The following story is an inspiring account of an encounter with two horses, a mother and son, that occurred in February, 2008, when I visited Easter island, also known as Rapa Nui.
The most beckoning part of a week-long trip to Easter Island/Rapa Nui for me was the opportunity to hang out with 2,000 horses who graze freely on the island. The true purpose of the journey to this remote Pacific island, however, was to join an indigenous Rapa Nui elder to help forgive and heal a part of their history, helping to bring the energy of this precious land back into balance. Over 70 people signed up for the trip from around the world.
This gorgeous island, located equidistant between Chile and Tahiti, is the most isolated inhabited island in the world. The airline flights from either direction take five hours. The island’s triangular land mass is about 8 miles across with a large dormant volcano anchoring each corner. Fresh-water lakes fill some of the many volcano craters, providing drinking water for the approximately 4,000 people who live on the island, along with thousands of horses and cattle.
The majority of the islanders spend many months of the year preparing for an annual, week-long festival, Tapati, which celebrates the origins of their culture. Luckily, our trip coincided with this festival.
During our second day, we happened upon our first horses. They grazed around the rim of the Rano Raraku volcanic crater. These horses all exhibited behavior somewhere between wild and domesticated animals.
They were clearly accustomed to people but definitely kept their distance, avoiding us if at all possible. Horses are by nature prey animals, prone to flight. The horses on Rapa Nui appeared to experience a near paradise-like existence on open land with no wild predators, a tremendous gift for such highly intelligent, peaceful creatures.
Soon others gathered. As a number of us were able to communicate with the mare, it became clear that she was only alive because of her devotion to her son, who was about 4 months old, not yet weaned.
The mare, at first a bit alarmed by our attention, began to soften as we continually assured her that our only desire was to help her and honor her wishes.
Because of the opening Tapati festival that evening, our guides assured us that no veterinarians would be available until the following day.
We considered the possibility that if we were to attempt to remove the wire, that even in her weakened state, she could inflict substantial damage if she felt she or her foal were threatened. And what if we didn’t succeed and only made things worse? Yet how could we leave her?
Then, it seemed that all at once our group as a whole made a decision to try to save her. Everyone sprung into action.
One of our guides found a pair of mediocre wire cutters, and a bus driver departed to obtain a more heavy-duty set. Meanwhile, two other guides rounded up most of our bottled water to fill a large plastic cooler for the horses to drink.
Randy, a friend, and I stayed with the mare. Interestingly, as soon as we decided to attempt to remove the wires, she began grazing and shuffling around a bit, very slowly. But her eyes seemed brighter. I wondered if we had helped spark her will to live. Seeing her desire to eat, I knew we had made the right decision, regardless of the outcome.
As I continued talking calmly with her, she communicated these words, “Even if I don’t live, I’m grateful to know that someone cares about me.” She had been enduring such abandonment in this dire situation for who knew how many days and nights. Surely by now she could feel the immense flow of love surrounding her.
A few of the men gently approached her, murmuring soothing words. But she continued to move away from them, the foal always at her side. She seemed stronger than she did an hour ago. But the men kept a steady pace in relation to her movements. Before long, the five of them drifted along in unison, together as if in a dance.
Along the isolated road, six women gathered to pray: a Maori elder from New Zealand, two women from Russia, two Americans who lived in Fiji and me. We watched as about seven men returned from the bus and joined the human-equine dance, gently encircling the mare. She limped a short distance toward a long fence and then stopped with her foal nearby. One of our guides immediately placed a rope on the back of her neck, a trained signal for horses on the island to be still.
Two full-grown horses we hadn’t see before cantered up to the other side of the fence. One touched noses with the mare, a gesture of reassurance. The men cautiously moved in closer, and the mare remained motionless. By now she was completely surrounded with two men at her head, three at her rear, and Randy, with the longest arms, angled beneath her belly on his knees, holding the right front leg and the injured back leg, his chest pressed against hers, heart to heart. He could feel a palpable vibration of love with her. Instead of anxiety, she exuded relief, gratitude, presence and just a little confusion.
The men took turns severing the thick wire from her back legs. Watching, we could tell what strength it took to split each circle of wire in two. One man would nip through a wire, then hand the cutters to another man and they changed positions. It was slow going. I wondered how long the mare’s patience would last.
Our of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed our Rapa Nui driver with the stronger wire cutters racing toward us on foot. He screeched to a halt when he came within view of the mare and then silently stepped toward her. Within minutes, he had removed all of the wire. Amazingly, the mare held perfectly still throughout, though unwrapping the deeply imbedded wires must have been painful for her. The men had gained her trust. And the young foal stayed close and calm.
Barry, a healer from Arizona, pulled out five bottles of essential oils, (clove bud, helichrysum arenarium, cistus and thyme thuyanol) which cost hundreds of dollars, to be poured onto her wounds. As Barry worked, the oils must have stung but she didn’t flinch. Upon finishing, Randy and Barry both looked up at the same time to see our female Maori elder facing them, eyes closed, singing and vibrating her hands toward the earth as she swayed back and forth. They could feel her trance-like connection with the horses and the loving energy she was holding for the healing. Randy then realized it was the indigenous Rapa Nui and Maori peoples who truly resonated with the horses. They were most harmoniously connected with the Earth, speaking the same wordless language as all animals.
The men returned to the road where we held vigil. Our work successfully completed, we embraced each other with giant hugs as the tears flowed, tears of jubilation. The mare and foal walked gingerly back to the road, too, sniffed the water (it probably smelled odd compared to their crater-lake water) and started to graze.
When we returned to the buses with the news that the mare was now free, our fellow sojourners, many who had quietly circled together under the trees, exploded in celebration. Unbeknownst to us, they had been praying along with us the whole time. It had taken all 70 of us, along with our Rapa Nui friends, bonding together to release the mare. We were so elated, we practically floated to our next destination a few miles away.
I walked near the ocean with two of the men who had freed the mare. We were still rejoicing. Then I noticed four horses coming in our direction. Their heads held high, they seemed to be moving purposely toward us, which was unusual. We slowed and they strode right up to us, stopping a few feet away with one horse in front, his eyes and ears intent on us. I began to cry as I realized they had approached us because somehow word had spread among the horse population on the island. With focused attention, the lead male asked, “Are you the ones who saved her?” We replied that we were and they thanked us, saying they had been deeply worried about her and the foal. Then they ambled off.
Our devoted guides returned to check on the mare and refill her water twice that evening before the festival. They reported that she seemed stronger each time.
During the opening night celebration, as we watched hundreds of dancers, singers and people speaking their native Rapa Nui language on stage, my thoughts remained with the mare. Many of us in our group continued praying for her recovery.
The following morning, we boarded the buses and traveled the same southern road as yesterday on our way to the far side of the island. About halfway there, I realized the mare was nearby. She was communicating with us and the air was vibrating with her gratitude. I twisted around and around in my seat looking for her and finally got a glimpse of her and the foal through a window at the back of the bus. They had just crossed the road and were slowly heading toward fresh water. Cheers erupted as we all became aware of the distance she had covered since we had last seen her.
Because of the severity of her wounds, she would probably always limp. But she could still enjoy a long life on the island.
It turned out that this was the day we were to fulfill the original purpose of this long journey to a remote Pacific island. In a simple ceremony between the Rapa Nui and the people who had gathered from all corners of the Earth, words of respect, love and forgiveness were spoken to help cleanse the sorrow that hung over this island and these people.
The celebration that evening at the Tapati festival touched all of our hearts long into the night.
Iorana and Maruru (goodbye and thank you, in Rapa Nui)