I am constantly amazed by the ways in which horses choose to communicate with we mere humans: recognizing that we homo sapiens are the ones who forgot how to talk Horse–not the other way ’round–members of the equine species will go out of their way to get their point across to mortals, to get what they need or want from us.
And, being that horses are ultimately intuitive–intuition has kept the species around for over four million years–even the smallest, quietest flicker of a candle in a window can signal salvation for a horse. We humans are so busy striving to stay alive in this dog-eat-dog world–that of the predator–that we forget that the best way to survive and thrive actually is quite the opposite. Rather than looking to predators for advice, we should observe instead the quiet ways of the prey, whose powers of observation must, by necessity, be more finely-tuned than those of the aggressor.
I’m thinking about a mare I met at a party, 20+ years ago: the Wisdom, calm and trust that
she exhibited that dark Winter night and my first experience with the real mystical properties of The Horse left an impression with me that has informed many of my thoughts and relationships in the two decades since the encounter…
The beginning of our story: Christian, a Swiss friend who was working on his Ph.D.,shared a house with another pal fom Switzerland. This house was out in the middle of West Stephentown, New York, a long “driveway,” as it were, off a county route usually frequented only by pick-up trucks and Baptist church buses taking the faithful to Sunday meetings. The house was beautiful, old and filled with gorgeous, albeit somewhat uncomfortable, antiques. Rolling hills and outbuildings, including the expected
Red Barn, made the picture, well, rather like a Grandma Moses treasure. The place epitomized my rural dreamscape: I envied the two then-young lads who resided in this oakey, musty, creaky farmhouse, whose ghostly residents’ presence could be felt, and whose current inhabitants filled its rooms with talk of artificial intelligence and architectural wonders.
The Europeans had cut a deal with the woman who owned the house: in exchange for caretaking and a minimal rent, they lived in the pastoral environment while she soaked up the sun in Florida or some other clime that was more suitable to her delicate sensibilities. Hearty Upstate New York winters were not her thing, but for two men from the Alps–well, the Taconic Range in a blizzard was no challenge.
One winter night the gentlemen hosted a party–dismiss, right now, thoughts you have about college parties. The hosts’ personalities and tastes dictated that this soiree was destined to be a quiet, intimate affair, populated by international graduate students; contradancers and folk musicians. Christian had discovered contradancing and the lovely, neo-Hippie community that traveled in packs in the pursuit of the perfect partner: the young academic with European sensibilities embraced the raw simplicity of lifestyle and accepting nature of this group which embraced him right back.
To paraphrase Robert Frost’s thoughts, I knew well the path to this serene, bucolic retreat, as I’d spent several Summer afternoons in the backyard, playing Trivial Pursuit against my two amply-armed opponents, and alternating Grappa and Kirschwasser shots when a question was correctly answered. (Grappa, I discovered, will kill you if it sees the opportunity. The word, “Grappa,” in Italian, means, “Flame thrower that will cauterize your larynx.” The Kirschwasser was created in Christian’s Father’s backyard, that is, made from the cherries that heavily adorned the patriarch’s trees. It was a ritual of respect, to crack open the bottle of Dad’s Cherry Likker when it arrived fresh from Switzerland, then dive headlong into a rapid game of wits-matching.)
[I regress. Those of you who stick with me on these verbal meanderings are truly appreciated: as you know, I always end up at the appropriate spot, it just takes me a while as my mind wanders ’round to find the most interesting path.]
As long-time friend, Patti, and I left civilization to drive to the party that Saturday night, a snowstorm commenced. I mean to tell you, the sky went from blue to black to white to White Madness in a matter of minutes. The farther from town we drove, the more intense Mother Nature’s attempt to beat us to death with tiny, white flakes, which–taken one at a time, are innocuous enough. But a trillion snowflakes, joining forces and assaulting a human, car or house can bring on avalanches, falling rocks and–at the very least–a long drive during which one has adequate time to write one’s will and contemplate Death.
We would not turn back, however. Pat, for one, laughs at inclement weather. I echo her disdain, and together we dared the cold, white, six-sided bullets to keep us from this affair.
If you’re not a Yankee, that is, a New Englander or at least from the northern parallels, you might think that driving through a blizzard just to get to a party is a fool’s errand. But, ah…if you are a member of the Chosen, a tough-hided Northerner…you understand. The threat of piles of white, battering the car and thickening the roads does not dissuade a true Upstater. My Mother always maintained that those of us who grow up in climates that feature below-zero temperatures and soul-freezing snow and ice are a heartier bunch than those whose spirits have been lulled into a false sense of security by year-round balmy weather. Mom believed that we grow up tougher: if you can stay alive long enough to become an adult, and decide to move to Florida–you probably won’t. If Winter’s annual assault doesn’t make hash out of you–you’ll stay into grown-up-hood, to your natural death, for by now you’ve developed a relationship with your nemesis, this frenemy. Like a lover who’s bad for you, but who keeps you on your toes–Winter can be a teacher as she renders your skin raw but your spirit and brain, very-much awake and alive.
The snow intensified as we climbed the mountain road that led to Little Switzerland. By the time we were at the end of the driveway, the drive, itself, was almost indiscernible. In the true spirit of camaraderie that marks the contradance community, dancers and fiddlers alike were out hand-shoveling so that others may park their cars–or at least find a friendly snowbank into which to crash, headlong, leaving the vehicle until sometime, well, later. The anticipation of getting inside and curling up with a friend and a cup of real hot Swiss Chocolate was all the permission one needed to leave the car wherever it landed.
The farmhouse, itself, looked like a small gem placed on a field of clean, sparkling cotton. Huge and white, its many rectangular eyes were brightly lit by scores of candles that welcomed travelers into the warmth that awaited within. The night had an air of magic, even before we entered the building–the house invited us in, a beacon of hope for those seeking shelter from cold and the promise that Something Magical would transpire.
Inside, all was warm and toasty, as wood-burning stoves and the aforementioned candles provided ample thermal comfort. The most striking thing about the affair wasn’t even that the house was so warm on such a blood-freezing night…or that the candles made the place look like a page from a romance novel, filled with hope and fantasy…but rather that, as each guest arrived with her or his offerings to the gustatory gods and placed them on the table…each person found her or his own niche. This party was so un-loud…each room seemed a nook, cozier than the one next to it…and each person found their perfect place, and the people with whom they would spend the majority of the evening. As if respecting the nature of the place, most guests spoke in hushed tones within the confines of their respective conversations. A few, like me, wandered from room-to-room, taking in the entire scene. A veritable Disneyland for the senses, I could not confine myself to one conversation or another. But I admired those who dove in with gusto and stayed in with serene, sincere connection binding minds over topics that ranged the gamut.
Which finally brings us to the point of this piece. I, a wanderer, found my way into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup. The hot, inky-black concoction was one of Christian’s great talents. I loved this coffee, it warmed my soul as it tap-danced down my gullet, its heat emanating outward through my freeze-dried organs to exit again via my skin. This was World Class Coffee, and I needed more.
As I moved silently into the candle-lit kitchen–candles, alone, lit the dark, woody room–my reverie was broken by an unexpected sound. A nicker. Alone in this room in the house, the only sound I’d expected as I wove my way through the silence was that of my own breathing. But no, there it was again: a nicker, low and, well, grateful was the only aural image that came to me. There was no doubt, the gentle “Huh-huh-huh” of a horse was somewhere within my personal space–but it was impossible, because neither Christian nor his housemate had horses.
For a moment I assumed that my mind had conjured the sound, or wondered if a ghost horse, a resident of this farm 100 years ago, had come to share the evening with us.
I didn’t have to process or think for long, for the second nicker caused me to turn from the coffeepot to the window above the sink. There, gazing at me with large, pleading eyes, stood a big, beautiful mare. And that mare somehow seemed to epitomize the concept of true Wisdom, although at that moment I didn’t understand why.
I spoke to her for a minute through the window, then went outside to meet her in person. Rather, “to meet her in horse.”
Whoa, Nellie! She was large–not Clydesdale-large, but a big girl, nonetheless. Definitely not a Thoroughbred, possibly a Quarter Horse. Big and bay, with a bit of chestnut in her lovely coat. She nickered again, and allowed me to approach her for a pat. Then I saw the wound: about three inches across, on the right side of her belly. And blood. Not actively bleeding, but a bloody wound that must have caused her pain.
I ran inside to grab the attention of others–the only thing that should have broken the silence of the night was an animal in distress, and, while she wasn’t acting crazily or even appeared to be anxious–clearly, this horse needed human intervention.
Lisa’s husband, Darrin, and a couple other men came out to see our new friend, and to assess the situation. Darrin is a sharp observer: he pronounced that some moron couldn’t tell the difference between a buck and a horse, and so had shot our girlfriend and then left her when he realized that venison wasn’t on the menu.
Someone called a local veterinarian, who arrived in short notice with a horse trailer and his bag filled with comfort. Much to everyone’s surprise, the vet knew this horse–in fact, she was his patient. And he said that she lived seven miles away. We took her into the barn, where the good doctor removed the bullet that fortunately had caused only a shallow wound. He cleaned and bound the wound, and took her in the trailer back home to her owners.
Before they left, the doctor made a point of telling us that, while she lived seven miles away–and had no doubt wandered the woods and backroads trying to find home–at some point, she’d decided that she’d better get some help. And that, seeing the candles in the windows, she realized somehow that the humans within the house were the sort who would help her.
The entire experience was nothing short of miraculous, for all who became involved. I was blessed to be the first human who encountered her. I can’t say that I was singled out to receive that experience, but most definitely I felt–and still feel–that I was singularly blessed to encounter that lovely mare through the kitchen window.
The way the entire piece played out all seemed to be ordained: the fact that good men like Darrin were on-hand to help, and to size up the situation in record time. The fact that, whomever called a vet “happened” to call the vet who not only knew this horse–but who was, in fact, the mare’s own doctor. The fact that she lived seven miles away, and intentionally chose this house, at this time and this place, to find her salvation. It all came together, the wheels all turned in unison, to save this horse and get her home, safely.
That horse. Not a Thoroughbred. Certainly not a million-dollar racehorse of any kind. Someone’s pet, perhaps a little girl’s best friend. Not worth a dime in the industry of breeding or racing–and yet, God in His infinite Love for all His creatures, bent down that night, that night that became starry and black and crisp and magical–to conspire with some mere mortals to save the life of this beautiful, intuitive horse.
We were honoured, to play a role, however small, in the rescue of this gorgeous creature. But it was the horse, herself, who used her intuition to find the path to her own salvation.
And she stayed calm. She didn’t rear up, or act out in any way. She calmly called to me through a window, then stood stock-still while Darrin and the other men handled her. She was stoic through the removal of the bullet. Not once during the entire event did she act in any way other than peaceful, and hopefully expectant.
The lesson I learned that night–that we all should take from this story–is that a calm head and following your instincts will save you, even in the tightest of spots. But beyond that, the Horse Sense lesson is that, if you get centered enough to listen to your own intuition, and look for the Light–you will find what you need. Wisdom is the key to making smart decisions based on intuition. If your intuition tells you to do something, take just a minute to do a Wisdom Check, to confirm that your intuition is instructing you properly, or if it is being informed by your desperation in the situation.
N.B.: (Solomon was given the choice of money or Wisdom by God. Solomon [wisely!] chose Wisdom, exhibiting that, like the four travelers in “The Wizard of Oz,”–he already had all he needed. He chose Wisdom over money–and God gave him both. Sweet.)
Our mare friend could have lost her mind, flipped out and run into the path of a truck or tractor. She knew, in the deepest recesses of her being, that panic would cause her heart rate to rise, and the bleeding to intensify. She knew that, if she plugged away through snow and ice, but kept focused on finding Light–she would be rewarded, and saved.
But our girl remained calm throughout her journey. Her body cooperated with her mind, and gave her legs the strength she needed for the trip. She was focused on finding that Light, single-minded and intent. Her prey instinct told her to keep moving, to stay alive. By following her instincts and seeking the Light, Miss Mare found what she needed.
Horse Sense for today: keep moving. Stay focused. Discard the temptation to panic. Seek the Light.
If a mare on a mountain can figure this out–why is it that we “superior” beings work so hard, and see much smaller reward? God grant that all we can learn to apply the Wisdom of Horse Sense to
our own problems–from corporate downsizing to a 1″ long bullet, like a metaphorical thorn in the side–it’s all the same when you choose to dismiss pressure to panic, and take the high road of intelligent intuition.
As always, May the Horse be with you.
“Ice Storm” and
“Green House and Snow” courtesy of Lee Millett.
“Dakota” courtesy of Cathleen Duffy. Thank you both very much!]