It’s that time of year. Our horse Rocky is so itchy, he’s rubbing up against pine trees to scratch the hair off. I took the shedding brushes out to his paddock and spent some time reaching all the parts he couldn’t. He’s twenty-one this year, and like most of us when we get older, is sprouting hair where there didn’t used to be any. Different than us though, this hair is thick and grips to him like winter is still around the corner.
I’ve written before about the importance of remaining calm in the midst of chaos. Now the chaos is visiting us when we see the things we thought would always be there are gone. We watch the numbers of us affected by the virus go up, and no one knows where this train stops. Or even pauses.
As much as anyone can in these times, I’ve tried to stay informed without spinning emotionally out of control. Many of my loved ones are far away and some of them are older. We live in a mountain town that depends on tourism. We are self-employed and have cancelled our clinics for the foreseeable future. Those thousands of people who have lost loved ones, and the thousands more who are ill. My hamster brain is running itself ragged on the coronavirus wheel.
As horse people, one of the required skills to thriving with horses is the ability to maintain a level head. This is more important than any technique we could ever learn.
So when I went out to brush the horses this morning, I was aware of how close I was to full-blown anxiety. I was also aware that I was relying on my practices to keep me grounded. Deep breath in. Slow breath out. Listen to the birds. Feel the sun warming skin that hasn’t felt the air move across it in months.
The most powerful moment of revelation came when I was brushing Rocky, and watching his obvious pleasure at being relieved of a winter coat that is too heavy. I was fascinated by the ssshhhshhhing of the brush I was using and the hair that let loose in piles and fell to the ground. Rocky stood still even as I brushed those sensitive and hard to reach places; the inside of his hind legs. The underside of his round belly.
The sun, warm. The air, warm. The birds singing. Rocky, his head down, sighing in relief.
This pandemic coat is heavy too. If we believe we wear it alone, it can feel suffocating. But we aren’t alone, are we? We have each other, our fellow humans and we are all wearing the same coat. We may need to socially distance, but we can smile and be kind to those people who have jobs that require they interact with the public. We can leave supplies for our neighbors, who need them too. If we are able to sew, we can make face masks. We can volunteer to deliver meals to those who can’t get out. Even during a time of such stress and fear and tragedy, we can find ways to focus our mind and heart toward being part of a solution.
All our knowledge of the earth, the air, the sea and the skies, is built on hundreds of years of exploration. It is millions of layers of the bravery and courage of those who have gone before us. Horsemanship isn’t any different: what we know, we know because someone else either tried and failed, or tried and succeeded. I believe the horses themselves are doing their part to help us become better listeners, and hopefully, better people on this planet we share with so many other forms of life.
I take comfort in nature’s offerings of being in each moment and enjoying her beauty, even the beauty of winter hair on the ground and the promise of a shiny coat. I take comfort in the eons of people who have got us where we are today. I feel gratitude for all those people we will probably never know or meet, working together to solve our current and historically unique crisis. However this turns out (and I realize there is tragedy along the way), I also have faith that we will learn things that future generations will use to further their own lives. I have the feeling that we will learn something about ourselves, both individually and collectively that will change us.
I think that all of this knowledge and understanding we’ve been collecting about horses for years, sometimes decades, can serve us well. Just when we think we can’t bear anymore, we think of that horse who seemed “broken” and how they came back because of kindness and patience. How our focus on breathing can be applied to help us through our day. How focusing on the wild grassiness of their smell or the way they ruffle air through their nostrils, is a restful moment in a world that is anything but restful.
Those lessons we learned from and about horses aren’t just platitudes or things with which to distract ourselves. They can be applied right now so we can weather this storm. I would say that we no longer have the option to not apply them; these times are why we have learned all we have.
We can brush our horses. Listen to them munch on hay. Ground ourselves in the present so firmly that for those moments we are unencumbered by heavy coats and can bask in the warm spring air. Weave enough of those moments together, and we might actually be able to feel something other than dread. Take that coat off and we can open our bare arms to the sunshine.