February 2014
Homeplace & Community

Bringing Alabama Ponies Home

 
Sacred Way Sanctuary owners Sean and Yvette Collin have diligently worked for many years to bring native Alabama ponies home. These ponies are smaller than the American Quarter Horse or other Spanish breeds.  

Sean and Yvette Collin are on a mission to bring back a major part of Alabama’s history. They are bringing native Alabama ponies home to live. The Collins’ love for their Native American heritage has motivated them to share a portion of Alabama’s earliest history.

The Sacred Way Sanctuary basically is divided into two distinct parts: historical and religious. The historical side offers many exciting, hands-on opportunities for students of all ages to learn about the way of the native people of Alabama. For those seeking a religious experience, the Sanctuary offers a wide range of ancient ceremonies.

 
  Sacred Way Sanctuary is open for historical journeys as well as religious experiences.

Sacred Way is centered around "Spirit Horses" that the Collins say are vital to their health as Native Americans. Yvette noted their "journey" with Spirit Horses began several years ago when a friend gave her a horse. She was in need of healing and the animal helped her overcome her difficulties. Since that time, the Collins have been actively trying to restore the endangered lineages of Native American horses, especially the Alabama pony.

Sean, who is an assistant professor of business law at the University of North Alabama in Florence, has driven all over the country to rescue horses. When he hears of a Native American horse that needs a home, Sean is quick to make arrangements to bring the animal home. He feels it is his duty as a Native American to preserve as much heritage as possible before the old ways are forgotten.

 
Yvette Collin is a descendent of Plains and Mayan Indians. She believes her Spirit Horses can heal the body and soul.   Look closely at the stripings on the horses’ legs. Sean Collin said those are primitive markings that only ancient bloodlines exhibit.

He has a strict no-sale policy for Spirit Horses. They are paired with people who need them. He does not believe in "owning" the animals but only caring for them.

The descendant of Cherokee Indians directed me to their website for more clarification. "Spring is an exciting time here at Sacred Way, as many rare and beautiful foals are born. Each year we select a handful of tribal leaders, community leaders, organizations, families or individuals that are committed to raising and preserving these very special and unique creatures. Sacred Way does NOT sell horses. We are dedicated to their preservation and protection, and to educating others about their unique history and character."

 

 

Clockwise from above, Sean Collin is standing near a tree tied with prayer flags. Native people believe that the prayers are carried on the wind. In the background is Robbie Neal, manager of Lauderdale Farmers Co-op  in Florence. This structure, commonly called a sweat lodge, was constructed by Native Americans using traditional methods. The Collins had a ceremonial teepee constructed.

According to their website, "Sacred Way Sanctuary strives to honor horses, buffalo and other sacred beings in the manner of our ancestors. Visitors will learn about Native American cultures, as well as experience the way in which these special animals traditionally lived amongst The People. We are a unique cultural immersion destination that caters to families, community groups, school groups of all ages, historians and anthropologists, as well as visitors from around the world."

The spiritual side of Sacred Way is more difficult to understand for those who were raised in a Southern Christian environment. Yvette and Sean have made it their life’s work to rekindle the Native traditions and teach people who are interested.

 
Left to right, Sacred Way is home to a white buffalo. They have several Churro sheep, the traditional companions of the Navajo People of the Southwest. The animals are unique because they have four horns.

"We do a lot of spiritual work here," said Yvette, who is a descendant of Plains and Mayan Indians. "It’s real traditional; basically what Jesus taught - you can’t take anything for the self. So, all of that is free. People come to do ceremony."

She noted that sometimes people who are going through terrible tragedies come for help.

"We are a place to come where it’s going to be okay," Yvette said. "When they don’t feel like the world has anything left. What else do you say? Traditionally our people have plenty of medicine for that - meaning they knew how to connect to the Holy Spirit and help alleviate that.

"We tried to create a place here where people understand there’s no judgment and they don’t have anything to be afraid of."

Knowing many Southern Christians do not have a working knowledge of Native American religion practices, Yvette is patient and willing to explain anything.

"For my people, taking responsibility for life is the way you honor God. By caring for His creations you honor Him … I know it is not as much a Western society perspective but it is a very Native one. And we also wanted to honor our ancestors … both my husband’s from here (Alabama, Tennessee) and mine. To preserve what they valued."

Yvette is working on her Ph.D. dissertation on Native Americans and their relationship with the horse. She said the simple-sounding topic is actually quite complex.

"Our history books don’t record it the way our ancestors said it happened," she noted.

She said her program is looking at how indigenous cultures say history occurred and is comparing that to what modern science is discovering in medicine, psychology, agriculture and history.

Persons interested in contacting the Collins about visiting their farm may call them at 256-648-0582. You may visit their website at sacredwayspirithorses.com.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.