It is in the nature of horses to lead us to our own freedom.
It is a life lived among the mountains and the wilderness of youth that brought the horses to me. They roamed my family’s land and came to our outstretched hands in early morning darkness, when the grass was still dew-soaked and slick.
Nothing moves in the pre-dawn darkness like the faint shadows of the horses; some reluctant to gather, others eager to move to your hand, nuzzling velvet lips against your fingers. In a quiver of anticipation, they brace for a saddle thrown gently over their backs. An old yellow bulb glows against the logs of a 100 year old barn, and the air is rich with hay dust and the summer smell of crushed oats.
The sunlight throws shards of gold over the tips of the ridges, and the valleys are still cold as we climb, and we move, each of us half-awake, climbing up towards the morning. Mornings like this are always with us, even here in the city. We clamber to our destinations amidst promises of perfection and salvation that call out to us to push harder, and do more to find peace. Where, we ask, is the innocent knowledge of our connection to life that seems so ephemeral?
When I felt the heart of the horse, calm and vigilant beside me as I slept on mountaintops, there was nothing I had to do except listen to the grass whistle in the wind.
I have felt their muscles tense when they catch the scent of a bear on the breeze through the dense trees, charged with the terror of a prey animal against the unknown; I felt my own terror and my own doubts. In the quiet tenderness of their bodies, they will gather and sleep, placid and still, across wide fields in the summer. When the storms come they will run in a mad rush and surge of their wildness plunging across ridges in a windswept gallop.
When I watch them, I am drawn in to my own heart, and my desire to run, to lift my burdens and fling them aside. When I ride, I am asked to listen, to be present, to hold a space for unknowns, for a conversation between bodies and souls.
I may never know how the horse soldiers or the frontiersman felt when they rode: solitary, terrified, completely unfettered in a new landscape, aware of their nearness to death. Perhaps they spent the evenings watching the stars, listening to the breathing of the horse and beating of their hearts. Perhaps the only companion they knew at that moment was the horse.
I often ask myself as I move through the city, how I can find that feeling of possibility, of freedom and spaciousness on a yoga mat, or in the busy streets amidst the constant pull to consume, to be busy, to assume an identity or to conform to expectations that are not my own.
I have the memory of horse sweat, saddle leather and the warm, soft necks that I clung to as a child, when I had not a clue where to put my sadness, my confusions, my dreams to come, or when I could not put into words the feelings of freedom, of space, of yearning to explore this world.
We all have parts of our lives that shine on within us like jewels, waiting to be held, glowing with the original power of our dreams.
When I rode bare-chested, plunging forward across the fields, I moved with the rhythm of the animal, silently awakened to the beauty and power of these beings that reminded me of what I all too often forget as I move through my days: freedom is a simple thing. That to ask the horse to join us and teach us what it knows is both humbling and exhilarating for the raw and pure possibilities. That it is the wildness, the winds, the rain and the sun, and the inner desire to move forward into the unknown that sustains us all.
Hand me your books, and set down your broken cups, and ask the horse to teach you what your heart knows. Our freedom is intertwined with all beings, and this wonderful earth is ours to explore. Let the horse remind us of our truths, of our primal natures, and of our capability to love, unfettered, free, and pure.
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Assist Ed: Katherine Spano/Ed: Sara Crolick
Photo: courtesy of the author