Traveler, your footprints
are the road, and nothing more;
traveler, there is no road,
the road is made by moving.
— Antonio Machado (1875–1939)
When our journey with horses and healing began, more than twenty-five years ago, we never imagined that horses would lead us down a mystical path. Nor did we foresee how valuable and enriching this experience would be, not just for us but for the hundreds of people who have participated in our Equine Experience retreats. Yet from the start, the horses we were breeding taught us the silent knowledge of who we are. They helped us cut away the chaff, the empty words and trends, and stay close to the knowledge and skills that have endured the test of time.
A cornerstone that grounded our ever-growing perceptions of the spiritual domain was our past training in analytic depth psychology. Rather than discarding what we had previously learned about working with ourselves and other people, we began to integrate and use much of our knowledge of psychology. We were not leaving our foundation behind but building upon it. We discovered that if we were to be effective in our work, we needed to use both psychology and spirituality.
We stood at a crossroads between psychology and religion, and we could see that these two disciplines, which had been at cross-purposes for years, needed to be reintegrated. One lost its potency without the other. Through the horses, we started reconciling these two approaches, moving increasingly toward the psychospiritual. Psychology without spirituality leads to one set of problems, while spirituality without psychology leads to another.
Unlocking Our Imagination
We were reminded again that the human psyche is the entry point to the creative force within each of us. If we fail to know this inner self, our spiritual and creative resources remain inaccessible. Meditation, spiritual study, chanting, and prayer are no substitutes for self-examination. Every mystical tradition requires inner exploration, which brings greater depth and substance to the person who is developing spiritually.
We found, over time, that in order for the mystical quest with a horse to remain progressive instead of regressive, we had to learn to recognize our juvenile fantasies and wishes as they emerged. And emerge they will in this work with horses. Once we recognize these early needs, we can redirect our attention away from feeding them and toward unlocking our imagination.
Imagination, according to famous psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott, is entering the experience and situation of another being without seeking selfish gratification, pleasure, or notoriety. The imagination is the key to a vibrant life. Since we can become ill through the mind, we can also become healthy by exercising the imagination. By contrast, fixation on infantile fantasies invariably leads to disappointment, disillusionment, and despair. As we searched for different paradigms that could spark the human imagination and inspire self-education, we reached back into the annals of history.
Age-Old Relationship Between Horses & Humans
In time, we found ourselves on a mysterious and intriguing wisdom pilgrimage. Each encounter brought us, and the people we worked with, closer to a new way of being. On the road from India to Santiago de Compostela to southern Spain and Morocco, we followed the age-old relationship between horses and humans.
Soon, we came into contact with a seemingly timeless and eternal group of horsemen and -women who followed a mystical path and embraced many of the same philosophies we held. These men and women intentionally befriended the horse to cultivate the human heart and soul, reduce the Ego, and live on the very cusp of the seen and unseen worlds. This adventurous place is the location of divine mystery; both inside and outside us, it's where life is vibrant and created anew. It is a locale of discovery where we find ourselves in the presence of the Invisible One.
The Celtic Connection: Communing with Horses
Through some very strange and serendipitous encounters, we discovered that it was the ancient Celtic people who gave birth to this prototypical psychospiritual nature paradigm. The Celtic people used communing with horses for human development, awareness, and spiritual growth. Horses, if given the opportunity, would highlight the defenses that stood in each human being's way, thrusting people into ever-increasing levels of self-awareness. By accepting the equine reaction, a person would commune with the heart of nature while also questioning personal habits and beliefs. Dialoguing with a horse was also a vehicle for intensifying intimacy with God, for the Celts believed the Infinite One speaks through all Creation.
We've found these things to be true. Kinship with animals brings us into direct contact with our cosmic origins, divine attributes, and sacred resources. Merging with horses, as long as it is not for self-aggrandizement, animates the human spirit and furnishes it with boundless energy.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Horses and the Mystical Path: The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul
by Adele Von Rust McCormick, Marlene Deborah McCormick, and Thomas E. McCormick.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, New World Library. ©2006. www.newworldlibrary.com
About the Authors
Adele von Rüst McCormick,, Marlena Deborah McCormick, and Thomas E. McCormick, have designed and run a series of unique and innovative programs using horses to help people with mental illness, criminals, and individuals with drug and alcohol addiction. The three of them are codirectors of the Institute for Conscious Awareness and cofounders of the Three Eagles Equine Experience in San Antonio, Texas, which offers courses and retreats using ancient principles and practices of kinship with horses to develop human spirituality and intuition. For more information visit http://www.therapyhorsesandhealing.com/