If you decided to read Tao Of Equus then you noticed that it’s conveniently divided into three parts. Here are my thoughts on part one.
I might as well start by addressing the elephant in the room. There will be some who call BS right off the bat; predictive dreams, horse ancestor ghosts that provide training advice, a well-versed in alternative healing practises psychologist and some sort of out-of-body-into-horse-mind experience. I can’t claim to have had any of those experiences in my life, therefore you’d think I’d have no basis in which to relate to them. But I sort of do. I’ve seen and experienced some odd things in my life, such that I won’t automatically dismiss what someone else claims to have experienced. Let’s be real here, millions of people (I’m not one of them) believe in God (as per the Bible) and not one of them can provide proof of his/her existence. The author discusses several cultures over the centuries, all of which believed in something otherworldly. Maybe the entire human species is crazy? But I know what I’ve experienced.
Several years ago I was having lunch in a mall with a friend and co-worker. I’ll call her Anita (because that’s her name). It was February and we were discussing a recent change in company policy whereby yearly bonuses would be given out on employees’ birth dates rather than on the previous once a year fiscal date. I promptly blurted out (and with conviction) that I didn’t care when they gave out the bonuses because I wasn’t going to be there (at the company) by the time my birthday (December) came around. Anita raised her eyebrows and looked at me, and I looked back and said, “I have no idea why I just said that. That just came out of nowhere.”
The truth of the matter was that I had no intentions of leaving that employ. I enjoyed that job immensely, my co-workers and my boss. As it turned out, the singular and simple event in May of a neighbor cutting down a tree led to my husband and I putting our hobby farm up for sale. We placed just one ad in an area newspaper and sold it privately for almost the entirety of our asking price within two weeks. We had also already found the property we wanted to buy within that two weeks, and by August we’d moved to our new farm two hours away. I quit my job and was long gone from the company before I was due for my yearly bonus. Somehow I’d predicted a future I’d had no mental awareness of. I’ve done it a number of other times in my life and always it comes from me blurting out things from left field that have never crossed my mind previously. I will also admit to having very strong ‘gut feelings and instincts’ that I always listen to because they never steer me wrong. In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters what we believe or even if we agree on an origin. It probably only matters if you want to satisfy your curiosity or if you need to place responsibility somewhere to feel at ease. I suspect a lot of us just simply dismiss these sorts of events in our lives because it’s easier that way.
Mostly, I like to claim being a logical thinker with my fair share of common sense practises. I have to give the author some credit as she continually questions her thought processes and even wonders if she’s going crazy. Mixed amongst her struggle to find answers there are a lot of really good tidbits of equine advice. She seeks out professional training services and input from those more experienced, gets second opinions from healthcare professionals, she applies theory to practical, learns from mistakes (hers and others), and follows a logical path. Even if you can’t grasp ‘the other stuff’, you can (should) appreciate the rest that she writes about.
The flowery metaphors and poetic prose are not my favorite writing style to read, but then I’m not entirely sure there’s a simple, bland or blunt way to write about some of the topics. References to Freud, Jung, Sheldrake et al…are a reminder that she’s not in fact talking about anything new or particularly ‘mysterious’, though it comes off that way. I’ve never studied those particular men and I don’t possess their sophistication, but they do make me go ‘hmm….’ in a good and interesting way.
I loved the historical and cultural data presented by the author, much of which wasn’t about horses. The development of belief systems is fascinating whether you buy into it all or not. Mythology, shamanism, religion, spiritualism; all of it has been part of the human existence from the beginning of time. I’ve got nothing against someone incorporating it into their equine practices as long as it works for the human and the horse.
I also really enjoyed the reference to anthropomorphism versus the more accurate anthropopathism, and the entire Sympathetic Vibration section where the author got all scientific about the sympathetic nervous system, the enteric nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. That alone was worth the read.
On the equine front there were so many good tidbits I can’t list them all, but I will comment on a couple. In the latter portion of this section the author takes her Arabian mare out to the desert for the day, to do (basically) nothing. She’d already come to the conclusion that even though her horse would not be the performance superstar she’d planned for because of her injury, the mare still had much to offer. This is an important shift that many people never experience. So often horses are viewed as disposable commodities, like a keyboards. Bang away, every day, until it breaks, then toss it and go buy a new one. I hate that.
In a similar vein, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of people purchasing a new horse only to immediately climb aboard and start riding/showing it without ever giving the horse a chance to adjust to its new environment. Then a week or two later the horse has a meltdown and everyone stands around scratching their heads wondering why. I call those first few days/weeks ‘the honeymoon’. Once it’s over then you learn what you’ve really got on your hands. I’ve always advised people who’ve just acquired a new horse to take some time getting to know that horse, and the horse to know them by essentially doing ‘nothing’. Take a lawnchair, a book, a brush and some apple/carrot pieces and sit your butt in the middle of the pasture/paddock and hangout. If the horse wanders over to say hi, great. If not, there’s always tomorrow. Eventually they all do. And eventually they’ll all stand quietly, without restraint, to be groomed. You’ve now begun to build a foundation of trust that’ll carry you forward in partnership.
The author also references emotional congruity and how that affects the horse. We’ve all experienced this; we’re in a hurry, just had a fight, or are upset about something going on in our lives. We head out to the pasture to bring horses in for dinner or before we leave for an important meeting, and the buggers scatter like a flock of birds on a highway with a Mack truck speeding towards them. Horses that otherwise would meet us at the gate with joyous nickers, jockeying for position to be the first one in, want nothing to do with us in that moment. There’s two things you can always count on a horse to do; behave like a horse and be a mirror that reflects your current self.
I’m off to begin reading part two and seeing where the author’s journey goes next.