The Wisdom of Horses

The horse, QT, was making faces at me through the pipe panels of the round pen. I did my best to pay no attention, but not only could I not ignore him, neither could anyone else.

Melisa Pearce (the owner of Touched by a Horse and facilitator of this weekend retreat) had been demonstrating a technique for leading a horse by using intent and clarity. With simple body placement and a whip used as an extension to her arm (but never used on the horse), she asked the horse to move in a clockwise direction and he moved in a clockwise direction. She asked him to move in a counterclockwise direction and he moved in a counterclockwise direction.

It was beautiful to watch. Her movements were subtle, yet had profound influence. The horse’s response was the response of an animal in the presence of the alpha. He followed her leadership with trust and ease.

Melisa assured us that, while she had many years of experience and knew the horse well, she had demonstrated this technique at shows with horses she had never met before the demonstration. It was a matter of focus on the third chakra (the solar plexus chakra, the seat of will) and of employing enough clarity for the horse to be completely certain of what she was asking of him. It was an inspiring thing to watch.

She left the round pen and talked a bit more about the technique and its relationship to personal empowerment. She related it to asking for what one wants and getting it. Easy for her, was my fleeting thought.

As she talked, QT poked his head between the pipe panels and made faces at me. Not the women on either side of me, but me. He eyed me. He moved his mouth as if to talk, but made no sound. It was amusing and distracting. I attempted to keep my attention on Melisa, but kept stealing peeks at him.

When Melisa asked if anyone wanted to take a shot at what she had just done, no one was quick to volunteer. When she asked if anyone was particularly afraid to try it or doubted they could do it, my blurted response was involuntary.

“There is absolutely no way I could do that. No chance,” I admitted.

QT continued to make faces at me through the pipe panels and it seemed clear to the other women that he wanted me in the pen. I wasn’t keen to surrender. I wasn’t keen to fail.

I surrendered, got up, and went towards Melisa. Tears were already forming in my eyes and beginning to run down my cheeks. Melisa asked what they were about and I said I didn’t know. Actually, I did know, but I also knew I couldn’t put it in words. She asked where they were coming from and I put my hand on my throat. And I admitted that I had a sense of what it was about but could not, in that moment, articulate it.

QT was at the gate, waiting for me. Melisa asked me to ground myself and, when I was ready, go in and walk to the center of the pen. I followed her instructions and went in, questions and comments racing through my mind. What in the world am I doing in here? There is no chance I can do this. That horse is not going to do anything I ask him to do.

All of my doubts about myself and my ability to do what Spirit had been whispering to me to do with my life came slamming forward in consciousness. This horse was a world uninterested in my work, the new book in process, the speaking I had seen myself doing in meditation . . . everything. He wasn’t my critic. It was worse than that. He was the world turning a blind eye to me. He was every fear I’d ever had about being irrelevant, about having nothing to say that anyone wanted to hear or read. He was all of my fears about my own competency and my fears of being passed over and passed by. He was every “No!” I had ever received from the world.

Melisa had been the model of everything I was not. And I got to follow her demonstration and demonstrate just how incompetent, impotent, and irrelevant a person can be.

And QT did, indeed, refuse to move on my command. He not only refused to move, he turned to look at me as if to mock my miserable attempts. He refused to move and, when he did finally move a bit, it was in no way related to my lead.

Melisa asked me to recall where in my life I had self-confidence and felt competent. I could do it, but it felt light years from the woman whose skin I was now inhabiting, the woman falling apart and being completely ineffective. Tears continued to stream down my face and I could barely talk.

Melisa coached me. She reminded me of my skills as an editor. She assured me that the editing I was doing for her used skills she did not have. She pointed out that she couldn’t do what I was doing for her, almost as if she had read my thought that she was everything I was not.

But the woman in the pen was not the same woman who was editing Melisa’s book. Nor was she the woman who midwifes the spirits of others, nudging them towards what is possible for them. Nor was she the shamanness who works fearlessly and impeccably at her calling, or the writer and editor who has won awards for both writing and editing. That woman was absent or, at the very least, set aside for the moment. She was on the other side of those pipe panels, watching with the other women, perhaps. She was out having coffee. She was dreaming at home in her bed. But she was not in the pen with QT.

The woman in the pen stared down a horse who represented why she could not move forward with the next step of her soul’s purpose.

Diane, Melisa’s assistant, brought in a sign on a stand. “Do or do not. There is no try.” A quote from one of my heroes, Yoda. I viewed Yoda as a powerful shaman. In that moment, I viewed myself as an incompetent woman–forget being a shaman and forget getting advice from one.

Melisa had asked me to move towards the back of the pen after my early failed attempts to get QT to move on my command. Now she told me not to go back to the middle of the pen unless or until I decided I could . . . or would . . . do what was being asked of me.

I paced the far side of the pen. Back and forth. Dealing with myself. And then, almost as if it were someone else’s feet, I stepped back into the center of the pen, picked up the whip, and addressed the horse in a pathetic, weak voice. Then I spoke stronger and deeper. I rose up, knowing, somehow, that I could do it. I spoke, clearly and strongly again.

And QT moved on my command.

The rest was anything but perfect. It wasn’t even pretty. But he moved clockwise on my command. I switched hands with the whip, adjusted my position, and he moved counterclockwise. Back and forth, switching sides, some hesitance on his part . . . but he did it. I did it. We did it together.

He had shown me just how much I doubted myself, just how afraid I was of failing. He had been my projection of a world I expected to turn its back on my work.

And something in me had risen up. Something in me was not going to take being ignored by the world–or that horse–and just slink away, humiliated and defeated. At some point, I rose up and answered, “Hell, yes!” to the Universe’s “Will you?” I rose up and answered, “Yes I will,” to every “No!” I had ever received from the world. I stepped forward so determined that there was no room for doubt.

Tears were still streaming down my face. I had a headache, but I knew why. My brain was knocking on the inside of my skull, like a powerful visitor knocking on my door.

And I had opened my door to her.

[You can find Melisa Pearce at http://www.touchedbyahorse.com. You will find information there on her retreats and trainings, her one-on-one work, and her speaking engagements. You can also purchase her Whispers from a Horse’s Heart inspiration cards and her guided meditation CDs through her site–or you can purchase those products from me.)

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22 Responses to “The Wisdom of Horses”

  1. Jade Says:

    Melanie,
    I celebrate your authenticity and willingness to be totally transparent when writing about your experience. The way you share your feelings and internal self talk is easy to relate to and wonderful to read. You are an inspiration to me and women everywhere. I am excited to hear what comes next!
    Aloha
    Jade

    Like

  2. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Jade,

    Mahalo.

    What comes next is anyone’s guess. But I can say this much: I’m less likely to take “No!” from the world than I was before.

    Melanie

    Like

  3. Laurel Kallenbach Says:

    What a lovely story! I admire your willingness to really try–even when you were afraid and unsure that you could succeed. And a horse is no small thing to address–in fact, it’s a very large animal that seems daunting!
    Taking the risk was the true success!

    Like

  4. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    This response came in under another Living the Dream post, but is actually meant to be a response to this one. I have copy/pasted it here for those who wish to see it with the post to which it relates. It came in from Antonio Arguello.

    “Melanie,

    Helena, Cody and I read your latest piece together and it sparked a long conversation about the issues you dealt with and how these issues are part and parcel to life and the legacy of being human. The piece was timely in that there was a crises, (Mini) but it helped us in that it gave us a format in which to look at the situation we were dealing with and put it in perspective. thanks.”

    Like

  5. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Laurel,

    A horse is definitely not a small animal! Did you know that they have the largest eyes of any land animal?

    Interestingly, though, the horse’s size was never really an issue for me–either that day or the next, when I worked with the largest horse in the group with us that weekend (or, rather, he worked with me).

    This was really about the wisdom of horses and their ability to read humans with great skill and accuracy. Horses have the gift of reading our energy fields (this would be my words, not Melisa’s) and, therefore, they can detect how we really feel and what we really think, as opposed to how we are trying to present ourselves. They can read inauthenticity in a heartbeat and they seem to have enormous compassion for human shortcomings and pain.

    That compassion seems to often be translated into telling us the truth about ourselves (from what I witnessed during that retreat, as well as from my study of horse energy and conversations with Melisa Pearce).

    QT was giving me a dose of what I needed to know about myself . . . and the opportunity to do something about it. It was a remarkable experience and one I will continue to integrate for some time.

    Thanks for visiting the site and commenting. I have been to your blog (readers, go to Laurel’s site, http://www.laurelkallenbach.com and hit the blog button), have been informed by the recent posts on carbon offsetting . . . but have found the most recent one a hoot, as well as informative. (Readers, visist the site and you will see what I mean.) I’m going to comment as soon as I can get horses off my mind.

    Melanie

    Like

  6. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Antonio,

    I love that the post sparked a conversation between the three of you! I think it is important for teenagers to experience adults exactly as they are, warts and all, and exposing our vulnerabilities and struggles–as well as demonstrating our abiltitiy to manage them–is important in modeling authenticity and mentoring them in it. (Note to the readers of this blog: I happen to know Cody, so I know he is a teenager–and a gifted, remarkable one at that!)

    Your willingness to use the blog post as material to spark a discussion says a good deal about you as a grandfather (and Helena as a grandmother). Thanks for that. We need all the great grandparents we can find in this world.

    Melanie

    Like

  7. Claudia Meyer Says:

    Hi Melanie,

    I was touched to be invited to visit your blog and read your writings. What an amazing writer you are! How I wish I had such skills. I have often thought about writing some of the visions in my head but they don’t translate and pale into simplistic, shallow meanderings. It was remarkable how your writing took me immediately back to the round pen and your experience there. I was also struck that your perceptions of events were so similar to what I thought was going on – that’s not always the case. However, I was also struck by the two Melanie of that day. There was the forthright advocate and knowledgeable businesswoman, who I found somewhat hedgehog like – then this truely thoughtful and tender person as portrayed by the round pen experience and your writings of that event. I am confused by the dicotomy. Thanks for including me in your thoughts.

    Like

  8. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Claudia,

    First, let me comment on writing. If you are drawn to write, do so! Write your random thoughts, do morning pages (as Julia Cameron suggests), pen stories, journal–write whatever you are inspired to. We all get good at writing by writing and by studying the craft. I encourage you to put pen to paper or fingers to keys.

    That my telling fits with your experience as an observer that day is enlightening. You’re right. What we perceive as going on isn’t always what others say is going on. I might have been completely transparent to those observing, which is interesting to note. Hopefully, I was able to capture at least some of it on the post (though I feel the experience transcended my weak attempts to put it down).

    You observation about the two Melanies is very insightful and I am tempted to do an entire blog post about what that evokes for me. But I will at least touch on it here.

    First, I must tell you that I smiled at the reference to hedgehog. I will not hallucinate that I know what that means for you–and would love you to talk more about that–but, as a woman who greatly appreciates animal medicine, I loved the reference. Not the least of that, for me, was the reminder it gave me to a statement commonly attributed to Freud.

    Freud reportedly said that humans are like porcupines (aka hedgehogs) gathered around a fire. We draw towards the fire [others of our kind] for warmth, then pull back as our quills begin to poke one another.

    This is one I think Freud got right. I believe that we humans (and, yes, me included) are, by nature, drawn to one another. But we are also tentative, also emotionally fragile (however much work we’ve done on ourselves), and also capable of revealing only bits of ourselves to strangers/new friends until we see how those bits are received and whether we get something authentic back from the other.

    Like every other human, I am a paradox. I have skills in certain areas, I have experience and developed competencies, and I have a reputation for being right out there in a full contact living kind of way. I’m pretty congruent and authentic–and I am sometimes not congruent, sometimes careful about revealing who I am. I have enormous strength (tested) and I am sometimes amazingly fragile (revealed with regularity).

    In essence, I am just another pilgrim going down the road–like everyone else.

    I often work with people who are very tentative and believe they cannot give the world their gifts until they have perfected them. I am here to tell them (and anyone else who wants to know) that no great leader, no great spiritual teacher, no great philanthropist, no great anything waits until they have perfected themselves to give their gifts to the world. We perfect as we go along and, as I have demonstrated in the round pen, we continue to do so throughout our lives (I will be 60 next March).

    A couple of years ago, I read an interview with the Dalai Lama in which he admitted that, during his own meditation, negative emotions sometimes won the battle for attention and sometimes positive ones did. It was such a testiment to his ability to be human, truthful, and compassionate towards himself. And it was a great teaching. (And, by the way, the Dalai Lama is more than ten years older than me–another example of the lifelong pursuit of authenticity and congruity.)

    Claudia, thanks so much for raising this very important issue of human paradox. As you can see, I am passionate about it.

    Melanie

    Like

  9. Molly Campbell Says:

    I witnessed this magic event in the round pen with QT beckoning Melanie to come in. It was obvious that he had picked her out from the dozen of us watching and knew there was work to do. I watched as Melanie stepped tentatively at first into the ring and into just the edge of her own power and I saw QT accurately judge every time when Melanie lost focus for just a second, going back to what he wanted to do instead of following Melanie’s direction.
    I saw how Melanie gradually found a place of strength and clear focus within herself and slowly but surely with perfect body placement and energetic direction made the fascinating connection of her own powerful nature with QT’s to have him change directions at will without even touching him. There was beauty and grace and honest pure communion of spirit in the pen.
    Melanie, you are to be congratulated for your beautiful courage in stepping into the unfamiliar to triumphantly embrace the power that you are.
    I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
    Molly

    Like

  10. melisa pearce Says:

    Melanie,
    Thank you for putting into words ( as only you can do ) the full experience
    of what occurred at our Retreat. I was thrilled when QT selected you for the work …. and Yes!… He did select you.

    The blog here is quite a gift to me and to my work . Your reflection of it is my chance to see what the aftermath feels like : )

    Melisa

    Like

  11. attentiontolife Says:

    Wow, Melanie. What an experience…

    I want to know more about what you think the horse was saying to you when he was “talking”…

    Fascinating…

    All the best–

    Anne

    Like

  12. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Anne,

    If you are referring to the faces QT was making between the pipe panels, which had the appearance of talking, I would say that he was daring me to work with him, daring me to face my fears. He was, essentially, taunting me, egging me on, to get me into the pen. It wasn’t a simple invitation, but a challenge. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

    Now . . . if you are referring to the meaning of his refusal to follow my commands at first, I would say that he was telling me that he was not going to follow the lead of someone who wasn’t committed, who didn’t believe enough in herself to have the right to lead him, who didn’t have the courage to stand strong in the world.

    Thanks for that question, Anne. No one raised that issue before you, and it is an important one.

    Melanie

    Like

  13. Claire Walter Says:

    I kept bouncing between Melanie the Blogger and Melisa the Blogged About — and sometimes, QT got “lost in the wash.”

    Like

  14. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Claire,

    What can I say? Melisa, Melanie . . . “M” names. Let me make it simple: Melisa is the expert, kick-butt, gestalt trained therapist who does horse facilitated therapy, coaching, and corporate team sessions. Melanie is the writer and editor who got her butt kicked by a horse named QT.

    Like

  15. Elsi Dodge Says:

    I wish my cat could meet QT! They both have the ability to give us humans that “look,” the one that says, “I could stoop to your level, but I don’t think I will today, thank you!” So funny … so attractive … so wonderful to know others in God’s creation!

    Like

  16. Drea Says:

    Melanie,

    What a pleasant surprise to read your post about healing horses! I spent much of last week researching healing horses for an article and spending time with them, first at Diane Kennedy’s Mustang Ranch outside of Louisville, then with Jackie Ashley, a Naropa instructor, at the Horse Rescue Center outside of Longmont. I cannot believe how powerful the horses are. I’m instinctively intimidated by them, but just spending time petting one mellow, friendly horse for 10 minutes had an amazing effect on my state of mind.

    What you did was courageous. It inspired me. As a younger person, I have a perception of experienced people like yourself as solid, not as prone to crippling self-doubt (it certainly appears that way from the outside!). Your experience reminded me that these things are human, not necessarily age-related. Perhaps maturity lies in the ability to slog through the feeling, rather than the appearance of the feeling itself.

    QT sounds like a very wise horse. I hope that more people, especially women, learn about horses and their powerful healing attributes.

    Drea

    Like

  17. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Drea,

    No healing horse article would be complete without interviewing Melisa Pearce (if you still have time and she is able to do it)! I encourage you (and my other readers) http://www.touchedbyahorse.com. One quick look and you will know why I strongly recommend her.

    Drea, I believe that as long as we are in human skin, we have self-doubt and fear. It is part of being human. Authenticity isn’t about pretending to be tough and completely self-possessed; it’s about being exactly who and what you are in the moment, human vulnerabilities and all.

    Maturity can bring a willingness to “slog through the feeling,” as you put it, but I have seen plenty of “mature” people who are still repressing and denying, as if their very lives depended upon it. In truth, out lives may depend on not repressing and denying. I have also seen “younger” people who are willing to be vulnerable, own their stuff, and grow. In the end, I think it is more about a burning desire to live consciously that matters. It’s part of what I call full throttle living.

    Thank you for your comments. I’m thrilled that you have been checking out the world of horse facilitated therapy and the wisdom of horses.

    Melanie

    Like

  18. biblitra Says:

    This is so touching…
    Melanie, you are so brave, candid, inspiring…! Again, thank you for this post.

    For me, this story is really interesting also because I recently discovered a technique to find out my “totem animal”, and it turned out to be a horse: I don’t know these animals very much, and I’ve never ridden one of them, so I keep asking myself why they’re supposed to be my “guides”. Maybe a piece of the puzzle is in your words.

    As usual, greetings from Italy!
    Chiara

    Like

  19. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Chiara,

    How fascinating that horse has come to you as a power animal!

    There are many ways of looking at totem or power animals. In my model of the world, we most often have more than one power animal.

    The symbolism of horse energy usually includes words like “power,” “strength,” “movement/travel,” and “sexuality.” Over the past couple of years, I have come to understand that horses have the powerful ability to read human energy and intent. They know when we are being authentic and when we are not. Those of us who have horse as power animal often have that ability, too. But it is also important to look at our lives and apply horse sense to them. Where are we not being authentic? In what ways can we further clear our own energy?

    Thanks for your comments, Chiara. I love hearing from you.

    Melanie

    Like

  20. biblitra Says:

    Thank you! This information is precious…Now I’ll immediately start a research to find out more about what you call “the symbolism of horse energy”.
    It could be that my unconscious is trying to tell me something, couldn’t it? 🙂

    I’m really glad you understood what I was talking about…But, anyway, is there something you really don’t know?? I’m starting to think no!

    A huge hug.
    Chiara

    Like

  21. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Chiara,

    Yes, one way to look at it is that your subconscious is trying to tell you some things. Here is another way to look at it, in addition (not instead of) that way: Every animal has what we shamans call “medicine.” That medicine is its power, its gift to the world. It is what that animal knows about and is good at. If the animal is a power animal or totem for you, then it has that medicine to share with you.

    If it has been translated into Italian (or if you want it in English), I suggest Ted Andrews’ very fine book, Animal Speak. There are many books on animal symbolism, but I think Ted does the best job with it. Do not just assume that what he says is some sort of “truth” though. (Nor would I want you to assume that with anything I say.) It is important to go within and determine what that animal means to you.

    A hug back at you!
    Melanie

    Like

  22. Kathleen Christensen Says:

    It’s interesting that just before I read this beautiful post, I read another touching blog post involving a horse. It’s here:

    http://voicesofinclusion.com/2008/05/16/riding-bareback.aspx

    Like

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