When Life Takes Us Full Circle

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past several years it’s not to judge the process.

When we launch into something we often have a pre-c0nceived notion of how things are supposed to unfold.

It’s simple, right? Have a dream; set a goal; plan a destination and that should be enough to get us on our way.

Well, it is, and it isn’t.

John Lennon famously said that “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Often what we don’t understand is that life, no matter how topsy turvy and mettle testing it is at the time, is unfolding as part of the plan to reach our dream. It’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the journey and be immersed in it wherever it takes us. We may reach, or even exceed, our dreams if we just hold on tight and don’t let go.

Good things comeThis is all very philosophical and a round about way of getting to my point …

Eight years ago, after reading “Riding Between the Worlds” by Linda Kohanov, I had a dream to acquire the training I needed to help people heal through the way of the horse. I was already a nationally certified equestrian coach so this would be a natural extension of what I was already doing. In my innocence (or ignorance) I thought achieving the dream would be a simple case of signing up for Linda’s course in Arizona and, once completed, setting up my shingle somewhere here in southern Ontario.

Nothing could have been further from the truth … because I was disconnected from my truth. At the time I was in my early 40s and struggling with life on so many levels, looking for escape. My focus was on running away rather than walking steadfastly toward something.

The dream identified, life unfolded ~ a veritable roller coaster ride:

Down ~ Within months of formulating this dream I was restructured from my job as an advertising copywriter and went into a depression.

Down ~ Six months later the horse I’d been part-boarding for two years died of cancer.

Up ~ Four months later, after a relatively easy search, by all accounts, Bear cantered into my life.

Up ~ One month later training began with Chris Irwin ~ my introduction to healing with horses through his Train the Trainer program and Equine-Assisted Personal Development. This was when I started to realize how broken I was and led to eighteen months of art therapy.

Up ~ In the meantime my partner (now husband) and I enjoyed four years of twice yearly world travel to places I’d never imagined going. (2008 to 2012)

Down ~ A trip to beautiful, battle-scarred Sarajevo in 2009 sent me into five years (and counting) of psychotherapy ~ my own life battle scars screaming for attention.

Down ~ Then early-onset menopause and all the joy that brings took its toll. (2010)

Down ~ Adrenal fatigue and its bitter anti-social pill insisted I shut down my life and focus on healing. (2010 to present)

Down ~ No more public singing performances (my adrenal health couldn’t support it) (2011)

Down ~ The attempted suicide of a family member and resultant trauma threw another curve. (2012)

Up ~ Our beautiful wedding brought immense joy. (2013)

Up ~ A barn change signalled a new beginning for Bear and I. (2013)

Up and down and up ~ The death of old friendships and the birth of new ones tested my emotional resiliency in ways I had not expected.

Yes, life happened; demanded I pay attention; tested my resolve, strength and commitment to the ups and down; the highs and lows of the healing process. Could I weather the storms I was intending to help others with through healing with horses?

It was an honest enough question. How could I facilitate in others what I had not experienced for myself?

These experiences have, indeed, brought me full circle to the point at which I am happy to announce that I have registered in a six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification program which begins at the end of June. It’s a program based on the teachings of Linda Kohanov and, as luck would have it, the sessions take place just a half hour away from home.

It’s a big decision made after much considered thought and meditation. However, I feel that it is the right move for me as I continue along my own healing journey. I am confident this course will teach me much about how I relate to the world and will help to heal aspects of my inner world still requiring attention. And, of course, it will take me another purposeful step closer to realizing my dream of helping people heal through the way of the horse.

I’m ready for this new step but am not kidding myself ~ it will be another intense period of growth bringing with it the inevitable roller coaster of emotion.

Still, I’m game.

What’s another roller coaster on the circle of life when it takes us closer to our dreams?

I firmly believe our heartfelt dreams never die. When a dream is meant to be it seems that life provides the experiences we need to create the environment the dream needs to come true. It’s why we must never judge the process or how long it takes … or quit.

Hold fast to your dream. It may be closer than you think.


I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks. When I return my plan is to post regular updates as I proceed through the FEEL certification program and, of course, share the cheeky shenanigans of my beautiful Bear.

Of course, life unfolds as it should. 😉

Always remember to nurture what you love … and that includes you.

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014









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.

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014







Confessions of a Coaching Intern: The Buck Stops Here … Part I

The second instalment of my Confessions of a Coaching Intern series in which I re-visit my experiences as an equestrian coach-in-training, 1995-1997.

Enjoy the ride! 


Finding clarity with a pitchfork and a song is one thing. Finding your courage on the back of a misbehaving horse is another thing altogether.

In this post we’ll step back in time to the true beginning of this journey. A journey I didn’t understand until I was in the throes of the pitchfork meditation … and beyond.

This instalment will be broken into at least a couple, or even three, posts. It was an invaluable experience and I don’t want to cut corners in the telling of it. At some level it’s about meeting and conquering a nemesis … and I know I’m not the only one who’s ever had a run in with one of those. 😉

Before we begin, let’s hang out with Bear for a moment. He likes company …

The Face in the Mirror

The Buck Stops Here

My story begins in 1991, four years before I chucked in corporate life.

I was a naïve almost 30-something, struggling with my identity, married to a man who didn’t love me and forking over my hard-earned money to pay for his expensive Masters degree State-side. I was living in my mother’s house, childless, aimless, anxious and unhappy.

My sanity? A weekly riding lesson … and singing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (but that’s a story for another blog).

Being around the horses kept me stable. (Ha!)

I was riding at the farm described in my last Confessions post (featured on Freshly Pressed), only at that time it was under different management and my intentions were much simpler. I just wanted to ride nice horses in beautiful surroundings and be happy doing it.

One of the things about learning to ride at a commercial equestrian facility is the variety of horses at hand. Each horse is different and has therefore, something different to teach you. The challenges from rider to rider, horse to horse within one group lesson are all different. A simple exercise for one horse/rider combination may be a total disaster for another. It’s all part of the learning, fun and, occasionally, frustration.

As it turned out, many of the horses at this riding school were re-trained off-the-track-thoroughbreds. They were purchased at a steal and given a second career, allowing more advanced recreational riders a skillful challenge and a cheap thrill. Most of these horses were fairly young. Many were ornery. Some were a joy to ride while others were downright unpredictable and posed a greater challenge.

I didn’t mind a challenge, but I didn’t want to get killed.

Peppered among the thoroughbreds were a few quarter horses, appendix quarter horses (half quarter horse/half thoroughbred) and a few non-descript ponies. Many were older, on loan from owners who needed their horses to have a job to maintain their upkeep.

Horse assignments were non-negotiable.

For the most part lessons were great fun …

I was in a group of four adults of similar riding experience (intermediate/advanced, whatever that means) and we all gathered on Saturday at 9 a.m. for a jolly good time.

Every week was a jumping lesson ~ indoors in the winter and outdoors, my favourite, in the summer. Out in the hunter fields with all the fixed obstacles, the horses had to jump big and bold and we once-a-week recreational riders had to muster courage. The adrenaline rush was something else. Looking back I wonder what I was thinking.

Our coach was a temperamental fellow of Eastern European extraction, a throwback to the cavalry. He growled a lot; lost his cool all too easily, and threw keys at the back legs of a horse if its rider wasn’t making him go fast enough. I didn’t like him. And I hated the keys. But his lessons were entertaining enough so, along with the others, I hung in.

(For the purposes of this post we’ll call him The Grumpy One).

I got to ride many fine horses; horses that suited my skill level. Horses like Soubrette, Raven and Finesse whose joie de vivre helped me to feel whatever existed of my own. Horses that allowed me to think and feel like I knew what I was doing.

And then there was Buck …

Buck was a four-year-old bay thoroughbred gelding. I don’t know if he’d ever made it to the track. He was lopsided ~ knees at slightly different heights, feet of different sizes … other things. He was also a bucker.

He was the horse that would show me how broken I was.

Me with Buck. He may look like Bear, but my Bear he wasn't.

Me with Buck, my nemesis. He may look like Bear, but my Bear he wasn’t.

When he was new to the riding school, he was ridden by far more advanced riders than I to get him ready for his new job. And then one day, after he’d been in the school for just a few weeks he was, to my disbelief, assigned to me.

I was fairly confident of my riding abilities. After all I’d ridden most of my life and been aboard many horses who’d enjoyed kicking up their heels, however inappropriately. I’d been dislodged by a few of them too, but always got back on ready to give it another go. But from the moment I met Buck I felt a distinct unease.

It was a brisk February morning. As horses and their riders trotted around the indoor arena The Grumpy One, from his position in the centre of the ring, barked instruction.

“Halt!” “Turn-on-the-forehand!” “Trot!” “Faster!”

Vapours of warm breath drifted from blowing nostrils (horse and human) and sparkled off the sunlight in the frigid air. Hooves brushed through sandy footing, saddle leather creaked against cold and horses chomped absently at the bit. Half an hour in and all was well.

And then a shift …

With an unexpected heart-stopping leap my happy place became a house of horror. From nowhere and for no fathomable reason Buck was all fours off the ground and kicking his legs out behind him. He landed on terra firma with a bouncy thud and planted his feet. He snorted.

Somehow I was still on board, the drum of my heart sounding an alert while a rapid pulse of terror coursed through my body.

The Grumpy One looked over. He growled.

“Get that horse moving!”

I saw keys.

“Okay,” I remember thinking, “I can handle this. Perhaps this was Buck getting it out of his system.” (Or perhaps, I wonder today, he was just too darn sore and conformationally-challenged to do the work. … Or maybe I just wasn’t riding very well. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s rider error. Buck may have been the exception to that rule … or maybe not. Who knows with horses … )

Taking a deep breath, I pressed Buck forward into trot. We were on our way once more, moving in the maelstrom of the group dynamic.

The Grumpy One growled more instruction. On high alert now, my attention was divided between what he wanted and what Buck was willing to give which, it appeared, was up for debate.

Because it wasn’t long before he bucked again … and again … and again as if he was some manic rodeo bronc.

Certainly, I was not happy nor was I comfortable with this situation.

What was I doing wrong? Why was this horse being such a bully? What needed to happen to make it stop?

I looked to The Grumpy One for some guidance. The scowl chiseled into his late middle-aged face told me I was out of luck. I would have to figure this out on my own. But I didn’t know what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I was doing! Years of once-a-week recreational riding had not prepared me for anything like this. I didn’t want to end up broken in a pile of frozen horse manure.

With no support or guidance, and a total lack of interest from The Grumpy One with respect to my plight, I felt my nerve, and my courage, drying up; the colour in my face draining.

Frustration mounted as Buck, sensing my discomfiture (which horses always do), took full advantage and refused to move.

This was supposed to be my happy time; my time away from the complete shambles that was my home life. I didn’t need this horse to give me a hard time. I didn’t want, or need, this challenge, especially without appropriate instruction. I wasn’t there to be tortured.

After a final desperate appeal for help, and another growly disinterested response, I did something I’d never done before ~ I gave up. Choking back tears of frustration and deep humiliation I walked Buck to the middle of the arena and dismounted. The Grumpy One grunted. I lead Buck back to his stall. Untacked him. Left the barn.

I was done.

Buck had tested my mettle and I’d failed. What was supposed to make me feel better had left me feeling worse.

All I wanted, needed, was a little guidance. All The Grumpy One had to do was show a little  interest in helping me to work it out. All he wanted to do was growl and throw keys.

It reflected a pattern of repeated negative interactions with the males in my life (human and horse, apparently) that had become all too familiar.

Later, at home, I relived the experience in my head over and over, wondering what I could have done differently. Without appropriate instruction there was nothing to be done. Buck had hit a nerve and, in the interest of safety, my reaction had been to cut and run.

I realized that The Grumpy One was not a good instructor for me. Perhaps worse was the notion that Buck would be assigned to me again.

The apprehension around that thought was more than I was prepared to handle. So, with no apparent other alternative, I put my passion for horses on permanent hold. I was done. It was a childish pursuit anyway, I reasoned. Time I grew up.

Was I too easily discouraged? Possibly, but as a person with serious trust issues at that time, I didn’t know where to turn or who I could talk to. Obviously The Grumpy One had no interest in being the nurturing teacher I needed. As well, no one in my family understood my passion for horses, so there was no point in bothering them with my dilemma.

Could I have moved to another barn? Absolutely. But my heart was no longer in it. My nerves were too frayed.

Thereafter followed four of the most miserable years of my life, during which I experienced three failed attempts at in vitro fertilization; the continued downward spiral of my marriage  and the moment that changed everything … the death of my grandmother.

Which takes us to the internship …

Stay tuned for Part II of “The Buck Stops Here …”


Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Another Award for the Ribbon Wall

versatileblogger113Today Musings of a Horse Mom is a proud recipient of The Versatile Blogger Award, courtesy of a nomination by Shakespeare’s new friend, Gypsy, at Hooves and Claws.

Thank you, Gypsy!

With The Versatile Blogger Award comes the responsibility of sharing a little information about yourself and paying the award forward:

•Display the Award Certificate on your website

•Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award

•Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers

•Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post

•Post 7 interesting things about yourself

First things first …

Seven things to know about this Horse Mom:

1) Favourite childhood horse book … The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

2) Favourite breed … Hanoverian … (that’s my boy!)

3) I first started riding horses 40 years ago at Frith Manor Stables in North London, England. For four years or so it was my favourite place in the whole world.

4) I’m a bit obsessive about colour coordinating Bear’s exercise bandages (polos) and my outfit. It just feels better to be well turned out.

5)) I have my Bronze certification in the horse-friendly training methods of respected Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin

6)) I have been an Equine Canada certified level 1 coach since 1997

7) In 2008 I received a People Make A Difference Award from the Ontario Equestrian Federation for my volunteer efforts as President on behalf of Toronto CADORA, Canada’s longest-running dressage organization founded by eight-time Olympian, Christilot Boylen.

Now the fun part … blogs I nominate for The Versatile Blogger Award. I hope when you have a moment you’ll take an opportunity to pay them a visit. These blogs have moved and inspired me each in their own way, and while I’m not always able to visit on a regular basis to show my appreciation for their creative expression, passion and versatility, by this nomination I salute them.

In no particular order:

Scott Marshall Photography
World Via Standby
Photographs by Peter Knight
Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast
Canadian Hiking Photography
Where the Dolphins Swim
Inspire 1 Life Every Day
Photography Memoirs — Fine Art Landscape Photography
Confident Horsemanship
The Return of the Modern Philosopher
Fabulous 50s
Mabry Campbell Photography
Cheryl Andrews
The Fight of My Life: Living with TBI

A special shout out to J.G. Burdette who nominated my blog, Eyes to Heart for The Versatile Blogger Award in spring 2012. I don’t know if there’s a statute of limitations re: acceptance of these awards, but I hope to follow up on that one soon.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Spell of Equus

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love this quote:

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love … that includes you 😉

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

The Cream-Coloured Pony

When I was 12 years old I wanted a cream-coloured pony.

In fact, the first horse I ever begged my mother to buy for me was a palomino named Cloud. He was the most beautiful pony I’d ever seen, with his flaxen mane and tail and rich golden coat, and though he also had the bumpiest and thus most uncomfortable trot to sit to he was still, in my pre-teen mind, the most perfect pony I could possibly imagine.

Like many horse-crazy city girls, I dreamt of bringing my favourite pony home, in my case to our 1920s bricks and mortar semi-detached house in North London.

I had it all planned out. The tool shed located on the edge of the carport and which barely held a wheel barrow and a few garden tools, would be his stall. The fact that it was too small was of no consequence. Somehow I would just make it work.

Grazing was a bit of an issue, as our little pie-shaped garden had only a small patch of grass that the dogs actually used for … you know … but this didn’t seem to matter either. Within five minutes walking distance of our house was a lovely big park. In my free imagination I would take him there where he could eat grass all day long under my careful supervision. (Not surprisingly school never seemed to interfere with my dream.) Then I would ride him around the perimeter of this large park named after a king, jumping the occasional bench or playground apparatus, and pole bending around the lines of ancient elms and oaks.

Then Cloud and I would walk the short distance home, along the main road and down the broken path to our street, and I’d put him comfortably away in his makeshift stall with a yummy meal of … well, I never actually got that far in my imaginary plan. It was enough just to know he was there and we were together.

Well, sadly, life with Cloud remained a figment of my imagination that faded with time. It was a sad day when he traveled down the lane in a horse box to his new home. I got over it, of course, but you know, girls and their dreams. They never really forget them … they just get stored away.

So, fast forward to this past March (um … many, many years later …. truthfully decades) when, to my total glee this lovely palomino boy arrived at our barn for a short-term stay. The little girl in me, complete with the Cloud file that had been stored in memory all these years, bubbled to life.

This five-year-old horse was Cloud all over again, and I was smitten.

But not without an undercurrent of guilt. Was I betraying my beautiful Bear while indulging in an old memory of the dream pony of my youth as awakened by this passing Cloud?

This may sound silly, but it’s important to note that horses do get jealous. Bear has chased his paddock buddy, Sam, away from my proximity on many occasions when I’ve visited them by the gate. He is jealous of my attention and doesn’t take kindly to interlopers.

So, yes, that I had given even a tiny speck of my heart to this dreamy, creamy phenomenon had left me feeling a little wanting, especially when I caught myself mindlessly conspiring how I might find the funds to purchase him and then convince the owner to sell him to me.

Evidently the 12-year-old is still alive and well and reeking imaginary havoc.

Then, one day, as was foretold, this golden boy moved to another barn, and with his departure my pre-occupation with an old dream dissolved into faded memory once more .

I don’t believe Bear ever caught wind of this brief flight of fancy, but who can say for sure. Horses know when they aren’t the centre of your world. I’m thinking he got his own back in July. That, however, is a story for another day.

Truth be told, I’ll keep my real-life beautiful bay over a cream-coloured pony dream any day.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

The Test …

While I was rewriting my bio for this blog the other day I couldn’t help but recall a moment early in my life that tested the depth of my passion for, and commitment to, the horse.

It’s difficult to identify exactly when the clip clop of hoof beats began to echo in my heart. It would be easier to say, perhaps, that this passion was branded irrevocably into my DNA for, try as I might, I have not been able to shake its magical power. (And I have tried. … But that’s a story for another day.)

I grew up loving western stories and movies. And long before I’d even ridden a horse I had pictures pinned to my bedroom walls and horse books stocking my shelves. To me the horse was everything, even though I’d rarely been in contact with one.

The “test” of my obsession came many, many years ago — during my ninth summer, in fact — while visiting my father in Toronto.

Giving in to my relentless pleas for him to take my brother and I horse back riding dad, who fancied himself a cowboy with his sh**kickers and string tie (had he not had some kind of personal interest in this activity I doubt it would have happened) arranged a two-hour trail ride at a stable in the Rouge Valley east of the city.

Thus, one hot, humid day we bundled into the car and drove to the Rouge to spend some time with the horses.

I was so excited. A city girl by default, even at that tender age I knew all I wanted was to be in the country with the ponies. So, the crude timber barn with its plethora of varie-coloured ponies hitched to the post; their snorts and whinnies; the fragrance of dust and horse hair and leather and, yes, manure, all mixed into one great ambient melange, captivated my senses. It was this little girl’s idea of heaven.

A little chestnut mare called Candy was assigned to me and, of course, I was sure she had to be the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen. She definitely had the sweetest name. I learned that she’d had a foal earlier in the spring and was just coming back into work. I probably thought that was sweet too. But none of it really mattered. She was all mine for a two whole hours!

We mounted up.

I felt perfectly comfortable in that western saddle, like I was born to be there. Candy and I fell into order behind the lead horse and soon we, along with about eight other horses and riders, were trekking single-file down the steep, dapple-shaded dirt switchback headed toward the valley floor. I was so happy.

At the bottom of the hill the trail guide led us over to the river’s edge where we would wait for a few minutes as the rest of the horses and riders, caught up. The whole scene was idyllic. Birds chirping, flies buzzing, river gurgling, a light breeze wafting through the trees. I couldn’t have been any closer to heaven in my heart than I was in that moment.

That’s why what happened next was so totally unexpected.

With no apparent explanation Candy was suddenly up on her hind legs, screaming. I clung with both hands to the saddle horn in a desperate bid to hang on. The mare’s front feet fell back to earth but were almost instantly launched upward again, pawing at the air.

Somehow I managed to stay aboard, but this time to a different end. While high upon her hind legs Candy lost her balance and fell over backward, hitting the ground on her left side and pinning my left leg beneath her. She didn’t move. I was trapped.

A flurry of activity ensued around us. The trail guide and my father both jumped from their respective horses and bounded to my rescue. Together they pulled me free before Candy tried to get back on her feet.

Immediately I was rushed to hospital (though I have no idea how we got back to the car).

Fortunately my injuries were not serious — just bruising and muscle strain to my left leg that would confine me to crutches for a few days (though the range of motion in my left leg was affected for quite a while after that.) The doctor told us it could have been much worse. Had the horse tried to get up with me pinned underneath her my leg would have been crushed.

We never did find out why Candy reared, though I’d overheard in the commotion afterwards that it was uncharacteristic of her to do that. Was she stung by a wasp? Did she miss her foal? Did she just not like her job that day? Who knows? With horses you never can tell.

However, needless to say my experience with Candy left me undaunted and only deepened my devotion to the horse. Look what I’d done and survived!

When we returned to my mother in England the begging for riding lessons “so I will know how to manage this sort of thing in the future,” 😉 began. Within months I was back in the saddle.

I guess you could say I passed the test …

Nurture what you love …

“Horse Mom”

My Passion; My Teacher

Photo: Cary Andrew Penny ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom