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The Wisdom of Horses

September 16, 2008

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 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.)