Silver Lining Redux

Hello, down there ...


It’s been a while since my last post. There’s a lot going on around here right now.

First and foremost there’s good news …

Bear’s injury has been given the all clear.

In his most recent ultrasound taken just about 10 days ago, the vet gave the injured bilateral suspensory ligament in his right hind leg a clean bill of health. The swelling is reduced to almost nothing (the vet said there’ll always be a bit of inflammation due to the nature of the injury), and the lesions in the ligament tissue have practically disappeared.

Needless to say I’m thrilled. Between the services of a good vet, an attentive barn manager, my rudimentary nursing skills and Bear’s good behaviour he is made well again. Now our focus, with Wendy’s help, turns to getting him used to going outside again. Starting with short excursions in a modified round pen made small enough for him to get a turn outside without, hopefully, getting into too much trouble. The last thing we want is for him to re-injure himself.

Over time we’ll increase his turnout and when he’s a little fitter I’ll start riding him again.

Not that he’ll be doing anything too strenuous. With his dropped hind suspensories he’s destined for a life as special companion, happy hack horse and equine therapist. At this rate our first outing, with clearance from the vet ~ a prescribed 10 minutes of walk ~ will be in about two weeks. But first, I want to give him a bath. Now that the warmer weather is upon us I feel a keen desire to wash the winter stink out of Bear’s coat. The usually divine Eau d’Equine is particularly pungent right now after a long winter cooped up inside. Time for a new spring fragrance courtesy of a rose-scented equine shampoo. He may not know the difference, but I sure will.

With Bear’s 120-day treatment all but complete I filed the insurance claim earlier this week. It looks like most of the major vet care expenses (approx. $2,500) will be covered. The insurance premium won’t go up, but the right hind leg will no longer be covered. Another good reason for Bear not to re-injure it.

As we go forward there are some maintenance issues to keep in mind. From now on Bear’s hind legs will always be wrapped to give the suspensory ligaments the extra support they need to maintain stability. As well, he’ll be on additional supplements to help maintain healthy joints and sinews, and his monthly massage treatments will be ongoing.

Bananas for bananas

While on theme of how spoiled he is, Bear was recently introduced to the banana. Honestly, with all the eye bulging, nostril flaring, tooth grinning going on while indulging in this new pleasure you’d think he’d died and gone to heaven. I believe it can safely be said Bear’s bananas for bananas. His daily ration is one-third of a banana, but I’m sure if you asked him he’d tell you it’s not enough. Such a character.

Speaking of characters, I’m still shopping for the next member of my herd.

It is a slow process. While there are lots of horses out there looking for forever homes, I am only in a position, at this point, to take on something very specific to my dressage dreams. Thus, I have found it fairly easy not to get emotionally involved in the process. So far I’ve looked at two nice warmbloods, but neither has, for one reason or another, worked out. There are other horses on the horizon, so we’ll just see what happens. It will likely be the summer before I find what I’m looking for, and while I certainly miss my time in the saddle I feel that this riding break puts me in a good position to develop new habits once I start up again, having not been able to practice the old ones for a while.

It’s like starting over. What a wonderful gift to have another chance to succeed at something I love.

There’s that silver lining again. 😉

Nurture what you love,

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.


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 …

Horse Mom


©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

From Shock Waves to Opportunity

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is also sometimes a matter of opportunity.”


So, another leg of the healing path lies before Bear and I and what a wobbly pair we are. He and his bum ankle and me and my shaken sensibilities.

Naturally learning of Bear’s injury last week was a shock to the system. For days I felt the sting of his diagnosis and the disorientation of having had the rug pulled out from under my dressage dreams.

Yet, all the while I believed that in its place, when I was ready to see it and step up, a door mat to opportunity would appear ~ that all-important cloud’s silver lining. I still believe it.

But first, the “five stages of mourning” experience, which I liken to shock waves, had to flow through ~ a time of quiet (and agonized) introspection and self-care.

The first shock wave arrived by way of denial, and lasted about 24 hours. A fog seemed to settle in my mind, clouding my ability to see everything exactly as it needed to be seen. Dissociation, if you will. I simply found the information too overwhelming. After an hour and a half spent with the vet and learning of the diagnosis I made my peace with Bear and left him in the kind care of the barn manager. I needed space and time for the new reality to sink in. A pre-scheduled casual appointment gave me the opportunity and I took advantage of it knowing that Bear was in good hands. Even so, I floated between the comfort of knowing the source of his distress to the discomfort of uncertainty with respect to how he would heal. Denial disappeared when I returned to the barn the next day to find Bear in standing wraps tussling with his hay in the nibble net. It was then I understood that this experience was real.

After denial the second shock wave, anger. Why Bear? Why now, after all the progress we’ve been making? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Still, even while I was going through it I knew there was no point in holding on to this negative energy. Anger is an emotion that must flow in and out of the picture, like any other. It’s message ~ to help us grasp the fact that a boundary has been crossed and that we need to do something to mend that hurt. Anger is not the focal point. Horse hooey happens. It needs to be mucked out and released. So, that’s what I did.

The third wave of shock, bargaining. If only I’d been more in tune with Bear’s needs; if only I’d called the vet sooner; if only Bear could talk! … I know better than to beat myself up about things over which I have no control, so this stage did not last long either. I have been a steward of Bear for the past nine years and always done the best with the knowledge I had at my disposal. Lamenting over what was and berating myself over not being smarter/a better horse person/a soothsayer doesn’t help. Still, it’s one of those things we apparently need to do to get through to the other side of grief.

And then yes, a wave of depression because of what is lost. Bear and I have been progressing so well and now our training is set back several months … or perhaps forever if this injury doesn’t heal. (I believe it will, but there are no guarantees, as the vet reminded me.) So then, what of my riding? Is it time to give that up? When I consider this option my eyes well up and my heart races. No, it can’t possibly be time to let go of an activity that brings we such joy. I’m always happiest with the wind in my mane. Happiest when Bear shares his wings with me. Oh dear … here come the tears …

And then, finally, the wave of acceptance. I’m getting there. The silver lining is peeking through this heavy, dark cloud that has shrouded my week and the light is beginning to show forth. I’m getting stronger again and feeling like I can perhaps cross the threshold of an open door to opportunity, even if I don’t know exactly what that is yet. Bear needs time off, this is evident. Perhaps a change of career is in order for him. This remains to be seen. In the meantime, I need to focus on what I can do. Expand my world. Draw on my adventurous spirit. Open my mind and heart to the idea of adding to my herd.

My dressage dream still stands. I want to create my own freestyle choreography and test it at Prix St. George level. (Hey! I’ve never voiced that before!) I have a great trainer now. I still have a lot of good years ahead of  me and want to make the most of this opportunity.

Still, time will tell. In the meantime, I focus my attention on Bear’s boo-boo and do the best I can to keep him comfortable and entertained while he’s in rehab.

And how’s Bear doing?

We’re at day 9/120. Bear’s in good spirits and being sensible about the new routine.

On Friday he had his first round of Shock Wave therapy ~ a non-invasive treatment that uses shocks of energy to stimulate the injured cells back to wellness. Since then I have been responsible for the daily changing of his standing wraps (both hind legs including a sweat on the injured fetlock), and hand walking 1-2 times daily for 10-15 minutes each time. It’s been obscenely cold in southern Ontario so there’s no time for imagination. We simply walk. Bear seems wistful about it. It’s as if he understands that something is lost and that the new normal, however temporary, is just what it is.

The attached diagram shows where Bear’s injury (and Hershey’s just as a bonus) has occurred. The extensor branch of the suspensory ligament, where Bear’s injury is located, helps to support the fetlock to prevent over extension of the joint while in motion. Any number of factors could have contributed to the inflammation he’s experiencing in that area right now. I’ve given up speculating on it.

(It’s a funny thing … several years ago I had a mounting accident (yes, I wasn’t even on my horse yet) and severely strained the ligaments of my right ankle (hind!) when my foot flip flopped violently from side to side in the deep footing of the outdoor sand ring (it’s a long story … sigh … ). So bad was the sprain that I was black and blue from the tip of my toes to just below my knee, and I didn’t have full use of that ankle for several months. So, to some extent I can empathize with Bear’s situation.)

The recovery is going to be a long and slow ordeal. Four months to heal the injured area and, if we get the all clear, another eight months just to get him back to the fitness level he enjoyed before he injured himself. By that time he’ll be 14 and a half years old.

Will he make a total recovery? As I’ve said before, it remains to be seen. He’s getting the best of care and the rest, really, is up to him. In the meantime, he’s enjoying some R&R and I have an opportunity to establish a new equilibrium and expand my horizons.

From my experience, the shock waves of life can open the door to deep healing, and healing always brings with it an opportunity for growth and expansion. We just need to be open enough to see, receive and make the most of it.

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015





We’re in this together …



Okay, so this is where everything I learned in the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning program least year is put to the test.

Feeling my feelings. Acknowledging. Accepting. Embracing. Releasing. Moving on.

The following pictorial is a summary of Bear’s visit with the vet on Wednesday …

Mr. Curious

Bear plays the role of Curious George as Dr. Maggie and her able assistant, Sarah, set up the x-ray equipment outside his stall.

Since I manage foreign stress better with a camera in hand, in this instance my iPhone, I take pictures.



Sarah holds the x-ray plate while Dr. Maggie captures one of several images.
Bear was a good boy throughout the exercise.


bones are good

Eureka! Bones of the fetlock joint are in good shape. 🙂


Sore suspensory

Sadly … ultra unsound. 😦


The Trooper

Check the other fetlock for comparison.
Bear remains stoic.



The end result …

Bear has injured the lateral suspensory ligament of his right hind leg.
This is a serious injury.
To prevent further damage (especially since it’s so icy outside right now) he is to be confined to his stall for 120 days to recover.
As well, he will be bandaged 24/7 with a change every day.
He’ll also be hand walked once or twice a day to give him really light exercise and help allay the boredom.


Nibble net

Bear is in good spirits and seems to understand that we are trying to help him. He’s a smart horse and amuses himself with the nibble net in which his hay is now fed.


I, on the other hand, am dealing with uncomfortable feelings right now. Even though I know what’s going on (and better to know), and welcome the experience of nurturing him back to health I am sad. Sad that Bear suffers; sad that our training has been stalled. As well, as this is Bear’s first major injury in the almost nine years since I welcomed him into my life, seeing him confined in this way, even though it’s for his own good, is difficult for me.

How did this happen? Who knows! He’s a horse. It could have happened anywhere. But I expect that learning to move correctly has put stress on an area of his body (the right hind) that is his natural weakness. With the time off and proper care he will quite likely come back feeling stronger and better than ever, but there are no guarantees. I’ve received a lot of encouragement from other horse owners who have been in this boat, and this helps me to feel somewhat better. Still, the uncertainty, I guess, is what unsettles me the most, especially since my life in general feels unsettled right now.

And yet, I remain optimistic.

Today I get a refresher course in bandaging, and Dr. Maggie is coming back to give Bear his first of three shockwave treatments which will be spread out during his recovery time.

Over the next few days I’ll begin to develop a routine and a rhythm that will help things settle again. A time of new growth; new opportunity; new learning. It’s a matter of taking one step at a time and having faith in the journey.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the expense?
Between the x-rays, ultrasounds, shockwave treatments et al, Bear’s recovery is an expensive undertaking. Fortunately, I have medical coverage from his insurer so most of it will be covered.

So, here we are, Bear and I, hobbling down another path together that will deepen even more the relationship we already share.

Every cloud has a silver lining and I can see the gossamer starting to appear already.

We’re stalled … but we’re fine.

Thanks for stopping by and remember to nurture what you love …

Horse Mom


©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

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.



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

Getting acquainted

And then he got brave.


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 …

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

Wandering through Alfalfa

This week I feel like I’m wondering through alfalfa … all kinds of delicious opportunity around me yet unable to take advantage of it because I haven’t been feeling so great.

On Tuesday, after only 20 minutes or so in the saddle, I nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion and had to bring our training session to an abrupt halt. Bear seemed to know something was up. As I sat on a jump regaining my breath and equilibrium he nuzzled me behind the ear as if to assure me everything would be alright. Horses are so intuitive.

Well yesterday, after riding just long enough to find my legs again and feel good about it, I had my friend, Christine, work Bear in the canter. She rides him very well and it is a joy to be able to watch my beautiful horse go through his paces. To see how far he (we) have come in the past year does my heart good. It’s been challenging, and enjoyable, to say the least.

I want to continue growing with Bear, and to do so I must take care of myself. Recovery from adrenal fatigue is a long process, but I am determined in my quest for total health.

So, back to yesterday …

Since I had my camera in the car I grabbed it and captured an abundance of moments, including this one in which Bear, with Christine aboard but not pictured, is wondering through the alfalfa recovering after his vigorous workout. As horses do, he helped himself to a tasty morsel from time to time and relished every one.

I relish every moment with my Bear. Whether I’m with him on the ground or in the saddle he is an important part of my healing journey. I am blessed.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂

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

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


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 …

“Horse Mom:”

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

A Happy New Year on the Road to Recovery

Shakespeare and me

Just a quick word …

Being on the mend means there’s not much energy left to muse. I’m looking forward to this shifting soon. It’s awful to feel stifled.

I’m recovering from the debilitating effects of adrenal fatigue, and as I nurture myself back to health an important part of my “therapy” is spending quality time with my beautiful Bear.

As I heal, my connection to Bear grows stronger, clearer and more buoyant. Instead of the dread and debilitating anxiety I was feeling a year ago while in the saddle, I’m feeling a new confidence and a sense of elation. Bear reflects to me how I’m doing.  Feeling how relaxed and happy he is with me helps me to know I’m on the right track.

On the days when I must yield to an adrenal meltdown it’s thoughts of Bear that keep me grounded. Because frankly, sometimes while sitting on the edge of my bed for hours at a time with a migraine and waiting for the nausea and vomiting to pass, I just want to end it.

Maybe a bit dramatic, but there you go.

I don’t know how long it’ll take for my adrenal function to stabilize. I’m working with a doctor, a naturopath, a chiropractor and a therapist to sort this through. But it’s getting so the good days are really good, and the bad days I’m learning to manage.

And besides, I tend to look at it this way … at least I know what I’m dealing with and am taking the necessary steps to heal. It does mean I’ve had to reduce my activity level. I rest a lot and have de-stressed my life as much as I can. My priorities have changed and my focus must be on getting well so I can fulfill my creative, and other, dreams.

The road to recovery may be a bumpy one, but at least I’m on it. And, as much as I nurture my horse in reality he also nurtures me.

Nurture what you love …

Happy New Year!

Horse Mom