Time spent with a herd of horses taught me about the power, peace, and presence of goodness always at hand.
I invite you to join me as I take you with me to the top of Pony Mountain.
I awoke before my alarm and got out of bed, dressing quietly so as not to awaken any of the other campers. As I stepped outside into the dim light of the early morning, the brisk summer air brought a tingle to my cheeks and I shuddered with a chill.
You see, I was 10 years old and working as a Junior Counselor at Oak Manor School of Equitation, in Weyers Cave, VA, which was my favorite place on earth. It was my job to get up before the other campers and counselors and to climb to the top of Pony Mountain where the herd of about 40 horses grazed and slept overnight. It was I who rounded them up and brought them down into the paddock by the barn, where they would be ready and waiting for the day’s lessons.
As I unhooked the chain, the long, rusty metal gate swung all the way open until it hit heavily on the fence line, leaving a large opening for the horses to pass through. After checking to be sure that everything was in order, I began my ascent up the hill. Oak Manor had about 50 acres of lush, sloping pastureland and they stretched out before me, gradually and then more steeply leading up to a thick woods at the top of a hill, which we affectionately called Pony Mountain.
After about 10 minutes of walking, I paused to catch my breath. A trickle of sweat ran down my back. I turned and took a few minutes to take in the scene – from this vantage point, I could see for miles all the way down the valley. Early morning fog had covered one side of the mountain, and the sun was just beginning to show its bright yellow face over the top of the hill.
I could never explain to anyone – even to myself – my great attraction to Pony Mountain. That morning ritual was the most special part of my day; though decades have passed, I remember it so clearly. As I stood with my feet firmly planted in the wet morning grass, I always felt grounded, supported. Looking out over the wide expanse and feeling a sense of awe at the scene, I felt connected to something greater than myself – a universal source of goodness.
I felt safe.
I felt joy.
I saw this… goodness, all around me – in the beauty of the scene, in the freshness of the morning air, in the calmness and quietness of my thoughts, in the contentment I felt in my heart.
With great anticipation, I wondered where I would find the horses today. Sometimes they would be in the woods, still napping from the night. Other times I would see them spread out across the field, grazing quietly, or far away down the backside of the hill. Usually I would find them in intimate clumps of three or four, each group nearby the others, making up the entire herd.
Today I came across a few of my favorites just at the edge of the woods. Honeybee – a small, honey brown and cream-colored pony – stood with her tail to me. I smiled. Honeybee was the first pony I ever rode; I was six at the time. Standing next to her was Swaps, another small pony, but jet-black with a tiny white star on his forehead. Beside them was Friar Tuck, a gentle giant of a horse – his tall frame towering above the two tiny ponies.
I slipped quietly into the midst of them, and they curiously welcomed my presence into their group. Reaching lightly to touch their sleek summer coats, I delighted in their familiar horse smell, mixed with the sweet scent of chewed grass. As I stood looking into their calm, wise eyes, I felt their power and grace; I silently said, “Thank you.”
I realize now what they taught me about how to be still and listen with my heart. Through them, I learned honesty – because horses never lie. I learned to be straightforward – because horses don’t have a hidden agenda, they just respond to the needs of the moment. In retrospect, I see that horses taught me about goodness itself.
And then, in a moment, we all knew the time had come. I had a job to do; so I began.
“Get up; let’s go! Come on boys! Come on girls!”
Heads came up, and all were instantly alert. With ears pricked and tails swishing, they began to move toward the middle of the field. I ran back and forth, swinging the rope I had tied around my waist, darting from group to group to drive everyone together into a huge herd. They started slowly, walking, then trotting, then cantering – galloping down the hill as they headed towards the barn. Blacks, greys, browns, whites – the large, the small – hooves thundered, manes flowed, bodies jostled as they came together and galloped down the hill. I ran fast, keeping up as best I could, my feet slipping in the wet grass. I knew I needed to stay as close as possible to keep any of them from making a turn at the gate and trying to sneak back up thehill. But today, all in order, the thundering mass of horses galloped through the gate and down into the barnyard.
Closing the gate behind me, it was time to move on to my next task. Yet I stood, lingering a few moments longer, relishing in my special world. Quickly the horses settled, accepting their new environment. Clustered together in groups, some had paired up to groom each other with their teeth. Others were nibbling at the tufts of grass that poked up in places around the dirt paddock, and some stood quietly awaiting the next steps they knew so well. We all felt safe, cared for, at peace.
I was completely satisfied. At that moment in time, everything about me seemed good enough. I felt the presence of goodness all around.
It was a wonderful way to start my day.