The Zen of Horses

Written by Orly Konig

I learned at a young age that, unlike people, horses don’t judge. They don’t care what you look like or how you talk. They care about how you treat them and how you behave around them. So when I wanted to write a story about fitting in and finding yourself, the setting was obvious – it had to revolve around horses.

When you’re working with a horse, you have to be present in the moment. If you’re nervous, they feel it and get tense. If you’re distracted, they notice and will happily deposit you in the dirt. Communication is through your hands, your voice, your body. For that period of time, it’s only you and him.

Years ago, after long days at work and a crazy commute around the Washington, DC beltway, I’d get home frazzled and cranky. My husband would take one look at me and announce, “You need to go to the barn.” Within moments of getting there, I’d become a different person, calm and centered.

One of the characters in The Distance Home is an ex-marine battling the ghosts of active duty. He explains his involvement with the therapeutic riding program that is an instrumental part of the book: “A horse doesn’t judge what you’ve done wrong. They give you the opportunity to do right. Here, it doesn’t matter who I was. Michael the marine doesn’t exist. I can’t think about those days. If I do, Taco reminds me to stop. Through him I can feel my tension and I can find my peace.”

Another young character in the book is an 11-year old cancer patient. He explains to Emma, the main character in the book: “It’s the only time I’m not a cancer patient. At school, kids are weirded out by me. They treat me like I’m contagious. At home, my parents are terrified of me. They treat me like I’m going to break. I can’t play soccer anymore because I’m too weak. I can’t even walk my dog alone because he’s big and he pulls when he sees a squirrel or bunny. … But here I’m just a kid on a horse. Yeah, I’m in a special program and all, but the horses don’t know that. They don’t treat me any different than they do Caitlin or you.”

Then there’s Emma who’s struggling to put together the pieces of a life that’s crumbled around her. She returns to the stable where she found her confidence as a young girl and discovers that the magic still works, sixteen years later. With the help of her equine friends and re-immersing herself in helping with the therapeutic program, she rediscovers her happiness.

It’s been a few years since I’ve spent regular amounts of time at a stable (we’ll blame it on available time and money) but through writing the horse scenes in this book, I could almost feel the magic seeping through the pages.

Horses force you to put aside the frenzy, the frustration, the disappointments of life. They require you to be in the moment, to focus on the here-and-now, something many of us forget to do. For people with emotional or physical disabilities, therapeutic riding provides opportunities to learn new communication skills, increased confidence, and self-esteem. Regardless of what draws you to horses, it’s hard to deny the healing magic in the unique relationship between human and horse.

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