Heartache and Joy

Merlin in the shadows

Merlin in the evening shadows

Life can be a lot like riding a roller coaster. High highs and low lows coming in such rapid succession you get whiplash. Great heartache and great joy side by side…

Saturday, another morning that didn’t feel like morning yet, cold, damp, socked in and grey. I had plans today. Hustle through the morning feeding and get on the road with Susan to visit our dear friend Jean in Paonia. Then I would go visit Feather before he hitched a ride home after Carla Lays dropped off Shelby for George. It’s been two weeks since I last saw him and I cannot wait to visit and reinforce that we are still going to be partners.

As I near the south end of the property to throw hay and rearrange turnout for the day I scan the property looking for horses. My eye catches on a dark shape in the farthest corner of the arena area that shouldn’t be there…

Every horse person’s worst nightmare. Realizing it’s a horse that is out where he shouldn’t be. That he’s down and rolling into positions that say ‘I’m in so much pain’. Clearly a bad colic. It’s my friend’s horse who’s lived here for three years and has a sensitive system, funky weather can be his nemesis. And in an instant my plan shifts. I know where I’ll be spending my day. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know not to waste any time, get hay to the horses, secure the area and run for the house to call his owner, the vet and reinforcements. Grab an apple, drink some water, and prepare for a marathon.

And a marathon it was. One of those cases where they don’t get dramatically worse, but there’s no improvement either. He wasn’t turning that corner they need to turn for me to feel confident they are going to snap out of it. At 4 pm I hooked up the trailer and we hauled him to the vet clinic for further diagnosis and treatment, to maybe rally in a warm stall with fluids overnight. Sadly, that was not to be. He had twisted his gut and there was nothing more to be done. He did his best and we did our best by him, letting him go before he had to suffer more pain.

Exhausted and frozen to my core I returned home feeling defeated, and relieved that Carla had hit weather delays and Feather would not be coming in the cold, dark night at the end of this very sad day. I missed Merlin at late night feeding, as I cried into my horse’s manes.

Sunday dawned warmer already than yesterday with sun and blue sky peeking through the foggy low clouds. Up early, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning! And I’m getting a new pony today! It’s an odd place to be in, this middle ground between still feeling the loss of one life while preparing to welcome a new life, a new chapter, the very next day. The first morning after the loss of a herd member always seems extra quiet, a moment of silence for the departed perhaps.

In that deep winter morning silence, I hear Merlin speaking to me from his new perspective. He’s telling me how important it is to stay present in the moment. Yesterday is the past, and if I get stuck there, being sad, then I won’t be able to sense where he is now. Still with us, just in a different way. If I am stuck in the past, the loss, then I can’t hear his wisdom and feel his presence now. If I’m stuck in the past, even though it’s only yesterday, I won’t be fully present today to experience the joy of Feather coming to live with us.

I can feel how at peace he is and feel the rightness of what he shares.

Since Steve and I came to live on this piece of land we’ve laid ten horses to rest. Steve’s Dad has passed. My Mom last summer and my dear friend Cori, and countless others. Death walks hand in hand with life. It is inevitable. In my experience it is not the end though. My loved ones, both two and four legged, are still with me. They live on in my heart and share their wisdom from this new perspective they have. So much wisdom.

I remember, the day after Cori passed, I was out watering my garden while tears streamed down my face. Suddenly I felt this insanely joyful presence. I could just about see her, in her typical fashion, dancing a jig around me for the sheer joy of being free. ‘Seriously’, I thought, ‘is that you Cori? And seriously? Are you really dancing a jig around me right now?’ The answer was clearly ‘yes.’

‘Can’t I have one day to grieve?’

From her perspective there was nothing to grieve. She was free. Filled with joy. At peace. I felt that same sense from my Grandmother the day after she passed.

Life and death walk side by side. I wish we had better cultural traditions that gave us a healthy relationship with death and dying.

Thanking Merlin for sharing his wisdom I decide to honor him and all those passed on, by being fully present in each moment today. Rolling with the punches and adapting to what life decides to gift me. The horses fed and enjoying the warmer weather it’s time to rest up after yesterday’s demands and prepare for Feather’s arrival.

I would have loved to be there when he was loading to reassure him and provide support, but the timing just didn’t work out. So, I eat my breakfast with my laptop open to Facebook anxiously awaiting updates! Around 9:30 George posts the photo of Shelby, his new visitor, in the paddock! I’m on pins and needles awaiting word that they have him loaded. Finally, George sends a message that they are starting to work with him to get on the trailer and they are taking it slow. Some time later he calls, with laughter in his voice, and says: ‘well, he’s on the trailer….. With the burros…..’

2019-12-06 14.59.30

Feather at George’s with Fast Eddie

For those of you that don’t know Feather’s story, he is a 4-year-old, unhandled mustang gelding that I adopted on December 4th. He stayed with George (his foster person) until now because I had a trip mid- January and didn’t want my help here having to care for my new wild child while I was gone. Feather has been sharing his paddock with two BLM burros – Sneaky Pete and Fast Eddie (otherwise known as the Flying Burrito Brothers). Feather was not about to get on that trailer so when the burros scooted onto the rig when they went to move them to another paddock, Carla and George made the decision to leave them on and see if Feather would follow them in.

He did.

George laughed as he told me how he asked Carla: ‘so how do we get the burros out and keep Feather in?’ She shrugged in response and George just burst out laughing. He called me to see if I minded if the Burrito Brothers came along for the ride and stayed for a while. Really, it couldn’t be more perfect! For him to come with buddies to his new home makes the transition so much less stressful. Susan had fallen in love with those burros on her weekly visits with me to see Feather. She joked several times that she thought Feather should come with the burros – as a set – so to speak. I knew she’d be tickled pink they were coming and decided I’d make it a surprise!

An hour and 15 minutes later (it seemed like eons!), with brilliant blue skies and warm sun shining on us, the rig pulled in. The look on Susan’s face was priceless when she realized there were burro ears sticking up in there. When I told her what happened, and why they were along for the ride, she giddily started describing all the fun things we could do with the burros this summer! Ha! George might have to arm wrestle her to get those burros back!

The three of them off loaded and settled in so nicely.

20200126_141646

Jack acting as welcoming commitee

A bunch of grinning fools for the rest of the day. A day that could not have been more different than Saturday. From cold, damp and grey to bright, sunny and warm. From the end of one life to the early chapters of a new one. That roller coaster with its low lows and high highs. The only way to thrive is to enjoy the ride! Be grateful for, and present, in each and every moment. Great heartache and great joy live within me simultaneously.

I am grateful for all of it!

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

If you want to hear more about my journey with Feather you can follow along on Facebook!

The Tango with Horses Tribe

Gandalf Gray Feather

2020 online courses are set to launch on February 3rd! Learn more here

 

 

 

 

 

Compassionate Communication

20180611_144936-1

You just had the best day with your horse, a huge breakthrough, an aha, a moment of pure joy and tenderness. That moment got captured on film and you can’t wait to share this phase or your process! Filled with the warm glow of love for your horses you post your picture to Facebook…

There is a growing movement towards humane, compassionate ways of keeping horses in our lives and doing things with them. It makes my heart sing to see so many moving in the direction of listening to what our horses have to say, honoring how they feel, their intelligence and sensitivity. Most of us wouldn’t dream of harming our horses, causing them stress or pain. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have and feel immense remorse when we unintentionally cause harm. In my experience we mostly admit we are a work in progress and continually seek to do better, learn more.

We are a passionate lot that loves horses with such fervor we’d do just about anything to see them treated fairly, be understood, not taken advantage of or abused. When we find our path, we can become a bit like religious zealots trying to convert everyone to our side. Not because we’re crazy but because we’re so excited about how great what we’re doing is working! How much our horse relationships improved, how happy and healthy our horses are… We want everyone’s horses to have it this good.

 

We are so lucky to have the internet and social media to connect us to the broader possibilities of what’s out there. To connect us to communities filled with like-minded people, no matter how fringe our particular philosophy might be in our own back yard! Never before has it been possible to have an impact on such a large scale, sharing our ideas, advocating for horses…

The variety of ways to build relationships with horses has never been so broad. We have innumerable options! Innumerable opinions! And everyone, of course, believes their chosen path is the best one, myself included. I spent much of my life loving horses with that fanatical fervor. I swore I would never take anything from the horses, I existed to serve them and help them heal from the damage done by humans. I harbored intense resentment towards people for the damage they caused.

It’s easy, when we feel so strongly, to notice everything that everyone else is doing wrong. To get emotionally triggered by images and videos that run counter to our beliefs. It used to be easy enough to discern what constitutes abuse. That’s not the case anymore. There are extremes now from one end that advocates for letting horses be horses, that we have no right to ask anything of them. All the way to the equine industry where horses are still trained for sport and competition. It’s not just abuse if you beat a horse with a stick, now it might be considered abuse if put a bit in your horse’s mouth, or if you choose not to ride. So many extremes.

 

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to fire off comments that point out everything that’s wrong. Shame is prevalent in the horse world. We care so much we beat ourselves up over every small error anyway. These comments land hard. They shut doors to communication and cause people to think twice about sharing. Nobody gains a thing.

What if, when we got triggered by something we saw in a photo, we paused, took a breath and recognized that this was a moment in time and we don’t know the whole story? What if we took a moment to ask ourselves what our motive is in hitting send on that comment that will no doubt make this person burn with shame? What if we asked ourselves, how would I treat my horse if they were doing something I didn’t like?

 

What if we all took a moment to ask a few questions instead of stating the obvious? What if we commented in a way that was kind and opened the door to a friendly conversation? One where we have the whole story and make an educated, compassionate response that inspires someone to continue reaching out for guidance and continue learning?

We have the power to change the world, us passionate, fervent advocates for horse welfare, but only if we start treating each other with the same kindness and compassion we share with our horses.

Should you care to join the conversation come join The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook!

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

 

 

 

Horses that change your life

Gin and I in Carbondale

Gin and I in our youth

Some horses change your life forever.

I first met Gin at Colorado State University. She was one of twenty young mares shipped to Colorado from Texas for the school’s colt starting program. These mares were bred to be tenacious, athletic and whip smart! I graduated from the Equine Science program that spring, watching with tears in my eyes as Gin loaded on a semi stock trailer to ship back to Texas for auction. My heart broke seeing her go but I had no resources to travel to Texas and bid on her.

Fast forward some months later and I get a phone call from a fellow student. He had traveled to Texas and ended up winning the bid on Gin. She was back in Colorado! I told him that if he ever decided not to keep her, he should call me first. Not even a month later he received a job offer and couldn’t take her along. He was willing to sell her to me for what he paid at auction.

Steve and I had just married. I didn’t have a job yet. But Dad had gifted me a pony to use as a lesson horse as a graduation present. I sold him for $800 and Steve let me take all the money given as wedding gifts. Together it was just enough to meet the purchase price and Dad I went on a road trip to pick up Gin.

Gin was never easy.

At CSU she was one of the more challenging among the group of fillies. The first time we caught our horses, the 20 students lined up across the paddock, facing down 20 fillies that had never worn halters. We herded them into an array of fanned out panels along a short side of the paddock. As soon as the mares were in the funnel of fencing, we each grabbed a panel and swung them in to create one long squeeze chute filled nose to tail with squirming young horses. That was how I came to put a halter on Gin for the first time. Climbing the fence panel and wrestling a halter on her head.

The next day all the other fillies ran into that funnel. Gin did not. She paced angrily up and down the line of young college students, neck snaking, ears flattened sideways, looking first one, then another student right in the eyes until she found the weakest link in our chain and charged the person. She knew they would not hold their ground.

Yep.

Twenty people failed to chase one long yearling filly into a funnel full of her herd mates. If she didn’t want to do something, no one was going to make her! I read Cherry Hill’s book on starting horses, our assigned reading, and learned about approach and retreat. Within two days I was able to develop rapport with Gin and could walk out to the paddock and halter her at will, while the other students continued the rodeo chute affair.

Gin and I riding early days at CSU

Riding Gin at CSU. Both of were SO young!!

What I learned in that colt starting program was a way to train horses that held no appeal. I remember getting through the year and thinking what a tragedy it was that in my senior year, final semester, I was only just learning what it seemed to take to start a horse from scratch, according to industry standard. I did not like it one bit and wondered what on earth I’d signed up for. Was this a life I could really live with any sense of personal integrity? Gin coming home to live with me post-graduation was such a gift. An opportunity to learn with a green horse I felt I knew inside and out.

I was definitely in over my head with her. She was unlike any other horse I had ridden. Volatile and opinionated, she never seemed interested in the kind of connection a twenty something young woman dreams of. Several years into our struggling partnership, Kim Walnes encouraged me, gently prodding and reminding over the course of a year, to consult with an animal communicator she knew and trusted. I did not believe in that nonsense and resisted.

I had a job now, managing a 20-stall dressage barn. It was demanding work that left me very small windows of time for Gin. Usually I was pretty stressed. I’d rush out to the pasture and Gin, seeing me coming, would meet me half way. But she was sizing me up as she came. If she decided I was in a no-good frame of mind she would walk in a circle around me, looking me up and down, and then continue on back out to pasture. Made me so mad when she did that! I’d throw the halter on the ground or chase after her, stomping my feet and shouting…. Well, no wonder she wanted nothing to do with me….

One day, Kim was there to teach a workshop and my lesson time was fast approaching. Gin sensed my stress levels and marched away. This time, in utter exhaustion and defeat, I dropped the halter on the ground, plopped down, dejected on the ditch bank, and burst into tears. My short, intense melt down ended as quickly as it began and I found myself taking a deep breath. Realizing Gin was right. I was in no fit shape to be a worthy partner. I apologized to her. I felt me feet on the ground and sat quietly enjoying the beauty of the day. The next thing I knew Gin was beside me nosing the halter. That was the day that she officially became MY teacher.

I did finally call that animal communicator, with great skepticism. Theresa spent a week corresponding long distance with Gin. I did nothing with her that week. The scientist in me intended to make this an objective experiment. Any changes in her demeanor or attitude at the end of the week would certainly be related to the animal communication session and not something I had done. I’d see her often standing separate from the herd that week, statue still, inward focused. Not like her at all. A few days in boarders started seeking me out to ask me what I’d done to Gin. She had never interacted with them before and was now coming up to them, putting her head over their shoulders, looking for treats and scratches. My mind was blown.

Theresa said it took several days to get Gin to agree to talk with her. She didn’t think humans had much to offer her. Finally, she relented, but only because the novelty of connecting with a human who wasn’t actually there intrigued her. She reiterated that she had little use for humans. Theresa asked about me. Her response: ‘she’s better than most, but she’s still a human’. It was important to me that she understand I was trying to find a different way to work with than what I had learned at CSU. But I had no blueprint for what that looked like. I was trying to find help that was more in line with what I thought I wanted. She asked that if I ever saw another horse and human working together in the way I had in mind, I show her.

Gin and I shoveling together

Helping me drain puddles from the arena many years ago.

From that day forward, every time I was with her and we encountered another horse and rider, she would stop, look at me pointedly, then look back at them. I could almost hear asking: ‘like that?’ I’d watch for a few minutes and every time I’d have to respond: ‘no, not that’. She’d sigh in what felt like relief and we’d continue on our way. And so it was that Gin changed my life. Thanks to her, her strong opinions, and complete lack of willingness to be bullied, I had no choice but to find another way or sell her. I chose to find another way.

andrea-8401

A few years ago, finally in sync

Gin lit the way. She pushed me to seek true partnership. 50:50. She and I found a way to cooperate and do a lot of cool things in our life together. Though I wouldn’t say I ever fully understood what she was trying to teach me until just about 5 years ago. She’s thirty years old now and retired from riding, but she loves to teach people still. As her time with me comes to a close I’ve wondered what’s next? How do I do my life without Gin and her wise, quiet presence?

IMG_4980 (2)IMG_4984 (2)

And along comes Feather. A 4-year-old unhandled mustang wearing a halter and lead that were wrestled onto his head in much the same way I first wrestled a halter onto Gin’s head nearly 30 years ago. All wild reactivity, finely tuned, sensitive doesn’t begin to cover it! In the few short weeks since I adopted him, he’s already changed my life again. The path Gin lit he’s now pushing me to step onto with all my heart. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. When the things you always knew were possible, the thing you’ve spent your life seeking, is within your grasp.

 

Come join the Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook if you’d like to stay up to date on upcoming events or just interact with a fabulous group of kind humans who love their horses!  The Tango with Horses Tribe

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

Finding Balance

IMG_4124 (2).JPG

Today I decided to do something a bit different and do a video blog. It’s easy to engage in activities on ends of a spectrum and forget that there is a whole lot of nuance in between all and nothing. This is especially important to remember in building a partnership with a horse that is enriching for both horse and human.

To hear more, click the link:

Video blog

2020 is fast approaching and that means the start of a new year of online classes! Lots of exciting new topics on deck for this year! To keep abreast of the latest news join us on Facebook: The Tango with Horses Tribe

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

A Winter Gift

IMG_4626.jpg

Winter Solstice upon us and in these short, dark days there is a bit of light in my world already. My friend Cori used to talk about ‘synchronicities’ all the time. Defined as the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection, Cori was a big believer. Perhaps she had a hand in the series of events that led me to have a new horse come into my life during this dark season, in more ways than one. A spark of youth and vibrant energy to bring balance back to my life, my herd, and my bruised heart.

Feather meme

His name is Gray Feather, a four year old mustang gelding from Oregon. He made it to Colorado into foster care at Eagles and Wild Horses Ranch by way of Evanescent Mustang Sanctuary in Texas. He came unhandled except for the halter and lead rope unceremoniously shoved onto his head in a chute when he was purchased by people who thought that might make it easier for them to gain some control over this wild one.  I doubt they ever touched that rope… He’s still at Eagles and Wild Horses and will stay there until the days are longer and travel a bit easier on both horse and human. I can’t remember the last time I had a horse in my life that didn’t live with me! It’s not easy! In the time since I made the adoption official, I’ve been to see him maybe seven times.

 

Screenshot_2019-07-01 (15) Gandalf First Meeting June 27 2019 - YouTube(9)

Our first meeting end of June. Already laying the foundation for moving together. That day I was just happy if he’d close the gap between us just a little.

He’s slowly shifting from extremely volatile, ‘mock charging’ out of fear frequently. I marvel at his sensitivity, his insistence on accuracy, focus, honesty and clear intent. I have always worked with domesticated horses that have been desensitized in some way. This horse is all sensitivity and undomesticated reaction. The opportunity of a lifetime for me to see exactly what is possible in building a true partnership. A partnership based in shared dialogue and mutual trust.

 

True Tango with Horses…

For several weeks my time with him was spent sitting down on a mounting block. It’s the only way I could force myself to be still and not try something. Every time I tried standing or moving around him he would go into fight or flight mode. Finally, on Friday, I thought he was trusting me enough to revisit standing up.  He was, and I could even stroke his face while standing, a first. I decided this would be a good day to lay the foundation for him to feel comfortable following me.

He senses and responds to such tiny impulses. I can imagine him meeting me half way, feel for the moment when he’s agreed, take a step in his direction and he turns and starts walking toward me. We meet half way. I can stand in front of him and create an intention to move towards him, he shifts his center of gravity back. If I take a step first, or move into his space too fast he turns abruptly and marches to his ‘time out’ corner. It’s such refinement to find the place where he might be able to take one step back, but he’s proving to me that it is absolutely possible to build a foundation of communication without being the dominant one. We can simply learn to dance together by mutual choice.

20191223_065837

Here is responded to my shift of weight and is preparing to follow my lead. One step at a time.

Right at the end of our time together I could feel that he had enough input. I almost walked away and let him be but then I looked at the clock and thought, ‘I have time, just one more try’….

I imagined him meeting me half way. I did not feel him agree before I stepped toward him. He did not turn to come. I took another step toward him, very much in my head now wanting to make it happen. He still did not turn to meet me as he had every other time. I took another step toward him and he came. He stood in front of me and then got stressed enough to mock lunge.

I call it mock charge and mock lunge because he doesn’t follow through. I know him well enough to recognize this as a clear sign of him experiencing stress. It’s his way of letting me know something is too much for him. In other words there is nothing here to punish.

I know him well enough to know all I need to do is raise a hand and he turns just as abruptly away. But then on the heels of that I have to apologize to him because I flat did not listen to my own instincts, or to him. I let my head jump in and convince me for one more try. Had I listened we would have had an entire session of beautiful communication with no mock lunging at all.

So, I could beat myself up for that and walk away feeling like I blew it, but I know that doesn’t serve any purpose. Instead, I sat back down on the mounting block and got still, back to our mutual comfort zone. Waited for him to recognize that I was sorry for not listening and then packed myself up and left him for the day.

IMG_4663My goal in life is to find a way to work with horses that does not involve being the dominant one. Working with horses is supposed to be fun, fighting with horses, dominating them, forcing compliance in any fashion has never felt right for me. I’m beyond thrilled to have this opportunity to develop a relationship from the ground up with a horse that has not been desensitized to anything. The level of sensitivity and communication available is remarkable and intoxicating. Just like dancing a really good Tango!

It’s an incredible opportunity I will not squander.

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

If you want to follow along on my Journey with Gray Feather you can follow us on Facebook: Gandalf Gray Feather

or subscribe to my journal: Gray Feather’s Journal

Want to learn more about my philosophy, interact directly with me, and gain early access to learning opportunities? Come join the Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook!

 

 

How to Catch a Sensitive Horse

IMG_1277.jpeg

He stood near the back of his paddock as I approached the gate, studiously avoiding any glance in my direction to indicate he sees me. Reminds me of what I do when someone I don’t want to dance with tries to make eye contact from the dance floor. He doesn’t even have a wing man to pretend to be in conversation with, poor guy! I remember this gelding, recalling how when he first came to these folks, he wouldn’t let me or really anyone near him. He was so fearful and guarded. He’s come a long way with people who hope to better understand how to support his level of sensitivity.

As I stand at the gate, I look for some sign of invitation to enter his paddock. The way I see it, when I approach his gate, I just knocked on his door, I’m asking if I can come in. Sometimes I see a visual sign of invitation, but more often I feel it, like an invisible barrier goes down when he’s ready. These early interactions are key, they set the tone for the rest of our conversation. He assesses me as I approach to discern if I am polite, if I listen.

Most people enter a horse’s paddock or stall like my Dad enters my house. Our front door opens up right into our living room, there is no entry acting as a barrier to my living space. Much like a horse’s paddock or stall. Dad knocks, and at the same time, opens the door and walks on in. He starts talking as he enters the room regardless what I might be doing. I could be on the phone with a client, for example: ‘Are you on the phone again?’  He continues to talk as though the phone call doesn’t exist and whatever he needs right now is far more important than what I am doing.

I imagine that’s how most horses feel when we go to catch them!

Horses are highly intelligent, social animals. They have a whole life of things they do, that are important to them, when we are not around. I like to pay attention to what my horse has going on when I come to get him. Let him finish what he’s doing before I wade in and grab him. The more sensitive a horse is the more important it is to honor this piece. To stand at the gate and feel for the invitation to come in. When he finally glances furtively in my direction, I take that as an invitation to come into his house. That doesn’t necessarily mean I have permission to walk right up and throw the halter on him!

Greeting a horse, in my mind, is not that much different than greeting a person. If I don’t know someone hardly at all, as is the case with this horse, then I’m going to observe body language signals and feelings to help me sus out the nuances of how to help them feel comfortable with me. In the case of this horse, comfortable enough that he’s willing to let me put a halter on his head. Really think about that? How comfortable would you have to feel to allow someone to greet you by putting something on your head and lead you around by your head???

It’s a little bit intimate.

A little bit vulnerable.

As I approach, he watches me furtively out of the corners of his eyes. If he were human, I’d say he was shy. He’s not someone I’d barrel up to and give a big bear hug because it would totally freak him out! When I get about ten feet from him, I feel a wall of anxiety. This is why I love the fact that we can communicate with feelings. Outwardly he’s standing there. He’s facing me, more or less, not moving away. He doesn’t LOOK anxious. And yet I feel a wall of anxiety and the tiniest change in body language that says ‘please don’t come any closer’. So, I stop. Because that’s the polite thing to do.

Only when I feel his anxiety dissipate do I walk towards him again. He looks at me as I come parallel to his shoulder and imagine approaching to put the halter on. In response, he pivots away. A beautiful 180 so he is now facing away from me with his face near the fence. Fair enough. I take this as his way of letting me know it was too soon to ask for that. Maybe he needs more information about what my intentions are once the halter is on!

Calmly walking around to his left side, this time I ask him if it’s okay to touch his shoulder. I feel the opening that indicates that’s okay so I step in and touch his shoulder. He is watching me now and I seem to be passing his tests. This horse is smart. He knows he can assess each individual that comes to his house and discern if they are trustworthy or not. He gives incredibly accurate feedback, or another way to look at it, he is a great at engaging in conversation.

Horses rarely operate at the pace most humans do. As long as there’s no emergency, they take their time. They live fully in the moment, and as long as we don’t push them and get them worried, they respond to extremely small input. Most of the problems people consult with me about stem from a lack of patience. We expect to barrel into their house whenever we feel like it, while we’re talking on our cell phone or thinking about what we need to do next, slap the halter on and have them follow us to wherever we go, whatever we do, without even a proper ‘hello, how are you doing today?’ Most horses learn to accept that level of communication from humans.

Some horses, like this guy, get triggered into past traumas when people rush him. Certain things pull him out of the moment and cause him to recall what it was like before he came here. In this state of mind, he no longer hears the small input. He may not be able to hear anything anymore. All he knows is that he gets stressed around this person.

I can see how I can make him more comfortable with having the halter put on if he has a sense of the bigger picture. Frankly, he’s way too tall for me to get a halter on him without his cooperation. We have a silent conversation. In the end, he helps me get the halter on him.

Getting the halter on is only the beginning of the conversation between us. Just because I have a halter on, some measure of control over him now, does not mean I should take advantage of that and just get on with what I need to do with him, carting him off like a piece of meat. No, this is the beginning of the conversation. Everything I do from the moment I enter his home sets the tone for everything else we do together that day. When I find a way to slow myself down to his pace, give him the time he needs to discern that I might be worthy of his trust, then he can willingly follow me anywhere.

He knows I have his back.

He knows I listen.

But more importantly, he knows I understand because I answer his questions appropriately.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

IMG_4674

In case you hadn’t heard, I adopted my first mustang a few weeks ago! I’m keeping a journal about the experience here:

Gray Feather’s Journal

and on Facebook here:

Gandalf (Gray Feather)

 

and if you want to learn more about my work and learning opportunities coming in 2020 join The Tango with Horses Tribe on Facebook.

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is Connected

IMG_4706.jpg

Never underestimate the innumerable ways everything and everyone are connected. Not just human to human, but human to animal, human to plant, we’re inexorably connected to everything around us. We humans seem to get caught up in the prevalent belief that we are somehow separate from nature and each other. That somehow, we can be hands off, and not have an impact. But I don’t think that’s true. I think we’re connected and having an influence whether we’re taking physical action or not.

The very first year I ran my online class the topic of how much people can be emotionally traumatized by images they see on the internet came up. I decided to engage my students in an exercise. My intention was to show them that one of the reasons we sometimes get so ‘triggered’ by images online is because we create a whole story around the image that we can’t possibly know is true. I thought I could prove my point by sharing some images of horses in my care. All they could see were their faces and I intentionally chose photos where the horses looked pretty engaged with the world, no tack, nothing to get hung up on.

One of the photos was of Romeo, who had passed away years ago. The other two of foster horses who still lived with me at the time, but the images were years old. What surprised me, was how those two horses changed during the week I had their images posted to my group. Jack became very cranky around us. Hercules was laying down sleeping all the time.

It took me a few days to figure out what was going on, but the thing that really prompted me to check in more deeply was when one of the students said Jack was cranky or grumpy. He did not look grumpy or cranky in the photo, but he was in person, so where was this coming from? I called my animal communicator and asked her what was going on…

What she told me kind of blew my mind. My students were not just looking at the photos and evaluating them in a vacuum. It did not matter that the photos were a moment in time that had long past, they were still connecting to the horses somehow. Jack told Theresa that he was cranky because he didn’t like how people were looking at him. Hercules just shrugged (or at least I imagine that if he were a human he would have shrugged) and said: ‘people see what they want to see’. He was unfazed by it but seemed to be sleeping all the time because he was tuning in with people ‘out there’ so much.

At the time, I was just freaked out. It never occurred to me that by posting photos of my horses and myself I might be exposing us to the thoughts and feelings of every individual that looks at them. My intention had been to explain to my students how much energy they were expending needlessly creating a story that they couldn’t possibly know was true. But it ended up being so much more than that. Because the stories we envision when we see an image of a horse actually reach out through the ether and touch that horse, or that person…

Everything is connected.

We get bombarded with images on social media. Images are a moment in time but they still give us a window that reaches out and touches the individuals pictured. Horses feel it when we create a story around what’s happening to them and they don’t like it. If our thoughts, emotions and the stories we make up have an impact when we’re looking at a photo from a million miles away, imagine what kind of impact those same thoughts, emotions and stories have when we are actually with our horses?

Remember to be mindful. Even when you’re sitting at your computer looking at pictures, feel your feet on the ground and breathe. Open your heart and mind before you start typing and think about the impact you’re having..

IMG_4674.jpg

Never has this fact of our interconnectedness been more real for me than in the last week. You see, I adopted a mustang that has a bigger following on Facebook than I do! Because so many people care about this horse and what happens to him, I created a Facebook group where people can get updates on his progress. I’m learning a lot about creating clear boundaries and setting the tone of the conversation. It’s a vulnerable thing to share something publicly that for me is very special and intimate. I am thrilled with the group of followers and how they are embracing my request for mindfulness in observing and commenting.

We can have a positive impact with our thoughts and feelings just as surely as we can have a negative one. My mind is blown each day by how my gray horse softens and lets go as his followers stop focusing on the problems, on his history, and start focusing on all the good things in his life and his world.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

If you’d like to follow along join us on Facebook: Gandalf Gray Feather I’ll be sharing the story of how this guy orchestrated getting me to adopt him here. Not on Facebook but want to follow us, no problem, here’s a link to his blog page: Gray Feather’s Journal

If you want to learn more about how I work with horses and humans in general come join The Tango with Horses Tribe

Andrea_COD_FB_group header_v3.1