The Story of Spirit Horse
A Side Story
When I was really young, before I got really involved in horses as a part of daily life, I read a book about a Native American boy you was sent out into the wild to pick a horse and partner with them. He wasn’t allowed to return to his village until he and the horse were connected and able to ride together and at that point he was accepted as a man. The boy picked a wild beautiful mustang stallion and the book was on what he learned through his process of befriending and taming this wild horse. This book put a seed in my young mind, what would everyone learn about themselves if they trained their own young horse, if we had to live fully with the consequences of our own actions? What holes, pitfalls, disconnects would we have to face? Any what beauty, kindness, and connection would we discover? These seeds helped form one of the specialities that Spirit Horse provides for certain clients, undergoing a quest to find our truest self by going on the journey of finding, befriending, and bonding to our horse. Whether you already have one of your own, or you have never owned one before, this is the journey of a lifetime.
There once was a little chestnut mare named Rubi who lived out on a ranch in California. I was on a trail ride at the ranch with some other folks and I saw her across a field with a late teenage rider. Rubi was startled by being alone out in an open space. She started to want to run forward only for her rider to pull sharply on the bit. Rubi’s response was to back up quickly backing straight into a tall metal chain linked fence falling onto the rider and rolling over on her. The rider, who recovered quickly enough with no mental trauma, broke a number of ribs and Rubi had bloody cuts all over her legs and body from where she had hit the fence and became tangled. Once Rubi was lead back to the farm, she was tied to a post and left there for a day with no food or water. The idea was that she would understand what she had done was wrong and never do it again. No one was allowed to care for her wounds but I stood there with Rubi and instantly was drawn to her. She had this wild spirit, this unwillingness to take attitude or demands, but with all that came her anxiety, her uncertainty with humanity, her confusion, and I could relate. I could sense that we were not all that different so without much horse experience under my belt, barely 11 years old, I asked if I could lease her from the barn and with apprehension they said yes. I was able to work off some of my lease and lessons by working after school and a journey began.
Woking with Rubi began a whole new way of thinking. Everything had to make sense to her, or else she wouldn’t do it. She was the opposite of obedient, she asked questions and required an answer that worked for her. I was inspired by her and I couldn’t just do “normal” training methods that included kicking or pulling because I would have been kicking and pulling forever. I started reading books on different horsemanship methods, working with the horse, old traditions passed down from wise folk to wise folk. I started to see a trend of not being in a trance of obedience but really being present, patient, clear, and earning respect instead of assuming it. Through this process with Rubi, I started to see the health in how she was asking me to be with her. I also started to see that people are often asking one another the same thing Rubi was asking for from me - presence, patience, clarity, and respect. People that experienced more joy, more life, more contentment, were folks that had learned to transform tragedy, hardship, challenges into clarity, better understanding of themselves and others, and intentional joy. I now saw how my work with Rubi was going to change my work with myself.
Over the next few years, as I entered the infamous teenage years, I started to see how much folks struggled, how much confusion and hurt we all carried on a day to day basis and I wanted to know if there was anyway we, or I, could do something about it so I started to look around…
Three seemingly separate paths started to form in my life, my love for everything horse, my understanding of humanity through wisdom traditions, and my knowledge and love of the human psyche. At that young age, I decided that I wanted to see a practice that could incorporate all three and, although I didn’t know it yet, Spirit Horse was conceived as a thought that would take more than 15 years to come to fruition.
I decided to pursue all three paths, in hopes one day I could braid them together. Over the next decade I threw myself in all three categories. With my horse work, I took classical dressage lessons, hunter/jumper lessons, watched clinics, watched horse shows, read books, traveled to and interviewed horse farms, watched what was working and what was not working in the long run. I saw every training method from beating horses to show them you could dominate them, to folks working on perfecting their walk to find relaxation for over a year before attempting the trot. I took on a few horse related jobs riding hunter/jumpers, teaching lessons, caring for horses, riding problem horses and got neck deep into the culture of horse people. I learned how to watch the land, watch the horses, understand the common language of horses amongst all equine traditions and was able to ask horses what works and what doesn’t as well as apologize for all the atrocities that I had witnessed humans do to the horse.
Simultaneously, I started my undergraduate, and eventually my masters degree, in counseling psychology. I consciously took on practicum and internship sites that were not horse related to understand how therapists work with the human mind and all the skills we have found to be effective to change behavior and mindset to help people find mental health. I gravitated towards transpersonal psychology, a style that helps clients find their healthiest version of self by confronting what holds them back and gets in their way. I volunteered for tough groups, worked with clients that were in trouble with the law, ones that were addicted to drugs, ones that challenged me by questioning my every move and I started to understand the hurt behind people. They reminded me of Rubi. Tied up to the post, bloody, spirited, and disheartened. Gabor Mate, a physician who inspires me in his work with disease, addiction and ADHD, says, “don’t ask why the addiction, but why the pain.” Instead of asking why we are doing behaviors to hurt ourselves, ask about the pain that drives us to act, to react, close down, or go numb. I started to understand that if we can find our pain and ease it, we find the key to mental health.
While I was putting the horse wisdom and human psyche pieces together, I realized there was a third piece that I needed - human wisdom traditions. I started with religious studies, understanding the role of religion for people and how they each evoke spirit and belief in their own way. I traveled to Nepal, India, China, in search of human wisdom that has been passed down for generations. I listened to great masters share their understandings and realizations, and the more I studied, the more I started to see trends, and connections, the biggest being our unique ability as humans to change our perspective and change our mindset, especially in our darkest hour.
I see this with the horses too, I will get in horses with angry eyes, defensive, shut down, biting people, running away, hurt horses that have lost trust. Often with a mixture of timing, vulnerability, consistency, and admiration for their struggle, they open up and soften. Their eyes relax, they stop putting energy into fighting, they listen and speak freely, letting us know how they feel about us human folk. If horses can change their mindset and their feel without words, then us humans can absolutely do it and possibly do it faster because we can communicate much more with verbal language.
I started to see the thread that was tying the horse work, human psyche, and human wisdom together - a mixture of emotional intelligence, relationship understanding, trauma processing, finding our own power and energy, knowing how to calm and find clarity in our own mind, and then share that clarity with others. When we find health, we find sleep, we find nourishment that fills us, we find joy, and bravery to face any challenge with dignity and respect. We begin to understand that we all belong to each other and we influence, impact, and alter one another as well as our surroundings.
In 2016, I made the leap and officially started Spirit Horse. My hope was to share the wisdom, insights, healing, and care that I had been seeking for over 15 years. My hope was that this braid of love for the horse, the understanding of human wisdom, and the knowledge of the human psyche could help people find their presence, patience, clarity, and respect of self and others and pass it along to the people in their life.