I had a very moving experience today. If you don't work with animals who have given up on life, this may not mean much. To me, it was one of the highest spiritual experiences I've ever had.

For nearly 5 years, I've voluntarily provided emotional and healing support to a school pony. He entered my life as a miserable little man who bit everyone, and was known through the community as "the evil pony." I was the only person he didn't bite. He told me I was the only person who'd ever loved him for himself. For over 20 years, he has carried bouncing, yanking, yelling children on his back, and despised them all. He is now the equivalent of a 70 year old man, still forced to work at a job he hates.

He longed to be just one person's special beloved pony. That wasn't about to happen, as he is also a supreme athlete who's carried many of those children to regional trophies. Which is why his biting was tolerated.

Biting wasn't working. To get out of his misery, he began a series of laminitic bouts in 2009. He was so very, very ill. His feet and legs burned with fever.

Even ice water soaks did little; the strongest anti-inflammatories not enough. Imagine inflamed tissue squeezed by the inflexible wooden shoe of the hoof. That's laminitis. It hurts to the bone.

As lying down beyond necessary REM sleep and one short nap is contrary to an equine's survival instinct, he rocked from foot to foot, stretched his painful legs out in front and stood on his heels like a rocking horse. I did what I could with healing energy, with asking him to lie down for just a little while.

He healed from the first bout. Instead of being retired, he was put back into service. He got sick again, of course.

His owner limited his food and kept him thin; there's a theory that keeping equines on the lean side forestalls laminitis. Horses are built to eat 12 hours a day. Permanent dieting added greatly to his misery.

Once he realized I couldn't take him out of his hated life, he turned cold toward me. He thought our mutual love meant that naturally, I'd take him "home to your green pastures." Horses don't understand ownership and economic realities. They only understand love and belonging to their herd.

I've kept visiting him, though I live 1 1/2 hours away. I've kept taking him out to graze, brushing him, trying to find the special spot he likes me to scratch. For nearly 5 years, I've waited for him to show a sign that he even enjoys being touched. He's given me snarky remarks and demanded more treats.

He's occasionally expressed a spark of hope. Was I taking him home today? He's watched with hooded eyes, angry and defeated as I walked to my car. He's turned away as soon as I turn the ignition key.

As he'd been embarrassed by my cleaning his sheathe, my dear friend Steph volunteered to clean him.

I became aware that he and I had a past life romantic relationship where he had hurt me badly, and that I had had vengeful thoughts. In our own ways, we were both responsible for his present circumstances. What worse feeling is there than to feel hope, and have it dashed again?

Two visits ago, he showed signs of a third laminitic bout. It began right in front of me. He'd seemed okay while we were out for our short walk. Then, he walked stiffly towards his dinner, and suddenly lay down. His paddock mate greedily attacked his hay.

My heart sank. A pony who can't even make it to his food is in bad shape. It's been four years of this. Please God, have some mercy.

The little pony stretched out his front feet, flexing them to try and ease the pain. He didn't make a sound. Pain that would make a human moan and scream, is borne silently by equines.

What I already knew, I confirmed by gently touching his pasterns (ankles). Heat. The fever had returned. I ran to get him hay and put it between his front legs so he could eat lying down.

My karmic role in creating this situation flooded over me. I collapsed in the damp shavings and began sobbing, "I would do anything, anything, if you didn't feel pain. I'm so sorry. Whatever terrible thoughts I had about you in our past life, whatever it was I said, I am so sorry. I would do anything for you to be well. Whatever I did, forgive me!"

I cried into his neck as he ate. He seemed to ignore me. In our past life, he'd been a lover who'd cheated on me, broke my heart. I didn't care any more. I would surrender all my selfish feelings, if only he'd be well. I didn't care if he loved someone else, if he left me for her. If only it eased his terrible suffering. I suddenly understood how a parent would willingly surrender bone marrow, body parts, their life.

On my visit after that, he was perfectly fine. Still thin, but pain free. And standoffish. I gave him an apple and took him out grazing. Told him how much I love him and that I meant everything I said. He was silent. He pushed me with his head to get to the tastier grass. He vibed indifference.

Today, I met a pony who looked and acted very different. His eyes were soft and kind towards me, as they were 5 years ago when he'd hoped I was taking him home. He'd gained weight and had energy. His 22+ years seemed half that. "Hello," he said politely, "How nice to see you."

It seems that a little girl has been coming around and loving him for who he is. She's braided his mane and tail very cutely, and given him lots of genuine affection. She cares as much or even more for nurturing him, as riding him.

I took him out for a graze. Instead of his usual quick, almost desperate snatching at the grass, he delicately picked and chose spots, politely stayed at my side.

I started grooming him. Today, for the first time, he stretched and pushed his thin neck against my hands and made the "horse face" that shows intense pleasure. The face people take pictures of to show a horse laughing or talking. I'd never before seen him lift his lip for anything except to bite. He made the same funny face when I touched his chest. Then he pushed his head against me to get more rubs above the eyebrow, please, a bit more on the cheek, how about my chin? It was the first time he'd ever pushed his head against me for anything except getting to a better grazing spot.

I wonder if you can imagine a little creature so armored against pain and loss, that all this time, he couldn't do any of that?

If you're not a horse person, imagine a dog whose ears you've been scratching for 5 years, who acts as if they're numb, and all you are is a walking dog biscuit. Not a tail wag, nothing. Then suddenly, the tail's a blur, the grin is wide, he puts his paw on you when you take your hand away.

No sooner had I returned him to his paddock, then he lay down almost at my feet.

"Oh no!" I thought, "Not again. Not now!"

This time, it was for a good roll in the dirt. He had no trouble getting back up. This was also a first. A healthy equine must trust you fully in order to lay down and especially, expose their bellies to you. Prey animals are hardwired to be terrified of doing that.

I did up the rear buckle of his blanket, which had come undone. I fussed a bit, not wanting to get it tangled in his new girlfriend's tail braid. He's so tiny (his back reaches my waist), the buckle was just over a foot from the ground. He stood stock still and laughed. "You're less my sweetheart than my mother," he said. Our karmic bond had shifted to a new dimension.

It's taken all this time for this hardworking school pony to feel safe enough to demonstrate that he enjoys human touch. That he realizes not everyone is going to bounce on his sore back so they can win a ribbon, then abandon him.

It was as if the world had suddenly opened to him. That love was all around, and he could both act gracious and fully surrender himself to all it has to offer.

It's going to take me time to integrate what I'm learning with this little man. I know it's important.
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