Two hours into a morning lecture at a recent workshop I was attending, I left my chair and sat on the floor in the aisle to stretch my lower back, still listening to the teacher and continuing to write notes in my notebook. A few moments later, I felt a touch and looked up to see my friend “Liz” pass by. As she went by me, she briefly put her fingers to my shoulder as both a greeting and to let me know she was moving next to me in the close quarters of the aisle.

Later, I would acknowledge to her that I was making her my ideal sister. The mythologist Joseph Campbell said it is important not to mythologize people, but he said it is important to mythologize what happens between people. Maybe she is in her mid-40’s, with long dark hair, easy crooked smile, eyes that have known heartache and still love, ruddy wind-whipped complexion, and a regal poise. I’ve seen small children eagerly nestle into her lap. Animals love her. She is a horsewoman. She walks with a gentle and sure gait. Her dress and gear are compact, necessary and have flare.

My wife has been riding for about 5 years now, recently became the owner of a beautiful friendly 14-year old paint gelding named “T”, and considers herself a younger student of horsemanship. She tells me horses can’t stand being around people who don’t know who they are or what they’re doing. It makes them very nervous. While riding and in the normal grooming regimen that rider gives her horse – a prey animal that can see a cougar in a quick movement or unfamiliar shadow – the rider always wants to let the horse know where she is and what she’s doing with a continuous unambiguous touch, she says. This is not bullying touch, but nor is it faint or ambiguous touch. It is touch that needs to come from the rider’s integrity, sovereignty and clarity. Horses are very sensitive, and able to immediately sense the rider’s unconscious emotional state.

This is part of the basis for the therapeutic work that is done with horses and people, where people can heal emotionally and grow from their interactions with horses, and, perhaps, horses can heal and grow from their interactions with people. Maybe you saw the 2011 documentary, Buck, about real life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, and how he showed us connections between how people treat horses and how they’ve been treated, themselves? Recently, I heard of a woman who does corporate leadership workshops with horses. The execs fly in to her barn.

Liz’s touch was not abrupt. Like a story, it had a beginning, middle and end. It was brief but lingering, firm, affectionate and chaste. It began almost with an asking of permission and ended with a slight flourish of farewell and grief, as can a well-told story. And, as her fingers were on my shoulder, I felt my skittish horse settle down into acceptance, safety, curiosity and eagerness, as I was put into relationship with her unambiguous clarity, integrity and affection.

©2015 Cristopher Anderson, All Rights Reserved

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