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 

 

 

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

 

A Gift of Sunshine

Tunnel vision

~*~

Spring has sprung here in Southern Ontario, and while we are seeing the light at the end of winter’s dark tunnel it’s premature to believe we’re completely through the other side of it to spring. We had snow flurries two days ago and temps are still hovering around the zero celsius mark. It’s also been terribly damp, to the point of being bone-chilling, so too early to put the woolies away yet.

Brrrrrrr …..

Still, this too shall pass.

We have been granted the occasional teaser warm day with bright sunshine, which has melted the ice and dried the ground enough for me to be able to take Bear outside for his daily amble (when their isn’t a stiff nor’wester blowing, of course).

How amazing to finally be able to engage with Bear in the sunshine. A blessing, to be sure.

Hay manEven though he’s been stuck indoors for weeks and weeks Bear’s demonstrated such poise on his first outings outside. A nice alert, flat-footed walk around the dirt parking lot for several minutes; his ears perked; eyes big and curious about who’s in which paddock. The occasional stop to test, with practiced lips, the browned grass for the much longed for fresh shoots that are just beginning to poke through the thawing earth.

As a special treat he has permission to feast at a hay buffet courtesy of an open round bale. Such bliss to stand in the early spring sunshine with Bear as he seeks to satisfy his endless appetite.

Watching Bear revel in this small change of routine makes me happy. He’s been a model rehab patient during his long confinement, so to be able to give him the gift of blue skies and sunshine makes me feel like I’m doing something positive. It was a cold, bleak winter and it feels so good to be out from under that cloud.

Better by the day

With respect to Bear’s recovery, he’s getting better by the day. Things haven’t changed much since his last ultrasound of three weeks ago, except that as of last weekend I no longer apply a sweat to the injured fetlock. The inflammation there has decreased such that a simple stable wrap will do. He lives in them (I still wrap the supporting leg as well) 24/7 except when I hand walk him. This is when he wears Back on Track therapeutic polo bandages to give his lower legs the support they need while exercising, such as it is at present.

Fun with food

Our friend Sarah capture Bear’s “fun with food” moment the other day. His nibble net is supposed to be inside his stall and in this image he has successfully manoeuvred it otherwise. His own definition for “throwing hay.” 😉

Bear’s spirits are good. He’s spoiled with attention, and treats, and loves to entertain whoever chooses to stop long enough outside his stall to indulge his flights of fancy.

Last Monday he had his monthly massage. Evidently he gets tight on the right side from standing around, so the therapist has given me a few gentle techniques to use on him to help keep those localized spots a little more limber.

The Worst Kind of Crap Shoot

In the meantime, I have been starting to shop for another horse, and horse shopping, as pretty much anyone who’s engaged in it will tell you, can be the worst kind of crap shoot, especially without good guidance. There are so many variables; so many things to consider that if you don’t know specifically what kind of horse you’re looking for and keep the emotional component in check you could end up on an expensive and discouraging wild goose chase.

Since my goal with a new dressage horse is to be able to see myself start to ride to my highest potential, I need one with three good gaits (walk, trot, canter) and that is well schooled in the German training system. As my coach put it to me the other day, we want a horse that allows me to develop my riding ability without having to address huge holes in his training. I don’t mind the challenges that will arise as I push myself to a higher plateau of horsemanship, but I don’t want to have to deal with the arguments presented as a result of someone else’s poor horse training.

My coach is in agreement with this.

So, we’re on the look out for a warmblood around eight years old, with good solid gaits and training, a sound temperament and at least 16.2 hands in height ~ in a price range, of course, we can afford. In other words … a needle in a haystack. Still, that’s okay. I’m a firm believer that life unfolds as it should. I have good support and guidance around me, so when the right horse comes along he/she should be fairly easy to spot. At least I’m optimistic.

As always my primary concern, beyond my own safety, is the welfare of the horse, and so I want to ensure that whatever horse enters the picture will be appropriate for, and comfortable with, the kind of training I have in mind under the expert guidance of my coach. Horses are not one size fits all, so being as mindful of their individual needs and limitations is as important as being mindful of my own.

Of course, I am ever mindful that Bear is the one who has put me on this path. From the moment he stepped into my life nine years ago he has walked the bumpy road of healing with me, opening my heart and my mind to new and wonderful possibilities. He’s helped me attract into my life, when I was ready, the circumstances and people who have helped me along the path of personal growth during the past several years, and as such has placed himself at the heart of my healing program and my dreams of one day having my own equine experiential learning practice. With his good looks and charm, funny disposition and open heart he is a gift of sunshine that I’m really looking forward to sharing with those who are ready when the timing is right ~ for me … and him. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Things Are Getting Silly Now … and a Sonnet

Meeting Lucky

Bear meets his lucky charm for the first time …

~*~

For good or ill things are getting silly now. Probably for good since a little bit of levity is a welcome change and living in the doldrums is no fun at all.

It’s week three ~ some 24 days into Bear’s treatment for an injured lateral suspensory ligament ~ and with the dust finally beginning to settle, finding stimulating ways to amuse ourselves in the depths of frigid winter is high on our list of priorities.

Thankfully, Bear continues to be cooperative and sensible during his convalescence, and the comic side of his character is once again taking centre stage. (Or perhaps I’m simply able to see it again. Amazing what happens when you open your eyes.)

During our most recent hand walking excursions, with the arena sound system set to the classical music station and Bear now on free walk (I believe the fact that his blanket stays on while we do our walkabout helps him to understand this is not an opportunity to go running off steam) he’s been following me around like a happy puppy dog. And, just like the proverbial hound out for a walk with his/her mistress, within minutes of our perambulation he leaves me a special delivery, which I then dutifully clean up under his expert supervision. After making a deposit in the bucket at Poo Corner, we continue our walkabout, and while I hum along to Mozart or Thomas Tallis or whoever, Bear ambles behind me, gently running his nose back and forth along the fake furry fringe of the hood on my winter overcoat. He’s ever so tactile.

Lately Bear’s been learning how to bow

Learning to bow has come about as a natural result of the carrot stretches I’ve been integrating into our daily walks to help keep him bendy.

Bear is a fast learner, so teaching him to bow has been easy. (He’s also rather motivated by the promise of an orange root veggie reward.) Being the smart apple he is, he’s taken this exercise one step further and bows without prompting.

For instance, we’ll be engaged in our walkabout (we walk dressage test patterns to cure the monotony) when I’ll sense he’s stopped somewhere behind me. I turn around.

“What’s going on, Bear?” I’ll ask with some amusement.

He’ll give me a knowing look with those big, baby browns and then gaze down at his front feet, one of which will be placed forward of the other. Next thing I know he’s bowing for me. Forgive me … for the carrot he knows is padding my pocket.

Bowing

Carrot, please …

 ~*~

Oh, my goodness … he’s so cute! And just for a moment I’ll forget this wretched injury vortex in which we’re holed up and simply revel in this touching moment of joy we share.

Of course, he’s rewarded for his effort and initiative, and then I make sure to move him forward quietly so he understands the moment is ended. (Otherwise we might be stuck there for some time while he demonstrates his bowing prowess by constantly switching which leg he brings forward and bowing and repeating. … Gosh, I hope I haven’t created a monster.) As we continue his free walk, we stop to practice his bowing for as many carrot pieces as I have left in my pocket. He’s always wander struck when my pocket is finally empty.

Still, twenty minutes of hand walking goes quickly when interspersed with a little silliness accompanied by classical music.

At least we finish with smiles.

Speaking of smiles … doing so on command is next on the trick roster. I’ll keep you posted.

And now … a Word from Poet’s Paddock

Meditation 2

Shakespeare musing …

~*~

Naturally, Poet’s Paddock is empty these days, but Poet’s Stall doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Still, Shakespeare (Bear’s registered name and creative alter ego) has had plenty of time to contemplate his navel and conjure some poetic fluff.

As many of you know, dear Shakespeare has a penchant for poetic rumination (visit PoetsPaddock for more) and from time to time I have been known to indulge his flights of fancy in this blog.

Herewith a sensitive rendering from our equine muse, transcribed, of course, by yours truly …

~*~

Sonnet XXVII

One hundred days and twenty in this stall
To rest and watch as others’ worlds go by.
And restless though I be as bouncing ball
More sad I am to hear my mother sigh.
Though side by side this journey now we trace
Our joys and sorrows cannot be the same
Tis not t’ward a finish line we race
For she is well and I, perchance, am lame.

Neigh, step by step while on this pitted path
Together wobble we this journey scorned,
Still in our hearts we harbour little wrath
For out of battles victories are born.
And though the days seem long and move e’er slow
This too shall pass, and to new heights we’ll grow.

~*~

 So, there you have it. This week is a little more light hearted, a little silly, and I pray this will continue to be the case as we move forward with Bear’s recovery. It is, perhaps, how we’ll be able to maintain our sanity during this dormant period.

As mentioned in my last post I’ve learned to acknowledge that this is, perhaps, an opportunity for further healing on my part as well. Little signs along the way are showing me this is, indeed, the case. I miss riding, make no mistake, but the intense cold makes it easier for me to focus on what’s really important right now and that’s the healing journey. I’m putting my faith in the process. Perhaps at the end of this Bear and I will come out stronger than ever and life will open up even more than I imagined.

I’m hopeful.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

My Horse; My Mirror ~ A Year In Review

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw

~*~

How I have changed

My 2014 journey has been filled with highs and lows, ups and downs and many blesséd “Aha!” moments.

With my new coach I am catching a glimpse of myself as the rider I always wanted to be ~ confident, skilled and aware. No limitations on where I might go. No one telling me I’d “never be able to ride” my horse at a higher level because “I couldn’t handle it.” Since this coach’s mandate is to teach skills to the rider that are of ultimate benefit to the horse, he is dedicated to instilling in me correct classical dressage principles. I now feel like riding is something in which I might thrive instead of merely survive. The difference in just a year is profound. I have never felt more in tune with my horse.

Hands

~*~

Coupled with this new lease on my riding life, of course, is everything I learned by participating in the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification program this year. Talk about a life changer!

I can say, unequivocally, that I am NOT the person I was when I started the FEEL course at the end of June. My past no longer haunts me the way it did. The self-defeating beliefs that had sabotaged my life no longer have their strangle-hold on me. I understand my Self and the burden of trauma I’ve been carrying my entire life ~ trauma that I have learned to release so that I can live more fully in the moment and with a vibrant sense of well being. A happy side effect is that my overall health has greatly improved. Adrenal fatigue seems a fading memory, though the lessons it taught about self-care are now a fixture in my life and I continue to nurture my Self accordingly.

The FEEL journey wasn’t easy, this is true, but it was so worth it. And I’m grateful to my fellow graduates, the course facilitators and, of course, the wonderful herd of therapy horses who made the healing journey that changed my life a safe, exciting and rewarding experience. An experience that has opened my mind and heart and given me the freedom to live my truth instead of the illusion I’d known.

Yes, I have changed. I’m happy in a way I’ve never been happy. Confident in a way I’ve never been confident. And engaged with life in a way I’ve never felt engaged before.

How Bear has changed

Well, I didn’t think it was possible for my beautiful boy to become any more beautiful but this year he certainly has. He’s blossomed!

When we arrived at the new barn a year ago today, he was going little better than an old school horse ~ weak behind; not accepting the contact; a four-beat canter and arguing with me with each transition. I didn’t see it then, but a year in review and everything I have learned shows me the ugly truth. I’m sure my new coach must have looked at us and wondered what on earth he was getting into. But he never judged us. He simply accepted the challenge and has, by all accounts, turned Bear’s (and my) life around.

Bear today

~*~

I knew going in that working with a riding master of the German school was going to be a treat for me, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine what a profound journey it would prove for Bear.

The new coach has been giving Bear the training he needs to be the horse he was bred to be. There is still much to learn, of course, but as demonstrated during Monday’s coaching Bear is moving straighter, using his back more effectively, is sound in the hind end, has a three-beat canter and is happy in his work (as indicated by his soft eye and gorgeous floppy ears.) I have had Bear for nearly nine years now and I can honestly say I have never seen him so relaxed. He loves working with Stefan and he is much happier with me now that I’m “getting” it.

DozingNaturally, all this learning has proven a challenge for my dear boy. It’s been a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of year. Bear would make progress and then be off for a while as his body adjusted to the new, correct way of going. He needed his rest. Visits from his vet, dentist, chiropractor and massage therapist have all helped him to negotiate his way through this learning curve and, I’m pleased to say, his state of mind throughout has been open, trusting and receptive. I’m so proud of him!

As well, he has benefited from my involvement in the FEEL program. I am more aware of my communications with him in general and he appreciates it. Instead of telling him what we’re doing I ask him if he’d like to participate. This encourages me to be more present and get a sense of how he’s feeling before just launching into something. It’s a more consciously intuitive connection than before, even though I have done my best, in the past, to practice awareness with him. It’s just more so now.

Bear has also proven to me time and again that he’s a happy soul. He’s had numerous paddock buddies this year and demonstrated a friendly open nature with all of them. With Tango, his present roomy, he’s quite conciliatory and gentle sensing, it seems, that Tango’s current leg injury requires quiet paddock time. It’s lovely to watch them interact. They could be brothers they’re so similar in temperament and stature.

Yes, Bear has changed. He’s happy in a way he’s never been happy. Confident in a way he’s never been confident. And engaged with life in a way he’s never felt engaged before.

My horse ~ my mirror.

~*~

Dorothy and BearI like George Bernard Shaw’s quote (above) because it is truth.

None of the progress I have made this year would have been possible without a willingness to change my mind and open my heart to new possibilities ~ for my Self and for Bear. And it certainly would not have been achieved without the support of my husband, my therapist, my FEEL family and fabulous new friends and mentors at the new barn. There are not enough words to express the gratitude in my heart for the incredible journey and time of personal growth the year 2014 has been for me.

And now, thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to share in my journey. It means a lot to me to have your support as I write about meaningful times with Mr. Bear.

Who know what 2015 will bring. Based on my experience of 2014, I am optimistic … and I wish the same for you.

May you enjoy a blessed, prosperous and ever so happy new year!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

One Journey Ends … Another Begins

Noble Bear

Shakespeare … aka Bear

 ~*~

 A few months ago I began the journey of a life time.

No, it wasn’t to some foreign land out there.

It was to an exotic place of mystery and richness residing in me.

~*~

During my passage I’ve kept a pretty low profile on this blog. It wasn’t because I had nothing to say; nothing to share. It was simply, in my mind, inappropriate to turn this into a travel log of my adventures on this intense journey; a journey ripe with personal revelation.

Processing and integrating the facilitated equine experiential learning material was not just about absorbing the content I plan to facilitate as a practitioner of this incredible healing modality. Rather, it was also another huge step along the path to my own healing. Every new port of knowledge provided an opportunity for me to check in with where I am in my life. Profound moments of self-discovery; “A-ha!” moments around every corner delighted and despaired and delighted again. The healing heart energy of these magnificent creatures who, by their very being, can’t help but be enormous catalysts for personal awareness and change if we but open our hearts to this truth, shone a light on my own magnificence and gave me a chance to see more deeply into my truth.

Learning about fields of energy and connection, heart resonance, body language, the messages and power of emotions, and witnessing the healing changes in the lives of those with whom I shared this journey ~ six beautifully spirited women all with a love for the horse and a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others, horse and human alike ~ has given me a new respect for the power of  this work. All of us stepped into a knowledge of Self that, I dare say, might have been impossible under any other circumstance.

The horses, being non-judgmental, and the sacred space of learning and trust created throughout the three sessions, gave all of us a safe place to explore our inner worlds and integrate the powerful lessons our incredible equine teachers had to share. Cleansing tears; tears of laughter and joy; moments of frustration when a particularly hard lesson presented itself; moments of triumph when the key to an emotional prison finally unlocked and the door swung open to a sense of personal liberation not felt before. Discovering true Self; true personal power and learning how to live in a more authentic and healing way in the world changed us. Changed me.

And through all of this, my relationship with Bear ~ my equine companion of the past nearly nine years ~ grew deeper and more connected. I honour the sentient being and powerful teacher of awareness that he is. Together we have grown; matured; healed. Time in the saddle for us is now more an exercise in synergy than frustration. Supported by our incredible teachers and mentors we have a glimpse of our potential ~ something which a year ago seemed unimaginable.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw

Who I am today is not who I was on June 26, 2014, when I started this journey and boarded the inbound flight. My heart is softer. My mind is more open. My health has improved. My ability to take life as it comes has blossomed. I am getting better at accepting the process of life. I am kinder to myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of frustration, et al, but I am able to pass through them more quickly and come out the other side feeling more optimistic and grounded. Bad days; hours; minutes happen. Learning how not to dwell on these times has been a major lesson indeed. Having the support of my therapist, my mentor and the horses has made all the difference in the world.

Equine experiential learning has changed my life, and I am excited to see, now, what the future holds.

~*~

So, what’s next?

That remains to be seen. I have a vision for this work that requires a farm, a suitable herd of horses and kindred human spirits. We shall see how, and when, that materializes. In the meantime, I continue to practice with Bear and increase and improve my knowledge. As well, I have started a new blog/website dedicated to my experience of this work. Somewhere I can explore themes and share what I, and others in the world of equine experiential learning, have gleaned. It is, like me, a work in progress.

Cor Equus is Latin for “heart of the horse.” I have combined the two words and given my practice the name CorEquus. From the heart of the horse emerges the reflection of who we are. By way of the horse we can find our truth and begin to heal. Here is the link to CorEquus.

Musings of a Horse Mom, on the other hand, will return to being Bear-centric ~ a more light-hearted look at horse-worldly things.

Who knows where the road will lead. As I announced to my mentors and the group on December 2, graduation day, my heart and mind are open; my faith in myself restored. Basically, the sky’s the limit.

~*~

In closing, direct from Poet’s Paddock, a missive courtesy of
Shakespeare “the Equine”

Sonnet XIII

To break out of one’s box, if truth be told,
Is not for faint of heart consumed with fear.
One must desire change; one must be bold
For new and wondrous blessings to appear.
And to this end one day did I aspire
Embarking on a journey from my slump
And from my ember rose into a fire
Where I didst gladly test myself and jump.

With wings of Pegasus o’er fence I flew
As heart didst bound with each and every stride
And burning fire from timid ember grew
Til I no longer could my spirit hide.
Hence when into my stall for rest I leapt
My heart no longer faint thus soundly slept.

~*~

My considerable thanks to those of you who follow this blog and who have, during the past few months, offered words of support and encouragement. It means the world.

May the world be yours.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Learning Curve

Bear

 

~*~

Learning curves do not move in a simple arc …

They are a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back, twisting, turning road that can drive us around the bend at times, motioning us beyond our comfort zones into a miasma of uncertainty and fear.

It’s little wonder people are afraid of change. And yet, if we do not go there we risk becoming ensnarled in our own traffic jams of negative thought and self-loathing. From my own experience, when we refuse an opportunity to venture into greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the world around us we deny ourselves the full capacity to embrace life.

In fact, it occurs to me that our comfort zones can, if we’re not careful, become more like dead zones. As I’ve discovered while doing my own healing work, the comfort zone is a good place to escape to now and then when we’re feeling overwhelmed, but to dwell there all the time can be stultifying and render us stuck in patterns of behaviour that prevent forward movement and personal growth.

Any number of things can keep us stuck, of course. Fear, vulnerability, depression, etc. can leave us feeling unable to move beyond what we perceive to be our limit. Busting through that self-imposed boundary (especially when we don’t know why we put it there) comes only when we can find the capacity within ourselves to leap with faith into the unknown. The assistance of an objective third party capable of holding a safe space for us while we work through whatever’s blocking our way is important too. When I started therapy four and half years ago, I felt the stigma. But now I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to free his- or herself from a burdensome and painful past in order to step boldly into a bright future.

Changes happen at various stages along the curve. They don’t all happen at once or we would become overwhelmed. Old concepts of self must be shed little by little and new concepts added just as gradually so as not to shock the system. Certainly there are times when I wish things would unfold a little more quickly, but when I look back on the past few years of my life and the changes that have occurred since I chose to to step out of the confinement of a false self-perception I am satisfied that everything has unfolded the way it was supposed to in order for me to come out of the process feeling more whole.

My big breakthrough in the past week has been to be able to ride Bear out back in the fields without company. Not long ago I would have hesitated, but enough has shifted inside of me with all that I’ve been learning in the last little while that my confidence has returned and things I would not have attempted before I am comfortable to do now. It’s a confidence my horse can feel as I put my leg on his side and ask him to march down the steep and narrow gravel driveway, past the scary pond, across the little bridge that takes us over a running stream and up the grassy hill on the other side to 70 acres or so of corn-planted fields surrounded by cut paths around cross-country jumps set in rolling hills. We have gone from feeling frightened to having fun! So liberating for us both after years stuck in our fear caused by trauma and my shifting middle-age physiology.

Another important component when moving along the learning curve is being able to pull a sense of humour out of our back pockets. Being able to laugh when things go wrong shows our willingness to allow life to take its course. When my summer riding agenda was rudely interrupted by a lower back injury caused while struggling to remove a dressage boot from my right leg I had, in the end, only to laugh about it. What a ridiculous thing to do! When I was able to allow the initial frustration to dissipate, I realized this silly episode actually put me in a position to learn some deeper lessons about my life with Bear. It put me on a new path, one I would have missed otherwise.

Stepping onto a new path for the first time is likely to start with a messy puddle at the gate, but with the first splash into the unknown comes awakening. And with awakening our recognition of that dead zone in which we find ourselves, and the desire to move beyond it; to peek around the door of a self-imposed prison and see what else is going on out there that resonates with and, perhaps, heals who we are in here.

I’ve been on a heavy duty learning curve the past few months …

First learning the theory behind the experiential learning practice ~ lessons on how energy works; heart resonance; how the body processes and releases trauma; treating emotions as information; psychotherapeutic terms and explanations; the spiritual aspect; various aspects of horse behaviour … and on.

And then the practice ~ energy exercises involving the horses; observing and understanding how individual energy fields (human and equine) impact the environment and how to adapt or self-regulate in the face of fear and uncertainty.

And while I learn I process. Long-buried stuff gets triggered … stuff which, within the sacred space created by the group, (and in my therapist’s office and at home) can be recognized for what it is, honoured for the role it has played and that is no longer relevant, and released to allow for new, more life affirming information to be integrated and acted upon.

So many profound healing moments on so many levels. Growing self-awareness and mindfulness. Exciting and exhausting all at once.

In the midst of this experience I realize the road to self-awareness is one of the most exciting adventures upon which I will ever embark. It is the exploration of an inner world ~ climbing my own mountains; forging my own seas; walking my own forests. An opportunity to recognize the beauty of my inner landscape and to clean up the toxic emotional wastelands initially created by the dysfunctional people in my life and perpetuated by my unquestioning belief in the noxious myths they’d planted that threatened to lay waste to the light of my own truth. As I pull out their weeds there is room for my own truth to grow. It is a wonderful experience to see my Self in the light of day.

This summer has also been about recognizing and attending to Bear’s aging process …

It’s funny how we echo each other. As I watch my own body go through the mid-life “change” his is doing something similar. In horse terms he is still in his prime, but as soon as he turns 14 next June he’ll be considered “aged.” (Sigh …)

With us both getting long in the tooth there are many health issues to consider.

Sadly for Bear, my adrenal fatigue has had an effect on his life. My lack of physical strength has diminished his own simply because I have not been able to train and exercise him in the way he needed to maintain the fitness he (we) once had.

Since I am now feeling somewhat better and we have great support around us we can step up our game. Our summer of lameness is behind us and we’re both feeling more up for a challenge. With the help of his chiropractor, massage therapist and the lovely barn owner I need to figure out an appropriate maintenance program for Bear as we continue to grow together toward our potential.

Nine months ago I moved Bear to a new barn and together we jumped right into a mud puddle of possibility. Since then, we have ridden the learning curve and evolved and changed in ways that I could never have imagined.

And the journey continues.

Now, as luck would have it, I just received a link to a new and beautiful short video filmed at the farm where I’m taking my course. Spend a few moments with 12 year-old Olin who, through the healing power of the horse, begins to overcome his anxieties and find his feet in the world. Here’s the link:

Free Rein ~ Olin’s Journey ~ click on the video at the bottom of the page “Free Rein Part 3: Horse Connections.”

Enjoy!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2014

 

 

When Life Takes Us Full Circle

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past several years it’s not to judge the process.

When we launch into something we often have a pre-c0nceived notion of how things are supposed to unfold.

It’s simple, right? Have a dream; set a goal; plan a destination and that should be enough to get us on our way.

Well, it is, and it isn’t.

John Lennon famously said that “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Often what we don’t understand is that life, no matter how topsy turvy and mettle testing it is at the time, is unfolding as part of the plan to reach our dream. It’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the journey and be immersed in it wherever it takes us. We may reach, or even exceed, our dreams if we just hold on tight and don’t let go.

Good things comeThis is all very philosophical and a round about way of getting to my point …

Eight years ago, after reading “Riding Between the Worlds” by Linda Kohanov, I had a dream to acquire the training I needed to help people heal through the way of the horse. I was already a nationally certified equestrian coach so this would be a natural extension of what I was already doing. In my innocence (or ignorance) I thought achieving the dream would be a simple case of signing up for Linda’s course in Arizona and, once completed, setting up my shingle somewhere here in southern Ontario.

Nothing could have been further from the truth … because I was disconnected from my truth. At the time I was in my early 40s and struggling with life on so many levels, looking for escape. My focus was on running away rather than walking steadfastly toward something.

The dream identified, life unfolded ~ a veritable roller coaster ride:

Down ~ Within months of formulating this dream I was restructured from my job as an advertising copywriter and went into a depression.

Down ~ Six months later the horse I’d been part-boarding for two years died of cancer.

Up ~ Four months later, after a relatively easy search, by all accounts, Bear cantered into my life.

Up ~ One month later training began with Chris Irwin ~ my introduction to healing with horses through his Train the Trainer program and Equine-Assisted Personal Development. This was when I started to realize how broken I was and led to eighteen months of art therapy.

Up ~ In the meantime my partner (now husband) and I enjoyed four years of twice yearly world travel to places I’d never imagined going. (2008 to 2012)

Down ~ A trip to beautiful, battle-scarred Sarajevo in 2009 sent me into five years (and counting) of psychotherapy ~ my own life battle scars screaming for attention.

Down ~ Then early-onset menopause and all the joy that brings took its toll. (2010)

Down ~ Adrenal fatigue and its bitter anti-social pill insisted I shut down my life and focus on healing. (2010 to present)

Down ~ No more public singing performances (my adrenal health couldn’t support it) (2011)

Down ~ The attempted suicide of a family member and resultant trauma threw another curve. (2012)

Up ~ Our beautiful wedding brought immense joy. (2013)

Up ~ A barn change signalled a new beginning for Bear and I. (2013)

Up and down and up ~ The death of old friendships and the birth of new ones tested my emotional resiliency in ways I had not expected.

Yes, life happened; demanded I pay attention; tested my resolve, strength and commitment to the ups and down; the highs and lows of the healing process. Could I weather the storms I was intending to help others with through healing with horses?

It was an honest enough question. How could I facilitate in others what I had not experienced for myself?

These experiences have, indeed, brought me full circle to the point at which I am happy to announce that I have registered in a six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification program which begins at the end of June. It’s a program based on the teachings of Linda Kohanov and, as luck would have it, the sessions take place just a half hour away from home.

It’s a big decision made after much considered thought and meditation. However, I feel that it is the right move for me as I continue along my own healing journey. I am confident this course will teach me much about how I relate to the world and will help to heal aspects of my inner world still requiring attention. And, of course, it will take me another purposeful step closer to realizing my dream of helping people heal through the way of the horse.

I’m ready for this new step but am not kidding myself ~ it will be another intense period of growth bringing with it the inevitable roller coaster of emotion.

Still, I’m game.

What’s another roller coaster on the circle of life when it takes us closer to our dreams?

I firmly believe our heartfelt dreams never die. When a dream is meant to be it seems that life provides the experiences we need to create the environment the dream needs to come true. It’s why we must never judge the process or how long it takes … or quit.

Hold fast to your dream. It may be closer than you think.

~*~

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks. When I return my plan is to post regular updates as I proceed through the FEEL certification program and, of course, share the cheeky shenanigans of my beautiful Bear.

Of course, life unfolds as it should. 😉

Always remember to nurture what you love … and that includes you.

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Horse is Never “Just a Horse”

 Weekly Writing Challenge: Student, Teacher

~*~

Bear Boy

Bear

~*~

As a writer I know I share at least one thing in common with anyone who puts pen to paper or finger tips to keyboard ~ we want to move people in some way.

Move them to think; to act; to change; to believe; to hope; to aspire; to learn; to grow.

Perhaps there are some with other more nefarious objectives but my goal, particularly with this blog, has always been to inspire, and perhaps teach, through the way of the horse … okay, my horse.

The lessons I’ve learned in the past eight years with this incredible equine companion have altered me in so many amazing ways I cannot even begin to number them.

Bear is among the kindest of souls and endears, with his gentle and comic personality, all who meet him.

Perhaps the most important lesson he has taught me (so far) is the importance of self-awareness; to be in the moment. To wrap myself in the now and be fully present in every experience, even the ones I don’t enjoy so much.

As one who has lived most of my life in a disassociated state this has been, as you might imagine, a most valuable and, at times, uncomfortable, lesson. A lesson I have explored both on the ground and in the saddle and thoroughly reviewed and attempted to integrate every week, for the past five years, in the therapist’s chair.

Reclaiming Self is a serious business.

When I go to the barn and look in Bear’s big baby browns, and he curls his lip in greeting and nickers for his carrots, I feel invited into, and an important part of, his world.

Being disassociated means not feeling safe, never mind special, in anyone’s world, not even your own. The only way to survive is to create distance; to be there, but not be there. To trust no one, often not even yourself. The flight/fright hormone is engaged all the time.

Horses will not tolerate this dysfunction in anyone since it triggers their own primal instincts to flee, i.e  disassociate. It’s why horses are wonderful mirrors during the healing process. It is possible to know almost immediately how well you are doing by the response of the horse sharing your space ~ that is as long as you are aware of the impact you’re having on them in that moment.

I’ve been around horses most of my life but Bear is the one who has shown me who I am and helped me recover my life.

He’s been the equine therapist and a valuable teacher to this soul long lost, and I am blessed.

Equine-assisted therapy has, in recent years, become widely accepted as a recognized healing practice

My introduction to equine-assisted therapy came in 2006 at an Equine-Assisted Personal Development workshop with noted Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin. During the four-day closed session 10 of us participated in a variety of exercises designed to promote self-awareness ~ the horses engaged as remarkable catalysts for personal growth and learning. All exercises took place on the ground and within the safety of the round pen. To interact with the horse in this new way changed my life. It was the true beginning of my journey to healing and it made my interactions with Bear, who was new to me at the time, all the more meaningful.

I’ve also had the privilege of attending a workshop conducted by Linda Kohanov ~ internationally-recognized as the innovator of Equine Experiential Learning and author of four powerful books on the journey of healing with horses ~ “Riding Between the Worlds,” “The Tao of Equus,” “Way of the Horse” and “The Power of the Herd.”

Both Chris and Linda have been developing global networks of qualified equine-assisted personal development/therapy practitioners. Naturally, I cannot recommend one over another, but if you are interested in exploring equine-assisted therapy as a healing option or you have a background with horses or in psychotherapy and would like to familiarize yourself with this work I recommend a visit to their websites to get started.

Certainly there are other practitioners in the emerging field of therapeutic healing with horses. Many programs are adapted to provide specialized leadership training, while others are tailored to help troubled youth and prison inmates, and still others are designed to address issues of abuse. For many years special “riding for the disabled programs” have been integral to helping the physically-challenged gain a sense and awareness of their own bodies in a way that conventional physical therapy cannot.

Dorothy and BearOver the years horses have evolved from farm and war machines to recreational and healing partners. All the better for them ~ and us ~ as long as we proceed with awareness and don’t abuse this privilege.

I’m presently contemplating taking my journey of awareness to the next level by working with a qualified equine therapy practitioner in my area to address some lingering post-traumatic stress issues. This came at the recommendation of my new GP who practices Integrative Medicine. I just about fell out of my chair when she suggested, during our first meeting last fall, that I explore this healing option.

Life is an ongoing journey and for years I believed my survival depended on me going it alone.

The horse ~ my horse ~ and the amazing people drawn into my life because of him, have taught me to believe otherwise.

A horse is never “just a horse.”

~*~

If you’re interested in learning more about the magic of healing with horses, check out the links below and other resources on the internet.

Further Resources

Horse Therapy Helps People Surmount Personal Obstacles (Toronto Star)

Horses4Heroes

National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness (Canada)

PATH International

FEEL Alumni

EAGALA

 

~*~

And now for something completely different …

 

onelovelyblogawardMy thanks to Ivy of Ivy_Mosquito|Love is free for nominating “Musings of a Horse Mom” for the One Lovely Blog Award. Ivy is a more recent follower of my horse mom musings and I’m touched that she has been so quick to pin a  ribbon to my wall. Thank you, Ivy.

Seven things you won’t know about me (and Bear):

  1. Bear receives a lavender aromatherapy facial massage at the end of every grooming session. Yeah, okay, I spoil him rotten. The fact is it’s a habit I started the first day he became mine. I wanted him always to be able to associate me with a pleasant experience, no matter what. He really enjoys it. 😉
  2. Bear’s bridle and dressage saddle are both Canadian-made by master craftsman Martin York of York Saddlery and Harness. I can highly recommend his incredible work.
  3. I’m OCD about Bear’s polo bandages and my shirt matching or at least complimenting each other. Coordination is king!
  4. Bear’s bit is a Herm Sprenger KK Ultra Loose Ring Snaffle. I’ve used nothing else and he loves chewing on it.
  5. Bear has no vices … okay, he may enjoy his carrots just a little too much. 😉
  6. I always wear a helmet when I ride. My preferred brand is Charles Owen.
  7. Hat hair is the bane of my existence, but I’d rather be safe than sport the perfect coif. 😉

Here are seven lovely blogs I nominate for the One Lovely Blog award.

 Apronhead Lilly

Living Soulful

Building a Life of Hope

Capital Cowgirl

Crazy Train to Tinky Town

Horse Listening

Virginia Views

Thank you to all who follow and “like” this blog. It means a lot to me that I can touch souls through my musings about life with my horse and beyond.

Nurture what you love and enjoy the ride!

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014