Windhorse International Congratulates Bettina Drummond on Being Presented with the Rank of ‘Honorary Écuyer’ with
France’s Prestigious Cadre Noir!
The honor was bestowed on Bettina while in France attending a colloquia at the French National School of Equitation in Saumur, home of the Cadre Noir. While there, she also coached riders at the Cadre Noir and at Allege-Ideal. Bettina is only the second American to receive this honor. The other is George Morris. She is also only the second woman to be named Honorary Écuyer. The other is French Olympic dressage rider Margit Otto-Crépin.
Bettina was honored not only for her skill and talent as a rider and trainer but also for her years of dedication in promoting the French system of classical riding. Read more about the honorary award and see the photos by clicking here.
Bettina Drummond offers clinics and retreat opportunities for adult amateurs here at Windhorse International. Please read more about her and her program to advance the opportunities of young riders, professionals and adult amateurs at: www.apaha.us
Please consider donating to her organization: THE ASSOCIATION FOR THE PROMOTION OF THE ART OF HORSEMANSHIP IN AMERICA a registered 501 (3) c (pending) corporation.
The Association for the Promotion of the Art of Horsemanship in America (APAHA) is dedicated to supporting educational opportunities that advance horsemanship as an art form in America. By providing opportunities for professional riding teachers and trainers to learn on trained horses, APAHA is working to ensure that horsemanship as an art form is preserved for future generations. Visit apaha.us for more information on this amazing organization.
Mindfulness of the Masters: Nuno Oliveira and Bettina Drummond through Buddhist Eyes
By Brian Noell (email@example.com)
Glasses tink. Guests in the bohemian equivalent of evening attire shift in their seats at the Brooklyn performance space of the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. The salad course concludes, and the MC riffs, as a black-donned horsewoman on a white stallion enters the cargo door from the street, eyes shaded under Spanish slouch hat. Music swells. The pair, as one, passage and piaffer, zagging among the diners. Tail slashes a bare shoulder here, an upheld phone camera there, in the flawless execution of classical dressage’s signature movements. Marching, cantering, stopping on a dime, the horse marks time of the brooding loops of song, and, as the music fitfully ebbs, the pair stride backwards into the urban twilight.
The shadowy rider, whose presence is muted by stillness of body and inwardness of attention, is Bettina Drummond, living master of the French School of dressage, student of its greatest modern proponent, Nuno Oliveira. In an equine discipline that has become a professional sport and whose practitioners frequently prize show scores over the bond that keeps horsemanship alive despite anachronism, Bettina is an artist. She is recognized as such this May evening in 2012 by choreographer Elizabeth Streb’s eponymous organization.
Appearing on stage after a quick costume change into floral print dress and heels, Bettina accepts the Action Maverick award with a salvo on behalf of dressage. Despite the notoriety it earned during the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, dressage risks extinction, if not as a sport, as form of creative expression. It seems the bodily communion on display in the decidedly un-extreme discipline is lost on a public with little experience of horses and even less of the subtle grace exhibited in a performance such as Bettina’s.
The Buddhist lexicon has an abundance of words to describe what was on display that spring evening in Brooklyn. Texts associated with shamatha, the variety of sitting meditation whose employment 2600 years ago enabled the historical Buddha to reach enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree, speak of “concentration” as the capacity to “abide” or “remain” with a chosen object for an extended period of time. The mental glue holding the attention on the chosen object is “mindfulness”, which is cultivated through persistent practice and leads to the capacity for concentration of the sort Bettina consistently evinces in her riding. Artists, athletes, and meditators are not the only ones who experience this state. We all have encounters with mindfulness in daily life. In our vernacular we call it “the zone”, a state of knowing that transcends thought but which endows the individual with great foresight and precision of action.
Mindfulness is a word whose stock has risen sharply in response to numerous studies exhibiting the benefits of its cultivation in study and work. This is not to mention the considerably desirable by-product of personal satisfaction. Monks who indulge scientists by submitting to brain-wave imaging are regularly touted in the media as the world’s happiest people, while the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan has received bemused respect for the “Gross National Happiness” index it uses to measure its national prosperity. Now Fortune 500 companies, the medical establishment, and even the Pentagon are taking up the banner, boosting research funding and contributing their prestige. The cover story in a February 2014 issue of the popular news magazine Time asserts that a “Mindful Revolution” is afoot in America.
On a frigid mid-winter afternoon at Windhorse International in Bethlehem CT, after a day of training which includes a half-hour session with Que Macho, the stallion with whom she performed at Streb, Bettina recalls the astonishing mindfulness of her own teacher. Even as an alienated teenager who doubted that horses would remain part of her life, she always was struck by Nuno Oliveira’s ease in the saddle: “Because of his lack of stress, because he knew which way to go with the mind, his body rode and suggested to the horse that these combinations were incredibly easy, no different than walking across the field. And that to me is the mark of truly someone who has mastered themselves internally…There was a quiet joy and a conviction and a feeling that the horse and the rider could jump out of their skin but chose to remain there quietly. That, I thought, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”
Such “peaceful abiding” is also what Buddhist practitioners seek in shamatha meditation. The object of attention taken by shamatha practitioners in different communities may vary (it might be the breath, the navel, a Tibetan letter, or a representation of the Buddha). In all schools, however, one rests one’s attention without distraction on the chosen object. As one Tibetan master, Bokar Rinpoche, emphasizes, “It is simple attention which implies neither analysis nor commentary.” So, if one’s object is a statue, one does not spend the meditation session considering its various qualities: the folds of the robe, the expression of the face, or the shimmer of the gold. The sign of accomplishment in the practice is that the appearance of the object is “clear and precise”. If the mind is drifting off, on the other hand, the object will be indistinct.
It might seem counterintuitive that resting attention on but not analyzing an object would enable us to perceive it with clarity. Indeed, we usually think that examining specific qualities and characteristics enables us to understand something better. However, if we consider what Buddhist teachers call “post-meditation”, i.e. applying the techniques off the cushion, we see the benefits of the non-analytical approach to experience.
Bokar Rinpoche uses the example of the bustling city, which one tends to think of as deleterious to the state of inner calm cultivated by the meditator. Yet, if we meet urban sounds with attention, rather than categorizing them as brash, obnoxious, and loud, they retain the quality of freshness and precision. As a result, we experience no distraction, frustration, or exhaustion, and we nip in the bud our rush-hour suffering. On the other hand, if we constantly evaluate, analyze, and characterize sonic experience (“that siren hurts my ears”, “why are those taxis blaring their horns?”, “that kid will go deaf from his car sound system”), not only does the quality of our perception dull, we fall prey to the disturbing emotions that are the source of commuter stress.
The masters of the Tibetan tradition insist that the objects of distraction, with adequate preparatory training, can and should become supports of our meditation. We can learn to rest our attention on them, to be fully present, without making the judgments that lead us into mental suffering and all the evasive and addictive habits that prevent us from experiencing life at its fullest. Like Oliveira on his mount, we can abide without jumping out of our skin and thus generate an effect that others also experience positively. Just as Bettina could not help but admire her teacher’s ease, so can we be a source of solace and inspiration to others merely by quieting our minds.
Buddhist authors for centuries have used the horse as a metaphor for the mind. Untamed, it is wild and unpredictable. In the early stages of training, it repeatedly throws its rider. Conventional wisdom suggests that, in order for it to be serviceable, it either should be indulged or beaten. But these strategies merely mask instability. Without techniques for addressing the underlying cause of the disturbance, the mind is subject to the vagaries of emotion. It has no constancy, no steadiness, and no happiness. It is dangerous and unreliable.
However, the horse also represents energy and effort in Buddhist practice. The great eleventh-century yogi, Milarepa, acknowledged the mind’s tremendous potential with an equine metaphor:
In the mountain hermitage which is my body,
In the temple of my breast
At the summit of the triangle of my heart,
The horse which is my mind flies like the wind.
He gallops on the plains of great bliss.
If he persists, he will attain the rank of a victorious Buddha.
Going backward, he cuts the root of samsara;
Going forward he reaches the high land of buddhahood.
Astride such a horse, one attains the highest illumination.
This vision captures the native exuberance of horses, with which Bettina has sought union since her childhood, when she began to imbibe Oliveira’s teachings. Bettina’s mother, an avid rider, encountered the master during the 60s in France, where the family then was living. She was so smitten with his riding and eventually with the man himself that she sent her daughter to attend school in Portugal, where she immediately began taking lessons with him. All in all, Bettina spent 17 years apprenticed to Oliveira, becoming one of the few disciples authorized to disseminate the master’s teachings.
The fact that she began her apprenticeship as a child was a distinct advantage, since she had not yet adopted the predilection of adults to control and modify the behavior of others in order to remain safely within their preconceptions. Her child’s mind came to an intuitive understanding of one of Oliveira’s essential teachings: “going with the horse’s moods on horseback until you found that point where you teeter-tottered over the mood and you could redirect it.” Once the veil of the horse’s outward expression was pierced through mindfulness, Bettina was in a position to recognize and then work with the energy that produced it.
The horse’s joy is in movement. In Oliveira’s view, the rider’s task is not to contain, but to direct and concentrate this exuberance, enabling it to carry out its natural movements with control, precision, and, above all, satisfaction. Dressage is a delicate art, and recognizing the unspoken communion between bodies, the exquisite execution of half pass and flying changes is easy to miss. No soaring over hurdles, no sprint to the finish, only mindful impulsion and relaxed collection. The movements of concentrated horse and attentive rider do not express themselves as exertion, but rather elegance and grace, the cues of the human maestro imperceptible by design to all but her collaborator in the mindful dance.
The most recent Tibetan Buddhist teacher to avail himself of the equine metaphor is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who now leads his father Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala organization and is himself an accomplished horseman. He begins his book Turning the Mind into an Ally with the story of a trail ride on a favorite mount, who was inexperienced in the backcountry. The trail traversed a precipice, and the horse, unsure of himself, looked to his partner for guidance. As they proceeded, Rinpoche hedged, leaning toward the adjacent cliff face. Sensing potential abandonment, the animal’s agitation increased. The rider shifted his weight back to center, restoring the unspoken bond, and the two reached safety together.
Commenting on the experience, Rinpoche writes, “It’s that kind of connection that I think we can all have with our minds. In shamatha meditation- ‘peaceful abiding’- we train our minds in stability, clarity, and strength. Through this most basic form of sitting meditation, we discover that we can abide peacefully. Knowing our natural peace is the basis for any spiritual path- the beginning and the ground for anyone courageous enough to seek true happiness.”
Nuno Oliveira’s concerns were comparable. In order for the innate qualities of joy and pliancy to emerge in the horse, the rider’s mind must be quieted. Like the great Buddhist masters, Olievera’s teaching was non-linear. Students often were puzzled by his abrupt shifts of focus, even when they had not mastered a technique on which they were working in a lesson. Bettina says that for him, “It wasn’t about getting the movement right or even the point of balance. It was getting so that your imbalances didn’t throw the whole end result out of whack.” The first step in riding was quietness of mind and receptiveness to the horse. The technical components were of secondary concern. Their mastery, to a significant extent, was an extension of a mental disposition.
Bettina’s discipleship was an odd one. As a preteen she was placed upon Oliveira’s client horses because her quiet mind didn’t disturb them while he worked them from the ground. Then, because of her adult-like bodily proportions and childish fearlessness, she was tapped to ride young horses that Oliveira’s son did not wish to train as well as recalibrating lesson horses “mucked up” by inexperienced riders. Dressage in Europe, unlike in the United States, was, and is, a predominantly male endeavor, and the master had no intention to mentor the precocious girl, attentive and courageous though she was. She was merely the right fit for jobs that needed doing.
A twelve-year old ever-present in the barn with a revolving cast of adults obsessed with the minutiae of dressage, Bettina became increasingly bored. Oliveira pointed this out to her mother, who provided one of her lesser horses as a companion. When Oliveira began to point out the animal’s weaknesses, Bettina set out to “help her friend”. Her interest in dressage grew out of the relationship with the animal entrusted to her, and Oliveira began jokingly referring to her as “dear colleague” for the care she put into the training regimen. Oliveira also discovered Bettina’s interest in breeding and, though she was still a preteen, began bringing her on forays to scout horses for his clients, which she identifies as the first stage of true apprenticeship.
Oliveira, who died in 1989, was one of the last masters of classical dressage, continuing in the spirit of the great horsemen of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. His aphoristic masterpiece, Reflections on Equestrian Art, whose English translation was produced by Bettina’s mother, Phyllis Field, reveals his philosophy. His emphasis is on non-duality. When the horse achieves a state of ease, it needs no display of force to respond to the requests of its rider. “Equestrian art,” Oliveira writes, “is the perfect understanding between the rider and his horse. This harmony allows the horse to work without any contraction in his joints or in his muscles, permitting him to carry out all movements with mental and physical enjoyment as well as with suppleness and rhythm.”
Non-duality between horse and rider results in a receptive and happy mount, just as mindfulness enables the meditator to remain flexible and joyful. The shamatha teachings insist that, when the mind strays, one should gently bring it back to the object of attention. Under no circumstances should one fixate on the object, or beat oneself up because the attention will not hold. The purpose is the same as Oliveira’s: to enable the natural qualities of the mind to emerge on their own, through guidance, rather than commanding mere obedience. Like the training of a spirited horse, enlightenment is not to be achieved by force.
The disciplined movements of dressage, like sitting cross-legged in meditation for long periods, are hardly “natural”. Rather they are “skillful means” to bring the horse to confront habits, fears, and blockages that keep him from fully expressing himself. Bettina attests that Oliveira was entranced by the horse’s innate qualities, “but he would groom it into this unnatural way of being. I mean, let’s face it, a horse piaffes or sits up on its hind legs: it’s not natural. But the horses kept that joy and awareness and eagerness because it was that interplay between the two life forces.”
The horseman and the meditator both experience resistance as they make new demands of their mounts. But just as the great lamas say that the foundational practice of shamatha meditation should never be abandoned even when taking on so-called higher practices, Oliveira councils regular return to fundamentals: “The good rider is…he who, on seeing the resistance rise up, knows how to return to the beginning, to the preparatory exercises, until he has obtained the flexibility and relaxation necessary to start the exercise he is trying to teach.”
Oliveira refused to pursue acclaim in equitation, for making animals into technically accomplished automatons violated his sense of artistry, not to mention his genuine affection for horses of all sorts. Bringing about union between horse and rider was a much greater reward. While others might pursue dressage as a sport, Oliveira was seeking something more sublime, more transcendent.
For many years Bettina was an “acolyte”, who nary expressed her opinion in the master’s presence. After all, she was a child, and it was the nature of the pedagogical environment in Portugal that young students, particularly those who had the misfortune of being female, were not to complain or request special treatment. Yet, by her teens, Bettina was increasingly dissatisfied with living in a remote medieval village surrounded by emotionally vulnerable individuals drawn to Oliveira’s charisma and artistic vision.
Bettina says that Oliveira’s ability to captivate those who recognized his artistry was uncanny. Even she, who describes herself as cultivating a removed and waspish air in those years, would feel emotionally rung out by the dazzling performances of the master’s peak career. Like a rock star, he had the ability to manipulate admirers and often pushed his students to their emotional limits in criticism. His fury, like that of horses themselves, was contingent and momentary. Yet students, brittle of ego and grasping at what they perceived to be summary judgment, reacted with fear, frustration, and even despair. There was no respite from the churning emotions surrounding him, and he lost a number of talented students from driving hard at their sensitivities.
At 16 Bettina was tapped to ride at clinics on behalf of the master and even was put on Oliveira’s premier mounts, performing before cavalry officers and the discipline’s elites at the most prestigious dressage forums in Europe. Yet, being yet an adolescent, and female at that, Bettina was seen merely as a receptacle for Oliveira’s genius and never received her due from the mostly male audiences. This assessment accorded with Oliveira’s worldview as well. It seemed to Bettina that he valued his students only insofar as they reflected his own priorities and predilections, rather than as individuals with interests and paths of their own.
The inability to express her own emerging artistic vision became stifling, and Bettina sought other teachers to broaden and deepen her understanding as well as rekindle her love of horsemanship lost in the desire to please her master. Her sojourn confirmed the soundness of Oliveira’s approach and led her to return periodically for aid with particular challenges she faced in her riding. As soon as she felt confident enough to ask the right questions, informed by her own studies and personal explorations, she began to rekindle her appreciation, not only for his teaching, but also for the beauty of his riding.
Bettina’s continuing pursuit of Oliveira’s established way has as much to do with her intuitive understanding as her mastery of technique. She, too, shuns competition in favor of harmony between mount and mindful rider. She literally feels the teachings in her body, knows them through experience, and thus feels qualified to pass them on. She has said, “I am able to understand, at least partially, the drive of his philosophy through the horses as opposed to through his books or his personality. I hope that I am able to impart the physical teachings.” Yet the experiential understanding of what Oliveira taught her is hers alone. She instructs from the perspective of a woman who has worked through her own particular set of challenges. Moreover, the adult amateurs she presently teaches have different needs than the more experienced riders she worked with in the past. These days Bettina finds herself emphasizing physical awareness, which, she believes can be accomplished through mindfulness and the knowledge of one’s partner, whose capacities often go unappreciated by those who, unconsciously or not, see the horse as a fool or a drudge.
Those of us working on the ground with the animals at Windhorse International face similar challenges as Bettina’s students, and it was the farm’s founding principle to provide opportunities for Buddhhist practitioners to cultivate mindfulness in caring for horses, our companions on the path to enlightenment. Lapsed attention does not merely lead to mishaps like stomped toes and head-butts; it can result in serious injury to the handler, not to mention the horse him/herself, when the animal becomes agitated enough to lose its presence of mind. Managing fear, disquiet, or willfulness before they manifest as rearing, kicking, or bolting, can prevent injury to both horse and human.
Aside from minor incidents picking hooves, I have been kicked only once by a horse. Early in our process at Windhorse, when we had only four small paddocks and as many animals, we were leading the mares in a group to the barn via a back trail. Usually, moving like this has a calming effect on herd animals, nervous about being left alone and eager for the meal awaiting them in the stall. At the time, we were all relative novices, and I was an outright rookie. Yet, I had drawn Sonrisa, the most settled and compliant of our unruly cohort, and my mind wandered over the landscape, every corner of which was then fresh and fascinating. The wind was up, which unnerved the horses as we led them through a narrow passage between hill and wood line. Failing to note the rising fear, the next thing I knew I was doubled over in pain. The blow to my thigh (fortunately, no lower or higher) was of such force that I was unable to work for a week and for a month sported a bruise the size of a softball. Not only did I fail to see it coming, I never perceived the movement of the horse’s hind leg. It was a total shock, like being struck by lightning on a clear day. Considering that I was a practitioner, it shouldn’t have been. All events are produced by causes and conditions, and drifting off into thought blinds us to their unfolding.
Working with horses provides constant reminders that one’s responsibility is mindful attention to one’s own body in relation to theirs and sensitivity to the signs that manifest as a consequence of the interrelation. According to Oliveira, the rider’s role in the relationship is “always feeling, accompanying and aiding the horse’s every step, movement or gesture.” The master called this sensitivity “tact”. The result of acknowledging to the horse that something was well performed was the calm, confident, and pleasurable response to further demands. These requests, he suggests, should not be piled up quickly, but rather increased slowly. Any haste or coercion will only result in compliance out of trepidation and apathy, rather than out of the pleasure in work that comes with the repeatedly fulfilling achievable requirements.
Similarly, the mind has an innate spaciousness that meditation practice uncovers rather than generates. A common metaphor for it is the blue sky obscured by the clouds of mental disturbance. It reveals itself naturally when the conditions are present for them to part, allowing us to live joyfully in the vastness of possibilities. Harsh training, as the Buddha himself affirmed, discourages the mental pliability conducive to contentment and accomplishment. Likewise, the horse has inner qualities that can be spoiled by compulsion. Oliveira asserts, “The more the horse is pushed, the more his fire becomes extinguished. The hallmark of good dressage training, which is ease and dexterity, will be taken from him.”
Bettina’s descriptions of the “zone” Oliveira and his horses entered is familiar to a Buddhist practitioner who has had the good fortune to experience the quiescence of his own mount, the mind. She says:
In the moments he had it, the joy radiated from him and the horses loved it. The pride in the horses as well as the oomph that they put into that moment of unity and classical perfection was incredible. It was so much classical perfection and control that the horse looked like he was restored to the natural fluidity without a rider on his back. Things came out full circle…What Mr. Oliveira was seeking, the Zen ideal, was bringing the horse back to its natural state with as little interference or effort as possible.
Like the great masters of Buddhism, Oliveira had a reverence for tradition and for the texts that carry it. Technique, particularly the rider’s seat, was crucial for him. But he did not adhere with attachment to any particular philosophy of riding. He gives voice to the middle way cultivated in both religious traditions when he says, “By reading, riding, and meditating, great results may be obtained if there is a true feeling for the horse, provided the rider’s seat is good, without following exactly all the details of any one method. It must not be forgotten that there is no infallible method, nor a method that is completely bad, and that bad or good as these methods may be, it is in the end the rider who counts.”
As she grew as a rider and came to know her own preferences, Bettina initially failed to recognize the wisdom in freedom from categorical constraints. Attracted to the French classical school and its aesthetic effect, Bettina was unsettled to see her master using German techniques, which she had been trained to view as rigid and unattractive. She did not yet realize that the outer expression differed from the inner disposition. In reality, the Oliveira philosophy of relaxation and union of horse and rider were present whatever the physical manifestation, and it took her years to distill the essence of this teaching.
There is no doubt that Oliveira’s distinctive variety of mindfulness on horseback was consistent with shamatha meditation and produced astounding aesthetic results, but did it lead to self-knowledge and the unbinding of confusion as it does in the Buddhist tradition? Bettina describes the master as being consumed by his art, which distanced him from his family and complicated his relationships with colleagues and students. He was uncompromising in his ideals and unbridled in the expression of his preferences. Many a student was laid low by his dissatisfaction. Bettina was one of the few whose independence was tolerated, and even she was pushed to her limits in an effort to please him. And when his students turned professional or went their own way, he often comported himself badly, unable to support them in their chosen paths or forego the fact that he was the teacher. He simply could not acknowledge that his students had assimilated his instruction and become teachers to others.
He even abandoned Bettina’s mother, his long-time patron and close friend, when illness finally consumed her. Bettina describes thinking at the time that he was like a bird throwing itself repeatedly against a glass window, self-destructive in bewilderment. Like an actor or a magician, he had always been the object of attention, needing to act the part and produce wonder, so he never developed the capacity to attend to others. Now he was at a loss as to how to respond supportively to the needs of his friend. Bettina speculates that this paralysis may have had something to do with his lifelong focus on animals. “The more you listen to horses the less you hear human beings in the right wavelengths,” she says.
Bettina, then in her twenties, finally had something to offer the master, and their personal bond grew stronger over mutual sorrow. Even though her family had turned against Oliveira for his apparent callousness, Bettina understood that, in this particular case, the master could not master himself. They began to talk of things other than riding, and though Oliveira could never abandon the formality of a self-made man who spent his life imitating the manners of aristocrats, he nevertheless found solace in revealing something of his inner life to someone he believed to be “a much older soul than I am.”
To Bettina, Oliveira was a “broadcasting station” drawing all sorts of creative people to himself: musicians, dancers, opera singers, teachers of language and history were all part of his circle. In her youth, Bettina had been a good fit because by disposition she was more of a “receiving station”, imbibing the teachings without question or complaint. After the traumas of his later life, he too wanted to “receive”, however late it might have been to learn the ways of men. He mellowed, immersed himself in the lives of his grandchildren, and became more prone to express affection, not only to Bettina, but to the working students he trained after her.
Bettina suspects that, for better or worse, Oliveira’s art was his religion:
He didn't talk about, he lived it. He was like the centaur. Riding was a full contact art like the martial arts. Full contact with the emotions, spirit and thoughts with the animal. And the animal was the relationship that understood, like the relationship with God. There was an assumption of reception of what he was broadcasting and back again. He was the consummate broadcaster. He needed the horses to absorb that and to teach him to listen and sit back. He wasn't a listener to people. I think his riding was his way of broadcasting out to God.
In Buddhism, students learn that looking inward is the only honest way of assessing one’s progress along the path. Similarly, for Nuno Oliveira and Bettina Drummond following in his footsteps, outsiders can never accurately assess one’s riding. For both of these masters, the horse is the only qualified critic. As Oliveira wrote to her after the last of her clinics that he attended, “It is not the crowd of riders or the judges that really judge you, it is the horse’s grateful expression and supple body when you get off that is your ultimate judge.”
It is telling that Oliveira saw the horse as the arbiter, the one with the intuitive wisdom to guide the rider to transcendence. Yet, he also was the trainer of the horse, just as the meditator trains the mind in shamatha practice. Horses are distinctive in their desire to please, to try, particularly when properly schooled, to respond to the rider’s every demand. Animals with supple minds yield to such requests with innate eagerness and energy. In this way they are not different from Bodhisattvas who have undergone rigorous mind training in order to use their life to serve others.
In his memoir, the twentieth-century Tibetan master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche recounts a story of his youth, in which he chanced to see the leader of the Kagyu lineage, the sixteenth Karmapa, as he travelled through the eastern province of Kham. Believed to be an incarnation of a Buddhist teacher, the great master’s horse was renowned for the boons he would bestow on the faithful. In the Tibetan tradition, teachers give benedictions by touching the crown of the believer’s head, and the local people were lining up to receive such a blessing from the horse. Fearing a forceful blow, the young man deferred, but witnessed person after person bend to offer the traditional white scarf or khata to the horse, receiving the gentlest tap in response. Tulku Urgyen later heard that the horse died in the manner of a lama, remaining in an attitude of meditation for some time after his vital signs had ebbed.
Milarepa. The 100, 000 Songs of Milarepa. Trans. Losang P. Lhalungpa. Quoted in Ven. Jampa Choskyi, “Symbolism of Animals in Buddhism” Buddhist Himalaya, 1/1 Summer 1988. http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm.
Murdoch, Wendy. “Bettina Drummond talks about Mr. Nuno Oliveira” Eclectic Horseman 1 and 2 (2001). http://www.eclectic-horseman.com/content/view/52/92/
Oliveira, Nuno. Reflections on Equestrian Art. Trans. Phyllis Field. London: J.A. Allen, 1976.
Sakyong Mipham. Turning the Mind into an Ally. New York: Riverhead, 2003.
Tulku Urgyen. Blazing Splendor: The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Trans. Erik Pema Kunzang and Marcia Binder Schmidt. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2005. Quoted in http://www.khandro.net/animal_horse.htm.