"But Stella had done me a life-saving favor. She had shown me the door to my healing— deep and dark though it seemed. And once I understood her message, I realized that every horse I’d ever worked with had been trying to teach me the same lesson all along."
"The first lightbulb that went on as I sat atop the haystack was this: horses don’t make a distinction between how they feel and how they act… If they’re scared, their head and tail will show it. The same goes for anger, trust, stoic defiance, confidence, and playful aggression. To adapt an old saying, their bodies are the windows to their souls."
"The voice of caution and sober second thought has probably kept many of the more devil-may-care of us alive. The problem is that it’s insidious. We’ll never go broke folding our cards and we won’t get hurt staying on the sidelines. It’s just that the next time out, our idea of what’s possible is a little smaller."
Book: Dancing With Your Dark Horse
Author: Chris Irwin
Published: De Capo Press (May 20, 2005)
My Review: *DISCLAIMER: The following paragraphs will be long-winded and sentimental, possibly cliche to the point of nausea. You’ve been warned.*
Sometimes horses are easy; there are plenty of days when it feels wonderfully simple to step outside into the fresh air and share space with your four-legged friends. Why else would so many people voluntarily subject themselves to mucking stalls and constant back-breaking labor, often with no compensation (and huge cost!) aside from a little one-on-one time with some equine, poop-producing culprits?
Some days, though, those same horses feel like the most emotionally and physically challenging thing in the world. And that’s because they are. Listen closely, watch carefully, and horses will tell you all the things you don’t want to see in yourself. Spend some REAL time with them, amateur or seasoned professional, and they’ll show you all your anxieties, all your weaknesses, all your rough-around-the-edges.
Just this afternoon I saw some pretty ugly anger and insecurities of my own reflected in the gorgeous coffee-colored eyes of my horse, Lu. As uncomfortable and painful as it is to have my shortcomings so directly displayed for me, there’s a spark there that urges me to grow and process through the things that are holding me back; to face the pieces of myself that fundamentally scare and upset me.
Lu and I will be working out our relationship for a long time to come, I’m sure (I’m a slow, stubborn student), but I hear her and I see the edges of myself that need attention. I’m finding my strength and assertiveness (my “level-headedness” according to our author), and she’s patiently waiting for me to figure it out. And, of course, if I happen to forget what I’m working on, she’s happy to repeat the lesson. Frustrating and painful and invaluable all at once.
The most incredible part about the whole thing, though, are the moments when you finally get it. Irwin talks a lot about pain and healing; not only will horses show you your problem areas, they’ll show you your triumph when you step up to the plate and work through it. Stand your ground instead of stepping back, swing your rope in just the right direction to push forward, conquer your fear and master (even temporarily) the delicate balance of gentle and firm that gives structure to a nervous horse; regardless of the task accomplished, you’ll get the same reward. And that kind of success is so incredibly sweet.
Emotional growth is a constant battle, and I’m of the belief that we are all a work in progress from the day we’re born until the day we die. But man oh man, on those good days when you’re 100% connected with that thousand-pound sage of a creature, it’s hard to say the work isn’t worth it.
The book, by the way, was beautifully written. I’m still learning what Irwin and other professionals know in their bones, but I can say that I am so grateful for the horses (and horse people) in my life.
PS- Thanks for the book, Jackie. You always seem to know what I need.