Moments of grace.

It rode in on a black horse.  And then it melted under a hot midday sun, and it circled about on a bit of breeze and voice and intentionality, and finally it leaned into the heart of the man who had been building a very powerful connection between himself and the black horse.  The man and the horse were now trusting each other completely, with silent breath and touch, with in-sync energy, a private exchange of conversation.  So here was pure “grace,” I thought.  Here was witness to a moment of true, perfect, grace.

Such moments of grace and connection between humans and horses happen frequently at this place, The Horsemanship Academy.  And yet no two are ever the same, and none are taken for granted.  

On this particular day, the farm was hosting several active-duty members of the City of Aiken’s Department of Public Safety – participants in a program designed specifically for first-responders.

But all that the horses knew about these humans is what they could read in their body language, scent from their skin, watch on their faces, take in immediately and expertly from their projected and hidden energies.  Horses are uncannily accurate and remarkably non-judgmental about it all.   

Horses are also all about being present in the moment, the here and now of life.  And they can take you there with them, hold you tightly with their eyes and breath and pure size and strength, with their unwavering requisite of mutual trust and awareness.  Just the sound of their feet and throats, the flick of their tails and twitch of an ear, can bring you back from any drifting thoughts of tomorrow or yesterday; they will break down your traumas and build up your courage, and never give a whit about what’s waiting to happen or to be relived again and again in your mind.

And interwoven throughout this program, with very subtle regularity, is the stress placed on the importance of gratitude, one for the other.  “Say ‘thank you’ when the horse does what you ask,” the facilitator coaches over and over.  “Tell the horse she did a good job.” “Tell him ‘well done’.”  “Be grateful for what he has given you.” “Let him want to follow you.”  “Say ‘thank you’ again.”  It’s a top-of-the-mind kind of gratitude.  A constant reminder to express it as well as to feel it.  Perhaps just another piece of something to take beyond the horse fence in remembrance of this experience.

As British psychologist and author Dr. Robert Holden says:  “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”  And I suspect that’s exactly the kind of gratitude that is part of the “grace” shared between horses and humans when these amazing connections are made.

Over the past dozen years or so, I have written much about the healing power of horses.  About how it is part physical, part psychological, part emotional, part spiritual.  And how we humans can glean so much from the culture and lessons of the horse – and animals in general – to benefit one another and the world around us.  It lifts my heart to know that these sessions with horses and humans are happening on farms all around our community – reaching our military veterans as well as our veteran horses, our first responders, our children, those with special needs, those who are recovering and those who are not.

I suspect Aiken is filled with multitudes of “moments of grace” of all kinds and shapes and colors and species.  

But I am particularly glad that sometimes grace rides in on black horses and leans into the very souls and hearts and minds of humans.  Perhaps such moments of grace will shift everything.