Ringo Star - A Horse with Therapeutic Value
By Danielle McArthur
It was a horse that gave me my first taste of stillness.
His name was Ringo Star, and he was a beautiful, golden-coloured chestnut with a splash of white down his nose. He spent several years training for three-day-eventing with my daughter, Annika, but I didn’t get to see them often because I was teaching in Bahrain for most of that time. Only during the summers, when I returned to Canada, was I able to see them together at a show or training clinic. It was during one of those brief glimpses of Annika’s horse-centred world that I had an opportunity for a moment of deep stillness. I will always remember this as a gift from Ringo Star.
Don’t get me wrong, Ringo was all horse; alternately keenly intuitive and stark raving mad. His worst nightmare was a pot-bellied pig who lived on the small farm where he was stabled. His nostrils would flare and he’d throw back his head, prancing around in pure panic at the mere sight of the hairy, rotund creature. No matter that he was about ten times the size of the pig. To Ringo, he was Godzilla Pig, devourer of the universe.
Annika and Ringo Star. Photo: Dani McArthur
So now that we have established that Ringo was not even a deeply wise horse, old and worldly after years of battle with his own fears, how then did he help me find stillness? Did he somehow know with his horsey intuition how badly I needed it? It had been just over six months since the beginning of the Arab Spring in Bahrain, six months of hope turning to horror, and I was still trying to find out what had happened to a student I was very close to. The heart-breaking complexity of our human world had me buzzing with concern, and so Ringo’s gift was even more precious for its simplicity.
Most of the time, my relationship with my daughter’s horse was matter-of-fact. I would often be left holding Ringo by his halter while my daughter moved around completing the hundreds of small tasks that are part of riding and caring for a horse. Ringo would often spend this time poking his nose into my jacket pockets and everywhere else in search of a treat of some kind. Success would produce no great depth of gratitude, but rather a brief period of chewing and a renewed search. No treats would be cause for a few grumbles, and the occasional half-hearted nip as a reminder that a delicious opportunity had been lost.
Occasionally, Ringo would tire of searching and decide to move into one of his standing naps. That a large four-footed creature can fall asleep that way is still a surprise to me. On this day, I first noticed the subtle shift of weight, and then realized that he was leaning into me ever so slightly. I found myself doing the same, leaning into his strong neck, knowing that I could do so completely without any fear of shifting his centre of balance. At that point, I closed my eyes and had something that I very seldom have: a moment of perfect stillness.
Everything stopped except the extraordinary feeling of that long and muscled neck, warm beneath me. I completely lost myself in a gentle horse-scented embrace that put the whole world on pause. I don’t know how long we stayed that way, Ringo and I, but I will never forget that rare gift of stillness when the world didn’t have to make sense. It just was.
This article was originally published in Canada’s Equine Guide 2020, the special January/February edition of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main Photo: iStock/Tomzal