Finally at 12 years old I had gotten my very own horse, one that hadn’t previously belonged to one of my two sisters. Chunky was a big buckskin quarter horse gelding. A buttery tan colour with a black mane and tail, typical black dorsal stripe and tiger strips on his legs. Most of the time I spent with “Chunky” I was the only human around.
After approximately one year, Chunky was moved and boarded at a small farm located just 3 blocks from the Junior High School I attended. This was the same High School where my dad was the principal; or at least until the summer of 1981 when he suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack. It was an especially lonely time.
The moments I most enjoyed with Chunky were in essence “doing nothing” or more accurately called the art of Wu Wei. It was before or after my grooming and riding that I would make a coffee (yes I dare to say I drank coffee as a young teen) and sit on the ground with Chunky while he ate his hay. I would sit quietly watching his cleverly precise muzzle moving the hay around and listening to the sound of his giant molars grinding the wad of fiber. It was a rhythmic sound that lulled me into another zone or dimension while at the same time allowing me to be very present in that moment.
Just weeks ago I created some time to spend hanging out with May. I was following what horse trainer Carolyn Resnick describes as “sharing territory” one of the first Waterhole Rituals. The idea is to read, journal or meditate in the same space as the horse virtually paying little attention to him. This gives the horse the permission to approach and check out the human in a safe manner (something we rarely let them do). What a fabulous way to spend time with our horses without expectations on either end.
I placed the plastic chair under the leaves of the full Maple tree with tea in hand. I had a notebook on my lap prepared to write something brilliant or in the least, just something. May’s curiosity was evident by the way she walked toward me, ears forward with purpose.
She stopped when her front legs were barely touching the arm of the chair. Towering over my whole body with her head and neck, I certainly felt her presence. In stillness she stood, breathing in and breathing out with the depth and breadth that humans rarely experience. I enjoyed the moment basking in her fullness; it seemed to last forever.
After a few minutes, more critters were attracted to this silent meditative interaction. Chelsea, the young and agile barn cat, wanted to sit on my lap at the same time and enjoy herself with us. She and May have a special bond; it was shortly after moving to the farm that May invited Chelsea to go for a ride on her back.
Chelsea attempted to be relatively still on my lap but May’s nuzzling was a little bit overwhelming for her. Chelsea jumped off the chair and began slowly walking to the other side of the arena. May with her head hung low and slow meandering walk, followed Chelsea to the other side before the fence stopped her. Chelsea confidently always just one step out in front of May’s hooves.
May seemingly disappointed turned to come back toward me. I stood up to meet her and I began to notice her demeanor change. She became mildly agitated as I moved around her. She slowly began kicking at her belly, then turning to face her butt toward me then she would kick at her belly again. My joy turned into panic as I believed May was displaying signs of colic. Colic has taken the lives of so many horses.
I frantically watched for her in search for more signs or symptoms. I stuck my ear to her belly to listen for healthy digestion sounds. I was relieved to hear digestive rumblings but began to question if they were normal sounds for her. I had to keep looking for other signs. I got her to walk around with me. Did she appear though she wanted to lie down? I saw nothing else. In fact, her eyes were relaxed and she didn’t appear in any discomfort judging by her overall expression.
I stood and pondered while she continued to back toward me and kick her belly. I shrugged my shoulders to myself and thought, ‘well maybe there is something on her belly that she is kicking at.’ Almost instinctively I leaned over with my hand under her belly and began to give her a good scratch. Her body began to bend as she contorted into a twisted gummy horse position before lifting her left hind foot up off the ground. She held her leg out and up to the side as I continued to scratch. I quickly glanced at her face to realize she was in utter joy. Her head reaching into the air with her muzzle wiggling around showing her delight. The itchy spot that had plagued her for close to 15 min was now relieved. No colic but simply an itch.
When we spend time with horses in this way, with no expectations or demands, it allows us to deepen our connection with our horses and with ourselves. I look forward to many more days, months and years of sitting with May and the rest of the herd practicing the art of Wu Wei.