She stands, tense, protective, arms wrapped around her face to avoid contact — with her eyes. The horse, as wonderfully gentle as old, steps forward towards the autistic girl, breaking an invisible barrier, building a visible bond.
“They made eye contact with each other,” says Andy Moody, founder of Compassionate Horsemanship. “The girl began to cry, and for a brief moment, her arms and whole body relaxed, her face at peace, revealing a beautiful young woman standing there in front of us.”
Moody, an expert horseman whose prolific experience ranges from equine therapy to ceremonies at Buckingham Palace, knows the cave the girl was living in too well.
“I can imagine that for this girl, it was a little bit like being trapped in an internal prison,” says Moody, who suffered from severe depression most of his life. “The horse’s eye contact broke through the walls, opening her heart and providing her with a brief window into who she really is.”
While Moody grew up with horses — his mother says his first spoken word was horse, or, more accurately, “orse” — it was this same horse that broke Moody out of his own darkness, a healing solace horses have harnessed time and again for him.
“I can talk with openness now about this period of my life because it’s passed, but imagine fighting with every ounce of strength to put one foot in front of the other, just to make it to a field where there were horses you knew and trusted — friends, unmoved, not judging. I felt safe there. I was not alone.”
The tenderness and soul-piercing kindness that horses have shared with Moody have inspired his lifelong cultivation of Compassionate Horsemanship — his take on classical horsemanship — “the art of working with the horse.” His craft includes not only all the skills, methods and wisdom one needs to work with a horse under saddle (like a cowboy) or in harness (for agriculture, for example) but also “encompasses a deep moral code, guiding how we work with horses, based on compassion and understanding.”
Moody’s many mentors — some human, some not — have guided his art up to today. Ray Hunt, one of the forefathers of natural horsemanship, inspired Moody with an analogy reflective of his own experiences.
Hunt once said, “The horse is a mirror. It goes deep into the body. When I see your horse, I see you too. The human is so good at war. He knows how to fight, but making peace, boy, that’s the hardest thing for a human. But once you start giving, you won’t believe how much you get back.”
The circular exchange between human and horse — what you give, you get — rang particularly true for Moody one morning.
Early that day, Moody approached a young horse in a field to halter him for the day’s work. But each time the horseman gently tried, it turned and fled. Moody increased the pressure to halter his four-legged friend, who retaliated with a kick to his elbow. Moody swore at the horse — rare for the compassionate horseman — and chased him away with his rope.
The horse returned ready to kick, but Moody stood solid and shooed him away again. This exchange repeated until Moody noticed the stallion always retreating to a specific point along the fence, near another horse calmly observing. So the horse whisperer moved to that point, and after a few more rounds, the horse stopped abruptly in front of him, head softened, licking, chewing, changed.
“I greeted him without any anger in me, gently spoke to him, rewarded his try, slipped the halter on, and we continued on with our task,” says Moody. “I reflected on what had just happened. Horses don’t kick without good reason. The kick on my elbow, and the resulting swearing, revealed to me that there was still a hardness in me, which gave the young horse something to run from, to fight and kick against. His softening at the fence line reflected a change in my approach and mindset, using wisdom, observation, and quietude, rather than pressure. In short, the challenge is with myself, not the horse.”
For Moody, who caringly points out that horses are feeling, conscious, sentient beings — classical culture and horsemanship are intimately intertwined with the journey of the soul.
“When you spend time in Buckingham Palace, you realize traditional culture is still alive within its walls,” he says. From ceremonies, such as coronations, weddings, or presidential visits, to their personal lives, horses beat at the heart of royalty.
“I think you see some of the most intimate, human moments when you watch Her Majesty, the Queen, with a horse — a genuine joy, and deep caring for them,” he says. “When I put a piece of harness on a horse to work them in a carriage, I am placing on their shoulders thousands of years of culture and thought. The mastery of this art with the horse, our partner on this journey, is woven into the very fabric of the leather.”
The horseman explains, “Historically, people believed classical culture was divinely bestowed upon them, and mastering any of the classical arts was to become closer to the divine.”
Not only has Moody elevated his inner ethic while working with horses, he now cultivates a deeper sense of self through a Chinese meditation discipline, which, in turn, has added new dimensions to his horsemanship.
“I’ve always found solace in the flow and stillness of nature,” he says. “After coming to practice Falun Dafa some years later, I came to recognize this as the Fa, the Buddha Law or Way of the universe that travels through all things. The principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance that are taught in Falun Dafa are, unsurprisingly, the very highest moral values that I have been able to find in the teachings of the art of equitation.”
Like all things Moody has learned and experienced in working with horses, the lessons transcend form, time, and even equitation itself.
“A horse can reveal all a person’s shortcomings, and when you find those moments of harmony with them, they also reflect the beauty and divine within a person. The art of horsemanship is a limitless and boundless path. It just depends on how hard you are willing to work at understanding the horse, and of course, yourself.”
Text by J.H. White Translated by Cherry Chen Produced by Olivier Chartrand