Keep on Keeping On

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

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

I miss riding.

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

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

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

Still, Bear pushed his luck a bit last week.

Let me explain …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He began to amble in my direction.

“Good boy … nice and slowly now …”

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

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

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

What a twerp!

End note …

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

 

 

Get Well Greetings from Spike Pearson … A Pictorial

Bear has received many greetings and warm wishes from concerned friends

This week, a special declaration of friendship from his buddy, Spike Pearson.

~*~

“Bear! Someone’s sent you a get well card!”

Good Penmanship

~*~

“For me?”

For Me?

~*~

“That’ right … Look!”

Compelling Reading

~*~

“What does it say?”

With Love

~*~

“Oh, how lovely! Look at all the carrots. Would you like one?”

Get Well Carrots

~*~

“That’s a silly question!”

Thank You, Spike

~*~

“What do you say?”

“Thank you, Spike Pearson! You’re the best!”

Spike Pearson

~*~

Bear is such a lucky boy to have such good friends.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

Next update coming soon …

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Going With The Flow

 

Shadow~*~

It’s day 18/120.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Routine …

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

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

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

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

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

Not spoiled at all.

The Perfect Day … New Shoes and a Massage

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

Who indeed? (sigh …)

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

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

Egg-zactly what the doctor ordered …

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

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

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

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

… and a massage, just because …

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

spa time

 

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

Yes, indeed. What about it?

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love,

Dorothy
Horse Mom

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

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

 

Learning Curve

Bear

 

~*~

Learning curves do not move in a simple arc …

They are a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back, twisting, turning road that can drive us around the bend at times, motioning us beyond our comfort zones into a miasma of uncertainty and fear.

It’s little wonder people are afraid of change. And yet, if we do not go there we risk becoming ensnarled in our own traffic jams of negative thought and self-loathing. From my own experience, when we refuse an opportunity to venture into greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the world around us we deny ourselves the full capacity to embrace life.

In fact, it occurs to me that our comfort zones can, if we’re not careful, become more like dead zones. As I’ve discovered while doing my own healing work, the comfort zone is a good place to escape to now and then when we’re feeling overwhelmed, but to dwell there all the time can be stultifying and render us stuck in patterns of behaviour that prevent forward movement and personal growth.

Any number of things can keep us stuck, of course. Fear, vulnerability, depression, etc. can leave us feeling unable to move beyond what we perceive to be our limit. Busting through that self-imposed boundary (especially when we don’t know why we put it there) comes only when we can find the capacity within ourselves to leap with faith into the unknown. The assistance of an objective third party capable of holding a safe space for us while we work through whatever’s blocking our way is important too. When I started therapy four and half years ago, I felt the stigma. But now I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to free his- or herself from a burdensome and painful past in order to step boldly into a bright future.

Changes happen at various stages along the curve. They don’t all happen at once or we would become overwhelmed. Old concepts of self must be shed little by little and new concepts added just as gradually so as not to shock the system. Certainly there are times when I wish things would unfold a little more quickly, but when I look back on the past few years of my life and the changes that have occurred since I chose to to step out of the confinement of a false self-perception I am satisfied that everything has unfolded the way it was supposed to in order for me to come out of the process feeling more whole.

My big breakthrough in the past week has been to be able to ride Bear out back in the fields without company. Not long ago I would have hesitated, but enough has shifted inside of me with all that I’ve been learning in the last little while that my confidence has returned and things I would not have attempted before I am comfortable to do now. It’s a confidence my horse can feel as I put my leg on his side and ask him to march down the steep and narrow gravel driveway, past the scary pond, across the little bridge that takes us over a running stream and up the grassy hill on the other side to 70 acres or so of corn-planted fields surrounded by cut paths around cross-country jumps set in rolling hills. We have gone from feeling frightened to having fun! So liberating for us both after years stuck in our fear caused by trauma and my shifting middle-age physiology.

Another important component when moving along the learning curve is being able to pull a sense of humour out of our back pockets. Being able to laugh when things go wrong shows our willingness to allow life to take its course. When my summer riding agenda was rudely interrupted by a lower back injury caused while struggling to remove a dressage boot from my right leg I had, in the end, only to laugh about it. What a ridiculous thing to do! When I was able to allow the initial frustration to dissipate, I realized this silly episode actually put me in a position to learn some deeper lessons about my life with Bear. It put me on a new path, one I would have missed otherwise.

Stepping onto a new path for the first time is likely to start with a messy puddle at the gate, but with the first splash into the unknown comes awakening. And with awakening our recognition of that dead zone in which we find ourselves, and the desire to move beyond it; to peek around the door of a self-imposed prison and see what else is going on out there that resonates with and, perhaps, heals who we are in here.

I’ve been on a heavy duty learning curve the past few months …

First learning the theory behind the experiential learning practice ~ lessons on how energy works; heart resonance; how the body processes and releases trauma; treating emotions as information; psychotherapeutic terms and explanations; the spiritual aspect; various aspects of horse behaviour … and on.

And then the practice ~ energy exercises involving the horses; observing and understanding how individual energy fields (human and equine) impact the environment and how to adapt or self-regulate in the face of fear and uncertainty.

And while I learn I process. Long-buried stuff gets triggered … stuff which, within the sacred space created by the group, (and in my therapist’s office and at home) can be recognized for what it is, honoured for the role it has played and that is no longer relevant, and released to allow for new, more life affirming information to be integrated and acted upon.

So many profound healing moments on so many levels. Growing self-awareness and mindfulness. Exciting and exhausting all at once.

In the midst of this experience I realize the road to self-awareness is one of the most exciting adventures upon which I will ever embark. It is the exploration of an inner world ~ climbing my own mountains; forging my own seas; walking my own forests. An opportunity to recognize the beauty of my inner landscape and to clean up the toxic emotional wastelands initially created by the dysfunctional people in my life and perpetuated by my unquestioning belief in the noxious myths they’d planted that threatened to lay waste to the light of my own truth. As I pull out their weeds there is room for my own truth to grow. It is a wonderful experience to see my Self in the light of day.

This summer has also been about recognizing and attending to Bear’s aging process …

It’s funny how we echo each other. As I watch my own body go through the mid-life “change” his is doing something similar. In horse terms he is still in his prime, but as soon as he turns 14 next June he’ll be considered “aged.” (Sigh …)

With us both getting long in the tooth there are many health issues to consider.

Sadly for Bear, my adrenal fatigue has had an effect on his life. My lack of physical strength has diminished his own simply because I have not been able to train and exercise him in the way he needed to maintain the fitness he (we) once had.

Since I am now feeling somewhat better and we have great support around us we can step up our game. Our summer of lameness is behind us and we’re both feeling more up for a challenge. With the help of his chiropractor, massage therapist and the lovely barn owner I need to figure out an appropriate maintenance program for Bear as we continue to grow together toward our potential.

Nine months ago I moved Bear to a new barn and together we jumped right into a mud puddle of possibility. Since then, we have ridden the learning curve and evolved and changed in ways that I could never have imagined.

And the journey continues.

Now, as luck would have it, I just received a link to a new and beautiful short video filmed at the farm where I’m taking my course. Spend a few moments with 12 year-old Olin who, through the healing power of the horse, begins to overcome his anxieties and find his feet in the world. Here’s the link:

Free Rein ~ Olin’s Journey ~ click on the video at the bottom of the page “Free Rein Part 3: Horse Connections.”

Enjoy!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2014

 

 

Healing Work(s)

 

Chillin'

~*~

It’s been just two months since I embarked on my Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) journey, and the rate at which new information and change is flowing in, through and around me is nothing less than astonishing.

So much growth in just eight weeks and on so many levels it’s put me into heavy duty integration/processing mode. However, this makes writing about it a challenge.

Even though the information I’m learning resonates with me at a deep level, the facts and feelings are still finding their way home. I’m looking forward to the day when the words just trip from my finger tips onto the keyboard and into my blog posts, because for now it is an arduous task at best. Clarity is important when sharing this incredible work. I want to do it well.

Having said that, I’ve written a short piece of fiction in three parts inspired by a prompt and a few supportive blog followers, that touches on one of my experiences from the first FEEL session in July. Here’s the link to the beginning: Lost and Found … Part I in case you’re interested in reading it. Parts II and III appear in consecutive posts. The setting and characters are fictitious, of course, but the work is not.

My experience doing Reflective Round Pen work at that first session turned into an incredible life altering moment for me. I was not planning on putting it into any written form, at least not yet. But then the prompt came and sometimes you just can’t plan for these things. I like the way the story turned out. I hope you do too.

Of course, behind every experiential learning activity is a wealth of research and background information to support it. I’ve spent a good deal of time reading from a number of books and resources that help to bring the work to life.

For instance:

Institute of HeartMath ~ is an “internationally recognized nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to helping people reduce stress, self-regulate emotions and build energy and resilience for healthy, happy lives. HeartMath tools, technology and training teach people to rely on the intelligence of their hearts in concert with their minds at home, school, work and play.” I’ve really enjoyed learning about this and plan to become really conversant in it.

Institute of Noetic Sciences ~ founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell ~ “a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research, education, and membership organization whose mission is supporting individual and collective transformation through consciousness research, educational outreach, and engaging a global learning community in the realization of our human potential. “Noetic” comes from the Greek word nous, which means “intuitive mind” or “inner knowing.” IONS™ conducts, sponsors, and collaborates on leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, exploring phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigour. … The Institute’s primary program areas are consciousness and healing, extended human capacities, and emerging world views.” I’m just learning about this. It’s fascinating.

In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness … by Peter A. Levine PhD ~ this has been an incredible source of understanding for me with respect to how early childhood and developmental trauma has shaped my life, and provided greater awareness concerning how trauma may be managed and released. Many lightbulb moments here. And lots of processing.

The Way of the Horse … by Linda Kohanov ~ I reflect on a chapter a week, depending on which of the cards call my attention. It’s amazing how the information I read reflects so accurately the place I am in my life in that moment. A great learning tool and beautifully presented.

Reading and connecting to the information presented in these resources alone (and I’m just barely scratching the surface here … there is so much more) has been heart and mind opening to say the least. My understanding and experience of life, and my Self in it, has deepened dramatically. The amazing thing about this work is that as I learn I also heal. It’s so profound. I’m finally integrating the idea that my past is not my future. Emotions are information, not prison guards. Allowing them to speak; listening to what they have to say is the beginning of healing and letting go. When we are stuck in our emotions we are stuck in the past; stuck in our lives. Debilitated. From my own experience I know this is not a nice place to be.

Of course, learning to treat emotions as information takes time and practice. From what I’ve experienced so far, it’s worth it.

For instance, the incident with the dressage boot was extremely painful on a physical level, and frustrating in other ways. However, as soon as I started listening to and considering the deeper body-held message of trauma real healing ~ physical and emotional ~ was able to begin. Lifelong trauma held in my hips finally released. In fact, my hips have never felt better. What I realized was that looking at the issue as more than just physical; being willing to recognize the emotions that sat in the background waiting to be acknowledged and released was an important part of the healing process. It IS an important part of the healing process.

All of this simply confirms for me that unless we are open to the lessons life has to teach us in the moment, they will be repeated until we finally make the connection and do the work to heal.

Awareness is key.

Bear’s Boo Boo

At RestMeanwhile, Bear’s in recuperative mode.

In my last post I mentioned some concern about a possible issue with his left stifle. Flexion tests showed that Bear’s issue was acute rather than chronic, though we do need to keep an eye on a couple of things. He’s been put on a joint supplement that will help and he’s been only in light work of late. Today he had a chiropractic adjustment ~ his first in almost a year ~ and this should make a big difference. He certainly enjoyed it.

The thing I’ve realized is that he’s processing, too. Like me, Bear has absorbed a lot of new information this year. His body is being asked to work in a new, more correct manner, and the old ways must be released. This is bound to cause some strain. Like breaking in a new pair of shoes there’s bound to be some discomfort for a while until they’ve moulded to your feet. Bear’s body is moulding to a new, more aligned way of being and it’s taking some toll right now. With patience and lots of pampering he’ll be his new self in no time.

I’m excited for the possibilities that lay ahead for Bear and me, but am in no hurry. Everything has a process that must be respected or we just buy ourselves more unnecessary misery. By my observation the only thing that’s ever in a hurry is the ego.

Remember the Titanic? 😉

When Harry Met Dorothy

Interestingly, while Bear’s been off I’ve had the opportunity to ride another horse.

Harry is a 20-year-old chestnut Trakehner eventing horse whose mom doesn’t make it up to the barn very often right now. A few of us have been offered the chance to nurture and exercise him, and I am participating. (The fact I would do this indicates how far I have come since last year when the adrenal fatigue was still so in control of my life I was only riding Bear three times a week. Now I’m riding two horses ~ Bear five times per week and Harry two to three times per week!! :-))

Harry and I have been an item for the past two weeks or so. Bear’s good with it. He knows there is enough love to go around and that no one can take his place in my heart. (Horses do need to know these things.)

My first time out with Harry was disorienting, to say the least. He and Bear are so different. However, as we got to know one another and our relationship progressed both on the ground and in the saddle we found an understanding.

Like any new relationship I had to find my place in his world. Had to release any expectation and embrace the new experience. Riding Harry the same way I rode Bear was not going to work. I needed to adapt to Harry’s needs; learn the language he understood before piling on any new information that was intended to make his working life a little easier. Slowly building a synergy with Harry was my primary goal ~ first at walk and then trot and then, when completely comfortable, the canter. My intention whenever trying a different horse is to feel what they need, not demand from them what my ego wants. Proving myself is not the point. Creating a good working relationship with a horse that has allowed me to take up residence on his back for half an hour is the goal. It’s better for both of us.

I’m pleased to say my approach has worked well. Together Harry and I have grown, and what I have learned from Harry I am adapting to Bear. It makes a difference.

But that’s what moving beyond our comfort zone does, isn’t it? It gives us another perspective that we can integrate into other areas of our lives. Sure, anytime we move beyond what we consider to be normal there is a period of disorientation. How we move through that momentary feeling of imbalance and confusion depends largely on how aware we are in the process and how open we are to change.

Harry has proven another wonderful catalyst for change for me. He has tested my skill and expanded my comfort zone in a way I was not anticipating. That said, I appreciate any horse ~ any person~ who, without agenda or judgment, is able to help me find a missing piece of my Self.

When Harry met Dorothy her life changed … again.

The healing journey continues.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Bad Boots … Bad, Bad, Bad Dressage Boots

 Bad boots

… Bad dressage boots …

~*~

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

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

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

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

Read on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely!” he responded.

So, I reasoned, I must wear my boots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you need a hand, let me know.”

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

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

“Hallelujah!”

One down, one to go.

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

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

Hmmm … that hurt. Try again.

Okay … breathe and heave. No movement.

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

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

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

One … two … heave …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No riding!!” the massage therapist warned.

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

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

I wanted to ride.

~*~

Bear today

… Bear …

~*~

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

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

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

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

“No riding!!” he warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Do Nothing? Are You Kidding Me?

 

My Classroom

Welcome to my classroom …

~*~

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what about Wu Wei?

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

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

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

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

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

A foreign concept for most people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

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

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Waking Up Is Hard To Do …

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

~Albert Einstein.

~*~

Just over three months ago Bear and I made a major change in our lives by moving to another barn.

The shift in awareness for us both has been dramatic. It’s almost as if we are awakening, finally getting to see our truth in the light of day. In fact, I even joked the other day that Bear is coming out of hibernation!

And I feel like Sleeping Beauty kissed awake into a new realm of magical possibility.

All the romance aside, waking up is hard to do. Life can be so overwhelming for many of us that we learn to numb ourselves to the day-to-day adopting, however unwittingly, a disassociated state just to get by. As a result we don’t feel present in our experiences and our lives,  and when we look back all we see is a blur. I know this to be true, for it is my experience.

To be awakened, no matter how gently, has the potential to wreak inner havoc. However, if we are to be free of the over-shadowed life we must wake up and step into the light, even though it’s bound to be a bit disorienting for a while.

Wake up! Wake up!

The real life metaphor of this for me was watching a “broken” horse find his spirit again in the training theatre of Canadian natural horsemanship trainer, Chris Irwin.

The beautiful quarter horse palomino was docile and well-mannered. Ground tie him, i.e. attach a rope to his halter and just let it drop to the ground, and he’d stand there quietly, unmoving and disinterested in the world around him, just waiting for whatever was to happen next. He’d been so well “broken” that the light in his eyes had all but disappeared. The equine equivalent of a human zombie, I’d say. His owners, who’d recently purchased him and were concerned about his malaise, had brought him to the training session to see if the light could be restored to those big brown eyes. They wanted to give the poor animal a chance to feel like a horse again.

Cream-Coloured Pony

Be the free spirit you were born to be …

Witnessing the transformation in this horse over the three-day session was awe inspiring. Through measured and controlled groundwork and round-pen exercises Chris, and those of us who had an opportunity to work with the horse under his supervision, was able to help awaken the horse to a more authentic way of being. It was one of the most miraculous things I witnessed while training with this great horseman.

The journey to awareness for that horse was not easy, however. Even under these protective and nurturing circumstances the horse was confused and acted out. The notion of “awakening” was a scary prospect. However, by the end of the three-day experience obvious gains had been made. The horse was more animated and more engaged with the world around him.

The interesting thing for me was that as I observed the transformation in this beautiful golden horse I recognized the need for such a change in my own life. It’s when I began to realize the depth of my own broken spirit. It was another sign it was time for me to seek help and step into my own light.

Changing is never easy. It’s why most people choose to avoid it. But I believe that every time we resist the opportunity to heal and expand our lives in some way we entrap ourselves, and those with whom we interact on a daily basis, in an endless cycle of misery.

Waking up is hard to do, but it must be done if we are to realize, like the beautiful palomino, a chance to see ourselves, and the world, from the vantage point of our truth.

~*~

The Ultimate All-Terrain Vehicle

This week I unearthed an old project as I was cleaning out Bear’s file.

A few years ago I had a little fun with his official passport picture and created my take on the ultimate all-terrain vehicle. Sadly, the original image is not on this computer so I was reduced to photographing the printed copy with my iPhone and uploading it. The image is a bit fuzzy, but I hope you can get the gist of it. If you click on the image and enlarge it helps.

One Horsepower Has It All

One Horsepower Has It All

This leads me to share how Bear’s all-terrain capacity was put to the test earlier this week when we went hacking for the first time this year. After a grim winter riding in circles in the indoor arena it was, I hoped, to be a gentle awakening to a new experience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve done plenty of hacking in my life but not much in recent years, and together Bear and I have certainly never done anything like this.

We accompanied a small group into the rolling back fields where a course of cross-country jumps resides. Before embarking on our new adventure, however, we worked in the arena for about 40 minutes to take the edge off.

I felt confident enough and figured if not now, when? Sooner or later Bear and I were going to need to expand our comfort zone. So, in single file with Bear the last in line, we headed downhill along a tree-lined lane way which passes by the old bank barn. In the summer months this is a really pretty spot of dappled sunlight. Right now, however, the lane is a mess of mud and melting snowy slush punctuated with tangled, fallen timber, remnants of December’s horrible ice storm.

Bear was a brave boy as he baby-stepped his way down the unfamiliar hill.  And, while he was attentive to me I hoped he would also feed off the confidence of the three horses ahead of us.

The lane to the pond lies to the left of the bank barn. A snow bank blocks the way. Jerome is in the paddock. This image taken in January.

The lane to the pond lies to the left of the bank barn. A snow bank blocks the way. Jerome is in the paddock. This image taken in January.

 

At the bottom of the hill and to the right of the path we passed a pond which is presently still frozen, and to the left an abandoned paddock awaiting its rebirth as a turnout space for retirees. The paddock fence ends at a river bank that cradles a small stream which, at present, is swollen with spring run-off.  This was all new to Bear. By his timid steps I could tell he was bravely facing his confusion. He wasn’t necessarily upset, but like anyone facing the unfamiliar, he was proceeding (as was I) with caution.

Then came a small wooden foot bridge that crosses the stream.

Bless him, Bear was not so sure about this. The other horses were already on the other side of it when we arrived. The combination of the snaking stream’s hissing, bubbling waters and the sound of hollow footfall over the wooden bridge was almost too much for my darling boy’s warmblood mind. He fretted, backing up and moving sideways, unable to compute the gentle aids I was using to ask him to keep moving forward. There was no point in getting angry or frustrated with him. I wanted this to be a good experience so he’d be happy to come here again. The barn manager called instruction from across the bridge but recognizing our predicament was only getting more stressful, she rode to our rescue so we could follow her over. Almost immediately Bear began to relax and was happy to bump hips with her horse across the bridge, snorting a sigh of relief when we reached the other side.

As we climbed the still snow-covered hill that led up from the stream, I was feeling somewhat intimidated by the soggy terrain. However, I reminded myself that Bear is designed to handle these conditions. All I really needed to do was put him in gear and stay out of his way so he could do what comes naturally … move.

We lagged behind our companions for most of the hack, but every so often someone would turn to see how we were doing and reassure with a smile.

Up and down small undulating hills we went and, at one point, into a little gully where water had pooled fetlock deep. Bear, whose all-season radials prefer drier conditions, put on a brave face and waded boldly through, even while his buddy, Dream, stopped in the middle and pawed and splashed like a happy child in a bath tub. Then, onward we went, past large, fixed obstacles, through the snow, slush, mud, and more big puddles. Bear was alert; curious, but he wasn’t afraid. He simply attuned to me and followed the others while quietly absorbing his surroundings.

Sure, he hesitated a few times while attempting to navigate around puddles and the the deeper snow, but I do believe that overall he rather enjoyed himself. He offered no indication that he was experiencing any undue stress. He was, it seemed to me, happy for the change of pace and scenery.

Soon it was time to turn around and head back to the barn. The hack was only meant to be a taste of what’s awaiting us as the season unfolds. Right now much of the property is still too snow- and ice-bound for exploration anyway.

As we approached the bridge from the opposite direction I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Bear, but being the bright boy he is he took it in stride and happily followed the other horses over the swollen stream and ice-covered pond, up the steep, slushy hill and back to the comfort of the barn.

It was a proud moment for me. Bear stepped up to this new experience beautifully.

Waking up, and expanding our comfort zone, is hard to do. Still, when we land in an environment that promotes growth and surround ourselves with people who care a whole new world can open up for us. An expansion of mind, body and spirit takes place that leaves us feeling stronger, more confident and prepared to take those next defining steps in our lives.

This experience was a lovely, gentle wake up call for both Bear and I.

I love those the best.

 

 ~*~

In the Saddle“Neigh!” Quoth He …

 No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.

~Winston Churchill

 

~*~

Thanks for stopping by.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014