In Memorium

 

Bear flies free

~*~

It was the third day after Bear’s passing. Windy. Cool. The twilight hour. I was still slammed by the shock of his sudden departure, searching for even some hope of peace. It was also the day of his cremation, the final transition from the flesh. There was a lot of turmoil inside me as I attempted to process the whirlwind I’d experience just days before.

As I walked home from the barn I was moved by the beautiful colours forming and fading in the sky. The sunset was going to be spectacular so I sat on the hill and looked to the south, just watching the clouds shift with the force of the northwest wind. Cold weather was coming.

I had been sitting there just a few minutes when, the words, “Look to the negative space,” leapt to mind. I was familiar with this concept from time spent participating in art therapy just after Bear had come into my life, so instead of looking at the clouds, I looked at the space between them. And call me crazy, but there he was, in profile. The orange of the sunset kissing the clouds as his nose pushed through them. His eye soft and half closed; a vision of peace. The quarter moon a twinkle of cosmic delight.

I captured it, of course. It may not be obvious to everyone who looks upon this image, but to me it is a symbolic fly-past full of meaning and comfort and peace.

It has been a long time since I wrote to this blog. Life has certainly been an interesting adventure since we began our journey as horse farm owners, and one of the (sad) realities of this type of life is that death is never far away. Horses, as magnificent and powerful as they appear are also incredibly fragile and sensitive beings. One wrong foot fall could mean a broken leg; a drop in barometric pressure could induce gas which leads to colic which …. and so it goes. Still, I would not trade this life for anything.

Full Tilt

Shakespeare (Bear) … June 24, 2001-November 21, 2017

Bear was my dream horse who led me to my dream life. Dreams are not static. Dreams do not sustain themselves. They are replete with struggle, discomfort and stress, and require constant nurturing, protection and love. However, they’re also the blessings of glorious sunrises and sunsets. The rides on the trails; the triumphs in the show ring; the camaraderie of the barn family; happy, healthy horses; fresh air and the peace and quiet that comes from living in a valley in the middle of nowhere. (Insert your own dream blessings here.)

It’s a new life. All things new ask us to step outside our comfort zone; to let go of what no longer serves and be open to new and wonderful opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. We are asked to be different; to change. For most people this is an impossible prospect. However, as I have discovered it is in the “forced” metamorphosis that we finally learn to see ourselves in truth. Knowledge is power. Once we know who we are and what drives us we have the power to change it. From an equine experiential learning perspective Bear’s last message to me was “Let go.” So, to honour his memory I am looking at my life and setting the intention of letting go of habits that do more harm than good. One of them is my life-long tendency to be a control freak. (“Oh, is that dog hair on the floor? Oh, dear …” she says as she walks by it and into the kitchen.)

I promise to do better writing to this blog. My world as a horse mom means everything to me, and now that I’ve lost my Bear ~ my “first born” ~ I am finding new meaning in what it means to be the steward of such a magnificent being. For that’s what I am, a steward. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, noted French philosopher, aviator and poet wrote in his book, The Little Prince:

“We are responsible forever for the things that we tame.”

Bear entered my world at a time when I needed him more than anything. He was four years old. Young. Vibrant. Strong. A dressage horse. My dream horse. Little did I know that his real purpose in my life was the difficult task of pulling me out of my dissociative life pattern into one of self-awareness and being. An almost 12-year journey for which I can never thank him enough. While I thought I was “taming” him he was, in fact, taming me. We were stewards of each other. And while he is no longer here on this earthly plain, I feel him in my heart and I see him forever in this image, transitioning to that place of limitless peace. I honour his memory by living the lessons that he, a most beautiful and noble horse, taught me.

Thank you for visiting. May you and and your loved ones enjoy a peaceful, happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2018.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2017

Weekly Photo Challenge: 2017 Favourites

 

 

A Gift of Sunshine

Tunnel vision

~*~

Spring has sprung here in Southern Ontario, and while we are seeing the light at the end of winter’s dark tunnel it’s premature to believe we’re completely through the other side of it to spring. We had snow flurries two days ago and temps are still hovering around the zero celsius mark. It’s also been terribly damp, to the point of being bone-chilling, so too early to put the woolies away yet.

Brrrrrrr …..

Still, this too shall pass.

We have been granted the occasional teaser warm day with bright sunshine, which has melted the ice and dried the ground enough for me to be able to take Bear outside for his daily amble (when their isn’t a stiff nor’wester blowing, of course).

How amazing to finally be able to engage with Bear in the sunshine. A blessing, to be sure.

Hay manEven though he’s been stuck indoors for weeks and weeks Bear’s demonstrated such poise on his first outings outside. A nice alert, flat-footed walk around the dirt parking lot for several minutes; his ears perked; eyes big and curious about who’s in which paddock. The occasional stop to test, with practiced lips, the browned grass for the much longed for fresh shoots that are just beginning to poke through the thawing earth.

As a special treat he has permission to feast at a hay buffet courtesy of an open round bale. Such bliss to stand in the early spring sunshine with Bear as he seeks to satisfy his endless appetite.

Watching Bear revel in this small change of routine makes me happy. He’s been a model rehab patient during his long confinement, so to be able to give him the gift of blue skies and sunshine makes me feel like I’m doing something positive. It was a cold, bleak winter and it feels so good to be out from under that cloud.

Better by the day

With respect to Bear’s recovery, he’s getting better by the day. Things haven’t changed much since his last ultrasound of three weeks ago, except that as of last weekend I no longer apply a sweat to the injured fetlock. The inflammation there has decreased such that a simple stable wrap will do. He lives in them (I still wrap the supporting leg as well) 24/7 except when I hand walk him. This is when he wears Back on Track therapeutic polo bandages to give his lower legs the support they need while exercising, such as it is at present.

Fun with food

Our friend Sarah capture Bear’s “fun with food” moment the other day. His nibble net is supposed to be inside his stall and in this image he has successfully manoeuvred it otherwise. His own definition for “throwing hay.” 😉

Bear’s spirits are good. He’s spoiled with attention, and treats, and loves to entertain whoever chooses to stop long enough outside his stall to indulge his flights of fancy.

Last Monday he had his monthly massage. Evidently he gets tight on the right side from standing around, so the therapist has given me a few gentle techniques to use on him to help keep those localized spots a little more limber.

The Worst Kind of Crap Shoot

In the meantime, I have been starting to shop for another horse, and horse shopping, as pretty much anyone who’s engaged in it will tell you, can be the worst kind of crap shoot, especially without good guidance. There are so many variables; so many things to consider that if you don’t know specifically what kind of horse you’re looking for and keep the emotional component in check you could end up on an expensive and discouraging wild goose chase.

Since my goal with a new dressage horse is to be able to see myself start to ride to my highest potential, I need one with three good gaits (walk, trot, canter) and that is well schooled in the German training system. As my coach put it to me the other day, we want a horse that allows me to develop my riding ability without having to address huge holes in his training. I don’t mind the challenges that will arise as I push myself to a higher plateau of horsemanship, but I don’t want to have to deal with the arguments presented as a result of someone else’s poor horse training.

My coach is in agreement with this.

So, we’re on the look out for a warmblood around eight years old, with good solid gaits and training, a sound temperament and at least 16.2 hands in height ~ in a price range, of course, we can afford. In other words … a needle in a haystack. Still, that’s okay. I’m a firm believer that life unfolds as it should. I have good support and guidance around me, so when the right horse comes along he/she should be fairly easy to spot. At least I’m optimistic.

As always my primary concern, beyond my own safety, is the welfare of the horse, and so I want to ensure that whatever horse enters the picture will be appropriate for, and comfortable with, the kind of training I have in mind under the expert guidance of my coach. Horses are not one size fits all, so being as mindful of their individual needs and limitations is as important as being mindful of my own.

Of course, I am ever mindful that Bear is the one who has put me on this path. From the moment he stepped into my life nine years ago he has walked the bumpy road of healing with me, opening my heart and my mind to new and wonderful possibilities. He’s helped me attract into my life, when I was ready, the circumstances and people who have helped me along the path of personal growth during the past several years, and as such has placed himself at the heart of my healing program and my dreams of one day having my own equine experiential learning practice. With his good looks and charm, funny disposition and open heart he is a gift of sunshine that I’m really looking forward to sharing with those who are ready when the timing is right ~ for me … and him. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Things Are Getting Silly Now … and a Sonnet

Meeting Lucky

Bear meets his lucky charm for the first time …

~*~

For good or ill things are getting silly now. Probably for good since a little bit of levity is a welcome change and living in the doldrums is no fun at all.

It’s week three ~ some 24 days into Bear’s treatment for an injured lateral suspensory ligament ~ and with the dust finally beginning to settle, finding stimulating ways to amuse ourselves in the depths of frigid winter is high on our list of priorities.

Thankfully, Bear continues to be cooperative and sensible during his convalescence, and the comic side of his character is once again taking centre stage. (Or perhaps I’m simply able to see it again. Amazing what happens when you open your eyes.)

During our most recent hand walking excursions, with the arena sound system set to the classical music station and Bear now on free walk (I believe the fact that his blanket stays on while we do our walkabout helps him to understand this is not an opportunity to go running off steam) he’s been following me around like a happy puppy dog. And, just like the proverbial hound out for a walk with his/her mistress, within minutes of our perambulation he leaves me a special delivery, which I then dutifully clean up under his expert supervision. After making a deposit in the bucket at Poo Corner, we continue our walkabout, and while I hum along to Mozart or Thomas Tallis or whoever, Bear ambles behind me, gently running his nose back and forth along the fake furry fringe of the hood on my winter overcoat. He’s ever so tactile.

Lately Bear’s been learning how to bow

Learning to bow has come about as a natural result of the carrot stretches I’ve been integrating into our daily walks to help keep him bendy.

Bear is a fast learner, so teaching him to bow has been easy. (He’s also rather motivated by the promise of an orange root veggie reward.) Being the smart apple he is, he’s taken this exercise one step further and bows without prompting.

For instance, we’ll be engaged in our walkabout (we walk dressage test patterns to cure the monotony) when I’ll sense he’s stopped somewhere behind me. I turn around.

“What’s going on, Bear?” I’ll ask with some amusement.

He’ll give me a knowing look with those big, baby browns and then gaze down at his front feet, one of which will be placed forward of the other. Next thing I know he’s bowing for me. Forgive me … for the carrot he knows is padding my pocket.

Bowing

Carrot, please …

 ~*~

Oh, my goodness … he’s so cute! And just for a moment I’ll forget this wretched injury vortex in which we’re holed up and simply revel in this touching moment of joy we share.

Of course, he’s rewarded for his effort and initiative, and then I make sure to move him forward quietly so he understands the moment is ended. (Otherwise we might be stuck there for some time while he demonstrates his bowing prowess by constantly switching which leg he brings forward and bowing and repeating. … Gosh, I hope I haven’t created a monster.) As we continue his free walk, we stop to practice his bowing for as many carrot pieces as I have left in my pocket. He’s always wander struck when my pocket is finally empty.

Still, twenty minutes of hand walking goes quickly when interspersed with a little silliness accompanied by classical music.

At least we finish with smiles.

Speaking of smiles … doing so on command is next on the trick roster. I’ll keep you posted.

And now … a Word from Poet’s Paddock

Meditation 2

Shakespeare musing …

~*~

Naturally, Poet’s Paddock is empty these days, but Poet’s Stall doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Still, Shakespeare (Bear’s registered name and creative alter ego) has had plenty of time to contemplate his navel and conjure some poetic fluff.

As many of you know, dear Shakespeare has a penchant for poetic rumination (visit PoetsPaddock for more) and from time to time I have been known to indulge his flights of fancy in this blog.

Herewith a sensitive rendering from our equine muse, transcribed, of course, by yours truly …

~*~

Sonnet XXVII

One hundred days and twenty in this stall
To rest and watch as others’ worlds go by.
And restless though I be as bouncing ball
More sad I am to hear my mother sigh.
Though side by side this journey now we trace
Our joys and sorrows cannot be the same
Tis not t’ward a finish line we race
For she is well and I, perchance, am lame.

Neigh, step by step while on this pitted path
Together wobble we this journey scorned,
Still in our hearts we harbour little wrath
For out of battles victories are born.
And though the days seem long and move e’er slow
This too shall pass, and to new heights we’ll grow.

~*~

 So, there you have it. This week is a little more light hearted, a little silly, and I pray this will continue to be the case as we move forward with Bear’s recovery. It is, perhaps, how we’ll be able to maintain our sanity during this dormant period.

As mentioned in my last post I’ve learned to acknowledge that this is, perhaps, an opportunity for further healing on my part as well. Little signs along the way are showing me this is, indeed, the case. I miss riding, make no mistake, but the intense cold makes it easier for me to focus on what’s really important right now and that’s the healing journey. I’m putting my faith in the process. Perhaps at the end of this Bear and I will come out stronger than ever and life will open up even more than I imagined.

I’m hopeful.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Stalled

stalled

We’re in this together …

 

~*~

Okay, so this is where everything I learned in the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning program least year is put to the test.

Feeling my feelings. Acknowledging. Accepting. Embracing. Releasing. Moving on.

The following pictorial is a summary of Bear’s visit with the vet on Wednesday …

Mr. Curious

Bear plays the role of Curious George as Dr. Maggie and her able assistant, Sarah, set up the x-ray equipment outside his stall.

Since I manage foreign stress better with a camera in hand, in this instance my iPhone, I take pictures.

~*~

x-ray

Sarah holds the x-ray plate while Dr. Maggie captures one of several images.
Bear was a good boy throughout the exercise.

~*~

bones are good

Eureka! Bones of the fetlock joint are in good shape. 🙂

~*~

Can I see?

“Can I see?” asks Bear, politely.

~*~

Ultrasound

Time for the ultrasound …

~*~

Sore suspensory

Sadly … ultra unsound. 😦

~*~

The Trooper

Check the other fetlock for comparison.
Bear remains stoic.

~*~

sore

The end result …

Bear has injured the lateral suspensory ligament of his right hind leg.
This is a serious injury.
To prevent further damage (especially since it’s so icy outside right now) he is to be confined to his stall for 120 days to recover.
As well, he will be bandaged 24/7 with a change every day.
He’ll also be hand walked once or twice a day to give him really light exercise and help allay the boredom.

~*~

Nibble net

Bear is in good spirits and seems to understand that we are trying to help him. He’s a smart horse and amuses himself with the nibble net in which his hay is now fed.

~*~

I, on the other hand, am dealing with uncomfortable feelings right now. Even though I know what’s going on (and better to know), and welcome the experience of nurturing him back to health with the support of Wendy, the barn manager, and my lovely friends at the barn, I am sad. Sad that Bear suffers; sad that our training has been stalled. As well, as this is Bear’s first major injury in the almost nine years since I welcomed him into my life, seeing him confined in this way, even though it’s for his own good, is difficult for me.

How did this happen? Who knows! He’s a horse. It could have happened anywhere. But I expect that learning to move correctly has put stress on an area of his body (the right hind) that is his natural weakness. With the time off and proper care he will quite likely come back feeling stronger and better than ever, but there are no guarantees. I’ve received a lot of encouragement from other horse owners who have been in this boat, and this helps me to feel somewhat better. Still, the uncertainty, I guess, is what unsettles me the most, especially since my life in general feels unsettled right now.

And yet, I remain optimistic.

Today I get a refresher course in bandaging from Wendy, and Dr. Maggie is coming back to give Bear his first of three shockwave treatments which will be spread out during his recovery time.

Over the next few days I’ll begin to develop a routine and a rhythm that will help things settle again. A time of new growth; new opportunity; new learning. It’s a matter of taking one step at a time and having faith in the journey.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the expense?
Between the x-rays, ultrasounds, shockwave treatments et al, Bear’s recovery is an expensive undertaking. Fortunately, I have medical coverage from his insurer so most of it will be covered.

So, here we are, Bear and I, hobbling down another path together that will deepen even more the relationship we already share.

Every cloud has a silver lining and I can see the gossamer starting to appear already.

We’re stalled … but we’re fine.

Thanks for stopping by and remember to nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Change Is In The Wind

 

Change is in the wind ...

~*~

 

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.
Gail Sheehy

 

When change is in the wind, horses, as prey animals, put their face to it and give their full attention. In a matter of seconds they’re able to surmise if there’s a threat to their well being; an opportunity to engage with someone or something interesting, or if they can put their nose down and carry on business as usual.

Change is in the wind once again for Bear and I.

I’ve faced it and decided to engage.

No, we’re not moving. We’re perfectly happy where we are.

So, what’s happening?

We’re embarking on a new path of learning and growth.

This hearkens back to my last post ~ A Horse Is Never” Just A Horse” ~  but not in the way I described or expected as I wound that post down.

No, it’s bigger than that, and as soon as I have confirmation, I will fill you in on the next leg of my healing journey with my beautiful horse.

I anticipate this will denote a slight shift in the focus of this blog.

Change is in the wind … Stay tuned!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

Remember Who You Are

 

~*~

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

 ~*~

Since moving to the new barn almost four months ago I haven’t had much to say about training. It’s been a rather intense period of re-configuring my relationship with the world equine, and often when you’re in the midst of something like this and you can’t see the light for the tunnel you’re travelling in, it can be an impossible task to describe the experience to others. These moments are deeply personal and life-altering and the moments must be fully lived in to reap the benefit.

I am aware that not all readers here are horse people. Still, the lessons of life ~ whether you learn them with reins, rigging or a nine iron in your hand ~ are universal. It’s the language of whatever we have identified as our passion that will speak the magic words of life’s meaning to us. It is up to each of us to pay attention. So, while endeavouring to grasp the language of the horse as interpreted by my new trainer, I’ve been doing my best to pay attention and take it all it in. Of course, there are plenty of old ideas to release before the new ones can take hold. I’m learning to forget who I was told to be and am finally getting a profound glimpse of who I am (never mind remembering.)

Being a “woman of a certain age” already managing the baggage that particular trip to self-awareness brings, this is no mean feat.

Finally I’m seeing beyond the limitations others had established throughout my life and am moving into a more expansive, authentic way of being. My awakening horse, the new nurturing barn environment and a trainer and yes, barn owner, who support my potential and judge me not by my past, have already, in just four short months, made such a huge difference.

There certainly have been, and continue to be, struggles, of course. One cannot extricate oneself from old patterns of behaviour and belief without profound moments of discomfort, doubt, sorrow and trepidation. Change means challenge, but being stuck in a frustrating and debilitating rut is, as far as I’m concerned, far less desirable.

There are moments when I wonder why Bear and I had to wait so long for this opportunity to expand. But then I remind myself that everything unfolds as it should and bemoaning what was only uses up whatever precious energy is available to enjoy what is.

The fact is, timing and preparation met opportunity. Bear’s current home, as it is now, didn’t even exist 18 months ago, and I was not ready to take this step. The cosmic tumblers hadn’t fallen into place. Last November things began to click and the transition from old barn to new happened in less than a month once I’d made up my mind to move.

Yes, life unfolds as it should; things happen when they’re meant to; when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Truth in abundance.

But enough philosophizing.

The reason this has come up is that last Thursday I was almost ready to put away my riding boots for good …

Any equestrian with a true passion for their sport and a love for their horse(es) will tell you that there are days when the effort just doesn’t seem worth the reward. You have an off day. The horse has an off day. You both have an off day at the same time. Conditions are too cold; hot; wet. There are so many variables. A horse has a mind of its own and on any given day he might just tune out and leave you feeling like you’re sitting on a brick wall for all the connection you have. Getting doggedly through these moments without berating yourself for being a crap rider and having a meltdown can be a challenge at times. Riding horses effectively and sympathetically isn’t all happy trails and fairy tales. It’s mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and, for many riders I know, spiritually challenging.

And just to set the record straight, not all horse people are sitting on piles and piles of cash. Many make great sacrifices to ensure the health and safety of their animals and to pursue their passion. Still, I’m happy to sacrifice a pair of fashionable shoes that’ll last me a season for a training session in classical riding with a Master instructor that’ll last me a lifetime. Prioritizing what’s truly important is all part of the experience. Is that not a life lesson?

So, getting back to Thursday, in spite of the fact Bear and I have made great progress during the previous almost four months I felt, on that miserable day, as if we were going backwards. He wasn’t moving off my leg. He wasn’t paying attention. He wouldn’t walk down the lovely lane by the pond we’d conquered the week before. And he wasn’t being particularly nice about any of it. It was old stuff ~ old stuff I thought we’d left behind. Bear was being a bear, and I was frustrated.

I blame some of this on his hierarchal arguments in the paddock. He’s established himself as alpha out there, so possibly he was laying a challenge for me. In the end I made it work but honestly, it felt like any progress since our move had been lost. It was one of those two-steps back kind of days. Argh!!!

After a few moments of weepy frustration (as we equestrians are wont to do at such times) I decided that rather than get mad I’d get even. I’d ask for help; call in the big guns.

I am fortunate in that Wendy, the barn owner, is an extremely knowledgeable horse woman and that my coach/trainer, Stefan, is formally trained in classical dressage and a seasoned horseman. When the going gets rough, therefore, I have somewhere reliable to turn.

So Friday, after a general meltdown in the arms of my long-suffering husband, I pulled myself together, consulted with Wendy by text and made a decision. Instead of riding, which I had no desire to do anyway, Wendy would help me school Bear on the lunge line.

The lunge work, with Bear in side reins, was to help him engage pushing power from behind and get him stretching over his top line and into the contact, which he generally finds creative ways to avoid. No contact, no connection. Just 10 minutes in both directions was enough to achieve the desired result. Bear’s a smart horse. He picks up on cues and signals quickly when I work with him on the ground.

Now, if only I could engage that in the saddle.

After our excellent lunging session I walked Bear, in-hand, down the lane past the bank barn, past the pond, over the bridge, back over the bridge, past the pond up the lane way past the bank barn and back to his stall. He was such a good boy. The more I can get him used to this routine the more enjoyable it will be for both of us. My intention is to get out in the fields and ride this summer, not spend every day in the hot sand ring so, he must learn to be brave.

The next step in this little remedial moment was for Stefan to ride Bear on Saturday.

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond ...

Stefan rides Bear past the scary pond …

Stefan riding Bear is like Wayne Gretzky manoeuvring a hockey puck across the ice ~ effortless and intuitive. For an hour or so I watched as Bear was put through his paces by this great horseman. I watched closely the master’s technique. The pace and rhythm he created. Bear went so beautifully for him. Sure, my horse needs to continue to build strength from behind, but he was putty in the gentle master’s hands. I can hardly wait to see the difference a few months from now. 😉

Hands together and stationed just above the withers seems to be the most important thing I can remember right now. My hands have a tendency to get a bit busy. This impedes our connection and allows Bear to be evasive. Imagine if you’re driving a car and you keep moving the steering wheel unnecessarily ~ you’d be all over the road, right? Busy hands create confusion for the horse. A proper connection cannot be established like this. If I don’t commit to stillness, he can’t commit to straightness. It’s quite simple.

So, Sunday I took Bear out for a spin, determined to duplicate what I had witnessed the day before. My experience was night and day compared to Thursday. No, it wasn’t perfect, but working from a higher level of awareness and with my boy tuned up I felt like I was on the moon! This continued into my lesson on Monday, my coach and I quite encouraged by the profound progress made in just one week.

Of course, it’s one thing to find the connection but another thing altogether to maintain it …

This will come with time and practice. For one thing, both Bear and I need to rebuild our endurance. During the last couple of years, with adrenal fatigue my miserable companion, my stamina all but disappeared. I’ve been feeling better these days so I’m hoping that over the coming months I can, through riding and twice-weekly Pilates sessions and more walking, build this up again. I still need to manage my energy stores carefully. Pushing myself beyond endurance creates an energy deficit that my body can only manage by foreclosing for 24 hours. Still, I am stronger and this is most encouraging.

For Bear’s part, he’s on all-day turnout with his buddy, Dream, and the paddocks are large and rolling, so he gets plenty of exercise when I’m not around. That, and the new work we’re doing, will make him plenty strong.

Apart from that, this classical style of riding requires the creation of new muscle memory in mind and body. Building that takes time, effort and practice.

So, while things looked pretty bleak on Thursday it was, in fact, a pivotal day. And now, we rest for a few days to replenish our resources.

It’s said that things are always darkest before the dawn. It’s also said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Crossing the threshold to a new way of being can be a tough and miserable business. However, with the appropriate, knowledgeable help and a determination to get through the rough patches, the transition of old ways of thinking to new and the adoption of fresh ideas that more deeply resonate with our personal truths can mark a glorious beginning and reclamation of self.

Putting away my riding boots for good would not have been the answer. Symbolically, however, I traded in the beat-up steppers for a sturdier pair, tailor-made for striding positively, purposefully and powerfully into a future where I finally get a chance to remember, be, and embrace who I am.

Bear SmilesAnd all because of a horse.

What helps you to remember who you are?

Nurture what you love.

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gentleman’s Club

Managing the herd dynamic is one of the top priorities at any barn. Horses, like people, are predisposed to like and dislike others according to their own personality and character.

While horses will identify their own pecking order, it is important for the barn owner to understand their horses well enough to know who should and shouldn’t be turned out together and encouraged to mix. Ensuring the horses are grazing among others of like mind and character is key to reducing the risk of injury and possible upset among the herd.

Bear, as we’ve discovered, is the horse-about-town type. He wants to, and does, get along with everyone. It makes him a natural leader. His experience with Zu Zu is a case in point. Now that she has left, however, we’ve had to find him other friends that share his particular easy-going life philosophy.

For the past three weeks or so he’s been enjoying the company of Wendy’s retired Prix St. George dressage horse, Konnor, and a young FEI dressage prospect, Dream. They’ve been getting along famously. In fact, Dream and Bear are often to be found playing and grazing together as if they’ve been friends for life, while Konnor hovers in the background ready to mediate if needed. He likes the ex officio role ~ doesn’t need to be in charge all the time, but will step in if required.

Bear and Dream share a tender morsel ...

Bear and Dream share a tender morsel …

 

They’re such a polite trio I’ve dubbed them “The Gentleman’s Club.”

Last week a new horse moved into the barn.  Midas, at age 19, is an older fellow and another retired dressage horse. The day after his arrival Wendy and J, the new owner, approached me about introducing Midas to our gentlemanly herd. We discussed the proposed change at some length. We knew the established herd was functioning well together, but wondered what would happen if we introduced someone new. Would it alter the dynamic? Would it be a good fit?

Every herd introduction is a social experiment. While J had her own concerns because of past injuries Midas had experienced, she assured us he was a peace-loving horse and, if anything, preferred to keep to himself. Her main concern was that he be in with a quiet group who wouldn’t bully or chase him around.

The facts were this: Konnor is 20 and the paddock peace keeper. Dream is eight and, having had two colic surgeries of his own, needs quiet companionship and civilized play as well as all-day turnout. Bear is 12 and just wants to be everyone’s friend. Taking all of this into consideration, a well as Midas’ disposition, we agreed there was little harm in seeing if they would get along. After all, you don’t know if something is going to work until you give it a go. So, Midas was introduced into The Gentleman’s Club.

As Bear was still enjoying his after-ride grooming session, Midas met the other two members first.

It is normal, when introducing horses to each other for the first time, to witness a cacophony of squeals and grunts and screams as necks arch and noses touch in greeting. It’s all part of the initial interview. There’s the occasional pawing at the ground and some ear pinning too but, if all goes well, this is the extent of the discussion.

By the time I lead Bear to the paddock it was apparent that Midas had passed muster. But Bear and Midas still had to meet.

While Wendy took Bear into the paddock I grabbed my camera and documented his interaction with the potential new club member.

Herewith my interpretation, in words and pictures, of Midas’ admission interview with Bear.

 ~*~

Hello, Midas. My name is Shakespeare, but you can call me Bear ...

“Hello, Midas. My name is Shakespeare, but you can call me Bear …”

~*~

Now, then ... let's get a closer look at you ...

“Now, then … let’s get a closer look at you …”

 ~*~

Now, the other side, if you please ...

“That’s good. Now, the other side, if you please …”

~*~

 

(I like him so far, mom ...)

(So far so good, mom …)

~*~

 

Here, let me show you the water barrel ...

“Now, if you’ll come this way, I’ll show you the club’s water barrel …”

~*~

Uh huh, you're good over here too ...

“Just so you know, it’s first come, first serve after me, buddy …”

~*~

Now, over here is club hay ...

“And over here we have some of the club’s select hay. Over here, I said …”

~*~

Good, good ... I like what I'm seeing. Your patience shall be rewarded ...

“Thanks for waiting. Your manners are excellent. I like that …”

~*~

Please ... help yourself ...

“Please, try some for yourself. Do note its superior quality …”

~*~

Here ... let me help you ...

“Here, let me help you with that …”

~*~

"Thank you," says Midas ...

“No need to thank me just yet … “

~*~

"I like him, boys, what do you think?"

“I like him, boys, what do you think?”

~*~

Admission granted ...

Admission granted …

~*~

The interview took all of 10 minutes and we watched in awe as it all unfolded. J said she’d never seen Midas relax so quickly into a group.

Well, it is The Gentleman’s Club after all. 😉

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

Waking Up Is Hard To Do …

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

~Albert Einstein.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

Wake up! Wake up!

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

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

Cream-Coloured Pony

Be the free spirit you were born to be …

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

The Ultimate All-Terrain Vehicle

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

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

One Horsepower Has It All

One Horsepower Has It All

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

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

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

It was the second or third time Wendy and her horse, Bravo, had ventured outdoors this year. She warned the ground was wet, but perfectly navigable. I felt confident enough and figured if not now, when? Sooner or later Bear and I were going to need to expand our comfort zone.

So, in single file with Bear the last in line, we headed downhill along a tree-lined lane way which passes by the old bank barn. In the summer months this is a really pretty spot of dappled sunlight. Right now, however, the lane is a mess of mud and melting snowy slush punctuated with tangled, fallen timber, remnants of December’s horrible ice storm.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love those the best.

 

 ~*~

In the Saddle“Neigh!” Quoth He …

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

~Winston Churchill

 

~*~

Thanks for stopping by.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Where There’s A Will …

Connection

Change of any description, if it is to be undertaken with mindfulness, takes energy.

The move to a new barn at the beginning of the year has required a great (and positive) shift in the way I view the equestrian world and my place in it. It’s also invited me to step up to the challenge of beginning to live the dream I’ve had since childhood ~ of being a competent dressage rider.

It’s been a meandering road to get to this point, mostly due to my own lack of self-awareness and a life time spent in survival mode. And now that I am here, I’m learning to adapt to a new way of being while still negotiating the pitfalls of energy-depleting adrenal fatigue ~ one of the side effects of living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for so long.

Still, we’re on the right track now and it will take as long as it takes to evolve into the partnership I have dreamed of for Bear and I for so long.

Changes are already happening. I find it difficult to write about it while we’re in transition simply because there’s so much going on I don’t know where to start. And, I don’t want to exhaust myself in the attempt to do so.

Suffice to say that while I learn to ride Bear according to his training imprint he is gaining strength and stamina and is so much more relaxed. It’s almost as if he’s come “home” in himself somehow. No more arguments because my hands are so busy (because they aren’t anymore). No more miscommunication. As I begin to integrate the nuances of the new skills I’m learning Bear settles into a frame of mind that demonstrates to me I’m finally beginning to “get” it while he is more happily engaged in our work.

I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made to our relationship overall. Something has changed. A switch has gone on. Our bond is tighter. It’s as if as open as he was before he is even more so now simply because I’ve stepped deeper into his functionally imprinted world and left my own dysfunctionally imprinted one behind.

What a relief! What a gift! To see the world through his eyes and understand what it means to be “at home” at what you’re doing. The more at home he is, the more at home I am. It’s magic!

The elements of training that have brought us to this point involve a lot of technical explanation that I’m not going to get into, at least not at the moment. Suffice to say that working with a highly skilled dressage coach who has invested himself in Bear’s and my progress has made all the difference. In just five coaching sessions, and all the rides in between, Bear already feels like a completely different horse and I feel like a more competent rider. My default to hunter frame is a thing of the past.

Notwithstanding the obstacle of adrenal fatigue and the drain that is on my energy my dressage dreams live again.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

~*~

Speaking of wills …

Last year, as some of you know, I remarried. This has made it necessary to revisit and revise my Last Will and Testament to reflect my change of status. Of course, it’s important to adapt a Will according to any change in life circumstances. I’m no lawyer but I believe it’s safe to say that to file one once and never look at it again is probably not the smartest thing to do. Life circumstances change constantly and a Will, naturally, must reflect this.

As you can imagine, my horse figures into my Will, as he must. What is to happen to him (or any of my animal companions) should I make my grand exit from planet Earth before them?

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed …”
Antoine de Saint-Exupèry

My arrangements in the past have been pretty loose, as far as Bear is concerned. Now that I’m revising my Will, I’m going to tighten things up and attach to it a Limited Power of Attorney outlining what I want done for Bear in my absence.

This idea was suggested by the owner of the barn where we are now and I think it’s a great one. This way even when Lloyd and I are away on vacation there is a written document which stipulates the steps to be taken in case of emergency, and it’s all been established ahead of time while cooler heads prevail. Beats a desperate phone call in the middle of the night while we’re half way around the world and I’m having a panic attack. 😉

When searching for a template online I came across this one from a fellow WordPress blogger at Capital Cowgirl. It’s most comprehensive and, as you can see, adaptable for equestrians and pet owners. I’m going to use this template for my other four-legged fuzzy companions as well.

If you are a horse owner and/or have pets as a part of your lifestyle, I suggest taking a few minutes to draw up a Limited Power of Attorney for each one and attaching them to your Will. As well, give copies to the caregivers in question so your instructions are readily available. This way you know you’ve done your due diligence with respect to the care of your animal companions while you are absent, for whatever reason, and the people to whom you have entrusted their care have a clear understanding of your wishes on the matter.

Bear is so important to me and, as you might imagine, I have given lots of thought as to what I’d like to happen should I pre-decease him. The option of the Limited Power of Attorney is sound and, attached to my Will, makes my wishes official.

And where there’s a Will … there’s peace of mind.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

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