Nurture Your Dreams …

Another snow day. Another day at home for me. Another day of fence sitting for Bear.

"All this time off is boring," says Bear. I want my mom."

“All this time off is boring,” says Bear. “I want my mom.”

I don’t like driving in the snow and since we’re expecting up to 20 cms of the white demon today I’m inclined not to go anywhere. I can handle the conditions just fine (though I’d rather not get caught in a blizzard.) It’s the numb nuts out there defying the law and driving with a cellphone glued to their ear that trouble me.

So, it means a day away from Bear. Some separation anxiety, but I’ll be fine. He’s getting great care and will be happy to hang out in the paddock most of the day with his new girlfriend.

He and Zu Zu are really quite cute together. The other day I turned him out and Zu was waiting for him. Bear lingered by the gate with me for a few minutes and then wandered off along the perimeter of the fence toward the shelter near the corner. As he rounded the corner he caught sight of Zu, called to her and started trotting through the heavy snow to be with her.

I guess it’s love. 😉

Our first month at the new barn has enlightened me in so many ways.

My new coach, so knowledgable about the mechanics and nuances of the dressage journey, has opened the way for me to see my potential, which means I’m no longer so focused on the dysfunction. I’ve had three coaching sessions so far. Happy with our progress? You bet!

It’s so refreshing to feel hope.

The remedial work at the old barn was fine. It prepared me for this amazing time of expansion and growth. I’m really grateful. Still, I’m just as happy not to be focusing backwards anymore. It’s “Forward ho!” all the way now.

And Bear is so much happier in his work because I’m finally starting to ride him the way he was designed to be ridden.

The key is to create more forward momentum.

“He is a lazy horse,” my new coach jokes kindly, knowing full well that there is something there to be tapped.

Thankfully, Bear is not condemned to laziness. With each session, and under my coach’s expert eye and instruction, Bear becomes sharper and more energized. Transitions become easier. My forty-plus years riding horses is finally manifesting confidence I haven’t felt before. I’m discovering I’m more than the sum of my parts.

Hands still. Legs still. Sit still. Create the energy, get out of Bear’s way and flow with it. This has been the most important lesson so far. Bear loves it. I can ride it.

We don’t argue about canter as much. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but now the door is open we can walk right in and do something about it. When I first arrived at the barn a month ago I thought I’d have to get my new coach to pop on Bear a couple of times to sharpen him up. We even talked about it. But it hasn’t happened yet because, with his guidance, I’ve discovered I’m able to do it myself!

Words cannot express how amazing this feels.

The difference in Bear in just a few riding sessions (most of January was a write-off due to the weather, remember) has been remarkable. I’m so happy for us both. And yesterday I believe coach witnessed Bear’s true potential for the first time. Wendy shared with me a comment he’d made to her that Bear is a “lovely horse.” When a coach of his training (of the German school) and experience makes an unsolicited comment like that it means a great deal. I’m so thrilled for Bear.

So, the first month of this new life chapter has been great. I am excited for our future, am relishing the present and have filed the past.

One brief comment about looking back.

I believe my horse had been telling me for a long while it was time for a change. It’s not that I wasn’t listening. Timing is everything. I’d investigated moving before, but nothing ever came of it. This time, however the change manifested in such a short period of time. From the barn search to the move, with lots of meditation and due diligence in-between, was just a month. It’s clear to me this was meant to be.

When we keep our dreams alive, one way or another, everything unfolds as it should.

Nurture your dreams. Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom 🙂

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

It’s Time To Dance …

Well, you may have noticed that my posts have been a bit sparse of late.

I’ve had a lot on my mind.

I’m moving Bear to another barn.

Something's Up

As any horse owner will tell you this can be a stressful change, especially if you’ve never done it before.

I’ve never done it before.

It’s been stressful. 😉

The years of our lives pass speedily by.

It seems just yesterday we brought Bear home. He is my first horse; a dream come true. I remember the joy; the excitement; the desire to make good decisions on his behalf that would benefit us both.

Flash forward almost eight years. We’ve coursed our hills and valleys together. Forged a strong, trust-based relationship. It’s been a journey wrought with trials and tribulations; joy and happiness.

But he is now 12 years old and in his prime, and I am … well … I am well into middle age.

I have felt, for several months now, maybe even the last couple of years, the urge to change things up. While I appreciate, and needed, all the remedial coaching I’ve received in the past few years, I feel ready to up the ante. To step boldly into the dream of the dance that is dressage.

Bear and I are ready. More confident; more relaxed than we were even a few months ago. Sure, there are plenty of kinks to work out yet, but it’s time for a new perspective.

A new perspective requires change

So, at the beginning of January, I’m moving Bear to another barn. A small, low-key, dressage-oriented barn just 10 minutes further away from home. Somewhere we can work with a new coach and a new vision of what’s possible.

It’s a decision made after a month of deliberation ~ of talking with people I trust; writing down and considering the pros and cons; cogitating; meditating and, yes at some level, praying.

And, while the new barn presents plenty of opportunity for me to delve into the culture of dressage and develop my skills, my primary focus must be the welfare of my horse.

Will he be happy? Will he make friends? Will he receive good care? Have plenty of turn-out? Eat well? Enjoy the atmosphere? Be safe?

I feel that he will. I’ve known the owner for a while now. She’s been in the business a long time and judging by the warm reception I’ve received by people who already board there it appears to be a happy place.

I’ve been to the barn a few times to get a feel for it. With only 12 horses boarded, it’s smaller than Bear’s current home. It’s also older and the arena is about half the size of the one we work in now, but it hardly matters. The barn is clean, and quiet, and friendly. As well, there’s access to 94 acres of hacking, including a complete cross-country course (which will be pleasant to look at ;- ) … ). There’s a proper dressage ring and a grass riding ring as well. More outdoor options. This is good.

Last week the owner gifted me a ride on Connor, her beautiful retired Prix St. George mount, so I could have a lesson with my potential new coach. He is a well-respected German master and member of the bronze-medal winning Canadian dressage team at the 1995 Pan Am Games. I wanted to see if I liked his teaching style.

Connor really tested my mettle and made me ride every step. The coach worked with me in every step. He has a reputation for being technical and thorough. I like that. The bottom line ~ I totally enjoyed the experience. It was the first time I’d ridden another horse since owning Bear, and it left me with more respect for my ability and a desire to see Bear and I reach our potential. A move to this new barn would present us with the chance to do so.

So, this past weekend I made my decision. I’m trusting my heart and taking the stall.

Bear will have the same farrier, vet, dentist and chiropractor. Things will be the same, but different. A change will do us good. 🙂

For my birthday my husband gave me something I’ve wanted for a couple of years now … an Inuit soapstone carving of a dancing bear. He bought it this past summer, long before this move to a dressage barn full of “dancing”horses was even contemplated. Seems rather symbolic and meant to be, don’t you think? 😉

It’s time to dance.

Stay tuned …

Nurture what you love,

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

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

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

 Enjoy the ride!

Related:

Finding Clarity with a Pitch Fork and a Song (Freshly Pressed)

The Buck Stops Here … Part I

~*~

Buck

Buck

After granny’s passing I had the sense that her death meant a resurrection for me. Honouring her memory by doing something meaningful with my life, by doing something that would have made her proud, became really important.

I believed that she would have been pleased for me to start taking my life back. And I believed she would have been doubly-pleased for me to involve horses somehow. She’d loved horses.

My original intent was to apply to the agricultural college in Olds, Alberta.

However, as I was going through the motions toward this goal a conversation with a riding instructor at a barn where I found myself back in the saddle brought me to a different conclusion.

She advised that the infamous farm of my most recent riding past was under new management as a hunter/jumper show barn and riding school. She suggested I check with the new people to see if they were offering a coaching internship program.

This sounded interesting, so I soon made a phone call and set up an appointment. Within a week I was returned to the place of my former doom and telling the nice new people, with some emotion, my big plans.

They were, in fact, looking for interns and, after some discussion we reached an agreement. I would start my equestrian adventure in the fall after I’d wound up a few things, including my career in public relations.

Now, they may have looked at me sideways a bit as I was in my 30s and, perhaps, a little “old” for this kind of thing, but I was so excited I didn’t care what anyone thought. I’d always dreamed of working with horses and my dream was about to come true.

Doubtless my husband at the time questioned my sanity. Why did I want to quit a perfectly well-paying desk job to hang out in a barn all day?

It may sound awful, but what he thought became of no consequence to me. His was a short memory. He’d quit his job several years earlier, with my support, to get a Masters degree in Sports Administration (his dream) in the States. I was there for him 100 per cent, with a low Canadian dollar to boot. I’d also returned to live with my mother to make it all work.

In this instance, my schooling was 10 minutes from home and was going to cost us nothing (except the loss of a pay check, as I was often reminded). We were still living at my mother’s.  So, darn it, I was going to live my dream. It was my time.

While waiting for the internship to begin I returned to the barn of my former doom to get a feel for how it had changed under the new regime

The riding school was certainly more sophisticated. My new coach, J, was great and I really liked the horses I was riding, some of whom were still there from before.

As it got closer and closer to my internship start date, however, my husband began to throw obstacles in my path. He was desperate for me to change my mind.

To appease him I pushed the fall start back until after Christmas.

A Christmas start was then pushed back to February. With each delay I became more and more restless until finally, at the end of February and with my husband’s protests ever ringing in my ears, I made my stand, quit corporate life and, after a one-week break, launched full throttle into the internship and my journey to self-discovery.

I describe in some detail in Finding Clarity with a Pitchfork and a Song the slog and turmoil of the experience.

The fun part was riding twice a day ~ flatwork in the morning and jumping in the afternoon.

Over time each intern (there were four of us) paired off with an appropriately experienced school horse. What was considered appropriate? The horse had to be able to do a simple dressage test in frame and jump a course of 2’9″ fences. We were going for Canadian Coaching Level I here. It wasn’t complicated. By the end of my internship I’d be able to teach various levels in an equestrian centre setting. Achieving a higher coaching level to train athletes for competition was always going to be beyond my scope as I had no significant experience in the competition ring.

I staked my claim on a young, dark bay thoroughbred mare, Feebie. She was a lovely mover with a terrible stubborn streak. When she was good she was really good, and when she was having a bad day you may as well forget about it. This left me plenty frustrated, but it was part of my challenge to work it through before exam time.

It was a tough and happy 18 months of training. Of course, spending so much time together Feebie and I bonded. She was like my own horse. We managed our good and bad days together. I was having marital woes and found consolation and release working through my challenges at the barn. Spending time with Feebs allowed me to forget my troubles at home and experience some joy.

I felt like a kid again, having fun improving my riding and general horsemanship skills while working toward a worthy goal. I was participating in exercises I would teach; understanding the different challenges riders would face with each exercise, and learning techniques to help riders work through these challenges while overcoming their fears.

And while I was learning I was growing, becoming more confident, understanding myself a little better and exploring my creativity.

While learning to nurture others through teaching (and we’ll get to that in a future instalment) I was learning what it meant to nurture myself. It was so win/win!

And, of course, an important part of nurturing is issuing suitable challenges to expand the comfort zone in ways that increase confidence.

One of the most fun ~ and challenging ~ exercises I encountered was the gymnastic grid

A gymnastic grid is a series of obstacles (see diagram) designed to focus on pace, straightness, balance and coordination, and test the connection between the rider and horse. The obstacles gradually increase in size and this is determined by the riding level being taught. In our case the final obstacle was usually set around 2′ 3″. They don’t have to be huge jumps. That’s not the point. The point is to be able to create the desired form and maintain it for the duration of the prescribed exercise.

The exercise is made all the more exciting when the coach injects the additional challenge of negotiating the grid with no stirrups, no reins and, if they’re feeling particularly testy, with eyes closed while singing Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Knowing I could do it gave me the confidence to teach it.

~*~

After 18 months it was time to take part in the preliminary coaching exams. This would determine whether or not I was properly prepared for the finals which were to follow a month later.

It didn’t go so well. I was nervous and Feebie wasn’t that cooperative. After talking with the examiner and my coach it was agreed I would wait another six months to do the finals. During that time I would continue to work with Feebie to see if we could sort this out.

Naturally I was disappointed by this turn of events but decided to make the most of it. Que sera sera. My new mantra, right?

Still, regardless of my new go-with-the-flow mentality I was not prepared for the shock that was to follow.

About six weeks before the final exam Feebie, now deemed unsuitable, was removed from the coaching program.

What was I going to do?

There was only one option open to me ~ an option I had strenuously avoided never mind considered.

Buck.

If you haven’t read the last instalment of this story you won’t know that my previously harrowing experience with Buck some six years earlier was the reason I’d stopped riding in the first place. And now he was going to be my exam partner?

What cruel twist of fate was this?

Even as this terrible news was being delivered I could feel the colour draining from my face; a knot forming in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t understand what was happening.

Surely there was another suitable horse?

No. All were spoken for. Buck was next on the list. Buck with his knobbly knees, weak caboose and bad attitude. Buck my nemesis. I could hardly believe it. How was this horrible challenge, at this late stage, going to increase my chances of passing that exam?

Next post: Heaven help me, I think I’m going to die …

~*~

Bear Smiles

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

 

Forward with Forgiveness

Handsome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I happened to mention this to Coach.

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

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

And then it hit me …

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have my horse to thank for that.

Thank you, Bear …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2103

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 …

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

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

Ride It Through …

The greatest advances often occur after the most potent struggles.

Last week’s grouse with my rather opinionated horse turned out to be an event that shook, rattled and rolled me out of the rutted comfort zone of one skill level into the challenging, but potentially more satisfying, growth of the next.

Essentially it was a mini wake-up call.

Processing the event in the ensuing couple of days is what led me to this conclusion.

In spite of how well I’d ridden through Bear’s mischief on Tuesday and the compliments I’d received from those who’d witnessed it, doubts began to creep in that threatened to undermine my self-confidence.

What if this successful outcome was a fluke? What if Bear’s evil twin rears his ugly head again? What if I’m getting too old for this “dangerous” game? What if … what if … what if!!!

By Friday morning, (after two previously scheduled days out of the saddle), my confidence was at a low ebb and I was exhausted with it. Fear of failing my horse, and myself, was a constant torment. However, I also knew the only way around this mental/emotional obstacle was to ride through it.

To help me get my bearings again I leaned on my coach.

Back in the saddle and determined to make things right, I took up the reins but with an assertiveness I hadn’t anticipated. I engaged seat and leg. Immediately Bear reached into the contact; held my connection. It was as if he’d been waiting for me to figure it out so he could finally relax and get on with his job. There was an instant difference in our way of going. Ice falling from the roof was not going to be a big problem.

Coach entered the arena during our warm-up. He planted himself in the corner and observed our progression.

“Come here for a minute …” he called after a short while.

I brought Bear to a halt beside him.

“Now,” he started in that firm quizzical tone he uses when he’s about to make a point, “what’s changed since Tuesday? … You’re connected to Bear; he’s travelling in a lovely frame … what are you doing differently?”

I thought for a moment.

“Bloodyminded determination… .” I smiled.

“The difference between this and what you were doing a week ago is huge,” he went on to say. “This is how you ride. This is what will put Bear in the frame of mind to stay connected to you. Well done!”

A swell of pride rolled inside me as I gave Bear a pat and started into work again. Receiving a compliment from Coach is, as anyone who knows him will tell you, something to be held and cherished. He doesn’t just dish them out. You have to earn them. 🙂

I’ve since come to realize that Bear’s challenge to me last week was an important catalyst for growth in my development not only as a rider, but as a human being. While on the surface I felt my confidence under threat, deep inside the machinations of a more sophisticated self-trust was under construction. A more effective skill set was on the cusp of manifesting. Another more engaged way of being with my horse, and with the world, was being created.

Is it any wonder I love my horse?

He constantly gives me the gift of my self. He nurtures me.

The lesson from all this has been that struggle prepares us for the next spurt of growth. The challenge is to experience the discomfort with an open mind and without judgment. Rash decisions are often made in the midst of uncertainty. The mind wanders into dark corners of doubt and despair which shadows our view of ourselves and what’s possible and, if we’re not paying attention, puts us in a position to do and say things we most likely will later regret.

At my lowest point last week, some part of me — the fearful part, I’d say — toyed with the idea of selling my beautiful boy. What would that have accomplished but create even more misery? Thank goodness there are enough people in my life who, understanding the relationship Bear and I share, will tell me to give my head a shake when my evil twin starts imagining the worst.

The very things that threaten to bring us down have the potential to raise us up. When we connect to our discomfort; feel it; ride it through and have the courage to lean on those we trust for support through those tough times we create the potential for a new set of life skills and, in the process, expand our comfort zones and horizons.

At least … that’s what my horse has taught me. 😉

I think that’s worthy of a kiss … don’t you?

A kiss

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

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

Triggers … What sets you off?

This week I’ve been musing about triggers, mostly because I’ve been acutely aware of my own.

And I don’t mean the Roy Rogers kind of trigger (horse or gun). No, I’m talking about the kind we all experience in our own way — the ones that jump start an unpleasant and uncontrollable reaction to an outside stimuli … that is until we have become aware of, understood, and come to terms with the trigger’s origins.

On this intense journey of self-awareness I’ve been travelling the past while I’ve bumped up against many of my triggers. While this hasn’t necessarily been a pleasant experience it has, nevertheless, afforded an opportunity to get to the bottom of some negative behavioural patterns in my life. It has also allowed me an opportunity to learn how to recognize the triggers and pre-empt them to promote a more positive way of being.

My saving grace through all of this learning has been my loving partner, Lloyd, and an amazing support team (psychotherapist, hormone therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, naturopath, riding coach, music coach, and last, but certainly not least, equine therapist). When I resolved, 12 years ago, to divest myself of a lifetime of unwanted emotional baggage little did I know just what that meant and how much help I would need.

Through it all I’ve been learning to step into a new way of being — an intense and exhausting exercise that’s well worth the price.

This year has offered a stark lesson on cause and effect, stemming from looking in the eye a life time lived with undiagnosed PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Pushing through life in survival mode finally came to stop when mid-life hormone changes offered a sharp reality check. One day just over two years ago, while riding Bear, I was struck with explicable and unnerving fluttering sensations in my chest and throat. Near panic attacks while astride a 1,200 lb bundle of nervous energy is a dangerous, and debilitating, thing. Something had to be done or I was heading for a serious fall, in more ways than one. Thankfully before this revelation I had learned to pay attention to wake-up calls which, to my way of thinking at least, are simply giant triggers signalling a time for major personal change.

Horses are wonderful teachers when it comes to learning about, and understanding, triggers.

Since horses are, as respected Canadian natural horsemanship trainer Chris Irwin notes, “victims waiting to happen,” they are easily triggered by unexpected exterior stimuli.

For instance, when Bear was younger the sight of a white plastic bag flapping in the breeze would be enough to send him into orbit. If I was riding him at the time the offending object came into view I was treated, at best, to a spooky side pass as he gave it the hairy eyeball. At worst, an irrational bolt at warp speed across the arena or an almighty buck would trigger my own panic button and might land me in the dirt. Unless you’re a rodeo rider or have a death wish this type of in-the-saddle experience is usually not recommended and best avoided.

Bear’s brain farts have taught me, however, to be vigilant when it comes to recognizing what is, in his mind, imminent “danger.” This way I can pre-empt his need to have such an explosive reaction in the first place.

In effect, my powers of observation must become even greater than his own. I must remain at least one step ahead at all times and recognize “danger” before he does. I must perceive like a horse and respond as an aware human being.

Distracting him from whatever might offend is as easy as directing his mind and body into a different movement or exercise that keeps him in the moment with me. Doing this gives him a reason to trust I will keep him from harm’s way which, besides a constant supply of food and a safe place to sleep, is all a horse really wants anyway. Horses will do pretty much anything for people they trust.

But he needs help to learn a new way of being around flapping white plastic objects. Left to his own devices he might terrorized by them for the rest of his life.

I am his help.

As Bear has matured and I have been consistent in his training his mind has settled and his reactions to unexpected stimuli have become less severe. Nevertheless, as his trainer (and mom) I need to stay one step ahead at all times to ensure his happy mind and relaxed state.

Which makes my own situation all the more interesting.

The very state of being I have been working to instil in my horse is the state of being I’m working to instil in my self. With the help of my “trainers” I am reconditioning my own way of being and to do this I must address my triggers.

I’m learning to understand what is to me now a very obvious mind/body/emotion connection. Lately my reactions to certain people and situations have been incredibly visceral to the point, at times, of feeling totally and inexplicably overwhelmed such that my body shuts down and all I can do is rest and recover. It has been my challenge, again with help, to understand the origin of what triggers these unpleasant reactions and then find a constructive way to manage them.

What I’ve learned is that if we don’t take the time and make the effort to understand why we react irrationally to certain stimuli, this stimuli will continue to trigger reactions and manipulate us for the rest of our lives. From my experience these emotional/mental outbursts produce their own debilitating physical symptoms that further torment, and it just becomes a vicious cycle until we stand up and take action to change.

I am no expert on mental health, or medicine, but I am becoming an expert on addressing my own triggers. I also know that I’m not the only person in the world who experiences seemingly irrational reactions to outside stimuli. Far from it. We hear and read of people every day in our own circles and in the world-at-large whose irrational and frequently violent actions are triggered by seemingly irrational impulses. These actions invariably hurt others. And we on the outside looking in ask “I wonder what set them off?”

I would like to suggest that if we all asked this question honestly of ourselves, sought the help we needed to answer it and changed our lives accordingly, we could possibly live more harmoniously and the peace for which we are all seeking might be found.

Sadly, fear of the unknown will prevent most people from stepping into the dark abyss of the soul to seek the source of their angst. For me, not stepping in was a guarantee of a life lived in continuous fear. And that, dear reader, is no life for me.

This subject is open to debate. Please feel free to comment.

Nurture what you love … that includes you!

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012