by Stormy May
When I was a child, I would venture outside when it was raining to see what things looked like. My backyard was a completely different land when rain was falling. If it was raining hard enough, or long enough, I noticed pink worms wriggling around in the puddles. These looked like earthworms except they were a bit bigger, lighter in color and more squishy-looking. I decided that these must be a different type of worm. I called them water worms because obviously they lived in puddles and were only out when it was really wet and they could come swim on the surface of the land. I worried that once the rains stopped and the puddles dried out, the worms would also dry out and die. To remedy the situation, I gathered as many of the worms as I could find and put them in a jar full of water and placed them next to the container with the “sea monkeys” (brine shrimp) that I kept as pets.
When my mom saw my rescued water worms I remember a feeling of being looked at like I had just done something cute but dumb. It actually took some convincing from my mom that these actually were water-swollen earthworms who had been trying to get out of the water in their saturated burrows in order to breathe and live. I was pretty sure for some time that she was the one mistaken.
When I did realize that instead of helping these wriggling worms, I had actually sent them to their deaths, I learned something about acting on conclusions based on my own limited observations. After that, sometimes I would remember the lesson and before taking actions that might result in the harm or death of another being, I would ask questions from others who might be more knowledgeable than I. I also continued to make my own observations and note how my findings were either in alignment with or contradicted another person’s conclusions.
I used this approach of both observing for myself and asking advice from experts when I started caring for and riding my first horse at age 10. In my 30s I took this approach to the extreme when I decided to travel the world and interview experts who might be able to explain why some horses seemed to understand and excel with traditional training programs, and others, no matter whose techniques I tried, including many creative ones of my own, just didn’t seem to want to be ridden.
In 2006 I watched and interviewed people on the leading edge of horse-human relationships, and then spent the next 6 years trying out these new understandings with my own herd. It has been a gradual unfolding but what I found was surprisingly similar to the feeling of realizing what I had been doing to those worms. Of course I wasn’t killing horses, but I had been putting them in jars made of other people’s concepts about what a horse should look like, how she should perform, and what to do with her when she couldn’t fit with my goals of being a well trained riding horse. This jar had been pieced together from information that was not completely true. The truth was that I had hurt every one of the horses I trained and that was why they didn’t want to be ridden. Some were able to perform within that traditional framework of pain-based control, and others, due to physical, mental or emotional factors would never be trained with those techniques.
Now that I have a larger understanding of why some horses don’t want to be trained, I have started to watch for more subtle signs that tell me whether or not what I’m doing is in alignment with what nature has designed the horse to be. In this exploration I have found that there is a harmony that I can touch with horses that doesn’t involve ropes or pens or needing to prove to others that I can train horses well. I have found what really feels good which often looks like hanging out in a big open field with my horse friends and playing whatever games we come up with.
There is a relief that comes with knowing that for the first time, I am truly caring for these beasts I love. I no longer need them to act in any certain way to earn the right to be cared for, listened to, and respected. It is enough to know that they were born into this world and as living beings have a right to be cared for and to live lives protected by humans who have the capacity to serve without needing anything in return.
Here in California sheets of rain are coming down and I noticed many worms wriggling for higher ground. I remembered the story of the water worms and wished the worms well in their quest for survival by leaving them alone to do what nature was telling them. I hope we can all walk so lightly today.
We’ve had some heartfelt responses to the apprentice position as well as many applications to become OurHorses community members. If you have written or applied but haven’t heard back from us yet don’t worry; we have printed your emails and are taking time to build our current team before adding new members. It’s a good idea to send us a reminder though if you are serious about our explorations being part of your path.
If you are interested in being an apprentice or even in an extended visit to see who we are in real life we welcome all inquiries.
Email us: Michael@OurHorses.org