The land where horses have lived
Each time I walk through the empty paddocks where my horses once resided, I am struck by how empty the land feels without horses. We know this land as our western culture cultivated it has existed here since 1918. It has housed at least three families including us, and their animals and horses too. Their their animals, like ours, are laid to rest in this earth. We are so grateful that we can continue this sacred tradition.
When the former owner, Commander Andrew Smiley, lost his last horses, he must have felt this way too. He had passed away two years before we found the property, and the land had been without horses for years. When we came to view the property, we didn't even know it was a horse property. Yes, it was 8 acres and had a large meadow, but at first glance there was no fencing, no barn, only a small cottage and a smaller shed. The clues came to light when we walked into the old shed and found an antique metal milk can welded with legs to make a saddle tree. On the wall was a three-foot plywood framework mounted with doorstops, forming a handmade halter rack complete with an ancient rope halter. That was when we knew, this was horse land.
We later found the remains of the collapsed barn, and the fence boards and posts that had become a part of the soil. The ridges that looked like grassy mounds were the worn tracks along fence lines walked by former equines. Hap, the woman who sold us this property, was a caregiver and friend of the Smiley's. After the purchase was complete, she met us one day and she told us she had kept the Smiley's photo album, and she asked if we'd like to have it. It was so amazing to look at the photos of the cottage and farm from the 1950's on, and to see the horses we had only imagined.
Former Tennessee Walking horses on our land in the 70's
with the shed and 1918 barn that was sadly collapsed by the time we moved here in 2000
Twenty-three years later, it is our horse's presence here that has changed the landscape. Now that the horses are gone, nature is reasserting herself, filling dirt with grasses and blackberries. The gates are open and the deer come nightly to graze the new growth in the horse paddock. The stalls feel absolutely empty and unfamiliar. We have decided to close the chapter on horses living here. Yet I remind myself daily, that doesn't mean the horses are not here. In my mind's eye I can see them going about their days. Their patterns of movement are worn into the soil. Just as their patterns are a part of my heart.
This year's fawn Star, the first deer in our wild family to not live among our horses here
Bringing color and prayers into the spaces
Art as Therapy
For over three decades I have created portraits for people of their horses, many of whom had passed, and who I depicted in their glorious spirit forms. Time and again I have received confirmation of the impact that a work of art can offer someone. I have held space for their grieving and witnessed the profound shifts that happen when they beheld their beloved horses again, embodied like holographs in their pastel creations. Now, it is my own grieving process I witness and chronicle.
"Crossroads", a portrait I created for my friend Eleanor of her four mares.
I often told people that I hadn’t painted my own horses because I was so busy painting others. The proverb, "the cobbler’s children have no shoes", often applied. However, in this last year of creating my new Horse Wisdom card deck, I felt compelled to create portraits of my own horses. Those who had passed, and the remaining two that were on the threshold, joined together in the colors of my pastels. I will share these works of art when the time is right, but I can say that I now understand even more what it is like to see and feel the presence of their spirits on paper. I know it isn't about seeing their likeness, it is about the act of expression and the intention behind connecting with them in another form.
Reframing and reconciling
I think a lot about what triggers my emotions. What feels soothing and what feels jarring. It is soothing to see photos of my animals on our memorial wall, or on my phone screensaver, because I have intentionally chosen the photos for those places and I consciously connect with my horses in that way. But the other day I realized for the umpteenth time that the photos that appeared on my screensaver were a different trigger. They usually remind me of the past, and in my case since there were so many issues in recent years with the horse's emotional and physical well being, seeing even them young and healthy in their earlier time here brings on a host of emotional why's and what if's. It dawned on me that I needed to emotionally reframe the photos themselves. To consciously shift my interpretation of them rather than from the past, to becoming the ever-present. Transforming their moments then into an alternate reality of now. In a recent movie, a character who was a physics professor referenced the death of a loved one and he said, "In an alternate universe she exists in multiple dimensions. So in this one, she only died once."
Our memorial fireplace ~ twenty-three years of our animal family.
As I reflect upon the missing of my horses in my physical reality, I am learning to shift my attention to them as my spiritual reality. Every time I find myself going down that rabbit hole of depressed thoughts, I try to turn my mindset from the feeling that they are not here, and I look for ways to be with them else-where in my emotional and spiritual reality. I am learn to take the time I would have devoted to them to experience them in whatever way that is possible. Sometimes it is meditation, sometimes it is walking in their spaces. When I do, I usually find some sort of sign, that the emptiness I feel is not emptiness, but a presence.
Feathers from Mystico ~ and a volunteer flower appearing on Darma's memoirial
I have their horse hair, woven into beautiful jewelry, and within reach of where I sit in meditation. How amazing it is that horse's hair can remain beautiful and last so long. From Victorian times and before, keeping lockets of hair has been a way to hold the memory of a beloved.
Horsehair jewelry created by my friend Angela King Spirit Horse Designs
Horse hair and relics
My horses beckon through the veil, and I have the opportunity to cultivate the practice of spending time with them here and there. I realize it isn’t about memory, it is about the present moment. Our horses don’t reside on the land, they reside within us.
A glass sculpture we found years ago that has seven horses large and small