IMAGES WORTH 1,000 WORDS…OF PEACE & JOY
Editing every day moments to reveal what my heart sees.
I begged to ride horses on every family vacation. I was sure I wanted one of my own but by the age of 9, I was already clear about the likelihood of that.
I would look into every horse’s eyes before I got in the saddle, to see if they were happy. It was a huge concern to me because I didn’t want to ride a horse that didn't enjoy being ridden. I wanted us to be in synch.
I still do. It has to be fun for both of us.
Decades later, I found myself crying every time I passed my neighbor's orphaned Paint horse foal. He stood alone in knee-deep mud without shelter through a winter of constant rain. Evidence of water (a dog bowl) and bits of hay trampled in the mud was all the county needed to see to keep from coming to his rescue. If I walked by, he eagerly came to the fence and to this day, there’s no doubt in my mind it was his idea for me to get him out of there because I had long ago given up my dream of every owning a horse.
For some reason, I was compelled to rescue him. Either that or move. I just couldn’t watch him get any thinner or colder so I asked a local horse trainer if he would “go see the man about his horse” and negotiate a price.
I paid a ridiculous ransom but my long-ago dream had finally come true.
The next several years and variety of horse training methods proved the critical importance of a foal’s early socialization by a mother and a herd—all of which my horse lacked. Horse training methods relied on a reliable flight instinct, but my horse’s response to pressure was to resist it or fight.
Eventually, he accepted being ridden, but only under his terms. Moving on cue to go in circles at different speeds made no sense to him. But give him a big ball to chase and kick from one end of an arena to the other, and he was all in. Trails were good. Opening, exiting and closing gates made sense. Dressage, not a chance.
One beautiful summer day I wondered if he might like to practice cantering a bit in an outdoor arena so I could help him strengthen his back muscles. I chose a pattern that allowed him to start on his strong side. I remember he seemed into it. I remember laughing and praising him.
My next memory, 5 hours later, was hearing the noises inside a CT scanner. I learned I had broken my helmet, sustaining a serious concussion. Road rash and huge contusions went up my backside so I could only lie on my stomach. No broken bones. But since no one saw the accident, and only heard me say, “Whoaaa,” then silence, then more commotion and a thud, I can only guess my horse was spooked by something or someone. I think that after I slowed him down, I relaxed but he didn’t. And he surprised me by bolting off without taking me with him.
Apparently I had said to the guy who found me, “I wasn’t expecting that!” Even if I could’ve explained what I can’t now about what happened, his priority was to get me to a hospital. I’m grateful he was there that day.
At first I fought it, but the accident changed my view of riding. I lost my desire to drill my horse on certain types of movements so he could more safely carry a rider—for himself and for the rider. I was beginning to face the fact I didn’t rescue him simply to turn him into my recreational vehicle.
So I built a barn, got him a mini horse buddy, and brought him home. No more arenas; no more lessons; no more riding.
Liberty work, agility games, groundwork only. Giving him the option to say “no” and walk off. Offering suggestions and taking his until we’re in synch. This is what we do together now. I visualize what I want him to do with consistent words and body language, watch him figure it out and praise a lot. He seeks praise with behaviors he’s learned that make me laugh. I breathe more. He knows there are boundaries and respects them. His pride in figuring out a request is often palpable and his nicker when hearing me coming makes it all worthwhile.
This was the peace and joy I wanted all along with horses—to be in synch.
It inspired me to take my fine art degree and 30+ year career in graphic and web design to create images of the feeling of being in synch with horses and Nature. What my camera may see as an everyday moment, I edit to reveal what my heart sees (before and after examples).
Inspired to grow the empathy children feel for animals, I used my images to create a picture book for all ages written from the perspective of my horse. I’ve taken the highly visual, fictional/non-fiction, “tea table book” for kids into middle schools to talk about creative writing from the point of view of a pet of any kind and it’s been so rewarding to see how the kids get into that idea!