Saturday, October 3, 2009

American Indian Quad Horse Whisperer

We Don’t Surrender Until We Have To

A few years back, in a not-unusual state of panic in my personal life and hubris in my professional one, I spent several winter months in Wyoming. More specifically, my job as a journalist required me to sit at a battered kitchen table in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation, swapping stories with a quadriplegic Northern Arapaho horse gentler and traditional healer named Stanford Addison. I went home with nothing particularly resolved, but happier than I’d been in years.

Stanford had lost more than anyone I’d ever known. He was paralyzed at age 20, when the truck in which he was traveling to a party hit some horses wandering on a dark reservation road. But by the time I arrived 23 years later, he was holding sweat lodges to help his neighbors twice a week. He was assisted in the lodge and the corral by young men and kids, some adopted as his own children, others just passing through or released to him by tribal courts and social programs. When the beds filled up, kids and other visitors slept sprawled on couches or on the floor.

Although terrible things happened on the reservation — crime and addiction and violence were never far away — happiness was all over the place on this ragtag ranch. As the weeks passed, my spirits palpably started to lift. I would find myself breaking into laughter in the middle of washing dishes after dinner, or while I crunched over the snow to see the horses in their shaggy winter coats, puffing steam into the frigid air. Somehow, the volume was being turned down on the internal voice that tended to drive my actions, the voice that shouted, “I must get what I want! I must get what I want! Something is seriously wrong if I don’t get what I want!”

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