What Horses Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Learning About Ourselves by Communicating with Horses

A year has passed since returning to my university teaching position and, as luck would have it, am offered the opportunity to participate in a study-abroad program aboard a ship that is embarking from Costa Rica. I’d be going back once again. I left the U.S. three days early to allow for a brief visit with my friends at the Arenal cabin retreat.

News of my communications with the horses had spread in the small Costa Rican community of Monterrey and beyond. The horsemen, the veterinarian, and the cabin retreat employees were all aware of it. Some had reacted with apprehension, suspicious of my abilities, while others were afraid that I might be reading their minds, too, and didn’t want to come too close to me.

Most were simply doubtful, especially those who’d been around horses most of their lives. At least a few thought I was plainly “loco.” But there were those who were open-minded and curious, and willing to observe and determine for themselves the authenticity of my claim.

Could I Still Hear the Horses Whisper?

It was my third visit to the cabin retreat, but I remained unsure whether the horses would speak to me again. Could I still hear the horses whisper, or were my previous experiences an anomaly?

That afternoon I go with Debbie to greet a few of the horses I have not yet met. Ronald, the stableman, spends almost his entire day around the horses. A reserved, soft-spoken man, he sits by unobtrusively and watches as I connect with each horse. According to Ronald, most of what I interpret from each horse fits that horse uniquely. Hearing this helps me to trust myself more and to stay open to the process unfolding within me.

Conan the "Barbarian"

Conan seems to be ignoring us as we move through the stables. When we stop beside him and I invite him to speak, his eyes open wide with surprise.

Really? Really? You can hear me? You can understand?

I don’t know what to say or how to act. All of my life I’ve been mute around humans, because none of them seemed to care about anything I might have to say. No one ever attempted to ask me what was on my mind. Most of us horses are that way. We just shut down inside when we are around people, so most of the time we don’t even know how we feel or what we think because we have to hide those feelings away in order to keep on going. We assume that no one really cares about what we have to say anyway.

Most people just want us to follow orders, or make them feel better, or keep them company. What we really want is to communicate in just this way. That’s what it takes to form a real relationship, even with a horse. We are born with the capacity to express ourselves, to listen and to communicate. It’s so natural. It’s who we are.

We have been around you for so long that we have learned to recognize your gestures, interpret your expressions, and understand your languages. In order to adapt to being around you humans, living in your shelters, eating your foods, carrying you on our backs, we’ve had to adjust and learn your ways. It’s how we survive, mentally. Otherwise, we’d go crazy. Some of us do anyway.

Lots of people talk to us, all the time. But nearly all adults have forgotten how to listen, not just to horses but to each other, too. So we don’t even bother sharing with them what is going on, at least not the really personal matters. Sure, the humans can read our body language, and they are pretty good at figuring things out from there—our expressions are pretty obvious. Some, like Debbie, can go a little deeper and feel what we feel. We hope that soon she will be able to understand us like you do.

“Conan the Barbarian” is anything but a barbarian. He was purchased for trail rides to carry less experienced riders. A big, heavy Quarter Horse, mild-mannered and easy-going, Debbie sees him as a good fit for the retreat. Little is known about his past other than that he was used for cattle and other farm work.

Pica, the Free Spirit

When I approach her, I mistakenly assume Pica will be interested in speaking. Instead, she is agitated. All she says is:

Don’t bother, because I am not listening to you.

Still, I stand there and attempt to stroke her. She lays her ears back and snarls.

What are you looking at? And don’t presume you can just reach out and touch me. How would you like it if you were tied to a post, unable to move, and a horse put his face in front of you and stared at you like you are staring at me right now?

That is that for my conversation with Pica. Afterwards, Debbie explains that she was born in the pasture and had roamed freely without human contact for the first three years of her life. She is used as a trail horse and works well, even with children, but was difficult to train and does not like to be in the company of humans when given a choice.

Penina Communicates Through Dreamtime

It was low tourism season, so there were few guests and it was a quiet time at the cabin retreat. Debbie had the time to get away from her office tasks for a while, so we went to visit Juan José at the neighboring farm.

Among the growing number of horses there was Penina, a horse with excellent bloodlines who is now used mostly as a brood mare. At one time she was a very talented dancing horse known for her beautiful gait. When I spoke with Penina, she was 23 years old:

They hope that I am pregnant with Caretto’s baby. You have great dreams for my foal. I do too, but it’s hard for me to relax about being pregnant when there are such high expectations. I feel pressured when you look at me with such hope and excitement for what might be.

Please let me know that no matter what happens, I still will have a place with you and you will still see me as me, and not just as a potential mother-to-be. And when a new foal comes to us, let it also be who it will be, no matter who that is.

I have a bond with Cendri  [Juan José’s wife] that makes it possible to connect with her while she sleeps. We share much, mother-to-mother, woman-to-woman. I speak to her in her dreams, and she answers me.

If there is a pregnancy, it will be important for her to pay close attention to her dreams. She should share them with Juan José and he should trust what she tells him. In this way we can communicate about how the pregnancy is going, and about how I am doing. Remember, I am older now. It takes a lot to carry an unborn horse through to term. I need for Cendri to support me.

Cendri has the ability to hear all of us horses, mostly through her dreams. Now that she has been told this, she will remember more of those dreams.

As it turns out, Penina was pregnant.

The Soul Connection: Caretto and Juan José

Caretto, the horse whose life Juan José had saved, is standing inside a dark stall. I stand outside of the stall and look inside. He looks back at me through the opening between two vertical boards, his dark eyes watching me intently. It isn’t long before he speaks:

I remember you. You see now that I am well, that I have become what I knew myself to be.

Our eyes meet.

I want to speak about Juan José. Even before his birth, Juan José knew in his soul who he was meant to be, and he carried that awareness into childhood. But after a while, he began to doubt himself and his identity, because others did not acknowledge him or see him for who he truly was. As a result, he began to ignore the deepest part of himself, and he weakened inside. The eyes of his spirit closed, and he slept for a while in a state of forgetfulness, believing in what others saw rather than in who he knew himself to be.

There is something I wish for him to understand, but first you must explain to him that our souls can choose where and when to be born into embodied life. Humans have souls. Horses have souls, too. All souls come into life with a purpose to learn and to attain wisdom. Usually this requires the hardship and pain of life experiences, and we often need the help of others in order to grow.

Juan José and I are as one. We have come to this life to help each other. Together we are growing strong. We purposely reunited, and our souls made choices that would allow us each to grow through struggle and hardship, together, into greater wisdom and understanding of ourselves.

This was the agreement our souls made before we were born: that we would help each other to learn that we are who we are, despite what others believe us to be. We must remember and hold strong to ourselves. We agreed to provide each other the help that would allow us to remember who we are at depth.

When I was seen as worthless and sickly in the eyes of others, I became sick in my own mind and then in my body, too. I forgot myself. My eyes closed on my own soul, and I began to die. That suffering made it possible for Juan José and me to find one another. When we met, his eyes opened wide. He knew who I was, and I recognized him as well. The bond we had shared even before birth was still there. His soul memories returned, and he learned to recognize in himself the voice of his own heart.

He knew I was a broken horse, but he saw the real me inside.

When Juan José recognized me for who I really am, it made me want to remember myself. I became angry about my state of being, about what I had allowed to happen to me as a result of my own false beliefs about myself. I stopped accepting the beliefs of others. That marked the beginning of my healing and of Juan José’s recognition of who he really is.

The sacrifice I made when I chose to come into the world to suffer was not only for the benefit of Juan José, however. My own soul also needed to learn that, unless we are strong enough to remember who we are, we become what others see in us.

If I had not remembered, I would have died.

By rescuing me, Juan José rescued us both. Now Juan José must awaken fully so that he can fulfill his life’s work with horses. Many challenges and opportunities will come to him, and he must be strong in his conviction that he truly knows horses: how to train them, ride them, care for them, and be with them. When others doubt his abilities, he must remain clear in his own mind and heart that this is his talent, his work. This is his gift. He must remain a strong leader and trust his own judgment when it involves horses in any way. He must remember, “I am that I am,” as I, too, had to remember the same.

He must now awaken to the truth of his being. He carries inside of him the spirit of the horse. This spirit will never leave him, unless he denies himself.

 ©2013 by Rosalyn W. Berne. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher: Rainbow Ridge Books.

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When the Horses Whisper: The Wisdom of Wise and Sentient Beings by Rosalyn W. Berne.When the Horses Whisper: The Wisdom of Wise and Sentient Beings
by Rosalyn W. Berne.

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About the Author

Rosalyn W. Berne, author of "When the Horses Whisper: The Wisdom of Wise and Sentient Beings"Rosalyn W. Berne, Ph.D. explores the intersecting realms between emerging technologies, science, fiction and myth, and between the human and non-human worlds. As a university professor she writes and teaches about engineering and technology in society and the ethical implications of technological development, often using science fiction material in her classes. In her personal life she continues to discover the transformational nature of human-equine relationships, and offers facilitation and translation services for enhancing communication between horses and their owners. Visit her website at whenthehorseswhisper.com/

Watch a interview with the author: When the Horses Whisper: The Wisdom of Wise and Sentient Beings

Watch a TEDx talk: To Hear Horses Whisper (with Rosalyn Berne)