Rewilding the Herd – Spiraling Into Horse Wisdom

I feel I have been circling for a long time.

What brought me to this land with my animal and human family was a concise, clear, bright understanding of how I wanted to live. Over the course of this year, however, that clarity has unraveled, revealing the spiral shape all significant journeys of the heart and mind seem to take. It’s hardly an original thought, but the sense of turning gently (or ferociously) around and around the same issues in my life impressed itself upon me this morning, as I chucked windfall apples to enthusiastic chickens, as I led the gregarious herd of hungry goats to the barn to eat their breakfast out of the drizzle.

It’s like this, maybe you know the feeling: you want to get somewhere or know something, but you soon find you must travel the long way from A to B. You keep feeling like you’ve been here before, but now it’s different somehow. Each time around the circle you are closer, deeper; understanding happens on newer, more profound levels every time, until you start to know something in your bones. And you’re still not done – hopefully, probably, you never will be. This is learning at its fullest.

There’s this other concept, one I am stealing and shamelessly paraphrasing from a workshop with the admirable Arnie and Amy Mindell and their work in Process Oriented Psychology, or Processwork, which uses a circle to describe this process:

At the top, we have enlightenment, in the active sense of the word. An “aha moment” or a new discovery, a sense of accomplishment, victory, or deep peace. This is the good stuff. This is where we want to hang out forever, and indeed usually think we will.

But that state invariably leads to complacency. Think about it: every new discovery that gets absorbed and acknowledged eventually becomes fact, then status quo, and then often dogma. And we like that, as individuals and as groups and societies. We get stuck there, thinking we’ve figured it all out.

Luckily for our progress, conflict eventually arises. This is the part we hate, that we work to avoid. But it is, essentially, the most important part! It moves us, shakes us, and forces us to reconsider. It’s when our new status quo doesn’t work anymore.

We enter the next stage when we choose to engage: the interaction with or processing of that conflict. We push, pull, fight or flee, ponder, pray, or pontificate, work it all out however we need to…

Suffice to say that when we move through conflict, we end up changed. We discover something brand new, or we give up and surrender; we despair; we are humbled; we come to new awareness; we learn something; we emerge into some kind of light. And we are back at the top of the circle, only if you imagine it is a spiral, we are that much closer to the centre. It’s not futile, but it’s slow, and it is thorough – and relatively inescapable, in my experience.

My relationship with my horses has been one continuous spiral to the centre of myself, and the more I think of it this way, the more I see the same process in those around me. I started on an edge and ran as fast as I could toward the centre. I believed that is where I would fully understand, and be understood by, horses.

I didn’t like that outer edge, where horses were tools and playthings, so I pushed deeper. I found alternatives, and then found them lacking – or rather the same thing, masquerading as something different. I pushed deeper. Each time I rounded the circle, I was “closer”, but still infuriatingly far from anything tangible. I’d discover something new (say, an attractive method of horsemanship or training, or a new philosophy), assume I had all the answers (“this is the One True Path!”), eventually admit that I still didn’t (“hmm, my horses seem to be calling bullshit once again”), go through a period of conflict (“then what the hell…”), and emerge with the next piece of the map. Rinse and repeat. Only now I like to think I am less attached as I go, more willing to move through the process, more aware that there is a process, and much more appreciative of it. The lessons get subtler, less jarring, more practical.

The last few days have been quiet, allowing me some space to notice my own thought patterns, hear my own stories reverberating around my skull. I have been surprised at some of them – lessons that need re-learning, irksome thoughts that had once been unthought apparently reassembling themselves when I haven’t been looking. I am noticing where I am not being congruent, where my actions don’t quite meet my intentions, and attempting to adjust accordingly. Julie Taylor of recently wrote with such clarity and honesty about her own most recent eye-opener, as she came to terms with her own internal conflict around horse training.

…All the time I was asking the wrong question. I was asking how I could feel better about myself without sacrificing my exploitation of horses. Instead, I should have been asking whether I wanted to exploit them in the first place. This is a choice we all make, but most of us don’t know it. For me, it was an invisible choice because it was made on my behalf by my culture and my parents before I was born into a racing family. If someone could have asked me before I ever met a horse: “Hey Julie. Do you think it is okay to prod and poke this animal to make her do what you want instead of what she wants just because you feel like it?” I might have said no. But I was never asked that question and so I was unaware that I was answering it every time I made a horse do something that horse did not want to do.

We choose to appropriate the bodies and lives of horses and other animals for our pleasure or amusement. Or we don’t. But it is always a choice.

Julie Taylor, “The Path of Most Resistance
(the whole article is well worth a read)

Just after reading this, while it was still in my mind, I was speaking with Equine Behaviourist Emily McDonald, and she caught me using the word “justify” while I mused about “what next” with my herd. She replied (ever gracious): “I’ve given up trying to justify the horse habit, they’re just family that I care for.” And I did a double take. Because I’ve been there before, and I thought that’s where I would be forever: in that deep sense of care, of truly not needing anything from them except for them to be content and whole as beings, and especially as horses. That glorious freedom of actual, simple love.

Not that I’d lost that feeling, but I’d forgotten that framing. The reality of living the way we do here includes a sense of requiring some utility out of all these animals we work hard to keep happy and healthy – when time, energy and money feel scarce, it’s hard to maintain the expansive abundance needed to allow every being its own life and purpose. It has felt harder to completely adore everyone and not put pressure on them to produce, to progress, or to prove their inherent worth.

Ironically, I’d been frustrated with my own lack of inclination to DO anything with/to/for my herd, who are, these days, scampering about their beautiful home in apparent contentment and fulfillment, and who have little to no need for me to do much except refill their hay nets and keep the water trough full as winter approaches. My “rewilding” journey had gone through the euphoria of arrival, the development of a new status quo in which I discovered a complete lack of expectation of my horses, and now and again a questioning: “Am I doing it right? Are the horses and I fulfilled by this?” – culminating, this time around the bend, with the realization that we are just getting started, and to settle back and enjoy the ride.

Reading Julie Taylor’s blog (upon which I project that she has been spiraling around a concept, learning tons, and gaining ever more insight – all the while sharing with us), and chatting with Emily (who I like to imagine might be on a similarly continuous process), helped nudge me into a quiet new “aha” space.

In this whole “rewilding” experience, the anti-climax has been that all is essentially well. I don’t think we’re done, we’ll never be done, but we’ve proven that horses are extremely good at being horses when given the space and time to do so, and that it’s not all that hard to provide that for them, and now the future lays wide open.

I wonder what the next cycle will be. As I round yet another turning of the spiral, I get “it” just a little bit more, that elusive thing I have tracked through the hinterlands for a decade or more. Every time around the circle, I hook back in just a little bit more easily. I feel my body relax and my scope widen as I notice how connected I actually am, how grateful I am to be on this route. I also remember that this awareness will inevitably slip again – and that I will have no choice but to let it. Because how else will I keep making my way ever deeper into that place that horses take us?

Click here for Part 14 in this series.

Rewilding the Herd – Spiraling Into Horse Wisdom

9 thoughts on “Rewilding the Herd – Spiraling Into Horse Wisdom

  • September 23, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Oh my… Kesia! You have, once again, put words on what I feel right at this moment of my journey. Your spiral image is just perfect… So eloquent. And I’ve been at this same point with my horses; stillness. Many people are asking me if I’ve started practicing / offering my services in EFW (Equine Facilitated Wellness), I’ve done my training last year and “should” be actively practicing with clients, but I’m not… I’ve been wondering about it as well; why am I not more actively pursuing this dream of mine? Have I “moved on” once again? The more I ponder the question, the more anxious I become. The more I search for an answer, the less I get answers.

    A couple weeks ago, I had one of those aha moment: I was responding to a friend in an email; she was trying to convince me to move along, start something. As I reflected uppon my “stillness” I found many many excuses: my kids take a lot of my time, I am not available enough, I have my “other work” (the one that pays the bills), I am scared to start something on one feet and mess it up because I don’t have all the ressources, I still need to complete other forms of training etc… And it happened: the aha! And I think it came from my boy Frisson… It’s like he told me: “we are here with you, everything will come into place in it’s own time, just like wine, our relationship continues to deepen and develop, this time is not lost.” I started to cry as I heard myself write these words and he turned around from the back of the paddock and looked straight at me (I was sitting at my computer which is in a bay window facing the paddock). So well… This is the kind of connection we have, it’s indeed better each day, even if we do “nothing”, just loving each other, being present to each other…

    And you know what? A few days after this “release” I met a woman who just fits into my unknown future like a piece of the puzzle that was missing… All by “coïncidence” (synchronicity) because I let go of the blockage of expecting and wondering why I wasn’t moving, and had surrendered completely to this state of acceptance of what is.

    Since meeting this woman two weeks ago, I feel like I am being carried on this river of energy; things are moving and shaking and it feels just amazing. I expect to go through the cycle again, and your spiral view of things gives me hope that it will always be closer to the center of myself. Thank you so much for that image!

    • September 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

      “This time is not lost.” Thanks Frisson, that’s what I keep coming back to, too, and that’s going to be my new thing-I-tell-myself. Nothing is more important than anything else, but we have learned to value that forward movement, that linear upward feeling, more than the stillness. Like we can have day without night! That balance though…we get anxious when we sit still, not realizing that we are not the only things able or required to move. It’s all happening, all these endless overlapping and interlocking circles and spirals of process, biological and mental and emotional and spiritual…life goes ever onward no matter what stage we’re in.

      So when you finally came into that place, movement picked up again for you! That’s amazing. And I wonder what was going on with that woman, and what it took to mash you two together. Endlessly cool and exciting. I can’t wait to hear more about what you move and shake!

    • September 23, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      This is pure gold Capucine:

      “I let go of the blockage of expecting and wondering why I wasn’t moving, and had surrendered completely to this state of acceptance of what is.”

      I had not considered ‘expectation and wondering/frustration’ to be a blockage before, but only yesterday I received the exact same message from another source! I am working on letting go of this in myself now too. Bit of a process; some writing/mapping is required for me though.

      • September 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm

        just musing…. and wonder-ing,,,, just feeling some In-spire-ation….. I wonder… if word-feelings such as ‘blockage’…..hhhmmm… I ‘d like to give “blockage” a chance to be-come, perhaps , ‘mirror’, or ‘juice’ or maybe even “pieces of chocolate that maybe need a little bit of digesting” ,,, or ‘blockage” could be pogo sticks that can be bounced on, to help me see what’s out there, over the top of this frustration feeling, or the wondering feeling, or the expectation feeling, or the anxiety feeling. or wow, even a warm pool to hang out in ,,, perhaps ‘blockage’ would share some secrets with me, if I sat in a warm pool under a lovely, starry night with it. okay i’m living in a book with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet,,, and they’re channeling thru me….. funny things happen to me on this page, Jini. it’s pure magick! xooxo sheila

  • September 24, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    omgoddesses,,, I soooo love a-lighting here, on this deeply Listening, Heart-burst-open great big tree branch, swinging on a swing from the tree branch in the deep woods with you incredible, juicy, farm/animal wombyn. I’m freaking 60, and STILL, (and all ways), swirling in and around and thru some ephemeral. elusive ‘center’… center of of what? of some-thing? and oh I love how my dear old Friend Rumi says… if the hand was always open or always closed you’d be paralyzed … “Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
    up to where you’re bravely working.
    Expecting the worst, you look, and instead
    here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
    Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
    If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
    you’d be paralyzed.
    Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
    and expanding,
    the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
    as bird wings.”
    …..and here we are, on this spinning, hurtling planet, bravely spiralling around our own elusive, holy, wobbling, pole-swapping center. I trust, I trust I trust,,,bcz i’ve just got to.! ( in between the waves of confusion and anxious-ness and self-wondering),,, that every time, each time, I gaze again into the mirror and say ” Oh, hi, it’s YOU again” to any experience, Especially the un-smooth, “jiggedy” ones, and if I remember to pause, to breathe a breath of welcome, and if i make a choice somewhere deep in the churning murkiness, that This time, I’ll breathe just a little deeper. this time, I’ll wait here, and wait here, and wait here, maybe even settle a bit, for just a little longer; this time, I want to choose Compassion for this wackiness of being – human-ness. Truth be told, when (more like if !! ) the going gets smooth, I start feeling Jiggedy. …I kinda like it, the Jiggedy ness I mean . I really like a good ferris -wheel or roller coaster ride. I get to feel a lot of perspectives. I really love the ‘still point’ just before the wild fun ride happens. I LOVE this wacko hu-man earth life. I really do. now. and loving this life is new, for me who’s been wanting to ‘exit stage left” since I “woke up” a few decades ago. Hu-mans like you all, on this Listening page, give me reason to live, give me juice to Love. Life. P.S. thanks to Jini for the yummy word “Jiggedy” . !! xoxoxoxoox Sheila

    • September 25, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Your word sculptures are ravishing, oh Shiela-of-the-lake, oh bird-hearted one.

      I appreciate (deeply, widely) your wisdom from whatever rotation you are on – the mirror (not made from the horse, but of the pause) and the reminder to say hello each time. And your embracing of jiggidiness, that holy unholy squirrelly place of friction where everything is standing on end and standing still feels like torture… I for one detest thrill rides of any kind but am learning to relax into the drop and rush when I find myself on them. And I am so, so grateful that you decided to stay front and centre and awake.

    • May 28, 2019 at 4:16 am

      Oh sheila, I so love your post, I can so relate! Thankyou beautiful soul sister. ⚘

  • September 24, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    ‘Circling, circling, I have entered the airy, dancing lightness of love’ -Rumi

    That is what your post made me think of, Kesia. And to think I just wrote Jini an email about spiral realities!

    I love how you ackowledge the cyclical nature of our deepening. That is the only way to aquire true wisdom, I think. And the animals and natural world- the real world, really; that is larger then our invention- has a way of dropping us into that particular kind of learning because they are outside of linearity in the first place!

    Capucine, I love how you are making space for the work to tell you when it is ready. We are so quick to decide what’s best and to forget that the things we are surrounded with have their own processes too… and that if we listen to them, they will reveal themselves to us, one spiral at a time…

    • September 25, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Oh! Two Rumis in a row, how lucky are we 🙂 🙂

      I wrote this knowing I was just barely touching on something much bigger, and that you’d all know what I meant even if words can only be clumsy fingers pointing in the general direction of the moon. I think probably it’s actually more Yeats’ gyre, turning and turning, widening, moving deeper and further on all the dimensions. I love the freedom this affords me. That I can let go of controlling the direction and just keep circling. This glorified toilet bowl of consciousness is way better with friends along for the ride, I must say <3 <3


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