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The Horse and I

Sonoran Desert, Arizona, September 2012

A hot, dry breeze ruffles my hair as I shade my eyes and scan the surrounding hills covered with scrub brush and ocotillo. Among scattered boulders, saguaro cacti stand at attention, stick figures stretching their arms toward the cloudless, sapphire-blue sky. My three younger sisters have splurged for my sixtieth birthday and are treating me to a week with them at the Miraval Resort and Spa, an oasis of porches, pools, palm trees, and paths. I love the dry heat. I love the wide sky. I love my sisters.

When we arrived at the resort, we got to choose from the usual variety of massage and facial treatments, but there were also unexpected offerings, including hikes, trail rides, and an intriguing session called the equine experience . “Practice living life in the moment as you work with specially selected horses and our expert facilitators,” the description read. “You’ll perform equestrian ground skills, getting a chance to notice personal patterns of learned behavior that may be holding you back from the life you want to live.” It had been awhile since I’d been with horses, and this seemed like a good time of life to learn what might be holding me back, so I signed up.

Which is why I’m now standing in the corral, eyeing the desert hills as I bake in the sun. I turn back to the horse I’ve chosen to work with. She’s the oldest horse here, so I feel some connection, seeing as how I’m moving into senior territory myself. At the moment, my job is to clean her front left hoof. The underneath part. So I have to get her to raise her leg. But she’s not cooperating. Her feet stay firmly planted on the ground.

“I don’t think she wants to do this,” I tell the trainer. “At least she doesn’t want me to do this.”

“It’s not about the horse,” says the trainer. “She knows the drill. Just touch her on her foreleg, and she’ll raise her foot for you.”

I touch. Nothing happens. Really, I think it’s obvious that she doesn’t want to raise her foot right now. But I say nothing and try again. No go. Maybe I’m doing this wrong. I stroke her and try again. Nothing. I resist peeking at the other participants with their horses, but I’m afraid that I’ll be the only person here who can’t get their horse’s hooves clean.

“Okay, step back,” says the trainer. “Deep breath. What are you thinking?”

I inhale deeply, exhale slowly. “Umm, I’m thinking I can’t make her raise her foot if she doesn’t want to.” Plus, I’m no good at this, I think; plus, I’m afraid I’ll fail; plus . . .

“She’ll do it,” says the trainer. “She likes having her hoof cleaned. But she can sense what you’re feeling. Give yourself a minute and try again.”

I look to the hills, breathe deeply, let all those thoughts fly off into the desert somewhere, and start over. I try not to think at all but simply approach the horse as if I do this every day. I touch her foreleg, and – wonder of wonders! – she lifts her foot, and I scrape her hoof clean.

“What was different that time?” asks the trainer.

At that moment, I know the secret: I gave up control. I, who have made a career out of thinking, stopped thinking for a moment. I let go of the outcome, touched the horse, and, with her cooperation, bent to my work. As I relaxed into the moment, into my surroundings, into the experience, so did the horse. It was a life lesson – not to stop caring but to stop demanding, to hold my thoughts and expectations with a loose hand, to relax into uncertainty.

Uncertainty. That’s what we’ll look at next week as we think about life – is it color-by-number or interpretive?

 

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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