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 2-year-old orphan The Artful Dodger.
The next several years frustrated a few trainers with methods that relied on the horse having a critical flight response imprinted by its mother. Dodger didn’t have that. His natural response to pressure was not to move in the direction desired but to plant his feet and resist. As more tack and tools were added to increase the pressure, he finally gave up, but the best he offered was minimal compliance—as the light went out of his eyes.
He accepted being ridden, but arena work—perfecting cues in different gaits while traveling 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 all in. His natural curiosity and willingness energized him if he was given a voice in what we did together. However, after a couple of helmet-cracking accidents for me in a particularly “spooky” arena, then a charging, barking loose dog on a trail, trail-riding required a greater sense of adventure and confidence than I had left to make a priority of riding.
And…I had never rescued a recreational vehicle or a horse needing a job in my mind; I had rescued a sentient being with a rough start. He wasn’t a conformist and I could relate.
I 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 enjoy by choice…or not.
Our relationship improved even more. Dodger listens to me and I listen to him. He loves praise as much as my dog, respects my safety boundaries and loves to see me—all the elements of being in synch that I wanted all along.
This experience 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 love the soulful expressions I see and emphasize in my artistic editing 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!