Greetings …

Together

~*~

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

 Author Unknown

~*~

We haven’t forgotten you.

Thanks for hanging in and sharing our journey.

We’ll be back soon.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Thrilled to be Freshly Pressed …

Life is what happens when you’re doing whatever.

That’s my variation on John Lennon’s immortal “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

It was early Tuesday afternoon and I wasn’t planning anything, I guess, except to return home after a lovely few hours spent at the barn with Bear. As I parked myself in the driver’s seat of my car and checked my iPhone for emails before heading out, there it was … a message from Michelle at WordPress.

How appropriate. I was at the barn when I learned that my post Confessions of a Coaching Intern: Finding Clarity with a Pitchfork and a Song was going to be Freshly Pressed.

I am beyond thrilled by this tremendous honour.

My sincerest desire when writing for any of my blogs is that what pours from my heart by way of my writing will touch the hearts of those who stop by to read it.

Shakespeare and I have travelled a bumpy road over the past several years, but an illuminating and fulfilling one as well. It’s done my heart good to share our stories, and I will continue to do so as we continue our journey together.

My thanks to WordPress.com for the Freshly Pressed recognition, and to everyone who has in anyway supported my efforts here by reading, liking, commenting and following what goes on in my little equestrian world.

A kiss

To finish, a brief word about my closing line “Nurture what you love …”

On this journey called life, with the help of my beautiful horse, my husband and a good therapist, I have learned that it is not enough to say you love. The word is dead without deed; without nurturing.

Lots of people said they loved me, when I was a little girl, but life and family circumstances left me un-nurtured*; unable to see my Self and horribly traumatized. In fact, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was my constant companion for most of my life without me realizing it.

A series of wake-up calls, including the one highlighted in my Freshly Pressed post noted above, started showing me there was a different way of being.

In fact, horses have been among my greatest teachers.

Horses demand that we be authentic, connected in self-awareness just as they are …and they call us on it when we are not. They walk on egg shells for no one and will keep offering up the same lessons to us until we figure it out. Often these lessons are not pretty. I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of many in my life as an equestrian.

Horses have taught me to address my anger, bitterness, disappointments, misery in my own time and not bring it to the barn. When I do this the barn becomes a place of nurturing, of healing. When I project a nurturing attitude toward Bear, he reflects it back to me. He is therapy for me only in as much as I am self-aware enough to receive the lessons he teaches.

Many horses (you can insert children, animals, people, etc. here as well) are abused by people who pay lip service to the word “love.”

To say we love is not enough. Love is just an empty, and abused, word without the actions to back it up.

So, nurture what you love … and that means you, too.

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

* Since I’m being so open with you, I will clarify here that I am aware that my mother, a single parent pursuing a career in show business at the time, did her best to provide the necessities of life and to make sure that my brother and I knew we were loved. However, exhausted from her operatic endeavours, and managing a home and family with no financial or emotional support of any kind from our dead-beat father, and thousands of miles away from any extended family who might have been able to pick up some slack, there was simply not enough nurturing energy available to her to fill the word love. This is where I fell through the cracks.

*

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Fun!

It’s been a full week.

Preparations are ramping up for our wedding which is next weekend, so time with Bear has been, sadly, sporadic at best. In fact, I haven’t ridden at all this week and won’t, now, until after the wedding is over.

This means, of course, he will get to enjoy a bit of a vacation too.

On Wednesday, between hair colouring and a dress fitting, I managed to squeeze in a visit to the barn. Because the farrier was doing feet (including Bear’s which were in real need of attention) and this tends to monopolize the small barn where Bear lives, our time was limited to a few minutes of hand grazing.

Yesterday, however, and to my delight, I had plenty of time to devote to grooming and playing with my beautiful boy.

We had so much fun!

He loves a free-run in the arena and to wallow in my company (and I his, of course). This makes my heart glad and releases any stress I’m holding and, as we get closer to the big day, this is really important.

These images were captured with my iPhone while we were hanging out in the arena. Please enjoy them for the next couple of weeks. I doubt I’ll be posting again until the beginning of June.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

A Change of Pace …

It’s April 11 and, believe it or not, a snow day.

What do we do on a snow day?

The last few weeks have seen some intense moments as Bear and I sort through a few issues together. But now, with a clearer vision of where we’re going, it seems appropriate to take a bit of a break and have some play time.

I arrived at the barn early to beat the effects of the “winter” storm currently barrelling down on Southern Ontario. The arena was free so I walked Bear over and let him loose for what we commonly refer to as a “Yahoo!”

I happened to have my iPhone in my pocket so, while Bear did his best wild thing impression I did my best to capture a few candid moments.

These three images worked out the best.

Running free

Bear wasn’t such a wild and crazy guy this morning, but he did kick up his heels a little and enjoy a bit of a run about.

His head carriage always seems get that much higher as he canters past the mirror. I believe he has a strong appreciation of his own handsomeness. Can’t you just see him catching a glimpse of his reflection from the corner of his left eye?

Cornered

Excitement over, limbs stretched, the demons chased away, he comes to a stop in the north east corner of the arena and waits for me to collect him. For some reason he always stops here when he’s done. Like us, horses are creatures of habit.

As I walk over he slowly bobs his head up and down below chest level, stretches his nose toward me and peels back his upper lip in a happy grin. He’s relaxed and ready for his lump of sugar.

The view from here

Once we’ve re-connected Bear freely follows me around like a big, happy, puppy dog, going where I go, stopping where I stop. I feel like a million dollars. Is there anything so marvellous as winning the trust of the free-spirited?

We stop at the open half door overlooking the outdoor riding ring where many of the boys are turned out while spring paddock management is in full swing. Bear checks out the mudslingers moping in the muck. Liam is mildly curious; Tex is bored.

It’s not a good time of year to be a horse outdoors. They like to roll in the mud but hate to be covered in it. Sadly, you can’t have one without the other.

Play time over, I lead Bear back to his stall where he chomps on a generous helping of carrots and a big pile of hay. He awaits his moment in the muck.

Later Christine will pop on him and have some fun over fences.

A lovely change of pace and a mental health day for Mr. Bear.

A change is as good as a rest.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013 

Mirror, Mirror …

Mirror

Bear and I are making strides.

After an “Aha!” moment during my coaching on Tuesday we’re focusing the next month on walk/trot and lateral work as I endeavour to establish the seemingly impossible — a more effective leg.

Sinking the weight into my lower leg releases the tension in my hips and thighs.

Releasing the tension frees Bear’s back.

He’s been so much happier this week as I’ve been working on this, reaching into the contact, stretching through his back, eyes soft, ears floppy, hind end engaged.

We trot past the mirror and I smile from ear to ear as I notice how “dressage-like” my position in the saddle is finally appearing. And it isn’t just the look that I like, it’s the effect it’s having on Bear. His relaxation makes my smile even broader.

Once I have established a solid, sympathetic leg position at walk and trot we’ll take it to the next level and work in canter. Like I said, we’ve put aside a month. If it takes longer, or happens in a shorter time, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is we’re on track to me being able to stay out of Bear’s way so he can do what he was bred and born to do … move fluidly, athletically and beautifully.

I liken this to removing the detritus in my life that keeps me stuck. The negative people, ideas, illusions that thwart my progress forward and make me act out in counter-productive ways.

I’ve taken steps in recent years to give notice to these things that restrict my movement forward. Finally some of them are dropping away and a new way of being is emerging — relaxed, soft eyed, floppy eared … you get the picture … 😉

It amazes me how my relationship with my horse mirrors so closely my relationship with myself. When I’m with my therapist we often discuss my interactions with Bear and the lessons he has to teach me about my coping mechanisms in general. And, whether he realizes it or not, Coach is the guiding hand that helps me find my way with the metaphor that is my horse.

Often while we work in the arena a light bulb will go off in my head that illuminates an issue I’ve been working to resolve in the therapist’s chair. Somehow the angst around the issue disappears and, once again, Bear has mirrored to me what’s possible. All I need to do is pay attention and release the tension I’ve clung to unwittingly — tension that stifles forward energy, blocks my view and tries to convince me there’s no hope.

I may nurture my horse but he, with the help of a few pretty amazing people, heals me.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Importance of Wiggle Room

#7 in the arena

… March 17, 2013 …

Last week, thanks to Bear, I learned a valuable lesson on the importance of wiggle room.

In truth, I believe he’s been trying to reach me on this one for a while. I guess sometimes we just don’t “get it” until, well, push comes to shove.

I’m not going to go into all the boring details.

Remember the ice falling off the roof and his little temper tantrum a couple of posts ago?

Well, we had very much the same kind of experience again, only without the catalyst of ice. Bear was simply being unbearable, and I was getting more and more frustrated until Coach mentioned one seemingly insignificant, but ultimately important, detail.

“You need to move your shoulders!”

I what?

“You’re riding stiff as a board and Bear can’t move freely. He’s telling you to get out of his way!”

The thing about riding horses is, of course, that they are acutely attuned to body language. How I am in the saddle translates into how Bear is as he moves. If my mind is wanting one thing and my body language is saying another, he’s going to give me what my body dictates. He’s not a mind reader.

And if I send him mixed messages … well, I may as well just go home. He will not tolerate it.

Do you like it when someone is sending you mixed messages? I know I don’t.

So, he called me on it last week. I wanted him to move more athletically but my body — my stiff, immovable shoulders in particular — were getting in the way. So much so, in fact, that at one point we stood at an impasse in the middle of the arena for several seconds (seemed like an eternity at the time) and I almost had a meltdown.

I could not understand what was going on.

“Trust me,” Coach said, “we will get through this, you just need to move your shoulders.”

Could it be that simple?

Gathering my wits and my reins, I pressed my legs against Bear’s side and sent him forward again into canter.

Move my shoulders … move my shoulders … move my shoulders …

It was a struggle, at first, like giving birth to a new idea, but then it clicked. Instead of the fight, we had detente. A gateway to a new way of being was opening … and it felt wonderful.

But, oh, the battle to get there. And not the battle with Bear, necessarily. The battle within my self.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to digest this incident.

Within hours I was sent into a 24-hour emotional tailspin as I processed the implications of this exchange, not just as a rider blossoming in her skills, but as a woman rising out of dysfunction.

Bear had shown me a new way and the importance of wiggle room — of releasing the strangle hold of old ideas and learning to live more fluidly in the flow of new ones.

With respect to riding, somewhere in the back of my psyche lay the notion that being still in the saddle equated to the perfect ride. In fact, as with all rigidity, it produces the opposite effect, causing angst for the horse which in turn produces angst in me which makes me more rigid which makes him more angry … and on.

At some point during my post-ride ruminations it finally dawned on me … if Bear moves his shoulders, shouldn’t I, then, move mine?

Duh!

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but when you see someone riding seemingly effortlessly on the back of a powerful, athletic horse, it is not effortless at all. Not only must the rider’s mind be attuned to the mood of the horse that day, but the body must follow as athletically and subtly nuanced every step the horse takes. When we don’t, sensitive horses, like Bear, will call us on it.

There’s no question my boy can deliver what I want in terms of athleticism and connection. He’s simply demanding that I deliver what he needs in order to achieve it. That means I need to be more finely tuned to his movement and allow some wiggle room so the terms of our engagement are more fluid.

We all know what it’s like to feel constrained in a relationship. Something’s got to give. When push came to shove, Bear had no trouble telling me he needed more wiggle room. When I found a way to give it to him by becoming more consciously aware of what I was doing to impede his movement and then changing it, magic was created once again.

I believe this can be applied to life in general.

When I’ve felt stuck in my life (often without being fully aware that this was the case), it’s been my experience that life has had a way of creating more wiggle room.

I can think of several times when I was shaken, rattled and rolled out of a debilitating malaise.

Twenty years ago, a boss shook me out of the trance of an unhappy, beleaguered secretary and helped me to discover my aptitude as a writer, communicator and leader. This changed my life, giving me the freedom to see myself from another more expansive angle. I probably would not be writing this today were it not for her giving me a kick in the pants. 😉

A few years later, my grandmother’s sudden death rattled the chains that had tied me to an emotionally empty matrimonial life and stultifying career in public relations. Within months I’d thrown off my career to pursue a dream of working with horses. This engagement with my passion ultimately became my greatest teacher. Within years I was divorced and negotiating the highs and lows that inevitably line the path to self-awareness.

A trip to post-war Sarajevo just four years ago proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, rolling me right into the therapist’s office where I’ve been examining and releasing early childhood trauma ever since.

Truth be told, there were many years when, as survivor and victim, I stumbled along the pitted road of self-pity. All that got me was even more stuck in a downward spiral of worry and despair. Paying attention to the wake-up calls has taken me off that debilitating path and given me a new way of being, one supported by the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners attitude of my beautiful horse.

So, when I consider the wake-up calls Bear gives me once in a while, I believe he’s creating wiggle room for the next growth spurt. I just need to make sure I’m paying attention … and enjoy the ride. 😉

Has something in your life taught you about the importance of wiggle room? Please feel free to share …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

A Dream … Some Luck … and St. Patrick’s Day

I remember the moment I first saw Shakespeare.

Tall, dark, and handsome, he was standing quietly amidst a flurry of activity whilst being readied for our meeting.

The first thing I noticed was how much he seemed to love the attention.

I liked him immediately, but guardedly.

Buying a horse just because it tugs at your heart strings is never a good idea. Think with your head; go with your gut, but leave the heart out of it. At least at the beginning of the purchase process. Horse shopping requires due diligence.

As this was my first horse shopping experience, I was doubly cautious about keeping an emotional distance.

By the time I’d met Shakespeare I’d already looked at three horses. All disappointing in one way or another. Misrepresented mostly. That wasn’t their fault, of course.

Finding Shakespeare happened out-of-the-blue.

A fellow member of my dressage club, whom I’d never met, overheard at the club’s AGM that I was in the market for a horse. She entered the conversation and kindly suggested that I not look at anything else until I’d checked out this “beautiful boy” she and her daughter had just seen while on their own expedition in search of a brood mare.

She excitedly went on to describe him — dark bay, four-year-old, German-bred Hanoverian gelding by Shakespeare in Love. She emphasized that he was one of the sweetest horses she’d ever met, and gave me the contact information for the farm.

Three days later, after setting up at appointment, I made the two-hour drive to see Shakespeare.

I was cautiously optimistic. He sounded so lovely and he was named after one of my favourite writers. I’m a writer. Surely that was a sign!

Neverthless, the caution button was switched on. I was still dealing with the notion of horse ownership — something never to be taken lightly — and wanted to make a good decision based on facts, not fantasy. A horse to call my own had been a dream for so long tucked away that the dust of doubt had layered on pretty thick.

Was I really ready for such a commitment? For my dream to come true?

And why now?

One day, not long after the death of the horse I’d been part-boarding and while I was struggling with what to do next Lloyd, my loving partner, broached the subject with this statement:

“Perhaps it’s time you had your own horse.”

I was sort of dumbstruck, at first. A horse to call my own? Was it possible that a dream I’d held since childhood could come true this far along the road (I was in my early 40s) of my life journey?

Six weeks later, I was standing next to that cute and chunky four-year-old, his big soft eyes and enormously expressive, floppy ears a sure sign that he was, overall, a happy horse. Did I dare to think this gorgeous creature might be “the one?”

I watched intently as he was put through his paces in the arena, warm breath streaming from his relaxed nostrils with every breath. His movement was sublime.

Worth noting is that he’d been trained by one of Canada’s top Grand Prix dressage riders. I thought of my own training and the fact that I was nowhere near Grand Prix level. Shakespeare was being sold as a good amateur prospect. Even so, would this talented horse prove too much for me? And, worst of all, deep down inside me a niggling voice taunted … “Are you even worthy?”

When it was my turn to climb into the saddle I did my best to push that negativity aside. I would never know until I tried Shakespeare on for size.

Holy horsefeathers!

Walk … trot … canter — forward and laterally he felt so powerful, fluid, engaged. So solid. I’d never ridden a horse like him. It already felt like a fit, so much so I didn’t want to get off!

It was while Shakespeare was being put away that my then coach mentioned a slight hitch in his stride coming from his left hind leg. My gleeful, yet still guarded, heart sank just a little as we lingered outside Shakespeare’s stall. He hung his head over the half door, pulling faces and looking for attention, as if he was part of the conversation. So calm and engaging. Yes, so sweet.

I secretly hoped there was nothing wrong with that leg.

At home, our barn manager, an excellent horse man and my current coach, studied the video of my ride. Something was going on with that left hind leg but nothing, he thought, too serious. I was to make another appointment to see the horse in 10 days, after he’d been rested. Maybe whatever it was ( he could have pulled a muscle tripping in the icy paddock) would be cleared up by then.

Ten days later, we returned. Shakespeare had been rested so the first order of business — to check his movement and get rid of some of that extra energy … was some free jumping.

This was fun to watch. Shakespeare floated about that arena with unfettered joy, guided through a chute of three or four small jumps made gradually bigger by one of the trainers as the exercise progressed.

He was clearly enjoying himself and such a show-off! … And, he was obviously sound. 🙂

After watching him go under saddle again, it was my turn to pop on. The time passed too quickly. … Oh, he was lovely.

So, with the soundness issue cleared up, it was time for a big decision. Was I interested enough in this horse to go to the expense of a full veterinary examination?

What do you think? 😉

The appointment was arranged for a week later. Since I was eager to see Shakespeare again and how he was under the stress of a close inspection, I went too.

For almost two hours he was poked and prodded, yet he couldn’t have cared less. No fuss. No muss. He actually seemed to enjoy the attention. Legs and feet x-rayed. Blood taken. Teeth checked. Eyes examined. Heart and breathing monitored. It was no big deal.

I could feel my heart beginning to open up, but I was still one “yay” or “nay” away from the “all clear.”

At home the wait was excruciating. I walked around numb inside for several days just waiting for the test results to come in.

It was while I was at the barn, one day, that the phone rang. I paid no attention until my then coach sought me out, threw her arms around me in a big hug and whispered in my ear:

“He’s yours.”

For a moment my head swam in disbelief. Could it be true? Was that beautiful horse really to be mine?

It took 24 hours for the wonderful news to find its rightful place in my heart. After that, it was all systems go as we prepared to bring Shakespeare home on the luckiest day of the year … St. Patrick’s Day!

Going Home

Our very first photo together, taken just before Bear was put on the trailer to come home. … What do you think? Do we look happy? 🙂

And here we are, seven years later, still learning, growing and having fun together.

As we mark St. Patrick’s Day, I’m reminded of the luck that brought Bear and I together — a chance conversation with someone I’d never met and have seen only a couple of times since.

Perhaps that’s what luck is …  a simple opening of the heart and mind and the ability to welcome the manifestation of the longed-for dream no matter how unusual the timing or unexpected the circumstances.

When it’s meant to be, it will be.

Believe in your dreams, no matter how far away they seem, and keep your heart and mind open.

But first of all … have a dream.

Happy Anniversary, Bear!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

A Dangerous Game

I love my horse.

Shakespeare is friend, teacher and therapist all bundled up in own big, brown, furry package, and a dream come true.

Occasionally, however, he’s an opinionated, demanding, obstinate [insert expletive here]. I don’t like when he leads me doe-eyed up the garden path and then unleashes his evil twin. It’s not nice.

And so we begin …

*

Hello Down There

… Who knows what evil lurks …

When I arrived at the barn on Tuesday morning I was feeling good. Temps were hovering around zero; the sun was shining and I was looking forward to spending time with Bear and having a coaching — our first in more than 10 days.

At the paddock gate I called for Bear who was lingering at the far end of the two-acre pasture. Hearing my voice, he sauntered over all relaxed, and evidently happy, following a morning spent lolling in the sunshine and eating hay with his buddy, Sam.

As I groomed him I chanced to look through the barn window and across the driveway to the arena. Snow on the roof and the milder temps portended the risk of falling ice, the downside of a sunny day in February. However, with my half-hour lesson scheduled for 11:30 I figured it was early enough in the day for this not to matter. Early afternoon seems to be the tipping point for ice melt.

Besides, Bear was mellow yellow. He’d been ridden the two previous days, so was in good shape to handle a bit of extra stimulation. As a precaution, however, I turned him loose in the arena before getting on him. Just as I thought, he was fine — no drama. Ice toppled from the roof in a gentle cascade at one point and, while he flinched, he held his ground.

So, we were good.

I got on. We started our warm-up walk. Ice fell now and then. No big deal. Coach arrived and as things were going well I asked to extend the lesson to an hour.

“Sure!”

Great!

Bear and I went into our trot warm up. Coach worked his magic. He is the best kind of teacher for me. Technical, intuitive, patient and keenly interested in our progress. My skill set has been reinvented since I started working with him three years ago. Miraculous would be the word for it, especially since I’ve also been negotiating the pot holes of adrenal fatigue during this time. A couple of rounds of golf for Christmas hardly seems enough of a thank you for the difference this man has made in my life with Bear.

Still, I think he gets satisfaction from seeing the progress Bear and I are making. He likes Bear; sees he has talent and that he’s smart, and he wants me to ride him well and have fun with him safely.

So, yesterday Coach put us through our paces, the focus — connection.

Bear is savvy enough to know that connection means hard work — engaging the hind end; rounding through his back; being in the moment with me every step of the way. It’s challenging — for both of us — but we are at a point in our development where a consistent connection is integral to our progress and, on a day when ice is toppling off the roof at an ever-increasing rate, vital to our safety.

A good connection means that when Bear goes off the rails, for whatever reason, I can make the correction within a step or two instead of floundering through ten. He feels the weight of a secure connection to the bit through the reins and his body through my seat and legs and is confident I can get him through the spooky stuff. In turn I feel confident I can get him through it too.

At the trot we did this to brilliant effect.

Then it was time for canter work.

Canter, in general, has proven more of a challenge. My big-strided horse covers a lot of ground and synching our rhythm has been difficult, especially in recent years while I’ve been battling anxiety. During the past several weeks, however, things have started falling into place. With a lovely round of canter on Monday under my belt I was optimistic for our chances. Surely we could command a repeat performance, especially with Bear appearing so relaxed.

Perhaps you can imagine where this is going …

About the time we started the canter work, just after noon, the sky started to fall. One great crash of ice and my seemingly placid Bear lost his grip on reality.

Enter Mr. Hyde.

I was surprised. He’d been such a good boy and had suddenly turned into a brat!

“He’s not afraid of the ice — his timing is off,” said Coach noting the cool expression in Bear’s eyes, “He’s toying with you. We’re asking more of him now and he’s using the falling ice as an excuse to throw you off your game. … Who’s going to win?”

Enter Mrs. Hyde.

As conditions around us became more volatile, I confined our work to a 20 metre circle. Coach stood in the middle and called out a continuous stream of instructions to help me weather the storm of Shakespeare’s tempest and set him right.

Bear’s claws came out — first in the form of a mighty four-foot-off-the-ground twisting buck (the first of several free chiropractic adjustments 😉 ), followed by a scoot, a spook and then, the final straw — an abrupt stop and propulsion backwards.

Going backwards is difficult for a horse. Bear was making my life difficult by making his life difficult, when all I wanted was for him to go forward into a nice, sympathetic connection.

He was determined to test my determination.

Fine!

“You want to go backwards buddy … have at it!” I put my leg on and kept him going backwards (which is what he’d told me he wanted) until we almost backed into the kickboards. Then I tapped him sharply behind my leg with the whip to remind him who pays the bills (I always use the whip sparingly) and, while maintaining the connection he was so anxious to avoid, pressed him into the forward canter I wanted.

He was not happy about it, and tested me some more, but Bear’s bloodymindedness only made me more determined. There was no way he was getting away with this obnoxious behaviour.

The whole experience was exhausting both mentally and physically, but in the end Mr. Hyde receded into the shadow of Bear’s psyche and once again my boy was putty in my hands all achieved, I hasten to add, with a commitment to the integrity of the process and the help of a good coach.

I’m proud of this accomplishment even if marginally annoyed that he’d lulled me into a false sense of security in the first place. This experience has left me with the profound sense that if I can manage the importunate demands of a 1,200 lb horse flying off the handle, I should be able to handle pretty much anything.

As a horse mom it’s my responsibility to see that Bear engages appropriately with the world around him. Establishing boundaries and laying down the law in a horse-friendly way is part of that responsibility. Bear’s a honey but, like the testy child, he took advantage of my good nature, dragging me into a dangerous game in the process. It was a game in which I simply had to outsmart him. It was a game I had no choice but to win.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

The Happy Place

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

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

Then on Thursday temperatures plummeted again.

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

And then … the mighty wind …

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

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

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

“It depends,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

He eyeballed me for assurance.

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

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

... Bear in his happy place ...

… Bear in his happy place …

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must be doing something right. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Bear Therapy …

This week has been about Bear therapy …

There is nothing, perhaps, more mellowing than a mellow horse, and I have needed the comfort of my mellow horse these past few days.

If you follow my blog “Eyes to Heart” you’ll know that my family suffered a traumatic event late Wednesday night. I haven’t been specific about it … not yet. Suffice to say when the life of one of your loved ones is suddenly and unexpectedly threatened it is a shock. I have spent the last couple of days feeling unbalanced and emotionally vulnerable. It has required all my effort to stay grounded and in the moment. The first 12 hours were especially rough.

Since I’m still healing from adrenal fatigue too I’ve had to be especially mindful of my response to this situation and create a lot of down time for myself to recover. This has meant none of my regular physical exertion, i.e. no riding.

It’s disappointing to say the least, but sad eyes and heavy heart are not conducive to the focus and fortitude required to direct a 1,200 lb equine around a riding arena.

So instead I’ve been spending extra time with Bear in the barn … grooming mostly … lingering over his daily “spa” treatments as I release the unpleasant stress of the past 48 hours.

Of course, he doesn’t mind this at all as he happily inhales the carrots and apples and stud muffins, (oh my!) I faithfully deliver. Apart from the occasional pawing hoof if I’m not keeping up to his imagined dietary demands and schedule, he stands quietly in the cross ties while I fuss over him. His lavender aromatherapy facial massage is as much for me in the giving as it is for him in the receiving. I breathe in its pungent fragrance, and my heart softens … and Bear gives me his toothy grin which, of course, makes me smile.

And it’s a pretty darn good escape from the turmoil, leaving me free to mull, contemplate and meditate and let go of what I am powerless to change. I am reminded to be in the moment and the presence of Bear.

I fly to Calgary today to offer my loved one support for a few days. He’s out of ICU and feeling better, though bewildered. I don’t know what I can do but hold his hand and tell him I love him.

Before I leave I’m heading to the barn for more Bear therapy. There can never be too much of that …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012