by Berenika Bratny, Wolne Konie
My friend went recently to a life changing workshop. She didn’t look for any kind of enlightenment, she just hoped for a relief from everyday tension. The first exercise they did, was to ask yourself one question — “who are you?” The participants talked about their social roles of being a mother or a daughter, a doctor or a teacher, about their likes and dislikes, their backgrounds, their childhood, they talked and talked and talked until they faced the fact that there is nothing else to say. But the question was still there, still unanswered — who are you? It was all a part of the process. They were supposed to face a wall of emptiness and finally a loss of ego. It was painful as she recalls. The hardest part was to get rid of her notion about herself and all the things she identified herself with.
I envied her experience, so I asked myself the same question. Who am I? What are the things so dear to me that I cannot let them go? My image of a horse-whisperer? My vision of my perfect horse? My image of my perfect relationship with my perfect horse?
And then I looked at my horses. Each of them. Do I know them? Who they really are? I know their herd status, I know their likes and dislikes, their favorite plays and places to scratch, their moods, their friends and customs. Or do I?
When somebody comes to visit my herd I take him out to the horses and I talk about them non-stop. I tell him: "This is Reja." She had a hard life full of terrible experiences with people who tried to break her spirit but she never allowed them to. She is a fighter for life, prefers to die than to give up. She is a herd leader, an alpha mare. She never allows any other horse to eat from her pile of hay. She has no friends only one gelding who never leaves her side and with whom she communicates with her teeth and hooves. He is her servant and follower and she is his queen and master. She is a cruel ruler, she cannot take a “no” from anyone. All the horses know she can attack like a shark, without any warning, so everybody keeps an eye on her. Especially when she is in heat. And she is a “feminist” as my neighbor called her once. She hates Amigo — the stallion, with all her heart. Every time he comes close to the fence, she attacks him with bare teeth and you can say it makes an impression upon him, he always moves away from the fence. Once, in wintertime, I had to lead her by the paddock he was on. Suddenly I lost control over the whole situation, she dragged me there to the fence in order to kill him. He stood frozen with shock I suppose as he didn’t dare to move and I had to compose myself in order to persuade her to leave him alone. From that moment on, whenever there is a similar situation and I have to lead her near the fence of his pasture, I have to put a halter on her. This is a dangerous situation. Not for her. For him.
So this is how I see her. This is how everybody sees her after I tell this scary story. And there she comes. Half closed eyes, good mood, offers her hind end for scratching and my visitor jumps away in terror. What’s wrong? Reja is surprised. He is surprised when I start to scratch her buttocks. "Isn’t that dangerous?" — he asks. — "Well it is dangerous not to scratch when she asks for it," — I make a joke but I see him getting nervous. But today Reja is someone else. She is sleepy, needs scratches and a lot of attention, she even wants to go for a little walk with us but sensing the visitor’s fear she walks away disappointed. After a while we see her grooming the youngest mare in the herd, the one at the lowest end of the pecking order. So who is Reja? Do I really know her?
There is also another story of my first horse Dukat who died three years ago. I went to a riding center to buy a saddle there. When I went into the stable the only thing I wanted to do was to get out. It was an old barn built for sheep, so it was dark, low ceiling, no air. And horses everywhere, tied by chains on their necks. Most of them so depressed that did not even raise their head to see who was coming. There was someone alive there though. Dukat grabbed my sleeve and didn't let it go until I asked the owner if he would sell me this horse. I didn’t even know if he was a gelding or mare before I decided he has to go with me. I didn’t know either that he was the tallest horse in the world. I am 160 cm tall, so we looked really funny those years when I used to ride — an ant riding an elephant. We were together many years, lived in one place, then moved to another. His herd expanded year after year and he was the proud ruler of the pastures and meadows. He was always calm, quiet, forgiving and fun loving animal. Always. But during our first years together, when I used to listen to all the “horse people” around and devour all the books on horse psychology and riding he was:
1. too dangerous (because of his size);
2. too fierce (because of his size);
3. too lazy (because of his size);
4. very intelligent;
5. slow thinking;
and so on and so on.
It was all the time the same Dukat but in my mind he had all those qualities because someone suggested it or I used to project my fears on him or I wanted him to be this way. Now, when he is gone, I know that it really didn’t matter how did I label him, he was just himself. Horses are what they are, with no judgement about them. They are a mirror of our hopes, dreams and fears. A mirror of ourselves.
Now I spend my life investigating my horses’ moods and behaviors and I still don’t know them. I had to give up the vision of ideal relationship with Reja. I had to admit she will never love me after all I have done to her in the time I used to ride her. I realized that and, to my surprise, I felt a relief. Her attitude changed, too. Perhaps she doesn’t feel my tension and and the weight of my expectations. Maybe she feels a relief too?
After this life changing workshop experience my friend had a dream — a child was making sandcastles at the seashore. In this dream my friend realizes that she found the answer to the question “who are you?” — she was a sandcastle. Then a wave is taking it away, she feels terrified that she will disappear and after a while she realizes that she is another sandcastle, then another and another and suddenly there is no difference — she is the sandcastle, the sand itself and the water that takes it away at the same time. And then, suddenly she knows — she is everything, she is life itself.
Maybe we and our horses are all the same, just small particles of life, the wave and the see, the sandcastles made from sand on o sunny afternoon? One day Reja is a fierce mare with flaring nostrils, next day she lays in first rays of sun and allows me to sit by her side and breath in the same rhythm as she does. I feel honored. She is just herself, does not fit into any particular description, as descriptions, like all systems are made by humans in order to understand the world. Animals don’t need that. They don’t need to understand the world, they ARE the world, they are the air they breathe and the grass they eat. It’s only us who feel separated from the rest and thus need an explanation to everything. I realized my life with horses is my life changing workshop. I change, they change, our life together changes, or is it just a dream?