When Everyone Tells You You’re Wrong

Each horse as individual meme

Do you trust yourself enough to stand up for your horse?

Outwardly, he seemed just fine. Most of what he did under saddle was pretty minor and easy to write off as a training issue to be solved rather than a sign of impending lameness…

There is nothing quite so frustrating as knowing something isn’t right with your horse but not being able to find the source of the problem. Even worse is knowing something is wrong, asking for professional advice and being told it’s all in your head, your horse is fine, just ride him. Believe me, I know, I’ve been there.

Horses excel at communication, capable of letting us know when something is bothering them in even a small way. Assuming, of course, we create an environment where they feel free to express themselves. Absent such an environment, horses tend to bottle things up, feigning wellness that effectively masks subtly brewing issues. This pattern shows up in every horse I have taken on over the years.

Deep down I knew this sensitive gelding’s behavior under saddle was his way of trying to tell me something was off…

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t trust my own instincts enough to follow through on my hunches. I didn’t trust my own training ability enough to believe that maybe this behavior he engaged in under saddle wasn’t due to my own ineptitude. This was the first time I’d ever had a horse come to me fully trained, ‘sound’, ‘bomb proof’, and ready for me to just ride and enjoy. Every horse I ever had prior to this was a rehab project of some kind. Having a young, sound, uncomplicated horse to ride felt like a dream.

Except he wasn’t so uncomplicated. He, like most horses, came with baggage from his past that began to surface over time. The more he felt safe and comfortable with me the more he started to show me that things weren’t right with him. He never led well and he seemed to hate any kind of ground work. That should have been a clue, but he was so good under saddle that I made up a story about how he just preferred being ridden to doing ground work.

He never once objected to being saddled. He walked right up to the mounting block, stood quietly while I got on. But ask him to go right in a circle and he got all bound up, bending tightly around my right leg and crab walking. I might as well have asked him to fly to the moon, he made the movement so much harder than what I wanted…

There was no visible lameness. So I started riding him with various clinicians and instructors that I trusted. Once again looking outside myself and my horse for answers. Because surely someone else would be able to explain what I was feeling and help me understand how to support him through the odd things he did.

During one of those lessons I could feel him balling up beneath me, I could feel his stress building like a ticking time bomb ready to explode. We just happened to be working on cantering to the right. The clinician at the time joked about it, wondering what I was worried about. Much later, I got to watch a video clip my Dad had taken – he happened to catch that moment when I felt I was riding a time bomb. Outwardly that horse did not change at all. He did not change his pace, or his posture, or anything. No wonder my instructor thought I was nuts.

This was a huge lesson for me. It would have been easier to buy into the idea that it was all in my head. But it wasn’t. I was the one sitting on his back. I was the one who had a relationship with this horse. He was absolutely communicating with me about how he felt. But he did it politely, instead of dumping me and running off in a panic. The only outward sign of his internal anxiety was a high-pitched whinny he threw out there. It was easy enough to write that off as him calling to the horse that was being led over for his lesson. But is was also a reflection of his internal stress levels – which I could feel because I was sitting on his back. I am grateful I felt comfortable enough with this instructor to pull the plug when I felt it wasn’t right for my horse to keep pushing the issue.

I finally trusted my own sensing over what anyone else was telling me…

As I said before, the lameness was ‘sub-clinical’, in that there were no obvious outward signs of something wrong, just the strange behaviors when I’d ask for certain things, that almost always included going right. I worked for a Veterinarian long enough to know that when it’s this subtle it can be difficult to diagnose a specific problem. Nothing was found until he finally went lame enough on his right front that it was obvious. His behaviors weren’t training issues. He was doing his very best to tell me that he had a problem brewing.

It’s been a long road to recovery. Once a horse learns to work through discomfort or pain, there are mental and emotional scars that go along with that. If you’ve been reading my stories about Sundance and his healing journey (Opening the Door to Healing), you know that it can be complicated to find soundness beyond masking symptoms to keep a horse in work. A horse needs incentive to really heal. They must have a voice and a sense of choice.

Bottom line, trust your instincts. Trust your horse and the relationship you have with them. If you feel something is wrong keep digging until you get to the bottom of it. My horse is on the path to recovery from his lameness. I hope to one day have the experience of us riding together in mutual enjoyment. He gets to decide when and if that happens, and this time he has his voice and opinions intact!

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Quality Time

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Aero and Gin on pasture this morning

Spending some quality time with Gin and Aero is an improvisational dance at its finest. Gin is 30 this spring, and Aero 32, if memory serves. Hard to believe. They really don’t look their respective ages. They live together, so spending time with one of them means spending time with both of them as they weave and bob around each other to insert themselves into the grooming zone. There are two humans and two horses today and still they bob between us, seeking the right hands, and the right grooming tool, for whatever they decide they need in the moment!

Both insistent, yet polite about it. We just laugh and accommodate their needs as best we can. It’s been a few weeks since they got this kind of focused attention. They have a lot to say when we ask them how we can help them feel better today. Gin just loves grooming and wants every inch rubbed and polished. Aero, tall and lanky, gets tight all over and he clearly wants some help with that. But first things first, coconut oil on all the itchy spots! They have taught me well, that just scratching the itchy spots is not enough, they appreciate it when I do something that actually alleviates the itching! After all, I can’t just hang around and scratch them all day…

Grooming complete we halter both horses. Gin marches off to our sandy work area when the halter comes out. Aero, of course wants to follow, so I dutifully tag along on the end of the lead line. He can sure stride out for an old man and it’s not easy to keep pace with him. That makes me smile. Soon Gin is haltered and Karin leads her around by way of warm up and assessment. Aero tags along, and so do I – it reminds me of the Pied Piper!

It’s almost as if the horses are self-assessing as they walk. Both in the zone with us, understanding our intended purpose. Aero peels off first, stopping near the fence and waiting for me to listen. Soon after, Gin and Karin are in a similar listening mode some feet off. It’s a quiet place of observation. Aero had already shown me that his neck was stiff, is that where he wants me to begin? Fully present, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, I’m drawn to a particular tight spot on his neck. My hand is pulled like a magnet to the ‘right’ spot, knowing what to do without any conscious thought. Aero confirms by closing his eyes, wrapping his neck around my hand, leaning into the stretch, and sighing with relief.

He’s even more keen on opening up the right side of his neck as I find myself pondering the practical application of my recent shoulder stability training while using my entire body to brace myself so that he can fold his body around this point on his neck, and just lean into this deep stretch. This is nothing he and I have done before. Nothing I learned in a book or from a mentor. This is Aero and I working together, he leads and I follow. If I land in the wrong spot, or don’t have it quite right, he lets me know, shifting and fidgeting until I find the sweet spot once again.

Working with care from his neck back, gently mobilizing all those tight places. Sometimes he wants me to go deep, leaning in to the pressure along his ribcage, muscles twitching in that hurts so good kind of way. Aero is a task master when it comes to bodywork. If you don’t listen, he snaps his teeth and cow kicks in irritation. He taught me well all those years ago and it feels good to know that in the 20 years he’s lived with me I’ve learned how to be his personal bodyworker without any teeth or feet flying my way! I’ll never forget when I was studying The Equine Touch, and Jock left me to practice my Level 2 moves on Aero. His last words as he sauntered off to help the level 1 students: ‘good luck!’ Aero appreciates being listened to, and will not tolerate anything less.

Sometimes we hold ourselves back by thinking we don’t have the knowledge to help our horses feel better. That fear of doing something wrong can be paralyzing. But don’t underestimate how much you can do by just showing up in a listening frame of mind. Ask your horses how you can help them feel better, wait and listen. Chances are good they’ll tell you exactly what you can do. If you aren’t sure, try something. If you’re wrong, they’ll kindly let you know, and give you some hints about how to refine. Our horses are our best guides once we learn to listen!

It doesn’t take a lot, and the blissed out looks on Aero and Gin’s faces warmed my heart for the rest of the day!

To learn more about this intuitive way of working with horses:

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Walking through the open door

Atlas hand position

Doing some bodywork last year

Sundance: Part 2

Healing is rarely linear. As I watch Sundance change daily, the thing that makes me the most happy is seeing him standing with pride. He used to always stand with his head and neck low. He seemed like a fairly small horse. Yesterday, he stood with his head and neck arched and seemed a full foot taller somehow. He has pride in himself again and I couldn’t be happier. He’s not sound yet. We have a ways to go, but he’s happy and game, and that’s worth it’s weight in gold. (If you missed part 1 of Sundance’s story, you can read that here: Opening the Door to Healing)

After I spoke with Sundance through Diane, I started him on the homeopathic remedy that came through. By later that day I could already see signs of things shifting in him. He was standing with more pride. His back seemed longer, and on palpation, no longer carried the tension that’s been ever present for over a year. After a few doses he got suddenly much worse, so I decided to do my own checking in to see if I could discern if he wanted some intervention, if I needed to keep dosing, or stop dosing the homeopathic remedy. I had the Equioxx at hand and was ready to give him something as I watched him hobble painfully toward pasture.

Settling myself, the first thing I hear from him is:

“Thank you.”

And then:

“Oh yes”.

He is very into the idea of helping me teach people so that no one does to other horses what was done to him.

He says:

“I’ll tell you the whole story if it helps.”

He’s really easy to connect to.

Again, he says:

“Thank you. I feel hopeful for the first time that I can remember. There has been so much emotional turmoil I didn’t know there was anything else possible. This is my life. It is what it is. I’m just going to break down and die and be done with it. I couldn’t imagine a way forward that I would want to participate in, and you showed me what’s possible. What I can contribute. I have a sense of purpose, mission. And now I want to be here and teach and love my life and my body. And you. I can make a contribution. My life can mean something.”

“What I’ve been through can mean something.”

On a visceral level I resonate with him and it feels like he’s vibrating with enthusiasm. He’s really excited and filled with happiness. Keen is a word that comes to mind.

He confirms:

“Yes!” – he IS feeling keen.

What always amazes me when I finally get to the bottom of things on an emotional level with a horse, and get the right homeopathic remedy, is that I don’t have to do anything physically to ‘fix’ them, or work them, or do bodywork. Just sit back and wait for the remedy to do its work. Wait for the horse who’s now clear of the trauma pieces to do their own healing. The body is so very capable of restoration – all we have to do is open the door and stand back. Don’t get in the way or meddle.

Sundance says:

“Humans like to meddle. To try to fix everything to make themselves feel better, or to make things easier for themselves. What is right for someone who is in the midst of a crisis isn’t always pretty or easy to watch – as you have noted. But it is my path and mine to travel as I see fit.”

I can feel his stubbornness as he makes this statement. The stubbornness I’ve gotten to know very well over the last 6 years or so since he arrived. He is very much his own ‘person’ and refuses to be forced. There is such strength and nobility. He owns his space and he owns his own mind.

I let him know that I have always appreciated that about him.

There is what I can only describe as a felt sense of mutual appreciation between us. Mutual respect and gratitude.

Then he is ready to show me what’s going on in his body that he’d like support with…

Some years back I embarked on the study of BioDynamic Craniosacral therapy. During a practice session before lunch one day, I was stuck with my hands on a person who just kept diving deeper instead of coming to a place of completion. At one point it occurred to me to remove my hands, but stay seated near her head, simply holding space for her. That did the trick as she soon started to settle out so we could finish up the session and join our classmates for lunch.

What surprised me is that she would have sworn my hands were still on her head, and I was still sensing and feeling all the things happening in her body as though my hands were still on her. It was one of those moments that got me thinking. What if you could do this work hands off? Like an animal communication session but with bodywork included? So, I contacted my friends with horses, who I knew would be open minded about this idea (some 15 years ago), and asked if they would let me experiment by doing sessions with them, and sessions with their horses. Their feedback helped me validate that something was indeed happening, and learn to interpret, or translate the multi-sensory information I received.

As I settle in and ask Sundance to show me the priority today:

I feel a wave of fear. It settles into my throat, chest and upper belly. It was intense in my belly but then settled in my throat (I have learned over many years to associate this fear with fear of losing one’s voice – a common occurrence for horses in the human world). An enormous amount of stress and tension is held between his shoulder blades, and through the upper part of his neck. It’s as though he’s been holding himself there for a long time.

So, I ask what’s causing this pattern and would you like to unravel it. His body says yes, he’s ready to unravel it.

What’s causing this = fear (I feel it in my belly)

Together we track the feeling of fear as it shows up in his body. There is a sense of realizing ‘that’s all in the past’ – “my body is holding onto things that are no longer true for me. Protecting me from threats that no longer exist.”

The physical sensation intensifies to the area where the withers meet the neck (upper back into the neck, all the way to the poll). The tension is like the withers are in a vice, extending, or radiating out from there. As we sit with the sensation, it shifts and focuses more around the poll and head. Pressure in his whole head. So, I ask what’s the source of this and is he ready to let it go or shift toward health.

I can feel the pattern start to shift immediately, and the next homeopathic remedy comes to mind.

This feels like residual trauma from the accident where he pulled back when tied. As I acknowledge that, I feel another wave of fear move through. He wants me to remind people to never tie horses with things that will not break. He really hurt himself badly because the rope halter did not give. The tie rail did not give. Nothing gave. He felt trapped and like he was going to die. He went down in such a way that he was hanging by his head in an awkward, twisted way. He struggled mightily to free himself and was in such a dead panic he seriously injured his pelvis and back. They had to cut him free and it took a while for him to get up.

He’s never been in so much pain. Or such despair. He was a proud and vibrant horse with so much potential and these people had no way to appreciate him. They lacked the skill to handle him in all his glory and so they worked to squash his personality enough that they could, and not be quite so afraid of him. For him it was humiliating and degrading, to live as he did. He shows me standing alone in a dry lot feeling weak and losing all his vibrancy. He just gave up.

And the people he was with finally gave up on him too.

As he shares his story, things start to settle and let go in his head. I no longer feel the vice grip. There is still a sense of stuckness on the right side, in the area of his temple. Frontal bones, orbit, temporals – headachy feeling. All of these old patterns begin to shift.

Now everything starts to settle in his whole body. His entire topline relaxing. His neck letting go. Any remaining tension is focused in the area of the poll where the halter would have hit him the hardest when he pulled back. There is still some fear there. He shows me a twisted pattern to the right. Locked down in his right jaw, into right shoulder and front leg. A lot of reorganizing ensues. It happens so rapidly I can’t track it. An unwinding of the pattern of trauma held in his body and all wrapped up with his emotions.

As things unravel, I start to feel the zinging stress that is in his pelvis but he’s saying enough for one day.

When I went out to see him later, he was moving quite a lot better. No need for the Equioxx, so back in the pocket it went. It is a deep honor to share this process with a horse, and to see them restored to their vibrant self rather than simply managing symptoms so they can get by. Sundance isn’t ready to share photos and videos just yet, but I am taking them to record the various stages of this process. More to come!

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Opening the Door to Healing

Sundance: Part 1

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Sundance a few years ago when things were going well. This is the vision for future.

Recently I embarked on a mission to get to the bottom of Sundance’s on again off again lameness that has recently become more on than off, and gotten worse. In the last year or two he developed ringbone in both front feet on top of what he already had going on in his hind quarters. He has been a bit of a train wreck, with no interest in working with me to see if I could help him feel better. Last week I finally decided to call on my friend and colleague, Diane Barrett. We had a fascinating session in which Sundance was able to explain that he just felt this was his lot in life. He’d go lame, breakdown so far that he had to be put down, and that was fine with him.

He’s not the first horse I’ve taken on that has felt this way about life. I never used to speak openly about how I do my rehab work with horses. I spent a lot of time trying to fit in with the traditionally minded horse training world. Maybe it’s because I’m over 50 and don’t care what anyone thinks anymore, but I’m no longer sweeping what I know to be true under the rug. My approach is anything but mainstream! And that comes in handy with a horse like Sunny.

I’m not one to just let it go so easily when a horse has this bleak outlook- So, we asked him:

‘What if it could be better?’

‘What if this isn’t just your lot in life?

What if you could feel better in your body and really enjoy this life?”

Curiosity peaked, he wondered what that would look like for him. You know, he’s wondering what he’s going to have to do for me in order for this to happen. If he gets sound, is he going back to what he had before that got him in this position to begin with? The question stopped me in my tracks. How should I know? So finally, I just said:

“I don’t know, because you, Sundance, have a say in what your future looks like, including what I do with you.”

Well, that stopped him dead in his tracks. It never dawned on him that he could have a say in what he did going forward. We talked about it, with Diane’s help. I shared that my goal for my herd here is that they ultimately help me teach people, so that fewer horses have to go through the things he’s been through.

He LOVES this idea! But there are details in understanding what that means as well. He wants to know if there is a way to do that without him needing to be handled by people who are still learning. Why yes! We can share his healing journey via blog, and in my online classes. He’s all in, and so here I am, sharing his story. It’s in this sharing of his story that he feels like his life, and what he’s been through, serves a greater purpose. Now he’s found a reason to live and to thrive. As long as he doesn’t have to be ridden to do that. Fair enough. I don’t need him to be a riding horse to help me teach! If we could shake hands on it, we would.

Now it’s important for me to keep my side of the bargain and honor our agreement. For now, we work on helping him heal, physically and emotionally. And I share what we learn together.

One thing I know from experience is that if a horse is not committed to their own healing, I’m spinning my wheels trying. Last year, with Mom sick, I didn’t take the time to delve into Sundance on a deeper level. I felt bad about that as I watched him get worse in his lameness. I found ways to simply manage his comfort levels with herbs and pharmaceuticals. But, ongoing management of pain is not my goal. That can only work for so long as the underlying conditions worsen until that kind of management is no longer effective. My goal is vibrant health that doesn’t require massive amounts of support to maintain. Now that Sunny is game I can’t wait to see how things unfold.

I know from experience as well, that how his healing journey unfolds from here is anyone’s guess. Once he’s free from the impact of past traumas he could find soundness again. Or, he could be ready to move on from this body at peace with himself. I’m open to all possibilities and recognize the healing in both outcomes.

The consultation with Diane came about because I was experimenting with using homeopathy to work with his symptoms, but had no luck with the usual remedies one thinks of for ringbone. One of the things I wanted to get out of the session with Diane was a way to zero in on the right remedy for him. A big key that came up was how well he’d been started by his first person. That person was skilled and appreciated Sundance’s power and intelligence. But then he was sold to some people who didn’t know that much, and just thought he was beautiful. They did not have the skill to appreciate his power. It scared them, so they basically fed him such poor feed he was too malnourished to have any energy to object.

This kind of squashing of his confidence, power and grace, was a great blow to him, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I have a lot to say on this subject in terms of how we train horses when we really should be focused more on training humans. A beautifully trained horse with their sense of power intact is not easy for an unskilled rider to handle. We do a great deal of harm to horses when we ask them to tone it down instead of asking their humans to step it up. But that’s a blog for another day!

Ultimately, Sundance had a bad wreck at the hitching rail. Diane and I both catch glimpses of what happened. What I do know is that he pulled back hard, and sat down just as hard. I get the impression that the halter, the rope, and the rail all held fast so he seriously injured his pelvis, neck and poll. After that he was quite lame and no one could pinpoint the exact source of the problem. It was assumed he fractured his hip. He was relinquished to a horse rescue in hopes they could help him. The rescue took him on knowing he would come straight to me.

So, there is this history of abuse in a way that was humiliating. And with that the remedy comes clear. It was not one I would have even thought to look at but once I began dosing there was a clear response in Sunny for the first time. Sometimes, when working with homeopathy things appear to get worse before they get better. And so it was with Sundance. It’s so hard to resist the temptation to do something about it when things look worse. But in waiting it out for a few days we have a better picture of what’s really going on, and he was still okay to eat and drink, go out to pasture with his buddies and so on. Not the end of the world.

It is a combination of things that create the space for the remedy to work. The communication session where he and I came to an understanding. The fact that he made a conscious choice to let himself finally heal. I know that opened the door. Then the right remedy started doing its work and the changes have been nothing short of miraculous – not just in terms of his soundness shifting, but in terms of his attitude. His entire body is changing. He’s still not sound. We have a way to go, but that door to healing is now wide open. He’s interested in engaging with me to see what I have to offer. There is no going back.

Next week I’ll share the message he gave me when I did my own checking in with him! Stay tuned.

If you’d like to learn more about my work, or continue to learn from the horses that teach along side me:

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Methodical

20200503_082334Hiking with your movement coach is always an adventure! And who knew that this hike would provide such a fabulous example of how I aspire to be when I work with my horses.

The rock face was probably only twelve feet high. Still, that’s double my height. Plenty far to fall. Zach scrambled up the fairly vertical face with ease, declaring from his vantage point above me that this was an easy one for me to practice my climbing skills. Doubt filled my mind as I made the easy scramble to the base of the small rock cliff. It didn’t seem that high, but it was the most vertical thing I’d ever climbed. I told Zach there was no way I could do it as fear filled my belly.

Zach is a master at patient persistence. Standing on the rock beside me, he said with confidence:

‘Sure you can, I’ll show you how’.

‘First, you’ll place your right foot here. Then, there’s this really great hand hold here. See how solid it is? Next, left hand here. Use your left arm to help pull you across, placing your left foot over here. Then come back down.’

From my perspective, even those four steps seemed daunting. Once that left foot landed in its spot, I’d be perched precariously on the rock face, relying soley on the friction of my shoes to keep me glued to there. But with Zach’s encouragement I decided to give it a go. First three steps were no problem, but that last step out on the ledge felt terrifying. I did it. And was never happier to be back on that flat rock next to Zach! I thought to myself, that was enough for today, I’m proud of myself for trying. I should know better. Zach has more faith in me than I do in myself. He has me practice those four steps until it’s easy.

I’m reminded how often I hear people talk about how Parkour kids, or rock climbers, or people who ride horses, are crazy. But the truth is that to do these things safely these athletes are incredibly methodical. Each foot placement and hand hold carefully planned and rehearsed, each precision jump practiced and tested, relationships and training finely tuned, until they are pretty sure they’ll be successful. No one wants to take unnecessary risks.

I felt really proud of myself for overcoming my fear and doing those first four steps. Great! Time to move on! Of course, Zach would have none of it, convinced still that I could make it to the top, he just as methodically showed me the next steps.

Right foot, right hand, left hand, left foot. Now, move left hand out and bring right foot to the next step up. Stand straight up on left leg, freeing the right foot to move to the next step, then come back down. The first time through I absolutely could not straighten my left leg. I didn’t trust my historically weaker left hip to support me. Once again, I came down a bit shaky and feeling I had reached my limit. But Zach is a good coach and kept cheering me on. So, I tried again until the first two segments were comfortable, rehearsed and confident.

More than once, during our time on that rock face, I was reminded of how much this is like training a horse. Just like dancing Tango, I am in the position of following someone else’s lead. But unlike Tango, on this rock face, insufficient training could get me seriously hurt. Zach is asking me to do something that really scares me. How often do we ask our horses to do something that is terrifying, or might even feel life threatening to them? Zach gave me such a brilliant experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of being taught to do something really scary in a way that made me able to face my fears and remain curious.

I could have walked away and said no, I’m done, any time. I had a choice. But somehow, he was able to keep me coming back to try again. He broke it down into small enough pieces that I could feel comfortable and confident to move on to the next step.

As I said before, that last part of the pitch was tricky. The hand holds at the top didn’t feel that great to me. I had to straighten that left leg and push with my left hand to help lift my body to get my right foot to its last position. It felt precarious. I stood up on that left leg, searching for solid hand holds and found nothing, all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe, I felt light headed. I so wanted to be able to hang onto something up there! I panicked and had to come back down.

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Zach, demonstrating how easy it is to get to the top.

Standing on the flat rock at the bottom with Zach once again, shaking from head to toe, I really felt like that was it. I was done for the day. But Zach was determined. He just knew I could do it. He invited me to catch my breath and try again. This time he stood below me to spot me. It took some time to muster the courage to give it a go. I had a million excuses. I didn’t trust my left hip, or my left shoulder. But I felt like I could try again because Zach was so confident in me. The next time I made it through all the steps, so high now that it was scarier to consider backing down than continuing up!

It wasn’t graceful, but it was effective, with one last bit of effort I pushed and pulled my way onto the top of the rock. Weak in the knees, breathing heavily and feeling a bit like throwing up I stood atop the cliff and took a few breaths. My adrenaline was so high I felt like I needed to run across the rocks to burn off some steam. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be successful!

Feeling quite proud of myself, I went and got a drink of water, ready to put my pack on and continue down the trail. But no… Zach had other ideas. Because I had so much fear going up the first time, he wants me to do it two more times. Do it until I’m comfortable. I can tell you it took a bit to work up the nerve to do a second run. But I did, again, with Zach’s confidence and encouragement. The second time was quite a bit easier and third time was a piece of cake. Because we were so methodical, I knew exactly where to put each hand and foot. Exactly what move to do next. Exactly how my body would respond.

As we finally walked away from the once daunting, now conquered, twelve-foot cliff, I felt such a sense of satisfaction. And again, thought about how similar this experience was to what I would hope to offer my horses. Breaking something scary down into tiny steps that feel manageable. Believing in them with so much enthusiasm that they just want to keep trying for me. I want my horses to feel the same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I did when I ask them to face their fears.

The effort sustained to reach our goals is always worth it! What a view!

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Pacing Myself: Life lessons from Gin

Gin and I in Carbondale

Gin and I back in the early days

Horses require a particular pace, a rhythm unique to each individual that can change daily, sometimes from moment to moment. It’s the pace that gives them a chance to show me how they feel. A pace that gives me time to respond appropriately to what they have to say. It’s all too easy to rush. So much to do, no time to waste, hurry up and get the task done. When I rush, I ‘talk over’ my horse, I don’t allow them to get a word in edge-wise. No one likes to be in conversation with someone that is engaged in a monologue.

I feel fortunate the horses that passed in and out of my life over the years insisted I learn to listen well. Gin is the best of the best when it comes to teaching humans pacing. She is so specific, so demanding, there is no room for error. When we were both younger, still trying to find our way together, I was the manager of a thirty stall dressage barn. My first job out of college, the beginning of my career as an equine professional. It was a tight ship, pressure cooker job that left me with the smallest windows to spend time with Gin.

Let me tell you how hard it is not to take it personally when your horse seems to want nothing to do with you!

Gin lived out in herd of mares on a large acreage a good distance from the barn. It was a bit of a trek to get there, adding to my sense of urgency to get her caught so we could do our training session before barn duties called. She always saw me coming and walked my direction to meet me half way. Moving her head up and down as she approached, scanning me from head to toe, assessing. As we got near enough to make contact she often walked in a circle around me, and more often than not, head right back out to pasture.

She was assessing me alright. And most days she decided, rightly, that I was in no frame of mind to be able to hear her. She could sense I was in a mood to talk over her, and she never did have the patience for being the victim of one of my monologues. I cannot tell you how many times I shouted at her retreating back side, frustrated and hurt that she didn’t want to spend time with me.

It took a long time for me to realize that Gin was absolutely right to walk away.

It didn’t take long for me to get stuck in a pattern where I went out there expecting her to walk away. That anticipation that things would go badly, again, put me in a negative frame of mind from the outset. I had less patience, if that was possible. I became increasingly outraged when she would prove me right, throwing the halter at her retreating back side, while shouting insults… Not my proudest moments. It never dawned on me that she was giving me accurate feedback about my state of mind, and my pace…

Speeding through life, rushing everything, that was me back then. She was not about to be some item near the bottom of my ‘to do’ list that I had to hurry up and get done. That is not how true partners treat one another. One day, I had to get her caught up and ready in time for a lesson. I have no doubt I went out there fully expecting her to walk away. Hosting a clinic in addition to my regular barn duties had me in more of a tail spin than normal. So, of course, she walked away. The familiar well of anger swelled, but this time it dissolved into tears of defeat, too tired to fight, I slumped to the ground, crying on the ditch bank.

As I sat there it began to dawn on me that Gin was so right about me. How often had I shown up in a hurry? How often was I ready to engage in an actual conversation with her? The sad truth – rarely. She never failed to meet me half way and happily be caught on the days I showed up calm and centered. But I never put two and two together back then, that it was about me, not her. As my awareness shifted, and I acknowledged she was simply giving me accurate feedback, I took a deep breath and sat up, wiping the tears from my eyes.

There was Gin. Standing not five feet from me, watching me intently. Scanning me as usual. I flat out apologized to her and told her she was so right, I was not worth being around when I was tired, stressed, and in a hurry. With that, she walked up to me and put her nose on the halter lying in a heap beside me. We had a great lesson that day, but the greatest lesson was the one Gin taught me about my state of mind, my state of being, and how to pace myself so as to hear her when she speaks.

Oh how I wish I had learned to listen sooner. On those days she walked away, how different my experience could have been had I just paused, felt my feet on the ground, and taken a few breaths. To hear her message about my stress levels and maybe just hang out in the pasture with her instead of needing to get something done. She did her best to help me find some inner peace, but I was moving too fast to hear.

If you are curious to learn more about conversing with horses the Tango with Horses way, come join the Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook or check out our online course offerings on Kajabi!

 

 

 

The Mystery of the Wounded Back

Rifle Ranch View

The old barn and corral system in the background, the scene of the ‘crime’.

Recently I’ve been reminded of how much I love the puzzle of figuring out how to help a horse through challenges. I rely heavily on the use of homeopathy, flower essences and animal communication to help work with the mental and emotional things that can trouble horses. Aero is the horse that started me down that path some twenty years ago when he arrived at the ranch for rehab…

The ranch perched on the side of a mountain. The barn and corrals designed to house and doctor cattle, consisted of an organized array of paddocks connected by a long alley that ended in one of those old-fashioned wooden chutes that would have loaded the cattle onto a semi-trailer. All of it on a rocky hillside.

My horses lived in a large, long pasture adjacent to the corral and run system. The newest additions, Aero and Jiminy, had come for rehab. Jiminy, a middle aged thoroughbred cross, retired eventer and all-around good guy, came as companion to Aero. Aero, in his early teens, was an off the track thoroughbred turned eventer, turned dressage prospect. All legs with a face that reminds me of a deer. Soft, kind eyes and sweet disposition.

I will never forget talking to his owner about him before he came. He had a reputation for being crazy and dangerous. His owner was told that if she shipped him out for me to work with, he’d likely kill me and she’d get sued by my surviving family!

That’s Jiminy on the left, hanging out with Steve, and Aero on the right. When they arrived and the transport door opened, it was Aero’s head hanging over the stall door looking so peaceful and sweet. Of course I assumed that must be Jiminy! When I was informed otherwise, I thought: WHAT?andrea-8463

His sweet face..THIS is the crazy, dangerous horse? I just didn’t see it in him at all. A story for another time, but needless to say, Aero was not crazy. His behavior issues were related to too much confinement, too much high energy feed, and an ill-fitting saddle that had his back so sore he nearly fell down upon palpation.

We planned Aero’s transition to my place carefully. He was a show horse from birth. Fancy mover, deemed too fancy for racing, he was quickly transitioned into training as an eventer. Consequently, he had never been socialized with other horses, protected and isolated to maintain his soundness and beauty for the show ring so he could fetch a high sales price. We elected to move him first to live on 40 acres with Jiminy so he could practice living with another horse and decompress from show horse life. By the time he came to me, he and Jiminy were well bonded and had been living together peaceably for a month.

They took up residence in the series of corrals and long alleyway so they could meet my herd safely over the high wooden rail fence. Introducing a new horse into a group is always interesting, but with Aero it was something else all-together! Jiminy integrated into the herd with no problem, but Aero… Aero just couldn’t quite get a handle on how to relate to the other horses. He would pin his ears at a horse, they would move to leave, and he would charge them, chasing after as they fled, teeth snapping. Each time I tried putting him with the herd he would lose control and go after someone, and I’d pull him and Jiminy back into the corrals.

Aero portrait rifle

His owner is a fabulous homeopath so we worked with homeopathic remedies to help with his behavior challenges with the other horses (he was sweet as could be with me). I was new to homeopathy, and it was a revelation. I would consult with Theresa, to understand why he was charging the other horses when they were already leaving. Then share with his owner what he was telling Theresa, which often did not mesh with what i was seeing. She would always find a remedy that fit that picture perfectly and we’d get remarkable shifts. Before we got things sorted, Aero was responsible for a great mystery!

One morning, I came down to feed. Aero was in one corral and Jiminy in another. That was strange. They were always together. As I started feeding, Aero went into the paddock with Jiminy, who made a bee line for the gate and marched into a separate paddock again. Aero would follow and Jiminy would separate himself again. If they were human friends I would have said that Jiminy was really mad at Aero and was doing his best to give him the cold shoulder, or the silent treatment. Aero trailing after looking for forgiveness.

Upon further investigation I found that Jiminy was sporting a very large cut across his back. It was located in a way that made it hard to understand how he would have sustained the injury. Maybe a tooth mark or a hoof? But it was one clean scrape with a deeper gouge at the end. No evidence of multiple teeth, and Aero was unshod. I could not explain how he got that kind of wound, but it was clear that, at least as far as Jiminy was concerned, Aero was in some way to blame.

I decided to contact Theresa to see if she could get to the bottom of it. Here is the conversation that ensued:

Aero, was baffled.

He knew Jiminy was mad at him but he had no idea why. He kept insisting that he was trying to protect Jiminy, and that Jiminy had overreacted. Jiminy, meanwhile, insisted he was upset with Aero because it was Aero’s fault that he had been injured. That Aero had ‘attacked’ him.

Jiminy said that he was hanging out over the fence with my herd when Aero came charging in and chased him. As he bolted out of the line of fire, he ran down the hill in the alleyway. It was a bit muddy, and there was a pile of rocks near the bottom of the hill. He slipped trying to avoid the rock pile and fell down. When he fell, his back hit the rail fence and was cut on one of the knots in the rail.

It was all Aero’s fault and he just wanted to stay away from him.

Aero said that he saw Jiminy standing over the fence with the herd and thought that Jiminy was in danger. He charged in to protect Jiminy from the others and had no intention of hurting him. He couldn’t understand why Jiminy ran away. They did ultimately forgive each other and I had to laugh because it felt like I was in the midst of a who done it mystery story!

This whole scenario ended up ultimately pointing us in a direction for a homeopathic remedy for Aero that really worked, so Jiminy did not get injured in vain.

Of course, I wanted to see if there was any truth to this tale and so I walked the alleyway in search for evidence of what Theresa described. Sure enough, there was the steeper hill in the alley, it was indeed slightly muddy. There were the skid marks where Jiminy tried to stop going down the hill. There, sitting tucked up close to the fence was the small pile of rocks I’d been picking out of the alley and piling off to the side. And just past the pile of rocks, the slide mark where he had fallen, the broken rail near the bottom with a knot covered in blood and horse hair.

This is one of my most favorite animal communication stories. If I had ever doubted Theresa was really connecting with my horses, I stopped doubting that day!

 

puddles

That’s Aero on the left, Gin in the middle and Romeo on the right. I always joke that I think Aero was a fish in a former life! He loves water SO much. They had a blast on this early spring day.

But really, it’s not the end of the story. Aero still needed to figure out how to be part of the herd. He finally came up with the idea that if I put him out with the herd, he would keep himself separate and just observe how they all got along for a while. When he felt comfortable that he understood the social dynamics, he would experiment with engaging. The next day I let him and Jiminy out with the herd again. Aero marched to a far corner of the turnout area and watched. For the next few days, he kept himself separate, hardly ate, and just watched. After a few days he started interacting with the herd in healthy ways, becoming a key member and fast friend to Romeo. He was always the guy I could count on to help new horses find their way into the group.

Aero ended up retiring with me when we determined that he really disliked being ridden. He’s been with me ever since and is coming into his thirty first summer this year. His friends Jiminy and Romeo passed some years ago. Now he and Gin live together separate from the main herd (by their choice) where they enjoy a quiet retirement from herd responsibility.

IMG_1408

Aero just a few summers ago at 29 years old. It’s been such a joy to have him in my life for all these years. He’s helped me teach so many people about bodywork and groundwork over the years. Even if a horse doesn’t want to be ridden, there is so much they have to offer!

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