What to give my horse on his birthday …

Birthday boyToday my beautiful horse, Bear, celebrates a dozen summers.

He is, in equine parlance, in his prime. My Coach told me years ago that it would be around this time in his life that my boy’s “dumb-blood” tendencies would start to recede and he’d become the mature Warmblood of my dreams.

He was right, of course.

My teenager has become an adult.

So, what to give my boy for his special birthday?

Carrots?

Sure, but he gets those every day anyway.

A day off?

He’s had lots of time off recently, so that’s nothing special.

New leather halter?

Been there, done that.

No … to mark a dozen years, a special treat …

… his first chiropractic treatment!

And why not? I visit the chiropractor every two weeks to get the kinks out, why shouldn’t Bear benefit from similar therapy?

So, two weeks ago, when the equine chiropractor was scheduled to make one of his regular visits to the barn, I added Bear’s name to the list.

I wasn’t sure what Bear’s maladies would be.

Coach and I both knew that he was tight in the right-hind leg, but beyond that I figured Bear was in pretty decent shape. Flexion tests showed, however, limited range of motion not only in his right-hind leg but in his hips, neck and shoulders as well. Hmmm … maybe another reason those canter transitions weren’t working so well.

Taking care of those hips ...

Taking care of those hips …

I watched in awe as the chiropractor worked his magic. Bear stood like a good little soldier, taking in all this unfamiliar attention with ease. By the end he was enjoying it. I could almost see the tension evaporate from his body.

When the chiropractor was done adjusting he re-did the flexion tests to check for changes. We were both pleased to see how much Bear’s range of motion had improved … and how relaxed he had become in the process.

It took a few days of rest for the results of the adjustment to manifest completely. And what a dramatic difference! His movement under saddle was freer, more open and fluid at all paces, including the infamous canter. There was no struggle, just submission ~ with Bear free of the aches that had plagued him before his adjustment.

Okay ... that's a stretch ...

Okay … that’s a stretch …

I’m looking forward to the follow-up appointment next month when the Chiropractor will check to see how well Bear is holding his corrected alignment.

Bear’s birthday workout …

For maintenance I’m following doctor’s orders and doing neck stretches with Bear every day. I’m also asking him to back him up several times each visit to ensure his hips stay nice and loose.

Bear is happy to oblige. He seems to know that all of this is for his good. Of course, carrot treats and bonus stud muffins certainly help. 😉

What to give my horse on his birthday?

How about a new lease on life …

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

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 Spell of Equus

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love this quote:

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love … that includes you 😉

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

*

Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2012

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

Nurturing Thoughts on Mother’s Day

I take my role as horse mom pretty seriously.

In my view, I have been given stewardship over one of God’s creatures. I do not own Bear. (If anything, he owns me …;-) )  I have taken on the responsibility of seeing to the welfare and well being of this beautiful horse and so I nurture him to the best of my ability. I want him to be happy, healthy and enjoy a satisfying life experience.

Due to circumstances beyond my control I do not have children of my own. I don’t dwell on it. It is what it is. So I turn my nurturing instincts instead to my four-legged, fuzzy children, all of whom teach me valuable lessons as I wear the mantle of nurturer.

Experience has shown me that how we nurture someone or something will either bless us, or come back to haunt us. It’s one of the reasons, I suspect, it’s so important to be mindful of our decisions and interactions with others.

It also pays, I’ve found, to be discerning with respect to the kinds of influences we invite into our lives. What we take in we inevitably dish out, whether we intend to, or not. Remember the saying “Garbage in; garbage out?”

So … I have this horse, and …

… as I nurture him past his spooks and moments of discomfort I, in turn, learn to negotiate the spooks and discomfort in my own life more effectively

… as I nurture him to a more athletic way of being under saddle I, in turn, am more athletic in the saddle

… as I nurture his mind, body and spirit with daily rituals of grooming, exercise and feeding I, in turn, am more mindful of my own self-care

… as I nurture his playful spirit I, in turn, am more playful

… as I nurture his happy nature my nature, in turn, assumes one of happiness.

It’s really very simple.

The obvious reward for being a diligent and loving, caring nurturer is the pure joy of seeing whatever we’ve nurtured, thrive. In my case, it’s Bear. The fact that I, too, can thrive from this experience is a happy, and most welcome, side effect.

Happy Mother’s (Nurturer’s) Day!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

Please participate in the poll in my post Poll: You and Horses

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012

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 

Trust … A Fragile and Beautiful Thing

Wow! I have more than 100 followers! How did that happen?? Thanks so much for tuning in. 🙂

***

I have been blessed with many four-legged furry children in my life time, but the current brood are a special bunch. They’ve seen me through the best of times, and the worst of times, and generally continue to do their job keeping me grounded.

Bear, of course, takes up a significant portion of my life being my equine therapist. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, horses are wonderful for teaching us to be in the moment. When I am with him my worldly cares tend to melt away so I can simply “be” with him. All he wants is that I should be fully present when we’re together. On some level I am his therapist too — it’s my responsibility to earn his trust so that he can relax in my presence and release the prey animal within knowing I’ll be there for him.

This leads me to a personal little story about trust which features a couple of my other critters.

Horse people tend to collect dogs and cats as well. In my brood are two beautiful Rough Collies — Sass and Abbey (mother and daughter respectively) — and a black cat called Princess (so named because she came home the weekend of Princess Diana’s funeral.) My other old and amazing cat, Oskar (a white and ginger tom) succumbed to old age and cancer last summer after being ill for several months.

In his prime, Oskar was a big 16 lb boy with a huge, in-your-face character. He commanded the room with his presence and was the “alpha” among our four critters, reinforcing his status with the dogs with the occasional swat on the long snout.

When company came Oskar was inevitably the centre of attention. In the garden he helped me pull weeds and dig holes. He tended to Princess as if she were a princess, washing her ears and face every day and then cuddling and wrestling with her as the mood dictated. He would howl from the far reaches of the house when he couldn’t find me and then park himself on my lap once I’d sat down. He detested my futile attempts at learning the harmonica, batting at the instrument with an impatient paw until I put it down. He was afraid of nothing. He ruled the roost. And he loved Abbey.

Abbey is a tremendous source of joy. Her effervescent personality can be a bit over the top sometimes, but she has a wonderful spirit and is extremely mothering. She mothers her mother, she mothers her toys and she mothered Oskar.

When Abbey first came home almost four years ago as a 10-week-old pup I was a little concerned about how old Oskar would accept her. I needn’t have worried … he took to her immediately. They took to each other. It was incredible to watch them interact. On some crazy level them seemed to be soul mates. It was such a pleasure to witness their relationship develop.

So, when Oskar became ill last year it was not surprising when Abbey took on the role of nurse. She could not be dissuaded. With a litter of pups to her credit she had proven her worth as a mother and had, in some mysterious force of nature, opted to transfer her strong mothering tendencies to her dear friend. Sometimes her attentiveness was so obsessive I’d have to shoo her away just to give the old boy some space.

As it became evident that Oskar’s days among us were numbered, I let Abbey have a little freer rein, and he, in his weakened state, simply lapped it up.

One warm day last July we finally had to make the decision to let Oskar go. The tumour on his neck was growing daily; he was continuing to lose weight and his roaring purr that I loved so much and had once meant contentment had changed, it seemed, becoming more of a distraction from his pain.

So, on a Friday afternoon before taking that final trip to the vet’s, I carried my old boy out to the sunny porch and laid him gently on the cushioned wicker sofa where we could enjoy a final communion together under the warmth of the sun. His purr grew to a roar. He looked at me distantly with sad eyes as if he knew his time had come, and I just sat there with him, in that moment, enjoying his treasured company one last time.

Within moments Abbey had found us and began to tend to him as only she knew how. She licked and cleaned and nuzzled him in the tenderest of mothering ways that brought me close to tears. Her energy was a bit frantic sensing, I can imagine, that our Oskar was not long for this world. And yet he abandoned himself to her, completely trusting her ministrations. It was one of the most beautiful moments with my animals I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness.

Later at the veterinary hospital, Oskar died quietly and painlessly in my arms.

For her part, Abbey was disoriented for a few days, looking for her old buddy and wondering why she couldn’t find him. Since then she has made a habit of curling up in Oskar’s small cat bed. Every time I see her there I think of the beautiful, trusting relationship they shared.

Trust between cat and dog; trust between human and horse; trust between humans, for that matter — a fragile and beautiful thing to be cultivated, honoured and nurtured.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
“Horse Mom”

The Sky is Falling … Or Not …

Horses and ice don’t mix.

An icy paddock means no self-exercise for my four-hooved child sporting steel shoes on a slippery surface. He may as well be ice skating which, frankly, I don’t even want to think about.

And ice plunging in thunderous chunks from the roof of the indoor arena while my baby is struggling to hold himself together? Well, the sky may as well be falling.

Yesterday I arrived at the barn ready to ride. I was feeling good following a weekend of low energy and exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue has, in the short term, severely cramped my active life style and I live day to day, making very few plans and getting lots of rest. Because I felt well yesterday and it was so beautiful and sunny after a weekend of snow and below zero, I was looking forward to spending some time in the saddle.

It was our usual routine … I fetched Bear from his paddock, groomed him, tacked him up, put on my helmet and headed to the arena for some play time. In the aisle outside the arena we stopped briefly so I could make a final adjustment to Bear’s bridle. That’s when I heard it … the unmistakable crash, bang, wallop of ice plummeting from the roof — the warning to re-think my strategy

Drat!

And I knew there was no way to work around it. Bear had heard the crashing too. His ears pricked earnestly toward the arena door; his eyes bulging like painted brown ping pong balls and his nostrils fluttering with worry told me his focus was not on me and wouldn’t be until this stress had been addressed.

Just like that my plan to ride was shattered much like the ice crashing  from the roof under the mid-day sun.

So, we went to Plan ‘B.”

I removed Bear’s tack, left it on the saddle tree and lead Bear, all on his toes and worried, into the arena. I could see by his expression that the only way to get by the fear was to go through it, so I unhooked the lead shank from his halter and let him rip.

Bear tore around that 200ft x 70ft arena like he was being chased by the devil himself.

Letting him loose and watching him shake his demons is awe-inspiring. Sometimes my heart feels like it’s jumping and skipping in time with his arhythmic shenanigans as he bucks and snorts and reels and chases around me sometimes at such a velocity I almost can’t watch. And when the ice clunks down along the outside of the walls and crashes to the ground you’d think, given his leaping over-reaction, that the sky was indeed falling.

Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin, with whom I worked for a while, says horses, because of their prey nature, are “victims waiting to happen.” This is evident to me every time I see, and feel, my horse spook at nothing. It’s almost as if he’s looking for something to worry about. So imagine his animation when he supposes there is something  (a chunk of ice) crouching in the shadows waiting to pounce upon him.

I’ve learned to let Bear get things out of his system in his own way and time. It took about 10 minutes for him to come to terms with his ice demons. He finally stopped about 20 feet away from me, puffing and blowing out what remained of his anxiety, and lowered his head to signal he was done having a hissy fit. But I wasn’t so sure, and since we had the time I decided to test his new head space.

I walked to him and gave him a pat on the neck. His sides were heaving from his exertion but his eye was soft, telling me he was feeling just fine. I turned and he followed me, of his own free will, to the centre of the arena where we stopped. I rewarded him with a sugar cube and then walked another five feet in front before turning to face him again. Bear was relaxed, his head low, floppy ears twitching to the sound of my voice. My “victim” had become a quiet, confident horse.

Or had he?

We stood quietly for a while. Whenever his gaze wandered I brought him back to me simply by shifting, ever-so slightly, my body language. When he took a step toward me, I asked him to step back. This continued for about 10 minutes until he paid me the ultimate compliment — a great, big, fat yawn. This didn’t mean he was bored. Far from it. In fact, he was totally relaxed and engaged in my presence, which is as it should be.

Then the test for which I’d been waiting.

“Crash … bang … rumble, rumble … crash … ker-plunk … boom!

Directly behind him outside and as loud as any of the others we’d witnessed a sheet of ice crashed from the roof.

And Bear did … nothing. Okay, he flinched, a little, but his attention remained on me; he didn’t move. He trusted me enough to stay connected to me during an episode which 20 minutes earlier would have sent him reeling. And I didn’t have to do anything but be there with him. He figured it out all on his own and I had the pleasure of participating in his process.

This is one of my favourite things about being with Bear — together we work through our individual and collective demons, building trust on the ground and in the saddle.

I probably could have ridden Bear after that, but decided not to bother. We’d already succeeded and were feeling good about it. Instead we went back to his stall where he was fussed over and spoiled with carrots … the perfect way to end our visit.

Today is overcast so with any luck the ice, whatever’s left of it, will hold, the sky will not fall and Bear and I will enjoy saddle play.

Of course, there’s always Plan “B.”

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
“Horse Mom:”

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012 

My Passion; My Teacher

Photo: Cary Andrew Penny ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom