Land Matters: The Long Game

The winter evening sky with a few of the new trees in the mix just a few days ago.

Happy Winter Solstice! It seems the perfect time to share an update on the land restoration project!

Patience.

Land restoration is a long game project. There are no quick fixes. Much like building a relationship with a horse, it takes the time it takes. I am building a relationship with the land here. Horses I know, this desert landscape, not so much. And yet, even the addition of a few trees, covering the bare ground between them in mulch of partially composted horse manure and old hay, changes the whole feel of the property.

A vision is taking shape in my mind of ways to rearrange horse paddock fence lines to incorporate ‘green belts in between them. Strategically placed to soak up the rain water when it happens, so that the paddocks can dry out efficiently and the horses no longer have to wade around in mud for weeks on end. I used to think the solution was all about drainage, but drainage is nothing but a short term band aid in a horse paddock where their hooves compact the soil, creating low spots. Where they break up the dirt, creating fine dust that blows away in the next wind so that after a few years all that work on drainage is a moot point. Short of hauling dirt in from elsewhere to build it back up, options become limited, maintenance ongoing.

Erosion.

That’s the thing about the desert. How do you keep the dirt from blowing away when the wind blows? How do you keep it from washing away in the rain? I live on the edge of a wash, anyplace puddles decide to form, as the water slowly seeps into the clay, looking for a place to go, the only option is the wash. Ever vigilant for the formation of cracks that can turn into sink holes where the water carves out large cavities just beneath the surface, the crust on top eventually giving way to gaping holes in the earth. Erosion is the enemy.

Dirt erodes. What we need here is soil. Rich soil that supports plant life. Plant life that puts down roots, binding the soil to prevent erosion. This sandy, clay desert has strategies for grabbing the infrequent rains and holding them. Cryptobiotic crusts with their crenualated surfaces retain the water long enough for it to soak in, covering the sand in places undisturbed by humans. Some say it takes hundreds of years for that crust to form and establish. The long game indeed!

This week I should get the first layer of work in from the Permaculture consult that started several months ago. She’s been researching weather, wind, temperatures, sunlight, soil, the plants that already grow here. We did a survey so we know our exact property lines. She hooked me up with the extension office and I have 77 baby bare root trees coming this spring. One of the goals in rearranging fencing is to create a baby tree nursery close to the house. It’s funny sometimes how things happen. One day a few weeks back a contractor pulled in the drive. He was cleaning up a property down the street and wanted to know if I would mind if he dumped some composted manure into the wash. Heck no! I told him to dump it in my manure pile and I’d use it! He dropped more than 10 full sized dump truck loads of fully composted sheep and goat manure! My neighbor and I are spreading it anywhere we can think of that we might want to plant things. It was like a pot of gold dropped into my lap! What a great foundation for my tree nursery!

When the first layer of work comes in I’ll have what’s known as a base map. A clear map of what we have now, along with a comprehensive list of everything that will grow here. As the vision for the property continues to unfold, I want to do it all now. But hey, today is Winter Solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year. Winter is the time for planning. I’ll have to learn patience, and rest up, so that I have the energy to execute the plan in a few short months! Time to hunker down with my plant list and decide what I want to grow here.

Time to be creative.

Time…

Here’s to the the shortest day of the year, and to the increasing daylight hours to come. Wishing everyone the very best this season has to offer!

When you have a moment, come check out the new home of Tango with Horses Online!

The desert just a few miles from home. Amazing how different it is from my bare dirt back yard! So much to learn from nature.

Inner Work and Gratitude

Photo Credit: Susan White Summer 2020

The red rock desert is my happy place. This year I feel blessed to have explored this rugged territory more fully than ever before. Gratitude to my body overflows for cultivating the capacity to adventure into territory previously out of reach. To see and experience hidden treasures where the quiet is so deep it hums.

Venturing into these silent places, ‘away from the things of man’, reconnects me with myself so that I feel restored, whole, and free. Pushing my mind and body just beyond my comfort zone brings me fully present, in this moment, right here, right now like nothing else. The pace of life slows down, becoming meaningful, beautiful and rare. It builds my resilience and adaptability to what life throws at me. Which, it turns out, was especially important these last few years!

As I sit here on the cusp of the US Thanksgiving holiday, I have so much to be grateful for this year. 2020 is one for the record books. It’s been an intense year for so many, myself included. But honestly, it pales in comparison to the end of 2018, when just a week before Thanksgiving, Mom got her cancer diagnosis. 2019 was consumed by Mom’s illness and passing, and in the aftermath a family devastated by her unexpected loss. Nothing can compare to that. Of course, 2020 carried it’s share of losses as well, notably Aero and Jean within three days of one another. But 2020 also brought Feather into my life. What that mustang has given me is beyond measure. I partnered with my friend Diane in teaching online, such a gift, so much inspiration there. Joy and grief in balance.

The last few months, that call of nature, and the stillness I find there grows stronger. This fast paced life I lead is no longer sustainable in the face of processing the loss of my Mother and Jean – Cori and Barb before them, plus so many of my long time equine companions… I taught online and in person through all of it. I literally worked through my grief. But the last few months my Spirit has called Uncle. The more I get in touch with myself, the clearer it becomes that there is no escape from processing all this loss.

When I walked away from social media a few months back, I discovered how addictive it is. How frequently I used scrolling through social media as an escape from dealing with my emotions. With gyms closed, no social dancing, and no more internet distractions, all of my stuff is in my face like never before. There is no escape from it now. And I am grateful for this opportunity to finally face my demons and send them packing.

This stepping away from what now feels like such a rat race is opening the door to clarity. I have the time and space to go deep and really ponder the things I’m passionate about. Now I feel ready to go even deeper. To find chunks of uninterrupted time to write, to work out problems and ideas that have been surfing around the edges of my consciousness but could never become fully formed in all the hustle, bustle and multi-tasking.

2020, with all it’s intensity has also been a phenomenal year of growth. Facing adversity, grief and mortality, fear, peace, joy – it’s what life is all about. The test, I think, lies in our response to the intensity. Can we adapt? Can we thrive in spite of it all? Can we find our balance point and keep coming back home to that center?

These are questions I ask myself as I wade into the deep end and take the next few months to retreat so that I can do a deep dive into my own inner work. This will be a first for me, to take time off from the constant push to generate income and simply trust there is enough to sustain me while I rest, recover, and go into hibernation for the winter. It’s time to integrate all that’s happened in the last 6 years. To pull all the pieces together into a cohesive whole. To finish all the projects I started but never had time to complete.

As we head into this week of giving thanks, I am thankful beyond measure for all the incredible people in my life. Some of you have followed this journey of mine for a great many years, some just arrived on the scene. Your support and enthusiasm for my ever evolving work blows me away. Your patience and kindness as I navigated the loss of 2 and 4 legged loved ones during clinics, and online courses did not go unnoticed. I am truly blessed with the work I get to do in this world, and the people who join me on the path.

Thank you.

Feather and I earlier this summer

In all seriousness, I will be taking some time over the next 3 months or so to do a deep dive into some personal growth and learning that require my full attention. There is a book in me that cannot come out without some chunks of uninterrupted time to pull it into form. My land restoration project is in full swing and I am building a new paddock that is large enough to house Feather and the burros with plenty of room for them to move and interact with others.

With all this in mind, my intention is to consolidate my efforts so that I can maintain my focus. That means you won’t see much of me on Facebook, aside from my personal page. And, I may not post a blog every single Monday. Instead I’ll post them when the thoughts are fully formed and I have something to say and share. Confidence part 2 is in the works, but requires further pondering to get the concepts fully formed.

I have a group of devoted students who have been patiently waiting for me to post new content to our online classes. That is where my consolidation of effort is focused, the new Tango with Horses Online. Should you wish to keep up with my adventures in embodiment and dancing with horses, please follow my blog here, or come join us in the Tango with Horses Online Community here:

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Wishing you all the experience of deep gratitude and peace.

Lots of love from myself and the horses at Restoration Ranch

Getting to Know Scratch and Wamy

Through the words of Jean and Bill

Wamy in the background, Scratch in the foreground this morning over breakfast in their new home at my place.

When my dear friend Jean passed away, her horses, Scratch and Wamy, came to live with me. This was arranged many years ago, so I knew they would come here, and that she had a trust in place to pay their expenses (I mention this because I think this is a great idea for all of us with animals we may need cared for beyond our life span). Knowing how much those horses mean to her, I am honored she chose me.

The truly amazing thing is the records she sent with them. Jean was always taking notes when she came to clinics. She’d frequently disappear at breaks, to be found tucked away in the back of her truck, or some private spot sitting on a hay bale with a tiny note pad in hand, meticulously writing down the details she didn’t want to forget. While I knew this was her habit I did not realize that every single note was transcribed into a document on her computer, printed, put into plastic sleeves, in a 3 ring binder going back all the way to the first day she purchased these horses.

Every training session dated and noted. There are even references to times stamps in videos of them riding. Every bout of colic, every time they were weight taped, every illness, ever hoof trim. It’s amazing. She provided me such an opportunity to know details about how they were trained and what they’ve done throughout their lives. Horses meant everything to Jean.

Last week I went to her home to help value items in the tack room and take home the handful of things she intended me to have. Among the things I brought home are several saddles that Jean’s partner Bill designed and built for her. I’ll share photos of the stirrups and saddles in another post one day soon. This notebook that comprises her daily training journal came home with me. There are so many treasures in there, and I wanted to share a few here.

I knew that Jean had been looking for good trail horses when she learned about Barbs, found a breeder, and went to with trailer in tow to see if she could find a match. While there, she found two horses, Freedom (aka Scratch) and Wamy. She ended up purchasing both, gifting Wamy to Bill. What I did not know is that both horses were quite young and largely unhandled! Jean was in her 60’s and Bill over 70 and they started these two horses themselves. I first met them several years later at a clinic they attended at the barn I managed. They did everything themselves, including trimming their own horse’s feet. Jean trimmed up until about a year ago.

As I opened the new notebook, the very first page is written by Bill about Wamy. This is the very first time I have seen anything written by Bill about the horses, and of course, there is a photo of dear Bill astride his trusty steed Buddy. If I come across one with Wamy I’ll share!

Bill riding Buddy in one of his homemade saddles with his hand made stirrups that I have now.

I-Wam-Wak’s Spectacular IBHR #110

Foaled May, 1995

Wamy, I-Wak-Wam’s Speculation, a 9 year old Barb that I have had for four years, is a great grandson of Kaw-Maw_I, IBHR #47F. He was gelded at four year of age and required a double shot to put him down. He is 14 hands tall and about 600 pounds. His color is seal brown. He has never been shod and could not be handled when we went to get him. After four days of round pen work and touching, he loaded freely into the trailer for the 800 miles trip home. We took two days and unloaded overnight, loading next morning at 4:00 a.m. in the dark.

Working slowly in the round pen, I got my first ‘ride’ on him bareback with no halter or bridle. He seemed as cautious as I was. Sometime later, riding with a saddle and bridle, he was startled and took off. I asked for a stop. He did a sliding stop and I went over his head, landing in front of him. He walked a few steps and looked at me. I spit out the dirt, went to him and got back on. He is a laid back horse.

He is a good traveler, both in the trailer and on the trail, content to be first or last in line. He has traveled well on trails at altitudes above 10,000 feet, as well as through timber and over deadfalls where there were no trails. He is alert to what is going on and will let me know if there are deer or elk around. He is quick and nimble but conserves his energy. We trim our horses’ feet ourselves and his is safe to worn on.

Bill Rueger, Paonia, Colorado, March, 2004

Wamy having breakfast this morning. One day I’ll share pictures of these two in motion!

And Jean’s tribute to Scratch, also written in March, 2004

Jean with Scratch and Wamy in the background

A Trail Rider’s Dream – The Barb Horse

Lord, please find for me a horse with the conformation I seek,

Unshod tough feet and strong legs to carry me up that peak.

He will need lots of endurance that does not fail

And the will to tackle a tough Colorado Rocky Mountain Trail.

Sure-footed and good balance are some other things he will need.

And, for an open meadow, how about some speed?

Able to carefully pick his way over down timber and such,

Safely cross streams and boggy places. Is that asking too much?

One with a soft eye that says he’d like to be my friend,

So we can partner together to every trail’s end.

I’m nearly seventy, will he take good care of me?

In all the world, could such a horse be?

Thank you Lord, for the BARB you sent my way.

He’s sure a keeper, with me he will stay.

No doubt he had a surprise when he arrived here.

We’ve no grassy pasture – feed hay all year.

But he soon adapted well to his 2-acre playground,

Tough hills, rocks and cedar trees were all that he found.

Whirling and bucking and galloping with glee,

Agile as a cat….jumping that rock, dodging a tree.

He has all the qualities I was looking for

In my search for a trail horse, and so much more.

He has lots of spirit, get up and go,

But he’ll come back down if I ask him to go slow.

His smooth gait carries me through the day,

Another bonus that’s come my way.

He wants to please and tries to understand,

If I’m patient and ask with a soft hand.

He’s not only a horse that I could teach to do,

But also one that would teach me too,

If I would listen to the language that he spoke,

And not act like I was the only smart poke.

A bond builds daily between us, each learning to trust.

He knows I’ll always be considerate of him…. That’s only just.

There’s a lot of beautiful country out there to see.

It will always be a BARB that sees it with me.

Jean Hennen

Paonia, Colorado

March 2004

Written about Freedom- IBHR #120 Foaled May 4, 1996

Nicknamed Scratch because of his desire for one.

Thank you Jean and Bill for entrusting the care of your horse friends to me. I love them dearly and am so enjoying getting to know them on my own. They are sweet and feisty, self assured, and well mannered while still retaining their essential spirit. A true testament to the kind of horse people you both were.

Scratch having breakfast this morning.

Last week I wrote part 1 about the importance of building our own confidence when we’re around our horses. Part 2 is in the works and should be ready for next Monday!

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Confidence: Part 1

Feather: Photo by Susan White

A question people often ask:

How do I build my confidence around horses?

Particularly if you are new to horses, it can be intimidating to be around these large, agile animals that can literally react seven times faster than we mere mortals! To stand in the face of a panicky or aggressive horse and remain a safe port in the storm is not always easy, but it is a useful skill to develop. And I do mean that, I had to learn how to manage my body’s response to fear. It is not something that just came naturally to me. It is something that I consciously cultivate in myself, both when I am with horses and through other activities that push my body and mind to be stronger, and more adaptable.

Of course, it doesn’t help that all mammals are hardwired to harmonize or resonate with one another. What that means is that when my horse feels panicky, I might feel his panic on a visceral, subconscious level, as though it is my own. This phenomenon makes it all too easy to react with my horse when he spooks instead of remaining calm, cool and collected. The first skill I have to develop, then, is managing my own emotions and physical reactions. I do this by developing my self-awareness enough to recognize when I match my horse’s emotional state instead of holding my own ground.

At the same time, I must understand the nature of horses in general, and the horse I interact with specifically, so that I can learn to predict how they might react in a variety of situations. I find it crucial to understand the individual especially when doing something new, or when they are under stress. Each horse has their unique way of reacting when they are confused, afraid, or frustrated. Learning each horse’s mode of reacting makes them more predictable, which automatically makes me feel more at ease.

Horses are horses, and I never want to extinguish their flame to meet my own goals. I am a domesticated human that no longer perceives imminent threats to my safety when I’m at the barn to play with my horses. But horses, even domesticated, evolved to move and respond to their environment with a sense of immediacy. They don’t tend to wait around to see if they are in trouble, move first, think later. I can temper their instinct to move first, think later, by becoming that calm port, the one that thinks first and only moves if necessary.

The horse is a fairly pure mirror, reflecting my confidence, or lack-there-of in their behavior toward me and around me. Of course, this purity can get complicated by past experiences where the horse was confused or punished by a human for something that didn’t make sense to them. People have a tendency to do that, correct the horse for doing what comes naturally to them. This is especially confusing if the horse is being a pure mirror, reflecting exactly what I ask, think, or do on that subconscious level. If I allow it, my horse becomes my best teacher, guiding me to dig deep and find the kind of self-assurance that makes them feel safe enough to be confident in me to lead.

All too often, I see coaches encouraging an insecure person to own their space and set boundaries via anger and aggression toward the horse. Learning to chase the horse out of their space by whatever means necessary and then congratulating the adrenaline flooded student with praise. It may work in the short term to move the horse out of their space, but in the long term that individual is learning to react out of fear and anger rather than genuine self-confidence. At the same time, this approach undermines the horse’s sense of safety, and ability to trust their own instincts in reading a human. A human who one moment is wanting to be close and share space, and in the next is angrily chasing them out of their space makes absolutely no sense to a horse. Thankfully, there are better ways to build faith in oneself that allows for preserving the connection, love, and trust we hope to share with our equine partners.

By observing talented horsemen and women, I can learn what quiet confidence looks like. I notice how they carry themselves and move. They are calm. They respond instantly and appropriately, without any apparent time to think, to anything the horse does, or does not do. Instantly, but not abruptly, or quickly. Even their immediate responses are measured and soft. They stand tall, clearly owning their space without anger or aggression. They move deftly, every gesture precise and meaningful to the horse. They are consistent, focused and clear in their intention while remaining flexible. And they convey a nonchalant enjoyment of the process.

Horses are drawn to this kind of person like moths to a flame.  Watching these horse people helped me understand that by not reacting, punishing or criticizing a horse when they get flustered or upset, the horse’s tended to de-escalate just as quickly as they escalated. My nervous system embraced the reality of what I saw, allowing me to let go of the old training to punish the horse, take a deep breath, feel my feet on the ground and trust.

To be continued next week!

Kastani and I ‘dancing’: photo by Susan White

Want to learn more about Andrea Datz or Tango with Horses?

You can subscribe to my blog right here on this page, to ensure you don’t miss a post.

Want to go a little deeper?

Come join the new Tango with Horses Social Network at Tango with Horses Online, for about what you’d spend on a good cup of coffee. You can join Animal Communicator Diane Barrett and I, along with a growing community of explorers, for monthly live chats and more in depth conversations about the philosophy of Tango with Horses.

Developing an Eye for Signs of Stress or Pain in Horses

Gin teaching me about asking questions and staying calm to gather more information

If you follow my blog, you know that I get a bit excited about all things movement. How a body moves, what’s possible, is a topic that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Dance movies are always a favorite, watching the human body articulate in unimaginably graceful, creative ways. More recently Parkour grabbed my attention as the epitome of what the human body is designed to do just as part of our basic survival make up. This intense passion for observing movement translates to all animals, especially horses. When you are intensely interested in a topic and it becomes a strong focus for many years, you develop an eye and a feel for the subject that goes beyond what you might learn in books.

This kind of knowledge, that arises beyond ‘book learning’ can be challenging to describe in technical terms. Sometimes things just look awkward, off, or ‘wonky’, and my actual book learning hasn’t caught up with my intuitive eye. I can’t always name the anatomy or describe what I see in strict biomechanical terms. It’s more like connecting the dots. Or as my online course participants often hear me say, putting the puzzle pieces together. It’s a skill that comes in handy for observing subtle, ‘sub-clinical’ lameness. What I usually notice first, with my movement obsessed eye, is that this horse’s movement is not as easy and graceful as it should be. From there, it’s simply a matter of asking questions, palpating, and observing the patterns to uncover the source of the issue at hand.

All kinds of things might point to a physical weakness, an area of restriction or tightness, discomfort or pain, that the horse is carefully hiding. That’s what horses do. They are masters at not limping, for so many reasons that is another blog unto itself. What I learned to do in my line of work is look with soft eyes at the overall picture of movement, including how the horse relates to their handler. I ask a lot of questions because I’m often called in on cases that involve a behavior change, or an undesirable behavior such as kicking, biting, bucking, or evading being caught, to name a few of the most common reasons someone might reach out. In my experience, these behaviors rarely arise as a training issue.

Behaviors such as those described above tend to correlate with physical discomfort. Bucking under saddle, for example. Dig deep enough and a pattern begins to emerge. He only bucks when cantering. And only on the right lead. The horse that is lazy in the arena but he’s quite happy on the trail. When I see how these horses stand and move it becomes immediately apparent by the way they carry themselves, the way they stand, their muscle development, and how they walk, where the physical issues are that contribute to these behaviors. And yet, most of these horses are vetted as sound. How many horses do we read stories about these days that had serious behavior problems but never showed up clinically lame? And yet, on necropsy they are found to have myriad serious anatomical deviations that would have made it impossible for them to be comfortable under saddle. The number of times this happens is truly alarming.

What it says to me is that we are somehow missing the boat in recognizing other signs of physical discomfort than clinical lameness. Just because a horse isn’t overtly limping doesn’t mean they are physically well. Look for the canary in the coal mine, those early warning signs that something is amiss. That horse that bucks under saddle also becomes extremely anxious when asked to do certain things. Watch him walk calmly and there’s asymmetry in his movement in his hindquarters, he palpates sore over his sacroiliac area, and right-side low back is far tighter than the left. Pull on his tail and he stabilizes in response to a pull on the left and falls toward me when I pull on the right. These tidbits in combination with the bucking under saddle, only to right and only at the canter, clearly all point to something brewing in the right hind. Never mind that he’s clinically sound, he’s not limping, his behavior tells us he’s hurting, or perhaps feeling insecure due to a weakness or instability.

The horse that doesn’t like working in the arena is young and hasn’t been ridden much. It’s not uncommon for a green horse to be sticky in the arena and more forward out in the world. But watching him move under saddle something seems off. His hind end appears higher than the front, he’s more well developed in the front muscularly than in the rear. When I ask to see him untacked, he has a very long back with a weak connection between the low back and pelvis. Even at his young age there is evidence of a hunter’s bump. I can see him trying to protect his weak low back. No wonder he isn’t fond of working in deep arena footing and prefers the trail. The dragging hind toes and nipping at his handler when he is asked to circle left make me want to palpate that sacroiliac area, and check for gelding scar issues. There is clearly a weakness in the low back and hind quarters. But again, the horse vets sound.

We must learn to look to look for signs from our horses that they don’t feel great. Then we must learn to look deeper for an underlying cause. One of my metrics is that if I’m asking a horse to do something and they are struggling more than they should, or longer than they should, I’m suspicious of an underlying issue that is making the task too physically demanding right now. When I ask for a step of lateral movement from the ground and am met with flinging head and shoulder dropping into me, my first thought is to ask for the same movement on the other side. Executed flawlessly and without complaint, I can now bypass the thought that my horse is just being obstinate and instead explore what’s going on in his body that makes him feel restricted moving laterally to the right. It really isn’t rocket science and you don’t need to have a degree in anatomy or even understand biomechanics, just a keen sense of curiosity about observing movement and behavior. Little things, like how the hooves wear between trims, can be quite revealing of movement habits and compensation patterns that can be addressed before they become more serious issues.

I have a theory, in closing, that the reason so many horses with this kind of issue vet sound when their aberrant movement patterns stand out like sore thumbs to me has to do with how I go about assessing. The thing about sub-clinical lameness and horses being really good at hiding them, is that if the horse is stressed at all during examination, they release adrenaline into their system and that will mask pain or discomfort that isn’t causing them to limp. They show me where they hurt and where their weaknesses are because I ask them to, I keep them calm and work tactfully so that they feel safe showing me their weaknesses. Most often, things show up in the course of routine activities where the horse feels safe and comfortable expressing themselves. The good news is that if we can catch these sub-clinical issues early, and engage appropriate therapeutic interventions, we might circumvent more serious problems down the road.

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We recently made the decision to remove our community pages from Facebook so that we can provide our followers with a clean, easy to access platform, that is free of distraction and advertisements. We are so excited and hope you’ll join us there!

My Facebook presence will be phasing out and all of my horse related activities and posting will only be reliably available via my blog, or Tango with Horses Online. This allows me to focus all my efforts on one platform so that I can produce better content, and spend more time actively interacting with followers and course participants. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this move!

Land Matters 3: 7 New Trees!

Cutting twine and pulling plastic off these giant root balls. The blessed shade!

Both land and trees seemed to breath a sigh of relief as roots met earth. Ground that is starved for air and water and trees ready to let their roots take hold, free of containment at last! Watching the truck and trailer pull onto the property brimming over with trees made me feel like a kid in a candy store at Christmas! This is a dream that has been a long time coming.

Let the unloading commence!

Regeneration starts with trees to begin the process of shading some of the bare ground. It’s so hard for anything to grow when it’s fully exposed to the harsh sun here. These trees are strategically placed in and around the paddocks with the horses. Those are my largest areas of exposed ground. I remember reading somewhere a long while back that for the earth, exposed ground is like an open wound and something is always trying to grow there to cover that wound. Its why bare ground is prone to growing weeds. Anything to cover that exposed earth! Exposed earth loses its ability to absorb water too, so the trees help bring water into the ground.

Blessed shade!

I finally watched the film “Kiss the Ground” the other night. This happens to me all the time with horse related things, that science finally catches up with what I’ve always known from spending my life with horses. The same holds true for this film. I’ve always felt that we needed to be focusing on the soil if we wanted a healthy climate. When I lived in the mountains the soil was rich, loamy, and easy to grow things in. The hay, the animals raised on it, and vegetables grown in it were all healthy and vital. When I moved here, I got to see desertification in action. Heavily tilled and fertilized land that is totally dependent on irrigation and amendments to grow anything. I watch people move onto properties, cut down all the trees, and scrape all the ground flat, bare, devoid of plant life. It’s no longer soil, it’s dirt that washes away with a good rain and blows away in the wind. An erosion friendly heat sink where nothing can grow.

Removing plastic and burlap from around the very large root balls!

My strategy in planting in and around the paddocks is aimed at making good use of some of the water that accumulates there when it rains. Over the years, between the horses compacting the dirt, breaking it up when it’s dry so that it blows away when the winds kick up, the overall level of the paddocks is lowering as compared to the perimeter. This makes for some pretty impressive puddles when it does rain. I planted trees in the depressions the horses have already created so that the water will support the growth of the trees instead of just making a mucky mess for the horses to stand in! But also, these trees will provide some shade to this hot, dry area. Over time, and the incorporation of an under story, these areas will provide a much-needed wind break. And if my vision comes to pass as it rests in my mind’s eye, there will be plants the horses can nibble on through the fence that provide variety, medicinal herbs, and the like. A food forest for horses!

The largest of the trees is a Hawthorne

The trees arrived a week ago today. Giant root balls that I realized Zach and I could not handle on our own. The awesome delivery guys agreed to help me get the wire cages off the roots and place them in their holes. It took all morning for 3 strong guys to wrestle these beauties into each hole. Thankfully all the holes were big enough, though some just barely! Susan, Dad and I were just amazed by how much different it felt on the property to have them there. It changed everything, even before they were fully planted, and the photos really don’t do it justice! Dad came back in the afternoon and between him, Zach and myself we managed to get the 5 remaining trees planted and the fence to keep the horses away from them built. What a day!

One of the large Elm trees and shade!!!!

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of the place with these 7 new lives joining us. We all appreciate the bits of shade even the young trees provide. But there’s more to it, a sense of burgeoning life, what’s possible… The beginnings of something fantastic!

After trees…
Before trees…

On Thursday my vet was here to float teeth all day. When I caught up Huey and headed down there, he became increasingly nervous about what was coming. This is par for the course for Huey, he can get himself pretty wound up. I walked with him for a while as we waited for his turn. Finally, taking him into the paddock where we were doing the teeth floating, turning him away from the vet and the truck so he wouldn’t watch too much and get even more nervous. I let him take me where he wanted to go. He circled as though he would go back out the gate, but when he came parallel to two of the new trees, he stopped dead in his tracks. I could feel him connect to the trees and the trees connect to him. He sighed, lowered his head, and got very grounded. Before I knew it, he was yawning, licking and chewing, releasing all the stress he’d been building up. He was amazing for the vet after that. These trees are already part of the place.

My next step in restoration is to lay down composted manure and straw in the large areas between and around the trees. I’ll plant a fall/winter cover crop full of plants that fix nitrogen in the dirt, some that have large tap roots to punch holes in the compacted clay to let in air and water, plants that will turn this dirt into fertile soil to plant the next layer of trees, shrubs and grasses in next year. The botanist has been back to take a detailed catalogue of the plants that are already growing here. The utilities survey has been done so we know where we can dig in future. Research is being done on the patterns of prevailing winds, temperatures and annual rain fall. Soil samples have been taken. I’m doing homework to fill Val in on things like microclimates I’ve observed where it’s generally cooler, or warmer, or windier. Slowly, the vision for restoration is coming alive in my mind.

And meanwhile, words just can’t describe how much the property is changed already, just with the addition of these trees!

A nest in the Hawthorne speaks of things to come..

Land Matters 2

Our amazing Ash tree a few days ago. Happy fall!

We are all connected.

Although it might be convenient to think that humans are nothing but a blight on nature, and that nature and the earth are better off if we just keep our meddling fingers out of it, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. Like it or not, we are part of nature. We are part of the intricate web of life and have an active role to play.

A few years ago, I decided to study herbalism. We were encouraged to look around in our own backyard to discover what might be growing there. I remember feeling disappointed, in that moment, that I didn’t live in some mountain paradise where I could harvest wild food and medicine with no effort whatsoever. Then I actually started to LOOK, really look, at what was growing in my backyard. Turns out there was a great deal to be learned from what DID grow in my desert yard.

What struck me, and still does, is the number of plants we call weeds, some even considered invasive, that were at one time harvested as food, medicine, or fodder for domestic animals. Plants that are no longer strictly needed since we’ve replaced them with pharmaceuticals, and food that’s more convenient than what we might harvest around us. Tansy Mustard, by common name, covers the bare driveway and parking area on the south side of the property each spring. These plants are important for covering the bare ground, protecting it from erosion and sheltering it from the baking sun. It seems like an invasive until you realize that Native cultures used to harvest the seeds for food. When you see the seeds, you realize what an undertaking this was, being they are the size of pinheads. You’d need a LOT of them to make a meal, hence controlling the population.

Plants work with humans, if we pay attention. Narrow Leaf Plantain is another abundant plant in my pasture. Truly, I was blown away by the diversity present there when I got to really looking! Broad and Narrow Leaf Plantain used to be called ‘white man’s foot print’ as it followed the settlers across the country. It’s not invasive, sharing space readily with other plants, and it’s incredibly useful for all manner of things from stomach ailments to wound dressings! It’s no accident, in my opinion, that it followed the settlers, providing aid as needed on their journey. Another fun fact, oftentimes, plants that remedy the sting of poison ivy, for example, grow near those stinging plants! It wasn’t uncommon for settlements to have a plant start growing that was medicine for what was ailing the community.

Let’s talk about the horses… They are part of the environment here too. They have an impact, but are also impacted. I’m starting to wonder why I’ve always had such an issue with finding the right supplement program for the horses here. And I have to supplement! As I continue to research, I wonder if some of the issues they develop as they age aren’t due to toxic overloads of some kind. I’ll be working with a daily detox program to see what we can do. But on a larger scale, I cannot wait to get the land healthy and see how that effects the horses!!! It’s so exciting. We are all barometers for the health of the land around us.

All of this is on my mind as I enter the next phase of my land restoration project! It’s going to be a challenge attempting to re-create what was taken away by those who cared for this land before me. Humans are part of nature, but we don’t always remember that and act accordingly. Looking around me, I see evidence everywhere of the human desire to bend nature to their will, taming it, making it easy and convenient to manage. The result is a significant disruption in the natural balance that makes the environment work for all the beings we share it with.

This is life here now, the winds whipping up the dust from the unprotected paddocks. The hay I fed blowing away unless I can find some small sheltered spot to tuck it into. I had to clean the dirt and grit out of my ears and felt it grinding in my teeth.

A few days ago, a botanist came to do a survey of the plants growing currently growing here. There were even more new things than last time I was out wandering. The bees and butterflies were having a field day! Today I received a workbook to fill out and soil samples were taken. It will be a huge endeavor over 5-10 years and then ongoing. There are no quick fixes. This is a labor of love and a long-term project. It demands some lifestyle changes on my part, and embracing my role as a steward in this environment. We’ve been trimming trees that have volunteered here and there along the fence lines, selectively pruning so that the trees that one tree has the best chance of growing strong and healthy, rather than growing into a crowded mass that cannot thrive.

There is a ton of detailed homework to do in the workbook. I’m excited to get started down the road into permaculture!

The next phase is planting canopy trees in the paddock areas. These large expanses of bare ground are a heat sink, baking in the sun and increasing the overall temperature both here and on the planet. Look around sometime, all the bare ground, or ground covered in concrete with no trees to shade it create heat sinks and places where when it rains, the rain has no opportunity to soak into the ground. Canopy trees in the paddocks will provide shelter from the intense sun for both the horses and the earth. The tall trees are the first layer, eventually adding under story plants that provide windbreaks and soak up some of the rain that turns the paddocks into lakes. The vision is unfolding, starting with the taller trees, later to add shrubs and forage that the horses can reach through the fence and nibble on. A medicinal food forest for the horses! The shelter these areas create will allow for areas protected from the wind where soft bedding can be laid down for the horses to rest on, vastly improving the quality of their time spent in dry lot, while at the same time, improving the health of the land.

Holes are dug in the paddocks. It took a backhoe to break through and dig into this heavily compacted clay. There is no topsoil in sight. I’m taking advantage of depressions the horses have already created, places where the rain water will tend to flow to water these trees.

Once the trees are planted, I’ll layer in composted manure and wood chips from the trees that we had trimmed a few weeks ago in the areas around and between the new trees. Those areas will be seeded with soil building plants that fix nitrogen and punch holes in the stubbornly hard packed clay soil. Creating soil that will be able to hold water when it rains. Soil that will be held down by plants so that it doesn’t blow away in the wind. It’s just the beginning, but the vision is coming clear.

This will become a fenced off strip of forest between the paddocks. In another area I moved the fencing and the gate to make the low area by that gate that is always a puddle a planting area.

I laugh every day as I walk around discovering small areas of habitat we accidentally made by making conscious choices about when to do something and when to do nothing. The large pile of trimmed tree branches from the last few years that it’s been too dangerously dry to burn is now shelter to a family of quail. This evening I walked through the wild wash by the creek where we’ve done nothing and listened to all the small birds that call the area home peeping softly. It’s a wonderful world out there. We each of us has the power to do something remarkable for the environment just by being good stewards in our own backyard. Every day I am increasingly aware of the downstream consequences of my actions, how my choices impact the rest of life on this planet.

How are you connected to your environment, how is your environment connected to you?

Today the first trees arrive. It will be a busy day of planting and mulching and fencing! I’ll share the results next week.

Land Matters

Last year when I had some abundance in my little garden. This year the only thing that survived was the rose bush and that just barely.

This land that we live on has been our home for fifteen years. It’s the longest we’ve stayed in one place since before leaving home for college! When we first came here we didn’t expect to stay forever. But putting down roots, it turns out, feels pretty good. Now that the intention to stay for the long haul is clear, I find myself nesting.

Growing up in the mountains, the land was vibrant and healthy. The horses always thrived on pasture supplemented as needed by the gorgeous hay that land produced. There was rarely a need for additional with supplementation. Moving to this high desert was a bit of a rude awakening. This land has been intensively farmed for many generations. The pasture soil and grasses ripped each year to create corrugates so that the water will cover this artificially flattened landscape. Planted with annual, non-native grasses completely dependent on irrigation to survive. Mono-culture crops kept weed free and protected from pests with chemical assistance. The soil has no chance to be healthy under these circumstances. It needs chemical fertilizer to keep that grass growing.

The soil on this 9+ acres of land consists of the clay and sand under layer. There is not an ounce of topsoil left. When the wind blows it carries dirt in a massive cloud from my paddock areas to the neighbors, maybe even neighboring counties! And boy, does the wind blow! It scours everything in it’s path, rendering any thoughts I have of a garden moot. Even if the plants could survive the ravages of the wind, the sun baking down on all the bare ground that is everywhere but the irrigated pastures, finishes them off. I used to think I had a green thumb until I moved here!

The following slideshow serves as a record of where we begin. This is our blank canvas…

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I started trying in earnest a few years ago to rebuild my soil and get a garden going. A few years of moderate success followed by this year, where absolutely nothing happened. All that soil I worked so hard to build just dried up and became lifeless dust, so much like everything else around the house. It’s discouraging to say the least. Never mind how hard it is to keep the horses healthy and sound on land that is less than vibrant.

When we moved here, we stopped corrugating the pastures. We stopped spraying pesticides and herbicides, dragging the horse manure in to fertilize. Those first years we were overrun by insects! There were very few birds. Why would there be when there were no bugs to eat! Soon the birds came back, then the beneficial insects, hot on their heels. The pasture started growing weeds. It was a bit frightening at first, when all the pests start showing up in force! But then you realize, it’s a symptom of the imbalance here. The extremes are normal until things right themselves, and if you pay attention, you realize, nature finds a way.

Clover overtakes the small norther pasture, fixing nitrogen in the soil. Invasive weed! But no, it only stays as long as it’s needed for the soil to gain back its nitrogen content, now diminishing to be replaced by grass. Dock sends down deep tap roots that crack that hard packed soil and allow air and water to penetrate. This year the dandelions went haywire out in the pasture, great for the bees, and more of those deep tap roots to make that soil healthier! My pasture is full of diversity. All kinds of plants that attract insects, pollinators, and provide a variety of nutrients for the horses. Even though from the outside, looking in it might appear to be nothing but weeds!

Without the yearly leveling and furrowing, the land is reverting back to the topography that existed before being artificially flattened. The irrigation water stubbornly flowing where it wants to go, leaving some areas high and dry. At first, those dry areas became bare and sun baked. Now, slowly, things are starting to grow. I read somewhere that any bare land is like a wound on the earth and she will do whatever is necessary to cover that wound. The land is meant to be covered with growing things for so many reasons.

A few years ago I purchased The Garden Awakening, by Mary Reynolds. This was a revelation! She described perfectly what was taking place on my property, a re-wilding of sorts. This, she claims, is the answer for so much of what ails our planet. Her advice, look around your environment, where the land is still wild, and notice what grows, where it grows, and how it grows. What I observed is that in the desert things grow in the shallow spots and low valleys. If I can un-flatten my land there will be better opportunities to catch the water, whether that be from irrigation or rain fall.

This sent me on a mission to understand how to make use of rain, what little we get each year! It was this research that led me to this Ted Talk: Planting Rain to Grow Abundance in which Ted Lancaster talked about living in Tucson, Arizona where a river used to run through the city, until it dried up due to city water use. He takes a trip to Africa where he meets a man who is growing forests of food in the middle of the desert. Mind blown he vows he’s leaving Tucson because he doesn’t want to be part of the water problem there anymore. The old man in Africa admonishes him that what he needs to do is go home to Tucson and become part of the solution. If he leaves his home, he’ll just become part of the problem somewhere else! Ted went home and became part of the solution. Thanks to him, Tucson is implementing innovative ideas to trap the rain water and re-green the city.

What I learned from Ted’s Ted Talk is that this thing we do about flattening everything causes the water we get in the form of rain to run off instead of soaking in. It’s this frantic flow of water that causes flooding and accumulation of water where we might not want it. But most importantly, it’s not soaking into the ground to replenish aquifers and ground water. So how do you get that water to go where you want it? Ted dug basins and planted in the basins. The rain water could be directed to flow into the basins, watering the trees. Not only does this decrease flooding, and accumulation of water where you don’t want it, it grows green trees that provide shelter, shade, habitat, oxygen, and more – without having to use potable water or irrigation to keep them going. It’s pure genius!

I see this scenario play out here every time we get moisture. The water races south into the paddocks where it accumulates, creating ponds that turn to deep muck that the horses have to wade around in for days or weeks. Carefully watching the patterns of water flow over the last few years I began developing a plan for where I could put basins and plant trees and undergrowth to take up that water, provide shade, shelter, wind breaks for human and horse alike. A few weeks ago I went on a search for help, realizing that this environment is so unforgiving that I need to get expert input to ensure I don’t just put a lot of money into buying plants I swiftly kill. Lord knows I’ve done enough of that in the last few years!

As luck would have it, we have a landscape designer here that specializes in permaculture, homesteading and the development of food forests. The idea is that you mimic a forest environment because forests are pretty self sustaining. The plants work together to support each other and the soil health. They attract insects, animals and birds that help them thrive. Provide shade to the soil so that it can hold water. Allow nutrients to build and top soil to be restored (because it’s sheltered from that darned wind!).

I’ve purchased my first round of trees. These will be trees that provide the upper canopy. Shade trees. They’ll be planted in and around the paddocks where the horses live, providing islands of shade and wind break, and ultimately herbs and plants that provide alternative forage sources for them. They’ll be planted in basins strategically placed to collect the water when it rains so that there won’t be such an accumulation of mud and muck. In the long run there will be enough wind break to be able to add sand and mulch to the paddocks so the horses have soft places to lay down and rest, something I know will be a welcome change from the hard packed clay we have everywhere now!

In 5 years time, if all goes to plan, I’ll have a food forest that feeds my human and animal family. Healthy soil, healthy land, and healthy animals. There are so many inspiring stories out there from people who are reclaiming the land from intensive agriculture practices. THIS is what will save our planet. Each of us, in our own back yards, reclaiming the land so that it can function as nature intended. I’ll be sharing this journey here all along the way. Stay tuned for basin formation and tree planting in just over a week!

You may wonder what this has to do with Integrative Horsemanship or Tango with Horses…

Everything. With no healthy, productive land to live on, we can’t feed ourselves and our animals food that genuinely nourishes us. Integrative Horsemanship includes stewardship of the land as much as the animals.

If you’d like a bit more inspiration on this front:

One Thousand Beating Hearts: The story of a cattle rancher who finds another way and revitalizes not only his land, but his entire community.

Wilding: The story of 3500 acres of farm land in UK that is re-wilded and now more productive and profitable than ever.

5500 acres reclaimed in TX

If you’d like to learn more about Integrative Horsemanship or Tango with Horses, I teach online classes with my colleague Diane Barrett. Our next short course starts today (October 5th, 2020) if you’d like to join us there are still a few spots left!

Module 1: Awakening your Intuition Superpower! – October 5 – November 2, 2020 – this course is for anyone who would like to develop what we consider fundamental life skills for navigating life with grace and ease. You’ll learn the foundation skills for accessing embodied intuition.

You can also join our growing community on Facebook: The Tango with Horses Community

Or check out the other online offerings at the Tango with Horses Online Classroom.

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

This course has truly awakened my senses. I always felt that there was more to life and the energy forces around us, and this course helps you tap into those senses, understand them and gain clarity. Previous to this course I would question my feelings or what I thought my gut or horses were telling me, but knew it wasn’t my imagination as I could see it in their reactions or actions. Books and other methods I bought to try to gain clarity were too confusing or written for those that had more knowledge to begin with. This class teaches you in easy to follow content with wonderful audio, written and video that help you from the beginning so you can explore, understand and define your own process. It taught me the tools and how to use them to gain intuition awakening in a way that lets you relax into the process at your speed and ability. My horse and husband certainly appear thankful I am taking these classes and our relationships and conversations are so much deeper. It has equally helped me in my everyday life when feelings of stress or anxiety creep up. I will certainly be continuing these courses into the future as I believe we are all part of something bigger and better, but most of us just don’t know how to get there.
Bravo Andrea & Diane! And thank you ever so much for sharing your gifts and this wonderful start to a new journey.
Holly M.

Lessons from Elderly Horses

I have a soft spot for elderly horses. Of course, as horses enter old age their bodies tend to succumb to the stresses and strains of the lives they led. All that accumulated stress takes its toll. It’s not uncommon to find ourselves in the midst of a knotted, sticky web of layered musculoskeletal and internal challenges. Let’s not forget that horses are masters at masking pain and carrying on. Problems get masked by the supplements we feed, treatments administered, and the horse’s will to keep going. Start peeling away the layers and it can be a bit like remodeling an old home! You just never know what you’re going to uncover!

Sox was a fabulous thirty-year-old gelding that boarded with me some years back. He was a big, stocky guy that spent his younger days as a dude horse, carrying tourists into the scenic Colorado high country. The woman that paid for his care with us had ridden him every summer for many years. She had a soft spot for her trusty mountain steed, and when he was to be retired from the dude string, she purchased him, vowing to give him the best retirement money could buy! His cushy retirement plan included a weekly one-and-a-half-hour massage.

His massage therapist arrived like clockwork each week. She tied him in a corner because he usually wouldn’t stand still for his massage. The looks he gave me as I walked by doing chores were hard to bear. He hated every minute of his weekly ministrations. He was always sore after, and it might take him the better part of a week to recover before he began to move normally again. Just in time for his next massage. No one wanted to hear my opinion on this, and they certainly didn’t listen to Sox. They were, after all, doing the right thing for him. After a few months of this weekly routine, Sox lost the use of his right hind leg. He would drag it and walk in circles all the time. Finally, I was able to put a stop to his weekly treatments in hopes things would settle out and he’d be okay again.

This experience with Sox is what prompted me to go into training for equine massage therapy, and ultimately to learn The Equine Touch. Sox improved a small amount when the massages ended, but never got back to where he was before. One day, I decided to try an Equine Touch treatment on him – the basic body balance. He stood up straight and walked off just fine for the first time in a long time! I have such gratitude to Sox for showing me how important it is to listen to the elderly horses we seek to help. They know what works for their body and what does not. They develop compensation patterns, scar tissue, and facial restrictions that help to stabilize old injuries. I believe what happened to Sox when he was getting those long massages is that the therapist inadvertently worked loose a knot of scar tissue that was stabilizing an old pelvic injury. With the best of intentions his quality of life was made worse instead of better. Thankfully we found a solution for him and he lived out the rest of his life quite happily! Sans the long massages!

My personal herd is made up almost entirely of horses that are well over 20 years old now. They all have their physical issues and the guys that are over 28 are mostly retired. I say mostly, because they have taught me the importance of what I now call ‘old horse calisthenics’! Bodywork has a tendency to create a level of relaxation that doesn’t always serve an old horse. I learned to always incorporate some kind of therapeutic movement into any session. Bodywork became movement based so that they are releasing excess tension, and getting some relief from compensation patterns, but not relaxing so much that they are at greater risk of injury from stumbling or falling down.

The old horses also taught me that there needs to be a certain amount of functional strength in their body for them to ‘hold’ an adjustment, or really benefit from bodywork. I’m not talking about riding, or lunging, or doing anything particularly strenuous. 10-15 minutes of intentional work at the walk can do wonders. Really, anything that supports them to keep their deep core musculature awake and doing its job. Anything that keeps the small proprioceptive muscles firing to help them with coordination and balance control. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we don’t have enough knowledge or experience to do this kind of meaningful movement with our aging horses. But the truth is that it isn’t anything particularly fancy or technical. And it hardly takes any time at all. 10-15 minutes a few times a week to unravel those knotty, sticky, layered problems and help those old timers find some genuine comfort and ease in their bodies! They’ll guide you to what works for them if you listen…

If you’d like to learn more, my colleague, Diane Barrett and I are teaching a series of online workshops designed to awaken your senses and embody your innate intuitive abilities. Our next course begins October 5th, 2020 and registration is open! Class orientation opens on Thursday October 1, and registration closes on Saturday October 3rd! This is the last run of this course until spring of 2021.

Module 1: Awakening your Intuition Superpower! – October 5 – November 2, 2020 – this course is for anyone who would like to develop what we consider fundamental life skills for navigating life with grace and ease. You’ll learn the foundation skills for accessing embodied intuition.

You can also join our growing community on Facebook: The Tango with Horses Community

Or check out the other online offerings at the Tango with Horses Online Classroom.

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

This course has truly awakened my senses. I always felt that there was more to life and the energy forces around us, and this course helps you tap into those senses, understand them and gain clarity. Previous to this course I would question my feelings or what I thought my gut or horses were telling me, but knew it wasn’t my imagination as I could see it in their reactions or actions. Books and other methods I bought to try to gain clarity were too confusing or written for those that had more knowledge to begin with. This class teaches you in easy to follow content with wonderful audio, written and video that help you from the beginning so you can explore, understand and define your own process. It taught me the tools and how to use them to gain intuition awakening in a way that lets you relax into the process at your speed and ability. My horse and husband certainly appear thankful I am taking these classes and our relationships and conversations are so much deeper. It has equally helped me in my everyday life when feelings of stress or anxiety creep up. I will certainly be continuing these courses into the future as I believe we are all part of something bigger and better, but most of us just don’t know how to get there.
Bravo Andrea & Diane! And thank you ever so much for sharing your gifts and this wonderful start to a new journey.
Holly M.
Portland, OR

What is Embodiment to you?

Recently I took a deep dive into the concept of embodiment. Embodiment is defined as a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling. Every movement, thought, gesture, emotion, is written in our body in visible form. The body never lies, as dancer, choreographer Martha Graham says, ‘the body never lies’. Getting to know my own version of embodiment is endlessly fascinating. My history is etched into how I carry myself, the patterns of movement that are available to me with ease, and those that remain elusive. Unraveling the mystery of the frozen left shoulder leads to the revelation of how often I use my neck to help me lift, and brings home the damage caused by too many hours hunched over a computer, or back in high school, trying desperately to turtle up and remain invisible.

Embodiment is not easy. It means becoming aware of all the aches and pains and being willing to live with them in a way that opens the door to some real change. Recognizing that the chronic headaches and frozen shoulder aren’t going to resolve until I shift the habitual patterns of posture. That hunched over posture that goes beyond the mechanics of hunching over a computer, to childhood survival strategies the body is loath to let go. Unraveling life long patterns that are locked into tissue, and tangled with emotions, is painful. Painful on a physical level as stuck tissue and joints re-hydrate and begin to move, but also painful emotionally as the feelings that were stuffed resurface when the tension unwinds.

There is no question in my mind that my own physical patterns were heading me in a direction that would make my embodied options for self-expression increasingly limited. The desire to have physical freedom to explore my world, physical autonomy to retain my self-sufficiency as I get older, and most importantly, to connect with my horses and others with clarity, confidence and ease. I spend a lot of time working on these body patterns on my own. Finding ways to move, to build functional strength and become increasingly flexible. Embodied flexibility extends to mental, emotional agility as I learn to listen deeply to the needs of my body, mind and emotions on a moment to moment basis. How creative can I be? How does my body want to move? How do I coordinate complex sequences of movement?

Tom Weksler, of Movement Archery, talks about this time practicing alone as working in the ‘theoretical ground’. This is where we get to explore our own movement potential, our own embodiment, with limitless creativity. But life is not lived, nor experienced in isolation. It is relatively easy to find ways to move and express myself when I’m alone with only my own mind, body, emotions and my relationship to gravity to contend with. Mr. Weksler is a dancer, he says when he dances with his partner, that is ‘reality’. Taking my embodied self out to interact with my horses or move and connect with others is indeed reality! Now I have to take my moving, living, breathing, expressive, creative, emotive self and bring it into relationship with another living, breathing, expressive, creative, emotive being that may or may not harmonize with me!

A hallmark of genuine embodiment, in my admittedly limited experience, is that it helps me cultivate greater capacity to remain fully present in each moment. Present moment awareness, and feeling comfortable in my own skin, capable of moving well and adapting to my environment, fosters empathy. When I am in relationship with my horses, or other humans, my capacity to see, recognize, and relate to how they feel is vastly improved when I am fully in the moment, fully in my body. The better my relationship with my own movement capacity, the easier it is for me to adapt to those I choose to connect and partner with, whether horse or human.

Humans have a unique ability to mimic other animals. When we do, we develop a felt sense of what it might be like to be that animal or that person, or that plant, or that tree. This is another aspect of embodiment that wakes up empathy for others, and helps us navigate that space of reality, so we can find common ground with those we come into relationship with. As I continue down this embodiment rabbit hole it opens up the whole world of what’s possible, what I am capable of, how much each one of us can make change for the better in our own lives, but also for those around us, maybe even the planet…

How does this idea of embodiment show up in your world? I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to learn more, my colleague, Diane Barrett and I are teaching a series of online workshops designed to awaken your senses and embody your innate intuitive abilities. Our next course begins October 5th, 2020 and registration is open!

Module 1: Awakening your Intuition Superpower! – October 5 – November 2, 2020 – this course is for anyone who would like to develop what we consider fundamental life skills for navigating life with grace and ease. You’ll learn the foundation skills for accessing embodied intuition.

You can also join our growing community on Facebook: The Tango with Horses Community

Or check out the other online offerings at the Tango with Horses Online Classroom.

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

This course has truly awakened my senses. I always felt that there was more to life and the energy forces around us, and this course helps you tap into those senses, understand them and gain clarity. Previous to this course I would question my feelings or what I thought my gut or horses were telling me, but knew it wasn’t my imagination as I could see it in their reactions or actions. Books and other methods I bought to try to gain clarity were too confusing or written for those that had more knowledge to begin with. This class teaches you in easy to follow content with wonderful audio, written and video that help you from the beginning so you can explore, understand and define your own process. It taught me the tools and how to use them to gain intuition awakening in a way that lets you relax into the process at your speed and ability. My horse and husband certainly appear thankful I am taking these classes and our relationships and conversations are so much deeper. It has equally helped me in my everyday life when feelings of stress or anxiety creep up. I will certainly be continuing these courses into the future as I believe we are all part of something bigger and better, but most of us just don’t know how to get there.
Bravo Andrea & Diane! And thank you ever so much for sharing your gifts and this wonderful start to a new journey.
Holly M.
Portland, OR