of "She flies Without Wings" by Mary D. Midkiff
reprinted from The Denver Post, May 6, 2001
Cate Terwilliger, Staff Writer
May 06, 2001 - BOULDER - Framed in Mary D. Midkiff's office
is an old photograph of a little girl caught in midfantasy.
Wide-eyed and smiling in patent leather shoes and her best dress,
she's clutching a sterling trophy bowl, surrounded by the world
to which she almost belongs - the horse aristocracy of Kentucky.
years later, the author, who lives high in the foothills outside
of town, recalls sitting the rails and haunting the periphery
of the Lexington Junior League Horse Show, hoping she'd be allowed
to step in if one of the designated trophy girls failed to materialize.
It was then her only route to the spotlight; though respected
horse people, Midkiff's family lacked the wealth required for
admission to the Bluegrass State's equine elite.
night, she could pretend, and her moment came when the world's
grand champion five-gaited horse - a dazzling red mare named
My-My - was announced. Shutters clicked, flashbulbs fired, and
the photo that would adorn the grown woman's study was secure.
I look at it, I savor again its deliciousness, but also taste
bitter with the sweet," Midkiff writes in "She Flies
Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman's Soul" (Delacorte
Press, $23.95 hardcover). "I was, after all, just the stand-in
- good enough to hand out a prize if the "right' person
failed to show but not qualified to compete or to be chosen
as presenter for my own merits."
long ago left behind outsider status. These days, she is firmly
at home in the world of horses and humans, having made a career
of cultivating a bond between the two species. Her new book
is a literary extension of the Women & Horses workshops
Midkiff has taught across the country for 10 years. An earlier
volume, "Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian,"
detailed the ideas undergirding that program.
and horses have always been drawn to one another," Midkiff
writes in the new book's introduction. "They rode together
in Greek myth and Celtic poem, Native American legend and Wild
any suburban library today, the children's and young adult's
sections are literally stuffed with horse stories, most of them
written for girls. ... Women and horses emerge in life and literature
as a huge tribe of spiritual sisters."
to male tradition
from her lifelong experience and that of other female equestrians,
Midkiff's book traces how horses engage women body, heart and
soul. That's a profound contrast to the traditional male relationship
with the animals, which - with the exception of a few horse
whisperers and men from Snowy River - has been largely functional.
come from such a strong male tradition, a work and war ethic,"
notes Midkiff, 45. Similarly, the interspecies relationship
has been ruled by a paradigm that stresses domination and brute
force - an approach that has not come naturally to women, who
make up 80 percent of the contemporary horsey set in America.
you into submission' has been the male paradigm, but more horses
are not responding to traditional training," says Joyce
Leake, an animal communicator in Kiowa. "Women ... were
told to do it that way, but a portion of those women has never
liked it, has always felt there was something amiss or awry
equestrian philosophy relies instead on a more egalitarian,
intuitive relationship - familiar ground for horses and women
have developed a talent for reading nonverbal cues," she
often compare riding a horse to learning a foreign language,
the difference being that it is a language learned through observation
and touch rather than sound and speech.
have a way of polishing this instinctive knack to a high art.
... (They) compel us to develop alternative ways of reading
one another and, in the process, give us an additional language
we can use effectively in the world of our human relationships."
with a horse tends to bring out qualities that resonate with
or attract women, Midkiff says: sensuality, commitment, creativity,
danger, power, nurturance, compassion, spirituality, acceptance,
seasonal cycles and freedom.
I think back over my own life with horses and talk to women
who share the same sense of connection, what emerges is that
our relationships with horses are taking us to new levels of
personal confidence and power, teaching us compassion and acceptance,
and showing us more natural ways to resolve problems in our
daily lives," the author writes.
author, the woman-horse bond is particularly strong with mares,
whose monthly estrus cycles and hormonal fluctuations contribute
to an emotional complexity many women share. Over the years,
her own animals - including Theo, the thoroughbred she currently
owns - have all been mares.
horses can also offer women an experience Midkiff describes
show up at the barn after work, after school ... and there's
a power there that completely cleanses you and restores you
to who you are as an animal and a soul," she says.
sitting on top of a 16-hand (64-inch) horse that can run 35
to 40 mph has to be one of the most uplifting experiences. Plus,
it puts you in a place where (human) strength doesn't matter.
... Whatever is depleted or missing in us, a horse replaces."
the moment are worries that weight many women - shame over less-than-perfect
personal appearance, anxiety about bills and providing for children,
concerns about physical safety, and other pitfalls perpetuated
by a larger society that degrades and devalues the feminine.
OK about yourself'
a relationship with such a powerful, graceful animal allows
women to instead tap into the sensuality, freedom and possibility
they felt as girls. "It makes you feel OK about yourself,
even though times are rough," Midkiff says. "The horse
accepts you for who you are."
always felt that equine embrace, always found a home among horses
- even as a little girl whose own species relegated her to the
periphery of the show ring.
I was left out of human crowds, I fled, seeking solace among
horses," she recalls in the book. "Horses know nothing
of money, status, beauty or accomplishment. ... Horses see only
our hearts, and they accept or reject us based on what they
find within. ... In short, horses do naturally what humans can
pass a lifetime without ever mastering."
Copyright 2001 The Denver Post