Posts tagged Women and Horses

The Horses Are Calling: Time to Step Up Our Game

Male-Female Drama: On a cool and gray mid-September day, I arrived at Medicine Horse Ranch to begin making plans for the book that equine guided education facilitator Alyssa Aubrey and I are writing about women and horses. I was consumed with a familiar heartache—an old painful pattern my lover and I had enacted many times before—and that had previously split us up. Instead of my usual “healthy” green tea, I happily drank sweetened Dunkin Doughnuts coffee laced with thick heavy cream from nearby Strauss Creamery. I poured out my relationship drama to Alyssa before we talked about beginning our horse book. She shared some of her own relationship challenges. Conflict, retreat, respect, boundaries and unmet needs were all part of our coffee conversation.

Equine Equinox: Once we started talking about the book, several themes emerged—the historical subjugation and mistreatment of horses, women, and the earth, the emasculation of stallions, generational war trauma, and loss of wilderness. We also spoke of women inextricably drawn to be with horses and how the horses were calling us to be in right relationship.

I read to Alyssa from a written dialogue process I had done with the Horse Ancestors years earlier where they had asked me to bring people together to pray for the horses at the 2004 spring equinox. The Horse Ancestors had told me that focused prayer could right the ancient and current wrongs and trauma suffered by the horses, because prayer can move between the worlds, crossing time and space. Equinox celebrations in spring and fall traditionally celebrate and restore balance. Maybe it was time to do it again. Alyssa and I quickly formulated a plan to do a simple private autumnal equinox ceremony the following week, and gather a larger spring gathering with and for the horses.

Another Male-Female Drama: As we walked down to the barn, the skies had cleared and dog Lila ran ahead joyfully. We were quickly greeted by the curious interaction of two of the ranch’s retirement horses in the paddock. Navarro, a 17-hand Hanoverian was pestering the diminutive Arab filly Sueva by nipping her and backing her into the fence. Meanwhile Sage, the ranch’s lead mare had her ears back as she watched them. Tizzy, the sentinel and protector of the herd was the only other horse in evidence.  

Neck on the Line: After a few minutes we passed through the gate into the front pasture where Sage greeted us and faced due north, toward the road. In the medicine wheel, north is the place of wisdom, winter, the ancestors and Buffalo Calf Woman. As our attention turned back to Sueva and Navarro, a shift had taken place. Even after Navarro had stopped bullying her and left her alone, Sueva continued to push up against the fence, dangerously risking injury.

I realized that the exaggerated drama between Sueva and Navarro was keeping us both from paying attention to Sage. As we focused back on Sage still planted at her post facing north, Alyssa noticed that her neck was hovering dangerously close to the barbed wire.

She later wrote, “She stood stoic, her neck on the barbed wire fence, skin touching the wire just between the sharp barbs, near enough that it caught my whole attention and took my breath away. I could feel her insistence, her requirement to offer nothing less than everything—she had her neck on the line; she was telling us in no uncertain terms that she meant business and we were called here to step up our game.”

Sage’s Response to Our Plan: Alyssa asked Sage whether we should do horse equinox ceremony and embark on our planned work together. In that moment, everything changed. Sage came directly to me, then Alyssa, and then walked directly in between us, standing with us. In the west, all of the program horses—previously out of sight down the hill—were suddenly present and ready, summoned by their lead mare. Even more surprisingly, to the east, Sueva and Navarro calmly grazed together. The beauty and the blessing of that moment were staggering. With her eyes brimming with tears of gratitude, Alyssa told me, “I have never seen Sage stand for so long in the north.” Alyssa recognized Sage’s actions and this moment as an unequivocal affirmation of the importance of our new work together. Then, just as quickly, Sage and most of the program horses dispersed. Rosie came up to get some scratches, and then we had another visitor.

Notice Me! Billy Brown, a tall, young black BLM gelding came up to us. Alyssa explained that he would test boundaries, and to hold firm as he advanced. I admired her horsemanship as Alyssa protected herself and me from him, but Billy still persisted even as she shooed him away using an energy technique. Finally, intuition prompted Alyssa to hold his big head in her hands and rock it gently and slowly from side to side. He then stood with us and I sensed his respect and support.

Honoring Without Emasculating: “I was thinking about how to claim my power without emasculating him as I rocked his head,” Alyssa later said. She also explained that between Sueva and Navarro, the petite mare had more rank and could have made Navarro back down at any time. As we discussed our learnings and what we witnessed, first one, two, and then three red-tailed hawks circled directly overhead as Rosie and Billy Brown peacefully groomed each other.

Gaining Human Insight from the Horses: The horses had spoken. We mused about how the horses had mirrored our own issues. In a short time, they had shown us conflict between the sexes, bullying, self-harming behavior, affirmation, distraction from purpose, mutual nurturing and much more. As I drove back home through the hills and craggy rock outcroppings, I mused at the parallels between my relationship issues and the behavior of the horses. In my desire to merge with my lover, I had overextended myself and not set boundaries. I was not taking care of my needs and staying true to my purpose. I am left with the following questions:

  • Where am I on the fence?
  • Where do I need to step up my game?
  • What is at stake and where am I putting my neck on the line?
  • How am I instigating and perpetuating my relationship drama with the man in my life?
  • What is distracting me from my highest purpose?

Clearly, following the call of and the wisdom of the horses is the way through, there is no time to lose and it’s time to step up.

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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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