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The Value of the Useless Horse

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Beth Anstandig

On the morning the wild fill crested the hill, it was early and the fog obscured the view like the long train of a wedding dress. So at first it was hard to tell what kind of animal was moving through the brush. My daughter and I were getting in the truck to head to town. As I buckled her little body into the car seat, we both caught a glimpse of movement behind the fog.

We were speechless as the flashing pinto body of this young horse raced in and out of view. Mommy, are there wild horses in our hills? 

I’m not sure if the horse had descended or the fog had lifted, but we finally had a full view of the filly, and wouldn’t you know, she was travelling with a friend. She was sidled up against an Arabian-looking white gelding, moving in perfect unison like two birds riding the thermals together. As I scanned our property and our neighbor’s, I could see our horse community standing at complete attention, ears forward, muscles tense, snorting and sniffing the air, as these strangers emerged. It was a moment.

The mountain filly and her white horse companion took up residence on an eighty-acre section of land to the north of our ranch. At some point during the first few days they arrived, the filly injured her hind leg, severely enough you could see the bloody wound from quite a distance. Some of us started calling around, asking who might be responsible for the horses. It’s a careful endeavor, asking about other people’s animals, similar to offering parenting suggestions to strangers.

Over the coming weeks, it was clear that the horses in those hills were mostly fending for themselves, and sometimes all you can do is pray for the resilience of others–then let go. 

I let go. I chose to see the goodness of freedom for those horses and I enjoyed them from afar–and sometimes with my arms stretched over our fence line scratching their filthy, beautiful faces. And then, a couple of months ago things changed. The white gelding was taken off the property and the filly was by herself. My neighbor was able to catch her and had her in a make-shift stall at his cattle facility. It was kind of a disaster. She could no longer see any horses and was pacing in a lot of mud. With some friends helping, we “led” (she was barely halter broke and it was more like flying a kite) her to my property so she could, at the very least, settle near my little herd, which she did almost immediately. I agreed to keep her and feed her until her next journey was determined.

Emma named the wild filly Sunshine when she arrived at our ranch. It was around the same time she named our roaring diesel truck Sunflower. There was a theme emerging. Weeks later, a guest to our ranch took a gorgeous photo (see top of page) of Sunshine bathed in the afternoon sun, and her name finally started to fit.

A year after running wild in the hills, her journey brought her to our herd, to moments of sun and rest. Her message was clear. Her purpose was to be. And the lesson was and really is ours.

Sunshine instantly became quite the hot topic. Everyone had an opinion about what to do with her. Here was this two-year-old horse with no papers, no training, and an injured leg. What began to unfold was a very specific line of questioning and discussion: what job could Sunshine have in the world, what could she do, what could she be used for, what is her value, what is she worth. We had the vet examine her and the hind leg injury from the year before had been catastrophic, two major tendons severely torn, leaving her–and there it was again–unusable, unrideable. Why was this pissing me off?

We work with a lot of high functioning clients who spend countless hours in their professions, working their asses off to feel worthy of living. They fill their personal lives to the brim and can barely breathe. Am I enough yet? Do I matter yet? Do you love me yet? They–or perhaps I need to say–WE suffer from “the busy disease” and it’s making us all very, very sick.

We have become human doings instead of human beings, and we are rapidly losing the essence of our inner nature, the awareness and wisdom that our own animal bodies have to offer. We are so driven and focused on purpose, we are losing the value of peace.

Sunshine, in all her useless glory, arrived as an unsuspecting teacher. Find a sunny spot and stop there to warm yourself. Feel that your body is tired and lay down. Notice that you want some space and find a sweet corner of the field. Become aware that your herd has drifted and walk toward them for closer connection. It’s a good place to start, to begin with YOU. Even though we keep trying, Sunshine is one of those horses who cannot become a beast of burden. She can’t be defined by what others want her to do and she can’t be changed into what others want her to be. She gets to keep her horse essence, untainted and untouched. And maybe this makes her the most valuable horse in the herd.

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