The Way of the Horse: Extraordinary Spiritual Awakening
There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a human. – Winston Churchill
By Arlene Kroeker
Oriane Lee Johnston leads a group of 16-year-old high school students into a field of horses. She asks them to notice how they are feeling, how their body is reacting. Then she asks them to notice the horses. What are they doing? If a horse is walking toward you, how does that approaching energy affect you? Oriane is an equine guide, helping people practice mindfulness in Canada and Africa.
Mindfulness practice with horses is used worldwide for transformation and healing, as well as leadership and personal development. Engagement with horses is a type of meditation, a clearing of the mind and an opportunity to learn to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. Through this practice we begin to see ourselves clearly and are able to respond rather than react to life experiences.
Horses live moment by moment. As a prey animal, a horse’s survival depends on their ability to sense danger and respond appropriately, senses they have honed for over 50 million years. Constantly monitoring the environment for potential threats, horses naturally trust their highlytuned instincts and are attuned to the emotions and body language of their herd. They can discern even the slightest shifts in their environment. Instead of using vocalization to communicate within the herd, horses use their stance and position. This language – a twitch of the ears or a shift in the hips – conveys an energetic message through the herd, says Dr. Allan Hamilton, author of Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses.
When we are in their space we become part of the herd. The horse, a sentient being with a deep connection to the Earth, is able to sense and reflect our feelings and emotions, even if we are not aware of them. If our energy field is discordant, horses will entrain our system in order to protect the herd from a state of harm. In a herd, everyone must be harmonious otherwise the herd is at risk. For horses to engage with us, we must be mindful and present, conscious of where our thoughts are in the moment. Horses respond to our emotions, intentions and authenticity. Situations can change quickly in the horse’s world and this naturally encourages us to monitor ourselves, the horse and the environment.
“Interacting with these animals can be immensely therapeutic physically, mentally, and spiritually, helping people reawaken long-forgotten abilities that are capable of healing the imbalances of modern life,” says Linda Kohanov, author of Tao of Equus. “At a time when horses are no longer required to work in our fields and carry us to war, they can do something arguably more important – work on us.”
When Oriane’s group of 16-year-olds stood in the field, she asked them if they could stand their ground when a horse came as close to them as they wanted it to. We become aware of our own power and ground ourselves and project that power instead of stepping back. When we have awareness and respect for ourselves, the horse will follow us. One of the horses pushed a student around. As it turned out, the student was pushed around in school. A horse will reflect exactly what we need to see about ourselves. Horses call us to be congruent. What we express through actions or behaviors reflect what we are feeling inside. If we have fear, we can’t pretend to be confident. One might pretend to be cheerful but really feel angry. The horse will get aggressive or rambunctious until we acknowledge how we really feel. After the guided session in the field, students were able to acknowledge their value and their feelings, and stand up for themselves.
“Take any question to a horse, and the answers come,” says Oriane. She worked with a Ugandan health project worker who was wondering what the next step was. In the field with the horses, he noticed a horse nibbling grass around the edge of the pasture. He crouched down to the horse’s level and moved closer. The horse knows what to do. And so did the project worker. Grass roots. He needed to train the locals at the grass-root level in order for the project to grow.
The benefits of spending time with horses can include answers to our questions, an increase in energy, clarity and creativity as well as improved productivity and relationships, more joy, less stress, insight, and alignment with our values and life’s purpose. As we sit in quiet reflection with a herd of equine friends, we can discover a heightened awareness of our senses, a deeper sense of connection to Nature, a deep sense of trust in the Universe and a deepened sense of our authentic self.