The Happy Place

Strange weather, here in southern Ontario. A veritable roller coaster ride of temperatures and precipitation.

Last Wednesday, following a week of brutal sub-zero temperatures, we experienced a record high of 12C. With it all the snow of the previous week melted away, and the accompanying rainfall reduced the paddocks to a mass of mucky chaos. There’s nothing quite like negotiating a bog at the paddock gate and trying to extricate your horse without letting his paddock buddy bully his way out at the same time. It can be quite the dance. (Note to self: wear your wellies …)

Then on Thursday temperatures plummeted again.

The once sloppy mud holes by the gate froze into menacing rock-hard craters. Fetching Bear was an entirely different experience. The gate, which usually swings freely, had to be lifted over this quasi moonscape in order to clear a gap wide enough to squeeze Bear through. Meanwhile, he’s tripping over the unforgiving terrain while I’m praying he doesn’t wrench an ankle in the process.

And then … the mighty wind …

Before bringing Bear in I checked the wood and corrugated steel arena to see how noisy it was in there. It’s wont to rattle and hum under the stress of buffeting elements. The exposed northwest corner is a particularly spooky spot.

The winds were battering against its sides with a consistent drone and the occasional crash. Still, I figured if Bear had a chance to run about and get acclimated on his own, we might be able to have our lesson as scheduled. With this in mind, I groomed and tacked him up as usual and hoped for the best.

“Are you going to ride today?” a fellow horse mom asked uncertainly as she watched me getting ready.

“It depends,” I replied.

With horses it’s always useful to have an open mind. Decisions depend on what’s happening in the moment. In this case, everything hinged on Bear’s reaction to the whirlwind whipping wildly just beyond the arena walls.

With helmet on head, and Bear in hand, I trudged from the small barn through the gale to the arena. Once there I removed Bear’s sweat sheet, tied up his reins and set him loose. As expected, he bucked and reeled and snorted and flew in giant galloping strides from one end to the other. This continued for a couple of minutes until he finally stopped, faced me and, with a nod of his lowered head, indicated he was done.

“Hmmmm … Perhaps I can ride after all,” I thought optimistically.

I started to walk over to him. Bear looked relaxed enough. His neck was outstretched; his head, as I said, low. He’d found his happy place.

Then a crash of wind belted those corrugated walls and changed everything. A spike of adrenalin plunged with force through Bear’s prey animal veins — his head shot up; eyes bulged; ears pricked; nostrils flared; tail agitated; feet restless.

He eyeballed me for assurance.

“It’s okay, Bear,” I called gently while quietly continuing to approach.

I halted some 15 feet in front my snorting Bear and, with a gentle tilt of my shoulders in the quiet way of the horse, encouraged him to return to his happy place. His big, brown eyes softened as he began to relax his neck and back and lower his head again. In horse body language, head level or lower is a happy place.

... Bear in his happy place ...

… Bear in his happy place …

I stepped up and, with a pat on the neck and a sugar lump, reassured him that everything was okay. Then we walked hither and yon around the arena, Bear following me of his own free will like a giant puppy dog.

Meanwhile, the winds continued to roar their chaos. Violent gusts shocked the arena — rattling doors, whistling through cracks, banging the walls and quaking the roof … over here … over there … everywhere! Bear flinched a few times but, feeling safe in my presence, remained in his happy place as we continued our walk.

To test our progress I stopped near the spooky northwest corner and had Bear stand with his hind end to it. I walked on a further 10 feet and then turned to face him. My goal was to have Bear keep his focus on me, and his happy place, regardless of how agitated the arena became in the grips of Mother Nature’s fury. I’ve done this before when ice is  crashing off the roof. It works like a charm.

He managed well. When he became rattled he responded right away to my signal for the happy place. At one point a gust of wind banged against the wall nearby with such ferocity it even made me jump. Bear responded by side stepping over until he was standing beside me. We became each other’s port in a storm.

Our riding lesson turned into an unexpected session of ground work, but in the end it was exactly what we needed. There’s more than one way to ride out a storm. Finding, and being still in, your happy place is perhaps the best way of all.

Besides, there’s something magical about a horse choosing to stay when his flight instinct could so easily chase him away.

I must be doing something right. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

14 thoughts on “The Happy Place

  1. I wanted to say more earlier. This post really touched my heart, as all your posts do because of the beautiful connection between you and Bear. That is just so sweet! LOL, I can say this now because I’ve had my coffee. Tee hee hee! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

    • You’re most welcome. … So glad you liked my little story. In a moment of self-doubt I wondered if I should share it at all, but your comment confirms I did the right thing. 😉 … Hope things are well with you …

      • Awww! Bless your heart. I am glad my comment confirmed your heart’s leading.

        I know there are LOTS of people who love, love, love the incredible connection with animals. I think it’s beautiful and spiritual, we are so blessed/fortunate to have this type of relationship with animals. It really is ‘other’ worldly.

        So glad you did decide to share. Yeah! We need more light in our worlds.

        I am well, getting more exercise means less time writing or on the computer, overall it’s a good transition. Hope all is well with you too. 🙂

  2. Bear is so handsome. I hope everything went well for the rest of the evening. Either way, I enjoyed reading this passage. I sounded almost like an adventure. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I’m in Southern Ontario too and know what you mean about the crazy weather, Dorothy. I never understood before about a horse’s happy place being head level or lowered … before this post I would have thought something was wrong. Beautifully written and informative piece.

    • Thanks, Cheryl … when a horse has his head level or low his back is stretched and relaxed and he’s producing endorphins … a happy hormone. When his head is high, back hollow, etc. he’s ready for flight and producing adrenalin. We all know how that feels. It’s amplified in horses because they are prey animals, or as horse trainer Chris Irwin likes to say “victims waiting to happen.” … As my horse’s keeper I feel it is my responsibility to help him be in his happy place as much as possible. When he associates me with that feeling we can build trust. … If you’d like further information on horse-friendly training, visit I trained with him and became certified in his methods. It made my beautiful journey with Bear possible. …Thanks again … Be well, Dorothy 🙂

  4. Love reading this study in horse psychology… what you were doing sounded like all the wonderful horse trainers whose names I’ve forgotten that I’ve watched on Youtube…
    It sounds such a beautiful relationship between you both

    • Yes, I am fortunate. I trained with Chris Irwin ( for a while and it changed my life as a horsewoman and person in general. My goal was to create a relationship with Bear built on trust. I’d say that for the most part this has been accomplished, but it’s something I continue to work on every day. A person can never take anything for granted with horses … 😉 … Thanks for visiting and commenting. Cheerz! Dorothy 🙂

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