Book Review: Horses provide bridge across cultures and languages


The Tao of Horses

By Elizabeth Kaye McCall

Adams Media, 192 p

By Pam Linn/Staff Writer

There is an almost universally acknowledged kinship among people who know and love horses that transcends nationality, culture and language. And, as Elizabeth Kaye McCall writes in “The Tao of Horses,” the spiritual aspects of this bond with horses may be the strongest.

In McCall’s conversations with horsemen and women of diverse backgrounds and occupations, several basic elements of spirituality emerge. For those whose professional lives are intense or competitive, requiring problem solving and planning, riding horses not only helps them relax, it keeps them centered. The effect seems to be the same even for those whose job is training horses and teaching children to ride.

Film director Martha Coolidge says she fell in love with the “Black Stallion” books as a child but didn’t really grow up with horses. “I sort of worshiped them from afar.” It wasn’t until her career was on track that she became involved with horses again. “I had to learn to be in the present, because everything about what I do is the future,” she explains. “It’s always pushing against a clock-lots of anxiety and tremendous stress.” Riding, she says, “is like being connected to nature, which makes me feel more whole. It’s very transcendental.”

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, currently Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles, says during 20 years of diplomatic service in India and Saudi Arabia, horses have been a bridge across cultures and languages. “I think horse riding is a meditative experience, as much as it is a spiritual one,” he says. “You cannot hide your own emotions in front of a horse, so the horse kind of forces you to be honest with yourself.”

Psychic Jacqueline Welles, a certified Gestalt therapist, discusses dreams about horses, noting that in most dream interpretations, the horse is the dreamer’s physical body. She wonders whether the weightless feeling of riding may attract very spiritual people to an interest in horses.

A Roman Catholic nun who helps run a 300-acre farm on the smallest of the San Juan Islands, Mother Hildegard George, tends cows and llamas and a few draft horses and teaches children in 4-H clubs to handle the animals. And while it’s competitive, she stresses the joy of riding over any desire to be first. The Benedictine nun was also a consultant to a riding school for the handicapped and says that beyond the physiological aspect, “I think there’s also a psychological, spiritual aspect.”

Randy Rieman, former trainer at Hawaii’s Parker Ranch, now lives in new Mexico and gives training clinics all over. Like most interviewed for this book, he mentions that horses make you live in the present. “You are challenged to think and be completely in the moment, ” he says. “Horses don’t carry a watch, they don’t read a calendar . . . What’s happening is happening right now and that’s the most relevant thing in their lives. That’s been a very vibrant circumstance in my life.” Quite a bit of Zen philosophy for a cowboy poet who calls himself a Christian believer.

Howard Lee, teacher and healer, who founded The Light of Life Institute in Santa Monica, teaches workshops on his energy system to everyone from Type A business tycoons to natural health practitioners, dancers, actors and equestrians. He says some individuals are born with an affinity for communication with animals. He describes how horses think and communicate in visual terms rather than verbally. “They just send a picture.” Other horses, and some people who have managed to quiet their mental chatter, can see the image. This is the method by which animal psychics can “read” a horse.

Artists, for many reasons, seem drawn to horses, and their thoughts are explored in this remarkable set of interviews. From violinist Albert Stern, who raises quarter horses on his Malibu estate, to entertainer Wayne Newton, whose Arabian horses are as well known around the world as his singing career, they find true kinship with their horses.

McCall adds to the end of each chapter tips on how to cultivate one’s communication abilities and enjoyment of nature and relaxation. “Riding can become a direct route to inner stillness,” she writes.

Elizabeth Kaye McCall will discuss and sign “The Tao of Horses” at Borders Books in Thousand Oaks at 2 p.m., Nov. 20.