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esperanza-liberation-500She draws back, steps away. Peering from the top of the worn, weathered slope of her brown face, her eyes are drawn to the hand resting on the high, curved, ochre wall. Her hesitant gaze reveals her doubt. It is a dual-ended magnet to her this hand of mine, either attracting or repelling her depending on what she reads into it. Moments later she edges towards it again, half a step forward, then snakes her neck slowly forward, her muzzle stretching towards my knuckles. Abruptly she pulls away again, steps back, raises her chest and neck, and locks eyes with me. Then with elevated head she parts her lips slightly and lunges forward, stops, draws back, and lunges forward again, and again.

My eyes, still locked on hers, do not waver. I do not move, do not flinch. The mare lunges one last time and stops, looks at me quizzically for one brief moment, then backs off two strides. Wary, confused, she waits. What to do with this human? Her eyes harden again and the entire process repeats itself. When she is done and back at her preferred position two strides away, I wait for the mare to decide what she wants to do now. Nothing. “Esperanza,” I call her name softly and smile. “You are a beautiful horse.” The glint in her eye softens. Yet she remains wary albeit simultaneously unwilling to break off contact with me. I decide to do so myself and slowly walk past her, respecting the two-stride boundary she insists on but not yielding any ground until I have passed her. She eyes me, almost longingly, I think, or is that just ego claiming its moment of doubtful glory?



What is happening to this horse? Until yesterday she was willing to eat bits of carrot and muesli from my hand, even nibbling the skin slightly in search of a stray titbit. A day later I talk to Vicki. She is experiencing the same with Esperanza. We are puzzled and decide to back away from close contact with the mare while she is forced to contend with her relatively new regime of incarceration, stabled out of the heat and harsh sunlight during the day and confined to a concrete round pen next to the herd at night, the walls so high that she can barely see the other horses over it, and even then not without straining.

We understand the reason for Esperanza’s incarceration. A probable victim of abuse while still a foal, the mare was taken to a refuge centre as a yearling, the same one where Vicki and I perform Equine Touch every week. At a certain point she was rehomed with the owner of our current livery yard and at some stage someone managed to place a green halter on her head. Over the years the halter began to fray and fall apart. Last week the noseband broke and it now hangs like a loose noose waiting to trip up the mare should she accidentally insert a leg through it. In short, a potentially dangerous accident was waiting to happen if she had been allowed to remain in the herd in those conditions.

Esperanza, the horse with the green halter, incarcerated in her stable

Esperanza, the horse with the green halter, incarcerated in her stable

Monica, the manager of our livery yard, had a choice. Either she could place Esperanza in a controlled environment, which would minimise the chance of injury while she pursued the contact that she had begun to develop with the mare in the herd, a connection that would hopefully enable her to remove the halter with Esperanza’s cooperation, or she could restrain the horse, forcibly remove the halter and allow her to return to the herd but with the risk of destroying the fragile relationship between horse and human which had started to develop. Monica understandably opted for the less disruptive alternative. And so Esperanza’s regime of detention got underway coupled with Monica’s ongoing attempts to befriend her.



Shortly after Esperanza is confined, Monica shows Vicki and myself the progress that she is making with the mare and some of the tools that she is using. One, in particular, captures my imagination. It is a light, long stick with a small brush attached at one end, which Monica uses to groom the mare’s hindquarters. It is now also possible for Monica to drape and secure a lungeing lead around the horse’s neck, although the noose remains excessively large. Yet it is enough for Esperanza to follow the yard manager from her stable to the round pen and back, an indication perhaps of her desire for contact, for it would have been an easy matter for her to lower her head, drop the noose and draw free had she a mind to do so.

Still, although I completely understand Monica’s decision, I have misgivings. It is clear to me that, no matter how traumatised Esperanza may be, she is clearly seeking contact with humans whom she feels are approachable … up to a point anyway. She has approached me on a number of occasions in the open field and Monica had been spending a great deal of time with her in the herd before her confinement. Both of us humans are aware that the halter represents a potential source of injury and therefore needs to be removed. In this respect I defer to Monica in that, as the manager of the yard, she bears official responsibility for the horses’ health and well-being. My interest is more one of being a benign human influence, one that may help restore Esperanza’s faith in my species.

Yet it occurs to me that incarceration may actually serve as a barrier to contact. The relative freedom which Esperanza enjoyed in the herd probably gave her the confidence she required to seek contact with humans. She could approach them at will, secure in the knowledge that flight was always possible. Confined as she is now though, she seems to be more uneasy overall and even hostile at times. Monica’s own observations recorded in a Facebook post would seem to confirm this. Describing her initial encounter with the mare, she writes:

When I was about five meters away from her, Esperanza gave me a very angry look and stamped her front foot with quite some purpose: “one more step and you are dead” was the message I got!!! Just in case I hadn’t “got it” she flashed her back end, too!

Yet, as Esperanza became accustomed to Monica’s frequent non-threatening presence in the herd, things began to change, as the yard manage explains in her own words:

After a month, Esperanza was seeking me out as I did my rounds through the herd and once in a while, I was honoured with her touching my hand with her muzzle … as long as it was her idea! If I even thought or considered touching her back, she would retreat. As so we went.



It is clear that Monica is developing a relationship with the mare, one of the pillars supporting and essential for any kind of meaningful contact with her. Soon she is able to touch and stroke the horse’s shoulders and upper torso, although the hindquarters, limbs and neck are still largely off-limits.

There are some who contend that in order to establish a meaningful relationship with a horse, it is essential to interact with them at liberty. Yet my mare, Pip, is a living example of just how inappropriate it may be to assume that an approach based on one-size-fits-all will succeed with all horses or even most. Communication broke down the moment when I removed all tack from her body soon after she came into my life and she was suddenly left to assume responsibility for her own actions. In the absence of any self-confidence and the ability to communicate with humans through anything more advanced than instruments of force and coercion, Pip thrived through the umbilical cord that is the lead between an insecure horse and a loving human.

The lead becomes an umbilical cord between horse and human

The lead becomes an umbilical cord between horse and human

Given that Esperanza suffered from a similar lack of self-confidence with humans, perhaps it was to be expected that she would respond positively to a similar material connection between the species once she found herself in confinement. Monica describes it this way:

Interestingly, once we had a rope around Esperanza’s neck, she was much calmer that I expected and we were able to lead her (with a healthy distance from her shoulder!) and do basic movements around the yard. She was so light and responsive. It was such a special moment. We seemed to connect through the rope…. as long as I stayed out of her bubble…. Every day the process of throwing the rope over her back to then tie it around her neck gets easier and easier and her bubble has gotten smaller and smaller!



During the second last week of July Vicki and I attended an Equine Touch refresher course in Yorkshire, England. Our tutor, Chris Wylie, is also an experienced energy worker and during some of our breaks she introduced us to some aspects of this work. One particular session stuck. Chris showed me how to use a pendulum to detect energy-related issues in a horse’s body. Essentially, this entails placing one hand on part of the horse’s body, while holding the pendulum in the other. If the pendulum starts to swing, then there is likely to be an energy-related issue in the part of the body beneath the hand touching the horse. I must confess that I was utterly entranced by the sight and feel of the pendulum moving in my hand without any effort on my part. A subsequent Equine Touch session confirmed that there was an issue where this had occurred.

Learning how to use energy for healing with a pendulum

Learning how to use energy for healing with a pendulum

Shortly after, this was followed by another experience which left me both perplexed and excited. Chris showed us how to ask “yes-no” questions and to associate a specific pattern of movement of the pendulum with a “No” and a different one with a “Yes”. In both cases I adopted the ground position, directed my breathing through my core and entered the moment using the technique described in my previous post (The Power of Being with Horses). When I focused on “Yes” by feeling its intent and directing my energy through my core, the pendulum swung clockwise. Yet when I did the same while contemplating “No”, the pendulum moved diagonally over a short distance from bottom left to top right. What left me shaking though, was that I could not only control the direction of the pendulum’s movement by feeling intent and directing my energy accordingly but also the intensity of its movement by adapting the amount of energy through my core. In this sense it was reminiscent of my ability to control the readings on my body monitor in hospital when I was treated for a heart condition last year (see my post entitled Lessons from the Heart).

Yet there was another occurrence during that weekend, whose implications I did not appreciate until later. At a certain point Vicki and I told Chris about Esperanza and the difficulties which the mare was experiencing in her attempts to establish contact with humans, especially in relation to the need to remove the green halter. Chris suggested that we do a group healing session to help Esperanza. At this point I found my sense of reality sorely tested. Although I went through the motions with everyone else and sincerely focused my intent and energy on helping the mare some two and a half thousand kilometres to the south of us, if anyone had subsequently asked whether I believed that session would help Esperanza, I would have truthfully had to answer that I did not know. Roundly condemning it as a useless exercise would have been rather disingenuous, as I had no way of proving that this was the case. Time was to shed more light on the matter, although relatively little of it was required in order to do so. In the same week during which we returned from England a question of trust arose in the course of interaction between Monica and Esperanza.



To many of us it is almost self-evident that trust is an essential component of any relationship which horse and human seek with each other. Yet, when we consider the question of trust between the species, many of us do not get much beyond a perceived need for the horse to learn to trust us. Why should we? Trust may be a two-way phenomenon between humans but not between our species and horses, surely?  Can a human really trust a horse and, more importantly, should one do so? This is the very question that presented itself to Monica as she continued to develop a relationship with Esperanza. In her own words, this how it occurred:

Then, about a week ago came my breakthrough. I realized I was asking her to trust me but I was not trusting her. I was touching her with a brush connected to a long stick. I was weary of her back legs and her teeth… and her front legs, too. And yes, I feel that my fear was warranted. But then, so is hers. And I was asking her to trust me. So shouldn’t I be trusting her, too? …. So now, whilst I am with her, I keep repeating thinking…. I trust you. I trust you. I trust you. Not easy but now I know it is doable. I wish I had the “gift of the pen” to elaborate on what a fabulous, amazing moment it was when I finally put my hand on Esperanza’s rump. I took a deep breath and TRUSTED. And then we connected. That moment will stay with me forever.

Esperanza now allows Monica to touch her on the croup and half-way up her neck. The mare also allows her human carer to apply cream, to treat skin conditions on her rump, the top of her tail, the girth area and her chest. Monica is even able to touch the green halter, although it is too tight to lift it over the horse’s head even if she were to permit that. In Monica’s words, “the more I truly trust her, the more she is trusting me”. So now we have trust on the part of both horse and human but does this mark an end to the question of trust in relation to the two species and their interaction with each other?

Monica and Esperanza taking their trusting relationship a step forward

Monica and Esperanza taking their trusting relationship a step forward

Less than a week later the answer to this question comes to Monica following a very special session between her and Esperanza. Vicki and I arrive at the livery yard late one afternoon to find Monica interacting with the mare in the courtyard where carers normally groom and saddle up their horses, a lungeing lead draped loosely around Esperanza’s lower neck. What remains of the green halter still hangs from her upper neck. They are a captivating duo in motion, horse and human, each aware and seeking synchronicity with other. There is contact and connection between the species clearly embedded in a growing sisterhood between the pair. Vicki and I are enthralled. We stop, stand and watch. Suddenly aware of the enormity of the moment, I start filming the woman and the mare on my smartphone.

It is a momentous session and even involves me at a certain point. At the end of it all Monica approaches me. “I have found the missing link,” she half-whispers excitedly. “Remember, I said that I needed to trust Esperanza as much as she needed to trust me?” I nod. “Well, there was something else and I have finally found it.” Now and then the continuity of life is interrupted by a déjà vu moment. This is just such a moment, I feel, for I have an uncanny sensation of knowing what is coming next. Vicky and I have spoken about it before in relation to this horse-human duo. I could tell you what it is but Monica’s account carries far more impact than what I can muster:

… it hit me right between the eyes: in my search for Esperanza’s trust and in trying to trust her back, I was neglecting to trust myself! Yes, that’s the missing link: I need to trust myself. Trust that I have the skill, the feel, the timing to get it right and to handle whatever Esperanza throws my way. Trust that I will be able to defend myself/get out of the way quickly and not get hurt if things escalate due to a mistake in my feel and timing. And then trust that none of that is relevant anyway!!! It just is…. that’s it! I just need to be…. no agenda, no ego, no expectations. Just be. Just like that!



What strikes me about Monica’s account is the implicit link which she establishes between the self-confidence (trusting herself) that she feels she requires and her awareness that “I just need to be”. The former is an affirmation of a rational concept, whereas the latter is an acknowledgement of an experiential requirement. Distilled to its essence, Monica is actually saying that in practice trust in oneself is not an intellectual commitment but an act of being, one which by its very nature does not involve an agenda, ego or expectations. And she is stating this on the basis of her own experience. At first glance you might question the logic of this. What if I were to counter this with a question of my own: How do you do trust? Is it an idea which you consciously try to implement or is it more basic than this? Is it not the challenge of being?

At this point it is perhaps illustrative to recount my own session with Esperanza within minutes after Monica achieved such a special connection with her. After I film the two of them together, Monica and I briefly suggest ways to each other to help her remove the green halter. Esperanza stands calmly by while Monica sensitively explores various alternatives but balks when her hands move too far up her neck. Perhaps she senses stealth? Suddenly Monica stops and extends the hand holding the lead while gesturing for me to take it. I look at her quizzically because from my perspective she has a far better chance of helping the mare divest itself of the device which is ultimately preventing her from returning to the herd in safety. Yet Monica insists and I take the lead.

More intensely than I have done for some time now, I focus on relaxing my body and becoming entirely present together with the mare, employing a souped-up version of the technique which I describe in my previous post entitled The Power of Being with Horses. Within moments I am there with Esperanza and we seek each other out with nothing more than an acute awareness of ourselves, each other, the cocoon of our immediate sensory surroundings and, on my part, an utter, unconditional commitment to helping her. We have no capacity available for anything more than this and life is reduced or expanded – depending on your point of view – from cognition to what it actually is: complete presence in the constant motion of the here and now. In this process of being there is no room for conscious thought, doubt, misgivings, fear, regret or anything else that might pose an obstacle to the immediacy of the moment. Although what we have learned, experienced, acquired and memorised may be utilised in our interaction with each other, this occurs spontaneously rather than as a deliberately planned act. Being … this is life at the edge of possibility.


And so we connect…

And we do so closer than either of us could possibly have anticipated, both physically and energetically. Monica is right. The lead, so fragile a link between horse and human that she could jettison it by simply lowering her head, is at once also an invitation to stay. Perhaps it works because the courtyard is so much larger than a round pen. The mare could really escape if she were to choose to do so but she does not. Esperanza is doing what I have known her to be doing whenever she has previously sought me out. She is seeking contact with a human who is trustworthy, who offers safety, security and joy. I just sense this and go with the flow.

Esperanza initiates connection

Esperanza initiates connection…


and decides to explore...

and decides to explore…


the human before her...

the human before her…


who reciprocates with a caress under the chin.

who reciprocates with a caress under the chin.

And so we connect, first through our energy and only then the flesh. Standing next to her, I feel her presence, the urge to approach, the hesitation in doing so. Instinctively, I refrain from moving to her, focusing instead on the beauty of this summer afternoon in the company of friends, remaining calm and relaxed, safe for her to approach me. For it must come from her, if anything is to be possible. And it is. My energy is reciprocated in her. Slowly she edges forward and sideways. Her neck lowers, inclines towards me. Her muzzle approaches my hand, inches past it to brush against my top. Gently, she grips the fabric between her lips, much like horses are wont to do on the skin, holding it firmly before letting go but without inflicting pain or injury. Fear, why should there be any? This is not the energy of the head-shaking, wild-eyed frightened mare but rather of an inquisitive, questing wild child, soft until hardened. And why should it harden?


Connection: so strong, yet so fragile

At that moment I know a connection so strong with Esperanza that physical contact becomes superfluous. Trust, we are immersed in it, in each other and in ourselves. It is the energy of mutual acceptance and of daring to be vulnerable. At this point it is strong enough to bring us together but too fragile to risk silly moves. I am conscious of the absence of a relationship with the mare which goes beyond the infrequent contact that we have enjoyed with each other to date. And it is just such a relationship which helps to make all things possible. Recalling that moment with Esperanza, I think back to the time when I was walking with Anaïs in a forest in the south of the Netherlands close to the Belgian border. A cyclist suddenly emerged from the bush behind us and Anaïs bolted but only briefly, coming to a halt not too far away. It was then that I realised the truth in Michael Bevilacqua’s words: a true relationship creates a “connection stronger than any rope or bridle” (Beyond the Dream Horse, p. 55). No, I do not yet have the relationship with Esperanza that will allow me to help her remove the green halter and return to the herd.

Yet stupidly I try. Why? Suddenly, I am conscious of the arrival of two women at the periphery of the cocoon of awareness that I share with Esperanza. They see what is happening, stop and lower themselves to the ground, where they sit and watch. Could this be the moment? There is this technique I know. It could work. For a tragic moment thought kicks in and breaks the spell, although I am not yet fully conscious of this. I have seen it done before and have employed it successfully on occasion myself. Employ indirect energy and casually but openly advance to do what needs to be done, as though it is the most normal thing in the world. Stupid! It is not the most normal thing to do with a semi-wild horse who is as vulnerable and sensitive as this mare. Esperanza spurts away. “Ego,” Vicki later says to me. I nod grimly.


Bridging the gap

Foolish. I realise it immediately, back off, soften and stand. So fragile, the connection with the mare has evaporated into the dry summer air. We are back to before where we started. Esperanza has disappeared within herself. We do not even have contact, let alone a connection. I wait, focusing once again on entering into the presence of the moment. Then I am there but alone. Contact, it is the first step. Without it there is nothing.

It is time for something controversial. In my relationship with horses I am not an equal, for ultimately it is me who decides on the parameters of my interaction with them and this confers on me a power and responsibility which I can use to abuse or to empower the horse before me. I choose to exercise it now, intent on healing my breach of her trust. Esperanza, we need to walk. She picks up on my energy before I am even close to her acceptable boundary and starts moving. As soon as she moves a few steps in response to me, I back off. She stops, looks at me, waits, then looks away. Bugger, I have really stuffed this up. The more we humans try to prove ourselves, the less we ultimately achieve. Here is a classic example to prove the adage.

Connection ... so strong, yet so fragile

Connection … so strong, yet so fragile

Being, this is what it must be. I focus, seek out the joy of life in this splendid afternoon, the warm dry air against my skin, the smell of horse, the clear blue sky holding the mountain in its calm embrace in the distance, the murmur of voices beyond my vision and there in front of me the wary mare. “Esperanza, come, let us walk together.” Although firm, my energy is more approachable. She yields and walks a few steps with me before I retreat, stand and soften. She looks at me, almost puzzled, blinks. We have contact. Now to rebuild our fragile trust. It takes as long as it does before her muzzle touches my hand again. I am fortunate to have managed to bridge the gap that I had created. But we are finished for today. Monica senses this as well and I hand the lead back to her as she approaches. The session is over. Thank you, Esperanza, for a lesson in humility and the power of being.



Over the next few days Monica makes headway with Esperanza. The mare even allows her to touch the green halter and Monica manages to loosen the buckle a bit, although a thick, stiff seam prevents her from undoing it completely. But at the end of it all, it is not really about the green halter, is it? If we had any doubts about this, they are dispelled when I arrive at the livery yard in the afternoon four days later. There is a horse standing in the round pen without a halter. I do a double take, look behind me and around and then turn back to the creature in front of me. It is her, Esperanza. Has Monica succeeded in removing the halter or has the mare managed to do this on her own? I ask Chantal, a yard staff member. She is as amazed as I am and runs off to alert Monica. I smile. No one but Esperanza will take credit for the removal of her green halter. She is the architect of her own liberation, for I sense that by feeding time she will be back in the herd.

Esperanza, the architect of her own liberation

Esperanza, the architect of her own liberation

Monica arrives feeling slightly cheated momentarily but exhilarated overall. This is good news for the horse but also for the humans whose company she seeks from time to time. Now that Esperanza has divested herself of the outward trappings of captivity, I instinctively sense that she will feel more secure in her approach to humans. She will feel safer, with the result that the humans whom she approaches will be safer. And because she feels safer, she will be more trusting, as will the humans.

Esperanza approaching me in the herd the day after her liberation

Esperanza approaching me in the herd the day after her liberation

A few days later Monica and I compare notes. Yes, Esperanza is daring to come to us more frequently, especially Monica, with whom she has the prospect of developing a trusting relationship. Esperanza, the word is Spanish for “hope”. And indeed, hers is a story of hope for horses and humans everywhere. But more than anything, I feel, it is a story which underscores the need for us humans to start the search for an empowering, liberating way of being with horses within ourselves. It has nothing to do with training (I recall Michael Bevilacqua’s words yet again: “Understanding and trust have nothing to do with training”), nor is there a need to constantly go out and prove ourselves either to horses or other humans. It simply starts with an unconditional commitment to the well-being of the horse and to relying on the power of being. All joy and beauty with the horse follow from this.

Esperanza at liberty with Monica - no umbilical cord required

Esperanza at liberty with Monica – no umbilical cord required


An afterthought

It comes to me later, the memory of our remote energy healing session in northern England a mere fortnight ago. Has it really helped Esperanza?



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6 Responses to “Esperanza and the Challenge of Being”

  1. Kelly Bick says:

    Another thought provoking piece of writing Andrew. Thank you.
    Thank you too to Monica for the light bulb of “if we ask horses to trust us, then we must trust the equally back”, so so true, but something we all so often do not do.
    And Andrew, for your articulation (and preparedness) to remind us so clearly of how ego and/or thinking it through more often than not comes along and spoils a perfect moment of being in the flow of the moment….been there, done that!

  2. Well… well … well …Andrew…step-by-step you are coming closer to ‘who do you Know yourself to be’ … way beyond ‘who do you think yourself to be’ …
    Extraordinary … truly extraordinary … thank you for sharing your journey with us all …

    Lots of love from Geerteke

  3. Kris says:

    So amazing! Thank you Andrew and Esperanza. ????

  4. Kris says:

    Oops! Those question marks were supposed to be heart emojis 🙂

  5. To be in contact,to be alive on this amazing path, thank you Esperanza and the human beiings who are surching for you. Beautifull real-life story.
    Love to both of you !

  6. Nancy Sgroi says:

    It’s lovely to read this story. The struggle to just BE is so much a part of the human condition. Thank you for writing this intimately detailed account . It’s heartwarming, clear and honest.