H and I have been spending time, volunteering out at a stables called The Stable Place. These urban stables located in the Salt Lake Valley provide equine therapy for physically and mentally disabled people. However, lessons at The Stable Place are also available giving an opportunity for everyone to spend time with horses which, frankly is one of those life skills you should have. While I’ve done some riding in my life, this is the first time I’ve really been able to spend lots of time on horseback and around diverse horses, caring for them and interacting with other people who are learning to ride. It is an experience that has certainly changed my wiring.
There is a happiness… a tenderness out at The Stable Place where everyone always seems to pleased at the thought and opportunity to work with horses. What is it about the horses? I don’t know for sure, but I will tell you that horses have an uncanny ability to interpret posture, movement and intent that reflects their millions of years of evolution as both herd and prey animals with complex social structures. This ability to perceive subtle form changes and movements is key to their survival and also their ability to work with humans.
One lunging exercise with a draft horse at the stables, Sam particularly blew me away. Under Jayme’s guidance (Jayme owns the stables), we were having a ground lesson and I was getting Sam to change gate by positioning my body and pacing. At one point Jayme told me to drop my eyes whereupon Sam immediately changed gaits. “Excellent” I thought until I realized something fundamental… “I am wearing sunglasses and a hat… There is no way he can see my eyes!” I exclaimed to Jayme. Her response… “Yeah, isn’t that neat?”. I thought about this for days afterwards and could only conclude that I ever so slightly must have changed the position of my head and Sam immediately, at an extended canter, perceived and responded to that ever so subtle change in form. This nuanced communication between human and horse is one of the things that has always amazed me about dressage.
Even more important and also immediately relevant is how people respond to the horses. I’ve watched people of all sizes, ages and abilities; mental, physical and emotional interact with and respond to these horses and what manifests will bring tears to your eyes. People with histories of abuse can interact with horses to gain control and mastery over themselves and the horse as they work together. People with incredibly debilitating physical pain will run with joy around them. People with autism open up and interact in a way that no other experience could elicit. People who suffer from post-traumatic stress find solace and focus working with the horses and the cognitively delayed grow and benefit from being in the presence of and working with these glorious animals.
I can’t quite figure it out yet, but my hope is that there will be years more of experience possible, working with and interacting with the people and horses of The Stable Place. Some more of my photographs of the place, people and horses can be seen on The Stable Place website, here.