His eyes, looking into the distance … Life Paths
Essay by Sabine Birmann – February 2017
Translation: Carla Preiss
When life doesn’t turn out the way we’d imagined, when things no longer feel right, what remains for a living being, a horse, or a person? As long as it doesn’t concern us personally most of us won’t waste our time thinking about this. We most definitely won’t think twice about it if that living being rarely raises its voice, thus appearing to be silent.
A seminar begins. The horses enter the arena and are introduced, one by one. Within minutes a trained eye will see a story, their story. They share it with their bodies – what they look like, how they move, how they behave. Their inner state of being can be seen through their expression, their eyes, their presence; whether they seem proud or subdued, and whether they lived a happy or sad life up until this point. They will say if they like their owner, if they are indifferent, or if they want nothing to do with them. They will show if they want a connection or want to be left alone, if they are still open or have given up. They will tell us if they are still whole, or if they have been traumatized. The moment the horse enters the arena one can see and feel all of this.
A horse enters the arena, and I recognize his personality. I recognize how dignified he is, but also how far away. He seems to say, “Another arena, who knows what will happen here.” I see how he seems to leave his body, pulling back deep into his own world. He does his work, doesn’t expect to be understood, and seems to have accepted that this is just the way things are. He likes his owner, but he cannot let go; he is separate and alone. Nonetheless, he clearly shows who he is: proud, dignified, royal, energetic, and most of all, he protects himself.
He is 26 years old, his legs are worn out, but he looks good; he is loved, and yet he was still used. This is the fate of one horse, and in some cases it’s much worse. And yet, his life path describes that of so many horses like him. 20 years ago, I saw him as a young horse. Sometimes one of our current boarders told me about him, because at that time he stood at the same barn as her horse. Back then, as a young horse, he would fight back, showing resistance to how he was being treated. He would refuse to come in from the field, and he would show his dislike regarding the repetitive movements he was asked to perform over and over. He showed what he thought about how we normally treat horses. But one looks past this behavior, because that’s how things are done and that’s how everyone else is doing it, too.
It is the norm, because it’s what we know, and what we are used to. When he was young, this horse spoke in his own language, as horses do. He voiced how he felt over and over, until he mostly gave up. Back then he was still ‘here’, his eyes still showed his presence, instead of staring blankly into the distance. Now he is 26 years old, and is in a seminar where he is seen. Where his personality and his preferences, his dignity and his pain, are seen. Where it’s not about performing, or functioning, or about fulfilling another’s wishes. Where it’s not about perfection, or about satisfying another’s ambitions. Instead, it’s about relationship, friendship, love and reciprocal communication. It’s about feeling. It’s about closeness and distance, holding on and letting go, perceiving and realizing, doing and not-doing.
Developing the self takes a long time, and I am thankful that his owner still decided to take the step to take an honest look at her relationship with this horse. Tears flow about things that cannot be undone, cannot be reversed. But in that moment, despite everything, the horse shows her that he likes her when she is honest and real, placing his muzzle on her cheek for a short moment; it is deeply touching. But will she continue on this path? I cannot say, because beginning to live the Being with horses philosophy is often painful at first. But it would be wonderful if she continued, out of love for her horse. Either way, I let it go, because as a seminar facilitator I cannot be a missionary. I can give an impulse, but the desire to develop the self, for the sake of the horse, must come from the person alone. There is always a chance, better late than never.
The horses endure so much with us. They cannot just leave their owners, unless they get sick or die. They are like servants, and have to persevere as they are often faced with multiple owners, and confronted with so many egos. And yet, they are still open to us, accepting toward us, forgiving us, again and again. I often feel ashamed of our species, as we enslave the world and it’s other inhabitants to the point where we destroy them. Our species thinks we are so intelligent, that we know so much, and yet we feel so little.
The horses are closely connected to us. Like us, they are social beings, feeling beings, and often they are just as fascinated by us as we are by them. Let us not degrade them, enslave them into servants who obey our every command, who submit to our every wish and succumb to our ego. Instead, let us allow the development of real relationship, a friendship, in which the horse may be our mirror. We can only learn from the horse if we are willing to take a clear and honest look at what the horse is reflecting back to us about our actions, and about who we are inside and out.
Who can say that they are mentally on par with a horse? That they are in the present moment, from moment to moment, in balance with themselves and everything around them? Who can truly say that they are fit to lead, that they are aware and present like the horse? Who can really say that they have the pride, dignity, and the social skill and awareness of a true lead mare, gelding, or stallion?
When horses are no longer present, when their eyes blankly look off into the distance while they are in our presence, then we are inwardly just as far removed from them. At that point we are light years away from what is really possible. Who can really say that they have kept their dignity like this horse has done, after so many years of being forced to submit to the wishes and expectations of others? Most people would break when forced to submit in such a way, and frankly, most people would not accept such a fate.
Does the horse have something like hope? Maybe – maybe not. This horse is old now, and thankfully he protected himself throughout it all. Deep inside, he protected himself and kept his dignity, and himself, intact. May he have a few more pleasant years, and may he no longer look off into the distance, but instead descend from his world into ours, so that he may become his owner’s teacher. May he teach her about dignity, love, and devotion.
With this in mind,