Going With The Flow



It’s day 18/120.

A little over two weeks have passed since Bear’s injured suspensory diagnosis and things seem to be progressing well. Thankfully, my emotional roller coaster has levelled out as I’ve become more accepting of this unexpected turn of events. I’ve also gained a better understanding of shock.

One thing I’ve learned from this experience is that we should never underestimate the impact of shock, no matter how minor we consider it to be. Shock disorients and unbalances us in all kinds of insidious ways, impairs thought processes and wears us down. Allowing the dust to settle during a time of personal crisis is crucial before we make important decisions if we’re to live without regret.

Of course, Bear doesn’t really make decisions … he simply goes with the flow ~ something I can still afford to do better. He’s has managed to settle into the new routine without all the drama. He is perfectly content, while in his confinement, to amuse, and be amused ~ eating, sleeping, engaging in Jim Carrey-like facial contortions. He’s accepted his lot ~ a reminder for me to do the same ~ to go with the ebb and flow of life and be with what is; to respond to events appropriately as they happen and then, as the proverbial contented horse, go back to grazing. It’s a challenging lesson, to be sure, but here’s Bear, in his wisdom, showing me the way. I always knew he was more than just another handsome face.

For me, as always, personal awareness is key. While I struggle with old issues triggered by the shock of Bear’s injury I realize that to face them head on and deal with them mindfully is the best possible course of action. In an odd kind of way, Bear’s convalescence is giving me yet another opportunity to heal some old emotional wounds and, as an added bonus, get appropriate rest as well. Healing, emotional or otherwise, takes energy and can be tiring. So, we need rest.

Let’s see … there are only nine-and-a-half weeks of this course of treatment left (but who’s counting?). A quick calculation tells me May 6 marks the beginning of the next stage, whatever that happens to be. That’s well into the spring. Thus, as I gaze into my crystal ball I foresee Bear and I languishing in hibernation mode, getting lots of rest. 😉

So, that’s the scheme of things for now. I don’t have another horse to ride at the moment, so my option is forced R&R with Bear. There’s no point in bemoaning something that cannot be changed. Life happens and, as my dear boy keeps reminding me, it’s best just to get on with it as best you can … and smile.

The Routine …

Naturally, we’ve developed a new routine and it appears to be working well.

In the mornings before I arrive, Bear helps ~ a loose interpretation to be sure ~with the chores. He gets rotated between stalls (for a change of scenery) while the barn is being cleaned and, being the enterprising equine he is Bear finds all kinds of opportunities to make himself useful. Cleaning up residual grain in his buddies’ feed tubs and scarfing remnant hay are his first priority. He hates wastage.

By 11 a.m. or so, his arduous tasks complete, Bear’s back in the comfort of his own freshly cleaned stall, indulging in a generous helping of hay plunged into the depths of the nibble net he’s borrowing from his generous buddy, Midas.

By the time I arrive (around noon) Bear’s almost finished his morning hay ration or is lost in a mid-day snooze. We say our hellos and then head into the arena for a little hand walking which, as I’ve discovered, can be considered more entertainment than exercise. Sure, he gets to stretch his legs, but more importantly he can gaze admiringly at his reflection in the mirror, or play follow the leader, or hunt for carrots in my pocket. The possibilities are endless. Eventually, when the weather warms up and the ice melts, we’ll be able to go outside for a toodle, but for now these moments of mirth and perambulation indoors must be our lot.

After 10-15 minutes of freezing our butts off, we head back to the barn for his daily grooming ritual, complete with more carrots and the occasional wintergreen mint. He likes those. As well, his bandages are changed, his hay net refilled, his stall picked clean, his water topped up and, oh yes, a heaping handful of yummy orange root vegetables are left in his feed bin.

Not spoiled at all.

The Perfect Day … New Shoes and a Massage

Who wouldn’t like a fancy new pair of shoes and a massage to brighten up a cold winter’s day?

Who indeed? (sigh …)

Monday was not my day for a pedicure and a back rub. It was Bear’s.

As luck would have it his appointments with the farrier and REMT just happened to fall on the same day.

Egg-zactly what the doctor ordered …

Proper hoof care is important, and perhaps even more when a leg injury is involved. Even though Bear’s right hind suspensory is bandaged 24/7 for the duration of his 120-day confinement, it requires extra support to aid healing. The egg-bar shoe, which Dr. Maggie, Bear’s attending vet from McKee Pownall Veterinary Services prescribed as part of his treatment, is designed specifically for this purpose.

As the name might suggest, this shoe is egg-shaped. It fits onto the hoof like any other shoe, however part of it juts out behind to help take pressure off injured suspensory ligaments.

Naturally, Bear enjoyed having his back feet trimmed and measured, and his new custom loafers properly fitted. He’s simply loves the attention. For my part, it was when Farrier Tim asked if the snow pads should be left under Bear’s front shoes (and I said no because, of course, Bear won’t be going outside until the ice and snow are a fading memory) that the rehab road ahead took on the appearance of a winter prairie highway … endless into the horizon. (I try not to think about it.)

Oh, well. At least Bear now has the shoes for the journey.

… and a massage, just because …

About an hour after his pedicure Bear was happily in massage mode. Floppy-eared, soft-eyed, and as zoned into this gentle muscle manipulation as anyone could be. Maybe I need to book one of these for myself … hmmmm.

spa time


So, what about a little pampering for this Horse Mom?

Yes, indeed. What about it?

Between the six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification program in which I participated the last half of 2014 (an amazing learning and healing experience) and this proverbial blow to the solar plexus things have been pretty intense of late. A change of scenery is definitely in order. Figuring out what that is, where it’s going to be and organizing it is another matter.

My biggest challenge is that living with adrenal fatigue for the past three years has, out of necessity, made my world quite small. My life has been at home and at the barn, with the occasional accompanied trip abroad which I always had to manage carefully. This experience provided me with great insight on recovery time and maintaining a low profile while the body does what it needs to heal. Still, now that I’m feeling more robust I want to expand my comfort zone again. Just how to do this without overwhelming my still recovering nervous system is the pressing question.

I expect I’ll be asking similar questions once Bear starts into work again in a few months. How much can I push him without risking re-injury to that suspensory? See … we are not so different.

It’s all about mindfulness, of course, and being open. As I’ve said before, things invariably unfold as they should and it’s been my experience that going with the flow is always a good practice. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it does work. Just ask Bear, my going-with-the-flow guru.

Nurture what you love,

Horse Mom

P.S. Yesterday Bear had his second round of shock wave therapy. While it’s too early to tell if there’s been an improvement in his injured suspensory we can say for certain that his condition is stable. (Hahahaha … 🙂 )

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015


A Horse is Never “Just a Horse”

 Weekly Writing Challenge: Student, Teacher


Bear Boy



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaiming Self is a serious business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A horse is never “just a horse.”


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

Further Resources

Horse Therapy Helps People Surmount Personal Obstacles (Toronto Star)


National Association for Equine Facilitated Wellness (Canada)

PATH International

FEEL Alumni




And now for something completely different …


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

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

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

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

 Apronhead Lilly

Living Soulful

Building a Life of Hope

Capital Cowgirl

Crazy Train to Tinky Town

Horse Listening

Virginia Views

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

Nurture what you love and enjoy the ride!

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014






Thrilled to be Freshly Pressed …

Life is what happens when you’re doing whatever.

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

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

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

I am beyond thrilled by this tremendous honour.

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

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

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

A kiss

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

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

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

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

In fact, horses have been among my greatest teachers.

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

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


©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Confessions of a Coaching Intern: Finding Clarity with a Pitch Fork and a Song …

Horse Lover

This is the first in a series of intermittent posts about my experience as a coaching intern, 1995-1997. The memories will flow as they may so events are not likely to be in chronological order … but they will be fun to re-live. And we may actually learn something along the way … 😉


It wasn’t so long ago (okay, more than a decade but who’s keeping track … ) that I was a lost and confused early 30-something.

With a failing first marriage and tenuous hold on a career path through the jungles of corporate communications, I was feeling unhinged. When my maternal grandmother, with whom I had a somewhat conflicted relationship, died in 1994 I was forced to take stock. I quickly realized my life was broken and needed to be fixed.

Within months my world turned upside-down.

A trip to the Calgary Stampede soon after the funeral (because we’d already bought the tickets) convinced me that all I wanted to do was work with horses. Much to the chagrin of my husband I left my corporate gig eight months later and became a barn hand and coaching intern at a local hunter/jumper barn/riding school. My big idea was to get my coaching certification. It was a somewhat strange notion given that just four years earlier I’d abandoned my love of horses as a childish pursuit and moved on … to nothing.

But somehow our passion always finds us …

As we often do when change presents itself I approached this fork in the road with much enthusiasm, little realizing the many pot holes that lay ahead.

After only a few days I was appalled to realize how little I knew about horses, this despite a life time love of them and trips to the barn every week to ride. Where had I gone wrong?

And I was doubly appalled to learn, over time, just how little I knew about myself.

I went in a a marshmallow and came out toasted …

The two years spent in this school of hard knocks provided plenty of opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. It was the first step to exposing the cankers in my way of being and beginning the healing process.

Only I didn’t know this at the time.

Since, like me, my then husband couldn’t see the bigger picture his support of my “crazy” endeavour was reluctant at best. His main concern was the loss of a second income ~ this in spite of the fact that with my sole income I’d enthusiastically supported him through his expensive Master’s degree in Sports Administration at a U.S. university. My foray into self-education was costing us nothing, and as we had no children and were living at my mother’s at the time we weren’t risking much. For me the timing could not have been better, whether he supported me or not. I pressed on.

Have I mentioned it was hard work?

This was no ordinary equestrian centre. It was the largest in the area, set on at least 100 acres with three massive indoor riding arenas, barns for 200 horses, several groomed outdoor riding rings and lovely hacking trails. It was the venue for many local and national shows and was thus, for many years, the hub of the horse world in the Greater Toronto Area.

Me with Buck, my nemesis and the subject of a future post. He may look like Bear but my Bear he wasn't.

Me with Buck, my nemesis and coaching exam horse. Our experience will be the focus of a future post. … Photo taken in 1997.

The riding school, where I worked at first, had 32 horses. Rain, snow or shine I, little Ms Corporate now liberated from the dress suits and high heels I’d sported for most of my working life, eagerly arrived at 7 a.m. to help feed and turn out the horses into their respective paddocks.

The labour intensive task of mucking stalls tested my fabric. On good days there were four of us to do this dirty work ~ that’s eight stalls each. On many days there were just two of us. Our goal was to be done by 9:30. No mean feat.

Following a short break I, with my fellow interns, headed to theory and then rode. Then lunch; teaching theory; more riding practical; distributing hay; bringing the horses in; feeding … and whatever else remained to be done until I could leave at 5:30 p.m.

It was a tough slog for this former girl-about-town …

I worked 10 hours a day six days a week. Within days of starting my internship I came down with the worst cold of my life. But I still had to work. No sick days. No time off. No sympathy.

I lost weight. At one point my soft hands, whose toughest task until that point had been to pluck words out of a computer keyboard, became so mangled by the manual labour I couldn’t wrap either of them around a door handle or hold a pen.

At day’s end, exhausted from a surplus of fresh air and exercise, I was in bed by 9 p.m. and slept dog-like until 5:30 a.m. when it was time to begin all over again.

Above and beyond this I continued my weekly singing commitment in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I couldn’t imagine my life without music. On performance weeks with extra rehearsals I burned the candle at both ends. Exhaustion became my middle name.

Still, I had to keep up. I wasn’t old but I had to use almost twice as much energy as the early 20-somethings around me to achieve the same results. I look back now and wonder how I did it.

I might add, however, that I was no saint. I whined … a lot. When the school barn manager had had enough of my complaining (This is hard; I don’t understand; Why this? Why that? Why? Why? Why? etc.) she arranged for my transfer to the show barn. This, she hinted not so subtly, would really give me something to whine about.

Life got bigger …

The show barn was across the parking lot and an industrial complex by comparison. It was amazing, actually. (I say was because at the end of my internship the whole farm was razed for commercial/industrial property development. 😦 ) The barn housed an Olympic-sized indoor arena where shows were often held and had attached to it an enormous warm-up ring, also indoor. Between the two buildings were enclosed aisles of 50 large box stalls each. One wing was completely occupied. The other was saved for show stabling.

Big stalls house big horses and there were a few of those. Whether by design or chance I was assigned the stalls with the behemoth horses. My daily quota was 12-15 stalls. The riding school was paradise by comparison.

Apollo, an impressive grey, 18-hh show jumper, was the largest horse in the barn with the messiest stall. Mucking it was an exercise in unfettered misery for me until one forbiddingly hot day in July (at 8 a.m. it was already in the high 20s with humidity) and a moment of clarity.

It happened while I was in the throes of pitching hooey onto the conveyor rolling beneath the open trap door in front of his stall.

Beads of sweat trickled mercilessly down my forehead and pooled in my eyes while particles of pine shavings floated in rogue waves through the sunbeams, landing as a scratchy film on my damp flesh and drifting up my nostrils.

I had for some time felt the whole situation to be absurd, even surreal, wondering what on earth I was doing at my age and stage of life, shovelling horse hooey and wishing for a career with horses. I felt invisible; invalid; small. I felt I had somehow let myself down. My dream of horse ownership so buried in disappointment I had no idea where to search for it.

Why had I allowed my promising career in corporate communications be derailed so unceremoniously? Why was my marriage failing so miserably? Why was I feeling so aimless? Why?

Relief came by way of a song …

Because music lives so deeply in me I have a wealth of songs stored who-knows-where that pop into my head and onto my lips in moments of stress. Interestingly, the songs usually reflect my state of mind or emotion at the time without me realizing it.

And so it was between forkfuls in the midst of my mucking nightmare that these immortal words, made famous by the iconic Doris Day, tripped melodically from my lips:

When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be. Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me …

(Altogether now … )

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.

Once I really started listening to these simple words I somehow felt permission to let go of any worries about my future. A burdensome chore evolved into a mindful meditation. I became the rhythm of the pitching fork and learned to revel in the experience of “cleaning house.”

It was my first conscious lesson on the importance of expelling the detritus of life to make room for new growth.

The truth is, positive life changes require this of all of us. If we aren’t willing to fork over the hooey in our lives we are doomed to continue watching it pile up and then wallow in, and complain about, it.

From that moment of clarity forward my experience as an intern changed dramatically. My mind opened; I began to embrace the journey; … and I stopped whining.

Bird buddies

Fast forward 16 years …

So, the other day while at the barn visiting Bear and just 10 days after getting married, I grabbed a pitch fork and spent a few minutes tidying up his stall. I didn’t have to ~ the boarding agreement includes daily stall cleaning ~ but I wanted, needed some grounding.

With fork in hand I picked through his bedding, scooping up the missed poop balls. I dug out the ammonia-laden shavings in his pee spot, which sometimes gets missed, and banked the walls a little with a mix of old and new shavings. I smoothed and plumped up the bedding so it would cushion Bear easily when he slept at night and, just as in days gone by, sang Que Sera, Sera. … but not with angst of not knowing, you understand ~ with the conviction that life unfolds as it should.

ForksWe are the masters of our own destinies only in so much as we become awakened to our state of being, consciously aware of the choices we make, and grounded in the effort required to live the changes we seek. As well, we need to accept that at any time we could be unceremoniously dumped in a more challenging scenario which, though it’s painful at the time, might actually be the making of us.

My experience as a coaching intern rocked my world. And little did I know, as I was mired in the angst and confusion of the time, that it would open the door not just to my understanding of the world of the beautiful horse but to the amazing, complex and awe-filled world that resides in me.

For me clarity began with a pitch fork and a song.

What about you?

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Escape With Me …

Yuk it up

… and pass the time with my equine entertainment coordinator … the comic, Shakespeare … as we engage in a little horse play.

You all know him as Bear, of course, but that doesn’t alter the fact that my four-legged thespian loves to put on an act and delight whatever might constitute an audience in the small barn where he lives.

Yukking it up and flashing those pearly whites for the camera is one of his many pleasures.

This week the topic of conversation around the barn has been the mucky-ness of the paddocks.

While these green spaces recover from the ravages of winter, the horses are on hourly rotation out in the sand ring which is itself a mire of mud and murkiness. This schedule will continue until the paddocks are demonstrating more resilience and the grass has had a chance to grow.

Like all the other horses, Bear cannot resist the urge to drop to his knees and roll … and roll … and roll. The current soft squooshiness of the sand ring makes this a particularly appealing pastime.

Yesterday Bear’s blanket, as evidenced by this image taken in said paddock with his buddy, Sam, was absolutely filthy. He has the role of mudslinger down pat.

Sam and Ham

Later, as I was photo-documenting the results of his shenanigans in the barn he decided to be the centre of attention for his own reasons, and proceeded to ham it up for the camera.

Yuk it up 2

Naturally, the bucket of carrots at his feet had something to do with it. Like all great entertainers he expects to be rewarded for his efforts.

Aries is looking for a best supporting actor nod as he rests his chin on Bear’s rump trying to get in on the action.

Aries wants a carrot

You can see how well that’s going over.


This is my escape from the world and its drama.

After a couple of hours with Bear my perspective on a broader world beyond my control changes as I realize the amazing influence I can have on my horse and he on me.

My heart goes out to all whose lives have been radically changed this week by terrible events … and not just the ones we know about.

Nurture what you love … and create a happier world for yourself and those within your influence … while the chance is yours.

Be well …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Mirror, Mirror …


Bear and I are making strides.

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

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

Releasing the tension frees Bear’s back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Importance of Wiggle Room

#7 in the arena

… March 17, 2013 …

Last week, thanks to Bear, I learned a valuable lesson on the importance of wiggle room.

In truth, I believe he’s been trying to reach me on this one for a while. I guess sometimes we just don’t “get it” until, well, push comes to shove.

I’m not going to go into all the boring details.

Remember the ice falling off the roof and his little temper tantrum a couple of posts ago?

Well, we had very much the same kind of experience again, only without the catalyst of ice. Bear was simply being unbearable, and I was getting more and more frustrated until Coach mentioned one seemingly insignificant, but ultimately important, detail.

“You need to move your shoulders!”

I what?

“You’re riding stiff as a board and Bear can’t move freely. He’s telling you to get out of his way!”

The thing about riding horses is, of course, that they are acutely attuned to body language. How I am in the saddle translates into how Bear is as he moves. If my mind is wanting one thing and my body language is saying another, he’s going to give me what my body dictates. He’s not a mind reader.

And if I send him mixed messages … well, I may as well just go home. He will not tolerate it.

Do you like it when someone is sending you mixed messages? I know I don’t.

So, he called me on it last week. I wanted him to move more athletically but my body — my stiff, immovable shoulders in particular — were getting in the way. So much so, in fact, that at one point we stood at an impasse in the middle of the arena for several seconds (seemed like an eternity at the time) and I almost had a meltdown.

I could not understand what was going on.

“Trust me,” Coach said, “we will get through this, you just need to move your shoulders.”

Could it be that simple?

Gathering my wits and my reins, I pressed my legs against Bear’s side and sent him forward again into canter.

Move my shoulders … move my shoulders … move my shoulders …

It was a struggle, at first, like giving birth to a new idea, but then it clicked. Instead of the fight, we had detente. A gateway to a new way of being was opening … and it felt wonderful.

But, oh, the battle to get there. And not the battle with Bear, necessarily. The battle within my self.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to digest this incident.

Within hours I was sent into a 24-hour emotional tailspin as I processed the implications of this exchange, not just as a rider blossoming in her skills, but as a woman rising out of dysfunction.

Bear had shown me a new way and the importance of wiggle room — of releasing the strangle hold of old ideas and learning to live more fluidly in the flow of new ones.

With respect to riding, somewhere in the back of my psyche lay the notion that being still in the saddle equated to the perfect ride. In fact, as with all rigidity, it produces the opposite effect, causing angst for the horse which in turn produces angst in me which makes me more rigid which makes him more angry … and on.

At some point during my post-ride ruminations it finally dawned on me … if Bear moves his shoulders, shouldn’t I, then, move mine?


I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but when you see someone riding seemingly effortlessly on the back of a powerful, athletic horse, it is not effortless at all. Not only must the rider’s mind be attuned to the mood of the horse that day, but the body must follow as athletically and subtly nuanced every step the horse takes. When we don’t, sensitive horses, like Bear, will call us on it.

There’s no question my boy can deliver what I want in terms of athleticism and connection. He’s simply demanding that I deliver what he needs in order to achieve it. That means I need to be more finely tuned to his movement and allow some wiggle room so the terms of our engagement are more fluid.

We all know what it’s like to feel constrained in a relationship. Something’s got to give. When push came to shove, Bear had no trouble telling me he needed more wiggle room. When I found a way to give it to him by becoming more consciously aware of what I was doing to impede his movement and then changing it, magic was created once again.

I believe this can be applied to life in general.

When I’ve felt stuck in my life (often without being fully aware that this was the case), it’s been my experience that life has had a way of creating more wiggle room.

I can think of several times when I was shaken, rattled and rolled out of a debilitating malaise.

Twenty years ago, a boss shook me out of the trance of an unhappy, beleaguered secretary and helped me to discover my aptitude as a writer, communicator and leader. This changed my life, giving me the freedom to see myself from another more expansive angle. I probably would not be writing this today were it not for her giving me a kick in the pants. 😉

A few years later, my grandmother’s sudden death rattled the chains that had tied me to an emotionally empty matrimonial life and stultifying career in public relations. Within months I’d thrown off my career to pursue a dream of working with horses. This engagement with my passion ultimately became my greatest teacher. Within years I was divorced and negotiating the highs and lows that inevitably line the path to self-awareness.

A trip to post-war Sarajevo just four years ago proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, rolling me right into the therapist’s office where I’ve been examining and releasing early childhood trauma ever since.

Truth be told, there were many years when, as survivor and victim, I stumbled along the pitted road of self-pity. All that got me was even more stuck in a downward spiral of worry and despair. Paying attention to the wake-up calls has taken me off that debilitating path and given me a new way of being, one supported by the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners attitude of my beautiful horse.

So, when I consider the wake-up calls Bear gives me once in a while, I believe he’s creating wiggle room for the next growth spurt. I just need to make sure I’m paying attention … and enjoy the ride. 😉

Has something in your life taught you about the importance of wiggle room? Please feel free to share …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

A Dangerous Game

I love my horse.

Shakespeare is friend, teacher and therapist all bundled up in own big, brown, furry package, and a dream come true.

Occasionally, however, he’s an opinionated, demanding, obstinate [insert expletive here]. I don’t like when he leads me doe-eyed up the garden path and then unleashes his evil twin. It’s not nice.

And so we begin …


Hello Down There

… Who knows what evil lurks …

When I arrived at the barn on Tuesday morning I was feeling good. Temps were hovering around zero; the sun was shining and I was looking forward to spending time with Bear and having a coaching — our first in more than 10 days.

At the paddock gate I called for Bear who was lingering at the far end of the two-acre pasture. Hearing my voice, he sauntered over all relaxed, and evidently happy, following a morning spent lolling in the sunshine and eating hay with his buddy, Sam.

As I groomed him I chanced to look through the barn window and across the driveway to the arena. Snow on the roof and the milder temps portended the risk of falling ice, the downside of a sunny day in February. However, with my half-hour lesson scheduled for 11:30 I figured it was early enough in the day for this not to matter. Early afternoon seems to be the tipping point for ice melt.

Besides, Bear was mellow yellow. He’d been ridden the two previous days, so was in good shape to handle a bit of extra stimulation. As a precaution, however, I turned him loose in the arena before getting on him. Just as I thought, he was fine — no drama. Ice toppled from the roof in a gentle cascade at one point and, while he flinched, he held his ground.

So, we were good.

I got on. We started our warm-up walk. Ice fell now and then. No big deal. Coach arrived and as things were going well I asked to extend the lesson to an hour.



Bear and I went into our trot warm up. Coach worked his magic. He is the best kind of teacher for me. Technical, intuitive, patient and keenly interested in our progress. My skill set has been reinvented since I started working with him three years ago. Miraculous would be the word for it, especially since I’ve also been negotiating the pot holes of adrenal fatigue during this time. A couple of rounds of golf for Christmas hardly seems enough of a thank you for the difference this man has made in my life with Bear.

Still, I think he gets satisfaction from seeing the progress Bear and I are making. He likes Bear; sees he has talent and that he’s smart, and he wants me to ride him well and have fun with him safely.

So, yesterday Coach put us through our paces, the focus — connection.

Bear is savvy enough to know that connection means hard work — engaging the hind end; rounding through his back; being in the moment with me every step of the way. It’s challenging — for both of us — but we are at a point in our development where a consistent connection is integral to our progress and, on a day when ice is toppling off the roof at an ever-increasing rate, vital to our safety.

A good connection means that when Bear goes off the rails, for whatever reason, I can make the correction within a step or two instead of floundering through ten. He feels the weight of a secure connection to the bit through the reins and his body through my seat and legs and is confident I can get him through the spooky stuff. In turn I feel confident I can get him through it too.

At the trot we did this to brilliant effect.

Then it was time for canter work.

Canter, in general, has proven more of a challenge. My big-strided horse covers a lot of ground and synching our rhythm has been difficult, especially in recent years while I’ve been battling anxiety. During the past several weeks, however, things have started falling into place. With a lovely round of canter on Monday under my belt I was optimistic for our chances. Surely we could command a repeat performance, especially with Bear appearing so relaxed.

Perhaps you can imagine where this is going …

About the time we started the canter work, just after noon, the sky started to fall. One great crash of ice and my seemingly placid Bear lost his grip on reality.

Enter Mr. Hyde.

I was surprised. He’d been such a good boy and had suddenly turned into a brat!

“He’s not afraid of the ice — his timing is off,” said Coach noting the cool expression in Bear’s eyes, “He’s toying with you. We’re asking more of him now and he’s using the falling ice as an excuse to throw you off your game. … Who’s going to win?”

Enter Mrs. Hyde.

As conditions around us became more volatile, I confined our work to a 20 metre circle. Coach stood in the middle and called out a continuous stream of instructions to help me weather the storm of Shakespeare’s tempest and set him right.

Bear’s claws came out — first in the form of a mighty four-foot-off-the-ground twisting buck (the first of several free chiropractic adjustments 😉 ), followed by a scoot, a spook and then, the final straw — an abrupt stop and propulsion backwards.

Going backwards is difficult for a horse. Bear was making my life difficult by making his life difficult, when all I wanted was for him to go forward into a nice, sympathetic connection.

He was determined to test my determination.


“You want to go backwards buddy … have at it!” I put my leg on and kept him going backwards (which is what he’d told me he wanted) until we almost backed into the kickboards. Then I tapped him sharply behind my leg with the whip to remind him who pays the bills (I always use the whip sparingly) and, while maintaining the connection he was so anxious to avoid, pressed him into the forward canter I wanted.

He was not happy about it, and tested me some more, but Bear’s bloodymindedness only made me more determined. There was no way he was getting away with this obnoxious behaviour.

The whole experience was exhausting both mentally and physically, but in the end Mr. Hyde receded into the shadow of Bear’s psyche and once again my boy was putty in my hands all achieved, I hasten to add, with a commitment to the integrity of the process and the help of a good coach.

I’m proud of this accomplishment even if marginally annoyed that he’d lulled me into a false sense of security in the first place. This experience has left me with the profound sense that if I can manage the importunate demands of a 1,200 lb horse flying off the handle, I should be able to handle pretty much anything.

As a horse mom it’s my responsibility to see that Bear engages appropriately with the world around him. Establishing boundaries and laying down the law in a horse-friendly way is part of that responsibility. Bear’s a honey but, like the testy child, he took advantage of my good nature, dragging me into a dangerous game in the process. It was a game in which I simply had to outsmart him. It was a game I had no choice but to win.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Spell of Equus

A few months ago I posted a poll, “You and Horses.”

My thanks to everyone who responded. Over the next few posts I’ll endeavour to address each of the statements mentioned in the poll.


Fifty per cent of respondents indicated that horses are as necessary to their lives as the air they breathe.

Evidently I am not the only one under the spell of Equus.

The air I breathe is infused with the essence of horse. It has been since I was a little girl. For a while, only God knew why, but as the years have unfolded the reason has become increasingly clear … the horse is one of my most important life teachers.

As with many horse people I was not raised on a farm. I was city-born with a country heart and, as I’ve described in my bio, horses have coloured nearly every aspect of my life. I might add that they’ve saved me from myself more than once and been therapy when I had no idea what the word meant or even how it might apply to me.

When I was in my late 20s/early 30s I stopped breathing “horse.” For reasons I won’t get into here I surmised that horses were a childish pursuit and it was time to “grow up.” So I stopped my weekly visits to the barn, stored my equipment and commenced a more adult pastime — wandering in a desert called Misery.

Only I wasn’t aware of this at the time.

It wasn’t until after four years of this nonsense and a death in the family that I recognized the alarm bells that had been ringing in my head and the heaviness in my heart.

I recall the moment distinctly. I was sitting, one gorgeous summer’s day, in the grandstand at the Calgary Stampede with my brother and (now ex) husband. It was a week after the funeral. My gaze wandered enviously about the competition ring where cowgirls on beautiful sorrel quarter horses and thoroughbreds were parading. The horses’ coats glistened in the sun and I found myself catching my breath.

It was a surreal moment — the metaphorical chains around my heart loosened their constrictive grip and unleashed a flood of emotion (no doubt fuelled by my grandmother’s death the previous week). Tears streamed freely down my cheeks as I realized, in that moment, that more than anything else in the world I wanted, needed, a life with horses again.

My brother looked at me and smiled — he understood. My husband was bemused.

In my heart I knew this was the perfect opportunity to turn a bad situation into something better. Somehow I knew that allowing myself to breathe horse again would change me. And I felt that by doing this I could honour my grandmother’s memory too. She’d want me to be happy. I didn’t want her death to have been in vain.

Within six months, and much to my husband’s chagrin, I’d quit my corporate gig and signed on with a local equestrian centre to do an internship working toward my national coaching certification. I was fulfilling a life-long dream to work with horses.

The internship became my refiner’s fire (the first of many), and started me down the long and rutted road to self-awareness. I describe my experience as “going in a marshmallow and coming out toasted.”

Among the many lessons my equine friends have taught me, and continue to instil in me, (in no particular order):

  • the importance of being in the moment
  • the value of patience
  • the importance of body language as a means of communication
  • the importance of letting go
  • the importance of setting and maintaining boundaries
  • how to work constructively through a problem
  • the importance of living with intention
  • the fact that I’m stronger in mind, body and spirit than I give myself credit
  • to be flexible, adaptable and open to change

Suffice to say horses have been an important catalyst for personal growth on many levels. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that in recent years there has been a growing trend toward equine-assisted therapies — the Canadian Association for the Riding Disabled (CARD) being an example — and equine-assisted psychotherapy. Linda Kohanov and Chris Irwin, among others, are pioneers in this area.

I know many people who have been touched by the spirit of Equus who could speak to its positive effect in their own lives.

So, far from being just a pastime and passion, Bear earns his keep in more ways than the mind can imagine or the heart can fathom. Caring for and riding him is a fun, albeit intense, physical and mental activity, but it’s more than that — it’s a metaphor for living.

I love this quote:

“God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses.”
~R.B. Cunninghame Graham, letter to Theodore Roosevelt, 1917

I believe we create our Heaven (or Hell) here on Earth based on our choices. While I would like to say I have chosen to be a steward of the horse I feel the truer statement is horses chose me. When I gave them up all those years ago I’d broken a sacred connection. Imagine if I hadn’t come to my senses that summer day in Calgary? I wouldn’t be on my healing path and I wouldn’t have Bear.

So, if Heaven on Earth is here with my horse, than indeed, God forbid that the Heavens above should exist without the spirit of the horse that cast its healing spell on me so long ago.

As necessary to my life as the air I breathe? … You better believe it!

Nurture what you love … that includes you 😉

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

Bear Therapy …

This week has been about Bear therapy …

There is nothing, perhaps, more mellowing than a mellow horse, and I have needed the comfort of my mellow horse these past few days.

If you follow my blog “Eyes to Heart” you’ll know that my family suffered a traumatic event late Wednesday night. I haven’t been specific about it … not yet. Suffice to say when the life of one of your loved ones is suddenly and unexpectedly threatened it is a shock. I have spent the last couple of days feeling unbalanced and emotionally vulnerable. It has required all my effort to stay grounded and in the moment. The first 12 hours were especially rough.

Since I’m still healing from adrenal fatigue too I’ve had to be especially mindful of my response to this situation and create a lot of down time for myself to recover. This has meant none of my regular physical exertion, i.e. no riding.

It’s disappointing to say the least, but sad eyes and heavy heart are not conducive to the focus and fortitude required to direct a 1,200 lb equine around a riding arena.

So instead I’ve been spending extra time with Bear in the barn … grooming mostly … lingering over his daily “spa” treatments as I release the unpleasant stress of the past 48 hours.

Of course, he doesn’t mind this at all as he happily inhales the carrots and apples and stud muffins, (oh my!) I faithfully deliver. Apart from the occasional pawing hoof if I’m not keeping up to his imagined dietary demands and schedule, he stands quietly in the cross ties while I fuss over him. His lavender aromatherapy facial massage is as much for me in the giving as it is for him in the receiving. I breathe in its pungent fragrance, and my heart softens … and Bear gives me his toothy grin which, of course, makes me smile.

And it’s a pretty darn good escape from the turmoil, leaving me free to mull, contemplate and meditate and let go of what I am powerless to change. I am reminded to be in the moment and the presence of Bear.

I fly to Calgary today to offer my loved one support for a few days. He’s out of ICU and feeling better, though bewildered. I don’t know what I can do but hold his hand and tell him I love him.

Before I leave I’m heading to the barn for more Bear therapy. There can never be too much of that …

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012