In ancient Greece, Cassandra was one of the Trojan Princesses of Apollo. As the story goes, Apollo took a bit of a fancy to her and gifted her with clairvoyance and the ability to foresee the future.
The catch was the gift wasn’t exactly the “no strings attached kind”. Cassandra, who was feeling understandably pleased with her new skills soon learned that in return Apollo expected her- and we’ll keep this social media friendly so you’ll have to read between the lines- “do something for him in return”, and when she refused, Apollo became enraged.
In his fury, he spat a curse into her mouth. You shall keep your clairvoyance, he told her, but your curse is such that no-one will believe what you tell them.
I first read about this story in the book by Elizabeth Lesser called Cassandra Speaks. It’s a book about how the greater stories and mythologies of women have informed our culture and our understandings of each other. As humans, we are wired for stories. It’s how we make sense of the world and of each other, as such, they hold tremendous power and potency.
Cassandra is a story among many that have infused themselves into our culture and helped shape our understandings, even if we have never heard of them or feel that they are far removed from our own lives, and maybe even several steps again from our horsing lives. The last 6 months of 2020, however, showed me otherwise. As I sat with the main concerns that were presented to me from the hundreds, if not thousands of women I have worked with over the course of a decade, I realized that the majority of them related to a lack of self-trust and a feeling in some way they were unable to use their voice.
Self-doubt. Guilt. Overwhelm. Lack of confidence. Feelings of not being good enough. Lack of self-worth. Feelings of being less than.
What does this have to do with our developing our capacity as riders and horse people?
It has everything to do with it. It affects every interaction we have, from our ability to be clear and decisive, to how we maintain a sense of our own agency in the midst of discomfort, to our ability to be responsive in the moment, to being able to make space for the good stuff and trust our intuition and instincts. All essential ingredients in being effective and compassionate partners for our horses.
Many of us have internalized the story of Cassandra but have- literally- taken out the middleman; the part that provides context. Developing self-trust and your voice is a process that requires individual attention, absolutely. But beyond that, the voice that tells us we should doubt them in the first place is not one that is solely self-created; it has been placed upon our tongues. It is one that we have breathed in. That has been passed on through generations of stories and structures that have made us feel like our insides are untrustworthy or it is not safe to share who it is we are, what it is we think, and what it is we feel. And what’s more, perhaps it hasn’t been.
My practice for 2021 is to liberate the Cassandra that lives inside me, and in whatever small way I can help others to do the same. If there is anything that my work has shown me, it’s that there is an epidemic of muted voices, of unexpressed feeling, and of untold stories.
If peace is what we desire- for ourselves, for our horses, and for the world we are a part of- then we have to be willing to get messy and practice doing what makes us uncomfortable as we liberate what needs to be said and what needs to be felt.
Our horses gift us with the stage on which to hone these skills. I secretly hope that our work together with them benefits them in the same way.
So, my beautiful friends, Happy New Year. Here’s to finding your voice within the doubts, your strength within the challenges, and your joy and aliveness as you practice procuring both.