Trading Graces - A Story of Gifts to and From the Other Side
Sir John Falstaff was my hero. He wasn’t just a horse . . . he was the most amazing, empathic, caring and perfect friend anyone could ever ask for. I got him when he was three, an oversized bay paint/draft cross with a sweet disposition and a shy eye. I lost him at age 14 to complications from coronavirus, and while a year has passed, not a day goes by that I don’t feel the pain of his absence. When Falstaff was alive, each morning I’d feed him breakfast then lead him up the hill to his paddock. After I removed his halter I’d wrap my arms around his neck and tell him he was my hero and that I loved him - and I meant it with all my heart and soul. Most days I’d lead him back down the hill to the barn to help me with one therapeutic riding lesson or another, knowing I could count on him to be perfect.
Because of Falstaff, many autistic adults learned to ride independently. Even if a rider couldn’t quite communicate what he wanted the horse to do, one word from me, or a gesture, or even a thought, and Fally would instantly comply. As gentle as he was with my special riders, he also was a skilled jumper and a better-than average dressage pony. Sure, he could get as wired up as any other horse, but the moment I asked him to shift gears and become a perfect gentleman, he’d settle right down and I’d pop a one-year old grandchild on his back. And did I mention he was handsome? Oh, so handsome . . .
It was, however, touch and go when we first got him, and for several years he bucked and crow-hopped with no warning, and seemingly no reason. I later discovered the woman I’d trusted to be his trainer (I worked long hours as a journalist at the time and learned the hard way to take time out to listen to my animals) was beating him and telling people that I was the reason Falstaff would buck her off and take off at a dead run, sometimes dumping her at the airport grounds and galloping a mile home – whatever it took to get away from her. Later, when he’d had enough of her abuse, he went “lame” for nearly a year, managing to avoid all contact with her. When I finally realized what a terrible person I had working with my animals and fired her, within 24 hours Fally completely recovered and went right back into work. Yes, he was also a very, very smart horse.
So, to lose him, this horse that was my partner in my work and in my life, was one of the most devastating moments I’d ever known. And yet, even in death, the gentle and wise Falstaff left me with a precious gift that I am only just beginning to understand.
People who are close to me know I have the ability to communicate with animals, both alive and crossed, humans who have crossed, as well as angels and elementals. It’s a gift that I hid, ignored, and dismissed and then downplayed for years. In my constant battle to be “normal” I did whatever I could to hide what I’d labeled a freakish oddity. My children knew and accepted it – growing up with me they didn’t know anything else. My husband, David, had a suspicion, but didn’t understand the full spectrum of my “specialness” until years after he’d married me and it was too late to run screaming into the night. My close circle of friends also had a clue, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that I began to publicly use my gifts, holding spirit circles on the farm and inviting friends to join in (and I only did that because The Farm, which has a spirit of its own, asked me to.) The truth is, I could very well be the world’s most reluctant medium, and would happily spend my entire life hiding out in a barn.
The day I finally cried, “Uncle!” and allowed all the voices to come pouring in (and there were a LOT of them) was almost a relief; keeping my guard up for so many years had been exhausting. Once I sorted them all out, I was amazed by who was on my side on The Other Side. One of the biggest and boldest guides to step forward was a Native American Chief named White Dove. As I expected, I also had many of my crossed-over relatives in the queue, a long list of very cool animals, a smattering of saints and, of course, angels. (As I reread what I just typed, I am laughing out loud, thinking what kind of crackpot believes she can see these things, and yet, to me, they are as real and visible as the pair of dogs now lying at my feet as write this.)