An Apology to Horses

November 2, 2013 Christine McDonald Emotions and AnimalsHorses

An Apology to Horses


There was Joey, Bunny, Jake and Gunnar. These horses all had something for my family to learn.  We still have Gunnar who is now a 13 year old Quarter horse gelding. Gunnar means” warrior” and he might have been a good horse going to war or riding into some unknown frontier. He is intelligent, lively and strong and unlike any other horse I have ridden. We bought him for as a 4-H project for my  daughter who has now moved on in her life. A few months ago, I hired a trainer to work with him. He had not carried a rider in over a year, and I wanted help with riding Gunnar from someone more experienced.


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I called several people in our small community to see who would be willing to work with us. We decided to hire an experienced trainer who kept saying, if I work with you, “it’s all about the horse”. I was not sure what she meant when she said that. Over the course of the next few weeks I learned more about horse attitudes and the reason she kept saying it.

After a few weeks of being with the trainer, Diane had a good read on the horse. Diane calls Gunnar a “good boy”.  He was very responsive and had a good attitude.  After few weeks, he started to show sings of discomfort or lameness and was reluctant to pick up the right lead after he was asked to canter around the arena. We came to understand he was not shod correctly, and his right shoulder was out of alignment. Gunnar needed corrective shoeing and a chiropractor. The chiropractor spent several hours with him. First, he used acupressure to relax the muscles along his neck, shoulder, back and rump. The chiropractor would apply pressure at specific points until Gunnar showed signs of relaxing. Subtle movements like dropping his head, stomach gurgling,licking or chewing might be easily missed if you did not know what to look for. Four hours had passed before the chiropractor was ready to do the adjustment on his back and shoulder. Gunnar had been in pain and discomfort but he did his best to do what was asked of him. The following day a new farrier trimmed his hoofs and put new shoes on him at the correct angle. He told us the way his feet were trimmed with a low angle near the back of the hoof; was making him walk on his heels instead of his toes. No wonder he was uncomfortable, out of alignment, and lame.

I am happy to say the adjustment and the new shoeing have corrected the problem and he is now a happy, healthy horse again and I am a much more educated companion. With-in a week the lameness has disappeared and he lopes with beauty, grace and ease. Spending time with Gunnar and the horse trainer have made me see this “warrior horse” in a new way. The fear has eroded away and I am feeling the same love I felt for horses when I was seven years old.

As I have gotten to know the horse trainer and her style of “being” with horses I have come to understand why she says “it is all about the horse”. She has shared stories of people who use pain and dominance as a way of controlling horses to win show events. I was deeply saddened by her stories. As she shared them I thought of a recent documentary I watched called An Apology to Elephants. This documentary is about elephants in captivity and tells a story of how elephant trainers use pain as a way to control the elephant and get them to do circus tricks and performances. “Elephants don’t balance themselves on one foot and then rotate in circles on a pedestal in the wild” says Joyce Poole an elephant biologist and activist. Trainers aggressively use harsh and abusive methods and sharp knife-like tools to dominate, punish and control the elephants. If you knew what was done to an elephant to make them perform circus tricks you might never go to another circus.

I was saddened that many of the stories told to me by the horse trainer were about children or teens that had been taught to abuse the horse with sharp tools to win a competitive event. They were missing out on the best part of being with a horse. The “being-ness” that is possible when respect, trust and sensitivity are nourished. Empathy is defined as the ability to feel what another is feeling. Horses are sensitive animals and can be teachers of empathy, one of the most important qualities human-kind can embrace during these turbulent times. These young adults were missing the lesson and engaging in “it’s all about me and winning” mentality.

I began to remember times in my life when I had conflicting experiences and teachings about animals. I believed animals were intelligent, sensitive, empathic and loving beings but saw them treated as dumb animals whose only value was in serving humans. When I had to perform in the world, get approval from my elders and get the job done, I did what I was taught and treated them like they had no feelings. I had to protect myself and my more sensitive feelings about animals for fear of being punished, judged or criticized. I had many memories of animals and the sensitivity and love they gave tome and their off-spring, and I had many memories of animals treated inhumanely and abused. Many of those memories were with horses where I witnessed family members acting out their anger and frustration on them or putting them in situations when they were in pain and discomfort. Much of it was out of fear and ignorance.

I knew I had to do something to bring these memories into a less conflicting and more balanced state. I wanted to apologize to these animals. I brought forth memories of each animal in much detail as I could remember and said the ho-oponopono Prayer I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you. I said it from my heart. I remembered the leg injury to my first horse and the pain and discomfort she must have had. I rode her anyway oblivious to the pain she may have been in. I remembered other animals–dogs, cats, cows and chickens– and asked for their forgiveness. I felt my heart melt and soften and open each time I said the prayer. Some part of me had been waiting a long time for this. I had loved these animals dearly but had not faced the shame of their mistreatment. It had created a veil of separation and disconnection I still carried.

In the book called The Power of the Herd, Linda Kharakov says “anytime we move from a limited worldview, accepting new information, expanding and transforming in response, we encounter feelings of shame for the previous constricted perhaps selfish or even childish state of being from which we just emerged.” Connecting to the feelings and shame felt far more wholesome than pretending they were not there. Gunnar had taught me something. I am grateful.

More Info:
An Apology to Elephants
I’m Sorry I Love You

3 Responses to “An Apology to Horses”

  • teresa smith says:

    Dearest Chris,, OH how inspiring your words and work thank you for the apologies and sincerity from your heart.. These awesome creatures of love and heartfulness fill my life with much lessons too.. I do not have horses anymore,although I find my way to them as I can for heart healing.. in love and thankfulness Teresa Ho opono opono..

  • Joyce Cochran says:

    Thanks for what you’ve shared here, Chris! Very important work!

  • David Manning says:

    thats really lovely Chris. I have often heard you speak of Gunnar, so great to get a fuller picture of him.


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