• vslachman

My Kola

Updated: Jun 22, 2019

In the opening of Horse Follow Closely (1998), author GaWaNi Pony Boy notes that for most Native American tribes, horses were not there to be “instructed." It's a very different attitude toward equines than the we have today.

Many trainers stress that we must teach horses respect, teach them who is the “leader,” teach them how to jump properly, carry themselves properly, stay out of our “space” properly, and so on.

But for Native Americans, horses were the teachers; the tribe elders and medicine men were their pupils. GaWani Pony Boy describes the early Native Americans’ relationship with their war ponies as one of “kola” or “a friend with whom you could face many encircling enemies” (Introduction).

What better companion could we want to help face our enemies? Whether it be stress, anxiety, uncertainty about our path, sorrow, past mistakes, trauma . . . . In the eyes of a horse there is a deep, vast darkness; I called it a "forest" in one of my poems. A place of refuge, peace, total acceptance, a place of safety where whatever needs working out can come to the surface.

Your horse will never desert you there and under that patient, forgiving, kind, strong, and wise gaze, I’ve experienced enormous progress and healing far more profound than any “talk therapy,” medication, or use of reason has afforded me.

I don’t think we have much to teach horses. But the reverse is certainly true. As my great friend and wonderful dressage trainer, Elizabeth Stevensen says often “Horses are great at being horses.” And so they have much to teach us about authenticity.

In the eyes of a horse there is a place of refuge, peace, total acceptance . . . a place of safety.

In fact, I think horses are much wiser than we are. Certainly much wiser than I am. And my relationship with Dorian, has literally changed my life by offering me a path back to authenticity. Often that’s entailed bringing me face-to-face with how I avoid myself. Then it’s my choice whether I hear what he’s trying to say to me, or I ignore it.

I can’t say I’ve always been swift on the uptake, that’s for sure. But he’s so patient (as are all horses), and I’ve matched that with my own persistence to learn. Step by step, we’ve grown together and continue to grow.

Now, when I go to the barn, it’s more often than not, with the question “What lesson do you have for me today?” And there’s always a lesson. Always. If I allow my wise, gentle, fierce, elegant, spiritual guide to teach me.

But the truth is, also, that there are plenty of times I have an agenda and plenty of times I don’t pause to be on “horse time,” but plod through what I want to get done rather than listening to Dorian. And so patience with myself is also part of the process. Another thing I’m none too good at.

In some way, this as the story of finding a present reality, one that exists but often seems just out of our reach, or just below the surface of things. It’s a reality that we all, I think, instinctively know is there, feel is there, and are drawn to when we’re not too busy to pay attention to its quiet presence.

Looking even superficially into quantum mechanics, new explorations of somatic intelligence (e.g. see the Strozzi Institute), and any number of investigations that surround us but we’re often too busy to look into shows there’s a profound reality just at hand, one that surpasses our ability to “logically” grasp its potential and nuances.

What E. Richard Sorensen calls our “post-conquest” mentality (the logical, driving, predatory, aggressive mode of being) has kept us rushing around in a sort of thoughtless frenzy we’re not aware we’re engaged in.

Horses teach us there’s another way. In yoga practice, this is called the way of Yin, the dark, feminine principle of yielding and quietness in body, mind, and spirit. How distant that mode of being is from our hectic, day to day living where the pressure to “make” a living, “get” ahead, “succeed,” keeps us focused on busyness and doing rather than being.

In my own journey, those terms have taken on a new meaning. I no longer feel the need to “make” a living; rather the issue is to live. There’s nothing, really, to “get”; rather my focus is on what I can give. And certainly “success” has taken a back seat to a quiet authenticity that has little to do with the world’s definition of that word.

So this is my journey; I share it in the hope it will help you begin yours. It’s certainly one I could not have taken without Dorian.


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