Horses have had a part of my heart and my dream world for as long as I can remember. I honestly can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to read about them; draw them; take pictures of them; look for them everywhere I go; and simply BE with them. From pretending my pink, banana seated bike was a horse, to working whenever I could at a barn in college, to choosing field trips with my kids that included some horse sighting, to having imaginary horses as friends as a kid, to managing/owning a horse farm for over a decade, to teaching kids to ride and care for horses for over 30 years, to now life coaching women with my horses as my partners and guides, horses have held my heart.
That last sentence right there, “horses have held my heart”, is the most profound gift I can imagine in this lifelong journey with horses. Through moments of imagination and moments of being brave and moments of trying new things and moments of celebration and moments of the deepest grief, horses have held my heart. There is both a grounding and an awakening that happens for me when I am in their presence. It’s as if, when I am with them, I am most ME. Not because I have to do anything special. I just have to be with them and I am somehow more whole.
The most profound experience of their capacity to hold space for me and invite me into deeper healing has come with my relationship with Karoly, the retired circus horse who entered my world 9 years ago. For the first several years he was simply this really cool, calm, magnetic horse who I got to use for teaching kids to ride and enjoy riding myself. As bombproof as they come, Karoly’s steady presence has made him one of the best horses I’ve ever known to teach basic riding skills, help people build confidence, and be a buddy to horses who need a steady presence. I have so many pictures and stories of him I could fill an entire book.
As amazing as all of these things are, it is his capacity to hold healing space for me and for others that makes him the biggest gift. After Russell died, being at Avalon was both blessing and challenge – two sides of the same coin. Blessing because I could be exactly as I needed to be that day. Challenge because I could be exactly as I needed to be that day. It was a safe place to show up however I was – hot mess and warrior woman all in one. There were many, many days that the emotions were so powerful I simply didn’t know how to navigate the intensity. Those were the days that I turned to Karoly the most. Whether we went for ride or I simply went and stood with him wherever he was, in his presence I could bawl it all out. He would stand there steady as a tree and JUST BREATHE. Somehow, magically, he would match his breath to my shallow breath and then he would slow his down, inviting me to do the same. I know it may sound very weird, but he would audibly breathe in and out slower and slower and slower with a silent invitation for me to do the same and ground my energy through him. He held my grief in all its’ swirliness and just breathed through it with me.
He is THE reason I chose 6 years ago to enter into a mentorship to become certified in Equine Facilitated Learning. My experience with him holding space for me as I grieved awoke the desire to offer the same gift to others. I’ve watched him offer this gift to others over the years and every time I stand in awe of the heart energy that is exchanged. Simply being in his presence seems to ease others anxiety. Fear seems to lessen as he holds the space to walk through it with trust and a desire to be braver. Tears flow as emotions that have bottled up for sometimes years are allowed to flow. Joy awakens as this magical being opens his heart space for others to find their way.
Linda Kohanov writes in her book Riding Between the Worlds, “True freedom arises from the courage to feel , the willingness to be vulnerable and the humility to appreciate the wisdom all living beings have to offer.” Horses invite us with their very presence to find the courage to feel our feelings and walk our way through them to the other side. Don’t we all want to feel more free?
I wish with all of my heart that every person who is hurting had the opportunity to rest their weary selves in the presence of a horse like Karoly. It is because of the healing gifts Karoly has given to me that I am creating the space and the opportunities for others to find a little bit of grounding, healing, safe space for themselves. The gift he has given me is to precious to not share with the world.