Remember Who You Are

 

~*~

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

 ~*~

Since moving to the new barn almost four months ago I haven’t had much to say about training. It’s been a rather intense period of re-configuring my relationship with the world equine, and often when you’re in the midst of something like this and you can’t see the light for the tunnel you’re travelling in, it can be an impossible task to describe the experience to others. These moments are deeply personal and life-altering and the moments must be fully lived in to reap the benefit.

I am aware that not all readers here are horse people. Still, the lessons of life ~ whether you learn them with reins, rigging or a nine iron in your hand ~ are universal. It’s the language of whatever we have identified as our passion that will speak the magic words of life’s meaning to us. It is up to each of us to pay attention. So, while endeavouring to grasp the language of the horse as interpreted by my new trainer, I’ve been doing my best to pay attention and take it all it in. Of course, there are plenty of old ideas to release before the new ones can take hold. I’m learning to forget who I was told to be and am finally getting a profound glimpse of who I am (never mind remembering.)

Being a “woman of a certain age” already managing the baggage that particular trip to self-awareness brings, this is no mean feat.

Finally I’m seeing beyond the limitations others had established throughout my life and am moving into a more expansive, authentic way of being. My awakening horse, the new nurturing barn environment and a trainer and yes, barn owner, who support my potential and judge me not by my past, have already, in just four short months, made such a huge difference.

There certainly have been, and continue to be, struggles, of course. One cannot extricate oneself from old patterns of behaviour and belief without profound moments of discomfort, doubt, sorrow and trepidation. Change means challenge, but being stuck in a frustrating and debilitating rut is, as far as I’m concerned, far less desirable.

There are moments when I wonder why Bear and I had to wait so long for this opportunity to expand. But then I remind myself that everything unfolds as it should and bemoaning what was only uses up whatever precious energy is available to enjoy what is.

The fact is, timing and preparation met opportunity. Bear’s current home, as it is now, didn’t even exist 18 months ago, and I was not ready to take this step. The cosmic tumblers hadn’t fallen into place. Last November things began to click and the transition from old barn to new happened in less than a month once I’d made up my mind to move.

Yes, life unfolds as it should; things happen when they’re meant to; when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Truth in abundance.

But enough philosophizing.

The reason this has come up is that last Thursday I was almost ready to put away my riding boots for good …

Any equestrian with a true passion for their sport and a love for their horse(es) will tell you that there are days when the effort just doesn’t seem worth the reward. You have an off day. The horse has an off day. You both have an off day at the same time. Conditions are too cold; hot; wet. There are so many variables. A horse has a mind of its own and on any given day he might just tune out and leave you feeling like you’re sitting on a brick wall for all the connection you have. Getting doggedly through these moments without berating yourself for being a crap rider and having a meltdown can be a challenge at times. Riding horses effectively and sympathetically isn’t all happy trails and fairy tales. It’s mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and, for many riders I know, spiritually challenging.

And just to set the record straight, not all horse people are sitting on piles and piles of cash. Many make great sacrifices to ensure the health and safety of their animals and to pursue their passion. Still, I’m happy to sacrifice a pair of fashionable shoes that’ll last me a season for a training session in classical riding with a Master instructor that’ll last me a lifetime. Prioritizing what’s truly important is all part of the experience. Is that not a life lesson?

So, getting back to Thursday, in spite of the fact Bear and I have made great progress during the previous almost four months I felt, on that miserable day, as if we were going backwards. He wasn’t moving off my leg. He wasn’t paying attention. He wouldn’t walk down the lovely lane by the pond we’d conquered the week before. And he wasn’t being particularly nice about any of it. It was old stuff ~ old stuff I thought we’d left behind. Bear was being a bear, and I was frustrated.

I blame some of this on his hierarchal arguments in the paddock. He’s established himself as alpha out there, so possibly he was laying a challenge for me. In the end I made it work but honestly, it felt like any progress since our move had been lost. It was one of those two-steps back kind of days. Argh!!!

After a few moments of weepy frustration (as we equestrians are wont to do at such times) I decided that rather than get mad I’d get even. Instead of riding, which I had no desire to do anyway, I would school Bear on the lunge line.

The lunge work, with Bear in side reins, helps him engage pushing power from behind and get him stretching over his top line and into the contact, which he generally finds creative ways to avoid. No contact, no connection. Just 10 minutes in both directions was enough to achieve the desired result. Bear’s a smart horse. He picks up on cues and signals quickly when I work with him on the ground.

Now, if only I could engage that in the saddle.

After our excellent lunging session I walked Bear, in-hand, down the lane past the bank barn, past the pond, over the bridge, back over the bridge, past the pond up the lane way past the bank barn and back to his stall. He was such a good boy. The more I can get him used to this routine the more enjoyable it will be for both of us. My intention is to get out in the fields and ride this summer, not spend every day in the hot sand ring so, he must learn to be brave.

The next step in this little remedial moment was for Stefan to ride Bear on Saturday.

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond ...

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond …

Stefan riding Bear is like Wayne Gretzky manoeuvring a hockey puck across the ice ~ effortless and intuitive. For an hour or so I watched as Bear was put through his paces by this great horseman. I watched closely the master’s technique. The pace and rhythm he created. Bear went so beautifully for him. Sure, my horse needs to continue to build strength from behind, but he was putty in the gentle master’s hands. I can hardly wait to see the difference a few months from now. 😉

Hands together and stationed just above the withers seems to be the most important thing I can remember right now. My hands have a tendency to get a bit busy. This impedes our connection and allows Bear to be evasive. Imagine if you’re driving a car and you keep moving the steering wheel unnecessarily ~ you’d be all over the road, right? Busy hands create confusion for the horse. A proper connection cannot be established like this. If I don’t commit to stillness, he can’t commit to straightness. It’s quite simple.

So, Sunday I took Bear out for a spin, determined to duplicate what I had witnessed the day before. My experience was night and day compared to Thursday. No, it wasn’t perfect, but working from a higher level of awareness and with my boy tuned up I felt like I was on the moon! This continued into my lesson on Monday, my coach and I quite encouraged by the profound progress made in just one week.

Of course, it’s one thing to find the connection but another thing altogether to maintain it …

This will come with time and practice. For one thing, both Bear and I need to rebuild our endurance. During the last couple of years, with adrenal fatigue my miserable companion, my stamina all but disappeared. I’ve been feeling better these days so I’m hoping that over the coming months I can, through riding and twice-weekly Pilates sessions and more walking, build this up again. I still need to manage my energy stores carefully. Pushing myself beyond endurance creates an energy deficit that my body can only manage by foreclosing for 24 hours. Still, I am stronger and this is most encouraging.

For Bear’s part, he’s on all-day turnout with his buddy, Dream, and the paddocks are large and rolling, so he gets plenty of exercise when I’m not around. That, and the new work we’re doing, will make him plenty strong.

Apart from that, this classical style of riding requires the creation of new muscle memory in mind and body. Building that takes time, effort and practice.

So, while things looked pretty bleak on Thursday it was, in fact, a pivotal day. And now, we rest for a few days to replenish our resources.

It’s said that things are always darkest before the dawn. It’s also said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Crossing the threshold to a new way of being can be a tough and miserable business. However, with the appropriate, knowledgeable help and a determination to get through the rough patches, the transition of old ways of thinking to new and the adoption of fresh ideas that more deeply resonate with our personal truths can mark a glorious beginning and reclamation of self.

Putting away my riding boots for good would not have been the answer. Symbolically, however, I traded in the beat-up steppers for a sturdier pair, tailor-made for striding positively, purposefully and powerfully into a future where I finally get a chance to remember, be, and embrace who I am.

Bear SmilesAnd all because of a horse.

What helps you to remember who you are?

Nurture what you love.

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waking Up Is Hard To Do …

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

~Albert Einstein.

~*~

Just over three months ago Bear and I made a major change in our lives by moving to another barn.

The shift in awareness for us both has been dramatic. It’s almost as if we are awakening, finally getting to see our truth in the light of day. In fact, I even joked the other day that Bear is coming out of hibernation!

And I feel like Sleeping Beauty kissed awake into a new realm of magical possibility.

All the romance aside, waking up is hard to do. Life can be so overwhelming for many of us that we learn to numb ourselves to the day-to-day adopting, however unwittingly, a disassociated state just to get by. As a result we don’t feel present in our experiences and our lives,  and when we look back all we see is a blur. I know this to be true, for it is my experience.

To be awakened, no matter how gently, has the potential to wreak inner havoc. However, if we are to be free of the over-shadowed life we must wake up and step into the light, even though it’s bound to be a bit disorienting for a while.

Wake up! Wake up!

The real life metaphor of this for me was watching a “broken” horse find his spirit again in the training theatre of Canadian natural horsemanship trainer, Chris Irwin.

The beautiful quarter horse palomino was docile and well-mannered. Ground tie him, i.e. attach a rope to his halter and just let it drop to the ground, and he’d stand there quietly, unmoving and disinterested in the world around him, just waiting for whatever was to happen next. He’d been so well “broken” that the light in his eyes had all but disappeared. The equine equivalent of a human zombie, I’d say. His owners, who’d recently purchased him and were concerned about his malaise, had brought him to the training session to see if the light could be restored to those big brown eyes. They wanted to give the poor animal a chance to feel like a horse again.

Cream-Coloured Pony

Be the free spirit you were born to be …

Witnessing the transformation in this horse over the three-day session was awe inspiring. Through measured and controlled groundwork and round-pen exercises Chris, and those of us who had an opportunity to work with the horse under his supervision, was able to help awaken the horse to a more authentic way of being. It was one of the most miraculous things I witnessed while training with this great horseman.

The journey to awareness for that horse was not easy, however. Even under these protective and nurturing circumstances the horse was confused and acted out. The notion of “awakening” was a scary prospect. However, by the end of the three-day experience obvious gains had been made. The horse was more animated and more engaged with the world around him.

The interesting thing for me was that as I observed the transformation in this beautiful golden horse I recognized the need for such a change in my own life. It’s when I began to realize the depth of my own broken spirit. It was another sign it was time for me to seek help and step into my own light.

Changing is never easy. It’s why most people choose to avoid it. But I believe that every time we resist the opportunity to heal and expand our lives in some way we entrap ourselves, and those with whom we interact on a daily basis, in an endless cycle of misery.

Waking up is hard to do, but it must be done if we are to realize, like the beautiful palomino, a chance to see ourselves, and the world, from the vantage point of our truth.

~*~

The Ultimate All-Terrain Vehicle

This week I unearthed an old project as I was cleaning out Bear’s file.

A few years ago I had a little fun with his official passport picture and created my take on the ultimate all-terrain vehicle. Sadly, the original image is not on this computer so I was reduced to photographing the printed copy with my iPhone and uploading it. The image is a bit fuzzy, but I hope you can get the gist of it. If you click on the image and enlarge it helps.

One Horsepower Has It All

One Horsepower Has It All

This leads me to share how Bear’s all-terrain capacity was put to the test earlier this week when we went hacking for the first time this year. After a grim winter riding in circles in the indoor arena it was, I hoped, to be a gentle awakening to a new experience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve done plenty of hacking in my life but not much in recent years, and together Bear and I have certainly never done anything like this.

We accompanied a small group into the rolling back fields where a course of cross-country jumps resides. Before embarking on our new adventure, however, we worked in the arena for about 40 minutes to take the edge off.

I felt confident enough and figured if not now, when? Sooner or later Bear and I were going to need to expand our comfort zone. So, in single file with Bear the last in line, we headed downhill along a tree-lined lane way which passes by the old bank barn. In the summer months this is a really pretty spot of dappled sunlight. Right now, however, the lane is a mess of mud and melting snowy slush punctuated with tangled, fallen timber, remnants of December’s horrible ice storm.

Bear was a brave boy as he baby-stepped his way down the unfamiliar hill.  And, while he was attentive to me I hoped he would also feed off the confidence of the three horses ahead of us.

The lane to the pond lies to the left of the bank barn. A snow bank blocks the way. Jerome is in the paddock. This image taken in January.

The lane to the pond lies to the left of the bank barn. A snow bank blocks the way. Jerome is in the paddock. This image taken in January.

 

At the bottom of the hill and to the right of the path we passed a pond which is presently still frozen, and to the left an abandoned paddock awaiting its rebirth as a turnout space for retirees. The paddock fence ends at a river bank that cradles a small stream which, at present, is swollen with spring run-off.  This was all new to Bear. By his timid steps I could tell he was bravely facing his confusion. He wasn’t necessarily upset, but like anyone facing the unfamiliar, he was proceeding (as was I) with caution.

Then came a small wooden foot bridge that crosses the stream.

Bless him, Bear was not so sure about this. The other horses were already on the other side of it when we arrived. The combination of the snaking stream’s hissing, bubbling waters and the sound of hollow footfall over the wooden bridge was almost too much for my darling boy’s warmblood mind. He fretted, backing up and moving sideways, unable to compute the gentle aids I was using to ask him to keep moving forward. There was no point in getting angry or frustrated with him. I wanted this to be a good experience so he’d be happy to come here again. The barn manager called instruction from across the bridge but recognizing our predicament was only getting more stressful, she rode to our rescue so we could follow her over. Almost immediately Bear began to relax and was happy to bump hips with her horse across the bridge, snorting a sigh of relief when we reached the other side.

As we climbed the still snow-covered hill that led up from the stream, I was feeling somewhat intimidated by the soggy terrain. However, I reminded myself that Bear is designed to handle these conditions. All I really needed to do was put him in gear and stay out of his way so he could do what comes naturally … move.

We lagged behind our companions for most of the hack, but every so often someone would turn to see how we were doing and reassure with a smile.

Up and down small undulating hills we went and, at one point, into a little gully where water had pooled fetlock deep. Bear, whose all-season radials prefer drier conditions, put on a brave face and waded boldly through, even while his buddy, Dream, stopped in the middle and pawed and splashed like a happy child in a bath tub. Then, onward we went, past large, fixed obstacles, through the snow, slush, mud, and more big puddles. Bear was alert; curious, but he wasn’t afraid. He simply attuned to me and followed the others while quietly absorbing his surroundings.

Sure, he hesitated a few times while attempting to navigate around puddles and the the deeper snow, but I do believe that overall he rather enjoyed himself. He offered no indication that he was experiencing any undue stress. He was, it seemed to me, happy for the change of pace and scenery.

Soon it was time to turn around and head back to the barn. The hack was only meant to be a taste of what’s awaiting us as the season unfolds. Right now much of the property is still too snow- and ice-bound for exploration anyway.

As we approached the bridge from the opposite direction I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Bear, but being the bright boy he is he took it in stride and happily followed the other horses over the swollen stream and ice-covered pond, up the steep, slushy hill and back to the comfort of the barn.

It was a proud moment for me. Bear stepped up to this new experience beautifully.

Waking up, and expanding our comfort zone, is hard to do. Still, when we land in an environment that promotes growth and surround ourselves with people who care a whole new world can open up for us. An expansion of mind, body and spirit takes place that leaves us feeling stronger, more confident and prepared to take those next defining steps in our lives.

This experience was a lovely, gentle wake up call for both Bear and I.

I love those the best.

 

 ~*~

In the Saddle“Neigh!” Quoth He …

 No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.

~Winston Churchill

 

~*~

Thanks for stopping by.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

The Five-Minute Dental Check-Up

This is the way we brush our teeth, brush, our teeth, brush our teeth ...

Monday afternoon Bear had his annual visit with the dentist.

His experience is a little different from ours, however. The dentist comes to him.

Bear gets a home visit. No waiting in a sterile dentist’s waiting room, tortured by muzak and picking through last year’s trade magazines.

Nope. Just hanging out over a pile of hay, as usual, waiting his turn in the comfort of his own stall.

That’s not to say he doesn’t experience some degree of anxiety.

When I arrived for my Monday ride he was standing at the back of his stall, eyes wide, ears pricked back toward Mac two stalls down who was in the throes of dental rapture. (Not!)

And down the aisle, Bear’s normally placid paddock companion, Sam, was stomping and snorting in protest, the ting of metal rasp against water-filled metal bucket more than he cared to process. And his turn isn’t until Thursday.

Bear was next on the list.

“Does he need to be tranquilized,” I asked innocently enough, convinced, of course, that my baby could manage without it and save me the extra cost of the tranq.

“Oh, yes,” answered Coach, “but it’s not so strong a dose that you won’t be able to ride after.”

This fit into my time frame so I stood back and watched the show unfold.

Mac’s dental work complete, the good doc stopped by Bear’s stall to “fix him up” before heading over to dear old Teddy who, in his 30s now, is pretty long in the tooth. As you know, my boy is placid for the most part but, like most of us, he’s not big on the poking and prodding that comes with getting your teeth done.

Within minutes, and with Ted sporting a relieved look on his face, the good doc was in Bear’s stall, his hand up to his wrist in my boy’s mouth feeling for sharp edges, broken teeth and other dental issues. Coach was keeping a firm hold of Bear’s halter to provide support. With a grasp of what was going on in Bear’s oral cavity, the good doc then went to town with the rasp (like a huge metal nail file), floating away the rough edges of Bear’s pearly whites.

(Some equine dentists use electric horse tooth rasps, but this guy works mostly by hand. I like that. Who do you know that likes the sound of the dentist’s drill? 😉 )

There’s not much a dopey horse can do in this situation but roll his eyes and enjoy the attention, such as it is.

With Bear’s thoughts lost in the ether somewhere it look barely five minutes for the good doc to take care of business and announce a clean bill of oral health for my boy.

His next appointment is set for a year from now.

Bear Smiles

I should be so lucky. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Forward with Forgiveness

Handsome

A quick post, off the top of my head, as a thought occurred to me today in the middle of my coaching session.

Bear’s had a quiet week. I wasn’t well for a couple of days so he got to enjoy life as a muddy pasture ornament with his buddy, Sam. Didn’t need to answer about anything. Just got to be a horse. Which is fine.

Today I was back in the saddle after an episode of adrenal fatigue on Tuesday, and feeling my way into the work again. Curled up in a ball, as I was, in my recliner in the living room for a day or so, it was a challenge to get the old body to open back up.

Of course, horses demand that we be open. If we close down, they close down. It’s really simple body language.

At any rate, it took me a little longer to get in the groove today and Bear, feeling his outdoor privilege and, likely, rather bummed at having to work again, was being particularly ornery. Or perhaps, and rather more likely, he was simply taking advantage of me.

As well, since getting home from our 18-day trip it’s been a challenge to get back into the great work ethic we had going before I left. Everything we had before is there, it’s just taking longer to find it, and Bear isn’t giving anything away for free.

At one point during canter work he had a hissy fit, unexpectedly leaping to the left in response to nothing in particular. I corrected the situation and got him going again, but felt he was being rather mischievous and unforgiving.

I happened to mention this to Coach.

He said, “Bear’s a warmblood. They’re notorious for not wanting to go forward and will find excuses to give you a hard time about it.”

Coach helped me manage my way through this hiccup. I worked at opening my position to invite Bear to move forward more fluidly. Things were starting to go well again.

And then it hit me …

I had accused my horse of being unforgiving when, in fact, that finger was pointing right back at me. Not about forgiving Bear, or anything like that. Forgiving people. People in my life who have unwittingly put stumbling blocks in my path that prevent me from going forward. But it’s not the stumbling blocks that are preventing me from going forward anymore. It’s my own lack of forgiveness for the people who put them there in the first place.

I have been in my own way. Bear telling me to get out of his way was a way of letting me know how much of an obstacle I present to myself and my ability to move forward with my own life.

On the surface I’m all “oh, that doesn’t bother me anymore.” But down deep, I can feel it, niggling. And every once in a while I’ll feel or say something that stokes those damning fires of resentment, which in turn blocks my path forward to the better way of being I have for so long strived.

That light bulb moment on the back of my horse was a revelation. Not only was I seeing with my mind the incredible boob I’d been recently harbouring all that resentment, but on the flip side of that my body was releasing the negative tension attached to it. This was allowing Bear to open up his stride and really swing through his body into a lovely forward canter.

To some this might sound farfetched, but to me it’s terribly real. It has lead me to the conclusion that as long as we carry resentment, jealousy and hurt feelings with us on our journey we are in danger of not being able to move forward toward our goals and dreams as we’d like.

The fact that certain people in my life have hurt me has not changed. What has changed is my perception of their deeds and my willingness to move on from the pain of it. To go forward in self-awareness along my healing path with a forgiving heart is what matters now.

And I have my horse to thank for that.

Thank you, Bear …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2103

Confessions of a Coaching Intern: The Buck Stops Here … Part I

The second instalment of my Confessions of a Coaching Intern series in which I re-visit my experiences as an equestrian coach-in-training, 1995-1997.

Enjoy the ride! 

*

Finding clarity with a pitchfork and a song is one thing. Finding your courage on the back of a misbehaving horse is another thing altogether.

In this post we’ll step back in time to the true beginning of this journey. A journey I didn’t understand until I was in the throes of the pitchfork meditation … and beyond.

This instalment will be broken into at least a couple, or even three, posts. It was an invaluable experience and I don’t want to cut corners in the telling of it. At some level it’s about meeting and conquering a nemesis … and I know I’m not the only one who’s ever had a run in with one of those. 😉

Before we begin, let’s hang out with Bear for a moment. He likes company …

The Face in the Mirror

The Buck Stops Here

My story begins in 1991, four years before I chucked in corporate life.

I was a naïve almost 30-something, struggling with my identity, married to a man who didn’t love me and forking over my hard-earned money to pay for his expensive Masters degree State-side. I was living in my mother’s house, childless, aimless, anxious and unhappy.

My sanity? A weekly riding lesson … and singing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (but that’s a story for another blog).

Being around the horses kept me stable. (Ha!)

I was riding at the farm described in my last Confessions post (featured on Freshly Pressed), only at that time it was under different management and my intentions were much simpler. I just wanted to ride nice horses in beautiful surroundings and be happy doing it.

One of the things about learning to ride at a commercial equestrian facility is the variety of horses at hand. Each horse is different and has therefore, something different to teach you. The challenges from rider to rider, horse to horse within one group lesson are all different. A simple exercise for one horse/rider combination may be a total disaster for another. It’s all part of the learning, fun and, occasionally, frustration.

As it turned out, many of the horses at this riding school were re-trained off-the-track-thoroughbreds. They were purchased at a steal and given a second career, allowing more advanced recreational riders a skillful challenge and a cheap thrill. Most of these horses were fairly young. Many were ornery. Some were a joy to ride while others were downright unpredictable and posed a greater challenge.

I didn’t mind a challenge, but I didn’t want to get killed.

Peppered among the thoroughbreds were a few quarter horses, appendix quarter horses (half quarter horse/half thoroughbred) and a few non-descript ponies. Many were older, on loan from owners who needed their horses to have a job to maintain their upkeep.

Horse assignments were non-negotiable.

For the most part lessons were great fun …

I was in a group of four adults of similar riding experience (intermediate/advanced, whatever that means) and we all gathered on Saturday at 9 a.m. for a jolly good time.

Every week was a jumping lesson ~ indoors in the winter and outdoors, my favourite, in the summer. Out in the hunter fields with all the fixed obstacles, the horses had to jump big and bold and we once-a-week recreational riders had to muster courage. The adrenaline rush was something else. Looking back I wonder what I was thinking.

Our coach was a temperamental fellow of Eastern European extraction, a throwback to the cavalry. He growled a lot; lost his cool all too easily, and threw keys at the back legs of a horse if its rider wasn’t making him go fast enough. I didn’t like him. And I hated the keys. But his lessons were entertaining enough so, along with the others, I hung in.

(For the purposes of this post we’ll call him The Grumpy One).

I got to ride many fine horses; horses that suited my skill level. Horses like Soubrette, Raven and Finesse whose joie de vivre helped me to feel whatever existed of my own. Horses that allowed me to think and feel like I knew what I was doing.

And then there was Buck …

Buck was a four-year-old bay thoroughbred gelding. I don’t know if he’d ever made it to the track. He was lopsided ~ knees at slightly different heights, feet of different sizes … other things. He was also a bucker.

He was the horse that would show me how broken I was.

Me with Buck. He may look like Bear, but my Bear he wasn't.

Me with Buck, my nemesis. He may look like Bear, but my Bear he wasn’t.

When he was new to the riding school, he was ridden by far more advanced riders than I to get him ready for his new job. And then one day, after he’d been in the school for just a few weeks he was, to my disbelief, assigned to me.

I was fairly confident of my riding abilities. After all I’d ridden most of my life and been aboard many horses who’d enjoyed kicking up their heels, however inappropriately. I’d been dislodged by a few of them too, but always got back on ready to give it another go. But from the moment I met Buck I felt a distinct unease.

It was a brisk February morning. As horses and their riders trotted around the indoor arena The Grumpy One, from his position in the centre of the ring, barked instruction.

“Halt!” “Turn-on-the-forehand!” “Trot!” “Faster!”

Vapours of warm breath drifted from blowing nostrils (horse and human) and sparkled off the sunlight in the frigid air. Hooves brushed through sandy footing, saddle leather creaked against cold and horses chomped absently at the bit. Half an hour in and all was well.

And then a shift …

With an unexpected heart-stopping leap my happy place became a house of horror. From nowhere and for no fathomable reason Buck was all fours off the ground and kicking his legs out behind him. He landed on terra firma with a bouncy thud and planted his feet. He snorted.

Somehow I was still on board, the drum of my heart sounding an alert while a rapid pulse of terror coursed through my body.

The Grumpy One looked over. He growled.

“Get that horse moving!”

I saw keys.

“Okay,” I remember thinking, “I can handle this. Perhaps this was Buck getting it out of his system.” (Or perhaps, I wonder today, he was just too darn sore and conformationally-challenged to do the work. … Or maybe I just wasn’t riding very well. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s rider error. Buck may have been the exception to that rule … or maybe not. Who knows with horses … )

Taking a deep breath, I pressed Buck forward into trot. We were on our way once more, moving in the maelstrom of the group dynamic.

The Grumpy One growled more instruction. On high alert now, my attention was divided between what he wanted and what Buck was willing to give which, it appeared, was up for debate.

Because it wasn’t long before he bucked again … and again … and again as if he was some manic rodeo bronc.

Certainly, I was not happy nor was I comfortable with this situation.

What was I doing wrong? Why was this horse being such a bully? What needed to happen to make it stop?

I looked to The Grumpy One for some guidance. The scowl chiseled into his late middle-aged face told me I was out of luck. I would have to figure this out on my own. But I didn’t know what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I was doing! Years of once-a-week recreational riding had not prepared me for anything like this. I didn’t want to end up broken in a pile of frozen horse manure.

With no support or guidance, and a total lack of interest from The Grumpy One with respect to my plight, I felt my nerve, and my courage, drying up; the colour in my face draining.

Frustration mounted as Buck, sensing my discomfiture (which horses always do), took full advantage and refused to move.

This was supposed to be my happy time; my time away from the complete shambles that was my home life. I didn’t need this horse to give me a hard time. I didn’t want, or need, this challenge, especially without appropriate instruction. I wasn’t there to be tortured.

After a final desperate appeal for help, and another growly disinterested response, I did something I’d never done before ~ I gave up. Choking back tears of frustration and deep humiliation I walked Buck to the middle of the arena and dismounted. The Grumpy One grunted. I lead Buck back to his stall. Untacked him. Left the barn.

I was done.

Buck had tested my mettle and I’d failed. What was supposed to make me feel better had left me feeling worse.

All I wanted, needed, was a little guidance. All The Grumpy One had to do was show a little  interest in helping me to work it out. All he wanted to do was growl and throw keys.

It reflected a pattern of repeated negative interactions with the males in my life (human and horse, apparently) that had become all too familiar.

Later, at home, I relived the experience in my head over and over, wondering what I could have done differently. Without appropriate instruction there was nothing to be done. Buck had hit a nerve and, in the interest of safety, my reaction had been to cut and run.

I realized that The Grumpy One was not a good instructor for me. Perhaps worse was the notion that Buck would be assigned to me again.

The apprehension around that thought was more than I was prepared to handle. So, with no apparent other alternative, I put my passion for horses on permanent hold. I was done. It was a childish pursuit anyway, I reasoned. Time I grew up.

Was I too easily discouraged? Possibly, but as a person with serious trust issues at that time, I didn’t know where to turn or who I could talk to. Obviously The Grumpy One had no interest in being the nurturing teacher I needed. As well, no one in my family understood my passion for horses, so there was no point in bothering them with my dilemma.

Could I have moved to another barn? Absolutely. But my heart was no longer in it. My nerves were too frayed.

Thereafter followed four of the most miserable years of my life, during which I experienced three failed attempts at in vitro fertilization; the continued downward spiral of my marriage  and the moment that changed everything … the death of my grandmother.

Which takes us to the internship …

Stay tuned for Part II of “The Buck Stops Here …”

~*~

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Thrilled to be Freshly Pressed …

Life is what happens when you’re doing whatever.

That’s my variation on John Lennon’s immortal “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

It was early Tuesday afternoon and I wasn’t planning anything, I guess, except to return home after a lovely few hours spent at the barn with Bear. As I parked myself in the driver’s seat of my car and checked my iPhone for emails before heading out, there it was … a message from Michelle at WordPress.

How appropriate. I was at the barn when I learned that my post Confessions of a Coaching Intern: Finding Clarity with a Pitchfork and a Song was going to be Freshly Pressed.

I am beyond thrilled by this tremendous honour.

My sincerest desire when writing for any of my blogs is that what pours from my heart by way of my writing will touch the hearts of those who stop by to read it.

Shakespeare and I have travelled a bumpy road over the past several years, but an illuminating and fulfilling one as well. It’s done my heart good to share our stories, and I will continue to do so as we continue our journey together.

My thanks to WordPress.com for the Freshly Pressed recognition, and to everyone who has in anyway supported my efforts here by reading, liking, commenting and following what goes on in my little equestrian world.

A kiss

To finish, a brief word about my closing line “Nurture what you love …”

On this journey called life, with the help of my beautiful horse, my husband and a good therapist, I have learned that it is not enough to say you love. The word is dead without deed; without nurturing.

Lots of people said they loved me, when I was a little girl, but life and family circumstances left me un-nurtured*; unable to see my Self and horribly traumatized. In fact, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was my constant companion for most of my life without me realizing it.

A series of wake-up calls, including the one highlighted in my Freshly Pressed post noted above, started showing me there was a different way of being.

In fact, horses have been among my greatest teachers.

Horses demand that we be authentic, connected in self-awareness just as they are …and they call us on it when we are not. They walk on egg shells for no one and will keep offering up the same lessons to us until we figure it out. Often these lessons are not pretty. I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of many in my life as an equestrian.

Horses have taught me to address my anger, bitterness, disappointments, misery in my own time and not bring it to the barn. When I do this the barn becomes a place of nurturing, of healing. When I project a nurturing attitude toward Bear, he reflects it back to me. He is therapy for me only in as much as I am self-aware enough to receive the lessons he teaches.

Many horses (you can insert children, animals, people, etc. here as well) are abused by people who pay lip service to the word “love.”

To say we love is not enough. Love is just an empty, and abused, word without the actions to back it up.

So, nurture what you love … and that means you, too.

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

* Since I’m being so open with you, I will clarify here that I am aware that my mother, a single parent pursuing a career in show business at the time, did her best to provide the necessities of life and to make sure that my brother and I knew we were loved. However, exhausted from her operatic endeavours, and managing a home and family with no financial or emotional support of any kind from our dead-beat father, and thousands of miles away from any extended family who might have been able to pick up some slack, there was simply not enough nurturing energy available to her to fill the word love. This is where I fell through the cracks.

*

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Follow-Up Birthday Present …

Wouldn’t we all like a follow-up birthday present?

You may recall that six weeks or so ago Bear received a visit from the chiropractor (his first) as a birthday present.

Well, yesterday he had his follow-up appointment.

According to the chiropractor, Bear’s held up pretty well since his last manipulation. His main issue is stiffness in the sacroiliac joint which, coincidentally (or not) is one of my main issues. (It’s one of the reasons I visit my chiropractor every couple of weeks.)

... More work on the sacroiliac joint ...

… More work on the sacroiliac joint … (All images taken with my iPhone)

Other areas needing further alignment were his withers, shoulders and neck, though the chiropractor gave him a thorough review, just for good measure.

It was interesting to watch Bear’s body tense and release as the chiropractor worked his magic, and to see the reaction on Bear’s face. He was enjoying every minute of it, even if he was, occasionally, taken by surprise by a particularly intense adjustment.

As the kinks were worked out of Bear’s body he visibly relaxed and seemed to become even more beautiful (if that’s even possible). The obvious glint in his eyes told me he was feeling no pain. I felt like a good mom providing him with this important healing experience.

Afterwards a bucket of carrots was a welcome reward for my brave boy.

The reward

With any luck he won’t need the services of the chiropractor again for a while. But, I won’t be surprised if there’s a follow-up, follow-up birthday present somewhere in Bear’s future.

Healing is not a static experience.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

What to give my horse on his birthday …

Birthday boyToday my beautiful horse, Bear, celebrates a dozen summers.

He is, in equine parlance, in his prime. My Coach told me years ago that it would be around this time in his life that my boy’s “dumb-blood” tendencies would start to recede and he’d become the mature Warmblood of my dreams.

He was right, of course.

My teenager has become an adult.

So, what to give my boy for his special birthday?

Carrots?

Sure, but he gets those every day anyway.

A day off?

He’s had lots of time off recently, so that’s nothing special.

New leather halter?

Been there, done that.

No … to mark a dozen years, a special treat …

… his first chiropractic treatment!

And why not? I visit the chiropractor every two weeks to get the kinks out, why shouldn’t Bear benefit from similar therapy?

So, two weeks ago, when the equine chiropractor was scheduled to make one of his regular visits to the barn, I added Bear’s name to the list.

I wasn’t sure what Bear’s maladies would be.

Coach and I both knew that he was tight in the right-hind leg, but beyond that I figured Bear was in pretty decent shape. Flexion tests showed, however, limited range of motion not only in his right-hind leg but in his hips, neck and shoulders as well. Hmmm … maybe another reason those canter transitions weren’t working so well.

Taking care of those hips ...

Taking care of those hips …

I watched in awe as the chiropractor worked his magic. Bear stood like a good little soldier, taking in all this unfamiliar attention with ease. By the end he was enjoying it. I could almost see the tension evaporate from his body.

When the chiropractor was done adjusting he re-did the flexion tests to check for changes. We were both pleased to see how much Bear’s range of motion had improved … and how relaxed he had become in the process.

It took a few days of rest for the results of the adjustment to manifest completely. And what a dramatic difference! His movement under saddle was freer, more open and fluid at all paces, including the infamous canter. There was no struggle, just submission ~ with Bear free of the aches that had plagued him before his adjustment.

Okay ... that's a stretch ...

Okay … that’s a stretch …

I’m looking forward to the follow-up appointment next month when the Chiropractor will check to see how well Bear is holding his corrected alignment.

Bear’s birthday workout …

For maintenance I’m following doctor’s orders and doing neck stretches with Bear every day. I’m also asking him to back him up several times each visit to ensure his hips stay nice and loose.

Bear is happy to oblige. He seems to know that all of this is for his good. Of course, carrot treats and bonus stud muffins certainly help. 😉

What to give my horse on his birthday?

How about a new lease on life …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Fun!

It’s been a full week.

Preparations are ramping up for our wedding which is next weekend, so time with Bear has been, sadly, sporadic at best. In fact, I haven’t ridden at all this week and won’t, now, until after the wedding is over.

This means, of course, he will get to enjoy a bit of a vacation too.

On Wednesday, between hair colouring and a dress fitting, I managed to squeeze in a visit to the barn. Because the farrier was doing feet (including Bear’s which were in real need of attention) and this tends to monopolize the small barn where Bear lives, our time was limited to a few minutes of hand grazing.

Yesterday, however, and to my delight, I had plenty of time to devote to grooming and playing with my beautiful boy.

We had so much fun!

He loves a free-run in the arena and to wallow in my company (and I his, of course). This makes my heart glad and releases any stress I’m holding and, as we get closer to the big day, this is really important.

These images were captured with my iPhone while we were hanging out in the arena. Please enjoy them for the next couple of weeks. I doubt I’ll be posting again until the beginning of June.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Mirror, Mirror …

Mirror

Bear and I are making strides.

After an “Aha!” moment during my coaching on Tuesday we’re focusing the next month on walk/trot and lateral work as I endeavour to establish the seemingly impossible — a more effective leg.

Sinking the weight into my lower leg releases the tension in my hips and thighs.

Releasing the tension frees Bear’s back.

He’s been so much happier this week as I’ve been working on this, reaching into the contact, stretching through his back, eyes soft, ears floppy, hind end engaged.

We trot past the mirror and I smile from ear to ear as I notice how “dressage-like” my position in the saddle is finally appearing. And it isn’t just the look that I like, it’s the effect it’s having on Bear. His relaxation makes my smile even broader.

Once I have established a solid, sympathetic leg position at walk and trot we’ll take it to the next level and work in canter. Like I said, we’ve put aside a month. If it takes longer, or happens in a shorter time, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is we’re on track to me being able to stay out of Bear’s way so he can do what he was bred and born to do … move fluidly, athletically and beautifully.

I liken this to removing the detritus in my life that keeps me stuck. The negative people, ideas, illusions that thwart my progress forward and make me act out in counter-productive ways.

I’ve taken steps in recent years to give notice to these things that restrict my movement forward. Finally some of them are dropping away and a new way of being is emerging — relaxed, soft eyed, floppy eared … you get the picture … 😉

It amazes me how my relationship with my horse mirrors so closely my relationship with myself. When I’m with my therapist we often discuss my interactions with Bear and the lessons he has to teach me about my coping mechanisms in general. And, whether he realizes it or not, Coach is the guiding hand that helps me find my way with the metaphor that is my horse.

Often while we work in the arena a light bulb will go off in my head that illuminates an issue I’ve been working to resolve in the therapist’s chair. Somehow the angst around the issue disappears and, once again, Bear has mirrored to me what’s possible. All I need to do is pay attention and release the tension I’ve clung to unwittingly — tension that stifles forward energy, blocks my view and tries to convince me there’s no hope.

I may nurture my horse but he, with the help of a few pretty amazing people, heals me.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013