More than this, there is nothing….

One week tomorrow. 

It feels like a lifetime since Gin ‘changed address.’

All of the emotions are present. All of them. Grief: as I process this dramatic shift in my reality. Disbelief: at the intensity and reality of our continued connection. Great joy: in feeling her spirit’s strength and freedom – and the connection to other departed friends she facilitates.

Many people have mentioned in their condolences how challenged they are by mortality. Death is often experienced as a great loss, heartbreaking, leaving a giant hole that can never be filled. It hasn’t been that way for me with Gin. And I wondered why. At the end of the day I think it has to do with how I prepared myself for this day.

I want to share a little bit about this in case it might be helpful for someone else faced with similar decisions…

When Gin reached her later twenties, I felt the dread start to build within me. All of my horses are aging, of course, we all are, and death is inevitable. Sometimes, I look around at all the horses here and feel there is no way I can possibly cope with all the end of life decisions looming. Those final calls that I will have to make for each and every one of them.

In 2021 Rio colicked. Somehow, when I saw him in the morning I just knew. He wasn’t going to make it. It felt like some horribly bad joke that Rio, who was still young and was just sound enough to start doing things together again, was going, when older, less sound horses were still happily carrying on. I didn’t know how to process that. I second guessed myself a thousand times at the vet clinic when she told me it wasn’t recoverable.

In the end, my good friend Lizzy helped me find my feet on the ground, find my breath through the panicky sobs, and find my connection to Rio down the barn aisle. She asked me questions about my options and each time I landed on letting him go, down the barn aisle, Rio would sigh audibly and my whole body open. Such simple and clear confirmation that it wasn’t just my decision, it was his as well.

Just a few months later, our beloved cat, Misty also decided it was time to go from this life. As cats so often do, she went from elderly but hale to very sick rather quickly. She laid in my lap as she took her last breath, all the tension from struggling to breathe draining from her body. Such a strange thing to feel so much peace as she lay draped across my lap.

Something about Misty and Rio passing so closely to one another after so many passings in the last few years just broke me. I wasn’t coping well, and I knew that there was no way I was strong enough to face more loss. And impending loss was all around me every day with horses over 25 at every turn. And so I got help. For the first time in my life, I sought help with my mental state.

Specifically, I told him that I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to handle Gin’s passing. How I dreaded the day and how that dread was consuming me. Chandler has a daily practice of asking himself, in what ways am I not yet ready to die? And then he lives his life accordingly, so that he has less chance of regrets when the time comes. I took that question and began asking myself, every day, in what ways am I not yet ready for Gin to die? And then I took care of those things.

My biggest fear was that I would not make enough time for her. It’s easy to do when you have 16 equines to care for that are all aging. I tend to spend the bulk of my time with those in most need. And Gin truly has hardly ever been ill or lame. She was certainly never needy, and so it was easy to have time with her slip through the cracks. But last year, thanks that question and the realization that not spending time with her would be my biggest regret, I spent a lot of time with her. I made time for her no matter what.

My horses and I have a standing agreement. When they are ready to go, they let me know and I honor their decision. No questions asked. I am guessing I’m not alone in feeling the weight of making that final decision. How do I know if I’m getting the timing right? What if they aren’t ready? What if I wait too long and they suffer? I haven’t always felt like I got the timing right, but I have always felt that I did the best I could. I have learned not to second guess these things. That’s just torture. I also talk with Theresa or Kim or Diane or all three to confirm what I’m feeling.

So, when I went out Monday morning a week ago and saw Gin, I just knew. And because I had prepared myself well, I could accept it. It’s hard to explain, the beauty of that morning. There are always so many practical logistics involved in assisting a horse to depart this world. In this case it was important to me to plan ahead and have everything done such that I could simply be present with Gin and the aftermath of her passing, not knowing how it would impact me.

At one point I found myself looking at my phone to check the time and thinking – only one hour left with Gin. With that came a sense of panic and urgency. And then I realized, stop this. Stop thinking about time. This is not about time. This is about being fully present in each and every moment you have with her. 

When I went to her, she was munching away on the hot bran mash I made her, with soaked oats, carrots and apples. The look on her face reminded me of Mom in her last days when we traveled to Lake Powell. She would stare off into the distance. Wistful is the word that always comes to mind. Or looking ahead to something I can’t see.

Her favorite thing was being groomed, so I spent time grooming her and talking to her about our life together and what she means to me. Every so often she would stop and turn her head such that her neck came into contact with my forehead and we would just stand together and breathe. The waves of love between us palpable. Such sweet moments that I will never forget.

The next morning, I woke up with a song in my head and heard Gin clearly saying this was the song that went with those moments we shared. She wanted me to listen to it and to really take in the lyrics. The words that kept floating through my mind and still do today – more than this, there is nothing. This moment, right here, right now. This moment is all there is. And how sweet those moments are. Thank you, Gin, for everything, again.

Roxy Music: More Than This

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they’re blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this, there is nothing
More than this, tell me one thing
More than this, there is nothing

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we’re going
No care in the world
Maybe I’m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this, you know there is nothing
More than this, tell me one thing
More than this, you know there is nothing

More than this
nothing
More than this
More than this
nothing                                                   

Writer/s: Bryan Ferry
Publisher: BMG Rights Management
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

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Thank you Gin for Everything…

March 16,1990-February 21, 2022

Gin eating bran mash with Peppy, Huey, Susan and I on the morning of February 21, 2022

February 22, 2022

Phew. I knew this day would come eventually. The day when I would be conversing with Gin in the spirit realm, rather than reaching out to her in the pasture. I can feel that place in my body that dreaded this day. Tears threaten to choke me and it’s hard to breath. I am exhausted. But only if I stay focused inward, on myself and the places where fatigue makes things want to get stuck.

When I walk around and go about the business of taking care of those remaining, I feel like I did after Cori passed. Like there is a party going on in Heaven. The energy is light, joyous, and musical. When I tune in to that place that’s bigger than me, I see not only a reason to celebrate Gin’s life, and the life we shared together, but to celebrate her death as well. Gin is not gone, she keeps reminding me, she is free. She is still with me in the way she’s always with me, in the sense that I can feel her presence and support at all times. In fact, now it’s even stronger!

Gin is so clear, along with Jean, Mom, Cori, Aero, Romeo, Rio and all the others who have transitioned out of my life, that death is a completion of one cycle and a beginning of another. It is not something to be feared, dreaded, or fixed. I remember Steve’s artist friend saying, on his deathbed, that he was preparing for a great transfiguration. And so, this morning I celebrate Gin’s successful completion of this life, and her embarking on the next leg of her journey.

Gin stands behind me now with the strength of a warrior queen.

There is no time to wallow in self pity. There is great, important work to be done. By every single one of us. Find your true north, embrace your gifts, and share them with a world so in need of what you have to offer. Now is the time to be bold.”

How can I encompass a lifetime spent with such an amazing being. Gin taught me everything about how to be a better human. How lucky am I to have her standing at my back?

Thank you Gin.

For Everything….

What if I had my dream relationship with my horse?

This is the question we’ll be exploring in a free online gathering hosted by myself, Kim Walnes and Diane Barrett (The Tango with Horses Online team) during two live sessions, one on Friday February 18th at 2 pm MST and one on Saturday February 19th at 8 am MST.

In my mind, there are no right or wrong ways to approach this question. Lately I’ve enjoyed coming up with a ‘thought experiment’ to stimulate what I write about. I wondered, how would I approach this question?

Here goes….

My dream relationship with a horse would involve having a relatively uncomplicated, sound horse that I could ride and we would both enjoy spending time together and going on adventures. 

How likely is that to occur in my world? What am I willing/able to do to make this happen? Honestly, I’ve been saying this for quite some time and it isn’t happening. I wonder if that’s because I haven’t fleshed out the dream enough to make it tangible – to create enough longing to motivate me to act? 

So what if I wrote the story of what this dream is like for me? I decided to actually do this exercise myself this afternoon and I was surprised by what poured out of me:

What if I had my dream relationship with my horse?

What comes immediately to mind is the relationship I had with my first horse, Ricky. I did everything with Ricky. We explored the landscape surrounding my Dad’s ranch inside and out. I trusted Ricky with my life and he never let me down. But what I remember most is riding him bareback and me barefoot as we galloped through the irrigated summer pastures. I can still feel the wind blowing my hair back and the smell of summer grass mixed with horse sweat. It was the most exhilarating feeling!

We gallop up the grassy slope to the ancient cottonwood trees and there, I drop a loop of rein on his neck and lay down on his back while he grazes in the dappled shade of the old tree. This is a place of peace and connection that is so innocent and joyful. We are truly friends enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the summer day together. We have adventures.

In my dream relationship with a horse the innocent joy I experienced as a child with horses is restored. There is no doubt in my mind that horses and I belong together. I trust my horse and my horse trusts me. The feeling of enjoyment is definitely mutual and I know my horse feels the same as I do because of the way he greets me when I show up. He meets me at the gate with a soft nicker and positions himself so that I can more easily slide the halter on. Not in an over eager way, calm and soft, like he knows what’s coming and he’s in total agreement!

It doesn’t matter what we do together because when we are with each other time stops and nothing and no else exist. We are fully present to our partnership and fully engaged in whatever we decide to do. We LOVE to go on adventures hiking in the desert. Sometimes I hop on and ride him bareback and sometimes I hike alongside him. We stop often for him to browse for delicious edibles and for me to sit quietly in nature and enjoy his company and the solitude.

We don’t mind trail hiking with friends, but our favorite thing is to go out just the two of us where we can go at our own pace and in any direction for any length of time that suits us.

When I ride him, it is the most amazing experience. It’s like he’s floating above the bit, completely in tune with me. THIS is what dancing feels like! No, this is what it must be like to fly! Not since Ricky have I had a horse I felt so at ease galloping on. But we also flow into more complex and coordinated movements with ease. We like to ‘dance’ free style and while at one time I thought it would be fun to show up at a dressage show, we both like to improvise too much to bother with a choreographed routine and the pressures of competition.

I feel like a kid again and recall the pure joy of having a horse for a best friend!

Now that I’ve done this exercise I can tell you, I have a sense of longing. I was surprised by how much detail came forward. What is important to me now that is different from what I might have written even a few months ago. With this vision so clearly in mind, I now feel some of the horses here pricking their ears, interested in this same kind of dream relationship with me. I wonder what will shift in our interactions now, and how much this fleshed out vision will motivate me to do what I must to make it a reality?

I also wonder how this dream may evolve or shift as I evolve and shift on this journey? Nothing in set in stone after all.

Interestingly, just after I posted this story to our group for discussing this workshop, I went out to clean pens and fill water tanks. The horses looked at me differently. They were all relaxed and seemed to have a level of peace about them that I haven’t seen before. It felt as though they were in on the dream with me. I sure hope so, and I know that whatever comes to be will be wonderful if I can reclaim that childlike wonder that I lost along the way…

If you’d like to join the conversation, feel free to join us on the Tango with Horses Online Community, in our group for this Gathering:

LINK: Group: Gathering: Dreams for 2022

On Friday the 18th at 2 pm MST and Saturday the 19th at 8 am MST we will gather to share our dreams and co-create a curriculum for 2022 at Tango with Horses. After that I’ll pull together a schedule of offerings for the year. We can’t wait!

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Sunday February 13 at 8 am MST I will host a movement class focused on our hips. We do a somatic exploration and then discuss how we might take what we learned to the horses. I’m offering this one FREE in case anyone is curious and hasn’t checked it out yet.

Talk soon!

Andrea

The important things in life

My Dad often makes a joke when we’re with other people and talking about my work with horses. With a little mischievous gleam in his eye, and a measure of pride, he says: ‘I taught her everything she knows’. And while that’s not strictly true in the sense of my formal equine schooling, he DID teach me everything I know that, from my current vantage point, matters.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Dad handle a horse. He has always been passionate about horses and riding. He infected me with that ‘sickness’ before I could walk as he held me astride his horse, bareback. Is it any wonder the smell of horses is still one of my favorite things? Some years ago, Dad’s hips began to bother him enough he felt it was time to give up riding. But the desire to get back on a horse will likely always be there.

Last month I took on a new rehab project. I was delighted when I met this small, elder gelding. He is the spitting image in both looks and demeanor, of Dad’s gelding, Dillenger, who passed a few years ago. Dillenger was one of those horse-of-a-lifetime kind of horses. He was part of our family for a great many years and we still miss him. As it happens, Dilly’s clone needed a volunteer to hand walk him and spend time with him several days a week. I thought of Dad.

Before we left on our trip to Tucson Dad finally met his new horse friend and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see Dad handling a horse again. He has this quiet, kind way about him. His eyes smile and speaks to him in soft and encouraging words. This little guy can be a bit flighty in the way that spirited Arabian horse can. Dad’s way soothed him and this horse who can be evasive about being haltered was like putty in his hands.

When we were done walking around the property and Dad went to turn him loose in his stall, he did his usually thing of trying to duck out of the halter and bail. Dad calmly slipped the halter back on and asked him to please wait. Next time he went to slip the halter off, same thing, the little guy thought he’d duck out. With infinite patience, as though he had all the time in the world, Dad put the halter back on and asked him to please wait. Third time, he waited patiently until Dad slipped the halter off and removed the rope from around his neck. Just like that, Dad took this habitual pattern and worked to change it. So simple and so magical to watch him working so naturally and easily with a horse again.

The photo is from our second visit out there together. It means so much to me to see Dad with a horse again. He really did teach me everything I know about being kind and compassionate towards animals and nature. That’s a pretty solid foundation to build on, and for that foundation, I am forever grateful.

Until next time,

Andrea


PS

In an effort to consolidate my efforts, I will be phasing out this blog in the next month or so. Our private community on Mighty Networks is really taking off, and I post there often. If you’d like to continue to follow me, you can join our community for free. I’ll keep you apprised here if other options arise for staying in touch down the road:

LINK: Join Tango with Horses Online Community

The weekly BioSomatic Movement classes are coming together nicely. With three weeks under our belts and some good feedback from participants, this week will show some nice refinements in how we structure the content.

Friday February 4, 2022 at 2 pm MT on Zoom, we’ll meet to explore feet as our foundation of movement. We spend a lot of time as horse folks developing our understanding of how the balance of our horse’s hooves impacts their movement and soundness and comfort. It’s no different for us. In addition, how our feet articulate with the ground can make an immense difference in how our body language and movement communicates our ‘lead’ or ‘suggestion’ to our horses.

LINK: Register for Friday’s Movement Class (classes are joined weekly on a sliding scale of $10-$35 per class, free for members of Feather’s School of Magic)

The movements we practice in these classes are gentle and available for anyone, at any level of fitness. We’re not about getting fit here. Rather, we’re about developing and refining our body awareness so that we can communicate more effectively with out horses. The movement practices are designed to prime your body such that it is ready to engage in the activities you have in mind.

Once you have a sense of how your own body responds to a particular movement practice, we devise ways to apply that movement to your horses. Sometimes it’s a matter of how the improved awareness impacts communication or connection and sometimes there are ways to actually take that practice to your horse in a way that creates a similar movement practice for horses – influenced by you.

This way of being in my body and with horses is the essence of Tango with Horses and has countless applications.

Hope to see you contributing to our community with your presence or your words, or in a class soon!

Andrea

How do we learn?…

This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot this year. How do we humans learn to be in relationship or partnership with horses? In the past I’ve seen my job as teaching people how I learned to work with horses. The only way I can see to do that is to share my own experience and attempt to create a system around what I do that is teachable and repeatable. The problem with that is that it takes all the spontaneity out of the interaction, and Tango is all about spontaneity! I realized, the bulk of what I do when I’m with a horse is intuitive, and mostly led by the horse, how do I teach that?

Under what circumstances do horses learn best, in my experience? When they are given the opportunity to explore and try things for themselves. When they are encouraged or supported to have their own lived experience of moving in a particular way, or feeling what it’s like to do something with me. I adapt to each horse to meet them where they are in the moment. I suspect people learn best under similar circumstances. I wonder, instead of trying to systematize what I do so that I can dish it out, what if I facilitate conversations and community where people can find their own path – have their own lived experiences they can carry to their horses in a way unique to them?

I’m writing from the road after a lovely long weekend in Tucson, lounging in a hotel room with just a few minutes before we head off on the last leg of our long drive home…. So instead of writing more about this, I’ll share a lived experience in the form of our first BioSomatice Movement Class a few weeks back.

This is the 13 minute introductory talk for what I look forward to doing weekly all year:

Until next week,

Andrea


PS. If you’re curious about our community, we’d love to have you join us at Tango with Horses Online Community. It’s free and only takes a moment to join:

LINK: Join the Tango with Horses Online Community

This coming Saturday, January 29, 2022, our Weekly BioSomatic Movement Class is a nice practice for waking up the posterior muscle chain to counteract the effects of sitting in chairs, at computers, or looking down at our cell phones. We’ll talk about what can happen to cause the horse equivalent of a slouchy posture and how we can utilize the awakened back side of our body to positively influence the horse to shift their own posture for the better. Horses are such fabulous mimickers that if we can learn to carry ourselves better it often translates right to our horses without any ‘training’ as such.

If you’re interested in joining us, click the link below to register. You pay per class each week at the moment, on a sliding scale of $10-$35 per class.

LINK: Register for January 29 Movement Class

Hope to see you soon!

When horses act out in response to our efforts to help…

Yesterday during my EcoSomatics Teacher Training, Chandler was talking with us about the qualities of a practitioner. I was struck by the notion that I don’t need to know what to do or how to do it, I need to know how to be with someone. Of course, my mind immediately transfers these ideas to the horses. Recently, one of my long-time members has been volunteering to do bodywork on some rescue horses. She’s experienced several cases where horses lashed out with some aggressive, potentially dangerous behaviors. The question arises: am I doing something to cause this behavior? And what should I do about this behavior?

My advice was to do what she was already instinctively doing, to simply be present with these horses from a safe distance. There is nothing wrong with putting something solid between you and a horse until you get to know one another. That physical barrier can make you both feel safer, especially when you’re in a therapeutic role with a horse that is troubled. If you put yourself in a position where you have to protect yourself by correcting the horse’s behavior, you’ve effectively shut down whatever it is they are trying to tell you about themselves, their history, how they feel about people… It’s no longer a therapeutic session at that point.

I encounter this question from clients who start to do bodywork on their own horses all the time. They wonder about how to set boundaries around behaviors that would otherwise be considered undesirable, something to punish or correct. The inner trainer becomes conflicted. Am I encouraging ‘bad’ behavior by allowing them to express themselves? What if this just gets worse? What if I’m doing something wrong?

It is not uncommon for horses to become expressive when we step into their presence with the intention of being helpful. How often do most horses get the experience of really being heard? How often do they have the experience of being validated and honored for how they feel?

Feather, my mustang, has taught me so much about the power and validity of supporting a horse to process through the experiences, memories, and expectations that human interactions might be traumatic or dangerous. It occurs to me as I write that last sentence that Feather might have asked the same questions as my friend – what do I do when humans act aggressively toward me? What do I do when they lash out in response to my behavior?

Something to ponder…

I spent countless hours being present with Feather from outside his paddock. Paying attention to how far away I had to be in order for him to be able to relax a bit. In the beginning that might be 300 feet away. Bit by bit he could handle me being closer to his fence line without being agitated or charging the fence. Like Chandler said in our teacher training yesterday, I had no idea what I was doing, or where it would lead. All I could do was show up and be present with him while he worked through all this ‘stuff’.

It wasn’t always easy to trust that I was on the right track. To keep showing up each day in the face of Feather’s obvious distress. But little by little his agitation lessened. Little by little he began to trust that I wasn’t going to react badly to his emotions. He began to feel safe sharing how he felt moment to moment. We learned about each other and through that process this natural sense of mutually negotiated boundaries emerged. I trust him implicitly that he will not hurt me when he gets frustrated, upset, or confused. He seems to also know implicitly that I will not hurt or force him.

When Feather arrived here, the only safe place I had for him was a large run with a shelter. In order to clean the pen, we had to negotiate with each other about how I could move past him in a fairly narrow space in a way he could handle. Being together in that tight space brought up a lot of emotions for him. But because I had spent so much time outside the pen, learning about him, I could stand in the face of his expression without being intimidated, fearful, or reactive.

In the following series of images captured from a video, I was actively engaging with him to see if he could follow me around. At one point he got flustered, triggered into his history, and he charged me. It was hard to tell if he was frustrated or overly enthusiastic. Either way, it was not comfortable for me to have him come into my space with so much energy. Notice how little happened on my part to have him stop dead in his tracks? In the next moment we were walking together again as though nothing had happened.

Which brings me back to Chandler’s discussion about the quality of being a therapist or practitioner. The most important skill we can develop is to simply be with someone while they share. Being present for a horse is not the same as being present for a human in that horses speak to us via energy, emotion, and often the physical expression or acting out of their experience. I found that an essential practitioner skill with horses, then, is to learn how to regulate my own response to this profound, intense level of expression that can feel directed at me.

I can remember so many times when Susan would be in the paddock next to Feather and I spending time with the burros. Feather’s reactions were so big, so intense, so sudden that you could literally feel the pressure wave and the emotional charge behind it as he spun away. Susan could have her back to us and feel it from 20-30 feet off. We always took a moment to acknowledge the awe we felt at how big his energy was. Training myself to not react badly to his energy was key to my role as therapist in this case.

Yesterday someone in our community brought up how much it seems there is to learn, that it might take a lifetime. In a sense, she’s right, in that we never stop learning. But what if there is no place to arrive, rather a continuum in which we continue to improve throughout our lifetime? And what if the only skill required is to learn how to be fully human, fully ourselves. To simply be with our horses.

And what if we stopped switching roles from trainer, to therapist, to buddy, to carer, to animal communicator, and simply learn to be with our horses as they need us to be for them in each moment. Seamlessly occupying all of these roles all of the time.

Until next time,

Andrea


PS. There are practices available that can help you embody this therapeutic role for your horse. It so happens this is one aspect of what we’re exploring in our weekly BioSomatic Movement Classes. This week we meet on Friday January 21 at 2 pm MT via Zoom. I’ll be walking participants through a standing practice designed to help you experience your physical connection to yourself and the ground in a way to consciously access your tallest point – your upright alignment is key to your ability to breathe effortlessly, to feel your connection to earth and source (your major support in holding space, and in accessing creative solutions), and being able to do all this with an open heart.

How we carry ourselves around our horses is a large part of the establishment of mutually negotiated boundaries, it’s key to how we communicate and move together. We’ll engage in a practice and then discuss how we might apply these ideas to our interactions with our horses.

Click the link here to register. Drop ins welcome. Payment is on a sliding scale from $10-$35 per class. Recordings are available if you can’t make it live.

LINK: Register for this week’s BioSomatic Movement Class

PPS. If you read this blog after January 21st, our weekly classes run every week, so if you follow the link you’ll be signing up for the current week’s course and the topic will be a surprise. If you want this specific recording, drop me a line and I’ll arrange for you to purchase this class. We alternate Friday’s at 2 pm MT, and the next week Saturday at 8 am MT.

And of course, we have a fabulous and active community at Tango with Horses Online. It’s free to join and there is so much great discussion and sharing happening over there these days. We’d love to have you join us:

LINK: Join The Tango with Horses Online Community for FREE

Finding My Self…

One day I realized that I had no faith in my own abilities. It didn’t matter how often I was able to help a horse that no one else had helped. It didn’t matter how many successes I had. All I noticed was the failures. The sense of struggle. Horse after horse came here in some state of distress. Physical injuries (catastrophic and career ending), mental and emotional scars that triggered unpredictable, potentially dangerous eruptions of behavior. I suppose the horse’s experiences reminded me of my own. Tossed around in a sea of humanity that often was not kind, and was almost always confusing.

I wondered… how could this whole mess be made less complex, less confusing, more rewarding and soul satisfying for all concerned (two and four legged)?

The herd seemed to say just stop. And so that’s what I did.

Just stop.

Now listen.

Not to the external noise, not even to the internal noise of your busy mind. Listen deeper. Listen for what seems to your novice ears like silence. It’s in the silence that everything meaningful is happening all around you. Learn to listen with more than your ears. Listen with your hands, listen with your entire body. Listen with your eyes, your heart, even your toes. Every part of you is purpose built to gather information from the world around you, from those around you, even from those you can no longer see, who have left their physical form.

The horses said, in their silent way, listen and we will tell you our stories. We will tell you exactly how we feel and exactly what we need. Your task is to simply learn to listen with all of your senses.

This seems a simple enough request, a simple enough thing to do. Be still, be quiet and just listen. But the mind. The body. They want to fidget and fuss. To think and analyze. To second guess and judge. To really be still and listen deeply is to embark on a journey to find your true self buried under all the residue of past events that overwhelmed your capacity to cope at the time, all the things you believe based on what you’ve learned, and what science can confirm.

To let go all of what I know, all of what has kept me safe and functioning in the world is terrifying. My body and mind can become easily overwhelmed again – shut down, run away, get distracted. This feels literally, life-threatening to make this kind of change. To dare to be true to myself…

Sometimes being true to yourself can feel selfish. How do I take care of my own needs first and still be in relationship with others? This is the great gift horses have for us. To teach us how to meet our own needs as a priority and still be able to be in relationship with others. Others who also are allowed to have their opinions, ideas, and needs they get to prioritize. It’s an intoxicating experience to be in relationship with another where both of you stand in your own sovereignty, no neediness, no leaning on one another. This is the space that opens the door to incredible creativity and insight. It is addictive. Pure and simple.

First, learn to listen to yourself:

Listen deeply to the calling of your own heart. We must learn to listen to ourselves first, for to whatever degree we disregard, ignore, or power through our own feelings, sensations, emotions, and needs, we diminish our capacity to appreciate the needs of the other.  

Becoming sensitive to the whispers of our own needs is an act of self-compassion. As our capacity to be kind to ourselves increases, so too does our ability to hear and sense the needs of others. Where once we experienced only our differences, now we have the capacity to find common ground. Where once  we felt irritation or frustration, anger or defensiveness, now we can see the suffering that underlies the behavior of the other. Now we are in a position to listen deeply to the needs of the other so they, too might experience feeling heard.

The act of listening is a gift to those who feel heard. There is a notable distinction between being heard and actually feeling heard. Feeling heard is healing in and of itself.

With deepest gratitude to the horses and all who have cheered me on as I found myself.

Andrea


PS. After many years developing my own form of movement based equine bodywork, I have finally figured out how I can teach it. Starting the weekend of the the 14th/15th of January, 2022 I will offer weekly movement sessions that consist of gathering on Zoom and engaging in a Somatic Movement practice as a group. After our movement practice I’ll share how I apply that practice to bodywork and training of the horse.

Budget 1 hour (plus more if you think you might want to stick around and ask questions)

Cost: I’ll offer these on a sliding scale of $10-$35 per session.

Contact me here if you are interested in signing up for the first class.

This first exploration will combine a practice for developing your ability to be still and notice what you feel/sense within your own body. We’ll combine that with a conscious breathing practice to help you begin to unravel held tension in your rib cage, abdomen, torso, neck and shoulders. Practiced consistently, these simple, restorative explorations give you a valuable tool for becoming aware of and releasing excess tension, but also any energy or emotions you might pick up as you go out into the world, and especially if you are already an equine bodywork who picks up on what the horses have been through.

We’ll take this exploration into some of my most favorite ways to support horses in releasing excess tension in their rib cage and gently mobilizing the pelvis and entire spine.

Sessions will be recorded and guided explorations made available to you post session.

For the most up to date scheduling of workshops join our free online community: Tango with Horses Online Community by clicking the link here.

Last weekend we did a free Introduction to the curriculum for Tango with Horses Online in 2022. We had a wonderful discussion about Tango around the question: horses are on four legs and humans are on two legs, how does that impact our partnership? I recorded the second session, which is available to watch for members of our Tango Community. Click the link above to gain access. If you are on the fence about joining our community but want to see the free intro, drop me a line at the contact me link above and I’ll send you a link directly to the video, and answer any questions you might have.

So much exciting stuff in the works!

Until next time!

Andrea

I See Water Everywhere…

Land Matters: Water Edition

Ground cover crop of radishes collecting water drops from the rain

I see water everywhere.

I live in the desert. A fertile valley alongside the Colorado River with high plateaus on all sides that drain excess water from snow melt and rain fall into the river and streams that feed the land here. It’s an amazing thing, living in the desert. Drive in almost any direction from the valley center and it’s not long before the verdant green pastures and abundant farms give way, to what by comparison, seems like a moonscape.

The power of water evident in the stark demarcation – where water is and where water isn’t…

We live in part of the country that has been hard hit by the last few years of drought. By and large, the agriculture here has grown dependent on irrigation pulled from reservoirs in the high country fed largely by snow melt, and as those have slowly dried up, the Colorado River itself. Make no mistake, if you live in states like Colorado, water is a commodity. We pay for our irrigation rights, we pay for the water that comes in each spring, and we negotiate with other regions, other states, and even our neighbors, for who has the rights to the water. It’s a battle ground. One that people have been shot over.

Seriously, my Dad was once threatened by a neighbor with a shot gun when he confronted the man about taking his water…

In Colorado there are strict regulations about the capture and retention of rain water. We can only capture and store so much before what we hold is considered a ‘share’. Technically, the rain water that flows into the river ‘belongs’ to downstream users. Same holds true for the irrigation water that runs off my fields. I can’t try to keep my ‘waste’ water for future use. I must let it flow by.

So here I sit in the desert watching our reservoirs run dry, watching the Colorado River at the lowest I have ever seen it this year. And yet, the irrigation water ran in the canals a full two weeks longer than normal. In past years there might have been water rationing and restrictions. Not so this year. And so how is it that in this environment, in this cycle of drought, I still see water everywhere?

We’ve had a pretty good Monsoon season during the fall. It doesn’t rain all that often, but when it does it rains hard, powerfully.

Can you feel it?

What it’s like to stand outside in a downpour?

After our long hot summer, I can tell you, it was bliss.

All that water ran swiftly off my roofs, onto the hard packed, summer baked clay, into the paddocks, pooling in every low spot to create deep muck. In other areas where fires burned last summer, flash floods ripped out roads, pouring a churning mass of ash and dead trees, rocks and mud, into the rivers. Acrid waste that chokes off oxygen supplies to the life in the river, stopping the flow of both human and animal life in its path.

It feels like feast or famine.

Investigate drought-stricken regions and you’ll find this is the pattern. When it doesn’t rain everything bakes in the sun, struggling to survive. When the wind blows the air fills with choking dust, and lately, smoke from the countless wild fires. When it rains, it floods.

It isn’t that we aren’t getting any rain, or that we don’t have enough water. What we’re lacking is a place for that water to go that makes the most of its power.

Once again, imagine, standing outside in that down pour. You’re standing out in the open, no shelter. How quickly do you get soaked, water pouring off of you and pooling in your shoes and at your feet? What happens if you go stand under some trees? Try it sometime. Notice what happens to rain when it hits the trees before it hits you? Rain hitting bare earth causes soil compaction, did you know that?

I read somewhere that the earth sees every patch of bare ground as a wound that needs to be covered. Nature will do whatever it takes to cover that bare ground. What we consider weeds are often the plants that have the capacity to grow on disturbed ground that might otherwise not support any life. Weeds can be early healers of the soil, they can be messengers for us, letting us know what’s lacking in that little patch of ground, and they can invite other critters and plants in that ultimately aid in healing.

Last week I learned that true weeds have shallow, simple root systems. They put all their energy into the above ground parts because they have a short life span so all their energy goes into producing seeds. Those true weeds do little to support soil health. Dandelions, on the other hand, are not technically weeds. They put down deep tap roots and have great benefits for the soil.

Getting things growing has taken on more significance here as I continue to learn. There is water everywhere and the growing things that cover the dirt protect the land from erosion, from the compaction that occurs when rain hits bare earth, cooling the ground by shading it from the relentless desert sun, and through photosynthesis, drawing Carbon dioxide out of the air, using the carbon atoms as the basis for food that attracts beneficial organisms to their root systems. These organisms ultimately pull nutrients out of the sand, silt and clay so they are in a plant available form. This whole process helps form the soil structure that turns my clay into a sponge that soaks up excess water, that filters the water before it hits the aquifers, streams, rivers, and ultimately, the ocean. Imagine how much better it is for all of the various ecosystems impacted by the water that leaves my property if it’s first filtered and clean?

Last night we had a soft rain. I woke this morning to a valley filled with fog. Water vapor in the air collecting on all the plants, the leaves of the trees, even the fences and spider webs. As this water collects it gains momentum and drips or falls or runs onto the ground. Ground that can or cannot absorb it. This morning I saw water everywhere as I realized that while it wasn’t raining out in the open, it WAS raining under the elm trees in my front yard where I now have grasses planted that help that water draw down into the earth, feeding the soil organisms, storing water IN THE GROUND for future use of the plants.

I filmed the sound of the fog condensing into drops and falling from the elm trees should you care to listen:

I see water everywhere and how, when I restore the water cycle on my property, I won’t need to use that irrigation water, I won’t need to pull my water from the Colorado River or the reservoirs up on the mesa. The little ecosystem right here will take care of itself with only minimal input from me, watching for signs and signals of what’s needed to support the self-sustaining cycle of life.

There IS water everywhere. Let’s give it back a place to go where it can once again become part of a healthy cycle of life.

On New Year’s Day I filmed our heavy, wet snow fall and took a tour describing where that snow will go as it melts… It’s worth thinking about:

So while I see water, and the potential for water everywhere, I also see the serious challenges I face right here on my own piece of land. The truth is, any of us who keep horses or other grazing animals should be taking the health of the soil very seriously. The truth is we ought to be quite alarmed. In my area, land is so expensive that farmers and ranchers literally can’t afford to graze cattle or grow hay on it when they can sell at an extremely high price and move across the country where there is more water, and land is far less expensive. The land they sell is developed into subdivisions or commercial properties in most cases.

We are losing our local food sources. We are losing our local hay production. And most alarming of all, we are losing our soil; consuming more, and giving back less. Estimations are fairly confident our water consumption will be 40% higher than what’s available from snow melt and ice melt by 2030, and the western US will be hardest hit. The lynch pin it seems, is the restoration of the water cycle via restoration of a healthy soil biome. Each and every one of us can, and should implement changes in our own back yards. Not next year, now. We have no time to lose. We can’t wait for science or the government to find solutions. We can reclaim the vitality and balance in our environment if we each do our part right now.

Until next time,

And Happy 2022! Let’s make it a year of regeneration on ALL levels!


If you care to learn more about restoration projects that are happening worldwide, and how you can do your part to restore the soil food web, feel free to contact me for resources, or join our free Tango with Horses Online Community on Mighty Networks where we are actively sharing resources:

Contact Andrea

Join the Tango with Horses Community

Saturday January 8, 2022 at 9 am and 2 pm MT we are hosting a free live introduction to Tango with Horses via Zoom. In this free introduction, we’ll explore the integrated concept of Tango with Horses centered around the question: Horses have four legs, and human have two legs. How does this difference impact our individual needs, and our capacity to move together? Where we go during this intro is limited only by our creativity and imagination! Use the same links above to contact me to be emailed a link to the time that works best for you, or join our community and RSVP via the events page. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Andrea

Negotiating Consent

It takes time and consistency to build a partnership. Some horses have such terrible experiences with humans early on in their lives that they don’t give consent freely. At least not at first. Last month I did a mini course where we gathered on Zoom and had a conversation about recognizing consent in horses. This can be dicey territory, as one participant mentioned this morning, I always freeze up when I start to look for things like consent, for fear of doing something wrong or missing a signal.

I see people freeze up, myself included, when I take something like looking for signs of consent out of context. In other words, I start to think the whole world of relationship with my horse revolves around them consenting. I might become an idealist, thinking that I cannot ask anything of my horse unless they enthusiastically offer up consent.

These days, I am continually reminded that every single thing I do with my horses is part of a larger conversation. Not just the conversation we have today, but conversations we’re going to have in the future. What I do today lays the groundwork for what happens tomorrow. When I put signs of consent into the context of a larger conversation, I realize that my horses engage in quite nuanced conversations with me throughout our interactions.

One moment there might be enthusiastic consent, they LOVE my idea and how I presented it and they are all in. The next moment they may withdraw their consent because I got greedy and pushed too far, asked too much, or went on with the same thing too long (boring). When I watch video of demonstrating palpation points on Gin, I see her reactions as an ongoing dialogue. Sometimes she says yes, not there, a little to the right, ouch! That spot really hurt, not like that, that’s better, thank you. These signs and signals happen rapid fire so if I move at a pace that allows it, I can read and respond to her feedback moment to moment.

Watching old videos of haltering Kastani I was struck by how my definition of consent has changed since then. I didn’t see a single clip where I felt Kastani was all in. But you know what? That’s okay. He stuck in there and engaged in a conversation where he let me know how he was feeling. Sometimes, I think we have to, in a sense, earn consent from our horses. Kastani was skeptical when he first came back to live with me. He didn’t know me anymore and we had history. He would stand to be haltered but he was braced and clearly showing me that he was giving me a chance to prove myself but he did not trust me.

Maybe that is consent of sorts. To say I’ll allow you to proceed, but with caution. To say I’ll let you do this thing, but I don’t know yet if I’m all in. It seems to me that some of the horses I have here need some convincing to try something, to give it a chance, to give me a chance, to prove that I, and what I offer might be different from what they’ve had before. If I do it right, I have the opportunity to prove myself to them. So maybe, next time I come they’ll be a little less skeptical, a little more willing to give me a chance. And maybe one day, they’ll offer up enthusiastic consent to join me in the dance.

Sometimes, we negotiate consent, or as close as we can get in the moment. How we behave when our horse grudgingly accepts what we offer determines how willing they are to commit to the partnership with their whole heart in future. The horses here are teaching me how earning their trust ties in with them offering enthusiastic, whole hearted consent.

Don’t expect your conversations with your horse to be perfect. Communication is never perfect. Communication requires some effort on both parts to truly hear the other, listen more than you talk, ask for less than you might desire when they agree to join you, go lightly with yourself and lightly with your horse. It’s so important to remember that we learn by making mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your horses. Learn to listen well enough that you begin to recognize when they are all in, and when they are not. They truly are our best teachers for developing our awareness of what we do and how we do it, and how those things affect them…

Happy Solstice! Enjoy these longest nights of the year, and remember to hole up a bit and rest in preparation for the spring!

Talk soon

Andrea


If you want to be part of an ongoing conversation about this kind of communication with horses, self awareness, self care, and more, come join our free community at Tango with Horses Online. We’d love to see you there!

LINK: Join FREE Community now

Coming into the new year I’ll be offering more short courses designed to help you refine what you do with your horses, develop your intuition, your capacity to recognize nuance, and move together with your horse with greater ease and efficiency. If you are curious to learn more or have requests for topics, please do reach out!

LINK: Contact Andrea

Connection just is…

On a trip to Dinosaur National Monument a few years back, these three cuties came for a visit…

Something shifts inside me. It happens on a cellular level. Every single cell owns this new way of being in the world. In this new world my body breathes me through every thing I do without excess effort or striving. I just breathe. I know deep in all of those cells that breathing is not an effort, not breathing is the challenging place.

Being connected to the horses and all of life is like breathing. There is no effort required, it just is.

My body and mind are learning what it feels like to let go of striving. What it feels like to be genuinely supported. The Earth rising up beneath me, resting into the embrace of our ‘Mother’. Putting out energetic roots that tap into that network of wisdom and nurturing. It’s the only way to fill the hole left by the passing of my human Mother. And I find her there too. She smiles and nurtures and carries on in her energetic form, the world’s best cheering section…

Communion with all that is. That’s where it’s at.

I can feel the herd and my land resonating with this internal shift away from effort, to surrender to the fact of connection.

Non-human animals understand that nature has a rhythm and timing that is glacially slow in comparison to our domesticated rat race. It is not easy to embrace the slow movement of nature when the rat race is so addictive. Rapid fire bursts of information, gratification, validation, and a false sense of community that holds us up and gives us a sense of belonging in a world rampant with separation. We seek further security in quick, efficient fixes and step by step programs, always looking for someone with more expertise to guide us. We lost touch with our instincts, our intuition, and our capacity to commune with nature and the wisdom of our own body a long time ago.

It is possible to become your own expert.

It is possible to reconnect with nature’s rhythms and learn to listen to the slow, subtle whispers of communication that are everywhere. Most especially within your own body and between you and your horse.

Gin says:

Connection just is. You humans work to disconnect from all that is. It isn’t difficult or dangerous to be connected. It’s difficult and dangerous to hold yourself apart from, disconnected from all the information, safety and love available to you. Open your big hearts to the wonder instead of the dis-ease. That’s the key.

Photo: Gin’s muzzle by Susan White

If you’d like to be part of a community of folks actively exploring this way of being in the world, come join our free community at Tango with Horses Online. There are perks to being a member.. Click here to join us, it only takes a moment:

LINK: Tango with Horses Online Community

Coming soon: Monthly somatic practices that help you become your own expert in listening to your own body, moving with greater efficiency and awareness, and discovering how to take those skills and share them with your horse. We’ll have a theme each month with practices for you and your horse, including a live Zoom session. You’ll be able to sign up for the whole year, or drop in as you wish. Keep an eye out here for more information coming soon!