Some of us gather horses together out of love or appreciation for a certain breed, others because our hearts are moved to rescue those in need, others because it feeds our soul, or it’s the lifestyle we prefer. Many of us have no idea why we were pulled so strongly toward our horses.
Each of the horses in my herd comes with a compelling story. I had horses as a child – asked my Dad every day for a solid year until he got me my first horse at age 8. But Zorra my Andalusian sistah is the one who gathered our current herd together. And now the newest, 6th herd member has made herself known – I’d like to tell you her story…
Two years ago, I attended a Horse As Muse workshop in Arizona with Linda Kohanov and equine artist Kim McElroy. During one afternoon, Linda led us in a guided meditation – a kind of vision quest where we journeyed with a horse companion.
I turned into a black horse during this vision – a complete, true, blue-black horse, with just a small spot of white on the forehead (third-eye or ajna chakra). The horse also had a super thin line of white through the middle of the tail – maybe only a few hairs thick, almost not there. Even in the vision I was not sure whether it was there or not! I also didn’t know whether the horse was male or female.
As I came out of the meditation, I wondered if the black horse represented my place in the herd – whether I was actually the black horse galloping at the head of the herd? In the chalk pastel painting I drew afterwards, I painted what I had seen in my vision – the black horse running with Juno alongside and snow-capped mountains in the distance. The black horse’s hooves glowed luminescent white as they struck the earth.
Over the next few months, I ‘tried on’ the idea that I was the black horse (I do have black hair!), but it just didn’t feel right. I guess I was hoping that I was the black horse, as I was already maxed out being the sole human carer/partner to 3 young wildies and a foal – all of whom needed me to accustom them to the skills needed to function in a human-run environment. But from time to time, I would arrive at the barn and the thought would spontaneously pop into my head, there’s a black horse missing. In fact, I had already been feeling this for several months before I had the vision.
I had conversations with the herd like this:
“Okay, just because the universe/divine says, There’s a black horse missing, doesn’t mean I have to comply, I do have freedom of choice, you know.”
“Hmmm… I wonder if the black horse will appear when we have our own land. If we were on 300 acres, I’d be just fine with another horse.”
One day the horses gave me an image of a village in Tibet or Nepal – where the monks meditate most of the day and the villagers provide the monks’ daily food to support the spiritual work the monks are doing. The thought package that flashed into my head alongside this image was:
“We are like the monks who support you, your family and your work in the world. You may think we are just horses, but we are the underpinning to all the growth and proliferation you are experiencing.”
I had a strong feeling that the horses’ meditative/spiritual work was potentizing my business – that it was the reason for the rapid growth we were experiencing. And they were also the reason I was so strong and vital – so that I could stay vibrant yet grounded, while managing two companies, three children and nine animals. I had also begun processing personal issues (dysfunctions, trauma, negativity) at a hugely increased rate since the herd had gathered around me.
If they needed the black horse to complete their circle, who was I to argue? I trust the Divine implicitly. I know that even when the universe calls me to challenging, frustrating, or painful experiences, that by surrendering to the experience, and walking the process of illumination, or transformation, that it is always for my highest good.
So I kept an eye out for the black horse that was missing, knowing that s/he would appear at the perfect time – not necessarily the logistically perfect time! But at the spiritually perfect time. I’ve always loved Friesians and wondered if the horse was a Friesian? One day I saw a picture of a hardy black-ish mustang stallion with a strong face and I thought, “Oh yes, maybe the black horse is a mustang…?”
What’s the difference between Wild, Feral and Semi-Feral horses?
The only horses that can officially be called wild are those breeds that have never been domesticated (e.g. Przewalski horse). Feral horses are all descended from domestic breeds – like Mustangs who were descended from horses the Spanish brought to North America. The First Nations Indian tribes continued to develop the Mustang into breeds like the Appaloosa. Semi-feral are horses that live in feral conditions, but are owned or managed by humans. A popular, slang term for feral or semi-feral horses is: Wildies.
Two years after my vision at the workshop, I saw a photo on Facebook of a black mare posted by one of the women, Belinda Lyall, who saved my existing three wildies from the slaughter pipeline – and I got the first ‘ding’ I’d ever experienced with a black horse. The mare was from a feral herd off an Indian reserve near Vernon, B.C.
A breeder of flashy bucking horses on the reserve had brought in really great quality stallions which mingled with the feral horses on the reserve. But he had grown older and now there were too many horses; so many they were getting hit on the roads. So the First Nations (Indian tribe) posted a notice to all owners in the area that they had until a certain date to get any branded horses back onto their own land, or a safe holding place if they lived on the reserve, and then they were going to cull the herd and ship to slaughter.
Belinda has rescued and re-homed over 200 horses, so she has connections all over the place and was able to contact the Kill Buyer and have the horses sent to various ranches and rescues in B.C. instead of to slaughter. Conveniently, this mare had been sent to Cheekye Ranch in Squamish – only 2 hours from my home!
I got in touch with Kris at Cheekye and she sent me a video of the black mare in a field with 2 other horses from the herd. When I saw the video I got an even stronger feeling and knew I had to meet this horse. We arranged for me to head up there in a few days’ time.
I talked to my herd about this mare and told them I was going up to see her in a few days, to see if she was the one. “Does anybody have anything to tell me, any knowledge you wish to impart? Is she the black horse? Are you going to accept her into the herd?”
I already knew that my herd was a very tight, closed group. At my old boarding place, the owners had suddenly bought a horse (a black Arab with a white blaze) and my herd refused to accept her. Aude wouldn’t even let her come near the fence line. So we moved out and the owner bought a second horse who bonded instantly with that mare.
Regardless of what I felt, or intuited, the litmus test for whether she was the black horse who was meant to complete the herd, would be whether the herd accepted her, or not. I had already told Kris about this and we had an understanding that I would need to return her if my herd refused her.
As I went about my chores that day, none of the horses had anything to say or discuss about the black mare. Until I put Jax alone in the paddock with me – I can’t remember why, I think he wanted to have his feed in peace, without the others bugging him. I was scooping manure into the wheelbarrow when he walked over stood a couple feet in front of me. “You know,” he said, “you should video everything you do with this mare, from start to finish, so you can show people everything we’ve taught you.”
I stood there just staring at him. Holy crapsters! As the idea he planted began to grow. Mustang Challenge! Taming Wild! Unbranded! Images of media began to flash in my mind – the whole approach of training/dominating feral horses through penning and isolation from the day they arrive. Because god forbid you let them loose on 20 acres – you may never catch them again!
The fear seems to be that if you give a wild, feral, or semi-feral horse instant freedom in a herd, it will be so much harder to develop a bond with them, and how long would that take? And all the other fears, worries, biases and presuppositions that accompany mainstream attitudes towards domesticating wildies.
But my wildies (semi-feral) have shown me a completely different path – to intimate relationship, not training, breaking or domesticating. In fact, I have purposely left mine as ‘wild’ as possible, since I prefer enlivened, empowered horses. And now Jax was suggesting I show others everything I have learned from them. Wowzers. What a great idea!
And then does that mean that this mare is the one, and the herd will accept her?
The night before I was due to drive up to Cheekye, there was a terrible windstorm and I hardly slept all night as the roar, walls shaking, and windows creaking kept waking me up. As I dozed I had a surreal/hazy/trippy conversation with the black mare about her name. You know, one of those interactions where you’re not sure whether you’re imagining, dreaming, or just plain making shit up?
In the drifting haze, the mare said she wanted her name to embody Kali (a Hindu goddess), but she didn’t want to lead with that. Because the energy/process that Kali symbolizes is only part of her essence. So she wanted it there, but not up-front. At first I was resistant: “Oh come on, Kali – really?? The goddess of destruction. Why, because she’s black? Oh I am so opposed to the continual depictions of black as dark/evil and white as light/good. How do you think black people feel about that… except that very few black people are actually black… And of course the goddess of destruction is also the catalyst for re-birth and transformation…” and so on.
As I dozed I played with variations, derivatives, other symbols or representations of Kali – perceiving whether the mare felt, ‘yes, no, or maybe’ to each suggestion.
I eventually narrowed it down to: Kaliah, Kalisa or Kalika (remember that middle one!). As night grew into the wet grey morning, I felt pretty sure Kaliah (pronounced Kah-lee-ah, with the same inflection as Maria) was the name she wanted. Which was ridiculous, since I didn’t even know yet whether she was the black horse, or not!
The wind was still howling and shaking the house in the morning, so I looked to see if there was a weather warning and sure enough – winds up to 80 km/hour for coastal areas. I texted Kris and she said it was already flooding there, so we cancelled and rescheduled for the following day.
I arrived at Cheekye Ranch the following day with my dear friend and fellow horse listener, Güliz Ünlü, along for the experience. As my truck pulled up to the shelter near the field, a black horse came and stood right outside my window. I rolled down my window as the horse stared intently at me. I was thinking, “Is this the mare? But wait, a wild horse would not come up to the truck. Look she’s completely black. But she’s very stocky…” At which point Kris interrupted my thoughts saying, “That’s not her, that’s a boarder’s horse: Kalessi.”
Kalessi (pronounced Kah-lee-see)?? What-the-what? Was I talking to the wrong horse all night? Did she intercept our communication? This is just way too weird…
As the three of us humans walked into the half-acre field housing the three feral horses from the same herd, they stayed about two-thirds of the field length away from us, watching us warily, but with interest. Horses are naturally intensely curious. Most people don’t realize that domestic horses are trained into being flighty, jumpy and easily frightened, it is not their natural state. As Dr. Francesco De Giorgio asserts in Equus Lost:
“All horses are born cognitive. Their cognitive abilities allow them to understand themselves, their initiatives, each other, their environment, and their social context. However, due to their coexistence with humans, horses gradually change…
If you see something strange and unexpected as a human, you might be alarmed, and so might a horse. As an example, think of a piece of flapping canvas placed over some wood near a paddock. This situation would generate curiosity in a cognitive horse; he would look at it, integrate it into his mental map, and then proceed. A reactive horse, on the other hand, would jump away and remain in a state of tension and suspicion for several more minutes, even from a distance. The cognitive horse follows the same rule as all living beings: Minimal effort, maximum result.” (pg 12, 30)
Güliz and Kris walked into the shelter at one end of the rectangular field and Güliz set up the video camera to record. The mares were standing outside in the rain; because wildies don’t like going into dark, enclosed areas. For the first year, my semi-feral horses were most comfortable under pole shelters, where all 4 sides are wide open and there is only a roof to protect them from the rain.
I walked away from the shelter and began to walk the perimeter of the fence around their pasture – paying attention to the woods outside the fence, the condition of the grass-mud. Occasionally stopping to examine something and completely ignoring the wildies, who were watching my every move, whilst simultaneously keeping an eye on Kris and Güliz in the shelter. Right away, I behaved the way the leader of my wildies (Montaro) taught me when he was still a stallion: Of primary importance in new surroundings is to check the perimeter and examine everything carefully.
Once I’d had a good look around, I began to dialogue here and there with the mares. Nothing too intense or direct, just little explorations using the body-based language the herd had taught me. You can see in this still from the video footage how absolutely fixated on me the horses are – I could sense their astonishment that this alien being spoke Horse! And what the heck was I doing with that stick??
After a lengthy dialogue and exploration of each other – all at a distance of 30-50 feet or so, with the little black & white pinto stud being the most curious and occasionally coming within 10 feet of me – I sat down on a stump just inside the fence. The mares were alongside the opposite fence, staring intently at me as I sank into meditative state.
I looked up at the newly blue sky as I deepened my breath and saw three bald eagles lofting and circling overhead. I opened my heart chakra; front and back. And felt compelled to draw prana/chi/ki up from the earth, through the soles of my feet, and out the top of my head. Shooting up like a fountain erupting and then falling in a rainbow of color all around me. This delighted me and I couldn’t help smiling. Güliz told me later that a rainbow had appeared over the mountain opposite me. I didn’t see it because I had my eyes closed. Maybe that’s why I felt compelled to rainbow shower the energy!
As I sat there with my eyes closed, I felt into the horses. I can feel the older, brown pinto’s body is wracked with pain. Oh lord, she has so much wrong with her; misalignments and joint problems and I’m pretty sure she’s pregnant. I feel a fear that the birth will be difficult – maybe she or the foal will not be okay. I teach her (through visualization) to pull the prana/chi in through her tailbone and her forehead, then swirl the two streams together in her body and run them down all four legs into the earth. I tell her she needs to do this as many times a day as she can – that her body needs her help to heal.
I feel into the little pinto and I feel he really, really wants to come with me. He is young and light and playful. I explain to him that this is not about who wants to come with me. It is about who is meant to come with me.
I turn my attention to the black mare and continue the conversation: “I am here to see if you are meant to be part of this herd. Because this herd holds a specific consciousness and a specific purpose on this earth. So I don’t want to know if you want to come with me. I want to know if you’re meant to come with me. So I need you to give me a sign. I don’t need you to come over here, or to touch me (at that moment I get a sense/picture that she has evaded capture by humans more than once). I’m fine for you to stay away, but I want a sign from you – something definitive.”
As I say this last sentence, I open my eyes and look at her. She stares back at me and sends the thought, “Oh come on, you and I both already know you’re going to take me.”
I reply, “Yes, but I want a clear sign; I want you to put some skin in the game.”
She looks at me intently and then walks straight over to stand about six or seven feet in front me. She squares her chest to my chest – very unusual for a wildie, bodies are almost always positioned at an angle. And then she pulls energy from the earth, up through her hooves and out her chest as she blasts me with a column of energy so powerful I’m a wee bit scared by the end of it.
She pulls energy from the earth like a volcano – that is the quality of it. No wonder she wants Kali in her name. Kali who is a black earth mother goddess – who destroys in order to re-create, as a vehicle of transformation.
She looks at me as if to say, ‘That good enough for ya?’
I’m half smiling, half giggling with giddiness from the blast as I stand up and say, “Yup. We’re done here. All good.”
I walk back to Kris and Güliz with a big smile on my face as I say to Kris, “I’d love to have her, if you’re okay with that, let me get a cheque…”
Now, for those of you diehards who want to see for yourself what happened… OR if you are thinking of getting a wildie, or you currently have a wildie, you might find the video of this whole encounter interesting. You can also hear Güliz and I dialogue at certain points about our perceptions and ideas. If you’re a serious student of horse body language, it’s worth a watch.
Read Part Two of this series…