Keep on Keeping On

It’s been just about a month since Bear’s injury diagnosis. Things are proceeding along much as one might expect. The journey toward wellness continues.

Bear’s spirits are good. For a horse on stall rest he’s bearing up well (ha!), content to play tug-of-war with the hay in his nibble net and indulge my own boredom-alleviating practice of teaching him tricks.

I miss riding.

This week he learned how to smile on command. Perhaps it would be more correct to say he developed an obsession for it. Why? Because now he smiles, whether I ask him to or not, for the explicit purpose of getting a carrot. Even if I simply stand in front of him and look like I might say “Smile!” he stretches his neck, tilts his head, rolls his eyes and grins at me expectantly. He’s such a ham.

I try not to encourage him too much. On the other hand, his cheerfulness leads me to believe that, in spite of his confinement, he’s a happy boy and pretty content with his lot as it stands.

This is such a relief. A lot of horses are not so sensible under such circumstances.

Still, Bear pushed his luck a bit last week.

Let me explain …

Bear’s been good about following me around on our walkabouts in the arena lead-rope free. Turns out he lead me right into a false sense of security.

A week ago Friday a pall hung in the air with the news that the barn manager had been thrown from a horse the evening before and broken her wrist and fractured a bone in her pelvis. Such news is always disturbing. It’s a reminder that in spite of everything we might love about horses, there are inherent risks to being in their company ~ whether on the ground or in the saddle. Naturally, my thoughts were with her somewhat, leaving me feeling a little distracted.

Still, I had Bear to think of too, so went about the business of bringing him into the arena for his walkabout. Just because of the unsettled nature of the day I decided to err on the side of caution and keep him on the lead rope while we walked around the cold arena.

As he was being sensible I decided to unhook him. He followed me around and, as usual, left a special delivery which I would need to pick up. While I walked to the far end of the arena to fetch the bucket and fork he wandered away by himself for a moment. No big deal. He was quiet and would, I knew, reconnect to supervise my cleaning efforts.

Usually he follows me and the bucket and fork back to the muck skip in the corner, but this time he wandered off again, sniffing at jumps or anything else that happened to capture his attention. Then, without warning, he dropped and rolled flopping back and forth and really grinding his day sheet into the sandy footing. This was accompanied by the obligatory grunts and squeals of delight which made me feel good for him. It had been weeks since he’d been able to give himself a good, self-administered back rub.

Of course, I watched admiringly and smiled as he launched back to his feet and gave himself a good shake. The next moment my look of admiration quickly changed to one of horror when, with a squeal and explosive expulsion of gas, Bear leapt into the air like a Lippizaner doing airs above the ground. I was even more horrified when he did it again … twice! He looked ever-so pleased with himself, snorting and blowing, ears pricked, eyes bulging, head periscoped and searching, I dare say, for the next opportunity to elevate my stress hormones.

“Bear! Stop!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. The vapours of my breath filtering through the freezing air; my heart racing. “Stop it, Bear … you’re not allowed to do that!”

He stood stock still. His majestic head held high; his nostrils snorting their own vapour in a kind of triumphant fanfare. Holy crap, what a magnificent animal. He turned and looked at me with the noncommittal air of someone consumed in their own moment. Concerned that he might try something stupid like that again I knew I had to do something to get his attention back on me and de-escalate his energy.

As horses read, and respond to, the energy in their environment it was clear to me I needed to de-escalate my energy first. I started focusing on my breath, deeply inhaling and exhaling in a way that would allow him to sense the retreat of my own upset energy. I did this for several breaths and, while doing so, made a conscious effort to relax my whole body, softening my core so he could read my body language to say it’s okay to come down now.

His response was almost immediate. He soon lowered his head to level, indicating the intensity had passed, and began to lick and chew to demonstrate some relaxation.

“Good boy, … come on, Bear, come be with me,” I encouraged in a soft voice that reflected my more relaxed state. I continued to breathe audibly.

He began to amble in my direction.

“Good boy … nice and slowly now …”

He stopped and sniffed at the cavelletti some 10 feet from where I stood. While he was thus distracted I quietly walked over to him and stopped a few feet away to acknowledge his personal space. He stopped sniffing and turned to face me, acknowledging my presence. We honoured this reconnection together. It was a sweet moment.

Then, without any further effort on my part, Bear wandered over to me and put his muzzle against my chest as if to apologize for his lapse in judgement. I stroked his neck and attached the lead rope to his halter, and we started walking again. It was then that I had a good long talk with him about how inappropriate his actions had been, and impressed upon him that since I am not allowed to ride him right now he’s not allowed to go leaping around as if nothing is wrong with him. It sends the wrong message and, more importantly, it could set his recovery back weeks.

I couldn’t stay mad at him for long. Still, since then his walkabouts have been limited to the lead rope.

What a twerp!

End note …

And this past Friday Bear had his third of three shockwave treatments. Now we have a month to wait until the next ultrasound which will tell us how the injury is healing. In the meantime, we simply keep on keeping on.

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

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

A Beautiful Thing

 

Bear's chillin' while the stylist does her thang ...

Bear’s chillin’ at the beauty parlour …

 

~*~

The last session of the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification program is next weekend so life is somewhat hectic right now. Assignments to complete (including a new blog/website dedicated to the work … stay tuned!), Bear to organize for my six-day absence and, of course, gearing up for Christmas (which, for obvious reasons, is taking a back seat right now).

And what about Bear?

His spirits are as good as ever, and why not? It’s been a regular spa fortnight for my four-legged fuzzy boy.

First the chiropractor to get the hips back in alignment. We now figure, given the degree to which his hips were out, that he took a tumble in the paddock while chasing around with his buddy, Tango. Horses will be horses …

Then the massage therapist to fix the supporting structure. She prescribed a heating pad over his loins and hips before each ride to help warm up those muscles and get them to relax. Bear is now moving better than ever!

Then on Sunday, a visit from the stylist (used in the loosest possible way) to give him his annual winter clip.

It would be an understatement to say that he’s been enjoying the attention. 😉

~*~

Something to ponder …

“If you’re to achieve the peace, joy and spiritual fulfillment that you want so badly, it depends on one thing and one thing only ~ your willingness to simply do something different.”

(from It’s Not About the Horse by Wyatt Webb)

For me, in recent months, the FEEL course has been that something different … and it has changed my life for the better in ways previously unimaginable to me. It has also deepened my relationship with Bear in amazing ways and given me an opportunity to see him in a brand new light. Not just as a companion in recreation and sport; and not even as a valuable life teacher (which he is), but as an incredible healer of the heart. It is a beautiful thing.

Remember … nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

Up For Air …

 

photo

Bear gets a hip adjustment while his cute new girlfriend, Heidi, gives me the wooly eyeball

~*~

My six-month course comes to an end the beginning of next month and, as you might imagine, I’m immersed in assignments and gearing up for the workshop my team is presenting at the last session.

Of course, I’ve spent plenty of time at the barn working and being with Bear as well.

He’s been off the last 1o days or so with an injury sustained while we were out in the hilly back fields hacking. Some of those hills are pretty steep and we’re still working to build up those big muscles behind the saddle.

The chiropractor was out today and immediately located the problem (his hips were out) and fixed it all up. I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle tomorrow and starting some light work with Bear again. We’ve been progressing so well and been so happy in our work the last few months it’ll be nice to get back in the swing.

In the meantime, I thought I’d come up for air, just to check in and let you all know I haven’t forgotten about you.

Have a wonderful day and, of course, be sure to 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

 

 

Correction

Hands

~*~

A rare thing indeed … an image of Bear and I (taken by my husband) with our coach who, through the creative use of a shovel he usually uses to fix the footing, is showing me correct placement of my hands.

It’s a heavy shovel. He got tired quickly. Still, he held it there long enough for me to get the point.

Correct hand placement is an ongoing struggle but one I am determined to master. It’s obvious how much better Bear goes when I’m using my hands properly.

Bear is off this week with a lameness issue in his left hind. The vet is coming today to check him out. Nothing serious, I dare say. It’s just that now he’s moving more correctly his weakness there is more pronounced since he can’t mask it by over-compensating somewhere else.

We think it’s in his stifle area (the knee joint of the hind leg). I’ll let you know what we find out.

We’re both weaker to the left. A lot of correction going on.

More on the FEEL course soon. It’s difficult to write about while I’m learning so much.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

To Every Thing There is a Season …

Since starting my FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) certification course a month ago I’ve been incorporating new ways of being and little challenges into my day-to-day experiences with Mr. Bear. He is an eminently patient horse and has indulged my flights of fancy quite willingly. Actually, I think he quite enjoys the extra attention and the deepening of our bond.

Having been forced out of the saddle for the past 21 days, or so, with a wretched back issue (see last post) I’ve been proactively making use of the extra ground time to incorporate a new activity into our routine … playing with the purple Pilates ball.

At the moment Bear is learning to “be” in its presence.

The idea to introduce Bear to the ball came about as a way to deepen our awareness together. I knew that expanding Bear’s world to include the way of the purple ball would require more awareness on my part as I observed his reaction to his new inanimate friend. It wasn’t my intention to overwhelm Bear with this experience. I simply wanted to expand his world in a fun and controlled way.

It all began three weeks ago, the day before my injury.

The first thing I did was to set the ball up outside his stall and sit on it. No big deal. He sniffed around and then returned to his pile of hay in the corner.

Next, I propped it up against his doorway and left it there. I walked away and, with camera in hand, waited to see what would happen next.

~*~

Unsure

At first he was all “Hmmm, I don’t know about this …”

Getting acquainted

And then he got brave.

Bemused

And then he got bored.

No worries.

It was time to try “the purple Pilates ball in the paddock test.”

Again, after maintaining his initial distance he was fine with it.

Ball Outside

A week later, my lower back wracked with muscle spasms, I put Bear in the arena for some free lunging. He’d been off for a few days (because I wasn’t able to ride him) and I wanted him to be nice and loose for my coach’s ride on him the next day.

When Bear was done free lunging he ventured, without any encouragement from me, over to the purple ball which had been sitting in the middle of the arena the entire time. Of his own volition he began to play with it, rubbing his muzzle back and force across the top of the ball with all the familiarity in the world. I only interfered when it looked like he might pop out the air intake valve and bite it off.
Ball Boy

He was having fun with the ball! Again, the point was not to overwhelm him but to see if he could accommodate a completely foreign object in his life and maybe even learn to interact with it.

My hope is that at some point he’ll figure out how to kick it, however I’m not going to force him. I’m simply going to facilitate this learning for him. I’m really just so happy that he has been able to accept this new experience so calmly. But then, as I’ve said, it was never my intention to overwhelm him with this new information. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own life, the learning stops and the dissociation begins when I’m bombarded with new information and too much stimulation. I imagine, given how sensitive my horse is, that it would be the same for him. Anyway, expanding my boy’s world by degrees is far more effective in the long run and a lot more fun.

The pleasurable things of life are not meant to be rushed.

And so it goes with his present under-saddle training which is, I suppose, a funny thing to say about a horse already in his prime. However, like me my darling boy is a late bloomer with low mileage and a willingness to learn. As long as we don’t overwhelm with the learning curve we’ll both do well and be fine.

~*~

A short update on my injury …

The aftermath of the saga of the bad dressage boots continues.

Finally, after two weeks of misery, I was able to get back in the saddle Wednesday of last week. Oh, joy! Bear is being so well schooled by Stefan and becoming so much more confident it’s like riding a completely different horse. I was so happy and felt so good after my brief ride that I decided to give it another go the next day.

Bad boots ... bad, bad, bad dressage boots ...

Bad boots … bad, bad, bad dressage boots …

So, Thursday arrived and I got on again figuring I wouldn’t push my luck but simply stick to good forward walk exercises as prescribed by my coach. Rode in the arena for a little time, then outside around the property and, as everything was going so well, finished inside again with about two laps of trot in each direction. In total about a half hour in the saddle. And then I dismounted … and that was it. Excruciating pain across my lower back and into my right SI joint to the point I could barely walk never mind bend down to remove Bear’s bandages or take off my half chaps. Thank goodness there was someone else around to help me get sorted or I don’t know how I would have managed.

On my way home (and I was driving which in itself was most uncomfortable) I stopped in at the chiropractor who gently popped everything back into place. After a dizzying Epsom salts bath I spent the evening resting in front of the TV watching Downton Abbey (my distracting panacea when I’m unwell) while alternating hot and cold compresses (thank you, darling husband) and loading up on anti-inflammatories.

The next day I was mobile again, but still quite sore, especially while sitting down. As the days progressed the pain became pretty much isolated to my right SI joint/hip and the muscles supporting it. Walking, stretching and rest ~ plus an additional trip to the chiropractor ~ was the order of the day.

I’m happy to say that today ~ one week later ~ I am feeling much better and am hopeful that I’ll be in the saddle again tomorrow for a short period of time. Likely after my coach has warmed Bear up so the effort for me will be easy. I can hardly wait!

In the meantime, Bear has continued his training with our masterful coach while I have learned through observation, which is an important and effective method for me. Together we’ll continue to integrate our energy ground work exercises for the FEEL course. Naturally, that includes playing with the purple ball. 😉

To every thing there is a season, and I have entered yet another season of deep healing.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

(This post is re-posted and updated after I discovered it had mysteriously disappeared to a July 1 publishing date.)

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Bad Boots … Bad, Bad, Bad Dressage Boots

 Bad boots

… Bad dressage boots …

~*~

Silly title. Silly story. A moment of tragic(?) nonsense that shows that sometimes it just doesn’t matter how well you take care of your equipment things can, and do, go wrong.

Don’t worry. It’s not about Bear. He’s in ship shape shape.

No, it’s about a sad state of affairs relating to me and my custom-made dressage boots.

Okay, I bought them almost 10 years ago and for about seven of those years (up until fairly recently, in fact) they sat in a boot bag at the back of a dusty closet. Why? Because a sprained ankle all those years ago made it impossible for me to put the darn things on and once out of the habit of wearing them I just couldn’t be bothered.

Read on …

And then I moved to this dressage barn and, come spring, everyone was casting away their winter footwear in favour of dressage boots. Boots designed to give the leg a steadier more effective contact with the horse’s side. Plus, their stylin’. So, I decided, “Me too! I’m going to start wearing my dressage boots again. It’s time.”

So, I fished them out of the closet and took them to the barn. I located my boot hooks (because the only way to get these darlings on is to insert boot hooks to boot loops on the inside of said boots … and pull!!!) and went to work.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The darn things were so stiff from lack of use I couldn’t get my foot anywhere near the bottom of the boot. Not only that, they were really, really tight.

I talked this over with the other riders who commiserated on this state of affairs and offered some helpful advice:

“Take them in and get them stretched and, while you’re at it, get the shoe repair guy to put a zipper in each boot so it isn’t such a struggle to put them on.”

Hmmm … zippers. A novel thought. I’d noticed that many of my fellow riders, including my coach, had done just that and that they’d all gone to the same zipper putter inner at a shoe repair shop not far from my home. Eureka! That’s what I would do.

So, I packed my boots back into their bag and took them to the shoe repair guy. I explained to him what I needed.

In his thick middle European accent he said, “No problem with the stretching, but not the zipper. These are very good quality boots. Well made. Custom, yes?” I nodded. “You should try first the stretching and oil them to soften the leather … and get inserts to keep them from collapsing. If this does not work, then we try the zippers. But first,” he repeated with a knowing look, “stretch the leather. Yes?”

“Yes, I guess so,” I responded, unsure but willing to lean on his expertise.

So, I left the boots and hoped for the best.

A week later I picked them up and took them home to shine and polish according to the shoe repair guy’s explicit instructions, focusing especially on the ankle area to soften the leather.

Excited about trying them out, I took them to the barn the next day and, after dousing the insides liberally with baby powder I inserted hooks into loops and attempted to pull the right one onto my leg. It was a struggle at first, but eventually I got it, and the left one, on. I rode. Awkward doesn’t describe it. I hadn’t ridden in them in years. Still, I thought, the more I wear them the easier it would get.

Fast forward through the month of June (away) and most of July. I rode in my half chaps mostly, due to the heat, but on a cooler summer’s day, Tuesday of last week, in fact, I struggled into the boots for a lesson. Things went swimmingly.

“Do you see a difference when I ride in these boots?” I asked Herr Coach.

“Absolutely!” he responded.

So, I reasoned, I must wear my boots.

Removing the boots was a struggle. Bootjacks are an absolute necessity when extricating oneself from the vice grip of a close-fitted tall boot, and I had to wriggle myself free of both boots with a great deal of care.

The next day my hips were really achy. I asked the barn manager, “Do you think my hips are sore because of the different leg position my dressage boots put me in when I’m riding?”

“It’s possible,” she said. “The leg does hang differently in those tall, stiff boots.”

Hmmm … the only way to get used to the new leg position was to keep wearing the boots.

So, on Thursday last week four of us went out on a lovely hack in the fields. I wore my dressage boots to continue breaking them in.

When we returned to the barn and after I’d untacked Bear and made him comfortable, I went to my locker to fetch my bootjack so I could remove my boots. Once again I had liberally sprayed baby powder into my boots before putting them on, so I anticipated they’d slide off with ease.

Right boot ~ with the heel of my boot wedged in the curve of the bootjack I started pulling my leg free. My foot began its slow migration up the boot … and then it got stuck.

“You stuck?” A concerned fellow rider enquired as I clung to the doorway between efforts, a contorted look on my face.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

“If you need a hand, let me know.”

“Thanks … I’ll do that. Appreciate it.”

Then I tried another tac, wiggling my foot up and back and up and back. Finally, it came free.

“Hallelujah!”

One down, one to go.

Setting my left heel in the bootjack and resting my right foot (now sporting a paddock boot) on the base of the jack for leverage, I grabbed once again onto the doorway and began the ordeal.

Once again my foot slipped from the bottom of the boot and got wedged at the ankle.

Hmmm … that hurt. Try again.

Okay … breathe and heave. No movement.

Again … breathe and heave. And this time I noticed how the torque in my body was putting uncomfortable pressure on my hips and in my right groin area. “Oh,” I muttered aloud, “this is why my legs and hips have been aching the last couple of days. From the effort to get these boots off.”

A light bulb moment, to be sure, but useless to me at the time as the only way to get the boot off was to continue what I was doing.

I rested for a moment. Regrouped. Surely just one or two more tugs of my foot would extricate it.

One … two … heave …

Like the crack of a whip I felt a sting across my lower back.

“Uh … oh! That’s not good.” I exclaimed aloud as I grabbed the back of my waist and winced. “Now I need help,” I said to the concerned rider as she once again walked by.

Seeing my distress she escorted me as I hobbled across the aisle and into the tack room. I lowered myself gently into the well-worn blue leather two-seater couch, and breathed.

“Now,” instructed the concerned rider, “give us your foot and we’ll pull this thing off for you.”

Yes, it took two people to pull the b(**&y thing off.

After the ordeal I attempted to stand up … straight. Impossible. So, after taking care of my equipment (including cleaning those evil dressage boots) and seeing to Bear’s needs, I went directly to the chiropractor for some attention and then home for an Epsom salts bath.

The next day I felt a bit wobbly, but got on Bear anyway just to see if a walkabout would help massage out the kinks. Not a chance. It was actually a pretty foolish thing to do. If my darling boy had spooked I would have been toast.

For three days I could barely walk. I spent the weekend sitting on a heating pad and taking anti-inflammatories. By Sunday evening I was in so much discomfort I finally booked an appointment with my massage therapist who, fortunately, had some time available on Monday. After spending quality ground time with Bear, albeit hunched over like the fellow of Notre Dame legend, I went for my massage.

Afterward I felt freer in the hips, but still wobbly, and the ache in the depths of my lower back was still keen.

“No riding!!” the massage therapist warned.

“No problem!” I answered, resigned and sad.

So, my coaching scheduled for Tuesday was turned into a training session for Bear with Herr Coach. I watched from a chair in the corner of the arena with admiration and envy.

I wanted to ride.

~*~

Bear today

… Bear …

~*~

Wednesday rolled around and Herr Coach rode Bear again. I had my camera with me and took a few photos, including this one. I marvelled at how much my boy had changed and developed since January. His uphill movement giving him a bearing of lightness I’d been longing to see for years. And he looked so beautiful.

“I hope to ride by Friday,” I told Herr Coach optimistically before he left for vacation, “but if I can’t he’ll get the time off and be ready for you to pop on him again next week.”

Herr Coach thought that a good idea. There would no point in riding with sore hips and undermining what had been achieved in the two training sessions. Bear would simply get confused.

I went to the chiropractor again. He worked his magic and I felt a little bit better again.

“No riding!!” he warned.

“Of course not,” I sighed, disappointed but resolved to doing what must be done to heal.

And then this morning, after several days of being stalwart and philosophical about it all I finally had my little feeling-sorry-for-myself meltdown. And it wasn’t that I really felt that sorry for myself, it’s just that I was soooo frustrated that my life had been derailed by a pair of stupid dressage boots. Had the shoe repair guy put the zippers in when I asked him to this would never have happened. As well, in the middle of all of this discomfort, and in my darkest moments, I was haunted by the idea that the pain might never go away and I’d never get to ride my beautiful horse again!!! (Wah!)

Still, it was only a short, dark period of self-indulgence, and then I let it go.

This afternoon I went to the barn and spent a few hours with Bear, reviewing exercises from the FEEL program and playing with him in the arena. It was a lovely time and I soon felt much better. I even began to look at this unexpected hiatus and “hip adjustment” as another opportunity for growth. Maybe, by some miracle, it would mean my hips would be looser and more cooperative in the saddle once I climbed back in.

As for the bad boots … the bad, bad, bad dressage boots … I took them to the shoe repair guy and, as I stood there clutching my aching back, demanded he put the zippers in notwithstanding his admiration for the original workmanship. Custom-made, last-you-a-life-time dressage boots or not, they’re garbage to me without this important mechanical adjustment.

I pick them up August 2. I sincerely hope I’ll be riding by then.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Do Nothing? Are You Kidding Me?

 

My Classroom

Welcome to my classroom …

~*~

 

When I first heard about Wu Wei* (the Taoist practice of “non-doing”) my immediate reaction was “Do nothing? Are you kidding me?”

It came up as an exercise we FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) program participants are to incorporate into our regular routine with the horses. Let me explain.

Being more in tune with the needs of my horse and understanding the context of choice in his life requires mindfulness on my part. People say that animals are dumb, but based on my experience I don’t believe this for a second. Horses know the difference between a hand that hurts and a hand that heals. They know from the moment someone appears on the horizon if their intentions are fair or foul. They read our body language all the time and respond accordingly. So, it’s up to us to be mindful of how we interact with these beautiful beings. It can literally make, or break, the relationship.

If we want to know what kind of an impact the environment is having on a horse’s frame of mind it’s really simple ~ read the horse’s body language. For instance, if you look at the image above, Bear’s relaxed stance, floppy ears, semi-closed eyes and level head tell us that in that moment he’s happy just chillin’. 😉

There’s more to it than that, naturally, and perhaps I’ll write more of it at another time, but the bottom line is horses respond to whatever energy is present in the moment.

Part of the curriculum of the FEEL program is learning to understand energy ~ how it works; how it connects us; how it heals; how it can hurt. One way or the other it’s all a matter of intention. Intuitive impulses, when we are in touch with them, can alert us to trouble and allow us to make the choice to move away or put up a fight. As prey animals horses are imbued with this instinct. They sense danger even when they can’t see or hear it, and will respond appropriately to survive.

This is what makes them such valuable teachers in the human pursuit of self-discovery. Since horses can only ever reflect the truth around them they are the perfect mirrors for helping us to see who we are.

For some people, naturally, this is an uncomfortable prospect. For others it offers a marvellous healing and personal growth opportunity.

For instance, how a horse reacts to two different people depends entirely on the energy each person brings to the relationship. As an equestrian coach it always botheedr me when one student would say to another: “You won’t like Mouse, she’s mean/won’t canter/ is really hard to ride,” etc. Or, conversely, “You’ll love Mouse, she’s so sweet/has a brilliant canter/is lovely to ride.”

The fact is, Mouse will respond to each rider differently based on whatever energy they carry around with them. For instance, Mouse may perform well under the gentle and confident leadership of a rider with a quiet hand and light, effective leg aid, but become resistant and anxious with another, more fearful, less educated rider who kicks mercilessly and pulls on the rein at the same time, sending the poor horse mixed messages. The riders’ experiences with the horse will be much different based on what they bring to the equation. The horse can only respond according to the information she’s receiving. Perhaps the most that can be said about Mouse is that her response to each rider is totally honest.

Still, I’m getting a little side tracked here. I’m merely attempting to show that the energy we emit is inevitably what comes back to us.

Understanding this and other truths of emotional energy is teaching me to honour the privilege of having the trust of a 1,200 lb prey animal like Bear.

So, what about Wu Wei?

Loosely translated Wu Wei is the art of “non-doing” or “non-action.”

“In our culture,” as author and horse trainer, Linda Kohanov, writes in her book The Way of the Horse: Equine Archetypes for Self-Discovery, ” … those who work more, buy more, try harder, and seem busier are the ones we’re taught to admire and emulate. The art of not striving has been lost, and we’re suffering from a host of stress-related illnesses as a result.”

Of course, I live in “this culture” and what has been my stress-related illness in recent years? Adrenal fatigue.

So, the challenge of Wu Wei is to do nothing constructively and see what happens. It’s not about being a couch potato on a Sunday afternoon watching reruns of your favourite TV show.

No, it’s about being in the moment and allowing all distractions to subside; to engage with nature and feel it’s impact upon us. To do nothing.

A foreign concept for most people.

With the FEEL program our task is to practice Wu Wei in the presence of our horses and, in the process, create a deeper connection with them and, potentially, our inner selves.

My first attempt a couple of weeks ago was nothing if not magical …

Before bringing Bear in from the paddock I allowed myself a few extra minutes to practice just “being” in his presence.

I entered through the paddock gate without calling to him, which is my usual practice, and parked myself in the middle of the paddock from where I could see him just over the rise of a rolling hillock. Standing there quietly and not drawing attention to myself, I focused on my breathing and and simply observed my beautiful boy as he grazed. Within a few seconds he raised his head and turned to look at me, as if acknowledging my presence. I stayed where I was; didn’t speak. He then turned his whole body toward me and started walking over ~ a slow, sauntering kind of walk which told me he was relaxed and happy to see me. I held my ground waiting to see what he would do next. I kept focused on my breathing. When Bear was about eight feet away he stopped for a moment, respecting an unseen but important personal boundary. I waited. About a minute later he walked right up to me. Sniffed at my hand, my back (found the carrot in my back pocket and helped himself), sniffed up my arm, down the outside of my leg. I didn’t move. Didn’t touch him. After a minute or two he drifted away a few feet and began to graze again, happy just to be near me. I smiled and waited, curious to see what he would do next.

Outside the paddock a slight commotion occurred as two horses being led in opposite directions were brought to a halt and their handlers had a brief and quiet chat. Being the curious boy he is, Bear left me and wandered over to the gate to check things out. I didn’t move; didn’t follow; didn’t say anything, and watched with interest as he indulged his curiosity. I will admit that for a moment … and just a moment … I was disappointed that he’d left. I felt abandoned. Our lovely moment, it appeared, had ended all too soon. Still, I tried not to judge and waited to see what would happen next.

As the two horses were eventually lead their separate ways Bear followed one up the fence line. Then he broke away and, much to my pleasure, wandered back to me. He put his muzzle right into my hand as if to plug into my energy once again. It was such a profound experience I almost wept with the joy of it. More than anything else he wanted to be in my company … in that moment. He didn’t want to eat (which is what horses do all the time except when they’re sleeping or working). He didn’t want to engage with other horses. He wanted only to be with me. 🙂 And I didn’t have to do anything but be.

Of course, the purpose of the FEEL program is to demonstrate how these concepts we learn with the horses can be applied to every day life …

As I observe it, we have become human “doings” and forgotten to be human “beings.” We’ve forgotten that periods of limbo are a natural part of the living and creative process. Part of my quest over the next several months as I complete the FEEL program and gain an even deeper level of self-awareness, is to learn to be comfortable in limbo ~ to honour the constructive and regenerative aspects of “non-doing” so my life takes on a more balanced way of being. This may be a tall order, but the more I practice the easier it it will get. As Linda Kohanov writes: ” … lack of control is infuriating and frightening for the intellect. For this reason, it’s beneficial to practice “not doing” voluntarily rather than wait until circumstances force you into those inescapable limbo periods. Training the mind with a regular dose of Wu Wei quite simply strengthens courage and creativity on all levels.”

I have Bear to help me with this, but practicing the art of “non-doing” can be as easy as standing in your back yard or other safe, peaceful area and observing as nature unfolds around you.

I’d like to challenge you to take 20 minutes to try this out. Put away your technical gadgets, clear your mind, focus on and slow your breathing. Be still. Spend time with nature by simply being and observing. What are the birds doing? How many butterflies do you see? How do you feel watching the squirrels chase each other through the trees? What sounds do you hear that you would normally miss? Should you choose to do this, I’d be curious to know what this experience was like for you. I find there is usually a natural conclusion to each session. That is, I don’t have to do anything … the end just is. 😉

I try to spend 20 minutes or so two or three times a week just hanging out with Bear ~ either in the paddock or sitting in a chair outside his stall. It’s a pleasant exercise for him too because it releases him from the expectation of having to do something every time I show up at the barn.

This week I will get to spend more time in Wu Wei than I had planned as I am forced into limbo due to back spasms. But that’s a story, perhaps, for next time. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

* What Is Wu Wei? One of Taoism’s most important concepts is wu wei, which is sometimes translated as “non-doing” or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu Wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which – without even trying – we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise. (Source: About.com)

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014 

Disclaimer: The events described herein are taken from my own experience, knowledge, and understanding and are shared for entertainment and information purposes only. Should you wish to try any of the techniques or exercises shared within the framework of this blog, please ensure that both you and your horse(s) are adequately prepared. And remember: while I have enjoyed some success using these techniques, you try them solely at your own risk.