Freedom, the only end!
Naturally enough, people who come to spend time with us here often ask me how I got to where I am today with my horses. I have a tendency to scratch my head, gaze inwardly, mumble, “Well, one thing led to another, more or less…” I mean, how does one get anywhere, except one step after another?
But whenever I’m asked an honest question, it has a way of reverberating and opening up depths, helping me to clarify and verbalise something so close to me I have never looked it.
So where did it all start?
As a toddler in my mothers arms being comforted by the sight of horses through the window?
Giving pony rides on the beach with Rosa? She who showed me unintentionally how to use energy to move a horse, and developed my love of finding a way to work with the horse, not against it?
Living on a mountainside in France, with barefoot horses our only transport?
With the realisation in my early 20s that horses could teach me how to be centered, aware, and flowing?
All of these things are significant way markers in my development as a horsewoman. But the day we set our horses free was what really lead me to my present lifestyle.
It starts with passion
Horses are my lifelong passion. I don’t remember myself not being able to ride. I always had a knack for the ‘difficult’ ones, but I could never quite get behind what we were told was correct horsemanship, “Show it who’s boss” and all that stuff. I couldn’t follow the beaten track, so stepped off it, feeling my way, step by step, where no woman had gone before. At least that’s what it felt like back in the days before internet. Now it appears there were others like me blazing their own trails too.
Life led me and sent me teachers, both human and equine – tales I will tell another time – until one day circa 1986 some questions hit me out of the blue. Maybe because we had just left a working cattle ranch, and for the first time the horses were ‘only’ for our pleasure.
Suddenly it didn’t seem quite right to be putting a saddle on a horse and riding. What right did I have? Did my horses enjoy it? Was it morally permissible?
We started riding bareback (we were already bitless) but the questions went on in a discussion between myself, my partner (very newly hooked up at the time) and our horses. Until it seemed the only ethical solution was to set them free.
What were we thinking?….
Looking back at it, there were so many reasons not to do this thing. But we were young and in love. And I’m so glad that we did.
Anyway, at the time we lived with 4 horses on 10 acres adjoining the 223,000 acre Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico. So one fine day, we rode the horses a couple of hours into the forest, to a perfect mountain meadow, watered by a beautiful mountain stream. Surrounded by pine forests with mountain peaks in the background. Idyllic. We pulled off the horses’ halters and waved them a tearful farewell. Swelling hearts, violins, soft focus. You’ve seen the movie.
We were going to camp out overnight to keep an eye on the horses. Our housemate would pick us up the next day in his truck. As we sat watching them graze, the horses suddenly pricked their ears, looked around, stared into the long distance, then took off at a gallop. The beauty of it! The freedom!…. but all too soon I realised: those horses were going somewhere. With purpose. And the direction they were heading was home.
So off up the forest track we trudged, abandoning our gear, worrying what might befall the horses as they galloped. Barbed wire, cars, who knew what danger? After some time we were relieved to see our friend driving towards us in his pick-up. “Guys! What happened, the horses just turned up galloping. Are you OK?”
In we climbed and soon enough we were home, to find the horses hadn’t just run home, they had put themselves INSIDE the fence and were waiting to be fed. So much for freedom.
Time for a rethink
Do horses not want freedom then? Are they too institutionalised from their generations of captivity? Or are they like us? Most humans don’t want to live in a cave, hunting woolly mammoths, being eaten by sabre tooth tigers. Maybe horses are the same. They like the comforts of domesticity. Perhaps they do not want to be left to fend for themselves in the wild. And anyway, where is truly wild on this planet in this era.
Perhaps, just as we like to live in a comfortable house, with people we love, freedom of movement and the right to express an opinion, so do our horses?
So if domesticity is a fact for horses, what do we do? Is there a way to give them the advantages of domestication without the attrition? To keep them safe from predators and the vagaries of the weather, without causing them physical and psychological damage?
I like a comfortable bed and a hot bath at the end of the day as much as the next person. But freedom is important to me, I’m not a 9-5 sort of person. In my life I have found a happy balance. I am not a subscriber to mainstream materialist enslavement, but live a low impact, free roaming lifestyle that gives me all I need.
In setting them free I understood that as a human, my obligation is to provide my horses with the best of both worlds, just as I do for myself. Figuring out what this means, and what it is that horses truly want is what has lead me to my current lifestyle.
It’s been a lifetime journey of learning about the psychological and physiological needs of horses. The importance of choice and how to provide that, even when living in limited space. How to care for them with essential oils and herbs and other natural medicine. How to help them learn the rules of living with humans (we break easily, be respectful) without compromising their spirit.
In the 30 years that I have been investigating, my boundaries have been pushed out further and further. I have consistently stepped over the edge of my comfort zone, into unknown territory. I have set myself and my horses free from all outer expectations and obligations. I listen only to the currents of energy and physical expressions of the herd and live with them in an exquisite synchronicity.
What I have learned is that freedom is not so much a matter of physical confinement. Freedom is an attitude, a state of being. I wish for us all to be free, not from fences, but from old ideas, emotional projection and our own fears. Free yourself, free your horse. It’s what Over the Edge Farm is all about.