Horse Sense: Oprah Replacement Therapy
I had tried to think of ways to get out of this thing all week.
This “thing” was an Epona workshop designed to teach volunteers at Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary to handle their most traumatized rescues.
And I love EV. I am fierce about their mission and my boy Diamond Rio, one of their most gorgeous, and courageous rescues, is the four-legged love of my life–I sponsor him.
But the recommended readings and materials for that day’s workshop included “wisdom” cards, books about “the way of the horse.” And there were passages about Native American beliefs that made me a wee bit wary.
As I’ve said often, I have a huge family of Native in laws and friends. And I don’t like it the idea of “trying on” Native beliefs and customs. There are a few rituals I do out of respect out home, or because I was taught to do them by Native people who believed they might be of some use to me, personally. But I don’t go around teaching them to people. I could never face my family again, if I did.
That could’ve been my “out.” But I’d paid nearly 200 bucks to participate. So I rose ‘way too early for a Sunday morning, grumbled my way through my morning ablutions and got in the car for the long drive out to the Jumpin’ Jack Ranch.
And there, the clouds of doubt dissipated almost instantly.
I found a circle of women of all ages waiting eagerly to begin, each with her own very personal reasons for wanting to be there that day. Oh, we did a little sage smudging and card reading. My card told me to sit still and be patient—only then would I receive the blessings I desired.
But there was testifyin’, too. I felt my soul open and embrace them all, story by story, in that circle of womanly wisdom. And then we were led to a corral that had, until that very day, been off limits even to seasoned volunteers.
Illusion, a stunning, black maned buckskin beauty was waiting for us. She had one black eye and one blue eye which brought out the Bowie fan in me–a schoolboy fight over a girl left him with a permanently dilated left eye that looks black though the iris is actually still blue. And her abusive past had made her very skittish toward strangers. Signs on her corral cautioned visitors and volunteers alike.
We were to discover that Illusion’s “legend” was… an illusion.
She seemed, at first, to be living up to her name. It was an incredibly windy day and every gust set her off. In fact, every noise, every move we made sent her galloping—a plastic bag blowing by made her rear up and run. At one point, visibly unnerved by our approach, she lifted her lip, the better to “smell” our scents in the wind. It was also a warning, we felt, to keep a safe distance.
No longer sure this was such a great idea, we watched a trainer enter the corral cautiously. She headed all the way across and away from her, and then slooooowly approached, stopping and stepping back whenever Illusion raised her head or turned to look.
That was the basic technique: “stop, rock and sigh.” And after she’d done that a few times, Illusion turned and walked right up to her, nudging and nodding, gentle as you please.
Then…they said it was our turn.
And for some reason…I volunteered to go first.
I just knew I could. I had cleared my agenda completely both before and during an “emotional body scan” the trainers did before any of us could enter the corral. It’s a simple process of reading what your body feels like, where there’s tension and what that tension might be trying to “say.”
I had tingly fingers, because I was so ready to meet that gorgeous creature in the corral. But it was also a warning, I thought, to calm down. Be still. And to let whatever happened be enough. If I just let her feel how happy I was to be given a chance to meet her, I believed all would be well.
I was right. As soon as I opened the gate, Illusion trotted right over and pressed her face against my chest for a cuddle. I didn’t even have to work for it. And then she walked back over to nibble at her hay bag, leaving me to do as I pleased as well. I practiced the “stop, rock and sigh” thing briefly. And when the wind startled her just as I was getting close, she showed remarkable restraint and respect–a little stutter step…and back to the hay bag.
The lesson? If I relaxed, opened up and trusted the Great Whatever… the object of my desire, emotional, material or spiritual, would walk right into my life. No stress. No strain.
This was the same advice I’d been given by the card I had picked from the deck earlier.
And each participant, in turn, received the lesson she needed. A woman with “ego” issues had to drop them before Illusion would allow herself to be petted. In fact, Illusion made her wait… walk… wait… walk—that horse played her like a fiddle until she realized she was not the center of the universe after all.
Conversely, at the sound of the quavering voice of a woman who was terrified to even approach the corral at first, Illusion came over to the corral fence as if trying to convince her that she wanted to be touched. She even went to the gate and stood patiently as the trainer coaxed the trembling woman, a victim of physical abuse—as was Illusion–to take baby steps closer and closer to the corral.
When the gate finally opened, Illusion met her shaky “sistah” with a gentle nuzzle and absolute acceptance as a “soul survivor.”
We all applauded. And wept. And then realized we had forgotten about lunch. But…nobody cared at that point.
It was time for us to deal with some serious male energy–in the form of the sanctuary mascot, Gulliver. I’ve posted an old promotional video of Gulliver because you have to see him to believe him.
Gulliver is a massive draft horse just hitting “horse puberty.” He was born on a PMU ranch where he was about to be sent to slaughter as most PMU foals are—so are their mothers, when they are no longer able to produce urine for the female hormone replacement (Premarin) trade.
Male foals are sent off to be butchered almost immediately. So “little” Gulliver had one foot on the truck you might say, the day he was rescued. But now, as Equine Voices’ goodwill ambassador, he’s treated like royalty, and visitors clamor to pet and pamper him at special events—a local winery even has even named one of their specialties after him.
So Gulliver loves people—he’s the sweetest cuddlebug on four legs. But he is a monster truck. And we were supposed to make him mind us when we asked him to back up.
But of course, that’s not what we were really there to learn.
Before taking on Mr. Doublewide, we were introduced to this little prop that looked like a whip but was NEVER to be used like one. You wave it on the ground in front of you, and it’s supposed to be a “request” for the horse to step back.
This time… I didn’t go first. But one plucky volunteer eagerly entered, swept the ground in front of his gargantuan hooves and said, “Back up, Gulliver.” It was a little tentative, and her body language wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. But to our amazement, Gulliver turned… and walked away.
It wasn’t quite the reaction we wanted, but he had moved. Still, the volunteer was crestfallen.
“That’s… what I was afraid of,” she said with a disheartened shrug.
Puzzled, we waited for the other shoe to drop.
“I’m always afraid to set boundaries with men because…that’s what happens. They leave.”
Abandonment issues. Who knew?
Gulliver did. And he came back, did his, “Don’t you just wanna pet me forever? I know you do, c’mon—here, let me bow down and make you wanna love on me all day” thing with all his might to give her one more chance.
She had to make a decision. Did she ask him to move and risk being “abandoned,” or just let him continue to charm and overpower her like her former lovers had, knowing she would never set boundaries or hold them accountable for their actions.
She took the chance. She told him to back off and stood her ground like she meant it—body and soul.
And this time, he didn’t run away. He backed up a couple of tentative steps and waited. And when she walked away, he followed her obediently around the corral. If she stopped, he stopped. If she moved, he moved. She had “won” herself a real man, finally. He just wanted to make sure she “got it.”
What did I get?
Well, I, like many women, coo to “woo” and placate. I entered the corral timidly, smooching and smiling as he stood ‘way too close to the open gate—this dude has learned how to open some of the gates, by the way. So as soon as he saw that open gate behind me, he went for it. But luckily, one of our trainers was there to set him straight with one touch of her hands.
Back to square one.
I walked in cooing as usual and he came to rub up against me as usual, too. So when I cooed at him to back up…of course, he didn’t. He just cuddled me more.
Why? Well, here was the message I was giving him — the same one I give my lovers:
“Oh, what a good boy! I just wuv you soooo much — go away!”
Yeah, right. WTF?
Until I made it clear that I really wanted him to back up, he kept nuzzling me like the big ol’ bundle o’ love he is. And when I finally managed to sound like I meant it, and thanked him when he stepped back…it became a little “game.” He would stand there waiting for me to say, “Back up, Gulliver.” And then he’d take one step, and wait for the “Thank you!”
I needed to thank him. He had just taught me that good men actually like to be told what you really want. That they respect you even more if you say it clearly and with real conviction — no “cooing” necessary.
Who needs Oprah? We’ve got Gulliver!
For those of you who think an Epona workshop might be just the thing now that Oprah’s gone, here the Web site address: http://eponaquest.com/
And if you want to do a little book therapy first, to save some big bucks—those workshops aren’t cheap–go herehttp://eponaquest.com/about/books or here http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Equus-Journey-Healing-Transformation/dp/1577314204/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1/
And to join Gulliver’s fan club (or donate to his pal Illusion and the others), go here: https://www.equinevoices.org/horses/about-us/gulliver/