January 31st of 2014 ushers in the “Year of the Horse” in the Chinese calendar. It’s the year of the horse in more ways than one for me – the portrait above was one of my Christmas presents this year from Julia. It is, perhaps, the best present I have ever received.
The artist is Kevin Geary, an internationally known portrait artist with work hanging in museums around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The subject is Dahnaan, most often known as Mr. Moose, and rarely known by his registered name, Robin’s Raftery. He was, I am not ashamed to say, one of my best friends, and a teacher of great life lessons. Some day I will write a full description of how Dahnaan came into my life, and how he helped to make me a better person, but suffice it to say here that he was abused before he came to live with us. When I first met him he looked at me with those big eyes and sent me a clear message – “get me out of here.” So I did, with reluctant agreement from Julia. We were told that he was crazy, that he would have trouble with his feet as he got older, and that he was probably not going to be a long term “working” horse. All of that was true, but for 22 years he worked on me in ways that would make a therapist proud.
What did I learn from Dahnaan that I have tried to apply to relationships with my human friends and colleagues? I learned that true change, and true progress, come only with patience and understanding. I learned that trust is an output, not an input, and that generating trust takes the repetition of trustworthy behavior over time. I learned that consistently positive behavior, even in the face of great provocation, will be repaid with trust and respect, and perhaps even affection. I learned to look over the horizon to see what can be, beyond what is. I learned to assume goodness in others even when the goodness is hard to see. I learned to plan with my head, then lead with my heart.
As he was teaching me, his outlook on the world progressed from fear to self-confidence. When he first came to us, he would try to hide in the corner of his stall to keep from being abused. As I was learning my lessons about trust and patience and consistency, he developed a healthy and accepting self concept. Basically, he took his cue from us – if Julia and I were calm, everything was ok, even if the moral equivalent of bombs were going off around him.
As I write this, I can hear his deep nicker coming from the barn when we would drive up, and I can feel his big Quarter Horse jaw rubbing my shoulder as we stood together looking off into the field. I miss him, still.