Introducing the Way of the Horse

Why I’m Running Workshops that Help You Discover the Powerful Wisdom of Your Body

I was listening to comedian and actor, Eddie Izzard, on the radio this morning. He’s just finished 27 marathons in 27 days. (!)

They ask him if he’s taking a rest, or if he’s already planning to start running again.

“You’re asking this now?!?” he jokes.

Then after a moment’s thought, “I expect I’ll be doing half marathons every couple of weeks,” he says. He pauses.

“I need to move… like we did when we were kids…

“At some point as adults, we decided that wasn’t a good idea, but we’re natural animals, and we need to move. We forget that.”

He’s right. We are animals. And I know I forget that.

By a strange coincidence, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, in part because I’ve just been to another meeting with Sharon Clifton of Spirit Horse Works at a farm outside Brighton.

We’ve been talking about her running a session with horses for School of the Wild for some time, and I want to understand more about what that might entail. Sharon’s offered to give me a tester session.

It’s a cold, overcast early morning, and the farm is quiet as I arrive.

Sharon Clifton of Spirit Horse Works

Sharon jumps out of her car and walks me to some camping chairs under a hawthorn tree, on the edge of a paddock. This is her office.

I first met her here a few months ago when a fox hunt passed by. The memories of it flood back.

We chat about that strange day.

Then Sharon explains what we’re going to do today, and about the work she does with her horses Charlie and Alfie.

“…we’re natural animals, and we need to move. We forget that.”

Because horses have been the prey of other animals for thousands of years, they’ve evolved very acute senses and pick up signals and feelings from us that we may not be aware of.

They also don’t care about who we are, whether we’re rich or poor, old or young, or what we’re doing with our lives. They just meet us in the moment.

Which makes them great mirrors.

Alfie grazes in the paddock [image courtesy Spirit Horse Works]

Alfie and Charlie are close to the fence as we chat, and we observe them for a bit.

Before I can start, Sharon gets me to sense the edges of my personal boundaries using soft eye vision. This boundary is quite subtle and varies for everyone.

Mine is about 25 feet out, and when Sharon enters my ‘zone’, my fingers twitch involuntarily, showing me that my body is aware of it even if my mind isn’t.

I’m surprised at the distance and I resolve to pay more attention in future.

In city life, with little real space, our boundaries are crossed so much we become a bit deadened to how far they reach, with a consequent effect on our feelings of safety and space.

Once I have a sense of the extent of where mine is, it’s time to try it out with the horses.

Alfie has been bounding along the fence next to us and seems more interested, so I decide to work with him.

We duck under the fence and enter the paddock.

Despite my nervousness at being in a field with a large boisterous horse and with no barrier between us, Alfie turns out to be very respectful — as I work on the edges of my sensing boundaries, aka my comfort zone, he approaches slowly and stops when I ask him, rather than rushing straight at me.

Then it’s my turn to walk towards him. He doesn’t move.

He’s patient and affectionate and is teaching me something about respect.

I love being there in that cold field with him.

The only nerve-inducing moment is when I get up close and he turns around to present his hindquarters. Getting kicked by a large horse is a big fear of mine, but it turns out he just wants a scratch.

I relax.

His bottom lip quivers as I rub him. “Look, he likes it,” says Sharon, smiling.

Horses are alert to signals, sensations and feelings that we miss
[image of Alfie courtesy Spirit Horse Works]

As the world wakes up, other horses start running about in the neighbouring paddocks, and birds fly across the valley.

We return to the ‘office’, and I reflect on what I learned, about horses, about myself, and about the power of my body’s senses.

As I turn to leave, Alfie comes back to the fence and seems bereft to see me go, like he wants to play some more.

There is something really special about being with this intelligent animal, and I leave feeling inspired by the unexpected connection, and with an even stronger feeling of admiration.

I live in a city and I rarely get the opportunity to connect with large animals like this.

And neither do I pay as much attention to my felt-senses as I do when I’m out in the softer natural world.

In fact, I’ve been noticing how quickly city life affects me, deadening my senses, and disconnecting me from nature in a way that makes me care less about it.

How much more would we discover about ourselves and the world around us, and how much more would we care, if we paid as much attention to what we feel in our bodies, and in our hearts and our guts, as we do to what we read, see and think?

In our busy lives, it’s easy to ignore what our powerful body wisdom is telling us.

So as the rest of nature starts to stir this Spring, and while I work out how to get a session with horses into our calendar, we’re running some other workshops that explore and develop the non-visual senses.

These sessions are a chance to discover how much you can detect, determine, and sense about nature and yourself, by learning to pay attention to what you feel in your body and not what you’re thinking.

Like horses, much of nature works in this felt-sense way.

And as animals, so do we actually.

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