I Am That Horse

Watercolour drawing; close-up of a horse's eye

From time to time I think about the title of this blog. Ever wondered why it’s called Invisible Horse? I thought I knew, and I’ve talked about it before, even if sometimes I was explaining it to myself in the way I have to when something does make absolute sense but I’m not quite sure why.

One explanation is that horses have always run deep through my life as a constant thread, as far as I know from the day I was born because I don’t remember a time when this wasn’t so, even though there were no visible horses or ponies in my life until about the age of six when I finally started to ride and spend time with ponies (from which time on I thought of little else until the age of about sixteen). But even then this thread was never broken. They’re always there, the feel and the smell and the sense of them, and I only have to catch sight of a real live horse and I sort of melt and everything else drops away.

Thankfully I know there are other people like me, and this isn’t a kind of madness (although on the other hand perhaps it is). Some of them explain all this much better than I can – like Anna Blake, in her blog Relaxed and Forward – she knows how this feels, and how it always has…. ‘Maybe a better question is what is it about horses that hook us so deeply? I’m not being rhetorical; since the beginning of time, when horses first started trying to domesticate us, we’ve painted them on cave walls, burst into tears watching them run, and for some of us, took the blame when we fell short.’

But not too long ago I stumbled upon Andrea Datz’s blog Integrative Horsemanship,and now I know exactly why this title of mine has always been so right. The Invisible Horse is me.

Watercolour drawing of trotting horse

Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts called Letters To Myself, trying to be more self-sensitive, aware and compassionate, trying to plant signposts that were supposed to say, stop! Look! Here’s the way, and actually you know it……! But I’m not too good at these conversations, or rather I don’t listen or take the advice. I carry on in the wrong direction. When I notice (for the twentieth time in an hour, often) that my jaw is tight, my shoulders are hunched, my stomach’s in a knot, I’m liable to snap irritably and tell myself oh, for goodness sake, get a grip, stop doing this! And it’s not effective. It’s not even polite. It’s certainly not respectful. And the thing is, what I now realise is that although it seems I don’t know how to behave towards myself, I do know a bit about how to behave with a horse.

It’s been a long time since I worked with horses but it’s there, inside, as clearly as if it were yesterday – all the sensations intact – and the feeling is strong. I need to talk with myself as I’d talk to a horse.

Andrea speaks horse. She’s learned to slow down, to pay attention, to wait and to observe. She’s learned to let horses be horses, to speak in their own way through body language and resonance, teaching her to understand what they’re saying. And how she accomplished this is important – because as she describes it was largely by paying close attention to herself – to her own emotions, her nervous system, her reactions and responses – all the things humans ignore and repress.

The language of horse is subtle and easily missed or overlooked. So is the equally expressive body-language of humans (something else we don’t pay enough attention to). The language of my inner horse – my Invisible Horse – is subtle too, but easy enough to understand when I give it the chance and let it speak, and the best thing is that I immediately want to take up the conversation because I recognise it, and I’m happy to listen and respond.

There’s an African greeting, Sawubona, that means ‘I see you’. The response, Ngikhona means ‘I am here’. The sense in this Zulu greeting is that in a way, until you saw me, I didn’t exist. *

Sawubona, Invisible Horse. Ngikhona.

Notes on the sources:

Thanks to Bridget Edwards for the definition of Sawubona and Ngikhona.

I sketched both these watercolours using photos from Andrea Datz’s blog as a source. They were both painted directly in watercolour with no initial drawing in pencil or pen, partly as an exercise in Marc Taro Holmes’ current #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 challenge for the month of June. But there was another reason for me to paint like this, which I only understood while doing it, and that was to work more instinctively and responsively than I would if I’d drawn first and then painted. Another kind of communication, I suppose. I know enough about horses to see all the errors I’ve made in the drawing, but I’ll let that go. The painting was what mattered.

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Dive In

Yellow, orange..... what?

As deep as you can,
dive in.
Breathe,
and forget
children’s voices
even the robin, singing.
Be astonished,
the shock
of yellow,
spotted with fire
like a fallen sun.

Photo, close-up, of yellow tulip

Spell To Dispel Fears

Take it lightly, lightly,
weightless as a cloud, drifting
apricot white in a pale blue sky.
Say these words. Speak them out loud.

Soothe the old lizard darkly crouching.
Let her bask in the warmth of the sun.
These are old fears, not new ones
come to haunt you, to trick you.

Listen. Listen; outside,
a fluttering of wings
and a blackbird, singing.

Wait

Empty bench, afternoon sun, January, Cliffe Castle Park

Wait.
In a few moments
the shadows will be longer.
Perhaps
someone will walk by,
or not;
perhaps a robin
a flash of tawny feathers
a splash of russet red
will loop suddenly
into the picture,
and perch. Perhaps,
perhaps not.
In a minute or two
warmed by the sun
maybe my shoulders won’t ache,
and my mind will be clear.
But my nose may be cold,
and my fingers, and
I’ll remember there’s tea
and chocolate cake,
and all my thoughts
in the space of a moment
changed, changed.

Initiating Rest Sequence 

The following is an extract from the unwritten self-help manual ‘Regulation and Maintenance of Wellbeing’ 

Rest Mode 
To acheive Rest Mode, the Rest Sequence should be employed. This must be initiated after a period of sustained physical or mental effort, and/or whenever tiredness is noticeable by evidence of irritability, confusion, inability to focus, and the persistent tendency to perform current tasks faster, despite resulting in increasing fatigue, lack of efficiency and rapid decline in wellbeing. Whenever the need for the sequence is recognised the protocol is obligatory and should be observed without delay or inner discussion.

To initiate the Rest Sequence:
1. Notice what’s going on, how you feel and what your body’s telling you about it. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening, because it is. Don’t think things will just get better in a minute.

2. Stop whatever you’re doing and if possible lie down. A bed is good. So is a sun-warmed patch of grass, or a soft carpet.

3. Lie with your hands on your stomach and feel the up and down motion of your breathing. Count backwards slowly from fifty to one.

4. Feel the pull of gravity and sink softly into the ground or the bed beneath you. Quietly resist the thought that there are things that need doing; this is the only thing that needs to be done for the next few minutes.

5. Go on doing this for a few minutes more. 

5. If you’re not already smiling a little, smile. And notice what happens. 

6. Gently stir yourself a bit at a time, and then get up slowly. 

7. Return to whatever it was you were doing and do it with care, noticing everything. 

Repeat the Rest Sequence at least once daily or often as needed. 

Letters to myself (5)

Attentive

Attentive


When I go for a walk I prefer to go alone, not because I don’t like company but because I can’t concentrate on noticing things. It requires letting go of thought, and it sounds like an odd contradiction that what we call mindfulness needs to be acheived by thoughtlessness – but it requires stepping off the endless loop of jibber-jabber that goes on and on inside my head all the time. Like leaving a room full of manic conversation and closing the door for a while. 

Paying attention means noticing. Animals do it all the time, constantly. But as a species we humans have become monumentally forgetful of the way it feels to just look, and listen, and sniff, and feel – and notice. I can’t believe how often I forget to do this myself, and I need frequent reminders to bring me back to it, again and again and again. 

It’s easier to do it in the presence of animals, or birds, or even insects. Words fall away. What they do, by paying attention, simply can’t be done with words. 

Little unknown insect in the sun

This is the fifth post in a series of letters to myself at the beginning of the year – the first one is here. I’d thought I would post one a day until 12th Night, and I’ve reached that point – but now I find I still have more to say to myself by way of nudges and pointers and so I think there may be more to come – just not quite so frequently. 

Last year I posted here only once in a while (being rather occupied with writing posts on my sketching blog) – but this space is special for me, and I’ve felt the lack of it. Writing and posting here again feels like coming home. It’s good to be back. 

Letters to myself (4)

Beech Tree with spreading limbs, in summer

Grounded


There’s no springing into action without first being grounded. A spirit of adventure will fizzle into nothing at the first wobbly bound. I know this by experience because I’ve tried it too often and come unstuck, simply by forgetting to pause and take a slow breath…..

A tree is such a powerful reminder of balance, strength and stillness – a flexible stillness, because on days like today when a gale is blowing, the branches that in summer stretched up motionless into the green canopy are whipped and bent and thrashed in the wind – but the tree remains. It abides. 

This beech is a favourite of mine, one I pass frequently and often stand under. The simple act of standing under a tree helps me do what I try to do when I practice hesitant Tai Chi moves in the garden every morning before breakfast – an attempt to be at one with myself, and still.

There’s also a way in which this is a listening, a paying attention to what we already know deeply in our bodies, and what we can learn there. As children we were all more naturally able to do this (- just watch small children standing, running, playing) and it makes me smile just to think about it. I take a long deep breath, and remember….

This is the fourth post in a series of letters to myself. If you haven’t already read it, the first one is here)