My Lucky Charm

 

Going Home

Shakespeare, age four, comes homes … March 17, 2006

~*~

Twelve is a popular number in cycles.

The 12 months of the year.

The 12 signs of the Zodiac.

The 12-year cycle in Chinese astrology … and on.

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the day Shakespeare trotted into my life. This day does, I feel, mark the end of an important personal cycle. As I contemplate movement forward in my life I must make room and allow the past to be the past.

Shakespeare was a change agent. He was a catalyst for self-awareness and made me a better person because of it. Taught me to stand up and be counted. Taught me to open my heart. Taught me I had a voice and that I needed to use it.

He was my comic Shakespeare. My little leprechaun who even now teases my memory  bringing laughter and tears and joy.

To mark the end of this 12-year cycle I have started to build a cairn in his memory at the highest point on the farm. My monument to him and his great spirit and everything he meant to me.

And so, life goes on.

Shakespeare will always be my lucky charm.

Wise Guy

Shakespeare, age 15

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

Weathering

Weathered

The ravages of time take their toll. We are weathered by the challenges we face; the people we encounter; the experiences we have, and the joys and troubles we share. For good or ill, life weathers us, and we either wear it well or we allow it to wear us down.

I know as an equestrian that while I still ride and love it, my limits are now set by the wear and tear on my body and a sense of my own mortality. Life has weathered me to a new level of self-awareness and taught me to respect my own boundaries. Just as I cannot expect an old performance horse to perform the strenuous tricks of his earlier career I, too, must cut myself some slack.

When it comes to our farm everything about it is weathered to one degree or another, and since landing here in autumn 2016, we’ve committed to sprucing it up a little at a time. Taking on a run-down 100-acre horse farm is no picnic and presents all kinds of challenges. Priorities must be set, and accepting the fact that some things are perfect in their imperfection is an important thing to bear in mind. Our schedule for improvements must not compromise the integrity of the farm’s character.

Old Shed

This old place has seen a lot during its 150-plus year history. To the extent that it’s possible I want to work with the local museum and archives to discover who put down roots here and how the property evolved and changed over time. Who had the vision; built the original buildings; planted the trees. We’re going to acknowledge those who pioneered here with an historic plaque and place it by the original hog barn (above), the weathered foundation of which was built with stone found on this property.

Barn Quilt

In 2017 we had a barn quilt created and installed as an initial tribute to the farm’s history. It adorns the front of the original bank barn which was modified to accommodate horses in 2000 as part of a major building project by the then owners. The pattern is called Hunter Star, and the colours  we selected bear some meaning. The green represents the proliferation of trees on the farm. The blue is for the headwaters of several rivers that have their source in these rolling hills. The plum is for a previous name of this farm (Plum Tree Farm) which we discovered while going through the basement and finding a piece of folk art of the original farm house and the barns (pictured below). And the maple leaf, of course, is to commemorate Canada’s 150 years of confederation. For point of reference our farm, homesteaded some time in the 1840s, is older than Canada.

Plum Tree

Of course, there are lessons to be learned on a more personal level as well. One of my greatest challenges is accepting that I, too, am perfect in my imperfection. Time and its ravages have indeed weathered me, but they’ve also helped me to identify my priorities. Good health. Good works. Healthy relationships. Experiencing and sharing joy. And creating and maintaining an environment here on the farm where horses and people can thrive on every level.

Weathered barn

 

Some days I feel more weathered than others. Bear’s passing was a harsh excuse for the building of character. Still, even as I rebuild and repair from that unexpected blow I remind myself that I want to thrive on the other side of life’s storms, not end up a broken relic. Resilience is its own reward.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

The Kiss

~*~

Weekly Photo Challenge: Weathered

 

Planning to Shine

It’s been just over two months since Shakespeare departed and the Wednesday wave of grief continues to roll through. Each week its impact is less, still, I  choose to be gentle with myself on this day when the waters are stirred once more.

Today my thoughts begin to turn away from loss to what may be found from its experience. The silver lining, I suppose.

Bear was a huge part of my life for a long time, and for the past two and a half years our journey was shared by a beautiful Hanoverian mare, Sophia Loren (Sophi). Now she is the full focus of my attention so, in the spirit of getting on with life, I would like to tell you about her.

Sophi

This little mare is as larger-than-life as one might expect from one bearing the same name as a cinema icon. I didn’t name her. Like Shakespeare, she arrived in my life offering a challenge. Shakespeare, named for one of the greatest wordsmiths of the ages, helped me to find my heart, and my voice, as a creative writer; Sophia Loren, named for one of the brightest shining stars in the firmament of Hollywood, is helping me to shine. I’m not going to get into all the complex ways this is meaningful to me. I believe, however, that my experience with these two horses rather underscores the idea that the Universe will send you what you need, when you need it. You just need to be open to recognizing and receiving it when it lands on your doorstep.

Sophi and I struggled, in the beginning. Not that we weren’t well suited. Not at all! Like Bear, she was only the fourth horse I looked at and we fit like a glove. No, our struggles came through outside influences. Finding our groove in that first year proved difficult as our coach, it seemed to me and for whatever reason, chose to dumb everything down. Sophi was training Third Level dressage when she passaged into my life, and our coach was keeping me stuck at First Level, a place from which I was determined to rise.

That coach and I parted company after a year for a variety of reasons. Four months later I was introduced to Nancy. A brilliant, accomplished coach whose only agenda was to help Sophi and I realize our potential. Within a couple of lessons she had us training Second Level movements. Six months later we were preparing for our first dressage show ~ my first time in the ring in 10 years! In such a short period, Sophi and I had risen together through the watchful eye and skillful teaching of a coach who truly cared and wanted us to succeed. No quick fixes. Everything I had learned over decades of training had been held within waiting for the right person to draw it out. It was a matter of trust.

Shoulder In

Shoulder-in … Image: Victoria Sambleson

In July and August of last year Sophi and I participated in our first shows together. Three tests over three days at each show. I learned all the Second Level tests by memory and Sophi was an absolute star. Sure, I was nervous, and adrenal fatigue was a concern as always, but feeling Sophi’s confidence, and the encouragement and support of those around me helped to override that. Our scores improved from test to test and we ribboned in the top four in all six classes.

We had so much fun. I’m so grateful to all my friends who encouraged me to take that uncertain leap, and to my coach for showing me it was possible. I’m grateful for Victoria who groomed for me at the show, and JF who transported Sophi in the horse box, his journeyman show confidence underpinning the whole adventure (“Go get ’em, tiger!”) For Eira who did such a lovely job braiding Sophi’s mane; and Courtney for doing such a beautiful body clip on her. Sophi looked immaculate and so proud of herself. And, naturally, I’m so grateful to Nancy for working with what she saw in me, not with what someone told her to see.

Extension

Extension … Image: Victoria Sambleson

Sophi thrives in the show ring and this gives me confidence, and as we share in each other’s confidence we thrive together.

Now we’re training Third Level, starting to introduce all the fancy moves that Sophi already knows (lead changes, passage, etc.) and loves to pre-empt. (“Oh, I know what you want…” and gives it to me before I even ask.) She’s a very smart mare.

We’re planning to show next summer. We’re planning to shine.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 

 

 

Review and release

 

My dearly departed Bear is the focus of this post. Final respects and then it’s time to let go and move on as he taught me.

Please enjoy this review of some of the images posted to this blog since 2011 celebrating my beautiful boy and all he was to me.

I give you “Variations on a Theme.”

Nurture what you love,

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

 

In Memorium

 

Bear flies free

~*~

It was the third day after Bear’s passing. Windy. Cool. The twilight hour. I was still slammed by the shock of his sudden departure, searching for even some hope of peace. It was also the day of his cremation, the final transition from the flesh. There was a lot of turmoil inside me as I attempted to process the whirlwind I’d experience just days before.

As I walked home from the barn I was moved by the beautiful colours forming and fading in the sky. The sunset was going to be spectacular so I sat on the hill and looked to the south, just watching the clouds shift with the force of the northwest wind. Cold weather was coming.

I had been sitting there just a few minutes when, the words, “Look to the negative space,” leapt to mind. I was familiar with this concept from time spent participating in art therapy just after Bear had come into my life, so instead of looking at the clouds, I looked at the space between them. And call me crazy, but there he was, in profile. The orange of the sunset kissing the clouds as his nose pushed through them. His eye soft and half closed; a vision of peace. The quarter moon a twinkle of cosmic delight.

I captured it, of course. It may not be obvious to everyone who looks upon this image, but to me it is a symbolic fly-past full of meaning and comfort and peace.

It has been a long time since I wrote to this blog. Life has certainly been an interesting adventure since we began our journey as horse farm owners, and one of the (sad) realities of this type of life is that death is never far away. Horses, as magnificent and powerful as they appear are also incredibly fragile and sensitive beings. One wrong foot fall could mean a broken leg; a drop in barometric pressure could induce gas which leads to colic which …. and so it goes. Still, I would not trade this life for anything.

Full Tilt

Shakespeare (Bear) … June 24, 2001-November 21, 2017

Bear was my dream horse who led me to my dream life. Dreams are not static. Dreams do not sustain themselves. They are replete with struggle, discomfort and stress, and require constant nurturing, protection and love. However, they’re also the blessings of glorious sunrises and sunsets. The rides on the trails; the triumphs in the show ring; the camaraderie of the barn family; happy, healthy horses; fresh air and the peace and quiet that comes from living in a valley in the middle of nowhere. (Insert your own dream blessings here.)

It’s a new life. All things new ask us to step outside our comfort zone; to let go of what no longer serves and be open to new and wonderful opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. We are asked to be different; to change. For most people this is an impossible prospect. However, as I have discovered it is in the “forced” metamorphosis that we finally learn to see ourselves in truth. Knowledge is power. Once we know who we are and what drives us we have the power to change it. From an equine experiential learning perspective Bear’s last message to me was “Let go.” So, to honour his memory I am looking at my life and setting the intention of letting go of habits that do more harm than good. One of them is my life-long tendency to be a control freak. (“Oh, is that dog hair on the floor? Oh, dear …” she says as she walks by it and into the kitchen.)

I promise to do better writing to this blog. My world as a horse mom means everything to me, and now that I’ve lost my Bear ~ my “first born” ~ I am finding new meaning in what it means to be the steward of such a magnificent being. For that’s what I am, a steward. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, noted French philosopher, aviator and poet wrote in his book, The Little Prince:

“We are responsible forever for the things that we tame.”

Bear entered my world at a time when I needed him more than anything. He was four years old. Young. Vibrant. Strong. A dressage horse. My dream horse. Little did I know that his real purpose in my life was the difficult task of pulling me out of my dissociative life pattern into one of self-awareness and being. An almost 12-year journey for which I can never thank him enough. While I thought I was “taming” him he was, in fact, taming me. We were stewards of each other. And while he is no longer here on this earthly plain, I feel him in my heart and I see him forever in this image, transitioning to that place of limitless peace. I honour his memory by living the lessons that he, a most beautiful and noble horse, taught me.

Thank you for visiting. May you and and your loved ones enjoy a peaceful, happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2018.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2017

Weekly Photo Challenge: 2017 Favourites

 

 

Learning Curve

Hill Top

~*~

We’re on a steep learning curve at the farm right now, and are so grateful for all the help and support we receive from those who work with us there to keep it going and beautiful.

The establishment of my equine experiential learning practice is taking longer than anticipated, and while this can be frustrating at times I realize that life unfolds as it should and we will get there in the end. (And if we’re not there, it isn’t the end …)

Many upgrades have had to be made to the facility from a safety and aesthetic point of view, and this takes time (and money) in unexpected quantities. The country life is desirable but it has its challenges and we are tested frequently. Still, Bear and Sophi continue to keep me grounded and inspired.

In short, Bear recently had a tooth extraction (a story for another day … soon) and is recovering and Sophi simply continues to emit a star quality that brings me much joy every time I’m with her. The yin and the yang of the equine experience is never too far away.

This past week I participated in a workshop with equine experiential learning pioneer and best-selling author, Linda Kohanov. The focus of the three-day session was based on her new book, The Five Roles of the Master Herder: A Revolutionary Model for Socially Intelligent Leadership. In a world where empathic leadership is sorely lacking, this is a seminal work and life altering in a profoundly positive way. I’m looking forward to offering leadership workshops based on this important work.

In the meantime, the journey continues …

If you’re interested in finding out more about Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL), please visit my website at http://www.corequus.com.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve

Ice Storm Aftermath

 

 

Bear On Ice

Bear … my port in a storm …

Late last week the worst ice storm in recent memory rolled through our area about an hour northwest of Toronto. Downed power lines disrupted hydro service for several days to thousands of people in the local towns and on farms and other rural properties. Trees, large and small, succumbed to the 20mm of ice accretion that accumulated over a 36-hour period. The impact was nothing short of tornadic. 

What’s accretion, you may ask? Take a look …

Cherries Choked

It twinkles like tinsel in the sunlight and gives everything that sparkly Christmas card look, but its effects are deadly. Imagine trees and power lines straining under the enormous weight of cumulative ice over an extended period time until they finally reach a breaking point. Until temperatures rise again the world is a virtual skating rink.

Accretions

The meteorological masterminds warned on Wednesday that the storm was coming. Of course, all we in the valley hoped they were wrong … as they are so often. Alas …
Down

… as I understand it a Colorado low moved into southern Ontario on Wednesday and clashed with cold winds from the northwest. They butted heads the hardest on Thursday night into Friday which is when all frozen hell broke loose.

Red Wagon

 

Fortunately no people or horses were hurt on our farm, and there was no major structural damage. However, the stress of this brutal weather event played out in other ways. No power meant no water which, with a barn full of horses, is a bit of a problem. Only one water pump out by the paddocks was functional (by force of gravity, we figure), which meant that water had to be manually fetched by bucket for the duration. And not just for the barn, for the housing on the property, as well.

Tree debris was also a major problem. Volunteers, and paid help, came in to clear the high traffic areas cluttered with the fallen willows, maples, birches and pines that had met their icy match.

Words cannot express our gratitude to everyone who pitched in to get the farm through that first difficult day. Due to road closures and icy conditions for most of the day and the fact we live 45 minutes away we weren’t able to help. I would have been useless anyway, as I awoke that morning with a splitting headache which signalled a tipping point for a full-blown adrenal fatigue meltdown if I wasn’t careful.

Weeping Willow

A Long Walk

Saturday presented the first opportunity for my husband and I to walk the property and view the extent of the damage. It was quite disorienting to see the farm in such disarray. Numerous large trees had lost sturdy branches or were completely snapped in half. The hacking trail along the east side of the 20-acre woodland was impassable due to the number of trees that had fallen across the path and into the paddock fence.

One Big Tree

 

As we walked past the ice-laden woods the tinkling and crashing of icicles in frozen symphonic waves snapped, crackled and popped in the air. On every level the scene was so surreal. If ever there was an example of devastating beauty, this was it.

Broken Pine

As we investigated another paddock bordered by conifers the scent of distressed pine permeated the air. The fragrance of Christmas a strange counterpoint to a vision of random destruction.

Crushed

This small garden shed, and a car, took direct hits. Neither were seriously damaged.

Frosted

Living the Dream

Farm ownership is new to us, and I don’t mind telling you that since we took possession of this beautiful property last August it has come with a steep, and expensive, learning curve. We knew the facility had good bones when we bought it, and the grounds appeared, on the surface, to be well kept. However we have since realized that neither was terribly well maintained and we’ve had to invest heavily in repairs and renovations and excavations. Some of this we knew going in. But in the heat of August you don’t expect to find out in a November cold snap that the heating system doesn’t work. And in the dog days of summer you don’t anticipate the barn is going to get flooded in the heavy rains of autumn.

Buyer beware, I suppose. On the one hand I look at these unexpected obstacles as opportunities to get to know the property better while I work to build my equine experiential learning practice. On the other, I just shake my head in wonder.

Acquiring the farm required an enormous leap of faith and was the culmination of a mutual life-long dream to have a place in the country and build a custom home. We are in love with the land and its rolling hills, its lovely woodland, the wildlife and the spiritual peace we feel there. We want to be good stewards of the land; to share it with others who will truly appreciate its beauty, and honour its healing sanctuary. Still, even dreams shape-shift ~ the winds of change blow through offering fresh and unexpected perspective. The challenge is to rise to the occasion and give ourselves permission to see with new eyes. To move beyond the initial disorientation, and locate the silver lining.

Even now as I process our losses and the implications the clean up will have on our budget, I am searching for that silver lining. This requires an open heart and mind, as well as a good deal of faith and patience. I need to continue to live in the moment without being distracted by the drama around me. I need to accept the unexpected and roll with the punches, believing that “everything will be alright in the end ~ and if it isn’t alright it isn’t yet the end.” (Thank you Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for that great quote.)

Frosted Fenceline

 

The Crooked, Old Maple

To finish, an anecdote …

Yesterday, Abbey and I took a short walk to visit the stumpy remains of a crooked, old maple of which I had become rather fond over the months. I wanted a closer look at it as we’ve been thinking about getting a local wood carver to sculpt new life into it.  A sort of memorial, I suppose ~ perhaps a rearing horse to symbolize our rising up to meet the challenge of this new path.

As I stood beside the tree stump, which stopped about two feet above my head, I had the urge to hug it. (Yes, I hug trees.) As I held on tightly, I felt droplets of water falling on my face. I looked up to the hovering branches of the surrounding trees, but there was no moisture there. And then I took a closer look at the torn open trunk above my head. Tears of maple sap were trickling down its craggy bark, as if it was weeping. My eyes welled up as I realized this perfectly healthy tree, so cruelly cut down, was still reaching out for life.

I wiped away one of its sugar tears with my hand, and tasted it, its subtle sweetness bringing both joy and sadness. Suddenly the tree’s fate as a wood carving didn’t feel so certain. What could be done to help this traumatized old soul?

The Crooked Maple

Before … the crooked old tree is second on the left

Broken Maple

After … the crooked old tree is gone …

A friend has suggested that if the root system is healthy (which it probably is) it may be worth trimming and sealing the tree so it can find its way back. I notice there are some remaining shoots on the trunk higher up which might flourish under the right conditions. I’ll consult an arborist. If in the end our efforts fail we will, at least, know that we gave the crooked old maple a fighting chance.

Unknown-1

Call me a sentimental old fool, if you will, but I have a soft spot for the tall, leafy things. The extensive variety of trees was one of the reasons we fell in love with the property in the first place. I hugged that tree yesterday out of a sense of despair, and yet in its traumatic state it ushered in me a sense of hope and healing. I feel I must do what I can to help it.

In the meantime, we begin the clean up. No small task as we have to hire a tree removal service to help and get the insurance company involved. Fallen branches will become wood chips (which, ironically enough, I was sourcing through a third-party last week) for trail paths and my work pen. Fallen trunks will become firewood. Maybe we can save a maple trunk for a harvest table down the road. Or use the larger trunks for some other creative purpose. Who knows?

All I know for certain is that one of the most important things we can do in life is nurture what we love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016