I’m standing under a cluster of Blackwood Trees. It’s started raining lightly. The ground under my feet is still dry, a network of elevated roots making it possible for me to raise up higher still should that situation change. The contour of the land means I’m standing above Merc, a lead rope length away, eating his hay, the lower, thinner branches of the trees allowing just enough room for his height and width to stand sheltered and cocooned but not boxed in.
We knew the rain was coming before we felt it, before we saw the clouds open like a paper bag softly torn across their base. The strong smell of soil and rotting leaves and bugs with busy lives underfoot sent out the calling card aroma we all know as Land Before Rain. A scent that feels damp and rich and heady, soil speaking greedily to sky.
I lean against the rough trunk of the tree. My eyes fall on the ashen colored tones of bark mixed in with tans and browns. Some single drops of rain run in between the grooves, arms tight by their sides, heads stretched out, racing towards earth.
We are here for The Waiting. The time of day when Ada, my almost-yearling eats her feed- slowly, methodically, with baby chews and some obligatory, fumbling awkwardness- and I stand with Merc, lest he steal away the goodness in her bucket.
He’s finished already, moved on to his hay, the line of rope between the halter and my hand still holding a soft loop. In my busy-ness of feed making and hay transporting, I have my ear buds in, listening to a book. My stopping, The Waiting, makes that very specific type of listening suddenly seem all wrong. An inherent disrespect. A missing of something, although to whom and of what, I’m not sure. I notice all at once I’m being watched, being witnessed, by nothing and by everything all at once.
We must miss a lot, I think to myself, by hurrying over land.
Merc reaches his nose towards me. In the position that he’s in, he could easily displace me, push me over. But he does not. His reach is gentle, enquiring, a whiskery “hey, hello”. Maybe he’s heard what I am thinking, his nudge a cue to bring me back. I reach out and instinctively rub his right eye, remove the long strands of forelock that have merged themselves with the sticky globs of waxy dust that together found their way to the corner.
He turns his head the other side; we repeat it on the left.
His ears stay soft, forward. I feel like he’s enjoying my company but what communicates that to me, I’m not sure exactly. I feel pleased. I let myself trust the feeling. So many beautiful moments lost by not trusting what we feel. And even if it’s not the case, may my believing make it so.
When I reflect back over the years I have been teaching what I teach, I know that what originally motivated the journey was very different from where it is I’ve landed. Perhaps this is not only true for me, but true for you also.
In the very early days, it was a heady combination of competition nerves and a fear that sat very separately to that. Not fear of getting hurt or losing or being seen as not good enough, but more of the existential kind. A fear of turning into someone I wasn’t; a fear of being trapped within a cycle of pre-determined destiny that meant I was left looking round the corners of my own mind, waiting for something to jump out at me, take me down, a something that I didn’t even know was there.
A fear of something inherited, passed on or passed down, that meant I could only be in control of my mental faculties to a point. The rest was hidden in my genes, a waiting game with a pre-determined destiny not of my choosing.
For some of you, what I’ve written will not make sense, and if that’s the case, let’s just presume this particular piece of writing’s not for you.
But for those of us where the strands of mental illness run in family lines (and I will hasten to sorrily say that this is many), we come at the work of finding new ways to move in the world from this place; for the sake of both ourselves, and for others.
Horses are a tremendous gift in this sense. They soften the spotlight, avert the gaze, let us think momentarily it’s about them, whilst we make our way back to the core of ourselves. While we shed the stories gifted to us we never wanted. While we let ourselves be new.
And when that happens, what is slowly revealed is wonder. Is a new looking, a new appreciation. When I thought about what to write today- after a long period of not writing here, a period of introspection and investigation- it was really this:
Let your adventures with your mind and heart and soul not just be about a healing of trauma, a nervous system reset or a way to manage. Let it be about a return to wonder.
Let it land you in a place where you not only move across the land a little more lightly, but notice what’s around you as you do so.
So, to riding, to exploring, to big aspirations, yes.
But to also noticing the incoming movement of the rain, the drops on the bark and the forelocks in the eye, when we are fortunate enough to be in a place to do so.
And to letting that, in that moment, be enough.