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.

19 thoughts on “I Am That Horse

      1. I stepped away from reading blogs for awhile. It’s so nice to see my favorite artist creating incredible artwork.

  1. Instinct is an important word here, I think. Maybe process, too. Talk to yourself like you talk to horses – I love it. I don’t have experience with horses. Well, I have two – one was being thrown on my first ride, age 17. Oh well! The next was getting back on over 30 years later, and that went really well. It would be nice to do it again. Even without being a “horse person” I hear what you’re saying and it makes sense. The watercolors are beautiful too, full of joy, and power, but not the clenched jaw kind. 😉

    1. You always have such marvellous things to say – I mean in the sense of insightful and sensitive. I wasn’t at all sure whether this would be understandable to people who don’t have a strong connection with animals, but from what you say I think it must make sense! I’m sorry you had a negative horse experience aged 17 but very happy that was offset by such a good one so many years later. They are very special creatures. But actually, riding them is only a part of the relationship. A lot of it goes on without ever climbing on board! Thanks ever so for joining the conversation!

      1. That is a really good thing for me to keep in mind – that much of the relationship with a horse is out of the saddle. OK, next time I have the opportunity I will make more of an effort to connect. They certainly don’t leave me cold, I just don’t have the deep connection with them that some people do. My best friend, when I was about ten, was a serious horse lover – at that time in fantasy but later in real life – and she used to stick a scarf in the back of the waist of her pants, and go running around. I always remember Kristin with her long dark hair and her scarf-tail, running wild and free. 🙂

  2. Beautiful post, and beautiful watercolors. I haven’t spent a lot of time around horses, but I love this idea of you (and all the rest of us) having an inner, invisible horse. The trick is, how do we see them in each other? Funny timing to read this–yesterday, rainy afternoon, I went by myself–because I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me—to see a new documentary about minister and children’s TV host Fred Rogers–Won’t You Be My Neighbor. May be that he was a man who let his inner horse show a bit more than the rest of us. And for a few minutes, it rubbed off on me. When I left the theater to do errands in busy shopping plaza, I saw people–how they moved, how they responded to each other–differently. It was as if a spotlight shined on each person, but they were totally unaware of it and therefore totally not self-conscious. It was an amazing, revealing few minutes. Frustrating, as I felt it ebb away. Reading your post this morning, with this sensation fresh in my mind connects these two things–much to ponder, as always with your writing. Be well, invisible horse.

    1. Oh, what a wonderful experience! You describe it so well (please, might it become a poem? If you were to let it?) But as you say, frustrating as you felt it ebb away. This is the big problem for me, that I can’t sustain it. But then again, because I can’t, when I do remember to turn lovingly and thoughtfully (and apologetically) to my inner horse to ask how things are and get an immediate and grateful answer – it fills me with delight.
      So lovely to hear from you. And as always, what a feeling of connection. May you be well, too!

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