C O U R A G E
To Hear Beyond the Whisper
To move through darkness one step at a time….
Writing about courage feels as elusive as trying to define the word itself. What is courage, exactly? You can’t go to school for it. You can’t flip a switch and be flooded with the light of it. And you certainly can’t buy it, not for all the money in the world. And yet courage is something we would trade almost anything to have. It’s so vital to living an authentic life, to being able to connect to the unseen and unknown, and to trusting in this journey called life that is leading us in directions we can’t even fathom.
In my 61 years of living, I can honestly say that any courage I have in my heart can trace its genesis back to my horses. Through so many struggles they have been astoundingly brave. They’ve taught me how to be more courageous with myself and in the world. But one story stands out above them all. It’s a story about a horse, a tragedy, a triumph, and a new life for me.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, my 17-year-old grey Arabian mare Gramsey broke her ankle. I’d had her only a few months and hadn’t even put her under saddle, yet I’d certainly had plans for her, what with her exceptional Russian bloodlines and exquisite conformation. One day in March of 2006 I heard a loud crack, like the sound of a tree snapping. When my eyes saw Gramsey, I knew immediately that she was badly hurt. Panicked and sick at the sight of her trembling, holding up her leg in obvious pain, I called the vet.
The news was as bad as it could be: a spiral break of the P2 bone, fatal. “You’ll need to put her down,” the vet told me, not leaving even the smallest space for hope. Desperate for a different answer, I sent the X-rays off to NC State Veterinary Hospital. The verdict was the same: Gramsey was not a candidate for surgery. She would never recover. The only option was to euthanize.
And yet I knew they all were wrong. It sounds impossible to believe – and even I barely believed it at the time – but when I looked in Gramsey’s eye, dreading the horrible decision I had to make, I heard her very clearly say, “Give me a chance.”
Give me a chance. Well. Can you imagine going to your vet and to the all-knowing experts at a university veterinary hospital and saying, “My horse just told me she wants me to give her a chance.”? I felt even more desperate at this point, what with the horse asking me to help her and the vets telling me to euthanize her, so I hired an animal communicator who told me, “your horse wants you to put her down.” So now it was three vets and one animal communicator against me and Gramsey. Stubbornly, I hired another animal communicator who said that Gramsey did, indeed, want to be given a chance, just as the mare had told me.
Confusing? Yes. But it was also immensely fearful. I knew nothing about healing a simple leg break, let alone one as catastrophic as Gramsey’s. I tried so many things – traditional therapies, splints, casts, sound therapy, aroma therapy, hands-on healing and more. Improvement – if there was any – was nearly invisible. Was I causing this horse to suffer needlessly? Was I keeping her around for my benefit? Was this all just wishful thinking?
I’d never felt so alone and backed against a wall, bucking the wisdom of the experts, and questioning all my decisions until one night I’d just had enough. Exhausted and frustrated I stormed out of my house, raised my face and hands to the dark sky and screamed, “What do you want me to do?!!!”
I collapsed to my knees with my face in my hands. And then it began: images flooding into my mind, images of what to feed her and how to care for her fragile leg. And I didn’t question any of it. I surrendered to whatever force was connecting with and showing me the way. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. I realized at that point that I was no longer “driving the car. “
I heeded those visions and instructions, and Gramsey improved. She seemed to be in little pain and was moving better, so I had her re-X-rayed. I felt full of renewed hope and almost joy at the prospect of having saved this exquisite creature. But the news came back: the break was worse.
I had one final option: a custom-made brace that would – theoretically – support her broken limb at the same time allowing it some flexibility to heal. It was an elaborate contraption, with about 17 miles of Velcro winding around it. I put it on the best I could – the maker of it was suddenly incommunicado and couldn’t guide me through the process – and left Gramsey to nibble on her hay.
The next afternoon I found Gramsey down in her stall and trembling. Her leg was grotesquely swollen, and she was sweating from the pain. I said “enough.” The courage that had brought me this far – standing up against the medical community, my friends and even my own family in defense of this mare – now had to become a different kind of courage. I needed to be brave enough to do the unthinkable: call it quits, and extinguish the life of this gracious and courageous mare.
My vet was already on the way to the barn to administer springtime vaccinations. He’d be arriving in about 20 minutes, so I unwrapped that 17 miles of Velcro and laid with my beautiful horse, talking to her, explaining why I had made the decision I’d just made, committing to memory the gradations of pink and grey on her soft, whiskered muzzle, looking into her glittering eye, deep as a well.
Four o’clock came and went. Then 4:30. No vet. In the meantime, Gramsey had perked up, so much so that she made moves to rise from her prone position. I knew if she put weight on that leg she’d blow the bone, but I’d already decided to put her down so I let her do whatever she wanted. Well. She scrambled up, careful not to put any weight on the damaged leg, and looked down at me as if to say, “Now what?” The swelling on her leg was gone, her eye twinkled, and I was dumbfounded. I must have had the brace on too tight! Just then my cellphone buzzed. It was a voicemail from the vet – he was going to be late. I took a deep breath. Had he arrived on time, Gramsey would be dead.
So Gramsey lived, and I’m happy to tell you she’s still alive. At 30-years-old, she limps a little, but that doesn’t stop her from galloping around the field with the rest of her herd mates. She’ll never be ridden, and she has the attitude of a diva, but she’s a willing participant in the clinics I give to people seeking a true connection with their horse. Every day, she teaches me something new.
But more than anything, when I look out the window at her grazing in the pasture, I remember back to those days when I was nursing her, how perfect and whole she looked when she would hang her head over the Dutch doors of the barn. But inside the stall she was broken. All three professionals were correct in their diagnosis. And yet, they were wrong. This mare – a four-legged, white-maned, living, breathing miracle – came with a mission to teach all of us. The bravery I summoned when it was time to both save her and release her came not from any sudden, heroic measure on my part. It came from sharing the most extraordinary thing of all: the courage we both had to communicate with – and believe in – each other.
That experience with Gramsey set me on a new life’s path. I became an animal communicator which led to becoming a liberty horsewoman, which led to creating an online academy, which led to traveling the world to teach people and horses to connect at the deepest levels. And the path keeps going. I don’t know where it will lead, I just know – and celebrate – that I’m still not driving this car.
When you read about courage as a concept, you’ll read about something called a crucible – an experience that is a trial and a test, a suffering, a point of deep self-reflection that forces us to question who we are and what matters to us, to question assumptions about life and the way we are living it. Emerging from the crucible, we become stronger, more courageous and changed in some fundamental way. I call it “Walking Through Fire,” but it’s one and the same. The anguish of the crucible is a requirement for becoming brave.
I found courage through my horses. Gramsey was the first, but there have been other “Walks Through Fire” since then. All I know is that by giving myself up to the moment, forging on despite doubts and fears and even a profound lack of confidence, I always come through the fire stronger, more sure of myself, and more committed to my deeply held belief that it’s only through love that we can heal ourselves and the world. And that is a special type of courage all its own.
Keep your hearts shining brightly!
Linda & the Herd of 8.
If you would like to see our video on Vimeo called Dancing with the Queen of Hearts