Sometimes, horse is comfortable. There is respite, relaxed head angled towards the ground with eyelashes drooping close to one another, and there is high-spirited energy and determination, and there is strength for another’s need. But frequently, horse is irritated, angry, tired, panicked, overworked; it is an intolerant nag with thick legs, a heavy nose, and a poor temper. When I am horse, I am a huge animal – a creature that belongs in front of a plow or cart with straining legs or heavy clattering hooves, rather than one of flowing mane and gracefully bent trotting legs. I am not frequently a fun horse to be around; I am fussy and likely to kick, and will only grudgingly enjoy the pleasure of the curry-comb or carrot. But when I do, I will sigh heavily, close my eyes, and lean into it, grateful.
Anger, irritation, overwork, panic, and yet determination and pleasure to serve: I am horse in these states because other animals don’t fit the way I feel these things.
My anger does not have sharp teeth or claws or an agile, twisting body. It has flat, mean teeth, blunt hoofs, and weight, and sudden unexpectedness. It is not predatory – it simply desires to rid itself of all that is in its way. It will not rip or tear or devour; instead, it will bludgeon, and it will crush.
My irritation is the sharp slam of hoof on stall wall. It is the likelihood of lashing out with a swift and bruising kick or flat-toothed bite. Don’t come near me, don’t touch me, don’t make me do. It mistrusts. It has flattened-back ears and locked thick knees and obstinacy.
Horse is the foul mood of overwork, of being overburdened. It is the difficulty to relax after being demanded to do what benefits others. Though I need to feel useful and take great pleasure in it, there is that point where I balk, resistant to being useful for a moment longer. It is the indignant squeal, the little tricks to make it harder – puffing up to sabotage the tightening of the girth, keeping my head out of reach of the bridle, nearly squashing your foot without a thought. There is the bitter anger at those who should be working alongside me, but aren’t, and the open rage at the lazy thing pulling in the traces beside me.
There is panic, too, at being too crowded or faced with those unthreatening threatening things that come as sudden changes. It is a rearing, bucking sort that nearly topples itself and will damage others as much as it will break me. Though my body remains still, internally I rise and plunge, wild and sweating with white-rimmed, rolling eyes. It breaks when the crowd is gone and I am in the fresh air or home, or when I am spent, legs shaking, head down and done.
In these times, when I am the horse that is nag, it is comforting to remember that I am human, though somewhere inside there is an unpleasant and unhappy equine. I remember, when I am one human body packed tightly among many on the commute home, that I can will myself to stand still; picturing what I would be if I were the kicking, rearing horse reminds me that in my human body, I can remain as I am without hurting myself or those around me. I can quell my panic and wait to get home. The horse that I am would kill without qualms or intention, and most likely end up with broken legs myself – as a human, I can grit my teeth until “Next Stop: Washington Square” and then rush through the crosswalk and home.
But besides all this there is determination and hard work. There is the big, hearty energy to give to another, to take directions and leap forward with them, to pull with all my strength with the result of joy and satisfaction, shared. There is the plodding work, the steady, persevering, low-headed forward movement towards the end goal of rest or praise. When I return home, it is the comfort of cozy stall or pasture, of my own space where I can do as I like, whether it is to roll without dignity or to sleep or to frolic. There is the feeling that horse was first remembered from, when deer pulling carts didn’t make sense, but horse, yes – heavier hooves and a more purposeful movement forward, carrying the purpose of others besides myself. It is, too, the rollicking carrying of big love, the wealth of my heart in the wagon on which perch the people I love.