EQUUS Film Festival … Here we come!

Mane Tamer

The EQUUS Film Festival is just around the corner and there’s lots of excitement around here.

First, this is a first! Having my fine art photography recognized in this way is such an honour. The subject matter, the skilled empathic people (in this case women) who work quietly in the background of the horse industry to keep the engine humming, is one near and dear to my heart. Partially because I’ve been there.

When I was interning for my national coaching certification at a hunter/jumper show barn/riding school years ago it was a hard slog, long hours and exhausting on every level. I was in my mid-thirties trying to figure out the next phase of my life, struggling with personal battles in the pursuit of a dream that was barely formulated. Good people with a passion for horses and working behind the scenes in various aspects of the equine industry have inspiring stories, too, and I want to tell them.

2018 OFFICIAL FILM SELECTION LAUREL copySecond, how cool is it that Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry (see menu for YouTube link) has now been selected as a finalist for an EQUUS Film Festival WINNIE Award? I’m beyond speechless to have my work acknowledged in this way. We;ll find out Sunday evening if we’re bringing a little something special home.

Third, this is my first trip to New York City. Being a country girl now the thought of spending time in a large city for any length of time is a bit intimidating. I love the wide open spaces and the tranquility of rural life. Cities tend to overwhelm me. But I’m going to have fun and make the most of it. It’s my birthday weekend, too. I’ll be fine.

A year ago I submitted six photos for a Toronto exhibit and now they, and several more, are being acknowledged in a film festival in New York City. We never know where life is going to take us as long as we’re willing to dream.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

 

 

Let go, and let be …

~*~

In November 2017, I answered a call for submissions from the Urban Gallery in Toronto to participate in their “Women at Work” show lined up for the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival the following May. Since I live on a horse farm and women work tirelessly in the barn I felt it would be perfect to pay tribute by shadowing them for a day to see what moments stirred my creative spirit. My thanks to Eira Engzell, a manager and trainer at Santerre Show Stables, and Courtney Dunkeld, her able right hand at the time, for giving me permission to do so.

The truth is my photography is more intuitive than technical so I’m never quite sure what will happen. Light and shadow and colour dazzle me and it’s really about capturing their impact in a moment; the dramatic contrast created in a delicious melange of three tasty ingredients. I don’t process much, only enough to draw out what drew me in. I was pleased to see that some fine images emerged, so took a chance and submitted them to the gallery just before the deadline. As fate would have it Calvin Holbrook, Gallery Manager, and his partner Allen Shugar, the Curator, loved what they saw and told me immediately that my work was in. It was my first such exhibit and I was so excited.

That weekend (November 18 & 19) brought a lot of soul searching as I processed this wonderful news. Shakespeare (Bear), my heart horse for almost 12 years, and I spent some quality time as per my equine experiential learning training. I needed his gentle spirit to help ground and guide me. In that session his distinct message to me was, “Let go, and let be.” It didn’t register right away what it meant, but I felt it was about releasing old patterns of self-denial and embracing this new truth of acknowledgement and celebration in my life. After all, what was there not to be happy about? Bear had brought so much wisdom before and this was another one of those nuggets I could add to my treasure chest that would help move my life forward.

Two days later, and after four hours of agonizing torsion colic, my heart horse was gone. Words cannot adequately describe the devastation I felt, and yet his admonition to “Let go, and let be” seemed to take on a whole new meaning and even offer some comfort. It became my new mantra. Bless his big heart, Bear had imparted this wisdom and prepared me for his imminent departure all in five little words.

For a while it was difficult to accept Bear’s sudden death and enjoy my small creative victory, and yet somehow I knew that he had opened a way. I vowed to honour his memory by embracing this new chapter in my life and keeping vibrant everything he had been, and was, to me.

Of course, the show in May was an exciting step forward in my creative journey. To see six of my images gracing the walls of the intimate gallery in downtown Toronto, along with the photographs of three other distinguished artists, was a thrill to say the least. I received wonderful, supportive feedback and felt entirely good about the experience. When the show was over I brought all of the images home and set them up in my studio so they could continue to inspire me. That’s right, none of them sold, however it didn’t seem to matter. Somehow I knew it was important for the exhibit to remain intact for another time.

The show must go on …

Riding the wave of grief for some weeks, I began to prepare my exhibit for the show. I called it Barn Mavens. One of the images I selected (above) is the last ever taken of Bear, just four days before he died. He looked right at me and snorted as I captured the moment. He made me laugh. Oh, how he loved to ham for the camera. A warm, enduring memory.

In June I caught wind of the EQUUS Film Festival coming to the Hills of Headwaters, where I live, and through an acquaintance who had organized the event was connected to the founder of the festival, Lisa Diersen. I threw caution to the wind. Was there some way my images might find a platform through the festival? I knew nothing about anything. Putting my creative works out beyond blogs and websites was a new experience, but what the heck, my beautiful images are of no value to anyone hidden deep in my computer archive.

Lisa suggested I put together a video photo journal of my images, an emerging way for photographers to get some traction. I knew nothing (and I mean nothing!) about making video. iMovie existed on my computer, but I’d never brought it to life. Oh dear, what was I to do? Again, I threw caution to the wind and gave it a go. I had lots of images beyond the original six to play with. I consulted a friend who had some experience making video, and while I cursed and struggled I grew modestly in film making enlightenment and produced my first short, short video, complete with a soundtrack through www.bensound.com. When I was more or less happy with it, I re-named the project Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry to be more inclusive and, after spending hours figuring out how to upload it to YouTube, sent it on to Lisa. Her response was highly encouraging, and she suggested I submit it to the EQUUS Film Festival.

What? Really? After picking my jaw up off the floor, I threw caution to the wind again and got myself signed up on FilmFreeway, the online portal to film festivals everywhere. I made my submission to the category “Equestrian Photo Journal ~ English”; paid my fee and forgot all about it until I received word in October that Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry had been officially selected for EQUUS Film Festival 2018 in New York City.

And so, here we are. What happens next, I don’t know, but I’ll continue to throw caution out the door and live the moment as fully as I can. If there’s one thing Bear taught me it’s to be in the now. Let go of what no longer serves and let be that which comes in its place. There is a lesson to be learned in each experience; there’s a silver lining to every cloud. I never thought that part of mine would be seeing my fine art photography on a silver screen.

Let go, and let be … and nurture what you love,

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Blue Bear

Blue boy

It’s been almost a year since Bear’s sudden departure. Memories are flooding back, but they don’t make me sad anymore. They make me wistful, and grateful. He was the horse that healed my heart and now I can only think of him with the joy that was our life for all those amazing years.

As the cycle of the first year comes to a close, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite images of him in the next few posts. I’ve also put together a Celebration of Life video that will be uploaded to YouTube soon and tagged to this blog. It’s all part of the closure.

Connected through heart and spirit, Bear’s last message to me was to “Let go and let be.” Two days later he was gone and 50 weeks on I am finally preparing to release his ashes and fully pour my heart into life again.

He will be forever in my heart; the heart he healed with his deep wisdom and his own incredibly loving heart.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Creator … *Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry*
An official film selection of EQUUS Film Festival 20182018 OFFICIAL FILM SELECTION LAUREL copy

 

The Horse World’s Unsung Heroines

 

~*~

Women in the horse industry work very hard. I know because I’ve done it.

Each day is a grind of activity that wears you out and wears you down. You work in all weathers; under all conditions. For good owners, and bad. With well-mannered horses, and with demons (largely a reflection of their owners either way.) You don’t call in sick, and if you’ve broken something in the line of duty, you work around it.

You muck, you sweep, you clean tack, you feed hay (and grain), you scrub toilets, you pick the s**t out of paddocks, you groom, you ride, you de-cobweb the barn, you dust, you clean the kitchen, you do first aid. In many barns you do your best to manage uncomfortable feelings caused by the disdain of those who look down upon you while you’re doing all you can to ensure their horse(s) are happy and healthy.

You must be vigilant; resilient; detail-oriented; take initiative; be observant; empathetic (difficult for some); patient; skilled at what you do and be quick at it. You get back on the horse if you fall off. The horse always comes first.

The Mane Tamer Marked

“The Mane Tamer” on display at the Urban Gallery, May 2018, for the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival

At the end of the day you leave the barn filthy and saturated in Eau d’Equine. Exhausted and maybe even bruised or broken from an unfortunate altercation with one of your charges for which you are always to blame (always!). You stand in line at the grocery store to buy dinner, somewhat self-conscious of your malodorous presence, yet unable to motivate yourself to care too much because you don’t have the energy to go home and clean up first. Oh, and a social life outside of work? Good luck with that. Almost killed me to sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir during concert weeks after a 10-hour day at the barn.

For most who follow this path it is a labour of love. There is no glamour and certainly no big money to be made. The best you can hope for is an environment where you and your work are appreciated; where you can find your niche and from there build your life.

When I was interning at a hunter/jumper show barn in my mid 30s I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out what’s next. And for some that’s exactly what working in a barn constitutes. It’s a weigh station for figuring out the next step. Some choose to pursue the equestrian path; others give thanks the equestrian path led them somewhere else. Those who are fortunate enough to have built successful careers from the ground up in the equestrian world have slogged in barns aplenty. This does not include the (very) few who are born into money and have it all handed to them on a silver platter. Most in the business have done the grunt work, and have a few tales to tell because of it.

To celebrate the unsung heroines of the equestrian world, six equestrian-themed images from my new series Barn Mavens will be on display in May at the Urban Gallery in Toronto. The gallery is one of 200 official venues in Toronto during the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The gallery theme for this exhibit is Women at Work, and in my showcase I’m pleased to feature two of the knowledgeable and hardworking horsewomen of Santerre Show Stables in Mono, Ontario.

The top images are not on show for this exhibit, but will feature in an expanded exhibit sometime in the future, or possibly even a photo book docu-tribute to women who work in the horse industry. In the meantime, it is an honour to have my work featured along with three other talented photographers at the Urban Gallery for this international event.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Daily Prompt: Notable

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