Leaving my overscheduled workday behind, I’m greeted by a whinny. If I linger too long outside, the pony neighs loudly. Nearing her stall, I try to let go of frustrations and distractions. Dwell time at the barn needs me to be fully present.

We’ve been together for nine years now, since she was just two days old. Named after a beloved childhood pony, Raindrop is my spirit animal guide, teaching me life skills in every encounter. We train intently together, honing our physical abilities and mental focus, acquiring skillful means and embedded trust as she pulls me along, with me seated in a cart.

Photo by Michael Massengill

Photo by Michael Massengill

It is not always easy. Last year, in a freak accident, I fell out and got a concussion. It took months to feel comfortable driving her again. We had to go back to the basics, and start all over. My barn mates and trainer were reassuring and helpful. All had fallen, and each had eventually returned to ride or drive their horses.

Fear and anxiety ebbed away until I regained confidence, just as friends predicted. And I returned a much better driver, with basic fundamentals reestablished. Both the pony and I enjoy our drives now more than ever.

Me offering the reins and she taking them—we complement one other when in sync. These moments are transcendent. But more often than not, we slog away, putting in the requisite time and effort in mundane daily training.

After a good drive she stands proudly, then nibbles her way into my pocket for a treat. As I groom and cool her down, she nickers appreciatively. But if I try to put her back into the stall too soon she looks outside with those soft eyes, sometimes punctuating the moment with a snort and a stomp, letting me know she’d like a little grazing time please. It’s hard not to acquiesce.

Equines are extremely empathic creatures. If I am feeling down or have low energy, a warm nuzzle on my chest perks me right up. When I’m tense, I need to relax and breathe, for my sake, as well as hers. There’s an existential honesty in the pony’s being totally in the moment, just seeing and responding to what is.

I revel in her such-ness. She reminds me to celebrate the simple joys of existence. And in learning the pony, I understand how to be more fully human.


About the Author

John R. Killacky is the executive director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT.