In one of my favorite new books, Zen Mind, Zen Horse, author Allan J. Hamilton, MD calls horsemanship “a journey of compassionate awareness.” Wow. Coming off our recent Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat, these words ring especially true, and Dr. Hamilton’s book hits the nail on its proverbial noggin.
So how do we get to that “holy ground” with our horse? Dr. Hamilton offers us the specifics; it’s up to each of us to figure out how to get there from wherever we are right now. These include:
• Clearing the mind
• Making your intention clear
• Being responsible for your own energy
• Being present
• Honoring relationship
• Stop trying to make things happen
It never ceases to amaze me how working with horses brings to light the same exact things we are trying to achieve in our human existence and relationships. Or, as Dr. Hamilton says in his recent webinar at myhorse.com (click here to listen!) that in a human setting, like a retreat (owwwww!) or classroom or lecture or book, it’s hard really know what these things mean, “but it all becomes crystal clear when you’re working with a horse.”
Check out this interview with Dr. Hamilton and see what bubbles up for you about the spiritual practices and lessons we discover when we interact with our horses.
What has your horse taught you in these areas? How have you taken these lessons into your human “herd”? What advice do you have for others trying to incorporate a little more equine energy into their inner human existence?
When I went to the Equine Experience retreat at Hacienda Tres Aguilas near San Antonio Texas, I had no idea what to expect. I had just bought a horse the summer before, we were still getting along pretty well at that point, but something about this new relationship in my life compelled me to want to learn more.
I discovered this opportunity quite by accident (if there is such a thing, which, increasingly, I’m starting to doubt). According to their course literature, passed on to me by a freind who knew I enjoyed delving into such matters, the McCormicks were trained in “Psychoanalytic and Jungian Psychology with an expertise in Object Relations Theory and mysticism.” I had no idea what all that meant, but it sounded pretty serious. I was intrigued.
My intrigue grew with the fact that they had traveled the world studying with an impressive list of greats in both psychology AND horsemanship, including the Celtic traditions of horsemanship. This last part REALLY got my attention. Folding what they had learned about horses and humans into this retreat, the Drs. McCormick called upon their championship Peruvian horses to help participants “explore the transcending connection between horses and people.” The Equine Experience Retreat (which, by the way, is still held several times each year at their beautiful Texas Hill Country ranch) promised “a place to find inner peace, growth, and creativity.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking for that stuff for most of my adult life. Sign me up!
So I naively packed my riding boots and clothes (not understanding that this was not going to be a riding experience at all) and headed off to the Hill Country to hunt for that elusive “still place in my heart” the McCormicks promised would help me learn to connect with the “heart and rhythms of nature.” Especially, I hoped, with the heart and rhythm of my increasingly agitated horse, Trace.
Even then I realized on some level that it was my own escalating agitation and stress that was coming back at me through the misbehavior of my horse. He was simply mirroring what was going on inside me, but it would be a while before I learned about that. (Chapter 10, to be exact, of my new book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, a somewhat errant chronicle of this journey. At this point, we are still in Chapter 1, headed toward Chapter 2 where a Peruvian horse named Maximo escorted me to the trailhead of my midlife horses journey.
Here’s a book excerpt to describe how it all unfolded:
“The day before, an aging Peruvian horse named Maximo had demonstrated for the group how he could use his buddy sourness to play my overactive nurturing instinct like a cheap fiddle. Then, as I later tried to lead him “with authority,” he plain-old ignored my pace and used each turn as opportunity to graze, oblivious to my “authoritative” yanks on the lead rope. “Max sees that you have no boundaries,” Deborah McCormick, Ph.D., explained to me and to the group. The message resonated with issues I had dealt with time and again in my life, without resolution.”
Do you cringe when people say how “nice” you are? Do you habitually sacrifice your own needs (or wants) to accomodate the needs (and wants) of others? Then maybe it’s time for your midlife horses!
“Horses see us for who we are on the inside,” agree many of the popular “horse whisperers” of today (who are parroting, by the way, the grandaddy of them all, Tom Dorrance.). The bottom line for those of us who have chosen midlife horses as a journey to rediscover who the heck we are? Watch the behavior of the horses you interact with very closely. The inner reality is closer than it appears.