…or, that time I got stung on the ass by a hornet while standing in a group of horses trying to show them who’s boss.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Stillwater Horse Whisperers Ranch in Montana. I had heard enough about the Ranch, and owner Bobbi Hall, to know that I was going to have a transformative experience.

On the way out to the ranch, Bobbi shared her (quite incredible) story with me and asked what I wanted to get out my time with her and her 30+ horses.

“I just want to make a connection with a horse,” I said, dreamily, imagining becoming BFFs with a nice, gentle brown horse. I also told her about my work, and how, when I was a little girl, I spent a summer at “horse day camp.”

Fact is, however, I have never felt comfortable around horses and was envious of women who had, in my mind, been able to fully bond with a horse. It seems silly, but there was a tinge of shame around admitting that I was somewhat afraid of horses. So I didn’t say that part.

After hearing my story, Bobbi asked me to consider testing my boundaries with the horses. I consider myself both a master and a perpetual student of boundaries. I practice them, I teach them, and I look for opportunities to learn more about them, so it was game on!

I was instructed to “get big” (arms up in a “V”) in order to maintain my space if a horse approached.

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So there I was, standing in the paddock with a bunch of geldings and “keeping my distance,” (aka maintaining my boundaries) when I felt a sharp sting on my right buttock. I immediately assumed that I had backed into the electrified fence. I turned and saw that I was nowhere near the fence, but there was what looked like a skinny bee buzzing around, very close to my bum.

“I think I’ve been stung by…a bee!?” I panicked and started to move erratically, wondering if I was being chased.

Bobbi asked if the stinger was attached (to my ass) and then said, “That was no bee, it was a hornet!”

Cue the freak-out!

“I don’t know? How do I know? I’m pretty sure no one wants to look at my ass to see if there’s a stinger there!” I said, running around in a circle with my hand down the back of my pants, imagining a swarm of angry hornets and a bunch of nervous horses, with me the others in the middle (this wasn’t the transformation I imagined).

“Oh you’d know,” she said. “It would hurt to touch it.”

Bobbi led me out of the paddock and said there was a plant that grew on the ranch that would help. I followed her as she looked around for it, then grabbed up a few leaves, handed them to me, and said, “Here, chew this up and then apply it to the sting.” She pointed me in the direction of a port-a-potty.

I pulled my pants down, chewed up the leaves and applied the “paste” to the sting, which started to subside. (By the way, this was the plant: plantain.) I also noted, with relief, that I didn’t appear to be having any sort of allergic reaction.

So I headed back to the paddock. Bobbi remarked that no one had ever been stung before and all I could think was that I’d blown it big time with the horses. They weren’t going to trust me…the scared woman who freaked out for seemingly no good reason.

But a funny thing happened. Bobbi said that the horses were fine…they didn’t react at all. If anything, they seemed more curious about me. I forgot all about trying to having boundaries with them. I walked up to each horse slowly, holding the back of my hand out (fingers down) so they could sniff me. Bobbi and her partner Phyllis talked about how horses communicate, how they see (close to a 350° range of monocular vision), and how they are able to sense the electromagnetic waves of our hearts!

Often we hear people in the field of Equine Facilitated Learning say that “horses mirror the person they are with.” Indeed, those of us that work with people and horses will see the same horse respond differently to each person they interact with. After looking at the results of the this research, I suspect that horses are perceiving, interpreting and responding to very subtle energy fields that they come into contact with. It would make sense that if the collective feeling they perceive is calm, they will respond calmly. If the collective feeling is fear, they may feel/sense fear and start behaving fearfully.

As a herd and prey animal, a horse’s safety depends on its ability to relate to and move in harmony with the herd. Horses don’t have the verbal skills nor the time to describe a potential danger to their herd-mates before they all run. To perceive, interpret and respond to an energy field seems a much more efficient way of communicating. The budding scientific research directed to this field of inquiry is sure to lead to some interesting answers and even more interesting questions to come. ~ Lisa Walters  and  Dr. Ann Baldwin, Humans, Horses, And The Frequencies of Connection

One horse, in particular, wanted to get closer. I reached up and patted his neck and rubbed him behind the ears. When I turned to walk away, he followed…I picked up the pace, and so did he.

“Looks like you’ve made a friend,” Phyllis said.

When we got to the far end of the paddock, he was right on my heels, so I turned, got big, lifted my arms into a “V,” and leaned forward a bit. He stopped and took a step back, ears forward, looking at me intently.

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It was at that moment that I felt the connection. I smiled, lowered my arms, and came along aside him and rested my cheek on his.

As for the hornet? When I told my friend Jeanne about it, she sent me this:

Hornet is reminding you that simply thinking about your dreams will not make them a reality as quickly as going out and doing it. Make a plan, keep working towards it and let nothing get in your way. Perseverance, desire, and action are what is called for. Apply your passion to the reality you wish to achieve! Hornet may also be letting you know that resistance to change is by definition self-sabotage. It’s time to allow yourself the notion that all things are possible, and that you deserve to have all your dreams come true. Be the best you can be!

Which leads me to why I was in Montana in the first place!

I was in Montana to attend the Haven writing retreat with New York Times best-selling author Laura Munson. Writing-wise, it brought me more fully back into a space of creativity and possibility. Even though I’ve been writing all this time and have great instincts, I hadn’t “studied” writing since college and the retreat, which Laura describes as a non-academic MFA, provided me an opportunity to relearn and practice the craft of writing.

Of the many writing-related things that came out of the retreat, here are two:

#1 My writer’s statement: I write to save, transform, and create my life: past, present, and future. It is my alchemy.

#2 My project statement (for book number three, which is in progress): Written as a love letter to the daughter I chose not to have, this book reclaims and transforms what was once a legacy or shame, hypocrisy, bitterness, and pity, into the truth of resilience, understanding, empathy, vulnerability, and compassion.

Have you ever learned something from a horse? Or a hornet?