I love animals. I grew up with a mangy menagerie that at any given time included hamsters, gerbils, birds, mice, and cats. And dogs. Oh, the dogs. I spent my adolescence pretty much covered in dog hair.
I never did much with horses, though. I always wanted to, but unless you have a parent who is into horses, or unless you live close to a ranch or some other wide open space, I’m not sure how you can get that exposure. My mother, an experienced horsewoman, did take us kids to ride ponies around in a circle for a fee at a park, or at least I think she did. I was young enough that I might be making that memory up. She talked about horses some, but she married an extremely un-horsey guy, so my experience with horses has been pretty limited.
Like many of the posters here at Segullah, I’m at a beginning of a new chapter, as my youngest just finished kindergarten. It’s a scary time, or at least it can be for a stay at home mom. It’s a time ripe for re-invention, or re-discovery of one’s self, when the demands of motherhood aren’t quite so physically…demanding. So, I’m pursuing a long held dream of learning to do equine therapy, or hippotherapy, which involves speech therapy interventions being implemented while the student is riding a horse. I’m baby stepping my way into this, functioning at this point as just a lesson volunteer, but I gotta tell you, so far, it’s really, really, really cool.
I’m learning a lot, like, overload levels of a lot, but one thing that I keep learning is something that I heard from a master horseman:
Horses are mirrors to our souls.
In the lessons, I don’t say much. I walk beside the horse to provide safety support for the rider, or I lead the horse during the lesson for riders who aren’t independent enough to control their own horses. I’ve been in lessons with nonverbal children who shriek with fear and/or happiness as well as adults who may or may not be physically disabled. The students, they run the gamut in terms of age and abilities.
In some ways, it’s the adults that are the most interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the kids. The effects of therapeutic riding are amazing and powerful, and I’ve teared up more than once watching these little people fall in love with riding.
But the horses tell me more about the adults. When I showed up for my lesson today, I knew what the horses were going to be like even before the adults got on them. Both riders were riding horses they weren’t familiar with, both were unprepared for the switch, and both were nervous. I knew it was going to be a hard lesson.
It was. I saw the riders hesitations, their insecurities. I saw it because the horses showed it to me. And I saw when the first rider overcame her hesitancy and started really riding the horse, when she remembered her strength, and used it. Both horse and rider were happier.
Mirrors to the soul.
I’m not a horsewoman, not yet. I’ve hardly been on a horse since that fuzzy memory in the park, and my first day as a volunteer, I was told to take a deep breath because the horse I was grooming was feeling my nervous energy. I *was* nervous, it was true, but I was trying to act tough. I didn’t fool anybody, least of all the horse. I still have miles and miles of things left to learn.
But as I watched the rider today calm her inner fears and ride, I wondered what the horse would do if *I* were on it. I wondered what was inside my soul, what the animal would reveal about me. What is inside of me, and if I didn’t like what I saw, could I change it?
All during the drive home I contemplated this question. What is inside of me? What does my soul look like? Are there other mirrors to my soul? Do my children mirror my soul, does my husband, heck, does my dog? Would I be surprised to see into myself, or ashamed?
One of my favorite scriptures is from Doctrine and Covenants, 76:94:
“They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;”
This is the promise of those who have been valiant in their testimony of Christ, that they will see as they are seen, and know as they are known.
Is this a good thing, or a scary thing?
I think it’s both. Good and scary, to see what is inside of us, and see it as God sees it. To know ourselves as God knows us. To know others as God knows them, and presumably, to love ourselves and others as God does.
Apparently, that’s heaven.
In the meantime, we’ve got horses, and therapeutic riding. It’s not heaven, but it’s pretty close.