Archive for Horse History

Flicka: A Movie Review

Mary O’Hara’s famous 1941 novel My Friend Flicka was made into a popular 1943 film starring young Rodney McDowell. In the book and the original movie, the main character is a young boy learning life lessons on a Wyoming ranch through his love for Flicka, a beautiful sorrel mare. There was even a My Friend Flicka tv series that ran in the 1950’s.

 The Girls Have It

In 20th Century’s 2006 Flicka, Ken McLaughlin has morphed into Katy McLaughlin, a teen girl uninterested in schoolwork. On her first morning home from boarding school, Katy runs out to the stables and dashes on horseback off into the spectacular Wyoming landscape. A wild mustang mare saves the reckless girl from a mountain lion attack, thus setting up a conflict between Katy and her dad. The glum quarter horse breeder, played by country singer Tim McGraw, doesn’t want a mustang on his ranch. Economic woes, a headstrong daughter, and the undeniable love of Katy for the beautiful black Flicka create the main dramatic elements in the film. Katy overrides her father’s orders and gentles the wild black mustang.

 What Happened to Ken?

The 2006 film has gorgeous footage and is sure to be a favorite of preteen girls. But what happened to Ken in this re-make? The reissue of this classic tale with a sex-change in the main protagonist reflects an important aspect of culture in the Western world. More women own horses in the U.S. and Canada than men, and women are now dominating most of the equestrian sports with the exception of racing and polo. The original novel and film were made at a time when horses were still the domain of the boys and men. In the 1950’s horses lost their primary jobs in agriculture and warfare, and since that time girls and women have increasingly dominated the stable. In the film, it is Katy’s brother who is interested in leaving the ranch to go to college, and Katy who is drawn to the land, the horses and the ranch.

 Catch the Ending

While there are many who fuss over the differences between the original story/movie and the 2006 version, most seem to agree that the cinematography in the recent film is spectacular, as is the landscape. Some reviewers have found the story too saccharine and trite. Of special note, though, is the very ending of the film. With beautiful footage of horses and her parents as a backdrop, Katy, played by Alison Lohman speaks:

 “I believe there is a force in this world that lives beneath the surface. Something primitive and wild that awakens when you need an extra push just to survive. Like wildflowers that bloom after a fire turns the forest black. Most people are afraid of it and keep it buried deep inside themselves. But there will always be a few people who have the courage to love what is untamed inside us. One of those men is my father.”  The last scene in the movie shows the exhilarated Katy riding Flicka. As the camera catches the ecstatic look on her face, Katy says, “When we’re riding, all I feel is free.” 

Don’t Miss the Horse Girl Photos

As the credits roll, dozens of photographs of girls and horses reinforce the deep kinship so many girls have for their horses in a beautiful photo montage. When I saw Flicka in the theater, a young girl gasped as she saw her own picture on the screen. Promoters of the film had collected photos of girls and horses nationwide, and hers had been selected.

 Conclusion

The gender change of the main character shows an important cultural trend (as well as savvy marketing.) In the last five minutes, the filmmakers have evoked an important aspect in the psyche of horse girls. Indeed horse girls and horse women do seem to be able to hear that primitive and wild force that Katy describes. If horse love is an important developmental stage in girls’ emotional growth, as Diane Ackerman says in A Natural History of Love, Flicka certainly captures it ably. Katy’s love for the wild Flicka helps her take risks, demonstrate responsibility, and experience the heady taste of freedom. I personally enjoy movies with independent heroines that have upbeat endings, and the last five minutes is worth the price of the video rental.

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Horse Girl: A Poem

I wrote this poem in 2002. It became the basis for my doctoral dissertation from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Depth Psychology, entitled Horse Girl: An Archetypal Study of Women, Horses, and Trauma Healing.

Horse Girl by Catherine Held

At the edge of the world, Horse Girl paws and snorts. She was exiled 40 years ago. She was exiled 5,000 years ago. Kurgan men who conquered horses rode over the Russian steppes and slew the Goddess. 

When I was six I was an Indian girl. I led my Palomino pony down to the ravine where we put our long necks into the water and drank from the creek. We tossed our manes at the same time. Palomino. Pal o’ mine. Pony. Pony up.  

At the edge of the world, Horse Girl paws and snorts. She dreams herd dreams. She dreams of the Girl, exiled in her strange land and longs to meet her. 

My pony was a raffle prize in the Chagrin Falls Fair. I had the winning ticket. My pony, my companion. Heartbreak. Sick. Envy. Not fair. My horse. Just next door. Wrong girl. Moved away. Horse gone. 

Mare. Nightmare. “Don’t be on your high horse.” “No more horsing around, young lady.”  

“Wild horses can’t make me!” 

Horse. Horse sense. Horse laugh. Horse power. Breaking a horse. Horse whip.  Bridle. The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be. 

I have been bridled twice now. They tried to break me but I bolted my corral. I roam the world, sometimes leaving my colts behind. 

At the edge of the world, Horse Girl paws and snorts. The rest of the world is getting closer now.  She whinnies and then stops to listen. 

Brood. Brooding. Brood mare. Skittish as a mare. Runaway horse. Runaway bride. Stallion. Black Stallion. Prince on a white horse. 

One night a stallion makes love to me in my dreams, then holds me with human arms in the night. When I awake, I hear a sound, a distant sound. 

On that day, 8 million women swallow pregnant horse urine.

On that day, 75,000 foals are slaughtered to serve those 8 million women. 

On that day, the Chairman of the Board reports to the AHP stockholders that the Premarin family of products broke the $1 billion sales mark. “The future for Premarin—the most prescribed medication in the U.S. remains highly promising. Research continues to reveal new ways in which conjugated estrogens can contribute to the well being and longevity of postmenopausal women.” 

On that day a Tennessee Walking horse has kerosene poured on his fetlocks to make his distinctive walk. 

On that day I meet a woman who rescues horses. Or does she rescue women? They are called throwaways, discarded because they cannot be ridden or bred. 

On that day, at the edge of the world, Horse Girl waits with quiet expectation. She knows I am finally coming.

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Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary

Nestled into the rolling hills outside of Lompoc, California is the Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary. Home to 200 horses living in family herds, the sanctuary tends wild (feral) horses and burros while advocating and educating about their precarious living conditions and need for preservation. In late August, I scheduled a trip to southern California around their 10:00 am Living History tour. I stayed overnight in nearby Buellton so I could catch the tour on my way back up to my home in northern California.

 

Wild Horses and Transformation at Return to Freedom

I first heard about the wild horse sanctuary five years ago from graduate student Sandra Easter who shares my interest in women, horses, and healing. She had gone to Return to Freedom (RTF) when her life was swirling in the turmoil surrounding her divorce, a move, and her unknown future direction. Sandra had stayed at the sanctuary (in a facilitated experience) to just “be” with the horses, and found tremendous peace, acceptance, and personal insight. As she described her experiences, there was clearly a mystical or spiritual quality to her time watching and being with the horses. Sandra said that being with, or even being near the wild horses was very different than being with domesticated horses. She found it difficult to express her powerful experiences in words, yet her experience was transformative, with long lasting healing effects. A few years later, I found mention of Return to Freedom in Carolyn Resnick’s fascinating book, Naked Liberty, about her experiences with wild horses, and I wondered again about RTF. I was especially curious to meet Neda DeMayo, the founder of the sanctuary and was pleased to learn that she would lead the tour. As she greeted the visitors, Neda impressed me as someone very comfortable in her own skin. Neda has the build of an athlete, with thick chestnut hair, and eyes that are warm and watchful.

 

Living History Tour

Grandparents with their horse-crazy granddaughter, a middle-aged woman who felt compelled to come, and a mom and her daughters on their way to a pioneer camp made up our group. In the barn, surrounded by stacks of hay, we watched an introductory video made in 2004 that eloquently outlines the plight of the wild horses and the daunting challenge of RTF. From 2 million mustangs in the 1800’s, only 32,000 remain, mostly on U.S. government lands, after millions were brutally rounded up and slaughtered. Of those that remain, 22,000 of the mustangs are penned up in holding tanks, often for years at a time. Many of the horses left in the wild or in the unscrupulous hands of people that “adopt” the horses suffer from emaciation and disease.

 

A Pioneer Standing up for Wild Horses

In a thoughtful discussion after the video, Neda’s role as an advocate became clear. Even with all of the daily chores of caring for 200 horses and burros, running an organization, and fundraising, one of Neda’s most important duties is political advocacy. She pioneered the concept of placing family groups and herds rather than breaking them up. As herd animals, horses suffer when they are alone, because to be alone, or separated from the herd, is to be in danger. Her eyes cloud over as she laments the loss of individual species and the abuse she has witnessed. Neda’s years of fighting for the mustangs has led her to understand the painful truth that mustangs are at risk of dying out simply because they have little financial value.

 

She told us that that the very best way to protect the wild horses is by educating and rallying public support to ensure protection. DeMayo has taken the plight of the horses into the court of public opinion by garnering Hollywood attention and support for the important RTF programs and advocacy work.

 

After the tour and our questions, Neda introduced us to some of the many horses and even burros that live at the Sanctuary. We met “Spirit,” the mustang that was the prototype for the Dreamworks animated film by the same name. We met different rescued horses and learned their stories, as we had a chance to pet them. We walked up the hillside and into the area with the wild horses who came to inspect us quite readily. It made my heart glad to see other nearby family herds roaming freely.

 

Challenge and Hope

As the tour came to an end and I headed back through the winding roads to the main highway, I was awed by the enormity of the work that lies ahead to preserve the American wild horses. I was also filled with hope as I recalled the before and after footage of Paloma from the video. The video chronicled the emaciated, white pregnant mare that arrived at the Sanctuary, with the future for herself and her unborn foal uncertain.The “after” footage showed a vibrantly healthy mother parenting her foal Francesca Rose. The beautiful white Paloma (dove in Spanish) is a wonderful symbol of the hundreds of horses that have passed through the sanctuary. Paloma has even taken in orphan foals to mother them as well.

 

Next Steps

As I recall my morning at Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, it is clear that the task requires the same qualities of the wild horses themselves: tremendous strength, endurance and persistence. The RTF Sanctuary is an important model, but its acreage is not enough to feed the horses it serves without supplementation. Herd sizes are maintained with non-hormonal birth control. In the summer months, feed alone costs $10,000 a month. We must be the voice for the horses and we must act now with all of our courage and strength.

 

There are many ways to support this vital work, including donations, purchasing books and gifts from the RTF store, and writing letters to our representatives in Congress and the U.S. Senate. For more information about Return to Freedom, and to support the work of RTF, please see www.returntofreedom.org.

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Saranyu: The Runaway Horse Goddess: Part II

In Part I, I described the Hindu horse goddess Saranyu who left her husband, the sun, by turning herself into a mare and running away. When Saranyu ran away, she left a double—an imposter wife—behind. The imposter took care of the husband, Surya, and even had more children with him. In this conclusion to the story, we learn what happened to Saranyu and why her story still resonates today for modern women, 3,000 years later. 

Born into Illusion 

The imposter or shadow wife left behind gave birth to Manu, a son whose name is the derivation for the English word human. In the ancient Hindu Rig Veda, Manu was the father of the human race. In Hindu understanding, Manu, as the child of the false wife, was thus the result of an illusion, underscoring the belief that as humans, we are born into illusion, and our task is to awaken.

 “She is Not My Mother”  

In Part I, I described how Surya did not notice that his real wife had left and what a poignant metaphor that is for modern women who often must repress their true selves to stay in their marriages. It was actually Saranyu’s young son who noticed the deception when the imposter wife/mother mistreated him. The young boy knew that the imposter was not his mother and complained bitterly to his father. As soon as Surya learned the deception, he turned himself into a stallion and ran off to reclaim his bride.

 Desire or Curiosity? 

There are different translations of the ancient Rig Veda, leading to alternate interpretations of what happened next. They do agree that Surya, as a stallion, found Saranyu the mare. In his excitement at seeing her again, Surya spilled his semen on the ground. She sniffed at the semen which entered her nose and impregnated her. Saranyu had a second set of twins, Nasatya and Dasra, known as the Asvins.

Where the interpretations differ is whether Saranyu’s curiosity caused her to smell her husband’s semen, or if she purposely chose to smell the semen because she desired more children. The myth is curiously similar to the Greek Persephone who bent down to smell a flower. Her action caused her to be abducted into the Underworld by Hades on horseback.

 Important Themes 

Consciousness

Birthing of a new consciousness is one theme in the story. The Asvin twins born from the joining of the mare and stallion were physician-gods that appeared in the heavens in the dawn to guide their father’s solar carriage. Their purpose was to “protect humanity from suffering and misery and guide human beings to enlightenment.”[1] They were also the gods of agriculture. Just as their big brother Manu brought the birthing of humanity, the Asvins brought healing. Without Saranyu’s bid for freedom, neither humanity nor healing would have been brought to the earth.

Splitting

Another important theme in the story is that of splitting. Saranyu shape-shifted into two forms: a mare and the imposter or shadow wife. As a mare, she was wild and free in a way that she was unable to be as the wife of the sun god. In psychology, splitting is an important concept that often happens as the result of a trauma. A false self often arises to appease the world and protect the “real” self. How often do we do that as women even when no trauma is evident? How many times do we tell others, “I’m fine,” when our heart is broken, our world has been shattered, or we can hardly face the day and we don’t even know why?  

Solar Consciousness

Solar consciousness and its effects are another important facet of this potent myth. If we had all sun and no rain, the earth could not survive. Just as global warming threatens our very planet, the kind of consciousness that does not recognize and value the dark, the natural world, the importance of the feminine, and the mysterious is lopsided. Death, decay, aging, suffering, illness, and loss are all facets of life that our solar culture often avoids at all costs. When my father died, for example, he requested that there be no memorial service. He wanted to spare us our grief. Yet there was no opportunity for the extended family and community to cry together share our grief, which made his passing harder to work through.

 Saranyu’s Choice

Whatever the reason Saranyu sniffed the semen, it was a very sensible thing to do. Smell is an important sense in our daily lives and also metaphorically. We use expressions like, “something just doesn’t smell right about the situation” to discern the truth. In the wild, it is the mare in estrus that chooses her mate. I prefer to think that Saranyu chose to smell the semen knowing the consequences, and that she chose willingly, and on her own terms.

 Running Away as Running To

Finally, we often consider running away as a poor alternative to facing the obstacles in our path. In this case, Saranyu’s running away led her to birth humanity and healing. More women, even mothers of young children, leave their marriages in the U.S. today than men. Saranyu’s story points out why: women often cannot express their authentic selves within the confines of traditional marriages and so they are leaving. Rather than scapegoating women as failures when they initiate divorce, we must examine marriage and our assumptions about marriage. No one seems to be asking the important question, “Why is marriage failing so many women, and especially mothers of young children?” Saranyu’s running away is a “running to” the authentic self that was vital to humanity.

 Conclusion

The story of Saranyu is a potent story for women in our time as we juggle multiple roles and demands. Our deepest desires for authentic relationships—with our mates, our children, and with others—can go unsatisfied unless we undertake the often-difficult journey to know ourselves. Just as Saranyu needed to leave her husband and children behind, we need to find ways to be true to our authentic needs and create openings for soul to come shining through. There are many pathways—therapy, journal writing, women’s circles, retreats, meditation, being with horses and other animals—that help us to hear our own true soul voice. Make a date with yourself today, and keep it. The world will be a better place because of it.

        


[1] Fischer-Schreiber, I. (1989). The encyclopedia of eastern philosophy and religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Boston: Shambala.

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Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful

In a recent posting, a reader asked if I had read Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful. The book is a slim volume of poetry written by the amazing writer and activist Alice Walker. Indeed, I have read the book. It is a powerful collection of poems that are raw, honest, and celebrate the capacity to celebrate life and stand up against injustice and abuse.

The title of the book comes from the following quote from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions. Lakota holy man Lame Deer, noted in the preface:

“We had no word for the strange animal we got from the white man—the horse. So we called it šunka waken, “holy dog.” For bringing us the horse we could almost forgive you for bringing us whiskey. Horses make a landscape look more beautiful.”  

Horses do indeed make the landscape more beautiful. This quote is poignant because of course alcoholism has wreaked so much long-lasting devastation on the Native American people. White settlers, including my ancestors, also brought other diseases, violence, and the forced removal of  indigenous peoples from their tribal lands. Yet, amidst this devastation, Lame Deer honors the return of the horse to the Americas.

 Holy Dog Comes Home 

Curiously, we know that Eohippus, or Dawn Horse, the ancestor of the modern horse, lived some 58 million years ago, and originated in the forests and swamplands of North America. Especially prevalent in the Great Plains, Eohippus was only about 14 inches tall. More dog-like than horse-like, he is described as “a small graceful animal, scarcely more than a foot high with a slender face, an arched back, short neck, slender legs and a long tail, adapted for living in swamps.[1]

 Amazing Adaptation 

As swamplands dried up 18 million years ago, Eohippus adapted by developing a longer neck for grasslands, a single toe or hoof, longer legs, and eyes with almost 360˚ vision to detect predators. The ability to change food as tall grasses replaced the swamp habitat further enabled the horse to survive. Other large animals surviving the Ice Age and drastic climate changes died out because they were only able to eat certain foods that became extinct or otherwise unavailable.

Evidence suggests that descendants of Eohippus crossed the land bridge from the Great Plains to Europe and Asia. By 10,000 years ago, horses had disappeared from the United States. Ironically, the descendant of the horse that died out in the Americas, was returned to the home of its ancestors by the conquistadors and European invasions.

 Sacred Companion 

The Lakota use of “Holy Dog” to refer to horses is an interesting one, especially since its ancestor Eohippus was similar in size to a dog. Holy captures the other-worldly or spiritual nature of the horse, while dog confers the special relationship of companion. The words “Holy” and “Dog,” when put together become a sacred companion.

 Is Beauty Enough? 

Lame Deer speaks of the beauty of horses and how they enhance the landscape. Approximately fifty years ago, horses lost their jobs in transportation, agriculture, and the military in the western world. Today it is expensive and time-consuming to care for horses that are no longer of “practical” use on the farm, for transportation, or in making warfare. Yet, more and more women are becoming owners and riders of horses. Is the beauty of the horses enough to ensure their care and survival, in a culture that values youth, productivity, and usefulness? Hundreds of thousands of women are voting “yes” with their dollars, their time and their love of horses. Perhaps they are seeking a Holy Dog, a sacred companion to accompany then on life’s journeys.


[1] Ensminger, E.M. (1990) Horses and horsemanship (6th ed.) USA: Interstate, p. 3.

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Women and Horses in Mythology: Epona

In the ancient hills just 1.5 miles south of the town of Uffington, England is a three-thousand year old drawing of a horse that is both elegant and mysterious. Best seen from the air, the remarkable stylized horse drawn with white chalk is believed to represent Epona, the Celtic horse goddess. The 374 foot drawing was the focus of ancient religious celebrations. Every seven years, the horse drawing was ritually cleansed. Even today, the members of the English Heritage clean and maintain the beautiful drawing which calls to us with an air of mystery.

 Why Are Ancient Horse Goddesses Important Today?

Epona, like the horse goddesses from Celtic and other cultures, links the horse, the divine and the feminine. These ancient myths and legends can still inform us today and may help us understand the incredible draw that so many girls and women have to horses. Epona, depicted so beautifully on top of the English hill, reminds us of a time when women and horses were sacred, honored, and free. So, who was Epona? What did she represent? And how does she speak to us today throughout the millennia?

 Who was Epona?

The name Epona comes from the Gaulish word epos, meaning horse. The “on” and the “a” at the end of Epona’s name show that she was a female deity. Some translations of Epona are “divine mare” and “she who is a mare.”

 

According to Turner and Coulter,[1] Epona was a deity that reigned over the fertility of the land, who later became the goddess of the equine race. They suggest that she may have been the prototype for Lady Godiva, the woman who protested taxes levied on the poor in 1057 by appearing nude upon her horse in Coventry, England.

 

In Germany, [2] Epona was honored as a psychopomp, or spirit guide for the dead. In Ireland, she was associated with nightmares, and also with crossroads. Throughout western Europe, small devotional figures to Epona were widely found in stables. Epona was clearly revered as a protective deity with deep connections to other realms of knowing.

 Patriarchal Transformation of Epona

It appears that the original sacred meaning of this divine feminine deity was perverted by patriarchal domination and mores. Gaulish horsemen conscripted in the Roman conquest brought the worship of Epona to Rome, where she had her own holiday (December 18) as a goddess of war. Previously, Epona is known to have been widely revered as a protector of horses, cattle, donkeys and oxen. Until the Christian era, roses were used to decorate both horses and stables to honor Epona. Probably because of horses’ critical role in warfare, and Epona’s role mediating between the lands of the living and the dead, the devotion to Epona became linked to the winning of wars. The idea of Epona as a war goddess is repugnant to me, though it makes sense to me that a mother may have prayed to Epona to protect her sons and their horses fighting in a faraway land.

 

Epona’s connection with nightmares was probably a similar perversion and adaptation of her original role in mediating day consciousness, and the unique and uncontrollable world of night dreams. As a crossroads figure, Epona was a mediator between day and night, and between the living and the dead.

 Epona Today

Not much more is known about Epona, so it is up to us to fill in the blanks with our imagination. She is a very real presence that has resonance for many modern horsewomen. Countless women have taken Epona’s name for their stables and riding programs. Epona has appeared as a character in the popular historical fiction The Horse Goddess.[3] Judith Tarr is another novelist who blends history with fiction in her White Mare’s Daughter series that features reverence to the Horse Goddess. Epona’s re-emergence in modern culture may speak to our need to honor the strength and resilience of women, and our connection with the divine feminine.

 

As we ponder the mystery of Epona and the Uffington horse drawing, may the ancient Celtic goddess continue to guide us safely in transitions of life and death, bringing protection and wisdom to us during those times. May she assist us when we are at important crossroads in our lives. And, finally, may we honor Epona when we love a horse freely, provide for her care, and take in horses and other critters that need tending.

 

For more on Epona, See:

http://www.epona.net/introduction.html

http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/goddess_epona.html

 

For More on the Uffington Horse, See:

http://www.hows.org.uk/personal/hillfigs/uff/uffing.htm

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/majorsites/uffington.html
 


[1] Turner, P. and Coulter, C.R. (2000) Dictionary of Ancient Deities. New York: Oxford University Press.

[2] Held, C.(2006) Horse Girl: An Archetypal Study of Women, Horses, and Trauma Healing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Carpinteria, CA: Pacifica Graduate Institute.

[3] Llywelyn, M. (1998) The Horse Goddess. New York: Tor Books.

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Mythic Themes in The Sleep Ponies

Mythic Themes in The Sleep Ponies: A Book Review by Catherine Anne Held, PhD 

The Sleep Ponies[1] is a treasure of a children’s book that helps a child drift off to sleep in the company of her own personal sleep pony. Its lush illustrations and simple text evoke a dream landscape filled with protective horses. This simple book, designed to help a child ease into sleep and navigate the world of dreams, resonates with mythic themes.

 

The young narrator learns from her grandmother that sleep ponies protect her in the night while she is sleeping. As the pig-tailed young girl falls asleep, her own beloved Whinny comes to get her, and the pair adventure together over fields, flowery meadows, and amidst a herd of sleep ponies, returning safely home at daybreak.

 

Soft pastel and watercolor illustrations draw both adult and child into a magical dream world of safety, love, and companionship.Author Gudrun Ongman is an art teacher, horse woman, and mother concerned with providing comfort and love to kids growing up in a high-stimulation and high-tech world. Her own mother told her the legend of the sleep ponies to help her sleep when she was a young child.

Psychopomps and Pathfinders in The Sleep Ponies

The book’s theme has roots in ancient cultures that have long linked the horse as a protective intermediary (or psychopomp) with the dream or spirit world. Ancient shamans heard horse hooves in the steady sound of drumbeats that would induce a trance state so that shamans could travel to other worlds for healing and return safely.  Horses are pathfinders between the worlds. Carl Jung noted in Symbols of Transformation (1912/1956), “Legend attributes properties to the horse which psychologically belong to the unconscious of man; there are clairvoyant and clairaudient horses, path-finding horses who show the way when the wanderer is lost…” (p. 177). 

Day Horses and Nightmares

The horse is often credited with magical abilities. In ancient Greek and Hindu cultures, the heroic male sun god was a charioteer whose horses pulled the sun into its daily orbit.The uncontrollable nature of dreams, as well as fears of both the dark and the feminine constellate in the word nightmare. Women are naturally linked to nighttime because their menstrual cycles coincide with the changing moon.The term nightmare originates from a Middle English term for a female demon or witch that afflicted sleeping people. In an essay on horses, archetypal psychology’s founder James Hillman has noted, “When this ferocious strength is perceived in a woman, the horse is demonized into the witches’ steed, the nightmare, the panicky madness of a runaway.[2]” In The Sleep Ponies, the dream horse is a faithful and trusted companion that protects the young sleeper from being alone, and there is nothing frightening in this book.

Horse as Mother

Just as a favorite blanket soothes, comforts, and serves as a transitional object, this book provides a comforting, mothering presence in the form of the sleep ponies. Ancient Germans connected horses to mothers in Mother Holle, their goddess of childbirth who arrived on horseback. Dream researcher Karen Signell states:

“The horse represents to us useful strength—fiery, enduring, and free, yet bridled and sensitive to the touch of our will as if we were one. This returns us to our earliest experience of riding on our mother’s hip when we were “one,” and the primordial knowledge of oneness in nature.”[3]

The Sleep Ponies provides a mothering presence that evokes this sense of oneness and eases the transition into the land of dreams. This book is a natural gift for a young child, encouraging the imagination and providing a calming bedtime experience. This book is also of special interest to horse girls and horse women who love all things equine, as it captures the deep love between girls and horses. Mythic themes of the horse as trusted companion between the worlds, as a pathfinder, and even as a substitute mother are sure to allay children’s night fears.


[1] Ongman, Gudrun (2000) The sleep ponies. Mindcastle Books.

[2] Hillman, James (1997) Dream animals.San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, p. 47.

[3] Signell, Karen (1990) Wisdom of the heart: Working with women’s dreams.London: Rider. p.143

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