There are not many days in a year with weather as perfect as this. It’s Spring (always a good thing in my book), birds sing. The sun is warm enough for me to sit in the shade on a mossy rock (curiously dry moss here in Portugal), the breeze is coolish. Behind me the water tumbles down its gully with a perfect harmony of tonalities that soothe and uplift, lively but not rambunctious. In front of me the horses are lost in an orgy of greens, as they ‘mow’ around the tents. Bliss.
When it was raining and cold I had to coax the horses out of the shelter some days to go walk with me and stretch their legs, “Horses are supposed to move,” I said, “it’s good for you.” “So?” they replied, looking at this foolish human who doesn’t understand about conservation of energy and seasonal cycles. I, observing one herd, in one season, started to reformulate some of my long held beliefs and build new theories, thought maybe horses were perfectly happy to stand around all day and munch on hay. In which case why did we go through so much pain and expense to provide them this lovely natural environment? But formulating a theory on such limited data is never a good idea.
Spring came and the rhythm of our days has changed. The horses are restless to leave the home compound where we have been keeping them at night. Ellie’s face peers through my window demanding I open the gates at dawn. So I do. They go round their “trackless track” twice in a day instead of going out and back on the same route, following their noses up and down the hills, up and down the hills. They volunteer to come play with me in the picadero or go for a ride. And they insist I open the gate to the green stuff, the delicious cold-weather grasses and herbs on our side of the fence. So here we are.
In all my long years and varied lives, I have never lived in such close intimacy with a herd of horses on a daily basis, although I have cared for small and large herds on three continents. I have been a slave to the feeding routine, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn (or before) so they wouldn’t have to wonder for a second if food was coming. I have slept in the tack room waiting for mares to give birth, waking at every shifting foot and heavy breath – and still managing to miss the moment. I have spent nights in tents in the wilderness, listening to the horses munching; or wolves howling under a full moon, turning all of us electric with awareness. I have clumped out on dark nights, through raging gales on Exmoor, to beg my horses to come into the barn and get shelter. And many an evening I have sat watching the sun set over English hills and shared a beer with my horse. It’s not like I have been a distant stranger to them.
But it’s never been like this before.
Here, our lives overlap and intertwine minute to minute and I live in surrender to their rhythms. Our days are not organised for the convenience of humans. We have no schedules, no goals to achieve, no training to be done, no owners expectations to satisfy; just a herd of horses, boundless love, and an openness to learning. Every day, as we try to provide the best living space possible for the horses, our communications become more subtle, clear and direct and we figure out our common language. We humans learn to trust the intuitive, non-verbal nature of the conversation; the horses know that we are listening, so express more clearly what they need, or would like.
But I don’t want this to sound like some New Age, spiritual thing. It’s not. It is very down to earth, grounded in the simplicity of being. Horse-ness. Which can be Human-ness if we pay attention. When we sit at the stable block at the end of the day, all chores done, and the horses choose to hang out with us, even though their hay is waiting for them, it is a simple pleasure. And that’s what it’s all about.