What my filly taught me

Kathie & Heidi, c. 1954

By Kathie MM

When I was thirteen, I tamed an outlaw horse named Heidi. She was pretty much a refugee from terror.

She was a small, beautiful, and initially rather wild Morgan horse who had been viciously beaten and neglected.

As a result of this mistreatment: she bucked ferociously as soon as someone mounted her; she rushed headlong into heavy underbrush trying to dislodge her rider; she jolted to sudden stops, pitching the rider forward; or, as a last resort, she dropped to her knees, then began to roll over onto  anyone trying to stay aboard.

I won her over through love and patience, long before anyone talked about “horse whisperers.” I stuck with her,  curried her, talked to her, and soothed her until she would accept me calmly, even joyfully, astride her.  Once I gained her trust, I rode her bareback  through the woods and onto beaches, using a hackamore bridle with no bit to pester her mouth.

Someone wrote an article about Heidi and me in the local paper.  I carried the clipping in my wallet for years ‑‑ long after the horrendous car accident, long after I couldn’t walk anymore.

During difficult teen times when I was hurt or upset ‑‑ at my mother, or father, or sister, or brothers, or some no good boyfriend– I would sit in the corner of Heidi’s box stall and feel sorry for myself. She would watch me for awhile, chewing her hay.  Finally, she’d come over and snuffle at my hair or cheek, and I would trundle back to civilization, feeling comforted.

Heidi & Kathie c. 1954

I learned a lot from Heidi–particularly, the rewards of being patiently persistent, kind, and understanding, and of working hard to earn trust.

I put myself in Heidi’s hooves, thinking how awful it must have felt to this magnificent, intelligent animal to be beaten and neglected, to nearly die from severe, untreated wounds, to have been grossly ill-treated by the human being who should have been taking care of her.

I learned als0 about the enormity of the love and empathy that could grow between very different beings who took a chance on each other, who didn’t assume from Day 1 that they already knew everything that needed to be known about the other.

I think these lessons contributed to the peace and non-violence advocate into which I evolved.  Patience, kindness, and empathy can serve many relationships with a vast range of “others.”



This entry was posted in Champions of peace, Ethic of reciprocity, Nonviolence, Perspective-taking, Reconciliation and healing, Stories of engagement and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What my filly taught me

  1. LB says:

    What a beautiful story, Kathie. It says so much about your ability to love, nurture and show compassion. Thanks for sharing it.

    I think it also says something about the value in a simpler way of living, one in which our direct connections to and effects on one another are more readily apparent.

    No matter how empathetic and well-intended we may be by nature, it can be near impossible to honor our interconnectedness in a complicated world where the choices we make frequently have negative consequences for those we can’t see or are unaware of.

    It’s something I think about all the time and why I make a point of acknowledging my complicity. Earlier today I read a terribly sad article about how the production of technology to create the things most of us take for granted (like the piece of equipment I’m using now to read and type this) are destroying lives and life:


    Like the direct and mutually rewarding, interdependent relationship you shared with your horse, indigenous cultures understood and understand this relationship to life in ways we’ve lost touch with.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks for submitting yet another great link, LB. Counterpunch is a great source–provides the kind of thought-provoking stories we do not often ee in the corporate media. I also agree with your comments about indigenous cultures and their engagement in life-affirming interdependent relationships. Their intimate relationship with Mother Nature has been poignantly demonstrated in their struggle against the earth-corrupting pipelines.

  2. Barbara says:

    If only the entire human race could learn this same lesson from Kathie’s relationship with her horse! Diplomacy and tact would be paramount when nations interacted. Quarrels and ill will over such issues as boundaries and fences and other disagreements would melt in the mutual warmth of smiles, handshakes, and pats on the back. Cooperation and compromise would trump greed and grossness.

  3. Ed Agro says:

    Terrific article, Kathie. Sometimes as activists we can forget that each one of us have lives outside of the incessant work. Very good to read about that time of your youth. – ed

  4. Chari Tsatsaroni says:

    What a beautiful story Kathie! Thank you for sharing such a lesson of life with all of us.
    So inspiring!

  5. Monica Bradsher says:

    Kathie, one summer when we were in college you invited me to visit and introduced me to Heidi. She was a very sweet mare indeed, and I was honored that you allowed me to ride her. What we hadn’t counted on was Heidi’s reaction to the huge white bandage you had around your head as you were recovering from ear surgery. When you came close, Heidi didn’t recognize you as her beloved Kathie. Her eyes rolled up and she took off down the road and through neighbors’ back yards! It took a lot of searching and phoning neighbors to find and recover the poor frightened horse. Diplomacy is a delicate business lasting many years and avoiding surprises!

  6. Teddy says:

    Hi Kathie! I just read your article about you and your horse. Having two rescue dogs myself I can relate to how gratifying it is to watch an abused and scared animal open up their heart to you and let their original loving nature come through. I would have loved to seen you two cruising the beaches of cohasset!

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