Sometimes the best writing comes from times of no writing. Sometimes we have to set aside the pen in order to live deeply in experience. Sometimes we have to get quiet before we can write.
I wanted to come to today’s post with words about horses and God. I wanted to tell you about this new spiritual practice I am discovering – how spending time in a cold, smelly barn with dozens and dozens of horses is helping me connect to the Sacred. But, I do not yet have the words. The experiences are still too new. They need more time to infiltrate my entire being. Horses are in my bones and in my blood and they are making their way into my heart and deepening the experiences of my soul and mind, but I am not yet ready to reveal the details. I do not yet have the language for the spirit of this experience. That will come in time.
What I can tell you is horses have been with me for a long time, but I am only now slowing down enough to pay attention.
When I was a little girl my parents were friends with horse people. We used to drive to their house on an hour-long excursion that seemed to take an eternity. I remember “Are we there yet?” and “How much longer?” uttered many times. I wanted to see the horses, I did not want to sit in a car. We visited them a handful of times during my earliest years of life and it is the horses I remember most. They were tall and I was told not to walk behind them so I would not be kicked. They were intimidating, but I loved them.
Then there was The Pony Man. An old cowboy who brought his ponies to the grocery store parking lot where he set up a real-life carousel and let children ride. I was always waiting for The Pony Man. I watched the grocery store parking with anticipatory longing. His visits were never frequent enough. I loved the smell of the ponies, I loved their soft gait, their side-to-side forward movement, their patient and gentle souls around all those children. I never wanted to leave them.
In grade school, there was a small pasture beside the playground. The owners had two or three horses who wandered between barn and field and sometimes made their way to the school-yard fence. I remember a long-legged brown mare with a white stripe on her nose. My friends and I saved the carrots and apples from our Holly Hobbie and Strawberry Shortcake lunch boxes to feed to the mare. We couldn’t wait for recess to start. We would race outside with our sandwich bags full of carrot sticks and spend the entire break talking to her, feeding her, and petting her. Until one day the voice of the principal came over the school loudspeaker and told us to stop.
As I grew older I sometimes had friends whose family’s owned horses. I would go to their houses for sleepovers, but I really just wanted to go to the barn and scratch the long soft noses and pet the warm, strong necks of the herd.
In my early twenties my cousin invited me to join her at the stables where her boss kept his horses. We were allowed to ride his horse a few times around the arena. After my ride he told me I was a natural. I didn’t know what this meant, but it made me happy. I didn’t want to leave that horse. I didn’t want to stop riding.
When I was married (once upon a time) my in-laws had three horses, a pony, and a mule. I loved them all and longed for the days when I was asked to house-sit. It was my job to feed the animals and this was a duty I treasured. But, in the four years my ex-husband and I were together, I was never invited closer to the equine world than this.
Horses have remained on the periphery of my life. They have been there, quietly making their presence known, but I had been too otherwise occupied to notice. I had been too trapped in the box I had created for myself to see the possibility of anything bigger.
But, things have changed. After the illness that lasted through last summer and into fall, I have quieted down. I have made room. I have made prayer less about talking and more about listening. Taking a class on spiritual practices, I was prepared to sign-up for a report on keeping the Sabbath. A practice new and integral to my life. One that I will tell you about at another time. But, the sign-up sheet came to me near-last and I said to my classmate, “I’m leaving it up to God. If someone else chooses ‘Sabbath’ then I’ll know what I have to do.” The horses were already on my mind and already in my heart and when the sign-up sheet came to me and ‘Keeping Sabbath’ had already been chosen, the message was clear. It was time to make room for horses. My memories of these sure-footed creatures have come racing back and I have found my world merging with theirs.
I have yet to ride a horse, but I have already purchased riding boots in anticipation of the day. It will be here soon enough. In the past week, I have been to the barn with my classmate and I have begun to learn about grooming, tacking, and carrot stretches – a sort of horse yoga. I have watched a couple of her lessons: Walking, Trotting, Cantering, Jumping. I have begun talking to the horses, smelling the horses, petting and grooming the horses. I am getting to know them and they are patient with me. They are checking me out too. Being with them is a practice in slowing down and paying attention. It is a practice in present moment awareness. And while I feel the presence of these creatures in my bones, my blood, my memories and ancestry, I need more time in the experience of them, more time in the silence with them before I can write to you of horses and God.