A Happy Anniversary …

Six years ago today, St. Patrick’s Day, Shakespeare, aka “Bear,” trotted into my life — the fulfilment of a life long dream to have a horse to call my own.

Here’s to my lucky charm … a beautiful horse named Shakepeare.

Nurture what you love …

“Horse Mom”

Trust … A Fragile and Beautiful Thing

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I have been blessed with many four-legged furry children in my life time, but the current brood are a special bunch. They’ve seen me through the best of times, and the worst of times, and generally continue to do their job keeping me grounded.

Bear, of course, takes up a significant portion of my life being my equine therapist. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, horses are wonderful for teaching us to be in the moment. When I am with him my worldly cares tend to melt away so I can simply “be” with him. All he wants is that I should be fully present when we’re together. On some level I am his therapist too — it’s my responsibility to earn his trust so that he can relax in my presence and release the prey animal within knowing I’ll be there for him.

This leads me to a personal little story about trust which features a couple of my other critters.

Horse people tend to collect dogs and cats as well. In my brood are two beautiful Rough Collies — Sass and Abbey (mother and daughter respectively) — and a black cat called Princess (so named because she came home the weekend of Princess Diana’s funeral.) My other old and amazing cat, Oskar (a white and ginger tom) succumbed to old age and cancer last summer after being ill for several months.

In his prime, Oskar was a big 16 lb boy with a huge, in-your-face character. He commanded the room with his presence and was the “alpha” among our four critters, reinforcing his status with the dogs with the occasional swat on the long snout.

When company came Oskar was inevitably the centre of attention. In the garden he helped me pull weeds and dig holes. He tended to Princess as if she were a princess, washing her ears and face every day and then cuddling and wrestling with her as the mood dictated. He would howl from the far reaches of the house when he couldn’t find me and then park himself on my lap once I’d sat down. He detested my futile attempts at learning the harmonica, batting at the instrument with an impatient paw until I put it down. He was afraid of nothing. He ruled the roost. And he loved Abbey.

Abbey is a tremendous source of joy. Her effervescent personality can be a bit over the top sometimes, but she has a wonderful spirit and is extremely mothering. She mothers her mother, she mothers her toys and she mothered Oskar.

When Abbey first came home almost four years ago as a 10-week-old pup I was a little concerned about how old Oskar would accept her. I needn’t have worried … he took to her immediately. They took to each other. It was incredible to watch them interact. On some crazy level them seemed to be soul mates. It was such a pleasure to witness their relationship develop.

So, when Oskar became ill last year it was not surprising when Abbey took on the role of nurse. She could not be dissuaded. With a litter of pups to her credit she had proven her worth as a mother and had, in some mysterious force of nature, opted to transfer her strong mothering tendencies to her dear friend. Sometimes her attentiveness was so obsessive I’d have to shoo her away just to give the old boy some space.

As it became evident that Oskar’s days among us were numbered, I let Abbey have a little freer rein, and he, in his weakened state, simply lapped it up.

One warm day last July we finally had to make the decision to let Oskar go. The tumour on his neck was growing daily; he was continuing to lose weight and his roaring purr that I loved so much and had once meant contentment had changed, it seemed, becoming more of a distraction from his pain.

So, on a Friday afternoon before taking that final trip to the vet’s, I carried my old boy out to the sunny porch and laid him gently on the cushioned wicker sofa where we could enjoy a final communion together under the warmth of the sun. His purr grew to a roar. He looked at me distantly with sad eyes as if he knew his time had come, and I just sat there with him, in that moment, enjoying his treasured company one last time.

Within moments Abbey had found us and began to tend to him as only she knew how. She licked and cleaned and nuzzled him in the tenderest of mothering ways that brought me close to tears. Her energy was a bit frantic sensing, I can imagine, that our Oskar was not long for this world. And yet he abandoned himself to her, completely trusting her ministrations. It was one of the most beautiful moments with my animals I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness.

Later at the veterinary hospital, Oskar died quietly and painlessly in my arms.

For her part, Abbey was disoriented for a few days, looking for her old buddy and wondering why she couldn’t find him. Since then she has made a habit of curling up in Oskar’s small cat bed. Every time I see her there I think of the beautiful, trusting relationship they shared.

Trust between cat and dog; trust between human and horse; trust between humans, for that matter — a fragile and beautiful thing to be cultivated, honoured and nurtured.

Nurture what you love …

“Horse Mom”

Love’s Gift

It’s 5:30 a.m.

Besieged by jet lag following a week in sunny Barcelona, Spain, I am up bright and early because that’s what my interrupted rhythm demands I do. No amount of lying in bed wishing for two more hours of sleep will change this, so I set feet to floor, take my adrenal supplements, throw on my dressing gown and head downstairs to write about love.

I enter the kitchen where my computer is set up and stand by the stove to put the kettle on. I hear a rustle of movement and look around me. There is no explanation for it. But I see something else … the unmistakable mark of love on Valentine’s Day … a gift bag of red.

Oh boy …

I put the kettle on and ferry myself over to the kitchen table where the package sits, left there last night by the man I love because he knew I would be up early and wanted to surprise me. Well, he has surprised me.

And I don’t know why I should be surprised. He has always been much better at this sort of thing than I. And lately, consumed by my need and desire to get well, I’ve hardly been able to spare a thought for dear Lloyd and what I might do to celebrate our love this Valentine’s day.

Well, that’s not 100% true.

In Barcelona I stumbled across a delightful chocolate shop with a window display resplendent in red and pink boxes and tins filled with confection. Naturally I had the brilliant idea of securing one of the beautifully crafted tins laden with locally produced chocolate delicacies for Lloyd as a gift for Valentines. He appreciates good chocolate and it would be a surprise.

And I’m sure it will be.

But when I look at the beautifully presented gift that now sits across the table from me, unwrapped as yet because I want to share my delight with the man who made it possible, I know my gift can only be a token.

The greatest gift I can give this man who graces my life is what he has made possible since we met 11 years ago, and that is the emergence of my “self.” And by that I mean the whole, self-aware and enlightened being he has made it possible for me to grow into.

When Lloyd entered my life I was very much a lost soul. Two years out of divorce and still at sea, I had made a point of staying away from men for a while to avoid attracting the emotionally-disconnected, self-centered narcissists I’d become accustomed to.

Lloyd and I were set up by three different matchmakers who all thought he and I would be a good fit.

I was unsure, at first. He was opposite to everything I’d been conditioned to accept from men from my father up. He was kind; considerate; selfless; healthily engaged emotionally; interesting and, perhaps most importantly, genuinely interested in, and concerned, for me.

How this man of wisdom and love came to embrace me and all that was so broken is, in many respects, still a great mystery. But he did, and since we’ve been together my whole life has changed for the better and opened up to new possibilities. It’s the first time any man has loved me just because “I am” and not because “I do.”

He’s the first man in my life who’s been intent upon removing obstacles from my path instead of laying them there. He’s helped me to see the light and come out of the shadow. He’s asked nothing of me except that I be happy and he always leaves the door open for this to be so.

And, of course, he paved the way for my horse, Bear, to trot magically into my life — the manifestation of a long-held dream that for many years seemed all but lost. A dream that I innately knew would somehow help to heal me — and Lloyd made it possible.

I am humbled to be loved so well by a man so true.

Love nourishes. Love heals, Love brings out the best in people (and our companion animals) and allows them to be free in spirit. Love forgives. Love is kind. Love is patient.

Lloyd is love.

Now what else could he possibly give me?

Happy Valentine’s Day …

Nurture what you love …

“Horse Mom”

My Passion; My Teacher

Photo: Cary Andrew Penny ...

The older I get the more I understand the notion that our passion, whatever it may be, is our teacher. That it’s through what we love that we learn who we are and how to be in the world.

You only need to look at all the “everything I ever needed to know I learned from …”-type  books out there and you get the idea. While many are written in jest, I submit to you that hardly a truer word was spoken.

I believe this is because what we love or are passionate about speaks a special language that communicates with our hearts.

Whether it’s golf, travel, music, horses — whatever! — or a combination thereof, what we are born to love, if we love it with an open heart and pure intent, teaches us who we are and helps us to grow.

I’m not saying this means the lessons are easy, nor am I suggesting that learning through our passion comes without its heartaches and pitfalls.

But I know from personal experience that even in the darkest of moments, if we can keep an open and positive attitude, our lives can change for the better. We will be stronger; we will thrive, we will chart a course to our dreams we never imagined possible.

Our passion helps us to stay focused on the positive. To borrow from horse vernacular, it’s easier to get back in the saddle of life when you’re passionate about something that moves you.

In my almost 40 years as an equestrian I’ve been thrown off horses more times than I care to remember, but I’ve always been able to climb back on. Could I do this if I wasn’t passionate about horses? Likely not. The fact is, horses are as vital to my wellbeing as the air I breathe. And I’m not the first horse person to say that either.

I tried to give up horses once, on purpose. In my late 20s, a miserable time for a variety of reasons, I figured it was time to let a “childish” thing go. For four years I wouldn’t even look at a horse. And then my grandmother died. It was a wake-up call. A week after the funeral I was sitting in the stands at the Calgary Stampede surrounded by horses and cowboy culture and realized what a terrible depression I had allowed myself to slip into because I had denied myself access to a really important part of who I am.

Mine is a small family and my grandmother was important to me. So I made up my mind on-the-spot that I would honour her memory by pulling my life together and making it meaningful. Part of this included embracing, again, my passion for the horse. But I would do it differently and with all my heart.

Two weeks later I was riding again. Six months after that I quit corporate life and began my journey of self-discovery through the way of the horse, interning at a riding school and hunter/jumper barn while working toward my coaching certification. (I like to say I went in a marshmallow and came out toasted … ) Four years after that my unhealthy marriage was finally put out of its misery. Three years later I met my knight in shining armour and four years hence, enter Shakespeare … a horse to call my own.

I feel that when your passion is as important to you as the air you breathe you know you’ve found the path to self-knowledge. People will help, and hinder, you along the way, but both will teach you about yourself — about your strength, endurance, stamina, character, tenacity, etc — all with your passion as the catalyst for change.

Horses have saved me more than once. Horses have indeed been the catalyst for positive, and painful, change in my life. Because I’ve been able to pay attention, especially in the last few years with Bear, I am a better person for these experiences.

The saying goes “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Bear has opened my eyes to what’s possible. He has opened the door for me to train with Olympic-calibre trainers and helped me to find a confidence that had been sorely missing from my life. As mentioned in a previous blog, he made me look in the mirror and taught me I could change.

And the bottom line is, he’s so beautiful in spirit I want to be better for him, because he deserves the very best I have to give.

I know this blog has probably meandered a bit, but it’s from my heart.

Think about what you are passionate about and how it has changed your life, and tell me about it. It’s who and what we love that defines us and our world. Let’s build a better world together through our passion for life.

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom

My Horse, My Mirror.

When I look at my horse I see myself.

No, I do not have a long, furry face, big pointy ears and a nose dripping with anticipation. (Although I do have big brown eyes … )

My horse is a reflection of my “self.”

When I became aware of that I realized that I could change in myself what I didn’t like, but the change had to begin with me.

So then my horse became my therapist.

The mystery of why I am the way I am and have done things the way I’ve always done them started to unfold when Bear trotted into my life.

Before his arrival almost six years ago, I thought ahead and took the positive step of enrolling in a horsemanship course with internationally-renown Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin (www.chrisirwin.com). Even though I had been around horses for most of my life I wanted to ensure that Bear and I got off on the right foot, and Chris’ course promised to teach me to “think horse, speak horse, and play horse games by horse rules” so I could “be the better horse” and my horse would learn to trust me.

It was one of the best things I could have done for myself … and my horse. What I hoped would simply nudge me up the path to being a better horse person/trainer actually became the catalyst for taking a good look at my life in general. I learned that the issues I had with my horse were mere reflections of greater issues that had plagued me for years — the inability to make a connection and keep it; getting stuck in transitions; being left behind; the overall heightened anxiety of my existence (which has recently manifested physically with adrenal fatigue), and other debilitating ways of being.

Sounds like I was a mess … and I was.

I learned that when I over-reacted, he over-reacted. When I wasn’t paying attention, he wasn’t paying attention. When I was stuck, he was stuck.

Horses live in the moment; they get their cues from us by reading our body language. I had no idea how fractured my life was until Bear — through his own hairy fits, spooks and other prey behaviour — made me sit up and take notice. Ultimately I knew that if I didn’t do something to bring my life into focus I would never be able to get Bear to focus on me and one, or both, of us would end up getting hurt.

So, my equine therapist sent me to therapy.

What I’ve been working on these past several years, incorporating the horse training techniques I learned from Chris and the knowledge of other caring professionals, is due to Bear’s call-to-action.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that self-awareness is the key when desiring an authentic relationship with yourself and anyone else, never mind a horse.

The personal work I’ve done during the past several years has manifested an amazing, trusting relationship with my beautiful horse. Every time I look at him I see and feel the progress we have made together. We are better connected; our transitions are smoother; we are moving out of that stuck place and our confidence is increased.

When I look in the mirror that is my horse, I see love.

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012