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On The Path of the Horse

On The Path of the Horse

By Betsy Kelleher

      “If you never buy anything else, get this DVD, The Path of the Horse,” advised the newsletter from Hoofprints.com. So I did. I watched this documentary of Stormy May’s six week journey to learn from various innovative horse trainers, and I enjoyed its creativity and the photography and thought it very interesting. I later realized that this DVD was an introduction to a new philosophy regarding horse-human relationships, with much more to follow.

     Then I received information on a series of free January teleseminars on The Path of the Horse. You had to register in advance at www.thepathofthehorse.com/, and participants could direct questions to the seven “visionaries” featured on the DVD. Wish I could have listened in, but the timing didn’t work for me. 

     The panel included: Alexander Nevzorov (The Horse Crucified and Risen, a film), Carolyn Resnick (author of Naked Liberty), Kim McElroy (equine artist), Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling (What Horses Reveal, Dancing With Horses, and Coming Together), Linda Kohanov (author of The Way of the Horse, The Tao of Equus, and Riding Between the Worlds), Mark Rashid (who has written many books including Horses Never Lie and Considering the Horse), and Stormy May, who produced the DVD, The Path of the Horse.

     I don’t know a lot about these seven “pioneers.” I’ve mentioned Liz Mitten Ryan’s book, One with the Herd, in a previous column, and I believe the theme of her book fits with this philosophy, even though she wasn’t included on the DVD. Mark Rashid has written several books, and I have read two. I appreciated his concept of “passive leadership” where the horse is allowed to choose a leader based on trust and respect instead of forced submission to a bossy master. What Horses Reveal inspired me to identify each of my own horse’s personalities in the author’s 26 categories. The book also suggested what kind of rider would be best for each category as well as methods of handling and training.

     After owning two of Linda Kohanov’s books for some time, I finally began reading them as research for this column. Promotional information says she founded Epona Equestrian Services in 1997, now relocated to Apache Springs Ranch in Sonoita, Arizona. Married to composer/musician Steve Roach, she is an author, speaker, riding instructor and horse trainer who has become an internationally recognized innovator in the field of equine experiential learning and a respected writer on the emerging field of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy. Her book, The Tao of Equus: A Woman’s Journey of Healing and Transformation through the Way of the Horse, was selected by Amazon.com as one of the Top Ten Religion and Spirituality books of 2001. Her other book that I own is Riding Between the Worlds.

     I enjoy her writing style and am astonished at her discoveries and dreams and the great amount of research she has done in many different areas including psychology, mythology, consciousness and creativity, Judeo-Christian images of man’s fall, and Taoist concepts of reality. I don’t feel comfortable with the direction of her life, as she follows the spirit of the horse further and further into the world of New Age “consciousness,” looking to the horse for guidance and healing. Her book, The Way of the Horse, which I do not own, includes a set of 40 cards. From several reviews of the book on amazon.com, these are divination cards to be used for guidance, similar to tarot cards. Again, I am not comfortable with this, and I believe that the Creator of the universe should lead us, not a deck of cards.

     While reading actual case studies of her work, however, I was impressed and intrigued. As an equine-facilitated therapy practitioner, she has great understanding of the human personality as well as her highly unusual “connection” with the mind of horses.      

     Take note that this “new” direction in horse-human relationships deals with human therapy not horse training. Most of the DVD “visionaries” have been horse trainers with a kinder attitude toward training, laying the foundation, it seems, for a new “use” of the horse to help those with emotional needs.

     To quote Linda Kohanov, “While the practice of therapeutic riding for persons with disabilities is a good fifty years old, the field of equine-facilitated psychotherapy didn’t gain official recognition until the Equine-Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA) formed in the mid-1990’s as a special section of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).” Another organization, EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) provides training and regulation for this new field. In the front of The Tao of Equus (between the acknowledgements and the introduction) one page defines various classifications of the field of equine-assisted therapy—which is extremely helpful when trying to understand all the confusing terms.

     Most of us are familiar with therapeutic riding centers, such as Ride On St. Louis, in Missouri, and Chakota Riding Center in Germantown, Illinois. We know that horses have definite value in therapy with human beings, and Kim Meeder has also shared this in her two books, Hope Rising and Bridge Called Hope. If you haven’t read her books, you are missing the truly miraculous work that God is doing with horse-human relationships on their Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Oregon! And I hear she is working on a third book. Visit their site at http://www.crystalpeaksyouthranch.org/. Check out the inspiring new DVD that you can order, or watch it online for free.

     Whenever different philosophies are presented, our first response should be to hold such thoughts up to the light of Scripture. We need a spirit of discernment, a wisdom and Holy guidance to recognize truth. We should look at new thought carefully—at its purpose and depth, its consequences, its goals and principles, as well as words used to describe it. As I read Connie Funk’s book, Beauty from Brokenness, Bits and Pieces of my Journey to Wholeness,  I enjoyed her observations and was surprised at some of her experiences, but she often used words that were foreign to me, words from the workshops that she had attended. These workshops are going on all over the country, led by various people using horses to help people find new emotional understanding of themselves. Many of the practitioners have trained with Linda Kohanov.

     Connie’s book changed my prayer life. I had been praying desperate, pleading prayers for God to heal my son of cancer. While reading about Connie’s experiences, I tried to “project” God’s love with my prayers. I turned to I John 4:18, which says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear hath torment.” I had definitely felt the torment of fear that I might lose a son! But in my efforts to project God’s power and love in my prayers toward the one being prayed for, my fears grew less. I felt a greater strength within and a special peace, and my daughter-in-law told me she felt the love directed toward them. It was a healing love, perhaps at both ends. Not yet in remission, my son seems to be progressing slowly in the right direction. I continue to pray with a different attitude than before. I have a stronger sense of trust in God’s love and power, knowing we are all in His hands.

     I have always believed that women have a special role in the world, to nurture and love and to be an influence of sensitivity and understanding. In Linda Kohanov’s introduction to The Tao of Equus, she says that horses relate to the world from a feminine perspective. Interesting, but there is something in her writing that waves a warning flag of possible emphasis toward female worship.

     When moving from an attitude of “using” the horse toward “being with” the horse, I see some benefit here. In Tao, Linda Kohanov tells one horse owner to back off from all training to spend two weeks with her horse. This might be a very good idea for many of us! Kohanov has much to contribute in the area of human-horse relationships, but I find myself feeling cautious as I read her books.

     In Romans 1:25, we are warned against being like those “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

     In Tao of Equus, Kohanov tells how her black horse becomes her guide. Is it coincidence that I have a black mare who has taught me many things? I do not, however, see Lady as a replacement for God’s guidance. I see her as an exceptional mare with intelligence and wisdom, as a tool in His hands. I seek to follow—not a black horse—but God Himself, the true source of all wisdom and love and healing power. I have the right to my philosophy as much as Linda Kohanov has a right to hers. I definitely see value in using horses as aids in therapy. I can’t help but wonder, however, if we would follow the spirits of horses instead of the Holy Spirit of God, aren’t we living on the level of animals rather than living up to the image of our Creator?

(Originally published in the March 2009 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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