Nurturing Thoughts on Mother’s Day

I take my role as horse mom pretty seriously.

In my view, I have been given stewardship over one of God’s creatures. I do not own Bear. (If anything, he owns me …;-) )  I have taken on the responsibility of seeing to the welfare and well being of this beautiful horse and so I nurture him to the best of my ability. I want him to be happy, healthy and enjoy a satisfying life experience.

Due to circumstances beyond my control I do not have children of my own. I don’t dwell on it. It is what it is. So I turn my nurturing instincts instead to my four-legged, fuzzy children, all of whom teach me valuable lessons as I wear the mantle of nurturer.

Experience has shown me that how we nurture someone or something will either bless us, or come back to haunt us. It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, it’s so important to be mindful of our decisions and interactions with others.

It also pays, I’ve found, to be discerning with respect to the kinds of influences we invite into our lives. What we take in we inevitably dish out, whether we intend to, or not. Remember the saying “Garbage in; garbage out?”

So … I have this horse, and …

… as I nurture him past his spooks and moments of discomfort I, in turn, learn to negotiate the spooks and discomfort in my own life more effectively

… as I nurture him to a more athletic way of being under saddle I, in turn, am more athletic in the saddle

… as I nurture his mind, body and spirit with daily rituals of grooming, exercise and feeding I, in turn, am more mindful of my own self-care

… as I nurture his playful spirit I, in turn, am more playful

… as I nurture his happy nature my nature, in turn, assumes one of happiness.

It’s really very simple.

The obvious reward for being a diligent and loving, caring nurturer is the pure joy of seeing whatever we’ve nurtured, thrive. In my case, it’s Bear. The fact that I, too, can thrive from this experience is a happy, and most welcome, side effect.

Happy Mother’s (Nurturer’s) Day!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

Please participate in the poll in my post Poll: You and Horses

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012

Poll: You and horses …

… Did you participate in the poll? … Enquiring minds need to know …

Before I can have an effective connection with my horse I need to understand what makes him tick.

Similarly, it’s my desire to have a better understanding of your experience with horses so I can create an effective connection with you through this blog.

So please, take a teeny, weeny moment to click on the statement below that best reflects your experience with horses. Leave comments if you wish. In ensuing posts I will muse upon and write about each of the statements, share stories, etc. to demonstrate that you are not alone, whatever your experience with, or interest in, horses may be.

Obviously you have some interest, or you wouldn’t be here, right?

So, go ahead … don’t be bashful … 😉 …

Thank you soooo much!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

Triggers … What sets you off?

This week I’ve been musing about triggers, mostly because I’ve been acutely aware of my own.

And I don’t mean the Roy Rogers kind of trigger (horse or gun). No, I’m talking about the kind we all experience in our own way — the ones that jump start an unpleasant and uncontrollable reaction to an outside stimuli … that is until we have become aware of, understood, and come to terms with the trigger’s origins.

On this intense journey of self-awareness I’ve been travelling the past while I’ve bumped up against many of my triggers. While this hasn’t necessarily been a pleasant experience it has, nevertheless, afforded an opportunity to get to the bottom of some negative behavioural patterns in my life. It has also allowed me an opportunity to learn how to recognize the triggers and pre-empt them to promote a more positive way of being.

My saving grace through all of this learning has been my loving partner, Lloyd, and an amazing support team (psychotherapist, hormone therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, naturopath, riding coach, music coach, and last, but certainly not least, equine therapist). When I resolved, 12 years ago, to divest myself of a lifetime of unwanted emotional baggage little did I know just what that meant and how much help I would need.

Through it all I’ve been learning to step into a new way of being — an intense and exhausting exercise that’s well worth the price.

This year has offered a stark lesson on cause and effect, stemming from looking in the eye a life time lived with undiagnosed PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Pushing through life in survival mode finally came to stop when mid-life hormone changes offered a sharp reality check. One day just over two years ago, while riding Bear, I was struck with explicable and unnerving fluttering sensations in my chest and throat. Near panic attacks while astride a 1,200 lb bundle of nervous energy is a dangerous, and debilitating, thing. Something had to be done or I was heading for a serious fall, in more ways than one. Thankfully before this revelation I had learned to pay attention to wake-up calls which, to my way of thinking at least, are simply giant triggers signalling a time for major personal change.

Horses are wonderful teachers when it comes to learning about, and understanding, triggers.

Since horses are, as respected Canadian natural horsemanship trainer Chris Irwin notes, “victims waiting to happen,” they are easily triggered by unexpected exterior stimuli.

For instance, when Bear was younger the sight of a white plastic bag flapping in the breeze would be enough to send him into orbit. If I was riding him at the time the offending object came into view I was treated, at best, to a spooky side pass as he gave it the hairy eyeball. At worst, an irrational bolt at warp speed across the arena or an almighty buck would trigger my own panic button and might land me in the dirt. Unless you’re a rodeo rider or have a death wish this type of in-the-saddle experience is usually not recommended and best avoided.

Bear’s brain farts have taught me, however, to be vigilant when it comes to recognizing what is, in his mind, imminent “danger.” This way I can pre-empt his need to have such an explosive reaction in the first place.

In effect, my powers of observation must become even greater than his own. I must remain at least one step ahead at all times and recognize “danger” before he does. I must perceive like a horse and respond as an aware human being.

Distracting him from whatever might offend is as easy as directing his mind and body into a different movement or exercise that keeps him in the moment with me. Doing this gives him a reason to trust I will keep him from harm’s way which, besides a constant supply of food and a safe place to sleep, is all a horse really wants anyway. Horses will do pretty much anything for people they trust.

But he needs help to learn a new way of being around flapping white plastic objects. Left to his own devices he might terrorized by them for the rest of his life.

I am his help.

As Bear has matured and I have been consistent in his training his mind has settled and his reactions to unexpected stimuli have become less severe. Nevertheless, as his trainer (and mom) I need to stay one step ahead at all times to ensure his happy mind and relaxed state.

Which makes my own situation all the more interesting.

The very state of being I have been working to instil in my horse is the state of being I’m working to instil in my self. With the help of my “trainers” I am reconditioning my own way of being and to do this I must address my triggers.

I’m learning to understand what is to me now a very obvious mind/body/emotion connection. Lately my reactions to certain people and situations have been incredibly visceral to the point, at times, of feeling totally and inexplicably overwhelmed such that my body shuts down and all I can do is rest and recover. It has been my challenge, again with help, to understand the origin of what triggers these unpleasant reactions and then find a constructive way to manage them.

What I’ve learned is that if we don’t take the time and make the effort to understand why we react irrationally to certain stimuli, this stimuli will continue to trigger reactions and manipulate us for the rest of our lives. From my experience these emotional/mental outbursts produce their own debilitating physical symptoms that further torment, and it just becomes a vicious cycle until we stand up and take action to change.

I am no expert on mental health, or medicine, but I am becoming an expert on addressing my own triggers. I also know that I’m not the only person in the world who experiences seemingly irrational reactions to outside stimuli. Far from it. We hear and read of people every day in our own circles and in the world-at-large whose irrational and frequently violent actions are triggered by seemingly irrational impulses. These actions invariably hurt others. And we on the outside looking in ask “I wonder what set them off?”

I would like to suggest that if we all asked this question honestly of ourselves, sought the help we needed to answer it and changed our lives accordingly, we could possibly live more harmoniously and the peace for which we are all seeking might be found.

Sadly, fear of the unknown will prevent most people from stepping into the dark abyss of the soul to seek the source of their angst. For me, not stepping in was a guarantee of a life lived in continuous fear. And that, dear reader, is no life for me.

This subject is open to debate. Please feel free to comment.

Nurture what you love … that includes you!

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

The Sky is Falling … Or Not …

Horses and ice don’t mix.

An icy paddock means no self-exercise for my four-hooved child sporting steel shoes on a slippery surface. He may as well be ice skating which, frankly, I don’t even want to think about.

And ice plunging in thunderous chunks from the roof of the indoor arena while my baby is struggling to hold himself together? Well, the sky may as well be falling.

Yesterday I arrived at the barn ready to ride. I was feeling good following a weekend of low energy and exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue has, in the short term, severely cramped my active life style and I live day to day, making very few plans and getting lots of rest. Because I felt well yesterday and it was so beautiful and sunny after a weekend of snow and below zero, I was looking forward to spending some time in the saddle.

It was our usual routine … I fetched Bear from his paddock, groomed him, tacked him up, put on my helmet and headed to the arena for some play time. In the aisle outside the arena we stopped briefly so I could make a final adjustment to Bear’s bridle. That’s when I heard it … the unmistakable crash, bang, wallop of ice plummeting from the roof — the warning to re-think my strategy

Drat!

And I knew there was no way to work around it. Bear had heard the crashing too. His ears pricked earnestly toward the arena door; his eyes bulging like painted brown ping pong balls and his nostrils fluttering with worry told me his focus was not on me and wouldn’t be until this stress had been addressed.

Just like that my plan to ride was shattered much like the ice crashing  from the roof under the mid-day sun.

So, we went to Plan ‘B.”

I removed Bear’s tack, left it on the saddle tree and lead Bear, all on his toes and worried, into the arena. I could see by his expression that the only way to get by the fear was to go through it, so I unhooked the lead shank from his halter and let him rip.

Bear tore around that 200ft x 70ft arena like he was being chased by the devil himself.

Letting him loose and watching him shake his demons is awe-inspiring. Sometimes my heart feels like it’s jumping and skipping in time with his arhythmic shenanigans as he bucks and snorts and reels and chases around me sometimes at such a velocity I almost can’t watch. And when the ice clunks down along the outside of the walls and crashes to the ground you’d think, given his leaping over-reaction, that the sky was indeed falling.

Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin, with whom I worked for a while, says horses, because of their prey nature, are “victims waiting to happen.” This is evident to me every time I see, and feel, my horse spook at nothing. It’s almost as if he’s looking for something to worry about. So imagine his animation when he supposes there is something  (a chunk of ice) crouching in the shadows waiting to pounce upon him.

I’ve learned to let Bear get things out of his system in his own way and time. It took about 10 minutes for him to come to terms with his ice demons. He finally stopped about 20 feet away from me, puffing and blowing out what remained of his anxiety, and lowered his head to signal he was done having a hissy fit. But I wasn’t so sure, and since we had the time I decided to test his new head space.

I walked to him and gave him a pat on the neck. His sides were heaving from his exertion but his eye was soft, telling me he was feeling just fine. I turned and he followed me, of his own free will, to the centre of the arena where we stopped. I rewarded him with a sugar cube and then walked another five feet in front before turning to face him again. Bear was relaxed, his head low, floppy ears twitching to the sound of my voice. My “victim” had become a quiet, confident horse.

Or had he?

We stood quietly for a while. Whenever his gaze wandered I brought him back to me simply by shifting, ever-so slightly, my body language. When he took a step toward me, I asked him to step back. This continued for about 10 minutes until he paid me the ultimate compliment — a great, big, fat yawn. This didn’t mean he was bored. Far from it. In fact, he was totally relaxed and engaged in my presence, which is as it should be.

Then the test for which I’d been waiting.

“Crash … bang … rumble, rumble … crash … ker-plunk … boom!

Directly behind him outside and as loud as any of the others we’d witnessed a sheet of ice crashed from the roof.

And Bear did … nothing. Okay, he flinched, a little, but his attention remained on me; he didn’t move. He trusted me enough to stay connected to me during an episode which 20 minutes earlier would have sent him reeling. And I didn’t have to do anything but be there with him. He figured it out all on his own and I had the pleasure of participating in his process.

This is one of my favourite things about being with Bear — together we work through our individual and collective demons, building trust on the ground and in the saddle.

I probably could have ridden Bear after that, but decided not to bother. We’d already succeeded and were feeling good about it. Instead we went back to his stall where he was fussed over and spoiled with carrots … the perfect way to end our visit.

Today is overcast so with any luck the ice, whatever’s left of it, will hold, the sky will not fall and Bear and I will enjoy saddle play.

Of course, there’s always Plan “B.”

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
“Horse Mom:”

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

My Passion; My Teacher

Photo: Cary Andrew Penny ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom