In March, the New York Times profiled an equine-based life-coaching facility with a star-studded client list in the Ramsay de Give penned essay: “Can We Learn Anything From Horses?”
The Equus Experiential Discovery and Learning Campus is housed on an 11-acre estate in Santa Fe, New Mexico, conveniently located next to the Four Seasons hotel. “We help people access personal wisdom, address challenges differently, and live more meaningful lives,” their website proclaims.
Riding the horses is not allowed at Equus, and a two-hour session, The Times reported, costs about $1,000 a pop.
As a rule, I think it’s good advice to avoid throwing unnecessary shade and, if horses have food, water, a clean place to live and regular farrier visits, what you do with them is none of my business. Tha said, if Neil Gaiman or any of the other illustrious clientele of Equus want to hang out in my horse’s pasture while I coach them like one of my community college students, please hit up my DMs.
A warning, though, my mare will either ask for treats, ignore you entirely, or roll her eyes disapprovingly in your direction. But, then again, learning to deal with rejection and unwarranted disapproval is a quality life skill that mares teach us with mastery.
Equus isn’t wrong about the power of spending time with horses, though. After a few hours in the barn, I am more patient and less of a grump. (Unless I break a poop fork or smash my fingers in a gate, then not so much, but that is another, likely curse-filled, essay.)
During one especially rough week, I recently pulled out my brush box, tied my horse to the cross ties, and put in a good half hour of grooming. I curried out her coat first. As the rubber bristles pulled the dander out of her coat, my frayed nerves started to soften. When I used a soft brush to whip away the dirt, leaving her growing winter coat gleaming and fresh, the spinning thoughts began to fade. The horse, too, reached down and stretched, enjoying the feel of the brush.
But it wasn’t until I started on her long thick mane that I really felt the effects of mindfulness take hold. I have lost track of how many luscious manes I have had the privilege to brush out in my lifetime. Of course, I have done the thin short manes of various breeds of school horses, but my horse life has been largely of the harried variety. The Peruvian Pasos of my childhood had the luscious smooth manes of their Andalusian kin. Friesians, who oddly punctuated my 20s, had those curly ones that took a lot of conditioners. It is the excessively long thick manes of Gypsy Horses, however, that I have had the most experience brushing out.
I still remember when a friend taught me the slow, careful process of starting at the bottom of the mane, slowly pulling out little tangles with copious amounts of leave-in conditioner—then untwisting the big knots magically known as fairy stirrups.
“Don’t break the hair,” she said, handing me the little comb for the ridiculous mane. In those early days, it felt kind of like shoveling poop with a dinner spoon.
I am not the best groom. I know many who are much more meticulous, patient, and detail-oriented than I will ever be. Now, though, there is this sensation in meditation when I use a similar comb on a similar mane, I can feel my heart rate slow, and my breath expands as I slow down, working on a tiny section at a time. In the age of deadlines and instant gratification, untangling a mane takes as long as it takes.
So even though perhaps I disagree with Equus’s price tag, perhaps its ethos isn’t entirely off. The healing power of time in the barn is a truth known by many—even if that healer is a judgemental mare.