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.
This retreat, as its literature explained, was hosted by the three “eagles,” Doctors Tom, Adele, Deborah McCormick, who wrote two of my favorite horse books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart (Health Communications, 1997), and Horses and the Mystical Path (New World Library, 2004).
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.