“Life is to be lived, not controlled.” – Ralph Ellison
I asked my horse to take me for a ride today. I slipped on a bareback pad and his bitless bridle. I wore my heavy winter coat, a helmet and my walking shoes, since I had no stirrups. I had the gate to the arena open and as soon as I’d mounted he wanted to go out. We walked slowly together up the hill by the large field and back down, through deeper drifts of snow. The day was still, the sun was bright. It did not feel cold.
He picked up a trot at one point but I asked him to walk. “I don’t think my balance is that good.” I explained. We walked down the driveway then. I wasn’t planning on a long ride but at the hay field he nudged his head to the right and asked to go out, along our regular “walking path”. I tried to turn him back to the barn using my hands and the reins, but he gently declined, pulling his head to continue out into the field.
I was surprised. I thought he would have wanted to return to the barn and the herd. As we walked, I became very aware of his movement, the swing of his back. I could feel my seat bones rise and fall as his hind legs swung forward. I gradually released the reins until they hing low on his withers. His head dropped and he sniffed the ground but he did not stop to graze. I took a deep breath, let is out as a long sigh, and then dropped the reins completely.
I gathered a handful of his mane and allowed this to become my security. He kept walking, rhythmic, calm and breathing. We left new prints in the light cover of snow.
“It’s hard to let go out control.” I told him. His ear flicked towards me. He kept walking, further out, further away. His body swayed serpent-like, rolling waves across the ocean, constant, heartbeat, breath, hoofbeat.
Near the end of the field, I asked him to turn by swiveling my torso and looking back at the barn. He followed my feel and we headed back, wordlessly, handlessly.
He began to drift towards the brush along the edge of the field and I began to worry. Oh no, he’s going to spook there. He will jump suddenly and I won’t he ready. I’ll fall. My hands itched to grab the reins again. But another voice said, he’s going there on his own. If he were afraid he wouldn’t do it. And we walked past the brush without incident.
I began to wonder – where did the fear come from? And maybe it was my fear all along? My horse kept walking, never losing his rhythm.
Had I ever really been in control all along? And what is control, what do I think it is? Perhaps the reins and the will of my mind are an illusion. Perhaps my horse simply hears my plans and agrees with me, decides to comply? Something about this touches a vulnerable place inside me. I feel scared for a moment, like I might come apart, like something is about to change…
My heart became full and open. I could feel warmth flood out of my chest and radiate upwards. It collided with his heart and we became a field of light.
“I’m so happy that you’re in my life.” I told him, “You make me feel so happy. You make me a better person.”
We walked towards home, deeply connected, his four legs striking the ground, my eyes scanning the horizon and smiling into the sun and snow. I slid off his back at the tall grass and thanked him. My eyes were damp, the emotion released. I pressed my heart again his chest and hugged him, “I love you.” And he dropped his head to graze.