The little things matter. He’s all wildness and instinct with no concept of what partnership with a human could feel like. The kind touch of a human hand is not part of his life experience. His senses are keenly tuned to every nuance of movement and gesture. I have no doubt I am like an alien to him. As tuned in as I aim to be, my senses are not nearly as tuned to the environment as his. He tries to find meaning in absolutely everything about me. He seeks to interpret my behaviors and take appropriate action every second we are together.
I have no desire to dumb this horse down to my level. Instead, I aim to upgrade myself so that I am more finely tuned. Spending time with this wild horse reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the movie, Joe Versus the Volcano when Angelica tells Joe:
“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”
That’s how I feel when I step into his world, fully present in each moment, fully present with him, fully engaged with my senses. What a gift he gives me! Once I embraced his way of being together with me everything changed for the better. In my heart, with every fiber of my being, I know that if I stay the course and work with his timing I’ll be able to touch him in no time.
But domestication creates its own set of pressures for us human caregivers. The desire to trim those feet that are getting long. The desire to have those teeth checked, as he tentatively and deftly grabs the bits of tumbleweed from my fingers with the only two incisors that actually meet in a mouthful of broken teeth. And then there’s the elephant in the room…. The halter and lead he had forced onto his head when he was purchased at an auction nearly a year ago.
I feel the internal pressure, the sense that my window for being able to work with his voluntary cooperation to remove the halter is closing. Even as I write this my throat closes and my shoulders migrate up around my ears. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves and if I show up out there carrying any of this angst, he feels it, and I lose precious ground.
It’s a daily effort of will to show up each day and pretend that halter and lead do not exist. Those feet that are getting longer each day, they don’t exist either. Don’t even worry about the teeth! I’m in this for the long game, that’s what I tell myself. Talk about patience. This is a lesson in Olympic competition level patience! Not my strong suit, but by necessity, I learn.
The first week all I could think about was how to speed the process of getting him to let me touch him. He made it quite clear, the more I focused on touching him, the more fearful he became. I marvel at human hubris. I would never dream of invading the space of a wolf or a mountain lion. Never dream of walking into an enclosure with them with no relationship in place and stick my hand out for them to sniff! The idea seems ludicrous and yet, that’s what we do with wild horses all the time.
When I started treating him like a wild animal and stopped pushing my agenda everything changed for the better. He stopped looking at me like an unpredictable, unfathomable alien. He looks to me now when he gets scared. A few nights ago my neighbor stopped by to visit the burros who live in the run next door. In between the two runs is a narrow alley choked with dried up tumbleweeds. As Feather and I hung out together, the neighbor’s German Shepard decided to crash her way through tumbleweed alley – a dark, shadowy, predator in way too close proximity. His instinct kicked in and he bolted, snorting and blowing, tail twisted over his back!
But then he looked to me, saw me standing calmly and came right over to breathe with me. We stood together and watched the commotion unfold. He touched my hand with his nose and took a deep breath. This is what it’s all about. I know with every fiber of my being that if I stay the course and keep working at his pace, we’ll find our way together. He’ll allow me to remove that halter because he trusts me to do it. And from there our whole world opens up!
I could push it. I have a whole backup plan in place if I decide that his welfare is going to be compromised by those teeth, feet or halter and rope. But for now, the window is still open for us to find our way together. We have a little more time. And so, I resist the temptation to push past his threshold and continue to be patient! Hard as it is.
The little things matter. That we can walk side by side together. Stand together and he’ll let me touch his nose. Take bits of food from my outstretched hand. Just breathe together and find a place of peace in each other’s company, even when there are ‘wolves’ in the tumbleweed! These may seem like small things but they are huge. In the long game, these small things are everything. They are the foundation of the relationship that will carry us through all we decide to do together.
Yesterday he was on high alert, standing near his shelter, staring intently at something off in the distance, so involved he completely ignored me and his breakfast. Once the other herd members were fed, I walked over to see what he was worried about. First, I looked where he was looking. I could see cows moving off in the distance and asked him if that was it. It didn’t seem to be but I couldn’t see anything else.
I got myself grounded and expanded my own sensory awareness. I could feel his fear and anxiety to my left, it was palpable. Taking a breath, I started feeling out around us, specifically in the direction he was focused. All felt fine and I attempted to share that feeling of safety with him. Then, to my surprise, as my awareness continued to expand north, I felt fear and anxiety ‘out there’. I have no idea where it was coming from but it was, indeed there. This was a revelation to me – that he wasn’t just seeing something, he was feeling something that would rightfully put a wild horse on alert.
I showed him how we can support others to feel for safety and help them let go of their fear and anxiety instead of just getting swept away by it. To my delight, he took a step back, lowered his head, cocked a foot and went into a state of deep relaxation. I left him to it and went back to the house to eat my breakfast. Half an hour later he was still standing in that same position. Not on alert but clearly holding space. An hour later he finally went and ate his breakfast. My mind is blown.
So, I keep listening to this wild one, letting him teach me. He is waking me up and I live in a state of constant and total amazement!
I’d like to take a moment to thank Susan White for these amazing images from that evening with the dogs. This image of us walking side by side means so much to me. I’m grateful beyond words to have so many memories captured so richly.
If you’d like to hear more about my journey with this mustang named Feather, you can follow us on Facebook or learn more about how and why I do the things I do by becoming a Patron on Patreon or joining my online immersion course called Tango with Horses.
The Tango with Horses Tribe is a private Facebook Community where we talk philosophy of giving our horses a voice and finding our own voice in the process: The Tango with Horses Tribe
Gandalf Gray Feather is a public page for fans of Feather the mustang where I share the occasional photo and updates: Gandalf Gray Feather
If you want to learn and become part of a growing community of supportive fellow seekers, you can join the Online Immersion Courses here, where my work with Feather is a case study you can follow: Tango with Horses Online Classroom
Or you can support Feather directly by becoming a Patron and follow our journey together on Patreon. I record all of my interactions with him here, some free and for patrons I include audio and video of my sessions with him: Andrea Datz Tango with Horses