Horses. They hurt us. They heal us. Sometimes all at the same time. Every single one that we come into contact with has a gift for us. They stand ready to walk with us into a magical place of possibility, connection and wonder. All they need from us is a gentle hand, a willing heart and trust in them to be ready to take us on adventures we can barely dream of. With them we can fly.
I am the owner of Avalon Horse Farm, a large boarding facility set on some of the prettiest land in our area. It’s a magical place that can leave people feeling like they’ve entered another world when they are there. As the owner of this business my roles are more numerous than I care to name here. It could take pages to identify every part of my job description. And what is calling me to write today is a role that has developed over the 10 years Avalon has been alive. It is a role that I have balked at, railed against, cried over, and yet that the horses themselves have called forth from me in their greatest time of need. I can only write of it for the first time here today because of the final gift Samson, a horse at Avalon who died yesterday, gave to me as he spent his final hours on this earth.
I am going to attempt to share all that came forth for me yesterday, even if it is a stumbly, choppy sharing. Writing is healing for me and it helps me become more clear about the path opening up before me. Sharing it with others is a vital part of that process. As it goes out to the world there is an “ah ha” that settles over me that I can’t really explain. I just know that writing and sharing it is something I just have to do when my muse awakes. So I will share what came to me as unfiltered as I can. I’m warning you all now it feels pretty twilight zoney writing this. But this is all that came to me yesterday, rushing through me so strongly I had to take notes on my phone to not lose it all.
All of the horses at Avalon, not just the ones that I personally own, are mine. They are my herd. I am their leader, the head mare of the entire farm. Every single one of them, from the moment they enter Avalon, has a piece of my heart. In the early days with us I spend time just being with them, listening to what they would say to me of their life before, what they bring to Avalon, how they connect with the world. I watch, I listen, I feel all that I can to learn about them. I know them and they know me. I can walk into every herd and feel things from the horses, hearing what they want me to hear.
Death shaman – that is the unique role I have at Avalon that I have pushed against for a very, very long time. Because I know these horses and they know me, each of us connected by invisible, powerful threads of loving energy, I take the responsibility for their care deep inside myself. The first few horses who died at Avalon in our early years left me with such guilt that I had somehow missed something, done something wrong, or just hadn’t done enough to keep them safe. I would spend weeks after silently mourning their deaths, not understanding back then why my grieving was so deep. You see, early on, I didn’t understand clearly my powerful role as leader of the entire herd of horses at Avalon. I just kept blaming myself for not doing a good enough job somehow.
It was a mare named Cindy who broke her leg about 4 years ago (my timeline is foggy these days), who first started to shift my understanding of myself. As we stayed with her in her final hours the message she clearly kept speaking to me was “This is not your fault. Avalon is not an unsafe place that causes death. Avalon and you are the place that we need to/want to be for ourselves and our owners when our time arrives. You are the one who can stand in the shadow place between light and death, at the start of the rainbow bridge, ready to hold our people as we leave this earth. We need you. You do not cause our deaths. You ease the way for us.” I was stunned for days at how loudly and clearly this message came to me as if Cindy herself was speaking to me, wanting to make sure I heard her final gift to me.
It took me years to process through that. It took Russell’s death and my radical experience of being able to stand in the center space of powerful LOVE between the light and dark spaces of life for me to really begin to open up to the magic of what I can do in the moments before death. I somehow can drop out of this world and sense myself in a different realm of being. I truly experience these moments as not really being in this world but somehow being in a heightened awareness of the transition from life to death that is about to take place.
In the final hour of Samson’s time with us yesterday, my awareness of this transitional space seemed to explode. For the first time I didn’t just sense myself there I could see myself there. I wish so much I could draw that space because it was so vivid and so clear as I sat there. Again the title Death Shaman settled over me like a cloak wrapping around me; though I don’t yet understand exactly what all that means. I do know my role in this transitional time for the horses (and other creatures of Avalon) is to hold space for all who are there; to drum their way to the rainbow bridge; to hum or chant “be well” for them and their loved ones as they step closer to leaving this world; to be ready to open the gate and let them go; to hold steady as their humans make their way back. And that is what I did.
This transitional place is in a grove of trees nestled right at the base of the rainbow bridge from this life to whatever comes next. It is a peaceful place with birds quietly singing, water nearby, and the sun gently shining through the trees. It is an ancient space. I sit there with my drum, steadily maintaining the beat. Samson is prancy, ready to step into the new adventure that awaits beyond the gate. He prances around Emily and Meredith, not wanting to leave but also ready to run really free. He know they cannot come with them so he tries to wait until they are as ready as they can be. He tries to tell them it will be okay. He prances around and around and around them. I drum and quietly hum waiting until they are all ready.
Then, the moment arrives. It is time. The air seems to pulse with energy as love swells all around us, infusing everything. Quietly humming I stand and open the gate. The rainbow bridge stretches out beyond. On the other side stands a whole herd of horses waiting for Samson to join them. After a final whinny and a loving nudge with his people, Samson walks through the gate and onto the bridge. All the pain of this life fades away as he walks across the bridge into the waiting herd. With a gleeful toss of their heads they turn and run away into their new adventure.
I continue to hum as I close the gate and return to my drum. Here I sit holding space for those left behind. Here I will sit for hours, maybe days until I can make my way back completely to this world. I will sit here as those who loved Samson reel with shock and grief. I will sit here ready to hug them all with all the love and hope I can muster.
I am learning it takes me awhile to fully leave this transitional space. I am learning that it is hard for me to function well in the day to day tasks of this life while I am coming back from this Rainbow Bridge Valley. I am learning that I don’t quite know yet how to release all of the emotion I experience in that space so that it doesn’t just fester inside of me. I am learning how to accept this role of Death Shaman that the horses and other creatures have asked me to be for them when the time arrives. I am learning to believe in things that others can’t see which makes it challenging for me to explain. I am learning I don’t have to have all of the answers, I just have to be there doing what I can to ease the way.
All of this, Samson gifted to me yesterday in his final goodbye to me. I receive it with awe and humility that I have been entrusted with such trust by him and all who enter Avalon. For as long as Avalon is mine, I will do my best to lead with love through all that comes our way. Thank you Samson for showing me all you did. Run free sweet boy, run free!