I had a hint something was up when we retrieved our four-year-old mare from the trainer’s place. I don’t bounce well enough to saddle-break a horse, and our teenage son, Huck, needed more guidance to get the job done, so she’d been sent to the trainer. After a round of small talk, we asked him about Wichita’s sixty days of schooling under saddle. The trainer seemed to weigh how to say something diplomatically. “She’s a lot of horse,” he said. We watched as he put Wichita through her paces. He’s a kind, skilled man, and she’d learned quite a bit with him. She could lope circles under saddle; she could side pass, back up, have a rope thrown off her; and she stood still for mounting and dismounting. “She’s quirky, though,” the trainer added as we loaded up to leave. “I’ll teach her one thing, and then the next day she acts like it’s all new information, and we have to start over again.”
Hmm. When we got her home, our funny, friendly horse saw monsters in the familiar. The latigo swinging from the saddle gave her the willies. Tall grass that brushed her belly as we rode made her leap into the air, startled. She flinched at the sound of a creaking shed door, and my unexpected touch made her jolt like she’d hit an electric fence. She has lived at our place nearly all her life; we thought we knew her well. She’s in robust health and received no ill treatment from the even-tempered, competent trainer. Why was she now a basket case?
It’d be easiest if she’d just spill her guts and explain herself. I have tried, over the years, to talk with my animals. When our Russell terrier slips from the yard and goes on a walkabout, I’ll close my eyes and try to see where he is. I’ve sent healing thoughts to our wounded cat. As far as I can tell, no messages come back. And yet, there have been mysterious moments when familiarity bred perfect understanding. My old heeler knew how I felt before I walked through the door and greeted me with a wildly waving tail or a low, sympathetic wag, depending on my mood. A sly, lazy Appaloosa we owned read minds. While riding, I’d think, At that gate, we’ll stop. And at the instant I thought the word “stop,” the horse would plant the brakes and whoa. Horses are prey animals exquisitely adapted and reactive to their environments. Reading the subtlest of changes is how they stay alive. Yet we tested the Appaloosa over and over, posting a quick trot or loping along, careful to not twitch the reins, sit deeper, or otherwise give him a physical signal—and then think, Stop. Boom, he’d stop.
We ceased riding after Wichita’s multiple, puzzling spooks and instead reinforced her coping skills by desensitizing her to sound, touch, and motion. Over several weeks, she relearned how to handle the unexpected—flapping grocery bags, a whip’s sharp crack, and the erratic movements of our hands and arms. She improved, and her white-ringed eyes turned soft and blinky. But how could we help her more? How could we do better? And so, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Sue Ann Smith called to talk to Wichita.
Sue Ann is an animal communicator who also works with people on all things psychic. She grew up a small-town Texas girl, attended a good university, worked a straight job for years, and gradually, in her thirties, realized that this traditional life made her miserable. Over time, instinct, soul-searching, and encouragement from friends led her down the metaphysical path. Now it’s her career. Although Sue Ann can make house calls, having far-flung clientele means that she executes most readings, animal and human, over the phone from a North Texas farm where she resides with her cutting horses. She’s perfectly aware of how woo-woo it all seems. “I’m out there,” she told me after I first contacted her. “I’m definitely out there.”
Our thought was to hear from Wichita and also from Blackjack, a donkey. My husband, Michael, led Wichita onto the porch and sat down in a chair. Sue Ann, on speakerphone, repeatedly coughed, a sign, she said, that spirit information was passing through her throat chakra. Her conversation with the mare was initially superseded by the arrival of three surprise entities. “You’ve got several Native American spirits that watch over your place,” she said. “They protect you and help bring in light. They’re cool guys.” After Sue Ann spent several minutes interacting with those spirits, the mare came through. “At the trainer’s, she saw something,” said Sue Ann. “I almost think it was not a real thing, it was a spirit thing. She’s saying it was like a gray cloud trying to cling to her hind end. She’s bothered by this, and she’s very sensitive.”
Past lifetimes came up. She was a regal Indian pony who’d seen battle. She had served as a conquistador’s horse—at this point, Sue Ann said, Wichita briefly switched to Spanish. Some of this history was connected in a dark way to the energy cloud she’d experienced, so Sue Ann commenced quietly clearing the horse of bad juju. As she did this, the horse began nosing Michael all over. She smooshed her muzzle onto Michael’s face and breathed into his nose for close to a minute. She lowered her head and lipped his arm and delicately used her teeth to tug at his jeans. She thrust her nose on top of his head and whuffled his hair; her whiskers tickled his neck. Normally, this close inspection would not be tolerated, as it’s unwise to have a horse’s big bony head and teeth in your space. Allowing it, Michael said later, seemed like the right thing to do.
According to Sue Ann, waves of energy began to lift from the horse. “Those past life energies, if we don’t get that healed,” she explained, “that can be a weakness in lifetimes over and over until it is cleared.” As she finished, another message came through. “She is slow to mature,” said Sue Ann. “She will come into her own at age six,” which is precisely what her breeder had told us when we acquired her as a foal. One more wave of energy released, and the horse looked at me, sighed, and smacked her lips as horses do when they’ve thought something over. “She wants to be a good pony,” said Sue Ann. “She really does.”
Michael returned Wichita to the pen and led Blackjack to the porch. Blackjack is a reserved creature, almost mournful, yet quick to pick up a lead rope left hanging on the fence and whap it against his colleague, Applejack, another donkey. His level of happiness has always been a mystery. Originally found running feral on a ranch with Apple, Blackjack’s missing the tip of one ear and bears scars on his knees and ankles, perhaps from being hobbled with wire while he was part of a crew harvesting candelilla wax in Mexico. Sue Ann knew none of this.
“He’s aloof!” she said immediately. “I get the sense he was pinned under at some point or burdened. He likes to watch over things. That’s his purpose. He’s serious about it, hypervigilant. He’s showing me the stars, the night. When everyone’s sleeping, he’s the night watchman. He’d like you to acknowledge that he does this job.”
We pondered these insights for a few days before hearing from Griffin Kanter, a Houston animal communicator we’d contacted. Griffin began developing her psychic talent, she said, while grappling with a chronic health issue. Since the eighties, she’s worked mostly with dogs and cats, some horses and birds, a variety of fish, and a few reptiles. Do the reptiles speak in short sentences? “Yes,” she said. “They’re cold-blooded, so they’re slower. I once helped clients who’d bought a house with an atrium that came with an iguana. The iguana was quite verbal, but I had to slow way down. You just had to go with his flow.”
While she too employs the phone in her readings, Griffin first meditates on an animal’s photo before talking with the owner. Right away, she homed in on Blackjack. “I get a lot of intelligence from him and a lot of energy that says he likes to watch. He’s extremely observant. And there’s a sense of humor there. He’s a little jokey.” I asked how long Blackjack and Applejack had been together. “A long, long time,” she said after a pause. “Blackjack’s showing me a picture of them back-to-back, defending each other. They’ve literally got each other’s backs.”
Wichita, she continued, had a vestige of sadness. Even though we spend time with her, she’d like to take walks around the neighborhood again, as we did when she was young. There could be issues in her lower back and her tail, which massage might help. As for her flightiness, Griffin had a thought. “She may not be totally grounded in her body. She doesn’t always have all her energy down to her hooves on the ground.” Griffin suggested stroking the mare’s legs and telling her it’s safe to put energy into her feet. “She’s so, so sweet,” she said. “Her energy is so soft. You must be careful when correcting her because she’s so sensitive to outside energy.”
Huck, our son, owns Wichita. “She says sometimes his eye, when he looks at her, is full of awe and appreciation,” said Griffin. “She loves this. She loves when he’s vulnerable in her presence.”
There was much more to each of these conversations, and it was a lot to process. Some of it felt specific and real. I’d asked the communicators to query the donkeys on whether they’d killed the dead raccoon we’d found recently. The answers were exactly the same, with the same Eddie Haskell singsong inflection: “Oh no! Not us!” Other information, such as the donkeys’ alleged past as drug runners, felt off base and unlikely. Both women also underscored that I, along with everyone else, have nascent intuitive ability. “We’re all born with a propensity for this, the sixth sense,” Sue Ann said. “It’s just a matter of whether you recognize it and develop it or not.”
In the days since her readings, Wichita has mellowed, though whether it’s due to psychic intervention or simply the result of consistent handling I cannot say. Here’s one thing the readings did do: All along I’d thought that we’d been patient enough, calm enough, communicative enough for her to do the tasks we asked of her. We saw these spooks and jolts, but I realized she was no doubt telling us about her mounting anxiety before she actually exploded—we just weren’t insightful enough to see her signs. The readings reinforced my knowledge that the horse needs me to see her as she is and to meet her where she is. Sometimes you have to look for what you haven’t yet noticed.
While reading alone in the house last night, an unearthly screech, like a wraith being murdered, drew me outside. It wasn’t coyotes this time—this call was too short, too weird. The sky was giddy with stars. I stood at the gate and caught the outline of a barn owl atop the nearby pump house. The bird obligingly screamed again and lifted off into the night. No danger here. Out of habit I did a head count of equines in the pen—one, two, three, four of them lying together with their front legs folded neatly underneath their warm, woolly chests. I had a sudden thought of their great hearts beating within. I scanned the pen for the fifth animal and nearly jumped when I saw that he was right in front of me. It was Blackjack, the sentinel, who, I realized, must’ve also seen the owl. “Thank you, friend,” I told him. “Thank you for watching over us.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Thoughts on a Mixed-up Horse.” Subscribe today.