Two years ago, my husband and I visited the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs, South Dakota, home to several hundred wild horses, many of whom are mustangs. They were rounded up from America’s Public Lands, such as National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranges and sold at auction. I have almost no familiarity with horses, but my husband grew up with horses and loves them. We toured the sanctuary to support its efforts and see what horses are like when they aren’t subject to the rider’s will. Who are they when they get to choose for themselves?
We toured the grounds with a guide in an old minibus, and I was concerned that the horses would avoid us. Before we left to visit the sanctuary, I sat in meditation and sent a silent invitation to the horses to interact with us during the tour. I assured them that we respected them and meant no harm but asked that they show us who they are. This probably isn’t what most people do before they meet wild animals, but it has been a tried and true method for me. When I get there, I’m too excited to send out my intentions. But if I focus before I go and send them feelings of affection and respect while I am there, they usually respond.
We saw many gentle, beautiful horses. I was calmed by their peaceful energy and impressed by their social nature. There are times that we would leave the bus to walk around and look, and we would find that more horses approached us and waited to be honored on our way back to the bus! Horses were abundant everywhere, and we reveled in their quiet acceptance.
The sanctuary has a river that runs through it. On the side we toured, roams the wild horses that appreciate the humans’ water and food. On the other side of the river, there is no human contact. For horses that have been abused or traumatized by humans before arriving at the sanctuary, they can cross the shallow river to a place where they feel safe. I respected the sanctuary’s decision to make that area available to them; it gave the horses the power to do what was right for them, and it acknowledged that some of these magnificent beings had been abused in the past and needed special consideration.
Some months before we arrived to visit the sanctuary, an old stallion had come down from the wild side and impregnated several of the mares. The sanctuary later welcomed new foals to the herd and redoubled their birth control efforts with the mares, as it is not their intention to be a breeding facility.
I was impressed by the compassion for these empathic animals. When the tour ended, and we returned to the visitor center, the manager questioned our driver about being out so long. The driver said that she didn’t understand it, but it was as if every horse on the reserve came by our bus to visit us, so it took a lot longer to finish the tour! Maybe the horses understood my desire to interact with them from a respectful distance and came out to welcome us. The energy felt magical at the sanctuary; there was so much love in action. The dedicated sanctuary staff loved the horses in their charge, and the love between the horses was evident, too.
Some years ago, I had read The Tao of Equus: A Woman’s Journey of Healing and Transformation through the Way of the Horse, by Linda Kohanov. It was insightful into the life of a horse as a prey animal and its impact on its world view. Its discussion of stallion energy helped me to understand men more, too; an unexpected bonus. It made a big impression on me and nudged me to want to get to know horses better.
The sanctuary gave me a fantastic way to encounter the horses without imposing my will on a horse as a rider. It let me see the horses more as an equal, each of us with the power to determine where to go, when to do it, and with whom we wish.