Seeing Beyond the Obvious

Working with Apollo inspires me to keep reminding folks: horses are masters at finding ways to move that diminish pain while maintaining the appearance of soundness. Apollo is a classic example of this. He seems pretty sound. He’s playful and loves to interact with humans and horses.

And yet he is not sound. So what do you do if you have a horse that passes lameness exams but isn’t sound? How do you know if they won’t show you?

A horse can look gorgeous and healthy, be well cared for, and still be compensating for undiagnosed pain. Unfortunately, horses like Apollo often don’t show up as clinically lame. I can remember working for a large animal vet and being called in to look at so many horses where the person felt something was ‘off’ but couldn’t put their finger on it. Most of the time, nothing showed up on the lunge, or flexion tests. The standard recommendation: keep riding him until he goes lame and then we can diagnosis and treat.

So why are horses so good at looking sound even when they are not? 

It makes sense in the context of a predator rich environment that this might be a survival strategy. The weakest animal is the most vulnerable to predation, so hide that limp! In our domesticated world, horses may not be exposed to predators, but they are often expected to be obedient, and will work through pain because we ask them to, or because they don’t feel they have a choice. 

They will continue to compensate and work for us until something gives, or until they can no longer be obedient in the face of pain. In Apollo’s case, he did a great job of seeming fine until he was asked to canter to the right under saddle. Sometimes he would give subtle signs of anxiety, like increased respiration, but other times, he would just blow up and start bucking. This kind of behavior is rarely a training issue. I always advise people to keep looking until they find someone who CAN find the source of a horse’s pain. In the absence of a professional willing to dig deeper, you can always learn how to find the problem yourself…

That may seem daunting, but it’s not as hard as it sounds because your horse likely trusts you enough to show you in small ways that something is brewing beneath the surface. 

Their behavior is one of the first things to be impacted by physical stress, discomfort, or pain. These behaviors might be easy to dismiss as training issues, or rudeness to be corrected. Some of the behaviors that indicate discomfort are easy to misinterpret, like the horse that bit at his chest and acted like he was itchy, when in reality he hurt all over. Instead of biting at his human, he displaced his frustration and bit at himself. Horses are so kind…

Overt , dangerous behaviors:

  • bucking 
  • rearing 
  • laying down when saddled
  • pinned ears
  • swishing tails and snapping teeth

 are pretty big red flags. 

These behaviors tend to be a horse’s last resort when they can no longer work through the discomfort or stress. But there are less overt and dangerous behaviors that can also be early warning signs that something physical is brewing: 

  • refusal to pick up the right lead in canter
  • difficulty transitioning from one gait to another 
  • trouble standing still at the mounting block
  • refusals to turn in one direction or the other

to name just a few…

Every time I encounter a horse that is behaving ‘badly’, having trouble doing something that from a training perspective should be pretty straight forward, I ask the same question: Are you sure he/she is not in pain? The people that come to me are diligent. They care immensely about their horses. They have ticked all the boxes: Teeth have been checked, feet are well cared for, nutrition dialed in, tack meticulously fit. Usually, they have tried every solution available to them to no avail. Veterinarians and an array of alternative practitioners have weighed in to give the horse a clean bill of health. Such was certainly the case with Apollo!

These people show up on my doorstep because they still feel like something isn’t right. They know their horse is behaving ‘badly’, or struggling to perform what should be easy tasks, for a reason. They don’t want to ‘train’ through it, they want to know why their horse is struggling. Without fail, every time I encounter one of these horses, I find they are indeed in pain. And further, when I show their person what I see, they can see it too. 

Before Covid, when I still traveled to do clinics, I noticed an alarming trend. So many horses were struggling with unrecognized physical issues that caused anything from nagging discomfort, to balance issues, to pain so intense they were lashing out. I recall one clinic where I completely let go of my planned content to teach everyone how to evaluate their horses for pain and do simple bodywork to help them feel better. A partner in pain simply cannot dance.

So why is it that competent, well trained professionals are missing something that both the horse’s owner and myself can plainly see, feel, and work with?

I believe we can trace the reason back to that instinctive drive to appear sound as a survival strategy. Any training methods, any palpation techniques, bodywork, or methods of evaluating for lameness that involve obedience, or cause the horse stress could trigger the horse into survival mode, flooding the nervous system with adrenaline. Adrenaline, of course, masks pain… 

I believe the reason so many horses owners can sense something is up is because they are not triggering that adrenaline response and so are able to perceive subtle shifts away from normal. The horses are also more willing to let a conscious owner know what is going on because there is a bond of trust that isn’t always there with others that come in to evaluate.

From my perspective, the most humane and compassionate thing we can do, is assume a behavior problem is valid rather than naughty, lazy, or bad, and work our butts off to find the source of the horse’s problem. Then we can focus our efforts toward movement practices that support the weak area to promote comfort, and ultimately soundness. If you feel your horse has an issue, trust your gut and keep seeking answers until you find them. No one knows your horse better than you. And your horse likely doesn’t trust anyone else more than you!

Remember, horses are masters at not limping. A limping horse is predator bait. If a training method causes stress it’s releasing chemicals that help them mask pain. If the vet exam or body work causes pain in the course of diagnostics it’s releasing those same chemicals. Bottom line, if your horse is stressed it’s that much harder to pinpoint subtle sources of pain or discomfort. Your horse is far more likely to show you what’s bothering them than a total stranger because they know you are looking and they trust you. Don’t let them down. Keep seeking!

Thank you for being here and caring about horses with such passion and compassion! The herd appreciates your efforts.

Andrea

PS:

If you want to learn how to accurately asses your own horse and work to resolve subtle lameness before it becomes a bigger issue, never fear, I have a mini-series this month designed specifically for you! These courses combine practical, hands on skills and observation, with intuition, and animal communication.

Seeing Beyond the Obvious Series:

Part 1: Interpreting Movement and Behavior: April 23rd 9:30 – 11:30 am MDT

Part 2: Interpreting Your Horse’s Response to Touch: April 30 9:30 – 11: 30 am MDT

Keep an eye out here: Tango with Horses Online (click link), registration opens later today! Or, message me (click here) to find out if this series is a good fit for you, or to have me send you a registration link directly.

Land Matters 5

Learning about this land I call home..

One of the new elm trees budding

Phase one is complete. I have a notebook full of information about this land. All of the plants that currently grow here and all the plants the could potentially grow here. There is information on the soil, the winds, the precipitation, and more. But it’s spring, so my interest lies in the ground and what needs to happen to prepare ourselves for what looks to be another hot, dry summer.

Those big trees are step one. Get some canopy to shade the ground. Cooling the earth beneath our feet. Bare ground is a heat sink that the earth perceives as an open wound to be covered. Weeds, in their tenacity, are emergency first aid responders, covering the bare earth with a vegetative scab. Ground, it turns out, wants to be covered. The ground wants the shade and protection from sun just as much as I do. I see it so plainly. All the areas that bake in the sun the soil quickly turns to dirt with no life in it, that blows away in the wind and runs off in the rain.

The row of Elms and Red Buds between the paddocks will provide welcome relief for the horses and humans this summer. The ground in between covered with old hay to provide shade to the dirt while we work towards a cover crop to re-build the soil later this year.

Interestingly, my soil tests well. It’s a sandy, clay, loam. If memory from my forage and range management class back in college serves, this soil type has the potential to be fertile and rich. But right now, it’s lacking organic matter and it’s compacted, the nutrients in the soil may not necessarily be available to the plants I attempt to grow in it. I was advised to spread manure which I have in ample quantities, and rip the pasture. Ripping would require the purchase of a new implement and sent me doing some research.

There are so many opinions out there about how to regenerate the soil and pasture. The idea behind ripping, as I understand it, is to break through that layer of manually compacted clay, and part way through the layer below that is naturally compacted. I like the description I read that if the soil is sufficiently compacted it’s like the plants are in a pot instead of the earth. The water the soil naturally retains held beneath the layer of natural and man-made compaction, persistently unreachable by plant roots. This means we are dependent on frequent irrigation to keep the plants alive. The water put on the surface can’t penetrate to that layer where it could be stored, replenishing aquifers and keeping plants alive during times of less precipitation or lack of irrigation.

To effectively rip would require first learning how deep the layer of man-made compaction goes. The ripper is then set to cut through that layer and part way into the naturally compacted layer. If you don’t cut clear through you end up with dirt that is broken apart, prone to further compaction and erosion. Ripping effectively could mean 24 inches deep to break through these layers enough to be helpful. THAT, it turns out, requires a tractor far more powerful than the one I have and quite a lot more knowledge. Far less costly and risky, it turns out, to let plants do the job. Cover crops of deep rooted plants like daikon (or tiller) radishes work nicely with no risk of doing it wrong.

The truth is, if I go look at my pasture, nature is doing her work already. My main pasture where irrigation does hit was teaming with dandelions last year. Dandelions are one of those tiller plants that grow a long tap root that breaks through the compaction. The Earth knows what’s needed to heal if we just stay out of the way, selectively. There are weeds that are undesirable and take over in not so good ways – they don’t share the space and allow for bio-diversity. We can help keep those invaders at bay while allowing room for beneficial ‘weeds’.

I have a small patch of dandelion growing near one of the downspouts at the house. I nurture it carefully each spring so that I might partake of the nourishing benefits of dandelion leaf in my breakfast greens. They are the first green to grow here in the spring, perfect timing to add to my liver cleansing spring routine. This spring I noticed my patch is spreading, slowly infiltrating the white top and goose grass that drive me mad. Maybe the soil is finally becoming healthy enough to let go of those first aid responders and allow for more diversity? It’s the little things that get me going these days!

I can’t wait to see what can be done to restore the pasture on the south end of the property so that it isn’t so dependent on irrigation. There is a plan forming in my mind of how to do this without ripping, to make use of resources I already have: horse manure and old hay that wasn’t good to feed, the wood chips from trimming the elm trees last year… Covering the bare ground, that’s the immediate goal. Cover the bare ground with something. Give the earth some shade, allow the dirt to turn to soil that is fertile and able to pull moisture in. Protect that ground from erosion.

Step one, shade…

All this to say, if I pay attention, and listen to the land, she’ll tell me what to do. I have this urge to go sit outside on the ground and connect with this land. Fill her in on my plans, and see if she is in agreement.

I’ll leave you with my budding trees:

See you again next week!

Andrea

PS

Curious to learn more about connecting to the land and animals?

You might be interested in our growing online community (that is not on Facebook). It’s called Tango with Horses Online (click here to join). We share daily messages from the herd, informative and inspirational articles every Sunday morning, and live community chats with guests the last Friday of the month, free of charge. It’s a great, risk free way to dip your toes into our community and our way of relating to each other, our horses, and the planet.

On April 23rd at 9:30 am MDT join me for several hours live, as we discuss how to tactfully use touch to gather information about how your horse feels physically and emotionally. This is an introduction to hands on palpation, something I think every person with a horse should know how to do. So if you have ever been in a position where you wondered if your horse was in pain and wished they could tell you for sure, this is the class for you. Drop me a line here if you’re interested in joining us, cost $24.99 (free to Feather’s School of Magic Members): Link to Contact Andrea

Fully Committed Connection

This is me connecting with Gin’s shoulder blade very early in the development of Equine BioSomatic Movement as a form of movement based body work.

Yesterday, I was talking with one of our Feather’s School of Magic members about how to refine her technique when practicing BioSomatic Movement with her horse. It’s always an interesting challenge to watch a video and imagine: ‘what would it feel like if I did the movement that way?’ As I thought about her posture, leaning back and away from the horse, I grabbed Steve and emulated that posture to connect with his shoulder blade. How does it feel to do it this way? How does it feel to do it my way? How do I describe the difference to her so she’ll understand and be able to successfully implement the small changes? Then, it hit me, the quality of connection when doing this bodywork is just like the ‘embrace’ in Tango.

Our horses crave connection. Here’s a little something I wrote back in 2015 when I was still in the early stages of applying the things I learned dancing Argentine Tango to my equine interactions..

I’ve been thinking a lot about connection as I gear up for the second session of my online class. One of the reasons I latched onto Argentine Tango as a source of inspiration is that you can’t dance Tango well unless you fully commit to your partner. It’s a heart to heart, soul to soul kind of dance. Tango is the perfect metaphor for the kind of connection the horses told me they were seeking.

This pondering about connection hearkens me back to one of our very first Tango social dances.

I was still new to dancing, and danced mostly with Steve or our dance instructor. Dancing with other folks was alternately awkward, terrifying and exhilarating. One night a young woman asked me to dance with her. It’s not uncommon for women to lead in Tango, but it was new to me, and I felt awkward. Dancing with a leader who is smaller in stature and shorter than me completely changes the feel of the lead. Of course, it didn’t help that she was far more experienced, and extremely confident in herself! I felt a bit out of my element!

At a Tango social dance, when you agree to dance with someone, you dance 3 songs in a row together. Our first dance felt like a hot mess as I stumbled and tripped, missing her lead left and right. I felt guarded, like I was literally holding myself back, trying not to get too close to her intimidating presence. At the beginning of the second dance, we came into the ’embrace’ and she stopped, stepped back and said something to the effect of:

‘It feels as though you are leaning back, trying to drift away from me. In Tango you have to commit to your partner, you have to connect. It feels as though you’re worrying about making mistakes. The only mistake you can make in Tango is not being fully committed to your partner.’

That two second conversation rocked my world. I committed to the next two songs – to the best of my ability – and had one of those rare and exhilarating experiences of connection while dancing with another person (or horse) that keeps me coming back for more. It’s positively addictive, intoxicating. I feel alive in those moments in a way that is almost indescribable. In the Tango world, the die-hard aficionados refer to this experience as ‘the sickness’ – this desire that infects us to dance Tango, the one place where we can feel this way!

Recently, I became intensely aware of the various ways we humans tend to hold back and not fully commit to our connection with others. I notice that my horses open up and commit fully when I open up and commit fully. If I hold back, if I am hesitant, or unsure of myself, feeling conflicted about what I’m doing with them and so on – they are guarded and hold back in kind. Fully committing to the dance with my horse goes beyond being self-aware, or connected to myself, to encompass awareness of the other. Fully committed to the connection as we move together.

I am learning what it feels like when I fully commit to a connection – whether it be a hand shake, a hug, or a dance – and when I hold back and protect myself. It’s subtle stuff but it makes a powerful difference in how I am perceived and received. It seems to have something to do with giving and receiving in equal measure. I trust I’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, wondering if any of you have noticed where you hold back and where you give and receive freely? Have you noticed how your horses respond to you when you are guarded and when you are open? When you are focused on yourself, versus focused on yourself in connection with them?

I’d love to hear from you!

See you next week,

Andrea and the herd

PS. If you liked this topic of conversation and want more actively engaged connection with like minded horse folks, a good next step is to join us on Tango with Horses Online. It’s kind of like having our own little Facebook group, but it’s not on Facebook. Click here to join for free, it’s easy and we have a lot of fun!

And if you want to learn more about Equine BioSomatic Movement I’m thinking about doing a series of 1-2 hour workshops via Zoom introducing hands on palpation for the lay person. This would teach you how to identify areas of pain or restriction in your horse’s body. The introductory course will stand alone and cost $24.99. There will be a recording for those who can’t make the call time. Drop me a line here if that’s something you’d sign up for. It’s free to Feather’s School of Magic members by the way!

What About You?

No, really, what about you?

What do you most need today?

When was the last time you considered what you need before the needs of everyone else on the planet?

Does it make you uncomfortable to consider yourself first?

So many of the folks I work with do just about anything for the animals in their care. They go without so their horses have the best of everything. They work themselves into the ground to provide, spend every waking moment, and even moments that should be spent sleeping, doing whatever is necessary to nurse an ailing horse.

We get a bit obsessed with doing right by these animals we love. Our sense of responsibility drives us to keep learning, keep working on ourselves. Be the best we can be…

Lately, the subject of sustainability weighs heavy on my mind. My land is a great reflection of many decades of practices that are not sustainable. What will it take to restore that land? So many of the horses I care for are also excellent examples of unsustainable training practices that broke minds and bodies. What aspects of my own life are sustainable? What aspects are not? What does sustainable, no thriving, actually look like?

In my recent communications with the horses I work with, both here at home and in consultation with clients, the horses keep gently reminding me that they don’t want us to drive ourselves into the ground providing the best possible care, and making all the ‘right’ decisions, and trying to be perfect. They do not want to be put on a pedestal and worshiped. They just want me. They just want you…

They ask that we do our best to show up well rested, well fed, and reasonably focused on being present with them in each moment. Funny how those few things can seem like such a tall order. Why is it so hard to be well rested, well fed and present in the moment in this modern world? The amazing thing about the horses is that even if we can be none of those things, they ask us to show up anyway and just be with them. Let the deep ease they feel from all the great care we provide them seep into our bones and ease our own suffering for just a short while.

YOU are just as important to care for as anyone else in your life or on this planet.

I promise.

Do something indulgent just for yourself today, even on a Monday! I’d love to hear what you did for yourself..

Til next week, Andrea and the herd

PS.

My colleagues, Diane Barrett and Kim Walnes are interviewing me this Friday at 9:30 am MDT. I’ll share the origins of Tango with Horses, it’s evolution, and answer questions from listeners. There’s nothing I love more than talking with folks about horses! Come join us if it feels like a good fit. I’d love to see you there.

Link to RSVP via Tango with Horses Online: Live Chat with Andrea Friday March 26, 9:30 am MDT

The live chat is via Zoom meeting. The link takes you to Tango with Horses Online’s event page where you can RSVP and get the link to join the meeting. You will be asked to join our Mighty Network community. If you’d rather not do that, or if you have any challenges, please reach out to me privately here.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Finding Harmony in the Challenges

Change is never easy, a statement I make all too often. My belief in the inherent difficulty in change played out nicely in my herd last month as I none too patiently expected the newly integrated group to settle in and start getting along. Huey would have none of it, charging the new additions to his herd at every feeding, merciless. Sundance, meanwhile, in his small group, also became terrifically food aggressive. The anger, frustration and aggression seemed to spread like a virus through the various groups of horses, and it infected me too.

Having grown accustomed to my peaceful herd, this new intolerance they expressed frustrated me. I wanted them to get along, to help me out by not having so many horses living separate from one another. I gave them time, I tried intervening during feeding to let them know I was in charge of the food, not them. Really, looking back now, it’s laughable how frustrated and angry I got. And how little that did to make the situation better.

Finally, out of shear desperation, one morning I reached out to the herd and asked them what the heck was going on. This is when Sundance came forward to inform me that I always ask the wrong questions. When I very directly ‘asked’ Huey why he couldn’t let it go, I got this incredibly clear message from him that he wanted his old herd back. He wanted to live with Gin. When I put them back together the aggression ceased, we found the cure four our ‘virus’.

I spent a lot of time this month working with folks in the midst of quite difficult situations with their horses. We horse folks will do anything for our animals. We take our commitment to them so seriously. Sometimes to our own detriment. Gin came through one morning with a beautiful message for me when I was struggling with my own challenges.

She said:

“You humans are far too hard on yourselves. Look at all the time spent in angst. Worrying about things you cannot, and should not control. Find ways to harmonize, that’s what horses always seek. Harmony with each other, harmony within ourselves, harmony with our environment, and with those we share space and time with.”

But, Gin, I don’t see you all playing out harmony as we humans define it? Can you elaborate on that? I am, of course, thinking about Huey and Sundance and the food aggression situation only recently resolved..

“It’s all in how you choose to see it. Even when there is friction there can be harmony. This is what I mean when I talk about you humans being too hard on yourselves. Your tendency to judge an experience as good or bad instead of just an experience gets you into trouble.

Let’s use Huey charging other horses at feeding as an example. That could just be an experience. That happened. Isn’t that curious. I wonder what motivates his behavior? Maybe I could ask him? Instead, the tendency is to match his energy, get frustrated by his behavior, try to intervene and take charge, to control and stop the undesirable behavior….

You see, that takes us further and further from harmony. How long did it take you to figure out what Huey was expressing? How long did it take you to finally, simply, ask him what he needed, what he was lacking, that was causing friction for him?”

Of course, I see her point. How I chose to respond to the situation made it harder instead of easier. My belief, that change is always hard, caused me not to look for a path of ease. Gin helped me understand that at the heart of this belief that change is always hard is a fear of change. Understandable with the passing of Mom, Jean, and Aero – and so many others in the last five years. And so many to come….

Gin says:

“Yes! Change is one of those things you cannot, should not, control. To be in harmony with the inevitable is to be in harmony with the reality that life IS change. Everything changes. If it didn’t there would be no movement, no progress, stagnation. It would be quite boring. You know this Andrea. Life is all about learning to be resilient enough that you can adapt efficiently and effectively to life’s changes.

Sometimes these changes happen so fast it makes your head spin, but only if you resist. Only if you get stuck in the moments of friction and stop seeing all the options available to you in all situations. There are always options, paths to take. Some paths create more friction, some less, some stagnation, some harmony, others send you forward on your path in leaps and bounds. The trick is to not get so disappointed and downhearted when you chose an option for action that creates more friction. Simply recognize what happens in each moment and know that from moment to moment to moment you can pause, take a step back, and try another option.

The more efficient you become at recognizing when you make choices that create more friction, simply pause in that moment, re-assess and try another path, the better you’ll be at finding harmony.”

Thank you SO much Gin. I realize I was getting quite stuck in the fear. Thank you for your help.

“All you have to do is ask. We are here for you always, and in all ways. Even after we leave our bodies. So, things change, but they don’t change. We are connected for life time after life time.”

P.S.

If you’d like to hear more messages from the herd and join a community of awesome folks, come join us at Tango with Horses Online

I’m also joining forces with Kim Walnes and Diane Barrett to teach a mini workshop on Friday March 19th at 9:30 am MDT. We’ll be sharing a few useful practices to help you embody the qualities a horse looks for in a protective leader. Registration is open, click here.

See you next week!

Andrea and the herd

The Handsome Young Man

This morning Feather shows up in my mind’s eye as a handsome (human) young man. He senses my surprise and confusion, “is this really Feather?” The handsome young man sitting across from me in my vision smiles and his eyes come alight with amusement. He knows exactly what I want to ask him about this morning…

He knows I want to ask him why being touched by humans is so difficult for him to accept.

Still smiling broadly, he tells me that he is showing me the image of a handsome young man on purpose as I think about touching him, because he wants me, and all humans, to consider touching them as no different than touching another human being. Would I ask this handsome young man I sit face to face with, that I am just getting to know, to let me touch him? Would I even expect that it would be acceptable for me to touch him anywhere other than perhaps a hand shake at this early stage?

Feather says that touch is the ultimate intimacy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but wouldn’t it be considered uncouth for me to want to touch this young man all over his body? Imagine holding the expectation that you should be allowed to touch his entire body whether he likes it or not? “This would be considered assault in the human world and yet it’s just expected that we horses submit without objection.”

I thank Feather for this visceral and clear explanation and he says, “now I have a questions for you”, still sitting across from me in the form of a handsome young man..

“Why do you want to touch my body? Is there a reason I should allow that?”

His question gave me pause and I replied: “It’s so funny, because now that you ask me in such a direct way, I can’t find an adequate answer. I want to say it’s because we need to be able to trim your feet, and brush your hair, and have your teeth done, and give you shots, and doctor your wounds when you have them. You must become accustomed to us touching you so that we can properly care for your needs as a domesticated horse. But truly that all sounds weird to enforce you allowing physical contact in the name of taking good care of you.”

So now I find myself really thinking about why it’s important for you to allow us to touch you.

The why of it…

I mean, all of those things are true, but also there’s a piece of larger safety involved in having you comfortable with human contact and restraint. If there’s an emergency where we must leave the property to survive then it’s useful if all of you are willing to follow us into a trailer and go to a temporary new home together, for example.

But all of these things seem to me to be related to getting to know one another, to take it back to your way of showing me the handsome young man, so that we mutually feel comfortable enough to engage in that kind of intimacy?”

Feather sits back, looking quite satisfied: “YES!….. Now you’re getting it. You humans come at touching us as though it’s a right, not a privilege. You force us to accept things in the name of building trust and partnership. There is not force in partnership. Horses are looking for safety and harmony. If you can provide both of those things, we are all in. Then you earn our trust enough that we graciously allow you to touch us, in much the same way you allow us to come closer to you when you feel safe and protected. We protect one another in a herd.”

It is amazing to have such clarity about how he feels but I have one more question I want to ask him:

 “Thank you for all of this Feather, it’s just invaluable, can I ask you about one more thing?”

“Of course,” he says, appearing now as Feather in horse form once more.

I ask him: “When I approach touching your face, for example, it feels electric. Is this your innate sensitivity?”

“You know the answer to this one. You’ve felt it.”

“When you reach out to touch me, I feel your energy. Sometimes your energy feels electric to me. It’s not anything you’re doing wrong, it’s just me getting used to your smell, your energy, your emotions, being in such close proximity. You know from the work you do how much you resonate with and pick up on the emotions and sensations of others? It’s no different for me. I just have to get used to your particular energy, emotions, and sensations so that they don’t feel so electric to my body.

You have come along much more quickly in getting to know my responses and learning not to react to my energy harshly. I am doing better, but I have an extremely refined and sensitive nervous system that carries a history of expecting rough handling. My body system reaction is still not within my control in the way yours is. I so applaud the work you are doing to help yourself be free of your history!”

“Thank you Feather, for helping me understand you and your reactions a little bit better.”

In my mind’s eye he bobs his head in acknowledgement as he turns and walks away. It’s time for breakfast!

I’m thoroughly enjoying my morning meditations with the horses the last few months. I look forward to sharing more of what they have to say here and in our community at Tango with Horses Online.

It’s good to be back to Monday morning blogging after a much needed pause!

See you soon!

Andrea

You Always Ask the Wrong Questions!

I woke up yesterday morning to Sundance in my head saying: ‘you are asking the wrong questions again’. Needless to say, he had my attention. I ask questions all the time. They show up in the form of pondering things related to a particular horse’s health challenges, or what I want to plant this year. The answers always come, in one way or another, so I was curious what Sunny meant? Lately I’ve been asking, why isn’t my little herd settling in together after nearly a month with their new arrangement? I had one horse go home and so shifted the horses around so there is one larger group now. They just aren’t getting along, no matter how much time they spend together…

Huey is the prime instigator and seems rather angry, jealous, or both? I think it’s because I’ve been working homeopathically with him and maybe he’s venting some pent-up anger. But if that were the case it should have dissipated by now, so what’s up? Time goes by and I start to think it’s just a habit he’s developed now and perhaps I need to intervene. Intervention in the form of setting some boundaries at feeding time seems to help but only for a few days and then he’s back at it, targeting his new roommates with flat eared charges.

Sundance has been coaching me as I explore new ways of helping him unravel his history as it relates to his current physical challenges. In the process he never fails to let me know when I ask the wrong question or extrapolate what he shares to create my own version of events. It turns out that creating space for another being to feel truly heard isn’t always easy. I want to wade in and fix things, make them better. But if I attempt to do that, I can very easily muddy the waters and make the ultimate journey towards a solution more complicated or choppy than it needs to be. Whether I do that by adding another supplement, or remedy, or making up a story that suits my theory.

Bottom line, the horses keep reminding me that they are responsible for themselves and I am responsible for myself. We collaborate to assist one another as needed, but it is collaboration, not intervention. Sigh. This is obviously a challenge for me! I can feel Sunny smiling – my wise Sensei in learning the fine art of listening, and asking the right questions, of course. Questions that help him stay in his body and find a way out of the patterns of thinking and behavior that have shaped his body into one that is twisted and lame. All I can do though is ask the right questions, act as witness, and listen well. He has to find his own way out – with me at his side rather than trying to do it for him.

When I woke up yesterday morning hearing Sundance say ‘you’re asking the wrong questions again’ – okay, really, it was more like – ‘you ALWAYS ask the wrong questions!’ <insert exasperated sigh> Now, he doesn’t really mean that I never ask the right questions. Horses, I find are very specific and there is a lot of meaning in this statement. What he means is that when there is something going on that I ponder, I am asking a question. When I start pondering why the little herd that includes Huey isn’t settling in and why is Huey so angry? They are giving me the answer if only I would wait and listen instead of spinning in my head trying to find my own answers.

Sunny’s statement is specific to this line of inquiry about Huey and his herd, rather than a criticism of me in general. And he’s right. Because in a flash, on the heels of his statement that I’m asking the wrong questions (is it the homeopathy impacting Huey? Is it a bad habit he’s developed? Is he jealous?) what they were trying to tell me all this time is that they wanted to be in with Gin! Clear as day I saw how much Huey and Peppy see themselves as Gin’s protectors. They do not like that she is in with Sunny and Jack. They want to be with her.

Once I see this, it’s such a face palm moment. I decided to wait and make the swap at lunch feeding, but promised that I would. Well, I fed lunch and was doing other chores when Huey started in again in a more exaggerated fashion, flat eared charging left and right. Okay! I hear you! I carefully relocated horses one at a time so there was no drama. When Peppy and Huey got together with Gin it was as though all was right with the world at last! The energy on the whole property just dropped and everyone felt immediately settled.

Developing our capacity to feel and sense, to stay grounded and keep seeking, to learn what it takes to be in collaboration with our horses and other beings, that’s what we’ll be talking about this Friday the 26th of February with guest speaker Chandler Stevens of EcoSomatics and Movement as Metaphor. If you’d like a sneak peek, check out this video, and whenever Chandler talks about being in relationship to people, think about how what he’s saying might relate to being in relationship/partnership with our horses?

The call on the 26th is free, but space is limited for the live event so please jump over to Tango with Horses Online to claim your spot!

PS: It’s good to be back creating blogs again! I have a lot to share, but it was nice to take the pressure off around creating new posts every week. The last two months I’ve been focused on creating Tango with Horses Online – it’s a free community that is not on Facebook. We’d love to have you join us!

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:

Tango with Horses Online

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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