Life has settled down for me after the horse shows in June and the Buck clinic in July, so I got to walk the dog on the beach this morning. I’m lucky enough to live just 5 minutes away and I don’t get down there often enough. But when I do, I always end up feeling refreshed and just a little bit more alive. I always take my shoes off and walk barefoot in the sand. I love the feel of it on my feet, the way it gives way just a little bit with each step, a gentle yielding. I love the smell of the salty water and the kelp. I love the noise of the waves and the feel of the wind blowing onshore. The rawness of the elements are what make it so special for me, so it made what I saw next even that much more strange.
About halfway into our walk, I came across a guy raking the beach. He was working hard at it, up against the sandstone cliff dragging all the seaweed away from it, apparently clearing away a clean patch for himself and his family. He brought a heavy duty metal rake with a wood handle all the way down from his car! I’ll mention here that these beaches are quite rural-I don’t live near the resorts of Florida or the highrises of Los Angeles, places where chaise lounges are lined up along the sand and waiters take your drink orders. This is a scruffy, off the beaten path beach that you can only walk on when the tide is under a .5-the rest of the time it is literally under water. I wondered if I should tell him that in a mere 3 hours his patch was going to need a raft.
What does this have to do with horses? Well it got me thinking that this is what most of us do with our horses, just what this guy was doing to the beach. Imposing our standards on a beautiful but slightly feral part of god’s creation so that we can ‘enjoy’ it. Or use it. Or be comfortable on it. Part of me wanted to holler at that guy “You know that BEACHES have SEAWEED on them, right? Kind of like FREEWAYS have CARS?!?”. But herein lies the rub: I get in my car during rush hour and fret about the traffic. People go camping and complain about the bugs. And I used to get on my horse and get mad at him when he didn’t do what I wanted him to do. If someone had told me to think of the horse as being JUST AS IMPORTANT as me, I would have laughed in their face.
We humans love to think the world revolves around us. Egocentric I think is what the psychologists call it. We’ve gotten pretty good at inventing things that ‘make our lives easier’…..don’t get me started on Alexa, or Waze, or backup cameras. Most of us stop at nothing to make our lives just a little more comfortable. And companies are all too happy to provide us the latest tool to cheat time, circumvent learning, or avoid having to practice a skill. But horses teach us that we don’t need to be like that. They just exist, fully in the present moment, responding to their environment rather than manipulating it or trying to master it. They are hardwired to grow thicker coats as the light dims in anticipation of a colder season, and they automatically start shedding as the days get longer. They might frolic around in the snow to aid in warmth and languish under a tree when it’s hot. When there are flies they swish their tail. Last week I saw a horse buck in order to dislodge a horsefly from his rump.
For me I thought it was my right to make the horse do what I wanted because, well, for no better reason than, I could. Growing up I never considered that the horse should have a voice. They were for our enjoyment and our pleasure and they damn well better do as we please or else (my dad’s words). My dad had a fondness for calling bad horses ‘knot heads’ and told me constantly ‘you’ve got to show him who’s boss’. Isn’t that funny…that a grown man would actually think a 5 year old could show a horse who’s boss?
I guess where I’m going with this is, I appreciate ALL of you who are letting your horses be horses and letting the scruffy, feral beaches be just what they are. Whether it’s that you put your mare away before she hit her emotional limit, or maybe you gave your OTTB the day off because he’s been working extra hard, or maybe the other day you just sat and watched your herd move each other around and exchange calming signals, the point is, you’re listening. And you’re not trying to change nature to suit your needs. Well done you!