By Ainsley Beauchamp
I was thinking about horses and how sensitive they are to our thoughts and intent…
As an equine therapist, I’ll be happily massaging away, some sweet horse melting into the strokes, and sometimes, just as I think, “I should adjust that shoulder now,” the patient’s head will fling up out of their drowse, eyes fly open and they’ve reacted to the change – in thought.
I find it fascinating, this inherent sensitivity, and realize it’s one of the things often ignored and yet integral to our relationships. Are we responsible for our thoughts as well as our actions as we work around and spend time with our beloved horses? It brought back a memory from a brief but lovely period. A few years ago, we had a new horse, a pretty grey pony with heart-melting eyes and pricked ears; she was a happy girl from a loving home. Before we began the work of riding and schooling, it seemed only polite to shake hands and get to know each other. We bought a horse, not a relationship.
Horses in a peaceful herd socialize in two ways. They spend time together doing nothing, or spend time together doing something. Before Zora and I began the something, it seemed reasonable to meet each other on terms that made sense in her world.
Hence the bucket. After feeding each morning I would take an empty 5 gallon bucket and place it near her hay pile. Sitting quietly, I wouldn’t visit or chat or have any agenda, but faced my energy centre (belly button) slightly away and practiced breathing exercises. At first she seemed to find this odd. Eyes slitted, she’d watch closely from behind her bushy forelock, waiting to see what my plans were. But I wanted nothing, just to bask in the fresh air, listen to birdsongs and spend time in her company.
The second day, as I enjoyed the scenery and practiced seeing with soft eyes, breathing deeply, in count to 4, out count to 8… emptying my mind… the little monkey thoughts of upcoming school work crept in. Equine anatomy… the hip bone connects to the thigh bone… I couldn’t help but look – yes, there’s the semi-tendonous muscle… the femoral biceps; her head shot up, and she quickly moved her body away, changing the angle so that she was facing me. Did she read my mind? Zora is a prey animal, meat on the hoof according to her biology and beliefs. Did she read my intentions? I meant no harm, quite the opposite, I’m learning to heal… but here I am, an omnivore, staring closely at all that plump muscling.
There had been a physical change – focus. No longer peacefully meditating with soft eyes and expansive heart, my gaze turned to the narrow focus of a predator – eyes in the front of my head. She doesn’t know me; did I become a risk? Did she understand that my sizing up her choicest cuts was not the same threatening action as a lion eyeing up a zebra at the waterhole?
What was astonishing was her awareness of something as subtle as looking at her differently, as intangible as a change in thoughts. We’re taught that we’re all connected. Our thoughts carry weight and as most clearly demonstrated, influence. This lesson has been visited repeatedly. (I’ll get it, really I will!) While Zora was with us, an escaped rabbit moved into our hay barn. Skittish and quick, we were determined that he feel welcome. We called him Barn Bunny, eventually earning enough trust that he’d take horse cookies from our hand. Barney was far more reactive than good natured Zora. At chore time, if my mind was filled with the day’s distractions, busy with shoulds and coulds, Barn Bunny would flee at the sight of me. When my mind was at peace, he’d tentatively hop forward for his treat, even allowing a gentle stroke on velvety fur.
On another morning, with a clearer awareness, I took my bucket back out to the paddock. That time, as I sat down, Zora let out a long sigh. She was completely relaxed as I quietly meditated, the sound of munching hay matching the rhythm of my heartbeat. Soon I would ride her, adventures taking us across rivers and up mountains. But for the time, we were just sharing space, doing nothing. Much was gained in those gentle lessons offered by a grey Norwegian Fjord and one small refugee rabbit.
Now, as I work in my therapy practice, I’m keenly aware not only of actions but my thoughts, and of the conversations over the patient – and have learned that in healing sessions, long discussions of horse misuse or abuse or derogatory statements (from owners or the inevitable watchers-on) or discussions on the state of slaughter – or God forbid, “We’re thinking about having her put down if _______ doesn’t get better.” None of that has its place in a healing session. (I do need the information to help understand the physical history and to conduct myself appropriately around a traumatized horse – but let’s not go into the anger or victim role during hands-on work.) The sensitive one receiving the healing is also receiving the energy of upset and confusing messages carried in conversation. We can talk about it later. I’ve even said to clients, “We need to bookmark this conversation.” out of respect for the horse’s emotional well-being. They’re sensitive like that, sensitive enough to swing their body away from a change in focus. So I’ve become a fan of managing my thoughts around horses – with a huge nod of thanks for the lessons from the herd.