Reconnecting with horse nation

In September of 2015, a friend and I traveled from Nebraska, where we had attended a hearing to stop a uranium mining permit, to South Dakota for the Black Hills Unity Concert. We arrived very late at night and slept in our car. I woke up the next morning to the sound of horses. I jumped up out of the car and said, “There are horses here! Can you hear them?”

We started off straightaway to look for the horses and eventually found them. I walked into the pen to get closer to them and, after visiting a bit, I began petting them. As we walked back to the gate, I told her the story about having a horse as a babysitter when I was a baby. As I finished the story, the two horses that I had been petting walked up behind me and started nuzzling me, up and down each side of my body. I raised my arms and they continued nuzzling me all over with their heads. I was transported back to that time as a baby and the sense of security I got from the warm breath and velvety nuzzling of my horse babysitter.

My friend was amazed. We both got goosebumps.

The horse trainer, who had watched this encounter, walked up and said, “You need to meet the owner of these horses.” So he took me to meet her. Within minutes she had gifted me two horses.

The horses at the Unity Concert had been taken there to hold spiritual space and to administer healing for the people. I think they felt me when I told the babysitter story to my friend. They felt my connection to them. Maybe they could feel I was once loved and cared for by a horse, and they caressed me to remind me that I am loved and not forgotten by the horse nation.

The horses I met that day were very special. Despite the colonized version of horse history in American found in the history books, archaeologists, zoologists, and scholars now understand and accept that the horse originated in the Americas and later spread from the Americas into Europe and Asia. With this unexpected gift I joined a small but dedicated group of Native and Non-Native preservationists who are stewards of the Indigenous Horse of the Americas.

Later the owner and I met again and she increased the gift to an entire herd of horses. These horses are never sold, they are only gifted to people whom the horses have chosen—that’s the mandate of her horse program.

Many months later I traveled to Sacred Way Sanctuary to pick my herd. I am blessed to be able to return the care afforded to me by my granny’s old horse to the horses I have now. I’ve come full circle—I now take care of a family of horses that sustain me, help me grow, and heal and nurture me.

I believe that meeting the horses at the Black Hills Unity Concert was a divine calling to be reunited with the horse nation.

If you’d like to support Cheryl’s work and her preservation of a small herd of indigenous horses, please click here to donate.

My first babysitter

My close connection to horses started when I was just a baby. My mom had serious heart disease and wasn’t able to care for me, so my dad took me to his childhood home to be cared for by his mother. She lived way out in the grasslands of South Dakota, on a plateau overlooking the badlands.

I didn’t see my mother again until much later. She moved to Omaha, Nebraska for treatment and survived one of the first open heart surgeries in America. In the end, miraculously, her heart lasted longer than her body did.

At my grandmother’s house, I grew up in a crib pushed next to an open window. The view of the grasslands outside my window became my worldview. My first memories were of hot breath on my face, velvety caresses, and a bell. My grandmother had hung a bell outside the cabin, run a cord from the bell through the window, and tied it to my ankle. When I kicked and kicked, the bell would ring and my nearly deaf granny would hear it and come take care of me. I learned to pull on the cord to ring the bell. Sadly, granny passed away while I was still young, before I could thank her for loving me and caring for me during her last days. I imagine she had many burdens because she was so old, but I like to think I made her smile.

I survived that way for my first two winters. After my granny passed, I had a new babysitter—a horse. It was his hot breath and velvety nose and mouth that I remember. His loving presence sustained me while my dad worked many long hours in the fields. I would ring the bell and the horse would gallop to the open window to look in on me. If I was inconsolable and he could not comfort me, he would race off looking for my father. Whenever my dad saw the horse running to him, he knew I needed him at home.

Soon my mom had fully recovered from her surgery and I was returned to her. My dad had a new wife, so I never saw that horse again. But I will never forget him. As I grow older, I appreciate more and more the care I was given by those two elders in their last days—my granny and her old horse, my first babysitter.

If you’d like to support Cheryl’s work and her preservation of a small herd of indigenous horses, please click here to donate. 

[Personal Photo: Cheryl Angel works closely with Horse Nation and is now passing on this love to the next generation of her family.]