People who know me well know that I have always had an enduring “thing” for horses. They’re inherently beautiful in motion, even the ones with objectively imperfect hocks, with “unnaturally” high withers or with thin, scraggly manes that need to be roached, rather than grown out. I love feeding and grooming horses, picking out their hooves and yes, even cleaning their stalls. For years, horses, along with surfing were as close to obsessions as I get.
I haven’t always had horses & I don’t right now. I literally can’t afford them, never mind not having a place to keep them, here in Orange County, California. But the days when the beginning and ending of every day revolved around my horses are still vivid in my memory. There is something inherently satisfying about entering the barn first thing in the morning, just as the sun is rising to find your horse(s) heads craned out of their stall, bobbing as your approach.
I know what you’re thinking. Horses are nothing if not masters of associative learning. They’d learned to associate my approach in the early morning with a flake of hay and a generous helping of Omolene 200. They were just hungry, which is why Ran and Breeze always bobbed their heads at me when I entered the barn.
Admittedly, it’s probably just wishful thinking, but it always felt to me like it went beyond that. Breeze, my Appaloosa mare, for example, would invariably attempt to steal my hat when I entered her stall. Maybe she was just bored and found the game a distraction. Except she never did that with anyone else when my absence required me to find someone to fill in for me. I know because I asked. And when I let trusted friends ride her, she’d never crane her neck around to nibble gently on their jean rivets, as they picked out her hooves. She did that with me, regularly.
And maybe it was just anticipation of sharing a beer with me (Ran-Man LOVED beer) or an apple that would send him into a cavorting frenzy when I’d call his name while he was turned out. He’d amble up to the fence—treat or no treat—to renew the bond we shared. However either of them felt about me in their equine brains, I loved them both with that special affection that often grows up between horses and humans.
But as gratifying as these little interactions were—& whatever I or anyone else thought they meant—my biggest takeaways from being around horses was how much their communication is non-verbal. Over time, that recognition has spilled over into my interactions with humans.
To this day, I’m of the belief that one of the most important reasons to have and care for horses is to help teach us sensitivity—how we’re being received and to how we might be coming across to others. I have not and never will completely master either reading or controlling non-verbal communication. But I am certain that Ran, Breeze, and the other horses I worked with made me just a little kinder, more sensitive and a little better than I would otherwise have been.
Looking back on those days, I’ve come to believe that kindness, love and giving is perhaps best taught to us by our interactions with critters (or people) who so different from ourselves, that we can only relate to them meaningfully with conscious, continuous effort of heart. Perhaps it is that very effort that brings out the best of who we are, enabling us to see ourselves more clearly in others.
As 2022 winds down, I find myself thinking about those collective “others” who make up my immediate community—they who are part of my life and (more inclusively) that glorious, larger community that all life calls home.
Is it a function in part of my growing awareness of my own mortality? Of how much or little time I may have left to get me and my relationships right, whatever that means? Probably. There’s way more runway behind me now, than lies ahead.
I don’t know what life, however much I have left has in store for me. But acknowledging my own fallibility, I nevertheless hope to be true to my quiet pledge to myself for the coming year. As 2022 winds to a close, I pledge in 2023 to be kinder, within the limits of human frailty. Kinder with my eyes. Kinder with my words—even in the expression of sometimes painful truth. And my thoughts. Mostly especially in my thoughts. Namasté.
DB Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, former corporate trainer and two-time district manager turned full-time author with six books in print and two more on the way.