I’ve mentioned before how excited I was to discover Blackbird Books – an independent publisher with a real eye for different and exciting reads, and they really are some of the loveliest people to deal with. When they told me about The Spell of the Horse: Stories of Healing and Personal Transformation with Nature’s Finest Teachers by Pam Billinge – published tomorrow (18th September) for kindle and in paperback – I’ll readily admit I wasn’t really sure if it was a book for me. And I sadly just couldn’t find space for it in my reading schedule anyway. But the more I’ve read about this book, the more convinced I’ve become that it’s a book I really must read.
Here’s the description – see what you think…
“The ability of the horse to sense emotion, energy and spirit is way beyond what most of the human world realises. The Spell of the Horse teaches that, by learning to listen to our inner wisdom and become true to our spirit, we can overcome loss, anxiety and trauma to live with purpose, joy and love.” Pam Billinge
When Pam’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she began to notice the way her horse responded to her emotional turmoil. Thus began an exploration into the spiritual relationship between horses and humans and their infinite capacity to help us heal. Building on her remarkable discoveries, Pam began her pioneering work as a horse-led coach and therapist. By sharing her own path to redemption through personal tragedy, and other stories of healing inspired by the incredible interactions she has observed between horse and human, Pam puts forward her uplifting insights about the true nature of the horse, setting out some simple principles to help the reader transcend life’s challenges.
I’m really delighted to be part of the blog tour for this special book, and particularly thrilled to be able to share an extract that will make you want to read it too. It’s a little longer than other extracts I’ve featured, but go on – it’s Sunday, grab a coffee, and you’ll really enjoy this one…
Coop: Chosen by a Horse
The tyres hit gravel when we turned off the highway. It was 17 May 2008. I was arriving at a ranch high up in the mountains of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado where one of the world’s best known natural horsemanship teachers ran a study centre. I was there for 6 weeks of intensive learning.
The car sent up a dust cloud as it crawled along the track up the hillside. Beyond the meadows where horses and cattle were roaming the majestic mountains rose, dense with dark green pine. An eagle circled slowly against the bright blue sky.
It had taken months to build the resolve to leave my safe haven for this adventure. I had not been away from home, my dogs, horse and safe routines for any significant period since my mother died. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but it was what helped me stay on an even keel.
There had been more to deal with. A year after Mum passed away, my father had died of a heart attack, and I was flooded with regrets for our lost years. At his funeral I met his friends and colleagues and grasped that I barely knew him at all. Then my much-loved stepfather Lorenz had a serious stroke and cardiac arrest. Another hospital vigil had ensued. Throughout these years I had remained single. It had been tough.
I needed a break and a long one. Coming to Colorado – this was it.
I had started learning about natural horsemanship, with its emphasis on relationship, leadership and equine psychology, to help me address the remaining difficulties I was having with Winston. I had established a measure of cooperation with him but only when we did what he wanted to do.
So here I was standing in front of the log cabin that would be my home for the next six weeks. Nestled on the mountainside, amongst the trees, scrub and vegetation, it was a short walk down a track to the corralled area where the horses would be kept at night. It looked quaint, authentic and the views were the most awe-inspiring I had ever seen. I climbed the five rough wooden steps and pushed on the door to the bunkhouse. It creaked open and my bubble was burst.
Inside it was dark, the tiny window laced with dusty cobwebs. Two pairs of bunk beds, connected with crooked ladders lashed roughly together from saplings, were the only items of furniture excepting a plastic garden chair wedged in the corner. The tired mattresses on each bed were covered in dark red vinyl fabric and were ripped here and there. A tiny electric bar heater offered a glimmer of hope for cold nights and a broom handle erected across one corner of the hut boasted a few bowed wire coat hangers for storage. That was it. No wardrobes, drawers, no nothing. Where would the four of us who would be sharing put all our belongings? A single portable lantern hung on the wall to help guide us in the dark from the cabin down to the lodge, which was 10 minutes’ walk away and where the wash facilities could be found. My excitement stalled. There wasn’t even a toilet close to hand. What on earth had I signed up for?
I stepped out of the cabin for air. It had been muggy and musty inside. Before me, across the dark green treetops, I could see snow-capped peaks soaring against the sapphire sky. The stillness was broken by a rustling in the bushes and a deer with extraordinarily large ears stepped out into a clearing alongside the cabin. I gasped. It was only feet away and stared at me softly with big brown eyes then vanished back into the undergrowth. I recalibrated my expectations. This was going to be amazing and worth some simple living. In fact, wasn’t that the whole point?
I meet my teacher
After lunch on the first day it was time to go out into the dry mountain heat to have our horses allocated. I was excited to meet the one who would be mine for the duration of the programme. We were split into three groups of four, and each chattering huddle was then sent to stand by a corral containing four horses in each. I looked in at the horses next to me and wondered how they would select the right one for me: height, weight, experience perhaps?
The instructor interrupted my thoughts. ‘OK, now it’s time for the horses to choose you. Move into the corral and hang out with them until you’ve been picked.’
The horses would choose us? Not the other way around! I couldn’t believe it. What if I was chosen by one of the really big ones? Worse – what if I was not chosen at all?
The first student in my group to ‘click’ with one of the horses put her arm over his neck proprietarily. I was relieved – his height worried me. Now there were three left. I had my eye on a small dark-brown one. I liked his size. But then another student stepped in to stroke him. I turned round.
I looked at the tall grey horse opposite me – did it look as if it liked me? I stepped hesitantly forwards but it shunned me as did the fourth horse. I knew it. None of them wanted me. Panic, shame and humiliation raced wildly around my body and to my horror, I felt a tremble in my lip. I hoped no one would notice and clenched my fists.
‘Pam this is stupid. Pull yourself together!’ And although it felt ridiculous to be so upset I knew it as a familiar sensation. The netball court. That was it! This is how it felt in games lessons when I was chosen last. As this memory crystallised it brought with it a moment of pure insight – how badly I wanted approval and how hard I had always worked to win it.
As I braced myself for rejection, I felt a little nudge in my back. I turned round. The shorter brown horse, who I thought had engaged with the other student, was standing right by me. I didn’t know how he had got there, but there he was. I invited him to sniff my hand and when he brushed it with the soft down on his nose my skin danced. I stroked his shining, muscled neck, and at that moment we connected. To my embarrassment, I started crying. Was it with relief or gratitude?
I was handed a halter and rope by the instructor, a tall handsome Texan in crisp denim, cowboy boots, white shirt and cream Stetson. ‘Looks like you’ve been picked, Ma’am,’ he grinned. ‘This horse’s name is Coop. You’ll find out why in due course … Enjoy him.’
Later I would wonder why Coop came to me when he did. Was it that he was drawn to me in that moment of real authenticity when I accepted a truth about myself? Was it the intensity of my emotion? My vulnerability? Or did he sense that we would understand each other? Soon it was as if this horse had always been mine and always would be. The passing of time took on an unreal dimension and it felt as if these weeks would never end. This was now my life. For a while at least.
I’m very much looking forward to reading more… I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.
About the author
Pam lives with her partner in rural Wiltshire, with her two terriers, two horses and one pony. Here she runs her business Equest Limited providing horse-led learning programmes to a wide range of corporate clients, and a small private horse-led psychotherapy practise. Brought up in suburban Liverpool, the first horses Pam fell in love with were ridden by the mounted policemen she would see passing her house on the way to supervise football matches at Anfield. Little did she know, then, how these magnificent creatures would influence her adult life, leading not only to support her through a number of personal tragedies, but also to her pioneering work in horse-led psychotherapy and coaching.