“The horse is a metaphor for life,” says natural horseman Skip Bertuzzi, a man whose been on the back of a horse since he was a kid. Skip studies the horse as a companion, not just an animal, but regardless of your perspective on human-animal amicable relations, it is clear that from the horse we can learn how to breathe and remain open to the senses of nature.
Last week I savoured the beauty of Sedona, Arizona. It was here where I met Skip and went horseback riding with him through the mountains, chalked red from iron oxide. The First Americans or Indians of this region never occupied Sedona central. They felt the land too pristine, too spiritual to enter. Its geographic outlay with its rocks mocking giants escaping from stone and its caves beholding secrets only hawks and rattlesnakes know. The sky remained a perennial periwinkle blue, and the cacti stood tall, hiding their secrets of water. But this visual beauty is not what the First Americans of this region, which currently consists mainly of the Hopi People, saw. It was what they felt, and this is what Skip taught me.
Before I can teach you the lesson, you need to know the teacher’s teacher: Skip. His voice is soft and comforting, and his horses were soft and trusting. They turned their head to him in respect and friendship because it was through friendship that he developed their human-horse bond. Each of his horses were rescues. One of the horses I rode was a beautiful newly pregnant mare by the name of Shygirl. Shygirl was purchased as a hack horse, but when the owner couldn’t afford her, she was placed at a barn where she was ridden by a man who rode her so abusively that he ground his saddle into her back, causing deep lacerations in her withers. Skip was soon brought out on the scene to see why she was becoming more and more skittish, and upon seeing the beauty in such condition, he took her with him on the spot. Slowly Skip gained her trust and retrained her to be a comfortable country-riding horse.
This same patience is what Skip imposed on me. Although I had been riding for 17 years, Skip knew that I had never truly ridden a horse. I had never learned what it was to breathe, to truly breathe. Before mounting the horse, I had to take the fullest breath possible. Unlike adults who take in shallow, superficial breaths, newborns take deep breaths that reach down to fully contract their diaphragm. This is the breath he wanted for me. This was the rebirth into the metaphysical world I was seeking. After talking about nature, life, and mental freedom, he helped me onto his quiet, 31-year-old sadleless horse, Modock. I closed my eyes and learned to feel the horse breath beneath me. I felt its muscles shift as we walked. At first I was still not immersed. I was still just riding the horse, but where I needed to be was with the horse.
Skip had me call out Modock’s movements as I rode, and little by little it became fluid. My movements slowly became complementary to his. Before I knew it, my breathing was also becoming in synch with the horse’s. My seat melded into Modock’s back, and I was “one with the horse”. Despite blindness, all the beauty of Sedona became more alive. I finally was starting to feel the holiness of spirit and earth that the First Americans blindly see.
It is this aspect of nature that we sometimes forget: the unseen beauty. There is much to be learned about the world and universe as a whole, and it is this uncertainty that reverberates in the hearts of scientists and naturalists alike. Yet it is the vibration of feeling a part of what is “nature-al” that pumps our blood and rekindles the full breath of life.
As the sunshine poured down on me and a graceful hawk swirled overhead, the serenity of horseback riding with a newly befriended horse and natural horseman brought me even closer to the wild. I needed this awakening, but don’t be fooled: the journey is far from over.Back to top