One Journey Ends … Another Begins

Noble Bear

Shakespeare … aka Bear

 ~*~

 A few months ago I began the journey of a life time.

No, it wasn’t to some foreign land out there.

It was to an exotic place of mystery and richness residing in me.

~*~

During my passage I’ve kept a pretty low profile on this blog. It wasn’t because I had nothing to say; nothing to share. It was simply, in my mind, inappropriate to turn this into a travel log of my adventures on this intense journey; a journey ripe with personal revelation.

Processing and integrating the facilitated equine experiential learning material was not just about absorbing the content I plan to facilitate as a practitioner of this incredible healing modality. Rather, it was also another huge step along the path to my own healing. Every new port of knowledge provided an opportunity for me to check in with where I am in my life. Profound moments of self-discovery; “A-ha!” moments around every corner delighted and despaired and delighted again. The healing heart energy of these magnificent creatures who, by their very being, can’t help but be enormous catalysts for personal awareness and change if we but open our hearts to this truth, shone a light on my own magnificence and gave me a chance to see more deeply into my truth.

Learning about fields of energy and connection, heart resonance, body language, the messages and power of emotions, and witnessing the healing changes in the lives of those with whom I shared this journey ~ six beautifully spirited women all with a love for the horse and a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others, horse and human alike ~ has given me a new respect for the power of  this work. All of us stepped into a knowledge of Self that, I dare say, might have been impossible under any other circumstance.

The horses, being non-judgmental, and the sacred space of learning and trust created throughout the three sessions, gave all of us a safe place to explore our inner worlds and integrate the powerful lessons our incredible equine teachers had to share. Cleansing tears; tears of laughter and joy; moments of frustration when a particularly hard lesson presented itself; moments of triumph when the key to an emotional prison finally unlocked and the door swung open to a sense of personal liberation not felt before. Discovering true Self; true personal power and learning how to live in a more authentic and healing way in the world changed us. Changed me.

And through all of this, my relationship with Bear ~ my equine companion of the past nearly nine years ~ grew deeper and more connected. I honour the sentient being and powerful teacher of awareness that he is. Together we have grown; matured; healed. Time in the saddle for us is now more an exercise in synergy than frustration. Supported by our incredible teachers and mentors we have a glimpse of our potential ~ something which a year ago seemed unimaginable.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw

Who I am today is not who I was on June 26, 2014, when I started this journey and boarded the inbound flight. My heart is softer. My mind is more open. My health has improved. My ability to take life as it comes has blossomed. I am getting better at accepting the process of life. I am kinder to myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of frustration, et al, but I am able to pass through them more quickly and come out the other side feeling more optimistic and grounded. Bad days; hours; minutes happen. Learning how not to dwell on these times has been a major lesson indeed. Having the support of my therapist, my mentor and the horses has made all the difference in the world.

Equine experiential learning has changed my life, and I am excited to see, now, what the future holds.

~*~

So, what’s next?

That remains to be seen. I have a vision for this work that requires a farm, a suitable herd of horses and kindred human spirits. We shall see how, and when, that materializes. In the meantime, I continue to practice with Bear and increase and improve my knowledge. As well, I have started a new blog/website dedicated to my experience of this work. Somewhere I can explore themes and share what I, and others in the world of equine experiential learning, have gleaned. It is, like me, a work in progress.

Cor Equus is Latin for “heart of the horse.” I have combined the two words and given my practice the name CorEquus. From the heart of the horse emerges the reflection of who we are. By way of the horse we can find our truth and begin to heal. Here is the link to CorEquus.

Musings of a Horse Mom, on the other hand, will return to being Bear-centric ~ a more light-hearted look at horse-worldly things.

Who knows where the road will lead. As I announced to my mentors and the group on December 2, graduation day, my heart and mind are open; my faith in myself restored. Basically, the sky’s the limit.

~*~

In closing, direct from Poet’s Paddock, a missive courtesy of
Shakespeare “the Equine”

Sonnet XIII

To break out of one’s box, if truth be told,
Is not for faint of heart consumed with fear.
One must desire change; one must be bold
For new and wondrous blessings to appear.
And to this end one day did I aspire
Embarking on a journey from my slump
And from my ember rose into a fire
Where I didst gladly test myself and jump.

With wings of Pegasus o’er fence I flew
As heart didst bound with each and every stride
And burning fire from timid ember grew
Til I no longer could my spirit hide.
Hence when into my stall for rest I leapt
My heart no longer faint thus soundly slept.

~*~

My considerable thanks to those of you who follow this blog and who have, during the past few months, offered words of support and encouragement. It means the world.

May the world be yours.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Do Nothing? Are You Kidding Me?

 

My Classroom

Welcome to my classroom …

~*~

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what about Wu Wei?

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

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

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

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

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

A foreign concept for most people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

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

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014 

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

 

 

 

Remember Who You Are

 

~*~

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

 ~*~

Since moving to the new barn almost four months ago I haven’t had much to say about training. It’s been a rather intense period of re-configuring my relationship with the world equine, and often when you’re in the midst of something like this and you can’t see the light for the tunnel you’re travelling in, it can be an impossible task to describe the experience to others. These moments are deeply personal and life-altering and the moments must be fully lived in to reap the benefit.

I am aware that not all readers here are horse people. Still, the lessons of life ~ whether you learn them with reins, rigging or a nine iron in your hand ~ are universal. It’s the language of whatever we have identified as our passion that will speak the magic words of life’s meaning to us. It is up to each of us to pay attention. So, while endeavouring to grasp the language of the horse as interpreted by my new trainer, I’ve been doing my best to pay attention and take it all it in. Of course, there are plenty of old ideas to release before the new ones can take hold. I’m learning to forget who I was told to be and am finally getting a profound glimpse of who I am (never mind remembering.)

Being a “woman of a certain age” already managing the baggage that particular trip to self-awareness brings, this is no mean feat.

Finally I’m seeing beyond the limitations others had established throughout my life and am moving into a more expansive, authentic way of being. My awakening horse, the new nurturing barn environment and a trainer and yes, barn owner, who support my potential and judge me not by my past, have already, in just four short months, made such a huge difference.

There certainly have been, and continue to be, struggles, of course. One cannot extricate oneself from old patterns of behaviour and belief without profound moments of discomfort, doubt, sorrow and trepidation. Change means challenge, but being stuck in a frustrating and debilitating rut is, as far as I’m concerned, far less desirable.

There are moments when I wonder why Bear and I had to wait so long for this opportunity to expand. But then I remind myself that everything unfolds as it should and bemoaning what was only uses up whatever precious energy is available to enjoy what is.

The fact is, timing and preparation met opportunity. Bear’s current home, as it is now, didn’t even exist 18 months ago, and I was not ready to take this step. The cosmic tumblers hadn’t fallen into place. Last November things began to click and the transition from old barn to new happened in less than a month once I’d made up my mind to move.

Yes, life unfolds as it should; things happen when they’re meant to; when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Truth in abundance.

But enough philosophizing.

The reason this has come up is that last Thursday I was almost ready to put away my riding boots for good …

Any equestrian with a true passion for their sport and a love for their horse(es) will tell you that there are days when the effort just doesn’t seem worth the reward. You have an off day. The horse has an off day. You both have an off day at the same time. Conditions are too cold; hot; wet. There are so many variables. A horse has a mind of its own and on any given day he might just tune out and leave you feeling like you’re sitting on a brick wall for all the connection you have. Getting doggedly through these moments without berating yourself for being a crap rider and having a meltdown can be a challenge at times. Riding horses effectively and sympathetically isn’t all happy trails and fairy tales. It’s mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and, for many riders I know, spiritually challenging.

And just to set the record straight, not all horse people are sitting on piles and piles of cash. Many make great sacrifices to ensure the health and safety of their animals and to pursue their passion. Still, I’m happy to sacrifice a pair of fashionable shoes that’ll last me a season for a training session in classical riding with a Master instructor that’ll last me a lifetime. Prioritizing what’s truly important is all part of the experience. Is that not a life lesson?

So, getting back to Thursday, in spite of the fact Bear and I have made great progress during the previous almost four months I felt, on that miserable day, as if we were going backwards. He wasn’t moving off my leg. He wasn’t paying attention. He wouldn’t walk down the lovely lane by the pond we’d conquered the week before. And he wasn’t being particularly nice about any of it. It was old stuff ~ old stuff I thought we’d left behind. Bear was being a bear, and I was frustrated.

I blame some of this on his hierarchal arguments in the paddock. He’s established himself as alpha out there, so possibly he was laying a challenge for me. In the end I made it work but honestly, it felt like any progress since our move had been lost. It was one of those two-steps back kind of days. Argh!!!

After a few moments of weepy frustration (as we equestrians are wont to do at such times) I decided that rather than get mad I’d get even. Instead of riding, which I had no desire to do anyway, I would school Bear on the lunge line.

The lunge work, with Bear in side reins, helps him engage pushing power from behind and get him stretching over his top line and into the contact, which he generally finds creative ways to avoid. No contact, no connection. Just 10 minutes in both directions was enough to achieve the desired result. Bear’s a smart horse. He picks up on cues and signals quickly when I work with him on the ground.

Now, if only I could engage that in the saddle.

After our excellent lunging session I walked Bear, in-hand, down the lane past the bank barn, past the pond, over the bridge, back over the bridge, past the pond up the lane way past the bank barn and back to his stall. He was such a good boy. The more I can get him used to this routine the more enjoyable it will be for both of us. My intention is to get out in the fields and ride this summer, not spend every day in the hot sand ring so, he must learn to be brave.

The next step in this little remedial moment was for Stefan to ride Bear on Saturday.

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond ...

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond …

Stefan riding Bear is like Wayne Gretzky manoeuvring a hockey puck across the ice ~ effortless and intuitive. For an hour or so I watched as Bear was put through his paces by this great horseman. I watched closely the master’s technique. The pace and rhythm he created. Bear went so beautifully for him. Sure, my horse needs to continue to build strength from behind, but he was putty in the gentle master’s hands. I can hardly wait to see the difference a few months from now. 😉

Hands together and stationed just above the withers seems to be the most important thing I can remember right now. My hands have a tendency to get a bit busy. This impedes our connection and allows Bear to be evasive. Imagine if you’re driving a car and you keep moving the steering wheel unnecessarily ~ you’d be all over the road, right? Busy hands create confusion for the horse. A proper connection cannot be established like this. If I don’t commit to stillness, he can’t commit to straightness. It’s quite simple.

So, Sunday I took Bear out for a spin, determined to duplicate what I had witnessed the day before. My experience was night and day compared to Thursday. No, it wasn’t perfect, but working from a higher level of awareness and with my boy tuned up I felt like I was on the moon! This continued into my lesson on Monday, my coach and I quite encouraged by the profound progress made in just one week.

Of course, it’s one thing to find the connection but another thing altogether to maintain it …

This will come with time and practice. For one thing, both Bear and I need to rebuild our endurance. During the last couple of years, with adrenal fatigue my miserable companion, my stamina all but disappeared. I’ve been feeling better these days so I’m hoping that over the coming months I can, through riding and twice-weekly Pilates sessions and more walking, build this up again. I still need to manage my energy stores carefully. Pushing myself beyond endurance creates an energy deficit that my body can only manage by foreclosing for 24 hours. Still, I am stronger and this is most encouraging.

For Bear’s part, he’s on all-day turnout with his buddy, Dream, and the paddocks are large and rolling, so he gets plenty of exercise when I’m not around. That, and the new work we’re doing, will make him plenty strong.

Apart from that, this classical style of riding requires the creation of new muscle memory in mind and body. Building that takes time, effort and practice.

So, while things looked pretty bleak on Thursday it was, in fact, a pivotal day. And now, we rest for a few days to replenish our resources.

It’s said that things are always darkest before the dawn. It’s also said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Crossing the threshold to a new way of being can be a tough and miserable business. However, with the appropriate, knowledgeable help and a determination to get through the rough patches, the transition of old ways of thinking to new and the adoption of fresh ideas that more deeply resonate with our personal truths can mark a glorious beginning and reclamation of self.

Putting away my riding boots for good would not have been the answer. Symbolically, however, I traded in the beat-up steppers for a sturdier pair, tailor-made for striding positively, purposefully and powerfully into a future where I finally get a chance to remember, be, and embrace who I am.

Bear SmilesAnd all because of a horse.

What helps you to remember who you are?

Nurture what you love.

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gentleman’s Club

Managing the herd dynamic is one of the top priorities at any barn. Horses, like people, are predisposed to like and dislike others according to their own personality and character.

While horses will identify their own pecking order, it is important for the barn owner to understand their horses well enough to know who should and shouldn’t be turned out together and encouraged to mix. Ensuring the horses are grazing among others of like mind and character is key to reducing the risk of injury and possible upset among the herd.

Bear, as we’ve discovered, is the horse-about-town type. He wants to, and does, get along with everyone. It makes him a natural leader. His experience with Zu Zu is a case in point. Now that she has left, however, we’ve had to find him other friends that share his particular easy-going life philosophy.

For the past three weeks or so he’s been enjoying the company of old campaigner Konnor, and a young FEI dressage prospect, Dream. They’ve been getting along famously. In fact, Dream and Bear are often to be found playing and grazing together as if they’ve been friends for life, while Konnor hovers in the background ready to mediate if needed. He likes the ex officio role ~ doesn’t need to be in charge all the time, but will step in if required.

Bear and Dream share a tender morsel ...

Bear and Dream share a tender morsel …

 

They’re such a polite trio I’ve dubbed them “The Gentleman’s Club.”

Last week a new horse moved into the barn.  Midas, at age 19, is an older fellow and another retired dressage horse. The day after his arrival I was approached  about introducing Midas to our gentlemanly herd. We discussed the proposed change at some length. We knew the established herd was functioning well together, but wondered what would happen if we introduced someone new. Would it alter the dynamic? Would it be a good fit?

Every herd introduction is a social experiment. While J had her own concerns because of past injuries Midas had experienced, she assured us he was a peace-loving horse and, if anything, preferred to keep to himself. Her main concern was that he be in with a quiet group who wouldn’t bully or chase him around.

The facts were this: Konnor is 20 and the paddock peace keeper. Dream is eight and, having had two colic surgeries of his own, needs quiet companionship and civilized play as well as all-day turnout. Bear is 12 and just wants to be everyone’s friend. Taking all of this into consideration, a well as Midas’ disposition, we agreed there was little harm in seeing if they would get along. After all, you don’t know if something is going to work until you give it a go. So, Midas was introduced into The Gentleman’s Club.

As Bear was still enjoying his after-ride grooming session, Midas met the other two members first.

It is normal, when introducing horses to each other for the first time, to witness a cacophony of squeals and grunts and screams as necks arch and noses touch in greeting. It’s all part of the initial interview. There’s the occasional pawing at the ground and some ear pinning too but, if all goes well, this is the extent of the discussion.

By the time I lead Bear to the paddock it was apparent that Midas had passed muster. But Bear and Midas still had to meet.

While Bear was  lead into the paddock I grabbed my camera and documented his interaction with the potential new club member.

Herewith my interpretation, in words and pictures, of Midas’ admission interview with Bear.

 ~*~

Hello, Midas. My name is Shakespeare, but you can call me Bear ...

“Hello, Midas. My name is Shakespeare, but you can call me Bear …”

~*~

Now, then ... let's get a closer look at you ...

“Now, then … let’s get a closer look at you …”

 ~*~

Now, the other side, if you please ...

“That’s good. Now, the other side, if you please …”

~*~

 

(I like him so far, mom ...)

(So far so good, mom …)

~*~

 

Here, let me show you the water barrel ...

“Now, if you’ll come this way, I’ll show you the club’s water barrel …”

~*~

Uh huh, you're good over here too ...

“Just so you know, it’s first come, first serve after me, buddy …”

~*~

Now, over here is club hay ...

“And over here we have some of the club’s select hay. Over here, I said …”

~*~

Good, good ... I like what I'm seeing. Your patience shall be rewarded ...

“Thanks for waiting. Your manners are excellent. I like that …”

~*~

Please ... help yourself ...

“Please, try some for yourself. Do note its superior quality …”

~*~

Here ... let me help you ...

“Here, let me help you with that …”

~*~

"Thank you," says Midas ...

“No need to thank me just yet … “

~*~

"I like him, boys, what do you think?"

“I like him, boys, what do you think?”

~*~

Admission granted ...

Admission granted …

~*~

The interview took all of 10 minutes and we watched in awe as it all unfolded. J said she’d never seen Midas relax so quickly into a group.

Well, it is The Gentleman’s Club after all. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

Greetings …

Together

~*~

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient horse walks in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you.

 Author Unknown

~*~

We haven’t forgotten you.

Thanks for hanging in and sharing our journey.

We’ll be back soon.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Forward with Forgiveness

Handsome

A quick post, off the top of my head, as a thought occurred to me today in the middle of my coaching session.

Bear’s had a quiet week. I wasn’t well for a couple of days so he got to enjoy life as a muddy pasture ornament with his buddy, Sam. Didn’t need to answer about anything. Just got to be a horse. Which is fine.

Today I was back in the saddle after an episode of adrenal fatigue on Tuesday, and feeling my way into the work again. Curled up in a ball, as I was, in my recliner in the living room for a day or so, it was a challenge to get the old body to open back up.

Of course, horses demand that we be open. If we close down, they close down. It’s really simple body language.

At any rate, it took me a little longer to get in the groove today and Bear, feeling his outdoor privilege and, likely, rather bummed at having to work again, was being particularly ornery. Or perhaps, and rather more likely, he was simply taking advantage of me.

As well, since getting home from our 18-day trip it’s been a challenge to get back into the great work ethic we had going before I left. Everything we had before is there, it’s just taking longer to find it, and Bear isn’t giving anything away for free.

At one point during canter work he had a hissy fit, unexpectedly leaping to the left in response to nothing in particular. I corrected the situation and got him going again, but felt he was being rather mischievous and unforgiving.

I happened to mention this to Coach.

He said, “Bear’s a warmblood. They’re notorious for not wanting to go forward and will find excuses to give you a hard time about it.”

Coach helped me manage my way through this hiccup. I worked at opening my position to invite Bear to move forward more fluidly. Things were starting to go well again.

And then it hit me …

I had accused my horse of being unforgiving when, in fact, that finger was pointing right back at me. Not about forgiving Bear, or anything like that. Forgiving people. People in my life who have unwittingly put stumbling blocks in my path that prevent me from going forward. But it’s not the stumbling blocks that are preventing me from going forward anymore. It’s my own lack of forgiveness for the people who put them there in the first place.

I have been in my own way. Bear telling me to get out of his way was a way of letting me know how much of an obstacle I present to myself and my ability to move forward with my own life.

On the surface I’m all “oh, that doesn’t bother me anymore.” But down deep, I can feel it, niggling. And every once in a while I’ll feel or say something that stokes those damning fires of resentment, which in turn blocks my path forward to the better way of being I have for so long strived.

That light bulb moment on the back of my horse was a revelation. Not only was I seeing with my mind the incredible boob I’d been recently harbouring all that resentment, but on the flip side of that my body was releasing the negative tension attached to it. This was allowing Bear to open up his stride and really swing through his body into a lovely forward canter.

To some this might sound farfetched, but to me it’s terribly real. It has lead me to the conclusion that as long as we carry resentment, jealousy and hurt feelings with us on our journey we are in danger of not being able to move forward toward our goals and dreams as we’d like.

The fact that certain people in my life have hurt me has not changed. What has changed is my perception of their deeds and my willingness to move on from the pain of it. To go forward in self-awareness along my healing path with a forgiving heart is what matters now.

And I have my horse to thank for that.

Thank you, Bear …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2103

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?

Duh!

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

The Happy Place

Strange weather, here in southern Ontario. A veritable roller coaster ride of temperatures and precipitation.

Last Wednesday, following a week of brutal sub-zero temperatures, we experienced a record high of 12C. With it all the snow of the previous week melted away, and the accompanying rainfall reduced the paddocks to a mass of mucky chaos. There’s nothing quite like negotiating a bog at the paddock gate and trying to extricate your horse without letting his paddock buddy bully his way out at the same time. It can be quite the dance. (Note to self: wear your wellies …)

Then on Thursday temperatures plummeted again.

The once sloppy mud holes by the gate froze into menacing rock-hard craters. Fetching Bear was an entirely different experience. The gate, which usually swings freely, had to be lifted over this quasi moonscape in order to clear a gap wide enough to squeeze Bear through. Meanwhile, he’s tripping over the unforgiving terrain while I’m praying he doesn’t wrench an ankle in the process.

And then … the mighty wind …

Before bringing Bear in I checked the wood and corrugated steel arena to see how noisy it was in there. It’s wont to rattle and hum under the stress of buffeting elements. The exposed northwest corner is a particularly spooky spot.

The winds were battering against its sides with a consistent drone and the occasional crash. Still, I figured if Bear had a chance to run about and get acclimated on his own, we might be able to have our lesson as scheduled. With this in mind, I groomed and tacked him up as usual and hoped for the best.

“Are you going to ride today?” a fellow horse mom asked uncertainly as she watched me getting ready.

“It depends,” I replied.

With horses it’s always useful to have an open mind. Decisions depend on what’s happening in the moment. In this case, everything hinged on Bear’s reaction to the whirlwind whipping wildly just beyond the arena walls.

With helmet on head, and Bear in hand, I trudged from the small barn through the gale to the arena. Once there I removed Bear’s sweat sheet, tied up his reins and set him loose. As expected, he bucked and reeled and snorted and flew in giant galloping strides from one end to the other. This continued for a couple of minutes until he finally stopped, faced me and, with a nod of his lowered head, indicated he was done.

“Hmmmm … Perhaps I can ride after all,” I thought optimistically.

I started to walk over to him. Bear looked relaxed enough. His neck was outstretched; his head, as I said, low. He’d found his happy place.

Then a crash of wind belted those corrugated walls and changed everything. A spike of adrenalin plunged with force through Bear’s prey animal veins — his head shot up; eyes bulged; ears pricked; nostrils flared; tail agitated; feet restless.

He eyeballed me for assurance.

“It’s okay, Bear,” I called gently while quietly continuing to approach.

I halted some 15 feet in front my snorting Bear and, with a gentle tilt of my shoulders in the quiet way of the horse, encouraged him to return to his happy place. His big, brown eyes softened as he began to relax his neck and back and lower his head again. In horse body language, head level or lower is a happy place.

... Bear in his happy place ...

… Bear in his happy place …

I stepped up and, with a pat on the neck and a sugar lump, reassured him that everything was okay. Then we walked hither and yon around the arena, Bear following me of his own free will like a giant puppy dog.

Meanwhile, the winds continued to roar their chaos. Violent gusts shocked the arena — rattling doors, whistling through cracks, banging the walls and quaking the roof … over here … over there … everywhere! Bear flinched a few times but, feeling safe in my presence, remained in his happy place as we continued our walk.

To test our progress I stopped near the spooky northwest corner and had Bear stand with his hind end to it. I walked on a further 10 feet and then turned to face him. My goal was to have Bear keep his focus on me, and his happy place, regardless of how agitated the arena became in the grips of Mother Nature’s fury. I’ve done this before when ice is  crashing off the roof. It works like a charm.

He managed well. When he became rattled he responded right away to my signal for the happy place. At one point a gust of wind banged against the wall nearby with such ferocity it even made me jump. Bear responded by side stepping over until he was standing beside me. We became each other’s port in a storm.

Our riding lesson turned into an unexpected session of ground work, but in the end it was exactly what we needed. There’s more than one way to ride out a storm. Finding, and being still in, your happy place is perhaps the best way of all.

Besides, there’s something magical about a horse choosing to stay when his flight instinct could so easily chase him away.

I must be doing something right. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

So you think the horse does all the work …

“So you think the horse does all the work …”

It’s easy to understand how someone unfamiliar with the way of the horse might get this impression.

Flying

First of all, when we observe a horse “at work” the effort he’s putting in is obvious. His powerful legs stir the air beneath him as he prances and leaps in airs above the ground. His nostrils snort with every breath, a healthy foaming froth coats his lips, his ears are pricked and attentive, and his tail flies loosely and wildly in his wake.

Yes, his animation certainly would give the impression that the rider, perched on a leather lily pad and stylishly attired, is doing seemingly nothing of any great consequence to contribute to the overall picture.

*

Thoughts such as these crossed my mind today as I sat in an exhausted, collapsed heap upon Bear’s back following a lengthy turn astride his powerful canter.

My legs, my hips, my abs achingly reminded me of my mortality, and the fact that I must be patient with myself as I re-establish my form following a six-week hiatus.

And my head echoed with the voice of my absent coach:

“Lift your left hand up and your right heel will drop.” … “Sit more on the front of your seat bones.” … “Bring your left hip forward a quarter inch.” … “Bring your outside shoulder forward.” … “Push him round the corner with your outside leg.” … “Move your hips through the whole cycle of Bear’s canter stride.” … “Post the whole trot stride; you’re only covering 80%.” … “Use your inside leg for the bend.” … “Sit down!” … “Sit up!” … “Lean back!” … “Not that far back!” … “Relax your thighs.” … “Ride the next step.” … “Ride athletically.” … “Ride with intention.” … “Bring your right leg more underneath you.” … “Put more weight in your lower leg.” … “Look where you’re going.” … “Shorten your reins a couple of inches.” … and my personal favourite … “Stop trying so hard.”

All of these things (and more!), were I able to organize them in such a way that made sense to my middle-aged grey matter, would help me to create and maintain consistently a forward pace with Bear’s energy in front of my leg, a steady rhythm, straightness and independent seat (i.e. balance), all of which would have the desired effect of making Bear look good … effortlessly.

Bear, to his credit, is surprisingly tolerant of my attempts to do him justice.

I, on the other hand, and often in spite of the ongoing encouragement I receive from my ever-patient coach, experience the self-loathing and frustration one feels when, for the 1000th time, the sequence of cues gets jumbled in my head and my body position won’t cooperate, sending Bear mixed messages which he patiently endures, most of the time. Self-awareness on the back of a 1,200 pound four-hooved power ball takes a lot of concentration.

When I do get it right (and this is happening more frequently, thank goodness) and Bear is moving like a dream (which is what keeps me coming back for more), he likes to test me to see if I’m really paying attention. For it must be remembered, he is a sentient being with a mind of his own and when all is said and done I must continuously earn his complete and abiding trust, don’t you know …

Working Horse

Of course, his questions are conveyed by his body language, so I must be paying attention.

Here’s an example.

Bear’s feet planted; eyes bulging, staring into the distance, ears pointed straight up and body braced could mean (there are so many meanings …) “What are the sequence of aids required to prevent me from spooking at that barely discernible shadow on the wall beside letter marker “A” 100 feet away?”

Or, how about this pop test: “Hey! Sit to this!” — as he suddenly and without warning executes a half pirouette to the left in response to ice crashing off the roof to his right. (This is a trick question with no warning. Ice crashes right; Bear spooks left; I grab his mane, close my legs and sit back holding on for dear life. The trick is my ability to stay on board. … Fortunately he doesn’t test me with this one too often.)

To avoid these impromptu examinations of my equitation skills, not only must I ride the step we’re in but I must be aware of the next step as well, making sure my body language is consistent with what my brain is telling me it wants Bear and I to execute next, all while being prepared for just about anything as we go. In fact, I must be several steps ahead in my thinking while riding in the moment, and be as aware of our surroundings as Bear if we are to avoid any of his off-hand, high-headed, high jinx.

The irony is that what I’m really trying to achieve is the ability to stay out of my horse’s way so he can look brilliant and I can look like I’m just sitting there.

Bear for Joy

Bear’s powerful extended trot; his elevated, relaxed, round-backed canter; the stretch through his top line — all of this he can achieve on his own. I’ve seen him do so in the paddock and when he’s free lunging in the arena. So really, all he needs me to do is find my balance athletically and stay centered in his motion while he does what comes naturally … on my cue, of course. It should look effortless for the rider, but effortless takes a lot of work!

Still not convinced?

Never mind. … I’ll nurse my aching back and hips with yet another visit to the chiropractor and leave you to marvel in the glory of the horse and wallow in your little fantasy world.

You’re right … the horse does all the work. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

Everything in its time …

I’m not riding again today. 😦

This makes the fifth day in a row my boy has been doing his own thing … hanging out in the paddock being a horse — eating, getting soaking wet in the rain, rolling in the mud, eating, chasing Sam, rolling in the mud, eating grass, getting soaking wet in the rain, eating hay, eating grass, being chased by Sam, eating, basking in the sunshine (finally) … you get the picture.

It’s been an unexpected holiday.

The weekend was very hot so I gave us those days off.

Then I was ill on Monday.

Yesterday I gave myself the day off for full recuperation because there is no sense getting on a horse when you aren’t feeling 100%. They know everything about how you’re feeling the minute you walk in the door. They don’t want to be led by a weakling.

Yesterday it rained all day. I went to the barn to spend a little time with Bear. When I found him in the paddock he was huddled next to his buddy Sam, hunched over like an old man braced against the storm. He was happy to see me and anxious to follow me to his warm, dry stall and its mountain of fresh hay.

Still he was so wet I couldn’t groom him, so I left him after a while with a bucket full of carrots and told him I loved him. As I always do. He seems to know this in his own way.

Today I was hoping to ride, but am still not feeling up to par. Thus, Bear gets another day off … well almost. I’m going to hook him up to the end of the lunge line and let him run circles around me. He needs the exercise and I need to establish alpha again. Too many days out of the routine and Bear pulls out the claws.

But he’s a good boy really. He’ll be happy to see me, no matter what we do.

Tomorrow we ride again …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012