Land Matters 3: 7 New Trees!

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

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

Let the unloading commence!

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

Blessed shade!

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

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

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

The largest of the trees is a Hawthorne

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

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

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

After trees…
Before trees…

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

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

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

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

Land Matters 2

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

We are all connected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5500 acres reclaimed in TX

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

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

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

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

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

Lessons from Elderly Horses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

What is Embodiment to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

Pausing

This was a sweet moment with Feather a few weeks back. He rested his lips on my back, with a little weight behind it and some warm breath. He lingered there and sighed. It felt deeply nurturing. A meaningful, healing pause…

I dove down a rabbit hole the last month. Swimming in a sea of unintegrated ideas that are not ready to take form just yet. Instead of pushing through and forcing some words to find their way to the page I decided to share my pause moment with all of you dear readers instead, an act of self-care. I’ll be back next week with more words!

Meanwhile, a lot going on behind the scenes as new online classes launch in the coming weeks!

My co-facilitator in these online offerings is Diane Barrett, intuitive reader and animal communicator for over 30 years, she brings a much needed skill set to our courses. If you’d like to ‘meet’ Diane and hear more about what we’re up to, you can see the recording of our Facebook live chat on staying grounded in your relationships during these times at The Tango with Horses Tribe page!

Next Online Class Offering:

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

The Awakened Intuition Graduate School (aka Feather’s School of Magic) – opens today for anyone who has completed Modules 1 and 2! This is where we take our awakened intuition into more advanced skills: animal communication, intuitive body work, working with trauma in ourselves and others. The sky is the limit in where we can go together!

To see all of our offerings, check out the online store:

The Tango with Horses Online

The Role of Play in Well-being

Have you ever thought about the role of play in your life, and in the life of your horse?

It used to be assumed that both human and non-human animals play with one another to practice skills they need to survive later in life. More recent research shows that whether an animal plays when it’s young has no real impact on their success as a hunter later in life, for example. What we do know about play is that animals that are deprived of play on an ongoing basis become increasingly dysfunctional in their ability to regulate their emotions and interact with others. Rough housing and engaging in complex physical movement helps both human and non-human animals learn to regulate their emotions, feel greater empathy, communicate effectively, and learn sensitivity in how we touch.

Our culture does not take play seriously and we are deeply afraid to confront the reality of our heritage as predators and warriors. This has led to us becoming so overly sensitive, and so touch illiterate that we interpret almost all touch as either violent or sexual. So the normal high spirited physical play that all young animals engage in is repressed and redirected into video games and passive TV watching.

Rafe Kelly of Evolve, Move, Play

Our culture does not only suppress rough housing play in ourselves, we do it to our horses too. Huey, pictured above, was not allowed to play with other horses and certainly not allowed to physically express himself during training sessions. He was severely punished for any ‘acting out’ or ‘rude’ behavior until he was effectively shut down. It took years for him to come out of his shell enough that he was willing to get playful with me at liberty. Before that he would hold himself together until his pent up stress levels caused him to panic and pull away. In the early days, he’d run through fences, or jump over them to get away. He lost all sense of self preservation and would hurt himself if necessary to escape.

What happens when we repress our horse’s play drive?

A few days ago I was exploring movement with a retired show jumper who spent most of his life in stalls. He had become quite dangerous to handle and work with. When he came to me, I found a completely shut down horse. He was perfectly sweet to be around but you put a halter or bridle on and his eyes went dead. I suggested he be allowed to retire here. He’s spent the last several years learning to live with other horses (he’s really terrible at it!), and now that he’s coming out of his shell he is bursting at the seams with energy that he does not know how to channel.

We started playing with him at liberty, encouraging him to move his energy. He is hugely expressive and it’s a joy to watch him move! He has no idea how to engage in a dialogue with a human though, so I put a halter and line on to see if I could help him understand, and clarify a pattern we could explore together. I wanted him to try coming toward me and then changing direction rather than turning into the rail. Right away his movement shifted to being tense and hesitant. He stopped frequently, looking to me for guidance. After a few changes of direction, on the third turn he simply exploded.

Staying with him, helping him release the pent up energy a bit and then come back to me was not a big deal. He stood frozen for a moment, likely afraid he was in trouble. I took a few breaths and told him he was just fine. When he took a breath we went back to the pattern again. We have a tendency to react badly when our horses explode or get rambunctious. But horses that explode, that turn to aggression towards each other or towards their humans, are likely play deprived and in desperate need of some kind of physical outlet. After he blew, he was able to interact with me with greater relaxation and more connection.

When we squash physical expression in our horses from the time they are little, on an ongoing basis throughout their lives, they lose the ability to regulate their emotions, they never learn how to reciprocate healthy touch and boundaries with each other or with humans. These are the horses that become rather dangerous and unpredictable.

What happens when we repress our play drive?

Do you recall the last time you were genuinely playful? Not just feeling silly, but rambunctious, physical play?

Personally, I cannot recall a time when rough housing was encouraged in my life. Growing up in a ski lodge, we were expected to behave. I can recall playing hard outside, running and jumping off of the roof in the winter to land in the deep snow that had piled up from Dad shoveling the roof. Downhill skiing and riding horses, these things kept me sane and made me feel alive. Structured, competitive forms of play made me feel like an incompetent idiot. I grew up feeling like my body was not my friend, as my movement options dwindled due to work related injuries….

When I started training horses I found it quite challenging to find ways to communicate effectively with them. I was so self conscious about moving my body, and used to hiding. Highly sensitive and easily offended, the only way I could set an effective boundary with a horse was to get extremely angry. Like my horses, I have had to learn how to play and express myself. I notice my patience, ability to communicate and be compassionate is far higher when I engage in dynamic, fun, challenging, physical activity in community with others. Not in a competitive way, purely for fun. That physical outlet builds my confidence, my sense of physical agency in the world.

When I look at the horse human relationship in the context of an absence of meaningful play, I see why we sometimes get into trouble with each other. If both horse and human feel vulnerable, sensitive and pent up, it stands to reason the relationship is going to be volatile. How can we learn to play with our horses in a way that allows for us to develop together in healthy ways?

Feather helps me understand how he uses big energy to discharge pent up emotions. It took a while for me to realize he wasn’t trying to take me out. I don’t have to do much to have him stop before he slams into me or bites or strikes. He’s testing the waters, exploring boundaries, trying to figure out how this particular relationship works. It’s plainly obvious that he needs those outlets or he can’t deal with me in his space at all! I also have clear boundaries, clear limits about what’s okay with me and what isn’t. Sometimes I set stronger boundaries than others, depending on whether he honors my wishes or not. We match each others energy. He sets equally clear boundaries with me when I ask him to try something that’s too far outside his comfort zone.

We play together. Sometimes it’s rough and tumble play with me outside the fence dodging and lunging and running. He leaps and runs and lunges in kind. We both release pent up energy and learn about each other. This wild mustang is better at communicating and regulating his emotions than any of the domestic horses I have that grew up in isolation as competition horses. He is already safer to be around than most horses I know because he is sensitive and willing to communicate.

The truth is that development does not stop when we become adults, and we can continue to develop all of these characteristics through well calibrated roughhousing. The smartest and most social animals also engage in the most play as adults.

Rafe Kelly Evolve, Move, Play: click here to read Rafe’s full article “How Roughhousing Saved my Life…”

To learn more about Integrative Horsemanship and Tango with Horses, join our community of people and horses seeking to dance in harmony and ease:

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom offers a variety of options for learning more about working intuitively with horses and your own mind, body and emotions. Upcoming short courses with Intuitive Diane Barrett and Andrea Datz

  • October 2020: Module 1: Awakening your Intuition Superpower!
  • November 2020: Module 2: Owning your Intuition Superpower!

On Facebook:

Andrea is also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

What our students are saying about Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

Stuck Inside

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Always be looking for the unexpected in nature. You can have no formulas for anything; search constantly. Don’t learn to do things – keep on inquiring how. 

– Charles Hawthorne

The south wall of Steve’s studio, behind his easels, is wall papered with paint splattered 8×10 sheets of paper. Dozens of his favorite quotes readily available to inspire him when things get tough. The above quote is from Steve’s wall of wisdom. It perfectly describes how I feel about horsemanship, but also about life. Nature is full of the unexpected and formulas don’t prepare you to be adaptable in the face of novel experiences. Simply learning things by rote doesn’t help me understand the how or the why that allows me to own my skill set and be able to use it in a wide variety of circumstances.

In the last month I injured my right knee, we had high temperatures, high winds, and heavy smoke from wildfires raging nearby. Driven inside and limited in what I could do with the injured knee put my creativity and adaptability to the test. Listening to a talk by Italian dancer and choreographer, Tom Weksler, I embraced the concept of working in the realm of what he called ‘Conceptual Ground’ – working alone, using my imagination, intention and creativity to guide my explorations. A period of self-exploration and self- healing. Engaging in some kind of movement practice is a primary form of self-care. It’s my version of meditation and it keeps me sane. The injured knee created strict limitations in what kind of movements I could do so I focused on my arms and shoulders instead. Rather than resting entirely, putting my attention to what I CAN move, instead of what I CAN’T move.

For more than a year I’ve been trying to figure out how to build enough strength in my arms, shoulders and upper body to be able to hang. It’s endlessly frustrating as every time I get to the point where I can hang a little bit, my left shoulder gives out again, or I start waking up in the night with massive headaches. I tried every kind of mobilization program under the sun to loosen up the excess tension in my neck and shoulders, every kind of thing you can imagine to build strength without triggering a headache or re-injuring the shoulder. Getting driven inside with limited options for movement forced me deep into the pattern in my neck and shoulders.

Embracing novelty of experience affords me opportunities to find my limitations while keeping me actively engaged. Doing the same thing over and over again it’s easy to fall into unconsciousness, going through the motions with little sense of presence. Easy to let habit take over, whether the habits be supportive or not. By continually searching and inquiring, I find ever deeper layers of nuance that keep me fully present in the moment. It isn’t always comfortable.

Changing old patterns is incredibly hard. My body has been locked in this mode since my childhood. There are layers of emotional baggage held in those tissues. This way of carrying myself has been part of my survival strategy and on a subconscious level it fights to stay, as though I could literally die without it. There are days when I have intense pain as one area of my neck and shoulders releases and another stays put, pulling against one another and making me feel like I was being ripped apart. The emotional turmoil that bubbles up as various layers of tension finally let go is intense. Feelings of frustration and anger that insist I stop what I’m doing and let the old pattern persist, it’s safer that way. My body will lock down and refuse to work with me, desperately trying to hang onto a postural habit that feels like it saved my life, but is actually breaking my body down, bit by bit. Persisting through the physical and mental barriers is not easy and gives me much greater appreciation and empathy for walking a horse through this process.

Going to war with my body is not useful. Instead I strive to understand what caused this postural habit to become concrete that is nearly impossible to negotiate with. Seeking led me to some key pieces of understanding about what needs to be in place before my neck and shoulders will be able to let go of this long standing pattern. I’m learning to breathe with my whole body. Why is that important? What if my movement could be led by my breath and I could breathe through and within any position or activity I engage in? How much will my horses love it when I return to working with them and I am breathing consistently? What parts of my body need to be stable in order for my neck and shoulders to let go? In some ways this feels like regressing on a massive scale to go from Parkour obstacles to laying on the floor tracking my breath and the patterns of tension and relaxation in my body. To standing still and and seeking my center of gravity, a neutral spine, and learning about how to use torque to stabilize my hips and shoulders…

I understand now, all the pieces that need to be in place before I can do the larger, more dynamic movements. This time spent in the Conceptual ground has led me down a rabbit hole I can’t wait to apply to horsemanship! Mr. Weksler refers to our interactions with others as ‘Reality’. Dancing with my horses puts to the test all the work I do alone. Now that the weather is cooling down and the smoke has cleared I get to step into reality with my horses and see how all this deep inner work manifests in relationship to others. Continually seeking never leads me astray. Deepening my understanding, keeping me fully engaged with life and open to possibilities, creative and adaptable.

To learn more about Integrative Horsemanship and Tango with Horses and join a community of people and horses seeking to dance in harmony and ease:

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom offers a variety of options for learning more about working intuitively with horses and your own mind, body and emotions. Upcoming short courses with Intuitive Diane Barrett and Andrea Datz

  • October 2020: Module 1: Awakening your Intuition Superpower!
  • November 2020: Module 2: Owning your Intuition Superpower!

On Facebook:

Andrea is also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

What our students are saying about Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

 

 

 

 

What do I do about feeling anxious when I ride?

Screenshot_2019-04-22 (15) Kastani second ride April 19 2019 - YouTube

One of the more common questions I get asked is what to do about feeling afraid when you get on a horse? People who’ve ridden since they were young children, who were never afraid, as adults find themselves struggling to step into that stirrup and swing that leg over. I don’t think it’s terribly unusual for adults to develop some anxiety around riding. It happened to me eight years ago or so when I was making my living rehabilitation horses for other people.

On the one hand, there’s the reality that as adults we have responsibilities that make the notion of getting injured weigh heavily. Then there’s our history with horses. Even small accidents, over the course of years, can cause an accumulation of stress in our nervous system that causes our body to rebel each time we think about getting on. Let’s not forget that horses can experience anxiety about being ridden too. Sometimes that fear we feel isn’t even ours, it’s the anxiety we sense from the horse that feels like our own.

We’re often encouraged to power through our fear in the horse world. Sometimes facing our fears over and over again and surviving is enough to convince our nervous system we aren’t in imminent danger, that at least this horse is trust worthy. But what if that doesn’t work? What if you still feel afraid, or your fear worsens?

Having a healthy respect for horses is always a good idea. Our nervous system knows, it pays not to get too complacent around an animal so much larger than us that can react in a nanosecond to something completely outside our awareness. So some of the fear we experience, I think, is just common sense. It’s our nervous system reminding us to pay attention.

What I realized about my own burgeoning anxiety to get on a horse, is that I only experienced it when I was working around other people’s horses. I had no problem getting on my own horses that I knew well and trusted fully. Over time I came to realize that it made sense. After all, I was working with horses that felt threatened by the training process, horses that were in pain and having to find ways to work toward soundness again. I was working around horses that were fearful of being ridden. Some of us are sensitive to picking up on what those around us feel. If the horse I’m about to get on is afraid, and I resonate with that fear, my experience is that I am afraid. There is no discernible difference in the felt perception of my own fear versus feeling someone else’s fear vibrate within my own system.

Empathic resonance is how herds of mammals communicate when there is danger and the herd needs to flee, and when there is safety and they can rest. It is one of the primary ways horses communicate with each other, and with us, if we are sensitive to ‘hear’ it. The electromagnetic field of the heart has evolved to carry information on it’s waves. Information about who we are and how we feel. This electromagnetic wave allows me to feel what’s going on with a horse before, or in conjunction with a body language signal.

Feather, for example, sends an intense wave of emotional energy in conjunction with a lunge if he feels threatened by something I’m asking of him. I’ve never felt such intensity as I do with this mustang. When he’s just feeling playful there is no associated wave of emotion, allowing me to easily distinguish between a playful burst of energy and fear.

Knowing that what I feel when I’m with a horse could be originating with either one of us, I learned to acknowledge the emotions in the air and pause. If I feel anxious about getting on it might be originating with me, but it might also be originating with my horse. Either way, I pause and breathe, allowing myself to feel what’s happening inside my body. And don’t put my foot in that stirrup until the fear is gone. If I’m picking up on the horse, it’s usually because I’m moving too fast for their comfort. Pausing gives them a moment to breathe and relax. I’ll feel my own anxiety diminish as theirs does. If it’s my own, by pausing, I give my nervous system time to fully assess the situation and if it’s okay the anxiety should diminish.

If the anxiety does not go away, there are all kinds of things I can do to assess the situation before mounting. I might, for example, start by checking my tack to make sure everything is as it should be. I might assess my horse to make sure there’s nothing going on that I missed while grooming and tacking up. I can check the environment to makes sure there’s nothing going on there that I failed to be aware of. When my nervous system is satisfied the feeling of anxiety should go away.

One of the things I realized about my own anxiety is that I was developing some physical issues that made me feel more physically fragile. It was like my whole body just rebelled against the idea of getting on. Near the end of my 49th year I realized I was pretty physically limited. So I started doing Parkour at a local gym. Learning to get up and over and around obstacles not only got me back in shape, but it helped me feel capable in a way I don’t think I ever have before. I have to say that developing my own physical capacity did more for my confidence in riding than anything else.

Ultimately, what I learned is that my body and nervous system never lie. What I feel and experience is valid and worthy of further exploration. In my case, I learned how to differentiate between anxiety that originates with me and anxiety that originates with my horse. If my horse was anxious, I learned how to help them release their anxiety before I got on. In some cases, discovering the early stages of physical discomfort that may have impacted their ability to carry me safely. And ultimately, I discovered what I needed to do to take better care of myself so that I feel strong, capable and ready for anything that comes my way.

I find there is a myth in our culture that we will always become less physically capable as we age. In fact, I am more physically capable in 50’s than I was in my 20’s. One of the best things we can do for our confidence as a rider is to find ways to improve our physical competence outside of the saddle. That’s another myth of the horse world, that you can only learn to ride better by riding. My riding ability and confidence improved 10 fold through the activities I engage in away from horses.

The reasons an adult develops anxiety around riding are many, varied, and unique to each individual. Rest assured it’s not uncommon. There’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel bad about. Approach what you experience with curiosity and compassion. When you do, it opens the door to explore what’s coming up in a way that can lead you to deeper solutions. Solutions that take into account both you and your horse.

If you are experiencing fear of riding that stems from a horse related accident, or just want to delve more deeply into this subject, I highly recommend Continuing the Ride: Building Confidence from the Ground Up by my friend Crissi McDonald.

If you’d like to learn more about developing your intuition and ability to distinguish between your own anxiety and anxiety that is coming from your horse, come join Diane Barrett and I as we teach you how to awaken your intuition in our online classes:

Module 1: Awakening you Intuition Superpower!

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

Jean’s Last Ride

Jean riding Scratch at a Mark Rashid clinic at my place in 2011

Jean came to the first clinic I ever managed, way back some 25 years ago. She came to every clinic I ever hosted after that, but one of her favorites was always Mark Rashid. During one of the very first clinics she attended with him Mark planted a seed that would become Jean’s ‘Holy Grail’ of horsemanship. This idea that she could think or feel walk and Scratch would walk mesmerized her. Coming from a rather more forceful school of horsemanship, she loved this idea that it could be so subtle.

From then on, every time I saw Jean or gave her a riding lesson, she would bring up this idea, this seed Mark had planted. She worked on it all the time. Sometimes she got it, but had no idea what she was doing or not doing differently when it worked, versus when it didn’t work. No matter, she persisted, always seeking that magical connection.

I have fond memories of watching Jean, sitting astride Scratch bareback, or in the homemade saddle her partner Bill designed and built just for her. A minimalist saddle if ever there was one, she loved it for her ability to feel the horse, and intensely disliked letting anyone else ride in it for the insanely difficult system for adjusting the stirrups! Jean would sit on Scratch with a concentrated look on her face.

‘Well, I’m thinking walk, so he should walk, right?’

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Working on canter transitions with Mark in 2011 in her saddle custom designed and built by Bill, with that concentrated look on her face!

We talked a lot about how there was a bit more to it than just the thought, the thought had to be embodied. If she sat passively and simply thought about walking that might not do it. There is a connection that is spine to spine, core to core, that is active without being aggressive. When she found it her eyes sparkled with delight and she’d take copious notes in her tiny notebooks that fit in her pocket to help her remember what she’d learned that day. I’ve never met a more diligent student of horses, and of life!

Jean was in her early 60’s when I met her and Bill. She was 86 and deep into the end stages of stage 4 melanoma when she determined, after re-reading all of Mark’s books during her convalescence over the spring and summer, that she finally understood what Mark meant all those years ago.

Now, to understand the magnitude of what she determined to do, it’s important to know that Jean had finally given up taking care of the horses herself a few months prior. She was weak, and tired easily. She had just enough energy to come and sit with me while I trimmed the horse’s feet a few weeks prior. During a few days before her mission, I found her bed ridden, too exhausted to entertain the notion of a visit to the horses, let alone help to possibly sit on Scratch one last time. Something Ellen and I fervently wished for her, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

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She always inspected each hoof after I trimmed the boys. This is a shot Susan got one of the last times she was strong enough to be with us while I trimmed. Hands that trimmed her own horse’s feet up until this last year..

Imagine my surprise when I called Jean that Sunday morning to check in and say hello. I found her uncharacteristically curt, with a determined edge in her voice. She barely let me say hello before she filled me in on the plan for the day. She said she felt she finally understood what Mark meant about connecting core to core with a horse to get them to walk. Ellen was on her way up and they were going to go out to the horses. Ellen would hold Wamy so that he didn’t interfere with her and Scratch. She did not tell Ellen what she had in mind and would have Ellen look away so that she could be sure Ellen wasn’t influencing anything that happened.

‘Goodbye’ she said and hung up the phone, assuring me she would tell me about it later.

In hindsight, I suspect she was being cagey to avoid having anyone talk her out of her plan, or perhaps to avoid talking herself out of it! Whatever the case, she was focused on that goal and nothing else!

Ellen is one of Jean’s neighbors and best friends. I met Ellen and Jacob and Jean and Bill at the same clinic so many years ago. Ellen and Jean spent the last many years regularly getting together to discuss philosophy of horsemanship and practice together. They enjoyed sharing ideas and experimenting. It’s so fitting Jean chose Ellen to assist her with her plan.

I never heard back about how that day went until a few days later, when I received an email from Ellen detailing her experience with Jean on that Sunday, July 12, 2020:

Sharing from Ellen, with her permission:

“I let Jean know on Friday that I wanted to come up on the weekend. We decided on Sunday, and I mentioned walking her up to the horses to hang out with them as a possibility while there. When I arrived, I found Jean in a determined frame of mind and ready to go see the horses. I let her take the lead, as I wasn’t at all sure what exactly she had in mind.

We had both horses haltered and through the gate of the little pen when I asked Jean what we were doing. She stopped and explained that we were going up to the learning center, and I was to handle Wamy and keep him out of the way so as to not distract Jean and Scratch. She was going to lead Scratch up to the mounting blocks and get on. (Jean’s mounting block is a stack of cinder blocks, and the learning center was her name for the arena area where she worked with the horses).

So, Wamy and I followed Jean and Scratch up. I was with Wamy nearby doing lots of breathing so that Scratch could pick that up from me as much as Wamy. Wamy’s head got relaxed and low. Scratch was very cooperative as Jean tried to get him aligned with the mounting blocks. She tried 3 times, and on the third time she climbed up on the blocks. I went over and said that he was too far away for her to get on. Since it was true, she got down.

I made a suggestion about how to get Scratch into position, and reached out for his rope while dropping Wamy’s rope. I took Scratch around in a circle, and brought him back very carefully and was able to get him exactly where I wanted him. That was good because I was showing him that I wanted that exactness. I asked Jean if that looked good to her, she wasted no time in beginning to get on the blocks again, and I moved right in to Scratch’s shoulder and snugged up against the blocks, offering my shoulder for Jean to use. Her grip was strong and firm and I knew that I would feel if she started to go off balance. She didn’t, but she did have a hard time getting up there the second time. I then told her that she would have to use my shoulder to help her get on Scratch as there was nothing else for her to hold on to. She did, and it worked!  I went back to Wamy who, miraculously, hadn’t moved.’

Now, keep in mind, Jean had probably not ridden Scratch much, if at all, for nearly two years. It speaks volumes to the bond of friendship she created with this horse that he took such impeccable care of her. She was also riding him bareback with a halter and lead, mostly blind in her left eye as it was obscured by the melanoma.

‘Jean sat awhile, which I knew she would. It felt grounded to me so I left them alone. Pretty soon they moved off at a walk going east, circled around and came back toward us. They stopped again for a while, then repeated the walking. I wondered each time if that was Scratch volunteering the movement, or what. Three times of that, all very cooperative, and Jean announced that she was ready to get off. I put Wamy’s rope over his back, went over and told Jean I would be there to catch her since I didn’t think her legs would be strong enough to hold her as she came down.

She didn’t seem to understand how she was getting off, so I pointed to Scratch’s neck and told her to lean way forward, then swing her opposite leg over his rump and slide down while I caught her. She leaned way forward, and I reached across behind her and grabbed a handful of her sweatpants just at the back of her opposite thigh, and pulled hard. I had a feeling she would have a difficult time getting her leg over behind her. It worked! And she slid down easy against Scratch with me right there holding her rib cage. Wow!

Jean took Scratch’s halter off. Wamy had already gone down the hill toward the pen on his own, and Scratch walked off and then took off bucking down the hill! Yeah hooray!

I was in awe of it all. I have never felt such strong determination in somebody as I felt in Jean, and that determination by far outweighed my own. But the whole unfolding was as though it had been choreographed, it was so cooperative and beautiful among the two horses, myself and Jean. I also realized how much benefit I have derived from interacting with the horses. I actually did feel trepidation, initially, and then, I knew that if it couldn’t be done Jean would see that for herself. But the big thing for me was how I was able to be present and centered, focused on a potential unfolding, but open to whatever did unfold as opposed to stuck on an idea of how it should unfold.

In talking to Jean afterward, she said that she was focused on connecting her center with Scratch’s center, and that he moved off at a walk when she envisioned it! Just what she has been thinking of since she re-read that in one of Mark Rashid’s books this spring! Congratulations, Jean, well done!

I hope you enjoyed this story, which may sound like a fairytale but is true.

Love and joy for us all,

Ellen’

Is there really anything more to say. Jean found her Holy Grail of horsemanship four weeks before passing away from her cancer. Her determination, grit, and willingness to keep on learning right up until the end are an inspiration.

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The last photo I have of Jean and Scratch together after hoof trimming.