To Petra on Horseback
Till I was 26 years old I had nothing with horses, well, possibly an impressed awe, but sure no connection. I remember traveling to Switzerland after my studies in Holland, where I had a job to finance my world travel. I met a horse in a field and when it came straight at me I was so impressed, I remembered a fear welling up in my stomach. But after a few months befriending with the locals at their “Stammtisch” in our little bar, I was invited by a farmer to come and ride his horse - a huge Swiss Army Horse - that I would ride without saddle while the farmer in his blue overall, white beard and typical hat would encourage me on. Two weeks later we headed out into the fields, the farmer pulling my sleeve so once in a while to check my responsiveness. And that’s how my horse journey started: bareback on this impressive big Swiss Army Horse.
I traveled to South America and due to a hip/knee lock I could not go on long hikes exploring the Andes. Instead everywhere I wished to go in Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador - Machu Pichu or Cordillera Blanca - I would arrange a horse & guide and travel a road few tourists would travel. I realized the block in my hip tried to prevent me from following my dream, but the horses opened the way, taking me on my healing journey to step fully into the present moment, allowing, trusting and loving. That was almost 20 years ago.
Back in Holland it was time to engage in the working force. I started as a financial controller, then continues as a strategy consultant, rolled into advertising as account manager, started an art directors study and did project management & art direction jobs. I started freelancing in order to be able to travel. And on one of these journeys I started to paint. I painted a portrait of my host to thank him for his hospitality and suddenly I found myself in Stockholm painting a portrait of a friend and back in Amsterdam for a nude portrait of a bold young woman. I had played out every corner of my brain, found many passions, but nothing lasted for long....where was I heading? Where would I find ‘my’ place where I would ground and find peace from this restlessness? I had proven to myself, the world?
I could do anything I wished, but now...what did I really wish?
I thanked for an art directors job in Sydney and listened to my heart: I wished to paint and be with horses. Hearts wishes are very simple. Always. Once heard, they cannot be ignored. I went back to Amsterdam to find my next step. Soon it came in the form of an ad: To Petra on horseback. Something clicked. Thats it. Two months later I was in the eastern desert of Amman, riding a young Arab horse in his and mine first endurance qualification race. I still remember thinking: now focus, sit, yalla, go!
That is 8 years ago. I returned for a sabbatical to paint and ride the endurance race. I found my horse Gamar - Moon - in Petra. I had to ride her without saddle as she had a bruise on her back. The way she took me on that ride on the mountain overviewing Petra, I felt cared for, I felt home. That’t it, and she took me on a soul journey that changed my life.
One night - at full moon - a stallion opened his stable door, opened her stable door and made his first baby, which I called Nour - light. He is the reason I staid in Petra. No doubt in my mind. So how are we going to make this work? No work, little money, little Arab language skills, no family....just my paint brushes and a pregnant horse.
I started painting and working with Gamar.
She taught me to develop softness. Sometimes she would be sweating while barely moving from all the stress I was bringing to her back. I wished for her happiness so I had to work on it. Mornings I would dive into my Soul while painting, in the afternoon Gamar would reflect my progress. Petra and its community gave me the space and stillness to do so. Slowly I learned to become powerful in the moment without force but with sensitivity, softness and compassion. This male dominated culture supported this process, although a strong willed Dutch woman, it was not possible to be strong & controlling without open heart and soulful connection. Simply impossible, if I would get into that space, I would get it immediately reflected by my Arab horses and those Arab men. I had to balance my masculine and feminine energies, then I could be powerful in my vulnerability, then I would gain respect, support and my position in this community....very much needed as without support it is impossible to live here. If they don’t like you, if you don’t adapt, flow, open up...you either loose your identity, harden or leave. I knew becoming harder was not the answer to find my freedom, leaving not an option as I could not leave my horses and I wished to find my identity in this place I felt like home. So I had to work it.
I meditated, painted, trained my horse, released stress & fears & frustrations through yoga and thought of a way to thank the community for its hospitality: what could I bring to serve this community? I loved the traditional weaving craft and a pretty bag I found in a small shop in Petra, led me to the weaving women in Udruh. Cool Bedouin women, proud of their craft yet with little opportunity to generate income. There the match was made: me, designer & advertising specialist, them with their weaving craft and wish to generate an income for their families. So for 50 JD I bought some wool and started working with this women in sign language & drawings as I barely spoke any Arab. Which was also helping me in my process to slow down and drop into this moment: my mind would move so fast, my body & soul could barely keep up, but now I just had a few words available to me and 6 women talking so fast and with an attention span of 3 seconds. Two hours there and I would be exhausted go to my stable and sit with Gamar. Her breathing and eating sounds would tell me all would be okay.
Then Nour was born, a grey stallion. First time I would raise and train a horse. No doubt though, I already had learned the horses would show me what they needed and I would follow their lead and go on an inner journey with my painting, work with the women and frustrations with men/culture. Every time I would find the answer, it was immediately reflected in horse behavior and over the years I have confident in our connection. Nour was trained at liberty, running around, playing, following....even men would stop their pick ups, watch us play and express their appreciation. While before they would need to tell me what to do, whenever they had the opportunity. Thats how they care for their women,
After a very intense endurance race that left Gamar deeply exhausted I decided I would stop racing and focus on natural horsemanship. I was not grounded enough to lead her on a race, which meant she & I were not save. Lets work on a trusting and responsible relationship. Over the last 7 years she has grown into a beautiful, sensitive & caring mare. In our equine assisted coaching she is subtle and soft, goes beyond any boundaries that generate stress and invites you to be confident in your sensitivity.
Nour is a cool, proud, powerful & playful gelding who teaches boundaries, positions and flings limited beliefs just straight into the air. And then there is Remaz - born in 2014. On the day she was born her spirit told me she was there to help me. A clear message that I can still hear when I look into her calm eyes. She is love, she supports and encourages one on the path from fear to trust. Together they are my herd, my family, my love. The woman I am this day, I owe it to the Bedouin weaving women, the quite desert energy of the Bedouins and the sensitive & dominant young men, but mostly my herd: I came home with myself in the most inconceivable and beautiful place I could imagine: Petra, Jordan.
Join us on our Ancient Horsewisdom Retreat with Sandra Wallin, Chironsway from 4 - 12 March 2016