SOULFUL HORSES & NATURE’S EXPRESSIONS
What my heart sees in everyday moments.
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
― Mary Oliver, poet
Horses astonished me from an early age. I paid such close attention to them…their energy, their movements, their coat variations, their manes and tails. Their eyes drew me way in.
I begged to ride a horse 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 looked into all the horses’ eyes before I got on one, to see if he or she was happy. 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 required 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 he planted the idea in my mind to get him out of there, even though I had long ago given up my dream of owning a horse.
I had to move or rescue him; I couldn’t bear to watch him get any thinner or colder. I asked a local horse trainer if he would negotiate a price with the owners, and my long-ago dream became reality. I named my orphan 2-year-old The Artful Dodger.
The next several years frustrated a few trainers with pressure-and-release methods based on a horse having its critical flight response imprinted by its mother. Dodger didn’t have that. His natural response to pressure wasn’t to move, but to plant his feet and resist. As more tack and tools were used to leverage the pressure, he finally gave up, but the best he offered became minimal compliance—as the light in his eyes went out.
He accepted being ridden, but arena work—perfecting cues in different gaits while moving in circles—made no sense to him. But give him a ball to kick or a gate to open and close or a trail to explore, and he was happy. His natural curiosity and willingness came out if something was in it for him, but after a couple of helmet-cracking accidents, trail-riding required more confidence than either of us had, so I stopped prioritizing it.
I hadn’t rescued a recreational vehicle; I had rescued a sentient being with a rough start. He wasn’t a conformist and I could relate.
I finally stopped paying for the riding arena and horse boarding lifestyle and brought him home. I found a mini horse to keep him company and chose liberty work, agility, and groundwork as our activities—all stuff he or the mini could choose to do…or not.
Our relationship changed for the good. Dodger’s open to suggestions, loves praise, respects my safety boundaries and loves to see me—all the elements of being in synch I wanted all along.
This is what inspired me to take my fine art degree and 30+ year career in graphic and web design to share what astonishes me about horses and nature through my images and children’s books. I hope you see the soulful expressions I emphasize in the editing phase of my artistic process (before and after examples).
My picture book for all ages is written from Dodger’s perspective. This highly visual, fictional/non-fiction, “tea table book” for kids has been a hit with 4th graders as well as middle school Language Arts students as they consider writing from the point of view of their own pets. Kids love expressing what they feel is inside their pets’ heads and hearts!