Horse Ancestors and the Shoulders We Stand On

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Laurel is a brilliant business woman and a gifted soul and one of the first questions she asked me sent us off on a whirl wind journey that I don’t think either of us expected would be so rich.

On whose shoulders do you stand?

What came to mind without any thought was a story I had first heard at my Oma’s (Grandmother’s) funeral. The story has probably changed a bit through the shared tellings and my selective recollection but it goes something like this …

My mother’s family was emigrating to Canada from the Netherlands some 61 years ago. There were nine children ranging in age from early 20’s to less than 2 years old plus my grandparents, Oma and Opa. They were leaving everything, after the war had taken so much, and heading to a new land. It was a long boat trip across the ocean. At some point along the way a fierce storm arose. Grandma went below and told all the children to come up top (except the youngest who stayed with Opa). Oma implored her young adult and teenage children, heading into the unknown where they would not speak the language, to face the storm, to take it all in and see the beauty in the fierceness. To not be afraid.

Now I will share with you that as a young person, I grew up really disliking my Oma. To me, she was harsh, played favorites (of which my sisters and I were not), and just seemed generally cold. I have many stories of a deep and abiding dislike for her but the truth is I’ve come to realize, even though we saw each other with regular frequency as I was growing up, I didn’t really know her.

The fact that this story of Oma emerged in response to Laurel’s question, without any pondering, it just came out, was something of a miracle. It was like finding a perfectly preserved jewel in a pile of dung, at just the right moment, blowing on it and watching a gorgeous oak tree appear before your eyes. That was my experience of the person and the story that emerged in response.

And it opened a flood gate of shoulders … a childhood horse from the pony club named Lady, Michael Jones, pianist and mentor, Teddy Johnson and his parents Beatrice and Alex from the Cape Croker Indian Reserve, my amazing Mom and Dad, Master Painter, a thoroughbred racehorse from New Zealand who died tragically, Gillian Hope, a friend who died when I was in grade 8, Elizabeth Debold, friend and mentor, on and on the list unfolded. Apparently I was standing on the shoulders of a very large and diverse community of people and horses, alive and dead.

And somehow that day as I spoke of them and held them dear, the vision that would become The Courage Herd and Flying Moon Farm, began to take shape. It was as though they were there, reminding me, encouraging me, extending ideas and images. Whispering the dream to life. That first question was a spark that set the room on fire.

In her book, Way of the Horse, Linda Kohanov introduced me to the idea of the horse ancestors.

Card #31: The Horse Ancestors — Species Wisdom — Collective Memory — Ancestral Patterns Affecting Current Events. The eternal Spirit of the Horse breathes in the memories and experiences of all horses, guarding the integrity and destiny of the species, infusing living members of the herd wit the wisdom of the ages. The Gift: when you engage with the collective memory of another species or your own, you access a wealth of information beyond personal experience.

Way of the Horse, Linda Kohanov

In this book and The Tao of Equus, Kohanov recounts many stories of learning first hand from her herd about how they were able to tap into the horse species wisdom. I had read them before Laurel and the ‘shoulders’ question with keen interest and fascination, but, as often happens when we don’t have a full experience of something, when we know of it but don’t yet really know it, the idea of ancestral wisdom had come and gone.

And it would be at least a year and half more until The Courage Herd would come together and begin to show me the ways they were tapping into this wisdom to grow in their potential.

For instance, when the herd arrived at the farm, Echo had known only two things: life as a PMU foal for her first year and half, and life as a horse in a jumper show barn for the next 8 or so. In her show barn life she was never out 24/7, in fact if it was wet or muddy or you name it, she may have been in the barn all day. She was never out with a mixed herd and who she was turned out with was a carefully controlled human experiment in staying ‘safe’. And yet, when she arrived at our farm, with the other horses who had been out in a herd at the rescue facility and were in various states of recovery, I watched her day after day as she assumed the role of lead mare gently, patiently and with incredible ease and knowingness helping everyone learn to come together.

It’s hard to describe all the subtle things I would see her do. It was like, after all these years of being together, I was watching Echo truly emerge, getting to know her all over again with a depth that neither of us had ever known.

And along the way Oma kept coming forward stronger and stronger. To the point where all those years of ill repent in my feelings for her, have given way to a beautiful experience of love and growth. As though she is here, singing the land, the herd and our project to life in the voices of the crows, the wind and sounds of the hoof beats. And now we are sisters in the journey.

Our newest herd member, filly Pearl, seemed to come (as I wrote in a previous blog) as an answer to some far off call from the herd, the horses here and, I suspect, the horse ancestors. What she is ushering in and where we will go together with her is a mystery unfolding both in time and space and with a quality that also seems beyond it.

The equine mind seems to have unusually efficient access to forms of ancestral memory not easily explained as pure instinct. When we open our minds and our hearts to these sensitive, powerful beings, something indescribable shifts inside, and the true destiny of both species transforms before our eyes.

Way of the Horse, Linda Kohanov

What is possible when our minds, often so well trained to limit ourselves to the mechanics of our individual bodies, begin to open up to the living story of all we have been and all we can be?

What new ways of being together can open up for us when we consciously enter this journey with horses, whether we live with them or just dream of them or both?

As we sit in the month of Remembrance,

whose shoulders are you standing on … and on whose back are you flowing across the landscape of your heart?

Postscript: as I was putting this blog post to bed, my lovely daughter called to tell me that Leonard Cohen has died. She has heard the stories of how his music and poetry have guided me through every significant part of my adult life over and over and over again and wanted to be the one to tell me this news. For the past 4 days I have been listening to his music non-stop, as though I couldn’t listen to it enough. Thank you LC for all you have brought to my life and in particular my life with horses. May the music of your soul continue to shine through the field of All, that those who come this way hear it through the breath and the heartbeat of The Courage Herd. A thousand kisses deep xoxoxoxo


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