I started taking riding lessons a year ago, seeking to learn from the horse how to be more authentic and instinctual. I wanted to be in my heart and body more, after half a lifetime addicted to my head. A few months before my 40th birthday, I found a new teacher, and her name is Zoe. With Zoe, I am learning about authenticity and instinct, but not in a way I might have predicted. Zoe reveals me. I understand why it’s taken me so many years to open to horse wisdom. My love of horses started in childhood. My willingness to be vulnerable in exposing myself is just beginning.
Every overcompensation and false developed strength falls apart when I’m with horses. I’ve prided myself on being independent, strong and willful. After riding Zoe for a year, it’s clear I’m still the “passenger” much of the time. In stark contrast to my mental power, my physical and emotional confidence seems to be akin to a four year old.
When I started riding Zoe, she was just beginning to recover after nearly dying from Cushing’s. Zoe’s prior owner did not disclose she had Cushing’s, so her new owners didn’t know she had been on, and needed daily medication. My first ride on her, I was afraid I’d hurt her because she was so bony. Cushing’s is an endocrine system disease and I have my own endocrine system issues. I did not miss this connection. Zoe and I started a journey together, healing from our independent wounds. Or, maybe more accurately, Zoe came into my life to give me a mirror through which to see myself more and more clearly. I don’t fully understand this, nor do I want to. It’s part of the magic of interdependency.
As Zoe was clearly feeling better, putting on weight and exhibiting more energy, she showed much more of an attitude. I wanted her to love me, to give me affection and joyfully accept my affection. Oftentimes, Zoe would give me what looked like a grouchy “don’t touch me” stare. At times I wondered if she liked me. I would have done anything for her. It took me a while to learn she did not need anything from me, especially to be saved.
She’s tried to bite me, nipped me and ran off to escape the girth. After each of these events, I toughened up and accessed a power inside me that was not activated before. Once Zoe started being a little rough with me, I inched closer to the driver’s seat and my riding improved.
For many months I observed a marked change in Zoe’s receptivity to me after our rides. She would seem aloof and irritable when I’d groom her and tack her up. After our ride, she would rub her head into me and allow me to touch and brush her with acceptance and sometimes pleasure. After almost a year, I realized this wasn’t something happening in Zoe. It was happening in me. When I got out of my head and into my body during our ride, I connected with Zoe from a different place. This place was more authentic and more aligned with horse. After our rides, I felt much more confident about our relationship. Zoe was simply responding to me.
Becoming more and more aware of how Zoe was helping me, I was challenged to develop a different kind of relationship. I am used to offering something, earning something and being attached to being liked. Zoe was not going to play my old game. She was not going to play any games at all. She was going to respond to the truth inside of me whether or not I was aware of it.
I had developed a way of being “nice” or “caring” in a saccharine sweet kind of way to feed my attachment to being liked. With Zoe, the fakeness of this was seeping through. Through my perception of Zoe’s grumpy, mean and weird disposition, I saw and felt these qualities in me. I questioned whether I was kind at all; maybe I’d always pretended to satisfy my ego’s desire to be loved? Then I would feel my connection with Zoe on her back and after our riding. I had moments of becoming one with her and there was nothing fake about it. I am learning it is possible to have a beautiful, nurturing relationship with or without liking each other. I’m coming up with a new definition of caring and kindness. Sometimes this means pushing someone to their edge because that’s what they truly need. It always means being honest and risking not being liked. I don’t know if Zoe likes me, but I know she loves me.
Horses teach integrity through their instinctual and intuitive way of being. To me, integrity is alignment between our head, heart and actions. Horses are extremely emotionally intelligent beings. They are intensely sensitive to incongruity. When I am in my head, convincing myself I’m feeling a certain way, but my heart or body is sending a different message, Zoe never misses it. She is not comfortable with incongruity. She does not judge where I’m at or what I’m feeling, but she is not interested in interacting with me when I’m out of alignment. Incongruity is a sign of danger. When I’m angry, better to be with my anger than try to pretend I’m happy, sad or anything other than my truth in the moment.
I’m good at tricking myself into thinking I feel something different than I really am. The authentic feeling underneath is almost always revealed with Zoe. I don’t think she’s intentionally showing me this. She’s being who she is and there isn’t room for me to show up with anything other than who I am.
I may not be seeing much of Zoe at all. I get glimpses of her that surprise me; that break out of the mold my mind holds of her. I may be seeing only what I want to see of her; of what I want to see of me. She’s giving me the gift of experiencing more of me. I get excited embracing grumpy, mean, weird, biting, nipping, running off, not wanting to be touched and setting physical boundaries. Zoe gave me a buffer in seeing these things in her first so I could gradually accept them as me. And that none of them stopped the progression of our co-creative relationship – Quite the opposite.
I think about buying Zoe, making her mine. I imagine moving away with her and starting a new life wild and free. I want an external solution to an internal situation. Truth is, every moment with Zoe we are wild and free. She can never be mine; is never for sale. What she gives can’t be bought. What I give can’t be earned. What we experience together we can’t do on our own.
Zoe is a teacher. I am her student. I’m learning to sit up, relax, take charge and trust myself. I’m learning to be an adult with the heart of a child. I have the guts to show up. And when I do, Zoe meets me more than halfway.