I know firsthand the healing power of horses. Nothing has healed my heart like they can, over and over again from the bruises left by life’s school of hard knocks. I believe God made their eyes and ears extra big so they can take in everything about you, the good and the bad, and yet they constantly respond calmly and empathetically.
My world was up-ended the day my father walked out on us. I was thirteen years old and a die-hard Daddy’s girl. Not wanting to be around the house that was no longer a home, I reflexively became a regular visitor to a nearby barn to make my world more stable.
Graham, a friend of the family, came to my rescue and I fell in love. Not with Graham but with his horse he boarded there, Ivy Rose. Ivy was a beautiful bay mare with a white star between her big brown eyes. She had the most sympathetic eyes I’d ever seen and I was looking for all the sympathy I could find. When I was fortunate enough to show up after he had been out for a ride, Graham would let me sit high in his saddle as he walked Ivy around the paddock for her cool-down.
The day came when Graham told me I looked confident enough to take the reins by myself. How thrilling to feel Ivy respond to my tentative directions! Here was something I felt I could control, as every other part of my life felt like a tornado was ripping through it. I spent even more time at the stables, helping shovel out Ivy’s stall, bringing her clean hay and water, and loving her. I knew she was always there for me, and I would often wrap my arms around her neck and let the tears flow. I could feel her absorbing my pain, somehow helping me bear it.
Graham eventually gave me solo riding privileges in return for my hard work and I took full advantage of his trust in me. Directly behind the barn was a wooded trail a few miles long, and Ivy and I would be gone for an hour at a time. Certain sections of the trail were particularly straight and smooth, where I could give her free rein and she would take off at a full gallop. The wind would whip Ivy’s mane against my face and take my breath away. It felt like we were flying and all the cares of a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl were blown far, far away.
Now as an adult I earn riding privileges in return for chores, and I still get that feeling of carelessness and freedom every time I get to canter a horse. There’s no therapy like it.