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Full House Farm: Harmony With Horses

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"The lasting revolution comes from deep change in ourselves."
Anais Nin

 

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Journals ] Annual Letter 2004 ] Annual Letter 2005 ] Annual Letter 2006 ] Annual Letter 2007 ] Annual Letter 2011 ] Annual Letter 2012 ]

April 05, 2004

A Wild Dance

The experience of being with a horse contains largely kinesthetic experience. When we initially meet with a horse, the first thing we want to do is reach out and touch. That is understandable. There is a universal language spoken by all living things and one of the components to this language is touch. Without it, we feel incomplete. Interestingly, though, I have seen all too often that the act of reaching out is actually an act of creating a barrier. The hand reaching out speaks of boundaries being breached and the desire to keep the horse at a safe distance. For many, allowing someone to come into our space and touch us is risky.

The other day during a class, one of my students who has developed a strong bond with Lyric was standing near her head having just brought her at liberty over to the grooming area. During the classes we groom in the arena, since we use almost all the horses. "Jenny," an adult woman, was turned towards me listening to me giving instruction when Lyric began to nuzzle her. Jenny immediately and unconsciously reached up with her hand and stroked Lyrics face rapidly. Lyric pulled away and Jenny's hand pursued. I reminded her of the hands tendency to barrier us from intimacy and encouraged her to allow Lyric to come close. Jenny was afraid Lyric would bite. I suggested she trust. Then, standing there with Lyric, Jenny dropped her hands and stood openly allowing Lyric to come closer. Lyric obliged, lifting her nose to Jenny's cheek, brushing her face and neck with soft whiskers, breathing moist warm air into Jenny's ear and snuffling gently in her hair. Jenny had closed her eyes by now and was thoroughly enjoying the touch. After a moment, Lyric dropped her nose away and stood quiet and content next to Jenny. Jenny opened her eyes and smiled. What a gift that had been!

I often start workshops and almost always my private lessons with grooming. Grooming is a ritualistic way of connecting with the horse. More often than not, the grooming that is done before working with the horse is not really all that necessary. In the winter there can be mud to remove and from time to time there are rocks in the hooves to pick out, but for the most part the grooming could be dispensed with, save for one thing. It is a wonderful way to connect with the horse. That first touch of the brush to the coat is like stepping into a bath or jumping into a pool of cool water on a hot day. The two skins come together and feel different only for a moment, maybe cold against warm or hard against soft. Then, with the motion of the hand stroking, pressing, flicking the brush along the horse's coat, the body swinging, bending, breathing, the two begin to feel like one. Even the breath of the horse and person can begin to match.

I once took a lesson blindfolded, just to see what it felt like. One of the most remarkable parts of that lesson was the grooming. For the first time in my life I felt the rhythm of grooming as it occurs every time. I realized it was more like a dance than a silly nuisance of a chore you do before riding. Because I was unable to see, I was able to feel the beginning and end of each stroke and how the apparent end of one stroke actually melded into the beginning of the next. It was even more necessary to do this, since if I took my hand off the horse I was less certain where my brush would land again. So, I made a point to visualize the horses body and never step away from what I was doing.

This is a metaphor for what we can do in our relationships every day, every moment; never step away, stay immersed in the rhythm of the strokes, melding one stroke into the next. It may sound exhausting, but is actually less work. It is not a chore. It is a dance. A wild dance.

When I was a teenager I would seek the touch of the horse almost every day. The times it was most necessary were when I was distraught and I remember being distraught frequently. I owned a horse named Breezy, a small energetic Hackney. Breezy would be ready to go any time I was in need. Many times I would leave my house feeling so alone and unable to deal with life. Breezy and I would gallop off up the driveway and disappear into the hills for hours. The motion in my body matching the motion in Breezy's would still the rapid heart beat of frustration I felt and I would return calm, feeling better. Breezy's touch was an elixir for the fever of teendom.

When I teach children, they don't really care what we do as long as they get lots of opportunities to hug and be hugged by the horse. I have to say, though, that the child usually would rather be the toucher than the touched. Most of the time, when the horse attempts to nuzzle, brush with whiskers, of breathe on the child they cringe away. This could be because we are basically a touch deprived society and are unaccustomed to such intimacy or the fact that the horse is so big. No matter the reason, I always try to encourage the child to feel the touch without running from it. I know it can be very enjoyable, unique experience. I do not want them to miss the chance of feeling it. Besides, I suspect it is bonding for the horse, too.

The horse touches to become informed. They get close and smell you. They can tell a lot about you by how you involve yourself with them in such close proximity. When I am offered a "kiss," which is what I call it when the horse touches me with the muzzle or the whiskers on the muzzle, I lean into it slightly and slow my breathing. If I can, I close my eyes, to enhance my sense of feel. The horse's lips are extremely sensitive, so I know they are reading me in that moment, the way a blind person reads Braille with their finger tips. I want the horse to know I am willing to be there, all of me, no holds barred. It is in so doing that I give to myself one of the most uplifting experiences I have ever known. What I get from the experience is touch; wild, intimate, unfettered touch; no strings attached, in-the-moment touch.

 

 
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Photos Copyright 2004 Barbara Bourne Photography, all rights reserved.
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