dancing. Juno was irate and Kesia had a little smile on her face – her body was relaxed, loose and peaceful.
Occasionally, when he kicked out sideways hard (his leg being longer than the reach of her arm), her hands left his body as she scootched quickly backwards – but her arms remained outstretched in the same position. She maintained an energetic boundary of desired space between them, even as she leaped physically out of the way. Kesia did not try to move Juno away from her, or to keep him contained – as I had done – she allowed him to direct the movement and she followed his lead.
This is in direct opposition to the horsemanship principle of “never let a horse move your feet – or he will think he’s the boss”. But again, that is a principle based on human dominance and it is accomplished using some form of pressure (resistance or push). And yet, although Kesia was moving her feet a lot, and in the direction Juno was dictating by his lashes, at no point did it look like Juno was “winning” or that Kesia was the submissive party.
On the contrary, Kesia was fully engaged, fully present and certainly appeared more in control than Juno was. So although he was “moving her feet” it was due to her choice, not fear or submission to his dominance. And so it changed the dynamic from a pecking order win-lose situation, to a fully engaged, respectful dance. Kesia was offering Juno a new way to be or engage with the behaviour/desire/need he was bringing her.
I watched Juno try his hardest to spar, but not meet any resistance, only flowing re-direction – always in the flow or direction of his kick. It’s similar to when you have a toddler who insists on banging your jewellery box to make noise – you don’t thwart the desire, you give him a pot and wooden spoon to bang with – you simply re-direct the desire to something safer. Or a puppy who is chewing your shoe. You recognize that the puppy needs that behaviour and you re-direct him to a bone. His drive/desire is met, and everyone/everything is safe.
As their dance continued I watched Juno transition from bugger, to mad, to annoyed, to puzzled, to ‘oh, okay’. And then they went back to cuddling and scratching. The next time I looked over, he was allowing Kesia to pick up and hold each of his four hooves – poof, just like that!
Kesia gave me a live demonstration of the answer to my dilemma of what to do? when Juno came at me. What was most transformative for me was not just the physical solution of how to move my body to re-direct to flow with his attacks, but to be able to witness the energetic space that Kesia inhabited throughout. Kesia elaborates:
“Before our spontaneous aikido session, I didn’t feel much connection with Juno, just mutual curiosity as well as some very appropriate caution. After our little dance, I suddenly felt him open to me and I to him. Our wariness of each other disappeared and we both felt safe to really enjoy and relax in each other’s presence. I felt no more aggression from him and no more warning bells in me. We just settled into love. That said, I will not assume the next time I see him that we can start from that place of peace without further conversation!”
Witnessing someone not move into fear. Not be triggered into anger, but remain in tolerance, resilience and acceptance is very powerful. The more I learn and experience of life, the more I realize that the key to a truly vibrant life (across all facets; work, relationship, challenges, health, growth) is resilience. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, how fearful you are, or how courageous. The factor that determines whether you rise again, without being diminished (physically, emotionally, spiritually), is resilience – and that is a choice. It is a space, a belief, a declaration we choose to inhabit, or not.
Now you might be wondering, what happens with people who come to visit Juno who are not martial artists? What about kids or people who do not have the strength or mobility to dance with him, or who are not willing to leave their visceral fear response and move into resilience?
Well, since then, I’ve had a 60 pound young girl out to visit, a young woman, a middle-aged woman, an elderly woman, and a middle-aged man. Here’s what I’ve observed: If you have no trigger in you, Juno will not engage you in the dance. Let me give you two examples.
With the young girl, he gave a little hump and 2-inch kick and she said, “No Juno” put her hand out and moved away. I told her, “If you’re scared of him, just be honest, own your feelings and let him know. And if he keeps bugging you, then walk away.” She walked a few steps away and he came up to her again, but no more aggression. I watched this happen several times over the next few days. This girl is loved and secure – she does not have a rage in her that needs to be brought into the light.
The man who came out when Juno was 2 weeks old also had a childhood of beatings and humiliation – from his father and boys at school. He too has done a lot of personal healing, but the rage is still in him. He’s not a martial artist, but I mimed out the dance-with-kicking-horse technique I learned from Kesia the week prior. And I stuck close by him because, even though he said, “I have no anger today, I’m in a soft and loving place.” I knew that Juno would not respond to his conscious reality, but would be triggered by his unconscious reality.
Sure enough, after about a half hour came the first hump-kick. I coached this man from the sidelines, instructing him how to move his body, where to position his limbs, and encouraged him to access the energetic space of flexibility and resilience. So they kick-danced for a short while and then Juno left to nibble at grass. The man sat on the grass for while – exhausted? contemplative? I don’t know, I felt I should leave him to his process.
And me and Juno? Well, of course, soon after Kesia left, Juno brought me the opportunity to practice. I was amazed that I was able to stay in that place of acceptance and resilience, and yes, even love – the very first time he challenged me. If that sounds pie-insky to you, you also need to know that months earlier, before I even knew Audelina was pregnant, Montaro had taught me (and then drilled into me) an energy technique that enabled me hold myself together in the face of even intense fear – you can learn that energy technique here.
So our first kick-dance petered out pretty quickly and although I’m always ready to dance again, Juno has not initiated again. Even when I had to use force to push him away from a spot in the fence where he wanted to scratch that was dangerous, I was really surprised that he did not respond with anger. Perhaps he felt my concern for his wellbeing was a justified reason for being dominant and pushy? Regardless, I am already using this new way of being with our 3-month-old Maine Coon kitten – who launches himself at my ankles, or tries to climb my thighs with his claws, and it works just as well with him.
The really interesting thing is that Kesia has no rage-trigger in her. So I think that Juno knew she was the one who could solve our problem. Who could teach me through witnessing their interaction, and thus give me the answer to my question of how to manage his attacks, and my anger, and how to keep us both safe.
I’m not saying Juno will never kick out at someone again – for any variety of reasons – as he grows, his hormones kick in, or he makes developmental leaps, etc. I am simply sharing our story and honoring him gratefully for the teaching and wisdom shared thus far. For showing me that even when being attacked, there IS a way to both protect myself and stay in love – or at least tolerance and resilience. That there is a state of being I can access that exists beyond the polarized extremes of rage or victim
And as I access this new state – physically, emotionally and viscerally – I am changing my embedded cellular response to violence. I am given the opportunity each time to respond differently and to feel differently.
Empowered vs. victim.
Compassionate vs. abused.
Resourceful vs. helpless.
It’s pretty cool – thank you Juno. And Aude. And Montaro. And Kesia 🙂