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Divine Messengers of Hope
By Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson
New World LibraryCopyright © 2006 Allen Anderson and Linda Anderson
All rights reserved.
Love and Dreams
Now, the wild white horses play, Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
— Matthew Arnold
Each year three to four hundred captured wild horses are shipped to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in Wichita, Kansas, to become part of the Kansas Wild Horse Program. At the prison the inmates gentle the horses and prepare them to be adopted into homes. The horses learn to load into and unload from trailers. They learn to climb up hills and calmly back down and to step over and around obstacles. According to "Paroled Horse: The Kansas Wild Horse Program Gives Inmates and Mustangs a Second Chance" by Denise Parsons, "An inmate must achieve the highest level of good behavior and trust by the warden before being allowed to take part in the program."
The training program provides inmates with the opportunity to have responsibility for another being and to feel pride in their accomplishments. The men have to qualify for the program and be minimum security risks. They ride the horses at Sand Hills State Park, not at the prison. Neither horses nor prisoners have ever tried to escape.
This program uses prisoners as trainers and companions for animals who need a friend. Its success gives hope to the inmates and to the horses because the power of love and friendship opens up a world of freedom for all of them.
As herd animals, horses form natural friendships with other horses and with humans who become like their herd. When pastured together, horses pair off with compatible horses. Claire Albinson writes in the book In Harmony with Your Horse: How to Build a Lasting Relationship, "During the ritual of mutual grooming, the heartbeat of both horses will drop as they become more relaxed. Horses will eventually mutually groom with all the members of their group, thus reinforcing the bond between the whole group ... These friendships are very important to the horses, and they will display a strong desire to be reunited with their 'friend,' if they are separated, by calling loudly and by showing agitation."
Because horses don't live inside homes with people and curl up on their laps like cats, the relationships between humans and horses are unlike those with any other domesticated animal. Horses must be loved at a distance until they let you into their hearts with the acknowledgment that you are a nice person after all, maybe even a friend.
Humans experience unique forms of companionship with horses. A rider's skin touches a horse's skin, feeling the ripple of muscle, hearing for hours at a time the symphony of breaths, snorts, whinnies, and hooves striking the ground. The pungent scent of horse sweat and the sight of a mane whipping in the wind like a flag add to the sensory delight of the bonding between horse and human. The memory of ancient times and past pacts provides visceral, sensual interactions that humans have with no other creatures on this earth.
This chapter illustrates the hope that horses bring for finding love and the part they play in making dreams come true. It shows that love arrives disguised in many forms and through a variety of experiences.
Listen, now, as the love songs that horses and people sing to each other bring hope and divine messages.
* * *
The teachers at our small school knew little about Emily. She seemed to be another forgotten foster child enrolled in our special-needs school in central Ohio. Her birth parents had come to our town at some time in the past. After some legal issues, Emily and her younger brother had been made wards of the court and placed with foster parents. The birth parents had promptly disappeared, seemingly into thin air.
When I met Emily she was a thin, withdrawn eight-year-old with a pale complexion and stringy blond hair. Her posture and demeanor spoke of much abuse and neglect. She couldn't allow anyone to be close to her and would seek out the farthest point in any room, away from other people. Emily never spoke, and other children left her alone. Her eyes conveyed that social isolation was just fine with her.
Emily's only companion was a small stuffed pony of threadbare plaid fabric, which had seen many better years. She treated it not so much as a toy but as her contemporary, holding in-depth, telepathic conversations with the toy pony for hours on end. Its straggly mane and empty spots where button eyes should have been made it a perfect candidate for either extensive repairs or a replacement, but Emily would have none of that. Several people tried to take the stuffed pony from Emily long enough to either clean or refurbish it, but she greeted these efforts with wails of anguish. Her moments of separation from the stuffed pony so upset her that it would take the rest of the day for Emily's sobbing to be relieved.
Social workers and psychologists worked with Emily for many weeks, trying to determine the exact course that they should take to help her. Emily's younger brother acted ostensibly normal. His characteristic good attitude presented a stark contrast to Emily's reclusive and closed life.
"Autism," said one knowledgeable professional.
"Withdrawal or anxiety syndrome, at the very least," said another.
Whatever her diagnosis, Emily's symptoms told us that her world was not a pretty one.
Such was her life until the day of the farm trip.
That day the plan was to take Emily's class to the Valley Farm for the afternoon. Our numbers totaled twenty-one children, all with varying forms of special needs. The children were excited at having a day off from regular school, basking in the bright fall sun, enjoying a picnic and a trip in the bus.
The bus ride to the farm was uneventful. Teachers and their aides busily scooted about, checking up on their charges. Most of the children took catnaps, as the drone of the bus almost immediately lulled them to sleep. Emily, as usual, had positioned herself as far away from others as possible. She sat in the left rear corner of that long, yellow bus with, of course, her only companion, the unnamed stuffed pony.
In the late eighties, most people didn't give a lot of thought to the physically challenged, and most buildings and homes made no specific accommodations. The farm we were visiting was ahead of its time. It had ramps, slides, and several special sets of stairs for adults or children with poor motor skills. It even had properly equipped restrooms.
The farm's animals were kept in a large, open setting that allowed visitors to intermingle easily with them. There were goats, puppies, and kittens in abundance and even a variety of small, sweet-natured piglets. Throw in a very tame milk cow, and we had all that a trip to the farm should be. Except at this farm, there were also the horses. And what an attraction to the children they were!
Two older, stabled quarter horses provided rides or lessons for children who could ride. For those who could not ride, there were the ponies. Three Shetlands — two mares and one gelding — stood together in the back corner of a paddock and patiently watched as this motley group made its way toward them. The mares, more gregarious, clustered next to the fence when the children drew near. They made it clear that they were more than willing to trade their affection for any bit of treat that we might offer.
The old gelding timidly held back. When I asked about the gelding, the farm operators told me that this horse was new there and probably wouldn't ever be well suited for children because of his skittish nature.
The operators said that the gelding had originally been a child's pony. When the child outgrew the pony after a few years, he languished in a field, alone and forgotten, without regular food, care, or shelter.
The gelding had since been rescued and brought to the farm. While his physical health was now good, his emotional state was not. His inability to trust was expected to keep him from ever being all that he could be. Whenever children came to visit, the operators of the farm separated him from the tiny herd and isolated him inside the barn so that children could safely get into the area with the other ponies.
Everyone had a wonderful time that sunny fall afternoon. As the day grew short, it soon became time to do what we all dreaded — head back into town. We packed baskets, emptied coolers, and loaded children and wheelchairs onto the bus one by one.
Then we realized that we couldn't find Emily anywhere. We looked through all the barns and buildings. We searched the paddocks and lots. The little eight-year-old seemed nowhere to be found. We were frantic.
I decided to retrace our steps. I trudged back through the buildings and barns. As I reached the open barn door, I heard something that lightly touched the edge of my senses. I stood at the door, trying to identify it. A couple of romping kittens in mock battle on top of a stack of hay drew my attention, but I knew this wasn't what I had heard. Listening closely, I heard the sound again and finally realized it was someone singing. Very low and very soft, but nevertheless, this was distinctly singing.
I moved quietly toward the sound. As I turned the corner, there in a stall, standing quietly munching hay, was the little gelding who couldn't trust. At his feet, lying flat on the ground and looking up at the horse with wide and adoring eyes, was our missing Emily.
Shivers swept over me at the ethereal sound of her voice. I stood in awe for a moment, taking in the gift before me. On the fresh hay, with sunlight streaming in, this frail, fair girl, who had never uttered a single word or sound around us, sang softly, melodiously, and earnestly to this wise old gelding. He stood there, scant inches away from Emily's face. His eyes looked deep into hers, locked in what seemed to be a trance, as Emily continued her song for him. The more she sang, the louder she became, until her beautiful voice could be heard throughout that old barn. It was as if all else in the world had fallen silent except for that beautiful songbird crooning to that old, graying muzzle.
Entranced, I didn't hear anyone come up behind me. I finally turned and found nearly a half dozen others who were as mesmerized by that song as I. Emily's classroom teacher was so enthralled that tears were streaming down her face.
It was then that the pair noticed they were not alone, and the sound died off slowly. Emily sat up. For a moment I thought she might run and hide. Instead, she looked at me and said simply, "I'm sorry."
I asked, "Whatever for?"
She didn't answer but looked back at that old bay gelding, sighed, crossed beside him, and reached out to draw his neck into her grasp. I swear that he hooked his head over her shoulder and managed to hug her back.
Emily gazed into his eyes and ever so softly said something that only he could hear. I noticed that she had left her ragged, stuffed plaid pony sitting on the gelding's stall board. As I went to retrieve it, Emily said, "No, I told him I'd leave it for him. He needs a friend. He's all alone. He needs it more than I do." Her voice was strangely powerful, and a golden glow emanated from her.
We all were thunderstruck at her generosity. In those few minutes together, the abandoned child and abused horse had seemed to fuse into one. She drew strength from him, and he received compassion from her.
Emily quietly followed us back to the buses. We finished our tasks and loaded up to leave, thankful that things had turned out as they did. I knew we had witnessed a miracle.
On the ride to school, Emily remained her quiet self. But her foster parents called her teacher the next morning and said that at the dinner table the prior evening Emily had asked for something. The request stunned them because this child had not spoken in all the months she had lived with them. Emily had asked them if she could go back to the farm sometime soon.
Emily, indeed, went back to that farm many times.
Although Emily could never be considered a rowdy child, she became vocal and adjusted well to life with her foster parents. They eventually adopted her and gave her the life she had always dreamed of having.
I don't know what happened to Emily years later. I don't know what happened with that wise old gelding who had trust issues. I lost touch with everyone else who had been there that amazing day. But sometimes I wonder if Emily is somewhere singing for her own pony, and I hope she is doing well. Perhaps, all these years later, she even has a little Emily of her own.
I did speak to the operators of that farm not long after our visit. They told me the name of the wise, old gelding who had coaxed a song from Emily. It was, of all things, Angelo.
When have you met a horse who responded to your song?
The Artist Is a Horse
There he is, in all his glory, standing at his easel, stroking the watercolor paper with deliberate and precise strokes. His passion is evident, and the art is captivating. As he paints with pride and fulfillment in the green pasture, his creation comes to life. It all makes perfect sense, except this artist is a horse.
His name is Cholla, a magnificent 1,300-pound abstract expressionist, standing 15.2 hands. The son of a mustang stallion and quarter horse mare, Cholla is a wonderful combination, in my opinion, although I am no authority. His coloring is copper buckskin highlighted with black mane and tail, a black dorsal stripe, and zebralike markings on his legs. His face is that of an angel.
As Cholla paints, he masterfully rolls a delicate artist's brush held in his teeth and executes his desired, willful strokes. Next he flicks the brush and splashes paint on the canvas with graceful intent. He turns his head and gives the brush to me, his loving assistant. I smile and apply more paint to the bristles. Cholla gently takes the brush from my hand and returns with conviction to his creation. The artist is at work.
In this green, lush pasture his palomino buddy watches intently from the other side of the fence. Cholla's decision to paint overrides his desire for food or herding with one of his own species. The scene appears somewhat unnatural, yet it feels perfectly natural. It's a stimulating sensation to watch him paint, and the energy is pure. There is no denying that Cholla positively loves to paint. His intelligence is as evident as his uninterrupted focus.
Cholla watched me paint fences for years. That's as far as my talents go in the world of paint; my artistry lies in the dance.
One day as I painted Cholla's corral, with my equine companion following close behind, my husband, Robert, shouted, "Why don't you get that horse to help you?"
I giggled and continued, with Cholla still in pursuit. I was about halfway done with this chore and was thinking I'd rather be in my flower garden. (I can grow anything, so I always say that mine is a fluorescent neon green thumb.) I adore flowers and had recently taken a six-week adult watercolor class devoted to painting flowers. I was pretty pathetic in the class, but it had still been fun to try.
Inspired by the class, I had purchased high-end watercolor paints complete with quality brushes and stacks of expensive watercolor paper. After the class session was over, I placed the pristine supplies on the top shelf of my guest room closet. Little did I know they would become dear objects to my horse.
As I trudged along the corral fence line that day, Cholla stayed with me. I could tell he wanted to help. His curiosity and interest were overwhelmingly peculiar. He focused on what I was doing to the point that nothing could distract him from watching me. He has always loved to hold things in his mouth, ever since I got him when he was five, but there was no way I was going to let him have that big, drippy brush full of white latex paint. I continued working while Cholla remained well behaved and didn't delay my progress.
While I painted, I thought back to when I first got Cholla. He was volatile, since he had been broke the old-fashioned way, with ropes and force, a method called sacking out. To do this, the cowboys halter the horse, tie ropes to each limb, get the horse to the ground, and tie him off so he is fully restrained. The horse fights until he is completely traumatized and exhausted. Cholla, now twenty years old, still carries deep scars on his hind legs, at the fetlocks, from these ropes. At the horse's point of greatest exhaustion, the cowboys rub ten-pound sacks of flour up and down the horse's body. This is supposed to teach the horse that humans are more powerful.
Excerpted from Angel Horses by Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson. Copyright © 2006 Allen Anderson and Linda Anderson. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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