I first saw Eli on a gorgeous May day (we cling to memories of sun here in the Pacific Northwest). He stood quietly by a horse trailer, the picture of composure despite the horses milling around him--no doubt many of them mares in heat .
Eli is striking simply for his appearance--a tall bright chesnut with chrome to spare and plenty of hair. A Brad Pitt sort of horse you can't help oggling. What I fell for, however, was the look in his soulful Arabian eyes. There was something special there, something quiet, thoughtful, and kind. I had no doubt I was admiring a deeply intelligent animal.
Perhaps "love at first sight" is an idea some take for granted. I am not one of them. I only know this is what came to mind when I looked into that horse's eyes.
Immediately I walked to his side and raised my hand to stroke his shoulder. While his eye was calm and curious, Eli immediately arched his body away from my touch.
"He's a little touchy. Hasn't had much handling," the owner explained. I didn't care.
"If you ever want to sell him, please call me." The words came out of my mouth but later made no sense as I thought about Eli. I already had three horses, more than enough to use up all my spare time and money.
Six months later I made the trip to pick Eli up, feeling like a little girl getting her first pony. I couldn't wait to get my hands on him.
The first couple of days Eli made it clear his personal space was of utmost importance. He was a model equine citizen in the trailer, respectful on the lead line, and had been ridden a handful of times. The horse calmly accepted every sort of intrusion on the ground, including a friend's inspection of his studly jewels (an act horrifying to non-horse people). There didn't seem to be a spooky bone in his body. Yet, if given the choice, Eli was pretty sure he wanted to leave.
It was hard to give Eli his space. I wanted to bond with him--like immediately-- and was already planning our future "dates." Tevis cup, here I come (did I mention I've never completed even one endurance ride?). I forced myself to proceed slowly. Eli needed to decide for himself if and when he was ready to be with me.
About the fourth day after picking Eli up I took him out of the pasture. I simply wanted to spend some time with him--give him a good grooming and tape his height. Now, height is something Arabian owners are, in general, obsessed with. This is because the breed is not known for it's stature. Arabs are often advertised like this: "15 hands, barefoot" or "14'3 and 1/4 hands high." Eli is an exception to the standard, standing a solid (barefoot!) 15'2. But I wanted to tape, just to be sure.
When I approached him with the tape Eli didn't spook but made it clear he wasn't happy with the trailing white paper touching his body. I knew he would tolerate it, if I forced him, but this isn't the kind of relationship I want with the horse. I let him walk, and walk, on a 12 foot lead in circles around me while he decided what to do.
An hour later, Eli turned and faced me, ready to accept the tape and subsequent grooming which he seemed to enjoy. Watching the horse sort out his relationship to me was food for thought later on.
One of the wonderful, and frustrating, aspects of horsemanship is accepting that the horse is often a mirror of it's handler/rider. In this case, Eli's behavior is a mirror of my relationship to my Creator. I'm pretty bent on leavin' if He gets too close.
I'm amazed when I read the Bible and see just how crazy God really is about me. He sings over me, is delighted by me, wants to bond with me, thinks about me all the time, and promises his future plans for me are full of possibility and joy. Unfortunately, I'm too often content with him dropping my daily sustenance and going on his way. If he reaches his hand too close to my personal space, I'm leavin'.
One of my favorite jamming tunes is Paul Brandt's, "Leavin.' Really, if you haven't heard this song you need to--preferably turned up LOUD and spilling from your truck windows as you take off, horse trailer in tow, fleeing kids, housework, and all adult responsibilities. I guarantee you'll instantly become a dashboard drummer, even if you aren't a country music fan.
Paul Brandt sings a tune that echos my heart. Trouble is, I really need God. I know it, really I want it, I just have to let him into my personal space.
Yesterday I approached Eli as he was eating his hay. I reached up under his lush wavy mane and began scratching his neck. Instead of leaving, he leaned into my hands and pumped his neck up and down. Being close has its benefits.