As a child I harbored secret fantasies about horses. Standing in the Colorado State Fair stable with the gigantic nose of a Budweiser Clydesdale cradled in my small hands was pure bliss. There was a precious brief moment where I could just enter, enter into the experience of equine. Nothing came between us. The gentle gelding’s eyes smiled at me. I still remember the touch of his velveteen white muzzle and the round edges of his nostrils. Then everything becomes lost in memories of a blinding assault of stinging headaches and dizzying sneezes.
Allergies seem like such frivolous, temperamental things, but in many ways they stole the carefree capacity of childhood from me. Hay fever was a debilitating, miserable mess of a condition that bottled me up indoors and prevented me from touching what I loved. Too much flower pollen, horse dust or kitty dander on my palms and I was cursed. I came to fear touching things of the natural world.
The natural world that I was so in love with could attack me at any time. This showed up in the worst way with horses. It was heartbreaking, so much so that I eventually came to deny my love for horses. Still, one scene from a movie stayed with me. Majestic white unicorns running through a river in an enchanted forest haunted me. I never stopped loving the movie Legend. Even as an adult I indulged in it, albeit secretly, every so often.
I eventually was cured of all my allergies. There was no magic remedy, but a series of changes on the inner then the outer that culminated in me standing in a friend’s barn allowing a gray mare to lick my palms for a half an hour. I cried when I left the barn. It was over. First the pollen allergy faded away then the cat allergy and, now, the horses. Thank you soul searching. Thank you nature. Thank you acupuncture. Thank you herbal remedies. Thank you homeopathics. Thank you hope. Thank you vulnerability.
I have my own two horses at home with me now. They are big, loving, brave beings that are two of my best friends, but recently I’ve been grieving a new loss of freedom with them. Last year I found out that my first horse, Cherokee, was no longer rideable and now my second horse has encountered the same fate, both due to arthritis. This wouldn’t be the end of all things as I have a toolbox full of groundwork play we can do, but both are also limited physically. I have to be especially careful to not stress their joints. When they are excited to burst into a full-fledged run, I am the one that has to put the brakes on. Again I find my carefree capacity restricted.
Going back to the story of my childhood helps me right now. By going back I can remember those white unicorns and learn more of what is unfolding in me. There was no mistake that when I was searching for a second horse years back that a big, white mare named Legend came up for adoption. I honestly didn’t make the conscious connection between my decision to adopt Legend and my favorite movie (also called “Legend”) until months after she came into our family. She was well trained and a good size for my husband to ride. I found all sorts of practical reasons to bring her home.
And it is in this moment, years later, that I am making another connection. The unicorns in that movie weren’t meant to be touched. They were too pure, too sacred. They were the guardians of the Power of Light. Tom Cruise’s character “Jack” says of the unicorns, “As long as they roam the earth evil can never harm the pure of heart… They express only love and laughter. Dark thoughts are unknown to them.”
Jack’s lover Lili cannot help but approach the unicorns and touch one of them. Jack becomes furious with her and tells her, “What you did is forbidden. You risk your immortal soul.”
Lili’s response is light-hearted, “I only wanted to touch one, where’s the harm in that?”
The problem is that Lili touching the unicorn distracts the creature and allows it to be hit by a poisoned dart from a goblin. As a result of the unicorn’s death, darkness and winter take over the land.
I can’t believe I never saw any of this before as a metaphor for my illness as a child. There is a whole world of symbolism too around the animus, the unconscious and the battle within between light and dark. This theme of innocence and purity corrupted by the naivety and imperfection of human nature reverberates through many of our stories.
This particular story spoke to me because I feared my allergies were an indication that I was undeserving of a connection with the natural world and her creatures. Even worse, I was afraid that the allergies were punishment for my strong yearning to touch the wild.
Through my relationship with two hawks, numerous rescue horses, and my two mustangs, I’ve carried this question with me. The healing of my physical body was very much contingent on my sense of empowerment and coming into the belief that I was deserving, but the story did not end there. I am literally not riding off into the sunset on my white horse.
I’ve found that for as sweet, well mannered and kind that Legend is, that coming into a trusting connection with her presents its own unique challenge. I’ve spent well over a decade learning horsemanship and training horses. Now I have to forget all but the basics. With Legend less and less is becoming more and more. I’ve had to learn to cultivate my capacity for loving kindness and softness.
I’m coming into a purity of heart in all areas of my life. The change in Legend’s physical abilities and the transformation of our relationship is an outward manifestation of this. My immortal soul is at risk of being unveiled. The Power of Light is winning over despair and grief. I am settling into the sacredness of this beautiful, mythical creature’s being.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.