The Healing Power of Animals

I want your story of your animals, dog, cat, birds, skunk. I think our animas are like angels, come to teach us how to love. For example: Sixteen years ago I prayed to God to bring me a Relationship, the companion of my heart.  I was lonely.  I wanted a man to share my life.  I thought a man would heal the ache in my soul.  Instead I got a horse.      

   A horse? I didn’t want a horse, but once having ridden this young Arab mare (only three years old, just a baby), I was captivated.  I’d never met a horse so smart. Or so courageous.  One day we were riding with a group out on the spacious New Mexico mesa under that huge Western sky, when we came to the carcass of a cow.  The older  horses shied, balked, twisted, lunged, refusing to walk past the carrion smell.  It was my little girl, Spring, who at my urging stepped daintily past the corpse, leading the others in her wake.  

    I won’t go into my refusal to buy her. But one morning I woke from sleep with a sudden clear “knowing” that Spring was going to be sold and moved to Portland, Oregon— that I would never see her again. I telephoned the stable in New Mexico.  “If Spring is ever for sale,” I said, “please let me know.”  

    “That’s strange,” said Katherine, the stable owner.  “Only yesterday her owner called to tell me she’s moving to Portland, and she’s putting Spring up for sale.”

     When God is in charge, there’s nothing you can do,.  I put an option on the horse, and flew to New Mexico for a month to make a decision.  But I’d already made up my mind.  It made no sense for me to own a horse. I lived on the East Coast, with a vacation cabin in New Mexico. I’d always be in another state, far from my horse. And horses are expensive!  How could I afford a horse?

      But all that month, every time I sensibly decided to deline, I’d feel that little tap on my shoulder that I think of as the voice of angels: “Try again.”

      There is a character in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, who “talks only of his horse. That’s me. (Actually that’s every horse owner that I know.)

      I won’t bore you with her beauty, the way she lifts her head or tail when she steps out in her long walk, the way she moves into the bit, or she lowers her head to make it easier for me to latch her bridle, or thrusts her head into her halter; and if she could, I think she’d probably buckle the snaps.  

     Moreover, she loves me.  Non-horse people don’t think that horses love.  Once I was brushing her beautiful hind quarters when she swished her long tail—and held it by muscular force draped over me. I was veiled in her embrace.  After three or four seconds, she relaxed, letting her tail fall free. I was shocked. That takes effort.  She deliberately held her tail over me, in a kind of touch.

     We have been together now for 15 years.  I brought her East. We have fox-hunted, done dressage, won ribbons in horse shows, but our favorite is jumping and trail-riding, and we trust each other enough that she will even go out alone on trails we’ve never seen before.  I say this because some horses I know will hardly leave sight of their stable, they get so nervous all alone.

   Now with the pandemic, she has become even more significant. My sister has a lap dog. One child has budgies. I have a horse.  Masked and isolated in lock down, I went for months without touching another human or being kissed or hugged. I was avoided by grandchildren and daughters and friends.  At the end of four months, I felt myself going bonkers. Humans are pack animals. We are supposed to touch, relate, not live in sequestration, like a prisoner in solitary. Few can live like hermits or a yogi in a cave.  (And this has given me new rage and indignation at how we throw prisoners into solitary confinement, letting them out once a week to walk outside one hour: some confined to solitary for months and years! Cruel and unusual punishment: that’s torture.) 

     Intellectually, I knew this sequestration was enforced for my safety, but my Unconscious mind had other ideas: that my children, grandchildren and friends wanted nothing to do with me— that I’m old, worthless, useless, unwanted, unloved. It was a message I fought and often lost.   Still, I had my horse. 

   Every day I could drive to the stable and brush my horse, or give her a carrot or apple. Even if we didn’t ride, I could run my hands down the smooth muscles of her beautiful neck, rub her ears, kiss her soft muzzle, breathe into her nose, so that we exchanged breath in an intimacy as deep and calming as sleeping with a lover. She would nuzzle my neck, gazing at me with her enormous brown eyes. The eye of a horse is the largest of any land mammal, exceeded only by that of an ostrich, whale, or seal. A horse is so sensitive that, even through layers of a heavy leather saddle, it can feel the blood pulsing in your thigh.  She knows, therefore, when you are excited, angry, frightened, irritable, and likewise when you are quiet and calm. Being flight animals, a horse responds to your emotions as she would in the herd, so that she jiggles or jumps in appropriate fear, according to your emotions, or else she walks calmly along, trusting you even in danger (a cow, for example, or smelly pig or goat, if she’s never seen one).  On the other hand, you learn to trust your horse as well. She snatches the scent of bear long before you, and tells you with startled hooves and ears of peril. Believe her. She knows more than you.

    Sometimes I would go to the stable anxious and upset, but in only a few minutes of brushing her, I would grow calm under the influence of her love. I think I could feel her sending out waves of loving tranquility.

    Lockdown is easing now. Restaurants are carefully opening outdoors. People still wear masks, stand apart, careful not to touch.  My grandchildren still will not come near me, fearful of infecting me. But when I go to the stable, my horse out in her pasture pricks her ears and lifts her head at hearing my car. She steps out in her loose long walk, approaching me, and she lowers her head for her halter.  Then we walk along together, companionably, to the stable, where she will be brushed and touched and massaged and then ridden, she and I out for an adventure together. I will feel her muscles moving under me in a walk or canter.  I come home, take a hot shower, and all is well with the world.

   I had wanted a man. I got a horse.  

at a horse show

10 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Animals

  1. Oh, Sophy!
    Spring is beautiful! What a touching tribute. You are so fortunate. I am happy you have her to keep you company.

  2. Dear Sophy, Although I could not understand meanings of some words but whatever I could understand is really marvelous and worth reading. It is really astonishing and amazing for me the way you observed your mare and described her qualities in beautiful words and phrases. Animals/pets cannot speak or we cannot understandtheir languages but their only language is love affection and attachment to their owners.  You were curious to find a man as your lover/companion but you found a mare which is a plus point for you as horses do not make fraud or dodge theirmasters but men can be flirtous and cheaters so you are lucky having not a man as your companion but a mare who will never disappoint you with herlove and affection till she is alive. Is it correct? In a light and easy mood, if still eager to find a man, then do not skip your Shokee at all. Smile. He will never ever betray cheat or dodge you!! Really a fantastic piece for animal lovers as animals love human beings so much passionately and affactionately which cannot be described in words. Much love and affection! Shokee

  3. Hi Sophy,I’m happy you are still “at it”.I’ve moved to Germany, hoping you will visit me in Bremerhaven on the North Sea coast.! Sophy, please send your blog to my personal email address: Hallowayelfa@gmail.com. Im trying out a new life, which hasn’t begun yet. I’m sitting among boxes in my unfinished condo. May the Lord protect me just a little longer. I pray He is protecting you and your family. Love, Elfa Halloway 011 49 176 634 98000 Cell

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  4. I too, have loved an Arabian horse, thank you so much for your (as usual) lucid, helpful writing. Although I am not a very good rider (My husband is the horseman–we had won him in a raffle and trained him as a young colt, then a gelding, then sold him to a family who would love and appreciate him because we lost our nearby boarding stable.) Blowing air gently back and forth and the grooming, leading, talking, feeding, formed a strong attachment and I still think of him nearly 30 years later, long after he died. For this past 10 years we have bred and shown Shetland Sheep. They are every bit as smart and loving as horses. It is a scientifically proven fact that herd animals have larger brains relative to their body size than animals that are not as social. The theory is that they need more brain to store and use all the social cues to function in a flock or a herd. Our sheep adopted us into their flock. They come to us voluntarily and they talk with with in the same gentle chortlings that lambs and ewes only use for each other during their bonding process. As we age and grow too sore in body, we must downsize and quit keeping rams and quit breeding and showing. We have young granddaughters miles and miles away in San Francisco and older grand children in Colorado and Wyoming whose lives we need to be part of, too. So we are very carefully downsizing the flock, trying to make sure at least two go together and that they go to loving homes that will give them good care. Dispersing a flock of sheep is a huge responsibility, at least in order to do it well, in a way that the sheep will thrive–they cannot be healthy without being part of a flock. For us as well, as adopted members of their flock, it is very hard emotionally, psychologically, spirituall, to part with them. Friends sometimes bring us loved ones who are in a streak of bad luck or illness, just so they can spend time with the sheep. They report that their loved ones spend a huge amount of time talking excitedly on the way home about how good, how healing, it was to be with the sheep. So, we have pretty much decided to just stop breeding them, not to keep rams, and to keep the sweetest older ewes around for pets and therapy. Recently our some of our sheep have won some big, competitive shows; we show to learn and to make sure we are in compliance with the breed standard. Although my husband is competitive and enjoys handling them and winning shows immensely, I consider my greatest achievement as a Shepherd was being smart enough to sell a ewe lamb and donate another to a ranch in Western Wisconsin, near the Twin Cities, that keeps Therapy animals of all types.. Kids from the Inner City as well as disabled people come to visit them and the sheep are among their favorites. We have tried to tame and halter-train most of our lambs before they go to their new homes, because one never knows who they will end up helping. A friend of ours, another Shetland Sheep breeder,had grand daughters who raised an orphaned Shetland bottle lamb in the house in diapers, Now they dress her in a tutu and take her to nearby nursing homes, where the sheep loves being petted and socializing. Most commonly asked question when their now grown up but still small ewe in her tutu first meets someone is, “What kind of dog is THAT?”

    • What a wonderful letter . I had no idea that she wear it so intelligent and social! No wonder shepherds and sheep are what Christ talked to us about. Fierce oh I love your story. May I pick up and use some of your information in a future blog? Or maybe even make your letter into a blog? With appropriate credit to you? Please respond, or look on my website and get in touch with me by email or text. Thank you so very very much

      • Hello Sophie, Yes you may, of course! I responded more completely on your blog. Glen Tamarack is the name of our farm, and Terry Andre Dukerschein is my writing name, for poetry at least. Jeanne Dukerschein is my Facebook and legal name–I was named after my mother so to avoid confusion, we always went by my middle name, Therese, Terry for short. Sorry for the typos, etc. I left behind in the blog replies–I rush sometimes.

        The attached photo is of Arabesque, whom I mentioned in the latest blog reply as one of our most friendly ewes. She is our lead ewe and our oldest one at 11 years old. She delivered and raised twins this year without problems. The badger-faced pattern she has is called Katmoget. Her color and that of the relatives and descendents she is pictured with is called fawn. I took the photo years ago as a study in Fawn Katmogets. Shetlands are a primitive breed created on the Shetland islands from crossing wild, native Soay sheep with various domestic breeds the Vikings brought to the Shetland Islands over 1000 years ago. Their flleeces are prized by handspinners because their many natural colors and patterns were never bred out of them as they were for mainland sheep. Domestic sheep in Great Brittain and elsewhere are usually white due to demand in the wool industry for dyed wool in a full spectrum of colors.

        My mother kept a working antique spinning wheel in our home primarily as decoration–purchased before I was born. Mainly my brothers and sister and I used it as the captain’s wheel for steering an imaginary ship. It took me years to find a spinning teacher, but finally I did, in my mid-50’s, and that is another story involving a random meeting on a flight from the Twin Cities to Dallas. I still spin their wool into yarns of various types and knit, but I am more of an animal lover, biologist, and naturalist than a fiber artist. My main career before I retired was as a Freshwater Biologist managing a monitoring field station on the Mississippi River for Wisconsin DNR and the US Geological Survey. How I came to that career was via a request for something else given in a dream by my dying aunt, which I honored and which led tangentially, you know how those things work, to a graduate fellowship and a career. I will be ever grateful for that guidance and help.

        Blessings, Terry Dukerschein, Glen Tamarack Farm

  5. P.S. Sophie, I cannot even count the times your Book of Angels has given me deep comfort and rest on anxious nights. Benefitted from all of it, but especially love the parts you wrote about your personal experiences with angelic messengers and the letters from people all over the world about their experiences with angels. I have had experiences, too, mostly in dreams–the kind of dream where you awake at peace, refreshed, and confident that all will work out fine. They are much different from ordinary dreams; they contain direct, clear answers to my prayers for spiritual guidance. Often they have people I am praying for or about in them. A big struggle for me is deciding whether or not to tell the other people in them about the dream. So far I have not–it is often someone I hold in my heart and miss from the past and no longer have access to, either they are dead, or the relationship is “finished”, although I do not personally believe any loving relationship is ever “finished.” It is just a fork in the road, where we part ways for a time, not a permanent ending. The dreams seem mainly meant to reassure me that I or my loved ones involved are loved, that all will be well, so usually I just keep and treasure them in my heart. Just ordered your book of letters from people about their experiences with angels.

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