The Language of Healing
I have a love affair with horses and their way of communicating.
Horses, while quite capable of vocalizations, particularly around feeding time, communicate more readily through their bodies. They respond to pressure. Their eyes, nostrils, and ears speak paragraphs about their thoughts and feelings. They paw at the ground with their hooves to communicate boredom or anxiety or, “Hey, give me a treat!” They sense subtle changes in a rider’s stress or body position, sometimes even before the rider is aware of these fluctuations.
This love of horses was not instantaneous. My love affair with them was far more inconsistent, like the characters in a Jane Austen novel who engage and depart from one another over decades before recognizing the love of their life. My first horse ride was as a three-year-old on my grandparents’ mare. I rode sporadically, filling my time in other ways. I rode again in college, then fell into the words of law school and later seminary. Until one day I listened to God tell me something was missing in my life.
I ignored these words at first. I was paying my bills and was part of a wonderful church community.
God kept talking, as she does when we ignore the holy words directing us into a new place. And I listened long enough to find myself on the back of a horse, learning to feel its movements.
Until one day when I discovered horses were attune to my feelings, even ones I wanted to suppress. Until one day when they felt truthful. They resonated in the body of my soul.
After I’d been riding regularly for a few months, I arrived at the barn early for my weekly lesson. I’d been at the bedside of a beloved parishioner who was making her great journey from life to death to eternal life. The church roof was leaking again, and I’d ended a relationship by breaking my own heart to be true to myself, an elegant way of saying it wasn’t him, it was me . . . and who I was with him. As I walked into the barn, I encountered one of the grooms who asked me how I was.
“Fine,” I replied, mincing my words.
I haltered Delilah, a black Friesian mare, and began the process of readying her for our ride. I brushed her. I picked her massive hooves, and I picked up a comb to brush her mane, snarled from a day out in the paddock.
And I cried. I wept in anger at the implications of loving others even unto death, of a roof leak, of the pain of endings. Of all that too often seems unfair about human life. I sobbed because I was not fine, and Delilah didn’t have to ask me. She knew.
“Why can’t life always feel joyful?” I prayed to God.
God responded, I think, with an eye roll.
I cried even more. The dust from Delilah’s coat mixed with my tears, and I kept combing.
Delilah stood still as I used her mane to wipe away my tears. Friesian manes are slightly less absorbent than Kleenex tissues, but in the middle of a barn and in the midst of life, we use what we have to dry our tears.
I tacked her up and climbed on. After days of praying last rites and explaining why a relationship wouldn’t work, I rode in silence and felt the most healing language I’d heard in days.
The language of healing that only horses speak.
And I realized that it is because of this language—because of the words of truth, of faith, of love, and of God that these horses had taught me—that I loved horses more than my own limited words could express, more than reason and intellect could explain.
These creatures teach me to feel life and faith in my body and in my being, not to cover these feelings with words and intellect. They push me to silence my brain and let my body feel. They feel my soul’s emotions often before I do and entice me to experience my own emotions.
As I stepped Delilah up to a trot and felt my soul shift and balance on her, I breathed that deep breath out.
And I began to listen.