by Kim Hampton
“As I soothe you I surprise wounds of my own this long time unbothered. As you stand, scathed and scabbed, with your head up, I swab. As you press, I lean into my own loving touch, for which no wound is too ugly.
Linda McCarriston, “Healing the Mare”
How many times have you heard one of your barn friends say “my horse is my therapist”? Or, how many of you have made that same comment? If enough of us say it, there must be some truth in it, right?
One of the joys of working with James and the Equine Energetix herd, is that I now spend the better part of my day contemplating why horses have the magical quality that leaves us knowing we’ve been “touched”, and what keeps us coming back for more.
My thoughts often bring me back to my first horse, Nicky, aka “Blind Date”. Nick was a stunning dark bay TB, with a small white star (more like a heart) on his forehead. A former A circuit jumper with an impressive winning record, he was loaded at age 16 onto a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Details of his life trickled in from here and there. I found out from a farrier that Nick had a sore back and was used in 4-5 lessons a day. He was sour and started bucking people off.
I thank God every day for the people who rescued Nicky from a horrible fate, and to my friend, Tom, who gave me my first horse ~ “take him, see how it goes, and if it doesn’t work out I will take him back, no questions asked”.
Tom, a very special friend and mentor, passed away when he was far too young. It was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and to lose him broke my heart. With Nicky, Tom gave me a gift that I will never be able to repay.
I would like to tell you that the first time I met Nicky it was love at first sight. Instead, the first time I opened the stall door, he pinned his ears back and tried to bite me. “Okay, Tom, I don’t think he likes me”. I remember how unphased Tom was by my reaction, and how he very gently reassured me it would just take time for Nicky to trust me. It did take time, and a whole lot of patience, both of us learning to trust, as well as a hefty dose of faith that love does conquer all if you’re willing to take a chance.
We worked on our relationship by just hanging out and taking long walks together. Our barn was on the edge of Mt. Diablo State Park in Walnut Creek, California--the perfect place to hike and just lose yourself in thought. In our first few weeks together there was always a far away look in his eye, a distance, a disconnect.
I was so happy to have my first horse that I didn’t really entertain the idea that it wouldn’t work out, although there were people at the barn who questioned my sanity. “Why in the world would you want that horse for your first horse?!” The words stung, but they only strengthened my resolve to keep going, and we continued, onward.
Riding was a whole other adventure, I was still pretty “green”. Our barn was a dressage barn, complete with DQ’s (Dressage Queens) and a galley where they could gather and critique all of the daily lessons. There are times when you know you are the center of attention, and you know it isn’t because you are a fabulous rider, or a fabulous anything - but you somehow just keep going because you love doing it. In my eyes Nicky was just as beautiful, and just as talented as any other horse there. Perspective is everything, and for that I am so grateful. Turns out my horse loved dressage, and when we earned a blue ribbon in our first Training level test, we all celebrated with champagne. I didn’t know how much a horse could love champagne!
Nicky and I did quite a bit of Freestyle dressage, competing in shows and special events at our barn. We even qualified for the State championship doing a pas-de-deux with Nicky’s best friend. They were unstoppable together, trotting a figure eight to the sounds of Tequila, stirrups clanging as they rode side by side.
Over the years, Nicky gave me many special gifts, one in particular was during the time my Dad was dying of cancer. We had my Dad at home with hospice, and we knew that our time together was very limited. One afternoon I was struggling to keep myself going, and I found myself out at the barn sitting in the corner of Nicky’s stall. I sat down cross-legged, resting my head on my arms and it was like an emotional cloudburst overhead, as I thought about my Dad leaving us. I’d lost track of time, and after a little bit I felt the weight of Nicky’s head on my shoulder, resting tenderly against me. I looked up into his face and saw a look of love and kindness that I will never forget - no more far away look, we were one.
Nicky died at the age of 21, a sudden bout of colic that brought him down sooner than we could trailer him for emergency care. I sat with him, his head in my lap, grateful for everything he’d given me. It was more than five years before I could bring myself to get another horse, and I know now that in my life there will always be horses.
The time I spent with Nicky nurtured wounds I never knew I had, and much of what he taught me stayed below the surface until I was ready to set it free. In Riding Between the Worlds, Linda Kohanov writes:
“Humans spend so much time and energy judging what should or shouldn’t happen, what they should or shouldn’t feel, that they sacrifice their ability to enjoy or adapt to what is happening. “Be like a mirror,” wrote the Chinese sage Chuang-tzu. “A mirror does not search for or create things, but welcomes and responds to all that comes before it. This in essence describes the eternally reflective mind of the horse.”
When we’re ready to see what our horses reflect back to us, simply in that moment we feel the strength and courage to let go the wrapping paper that keeps our deepest darkest secrets neatly boxed. Therapist, teacher, best friend ~ thank you.