By: Franklin Levinson
“Was blind, but now I see.” These words from the last line of the wonderful hymn
Amazing Grace, usually find me misty eyed and full of emotion. Sometimes I am totally moved to a very cathartic release and a flood of tears upon hearing and singing the hymn. Of course, I used to cry when Bambi’s mother got killed. I suppose that is just how I am and I am now at ease with my sentimental self. As a man, I like the fact that I can cry easily from happiness and feelings of love and gratitude. I treasure and savor each and every joyful moment that moves me to tears. Actually, there are not so many. But each one is like a pearl on the string of pearls that encircles the happiest moments of my life. The thought of moving from the darkness of feeling isolation, separation and fragmentation, which produce fear and anxiety, into feelings of connectedness, wholeness, safety and love, always produce wonderful feelings of safety and peace within me. It is these feelings that I wish to foster and I know I am not alone in this quest. I think a big reason why I occasionally have these sorts of emotional responses as an adult, is a void of expressed love and approval from my parents when I was a child in their care. I know others share a similar experience of their parent/child relationship.
So many times I have heard and read stories of how horses have affected people in the most positive and miraculous of ways. I have seen many such occurrences first hand. There are numerous accounts of how horses have helped heal people from physical, emotional and mental challenges. Books on this topic are many and easily available. Pet and equine assisted therapies are now an accepted method of positive support for the learning challenged, confined elderly, hospital patients, mentally ill and humans facing other difficult situations. Certain convicted criminals in our prison system are given the opportunity to train and/or rehabilitate horses. There is evidence that these prison based equine programs are the most effective rehabilitation programs available today.
I believe that at the core of these positive responses to successful interaction with horses, and other animals as well, is the merging of perceived differences and separation, into feelings of oneness and wholeness with accompanying feelings of acceptance. I wrote The Story of Pete which was about my first horse in Colorado who had a reputation as an ‘outlaw’ and was due to be destroyed because of his dangerous behavior. My experience with Pete was one of these experiences of turning fear to trust. I have cried happily many times in response to the outcomes with Pete. He has become positively brilliant providing Equine Facilitated Learning for children and grown-ups with learning disabilities as well as “normal” people. I feel his love for me all the time and I send it right back to him. There is no separation between us, even when I travel away from where he is I still, somehow, feel his loving presence with me.
I have worked with thousands of horses over my 50 plus years as an equine professional and am very fortunate to have had this experience of turning fear to trust often. Each and every time I experience a horse move from anxiety to feeling safe, I am moved into what I would call a state of grace or feelings of grace. When I experience these feelings, I feel whole and complete, unworried, peaceful and connected to something I can only describe as being of a divinely loving nature. With horses, if we first focus on the elimination of fear and the development of trust, all else we desire to do with our horses cannot help but be successful when we add patient, skillful and compassionate leadership into the equation. Whether it is Grand Prix competition or simple trail riding, partnership with the horse that is based on mutual trust and excellent human leadership, cannot help but succeed.
As with all relationships, developing trust happens over time. There is no quick scenario, or magic pill that will instill trust in an individual. If someone saves your life you may think that is evidence you can trust that person. However, that is not necessarily true. That person has certainly earned your gratitude. But, actually may not have earned your trust. Between spouses, good friends, close companions, family members, etc. this trusting, compassion and love based relationship can and does produce feelings of grace within the individuals involved. Somehow feelings of grace provide a break and reprieve, even if momentary, from whatever worry, anxiety, fear, tension and stress we are facing at any time. Even small successes with horses, because it is prey/flight animal, which come about through turning a bit of fear to trust, can provide us with an experience of amazing grace.
I think meditation is a great method for centering ourselves, focusing, getting into the ‘now’ (the present moment), de-stressing as well as offering many other benefits to those who do it. I sometimes expressly teach successful horsemanship as a form of meditation. Depending on who I am teaching, I may or may not use the term ‘meditation’ as there are those who will have a negative attitude towards it because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of what that really means. As a teacher, ‘being politically’ correct has its place. However, learning can be impaired by rigid mindsets and prejudicial viewpoints. Semantically dancing around a person’s erroneous opinions and unfounded beliefs is not my favorite thing to do. But sometimes it is necessary to get certain basic points across. I believe states of grace can be found through meditation. I know this for a fact as I have experienced it during my own meditations. Similar experiences can be fostered when we focus on helping others as opposed to always seeking to get for ourselves. This goes for helping horses eliminate fearful feelings too.
There are many places that we can now go to learn about being with and training horses in gentle ways. Using internet searches to find trust based trainers, thoughtful and even spiritual paths with horses, can provide many options for those seeking better relationships with horses. If one is open to spirituality, there is no better or more profound spiritual path than one accompanied by a horse. To me, the message within the Amazing Grace hymn means moving from darkness to light, from ignorance to wisdom, from separateness to wholeness and from hate to love. Freedom from fear is one of the great rewards and benefits of grace. Understanding the value in compassion, service, kindness, tolerance and embracing peace, immediately provides us with a state of grace. When we are with our horses and manage to quiet our minds and open our hearts, it is then that grace (wholeness and inner peace) becomes a part of our immediate and conscious experience. This is Amazing Grace, The Joy of Compassionate and Successful Horsemanship.