Commentary

John Killacky: Horse people

Editor’s note: This commentary is by John R. Killacky, executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It first aired on Vermont Public Radio.

In yoga I’ve learned the term kula, a Sanskrit word for an intentional community. As I journey through my day, I realize I have many kulas, all with different shared values and norms. Family, workplace, friends and neighbors – these are some of the communities I inhabit.

There’s another at the barn where I board my Shetland pony. Here status is irrelevant. The virtues of simplicity are revealed through mundane chores. It’s really hard to be grand mucking out stalls or pounding through ice in frozen buckets.

People’s identities are determined through their relationships with their equines. Morgans, thoroughbreds, quarter horses, my Shetland and others are boarded together — each breed has certain characteristics. And every animal also has a distinctive personality: bombproof, flighty, cranky, laid back or hyper. Like people, they change with age, and human gravitas is earned as we adapt to their behavior.

The norm here is to offer advice only when asked. Conversely, request help and everyone is willing.

 

I’ve now been part of the barn long enough to see little kids on lesson horses grow up to be like the teens they once admired. They amaze me as they pick themselves up after being thrown and jump right back into the saddle. They teach me that fear is to be overcome, or at least managed.

But I really feel part of the late night adult crew. Lawyers, researches, teachers and administrators – we don’t spend a lot of time talking about day jobs, more on what our animals have been up to. Feeding, care, and training tips are topics of conversation. The norm here is to offer advice only when asked. Conversely, request help and everyone is willing.

Success is hard won in the training arena. Mastery is elusive, failure and setbacks are routine. Everyone struggles to improve their dressage and jumping, or for me, learning the fine points of driving my pony from a cart. Trainers and off-site clinics help, but just as important, barn mates are crucial to any improvement I make.

But when my Shetland whinnies, all else are left behind. We’re not two separate beings, but one, as I lose myself in the intense focus of grooming and working with her; other times we play with no agenda.

As she grazes, I stand beside her, trying to be mindful as we observe each other. She is fundamentally joyful, inquisitive, and spontaneous – all traits I want more of. In knowing her, I learn more about myself and carry this back into my other worlds.


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