These are some of the words my friend Ainsley and I use to describe
The Sacred Ride, a program we offer each summer that connects people
to the heart of horses and to their own heart as well.
Every year I look forward to joining my dear friend to share our love
of horses and the wilderness with six kindred spirits. Though the name of
the ride infers quiet and serenity, which is certainly found during some of
our activities, there is always an abundance of laughter and good humour
– which we are told is one of the hallmarks of the experience.
Big Guy, who is the 18 hand percheron mentioned earlier is often
at the centre of a good chuckle. He likes to rub against a massive cable
that anchors the power poles which run up the valley. Ainsley says that
her neighbours will report knowing when Big Guy is out on the 100 acres
because the power lines sway for miles when he has an itch.
Riding had always been a joy for me but in May of 2008, this changed.
A month before the 2008 Sacred Ride, I had a riding accident on my young
horse while he was in training up in the mountains. I was left unconscious
and badly broken. I used to feel confident and secure in my riding abilities
and in my connection to whatever horse I was with. The cold sweat on my
back as I thought about The Sacred Ride told me things had changed. I
knew I had more to heal than my body.
Day one arrived and the
guests pulled up the driveway.
We spent a splendid day with the
horses, doing reflective ground
work out on the 100 acres. That
night when I climbed into bed,
my thoughts tossed and turned as
I contemplated our first ride the
following day. I wasn’t too worried
because it would be a meandering
ride along the river. It was the
day after that caught in my heart.
There were streams to ford and
mountains to climb but what goes
up, must come down, and the
descent worried me.
The honest truth was my
faith in myself and in horses had
been torn apart along with my
body and I was not sure if either were repaired enough for the ride ahead. Riding felt about as far away
from sacred as I could imagine so I focused on what I wanted to experience
in the days to come and eventually I fell asleep.
Day two passed joyfully and the river ride was a good temperature
check for me. I was riding Tank, a darling and handsome bay who had
found his way into my heart over the last few years. He carried me with
steadfast assuredness and I could feel some of my old body memories
coming back – the ones that remembered the joy of the ride. On the flat
the torque on my knees and pelvis were manageable. I relaxed more with
The next day, as we tacked up our horses, I conferred quietly with
Tank about the upcoming ride. I confided in him and asked him to help
me get home safely. Tank and I brought up the rear as was customary
when Ainsley and I rode out with a group. I’d ridden this mountain many
times, up and down and all around. The beauty can capture your attention
and it’s not until that final homeward leg that you realize how far you had
climbed. It’s not quite as steep as the scene in The Man From Snowy River,
where the brumbies run down the mountain, but for a gal with fractures,
chips and tears, it could easily have been.
Ainsley stopped at the top of the trail head to ask if I’d be alright. I
smiled with false bravery and nodded for her to go ahead. I watched as
the other horses disappeared over the ridge then asked Tank to stop at
the top so we could both get our bearings. The others already seemed
so far away. I took a deep breath, shifted my weight and opened for Tank
to move downward. The first step sent pain searing through my spine. I
gulped for air but realized there was no room in my lungs for I’d not yet
exhaled. Tank stopped immediately, without my asking, and I readjusted
myself in the saddle.
“Ok,” I said, and Tank edged onward. Step by careful step he carried me
down that mountain. My focus was completely on maintaining a posture
that would keep me astride. His focus was on me. Entirely unconcerned
that his herd mates were getting further and further away, Tank balanced
his strong, powerful body while holding me in his tender embrace. As the
pain would crescendo, Tank would pause to give me a rest, even if it meant
he had to stop at a most precarious or unforgiving place on the trail. He
anchored himself to that mountainside, allowing me as much respite as
I needed, and then without a word or motion from me, he would begin
again. He was completely attuned to me, physically and emotionally.
As we neared the bottom of the hill, I allowed myself a glance ahead.
I had not dared to before, for fear the bottom would never be near. The
rest of the herd was waiting for us, watching and holding space for the
horse angel and his charge.
We’d done it – he’d done it! There were tears,
laughter and yahoos as
we celebrated, one and all. My eyes met Ainsley’s. A world of understanding
passed between us. We smiled at each other then turned for home. Tank
and I brought up the rear again as if we’d just done the most natural thing
in the world and maybe we had, or should I say, maybe he had…
I paused to look back at the virtual and symbolic mountain we had
climbed, or in this case, descended. It was our Sacred Ride, mine and
Tank’s, and I will remember it and him for a lifetime.