The Practice of Brushing Horses

This is a reflective piece about one of my favorite things to do-brushing horses. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps imagine your own magic brush to locate and scratch  places longing to be noticed…


There’s been several times in the twelve years I’ve been with my horse Tiger where either I was injured, or he was. Consequently, our relationship found new ways to deepen beyond our magical rides through the coastal tundra outside of Inverness, where Tiger lives. Since all of our various injuries resulted in limited mobility, simply spending time in each other’s presence led to new levels of communication for us both. Hours would pass with me sitting in his pasture, listening to the chomp chomp as he and his buddies grazed nearby, their ears twitching this way and that, or watching the jackrabbits and cows playing hide and seek in the bushes nearby.



As I sat in the pasture with him, without agenda, the minutes elongated and became filled with events, exchanges, comings and goings. So much going on aside from me just sitting there! Also, as a student of equine and human acupressure, I’d pack my anatomy books and meridian charts out to the field with me. No matter which one of us was injured, there was always something to learn, some points to try, to help us learn to heal, and reunite our energies with wholeness.


Tiger has a special brush, not a brush made for horses, but a rubber human hairbrush that I found in the streets of Berkeley one day. I took it to the ranch and tried it out on him. It was love at first touch. Over time, the other horses and dogs at the ranch fell in love with this brush, too. I’d go out to meet Tiger in the field, and his two pasture buddies Fox and Pebbles would line up, waiting for me to turn the magic brush on them. The dogs hovered near as well, hoping to get a few minutes of the magic brush darshan as well.


During a very long and painful recovery from a car accident in 2009, I could not ride for almost seven months. For a few months it was nearly impossible even to drive to the ranch, as it took me a good 20 minutes or so simply to get in or out of the car. The radiating nerve pain along with the frustration of so much of my life being put on hold led me to the brink of sadness and isolation many times. I knew that the best thing for my spirits was to be with the horses, so I put great effort to get to the ranch as often as I could, even if it meant lying flat in my van while someone else drove me out there.


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(Tiger in the middle, with sun)


Any sadness and isolation I felt turned to immediate joy as soon as I rounded the corner of the ranch driveway and saw all the horses grazing in the lush fields. I’d limp out to greet them, magic brush in hand. Tiger always whinnied and came running when he saw me, leading with his pasture mates close behind. Pebbles the Pony, just short of 43 years old at the time, would edge her furry tummy close to me so that her itchy spots were right by my hands. Big pushy Fox, Tiger’s long time friend and companion, always tried to edge in between Pebs and me.


In turn, Tiger did horse contortions, equine asanas, lifting one leg up and out and pointing with his nose to show me where his itchy places were, usually, but not always, places he could not reach himself. We spent hours playing this “point and scratch” game. As the hours flew, I felt surges of gentle ecstasy, an expansive joy that filled me, wave after wave. I was broken, and yet for these moments of brushing the horses, my pain dissolved into a sacred wholeness.




One day I had the magic brush and was massaging certain acupressure points on Tiger’s legs. I angled the brush just so, getting the rounded, narrow area in the hollow of his heels, right above his hooves. The first time I did this Tiger squealed with delight, a sound I had never heard from a horse, a sound more like a dolphin or a whale would make. At the same time he arched his neck, smacked his lips and showed deep delight and approval in his surprised expression. One by one he lifted or pointed at each foot, wanting to make sure I didn’t forget any of his four legs.


It occurred to me that this might well be the first time Tiger had experienced these few inches of his own body being touched in this way. After all, there was no way he could reach this spot. I pondered the hunger and joy of these horses and dogs lining up for their turn of the magic brush, knowing they were going to be attended to from nose to tail, knowing all their itchy spots would be scratched.


I pondered the parallel reality for so many sentient beings, humans included, of living their entire lives without this experience, their itchiest places going untouched.


In that moment I had a realization of how this Practice of Brushing Horses was similar to the job of a chaplain. As chaplains we are trained to discover the itchy spots of each person and situation with deep listening and a bearing of witness. We acknowledge those itchy spots either by doing or by not-doing.


Simply acknowledging them with our presence is enough sometimes! In our merging with the energy field of another, accompanying them on their path for a minute, an hour, a day, a week, something else is created, a different reality, one that will lead to a different minute because we are there. In this way our presence is the magic brush that finds all itchy spots! I smiled at the ladybug on my hand, and gave thanks for this parallel thought.


Meanwhile Tiger’s friend the big white egret landed nearby. His deer family moved closer too, now and then scratching their ears with their long back legs and wiggling their tails. Pebbles the Pony edged a little closer lodging a clear request that she wanted  a second turn with the brush.


Tiger came out of his soliloquy long enough to tell her clearly, with his flattened ears, “Not yet.”  A few frogs croaked; two red-tailed hawks circled above. I had been out in the field so long that the shadows had turned long and yellow with the Rembrandt-like light that only happens for a few moments as the sun begins to fall. The starlings lined up to begin their evening murmurations, a joyful aerial offering of thanks to all of creation for another day on the planet.


A few tears of gratitude rolled down my face. In the isolation of my own pain I came to brush these horses. In brushing these horses I was reunited with the blessing of life, the connection and interconnection with all that is.


May all sentient beings have the blessing of having their itchy spots scratched!


May I, as a chaplain, be led to the spots that trouble them, and may the energy of Spirt, God, the Divine, show me the skillful means and wisdom to bring benefit!

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