Feel More, Think Less

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For all their marvelous computing power, the human brain can sure get in the way of engaging in a fluid conversation with a horse in motion. Healthy horses respond instantaneously, intuitively, and usually accurately, to our requests. There isn’t a lot of time for me to think about my next move because horses simply act, or don’t. If I am in my head, focused on technique, or thinking about what I should be doing, or this horse just has to be exercised, then I am not fully present in the moment.  My thinking mind is simply not quick enough to keep the dance fluid and appropriately responsive, to choreograph every step in real time…

Being stuck in my head, I am more likely to miss opportunities to provide clarity, or miss something important the horse is trying to communicate to me.

Unfortunately, anytime we determine to move with our horses in any way, but especially those involving head gear and ropes attached to faces, good technique is required – both for effective communication and as a kindness to the horse. Learning technique without thinking too much is a challenge. If you have someone coaching you while you learn, staying fully present with your horse, and out of your head, might seem impossible. Words kind of naturally put us in our head space, disconnecting us from our body and what we feel.

What I feel in my hands as I hold the lead line, long lines, and reins, provides crucial information about the horse. But only if I hold that line with sensitivity and tact. Any excess tension in my body, but especially in my fingers, hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders, blocks any body signal I might send to my horse, AND prevents me from accurately feeling the horse. If I am fully present in the moment, sensing with my whole body, I can literally feel the level of tension or relaxation in the horse’s mind and body. I can even sense their emotional tone from moment to moment, gauging how they feel about each request. I can feel when they are in good balance to ask for a transition, and when they are not. I can use my entire body to influence or support them, providing clarity and ease in how we move together.

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It is not easy to think and feel at the same time! It is a challenge to process the lesson I just read, that video I just watched, and put it into practice without getting stuck in my head space. To take a lesson and implement a coach’s suggestions without disconnecting from a place of feeling and sensing is something I had to learn. It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset that hampers my ability to connect with the horse. Whether it be the idea that I have to exercise my overweight horse, or I have to hold the line a certain way, these are thoughts that tend to disconnect me, making my interaction with a horse rote and goal focused. These qualities don’t make me fun to dance with!

I always remember feeling a certain amount of frustration when being coached. I mean, the coach is not holding the lines, or sitting on the horse feeling what I feel. Most act on what they see, giving rapid fire instructions that get louder when I don’t act quickly enough. I get it. I can be that coach! Because horses tend to respond with such accuracy and immediacy, it’s hard not to give rapid fire instructions.

 

Unfortunately, by the time a coach says something it’s too late for me to act anyway, so I learned to stay connected to what I was feeling from my horse, allowing the coaching to filter through, making small adjustments according to what I was hearing, in timing that felt appropriate to the horse in the moment. If I heard the same thing over and over again, or my coach got louder, then I knew I was not implementing what they had in mind. I learned things went much better for the horse if I stopped so I could ask them to clarify please without losing the connection with the horse.

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Sometimes I think people figure if they work with their horses at liberty they can focus less on technique, and that it’s inherently kinder to the horses since the horse has a sense of choice. But if a horse is in any kind of confined space, or being motivated by food, they don’t really have a choice. And working without the physical connection provided by those lines (lead, long lines, reins) is like working without a safety net. The possibility for confusion on the part of the horse goes through the roof. So while I may not be pulling on their face, I can be equally disconnected, and possibly even more confusing. My responsibility for being fully present is amplified ten fold.

It is much easier to create stress and confusion without a line between us than with one. The level of focus required to notice and respond to all the subtle nuance in the horse’s body language at liberty is amazing and intense. My own body sensing must be sharp, remembering every small gesture and position that helps us dance together with clarity and ease. It’s easy enough to get a horse to walk, trot or canter round and round but to do that in a way that the horse chooses to participate and enjoys the shared movement, now that’s the trick!

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Last summer, a first meeting with Feather (Gandalf at the time) I had to be so precise in remembering the movements and gestures he responded to, or I’d make him really nervous.

Find ways to practice your technique away from the horse. Develop your ability to handle ropes and lines practicing with other people who can give you verbal feedback. Practice being organized and consistent so that when you are with your horse you don’t have to think about how to hold the rope, your body just knows. You don’t have to think about how to gather the reins without bumping your horse’s mouth, your body just knows. When being coached, learn to allow the coaching to filter through while maintaining your connection to your horse. Stop and ask for help if you need to. Develop your body awareness away from your horse so that you can move with precision when you are with them.

Feel, timing and balance is not something you can think your way into. It is a full body experience that starts with feel for a reason. Timing and balance, in my experience, can’t happen without feel. Feel begins with breathing, and staying present in your body first. I use my mind to help me train intelligently when I am not with my horse so that when I AM with my horse I can prioritize what I feel and sense on a moment to moment basis. Feeling and responding fluidly gives me immediate, accurate information that guides our shared movement toward something that is magical, but also, and more importantly in my estimation, in a way that takes the horse’s feelings and current physical capacity into account so that what we do together is appropriate, affirming, and mutually beneficial.

Think less, feel more. Your horse will thank you!

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Healing in the Embrace of the Herd

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Roughly five years ago I embarked on a mission. I was deeply immersed in dancing Argentine Tango. In Tango partners dance in the ’embrace’, a deeply intimate place, where movement is shared literally heart to heart. Work in hand, riding, the physical ways we connect with horses to share movement, could have a similar quality, I felt it in my bones. With this vision in mind, I headed out to my herd to see what they had in mind, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This experiment is ongoing. It should come as no surprise, the horses made it quite clear that I was and am the one needing to refine how I lead. Their message and the keen desire to find this connection with them, sent me on a journey to be a better dance partner. Only now, 5 years later, we come full circle. I have done enough work on myself to know what it feels like to pick up the reins or the lead line, to put my hands on and offer my own brand of movement based bodywork, and be so fully present in my own body, mind and emotions that my horse simply melts into the embrace, surrendering to the shared movement, in pure enjoyment of the connection….

It is rarely the horse that needs fixing or changing. When I find myself they are simply there, available for what I have in mind. It all started back in August of 2015 when Susan and I spent several months blissfully immersed in the herd and all they had to share with us. I found some notes I made back then that I never shared. Fun to look back and realize how those early experiments have evolved over the years:

August 24, 2015:

There is so much shifting inside me in this last two weeks. I wasn’t expecting that. I figured I’d go out and offer connection, my horses would say – hooray! – and we’d be off doing all these great things together.

Not so much…..

I set a few parameters for myself by way of experimentation to ensure the horses felt they had a choice, that they were joining me because they sincerely wanted to, not because I was enforcing my ideas. What would happen if I didn’t take a whip with me, use twirling ropes or pulling on halters to get the horses to go with me?

What if I could find something inside myself that made me interesting?

What would that something feel like? 

Could it be consciously identified and activated? 

What if I showed up with an open heart, an open mind, and let them show me how to lead them?

To say this experiment has been interesting would be a massive understatement! The horses did NOT just go with me – in case you hadn’t figured that out already. Instead, they asked us to join them in their world, take a little time to stop and say hello, check in with them, let them check in with us…

What unfolded left us astonished.

There is mutual healing to be done in the realm of the embrace…

When applied to our relationships with horses, connecting deeply in moments of relative stillness creates a level of intimacy that can be difficult to find in traditional training. By entering this still place together, we get to understand them on a completely different level, and it is mutual. One thing is clear. There is a great deal of healing to be done, not just in the horses, as I had always felt, but to my surprise, even more so in myself, before we can truly dance together.

“Surrendering to the tango embrace allows the space between two separate entities to support a dynamic and creative relationship. Similarly, in the subtle work of craniosacral therapy, paying attention to the ‘relational field’ establishes safety and trust, and allows for an open flow of communication… As in a tango partnership, the practitioner/client dyad is no longer aware of separateness between forms, but only of the more pervasive field of potential and creative forces.”Donna Waks, Craniosacral Therapist

There is this moment in the embrace where you decide if you trust this person enough to surrender completely. If you do there is indeed an open flow of communication and so much more. When you surrender to the embrace all of your senses engage at the same time – touch, smell, taste, sound – all enhanced and amplified so that the moment is all that matters. This feeling of becoming one with the horse is what I seek in our dance together. In stillness, we become one with the herd.

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This is one of our first sessions with the herd. Sundance positioned himself near Susan and Huey so Susan had one hand on Huey and one hand on Sundance. He then positioned himself so that I was directly behind him. As I placed a hand on either side of his tail, I could feel muscle twitches, odd pulsing under my left hand, and then he shifted again to place me on his left hip. I was hit with a massive wave of nausea which I mentioned to Susan, who said that at the same moment she felt like crying – out of the blue. We talked about what we were feeling from Sunny, how it felt like Huey was supporting him, and with that Sundance yawned hugely, doing one of those amazing stretches horses do – arching his neck and stretching his left hind full-out behind him. He came to us because there was suspicion that something was wrong with his hind end even though nothing was ever definitively diagnosed. He’s becoming progressively more trusting and accepting since this session. Today he let me rub all over his hind legs and pick up the right hind – left hind is a no go, but now it makes sense that it’s likely hurting him to lift it. It seems comforting to him to know that we know, and we understand.

Most of the horses here come from a background of abuse, neglect, lameness – they make it clear that all of us – horse and human – need to shed those layers of protection, fear, and residual physical baggage before we attempt taking this intimacy into motion. As the horses draw us into their world, we feel part of the herd and something happens, we become privy to their non-verbal language, and find that they are helping us as much as we think we help them.

Simple acts – putting the halter on, grooming, running our hands along their bodies – become opportunities to connect with each other, to establish a dialogue. It’s through these simple acts that the most amazing things happened.

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This is Huey. He came to me a number of years ago with a significant amount of training trauma. He’s particularly frightened about bits, but really about anything that means we might be in control. Since we started these group sessions he has done a lot of releasing and on this day he volunteered to take the bit. I’m holding the reins ‘on the buckle’ while I play with the tone and posture in my body to see if he can start to pick up the subtle shifts I make. My hope is to show him that the bit is not about control, and that he no longer needs to carry that fear. I’m a big believer in horses not having to live with those painful memories if they can be replaced with positive experiences. Sunny is touching my back here, and this was so interesting because I had just come from doing a physical therapy session with a rehab horse who is just starting to come alive in his body. He can get a bit reactive as he explores new ways of moving and he had done a pretty explosive move close enough to me that it sent adrenaline coursing through my body. I thought I was fine until Sunny very gently breathed on my left shoulder-blade and it felt like a jolt of electricity ran through my body. He kept breathing on my shoulder, touching different parts of my back, until all that energy dissipated and I felt truly relaxed. I’m learning that when they feel free to contribute they offer us all sorts of great support, and generally have some pretty good ideas!

“Dance is unspoken communication and can be even more profound than language. The simple act of standing shares a glimpse of what we have to give, what we exude to define our presence, what we let go of to be receptive. The tango embrace is a representation of who we are and what we communicate in every moment.” Faith Green, Interdisciplinary Alignment Specialist, Washington, DC

This language of the body speaks to us on a purely sensory level – a level that goes beyond thought, beyond reason, beyond our ability to rationalize or explain. How we stand, how we move, how we respond to touch, gives our dance partner more information about our state of being in that moment than any words we could think to say. We may gloss things over and say we’re fine but our body never lies.

There is no hiding from each other, or from ourselves in these quiet moments together.  All is revealed. As much as I am learning about the horses I’m learning more about myself. Where I got stuck, where I got frightened, where I lost sight of the innocence that made me able to dance with a horse in pure joy. The herd helps me let go, open back up, trust and be receptive to their ideas. They make it clear that we must each continue our healing journeys in order to take this dance into motion.

The shifting inside me that began during those weeks continues to this day.

Sure, there are things I can help the horses with in terms of releasing old emotional trauma, or unraveling physical restrictions. But at the end of the day, the thing that helps them the most is me being balanced, calm, and confident. My greatest challenge has been finding physical freedom. Between my natural tendency to be shy and not very demonstrative in my movement, to the usual bevvy of old injuries – let’s get real – I was lame and it’s been a journey to find joy in moving my own body, a journey to unearth and resolve layers of mental and emotional baggage that interfere with my ability to connect. Five years later I have moments where everything falls into place and we truly dance.

I’ll leave you with a few more images from these sessions that are truly difficult to put into words.

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August 2015: This past Saturday Susan and I had our first chance to include more people in our herd sessions. Everyone who participated felt the magic of just being still with these great beings. On this day we had one horse in mind that we wanted to give some specific support to. He struggles with some physical and emotional issues from his past and he hadn’t been included in one of these sessions yet. He’s new to the herd, relatively speaking, and these sessions seem to help them all feel more like a cohesive group.  Gin – who’s right in the middle – really fascinated me on this day. She is notoriously skeptical and always walks away if I approach with a halter. She has to take some time to check in with me and see what state of mind I’m in before she’s willing to be attached to me by any physical connection. Since we started doing these sessions she now walks right up to me every day – looks me right in the eye and engages in a way she never has. On this day I walked right up to her and put the halter on and she made it very clear that we had work to do, kind of hustling us all together and organizing the group so that we could get started.

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The aftermath of our Saturday session. We all hightailed it for some shade! So nice to hang with a group of horses and feel safe, a part of the herd. I just loved this shot of Jean tucked in among the herd.

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Gin in the aftermath of our first group session. She had a similar reaction to Sundance, doing this huge cat stretch after I laid my hands on the brand on her right hamstring. It does my heart good to see her continue to heal. And she is taking charge of this project, as usual, my very best and most trusted teacher!

We here it in horsemanship all the time: ‘It takes the time it takes’ – how often do we apply that statement to ourselves? How much time do we put into our own well-being so that we can be the best partner possible for our horses?

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“I first became aware of Andrea in late 2017 and I feel that I was ‘guided’ to find her website. Only in hind site, do I now come to think that it was some kind of divine intervention. I had just bought an 18 year old starved and physically abused Polish Arabian/Andalusian gelding for $50, a few months earlier. Horses hadn’t been in my life for decades, but this one, Panache, snagged my eye and I couldn’t stand by and watch him suffer any longer.

For the past two and a half years, Andrea has been there for us, helping Panache and I build up trust from ground zero. He has gone from uncatchable to a loveable, confident companion. I have been mentored to develop the tools that we need to have a solid relationship that weaves physical and emotional assessment, intuitive bodywork, clear conscious communication and so much more. I feel supported by Andrea and she is always available when questions or challenges pop up.

The most beautiful aspect of all of this is that the horses are respected for the sentient beings that they are. They get to have a voice. They get to say “no” without fear of reprisal. That’s when the conversation really gets interesting….

Andrea Datz is an experienced, professional and heart-centred horse advocate. I am filled with gratitude for the lessons learned and those yet to come.”

Mae Moore
Pender Island, BC

 

When the Body Gets Stuck

Sundance Part 3

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Getting his feet trimmed a while back. It took a year to get him to where he would allow his feet to be handled with his cooperation.

Working rehab on a horse like Sundance is incredibly challenging. I was thinking the other day, that it’s a bit like playing a game of Jenga, or Pick up Sticks. Which stick do you pull first that won’t send the whole thing tumbling down? I know he has significant issues in his hind end. No one knows for sure, but the theory is he fractured his pelvis in a pull back wreck. My best guess is that the ring bone developing in the front feet is part of a compensation pattern related to trying to stay off the hind end.

Some days I see him leaning dramatically forward as though he’s attempting to stay off of his hind end. Other days he’s leaning back trying to stay off the front feet. Some days he looks like a goat on a rock not sure how best to stand to be comfortable. He still goes out to pasture and has a good appetite so I know he’s not completely miserable. He seems to have learned how to take care of himself. Never the less, it’s not easy to watch him move and your standard pain management doesn’t seem to make a dent.

How do I break this cycle of compensation that’s wrecking havoc on his body? Which stick do I pick up first?

The last month or so I’ve ventured down many avenues of exploration. Looking at nutrition, different modes of body work, different homeopathic remedies and flower essences. I feel we have over come the mental and emotional block he had that this was just his lot in life. Now when I sit with him and go into my investigative mode, what I keep hearing is ‘I’m stuck’. Yes he is. He is stuck physically. Stuck in a vicious cycle he can’t break free of.

I found flower essences that will work with the aspects of being stuck and homeopathic to address things on the physical aspect of the bony changes. Working on this level is a bit challenging. Sometimes old symptoms come back, or current symptoms get worse temporarily. I have to stay objective and not panic. Looking for the slightest indication we are moving in a positive direction.

Since we made these changes, I have seen him much worse, and I have seen him much better too.

When I open a line of inquiry about a horse it’s like my mind is constantly working the problem. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, there is a part of my mind that is ever looking out for inspiration, hints, clues, avenues to explore. Oddly enough, the big inspiration last week came from a new movement program I signed myself up for to improve my flexibility. The approach works with engaging muscles around joints first to build stability and then stretching from this place of stability.

This triggered a whole train of thought around how I might apply this idea to rehab a horse that you really can’t ask to walk or work in hand because every step he takes is reinforcing all the compensation patterns. Allowing my intuition to guide me, it seems logical to work on building some sense of stability in the hind end so that he can get off of those front feet.

Together, he and I felt our way through things I have never done with body work and movement. Slowly finding and trusting the inherent strength of his hindquarters.

Objectively, I can feel that his back muscles are no longer tight, neither are his gluteal muscles and hamstrings. His back appears long and relaxed, his haunches no longer tucked uncomfortably beneath him. He is no longer walking as though he has a large sack of rocks hanging between his hind legs. All good things.

His right front however….

He is lame as can be on that right front foot. This is not at all unusual – as compensation patterns let go in other parts of the body, for one sore spot to take center stage and stand out like a literal sore thumb! It can be scary. It makes me feel like I made things worse instead of better. Maybe I’m on the wrong track and need to throw out all I’m doing and start over….

Objectivity is key here. I have to be patient and look at the whole picture. Overall things are improving. I know with homeopathy things might get temporarily worse before they get better. I may need to adjust frequency or potency. On a deeper level it feels as though things are shifting. And any shift is good, things are starting to move. For now, he seems game to continue to try and so I will do my very best to follow his lead, and keep my mind on the problem. It’s a long game venture here.

I’m looking to resolve the issues, not manage symptoms for the rest of his life. And always there is the acknowledgement, and acceptance that for him, healing may be letting this body go… We aren’t there yet, but it’s an option that neither of us fear.

It’s hard to know what life circumstances brought Sundance’s body to this point. From what I know, I feel it safe to say there were early warning signs attributed to bad behavior, rudeness and so forth. He tried to speak up and let his people know he was hurting and he was told, essentially, to shut up.

Never underestimate a horse’s ability to soldier on when they are in pain. They are insanely good at working through aches and pains without complaint. They are insanely good at compensating for those sore spots by adapting their movement to make it work. This adaptive movement is not balanced, of course, so they begin to compensate and soon have another sore spot to compensate for, and another, and so on.

Eventually, there can be so many sore spots that while they do not appear lame, they are grouchy as a bear because they just flat hurt all over. We often see the change in behavior before we see the lameness. I cannot tell you how many times I have a client tell me their frustrated, angry horse is not in pain. They have been checked out by every vet, farrier, dentist, saddle fitter and bodyworker in the area and no one found anything significant…

I always say, it doesn’t matter. I still suspect pain. Just because no one has found the source YET doesn’t mean it is not there. Getting to the bottom of problems requires persistence, patience, and a whole lot of creative detective work! I have no doubt that Sunny had a whole host of things brewing under the surface when he came to me. Years of poor handling and malnutrition take a toll…

We can do better. Of that I’m sure.

Part 1 of Sundance’s rehab story: Opening the Door to Healing

Part 2: Walking Through the Open Door

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Gandalf Gray Feather

How Horses Communicate: Consent, tolerance, acceptance and choice

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He’s not leaving, and he didn’t turn his head away, does that mean he’s given his consent to be haltered?

How does your horse feel about what you do together? How do you know?

It’s exciting to see so much research in support of horse’s intelligence and sentience. So many visual signals we can rely upon to let us know when a horse is stressed, in pain, accepting, tolerant, or giving us permission to proceed – consent…

Horses converse in great detail, an ongoing dialogue of both visible and non-visible forms of communication, on a moment to moment basis. Visible body language signals are the most obvious sign of how a horse feels. Overt body language signals such as tail swishing, ear pinning and foot stomping typically occur when previous, smaller signals were ignored. Even the smallest of body language signals and expressions does not happen in isolation. They are full body expressions.

There is an emotional tone or feeling accompanying gestures that gives them meaning and context within the overall conversation. That tone typically transmits first, and is then backed up by a full body expression of it. The emotional tone and all of the gestures involved give this full body expression meaning. A word or gesture in human terms can have many meanings. It’s the context, where it’s used in a sentence, the tone of voice as it’s delivered, and the body language behind it that clarify the meaning of the moment. The horse’s gestures and facial expressions are no different. The same body language signal has different meanings depending on context.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? How do we know for sure how our horses feel about what we ask of them?

When Feather came to me unhandled and wearing a halter with a lead rope dragging along, we had to find a way to work together as efficiently as possible to remove the halter, which was too small, before it caused more damage to his face. I had to find the most effective in road possible – something that could help him get out of his reactive spin. It turned out that a handful of hay pellets gave him something to focus on that calmed him down enough that he could think and find a way to work with me to help him be free of the halter. I’m under no illusions. Food helped me distract him enough to get the halter off. He learned to tolerate the physical contact required to remove the halter while he ate. Sometimes circumstances require a horse to cope with something they find challenging for the sake of their well-being in this domesticated world.

Unlike a domestic born horse, Feather has no context for human touch and how it might benefit him. He reacted to my smell and touch as a wild animal would. I was completely overwhelming to his highly tuned senses. Domestic horses are trickier in many ways because they DO have context for the things I ask of them and their expectation, based on past experience, colors their response. They may be fully present and engaged, enthusiastic, willing partners, or tolerant, shut down and robotic depending on their history and expectation.

Anyone that works with me knows that I’m not a huge fan of training systems that rely heavily on techniques. If I am focused on technique or method, I am not fully present in the moment. And I must be fully present, WITH my horse, to pick up all of the nuance expressed from one second to the next. To gain the full meaning of the gesture that’s happening right now, the emotional tone that came with it, and the gestures and expressions that follow on from there continually requires a calm mind. In a way it’s like being in a semi-meditative state of breathing, observing, feeling and responding to one another on an ongoing basis. Genuine communication between horse and human is as improvisational as dancing Argentine Tango! There is a reason I chose that analogy!

It took about a month for Feather and I to figure each other out. To develop enough rapport that we started to have genuine conversations that furthered our relationship.

Most of the domesticated horses I work with have had their expressiveness dampened down. It makes it challenging to get an accurate read. They learn to tolerate what we expect from them, to go along to get along. Some horses stop trying to communicate their side of the conversation at all, making it easy to miss early signs of physical discomfort or underlying health challenges. Their visual signals are often so small they go unnoticed. It requires enormous patience and peace of mind to gather accurate information about how these horses really feel. That emotional tone is always there first if you know how to tap into it.

Interacting with Feather, who still has all of his instinctive behavior intact, is a revelation! It’s so much easier than sifting through the suppressed and muddy baggage of the domestic horses that cross my path. His communication is anything but subtle!

He has the choice to interact with me or not. He will walk away when he’s had enough. When he chooses to interact, the nuance is incredible. In the early days I must have seemed like a bulldozer barreling into his space, completely incapable of listening or communicating with any kind of clarity! He could not figure out what I wanted from him. I knew I was simultaneously offending and confusing him left and right! He was desperate to understand what I wanted, desperate to figure out how to be with me.

Horses seek harmony.

Feather communicates exactly how he feels, and exactly what he needs to feel good about interacting with me with incredible accuracy. His intent cannot be missed or misunderstood. Once I slowed down and got calm enough to see and feel it, I learned that he does a small swish of his tail accompanied by a quick, piercing look, and a wave of ‘pre-defensive’ energy when I do something that is tipping too far over the edge of his comfort zone. This is all one full body gesture that happens in a flash and is done. If I miss it and keep going, the next action he takes is to wheel away and retreat, or assume a more overtly defensive posture, depending on if I left him an adequate flight path, or he feels trapped. If I notice his clear signal, slow down, pause, or back up to something more comfortable for him there is no escalation at all.

Susan has felt the pressure wave when she’s next door with the burros and something spooks Feather, causing him to wheel and bolt. He sends a wave of emotional content out ahead of his movement. It makes sense if you think about it. Sending out the alarm via the electromagnetic field of his heart to let his fellows know there is danger and it’s time to flee. It sure makes it easy to react without thinking to get out of his way!

My domestic horses communicate with just as much clarity, but they are far less obvious, requiring me to be even more in tune with the background level of communication, that feeling and emotional tone. It can be quite a journey learning to recognize how each horse conveys consent versus tolerance. It’s fairly easy to train a horse to be tolerant of the things we require of them. That has a very different feeling tone than asking a horse permission, for example, to enter their space, or touch them, and having them give their consent.

Every horse has the capacity to clearly convey how they feel about what we ask of them. We have the capacity to offer connection with our horses in a way that fosters mutuality. Both horse and human getting our needs met in the partnership. Offering choices, and looking for signs that our horse accepts our offer, giving us consent to proceed with what we have in mind.

Peppy halter yes

Can you see and feel the difference in Peppy’s response to my offer versus Huey’s?

If you’d like to learn more about connecting with horses in this way, check out:The Tango with Horses Classroom

Tango with Horses(2)

 

Feather’s Freedom Day

Transmutation, Feather says, is the theme. Taking the pain and anger and fear and transmuting it to Love and Peace and Beauty.

This, he says, is the Message.

Feather came to live with me on January 27, 2020, still wearing the halter and lead put on him without his consent when he was purchased at auction just over a year ago. The halter he was wearing when he landed at auction again not much more than a month later, this time in a ‘kill pen’. The halter that his saviors elected not to remove with the same kind of force with which it went on. Everyone he encountered along the way, for whatever reason, elected NOT to do whatever it takes to rid him of it. And so, he came to me, roughly eight months after the halter was put on, still steadfastly refusing to allow anyone near him. That halter much smaller now, as his maturing body rapidly outgrows it.

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The too small halter and the dragging lead…. No pressure.

To say I felt pressure to get the halter off as quickly as possibly would be a massive understatement. I grew to hate the hissing sound of the rope dragging in the dirt of his paddock with a vengeance. Hate is insidious. I imagined burning the halter as I cursed the people that forced it on his beautiful head. He made it clear that he felt my sense of urgency and frustration with his situation by giving me a wider berth. When it was clear he wasn’t going to come around quickly, I even had the vet come out and hit him with a tranquilizer dart. I rationalized the decision by saying it might give us a chance to look at his teeth, many of which appear to be broken. Textbook, in that it could not have gone more smoothly, with one exception.

Feather brushed off the sedation like it was a fly. It had absolutely no effect on him.

So much for short cuts that didn’t involve force.

And so, for the next 4 months I spent time with him every day with few exceptions. Slowly we started to figure each other out. Slowly I found inroads. He shows classic symptoms of the kind of hyper-vigilance we often associate with human trauma survivors. That made it hard for him to think and process what we did together. Homeopathy, animal communication, flower essences, and energetic work helped peel the layers. He is smart, sensitive, and so willing to work with me. To keep coming back with curiosity even though his habitual response is wariness. We learned together what mutual consent means. How to respect each other’s boundaries without force.

This video is from March when I spent most of my time working with him from the other side of the fence so that he could freely express all his pent up emotions safely and I could remain neutral and not react.

After a while I stopped seeing the halter. I stopped focusing on the halter. Instead I just focused on Feather. Getting to know him. Building trust and communication. Trusting his timing.

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Letting his friend Alison touch his nose for the first time.

It’s been a month since he released the hyper-vigilance and allowed himself to really trust me. And to trust his new human friend Alison who came and spent time each day as well. Giving him handfuls of hay pellets turned out to be the thing that gave his hyper-vigilant mind something specific to focus on, allowing him to feel confident about the meaning in the things we did together, from moving around each other when I cleaned his pen to finally being willing to let me onto his left side, to touching his face, to touching the halter, to sitting down and allowing him to eat from a feed pan while I reached toward his face with both hands, to finally, yesterday, accepting the physical action required to have the halter freed from his head!

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On Thursday this happened. Feather imagined we would remove the halter together in stages. He asked I be seated and work at it a bit at a time while he ate. We worked together toward that goal for nearly 2 months. Step one mission accomplished!

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After the buckle strap was loose we spent two days just systematically working on all the pieces he’d need to accept for me to do what I needed to do to pull the buckle loose.

From Feather in a message through our friend Kim Walnes yesterday after the halter came off:

Enormous gains made over 4 months. FOUR MONTHS…that is nothing! Whereas in the past so often people push in anger and justify any means to obtain what they want, and things rarely stick or truly change. Patient persistence, gaining Trust where it does not look like any could be had…by consistent loving actions, not words, not threats, not speeches, but quiet actions.

As I held that halter in my hands later, laughing and sharing joyful tears with Susan and Alison who were there throughout the process these last few days, I realized the hatred I felt for the halter had vanished. In its place is wonder. Wonder at the course of events that led this horse to my doorstep. Wonder at his ability to retain all of who he is despite his life experiences. Wonder in the realization that if he hadn’t been wearing the halter, I don’t think he would have come to me. Even if he had, if it weren’t for the halter, he and I would not have learned the things we have about each other, and about ourselves. The timing he chose for letting go of his halter is interesting. If the halter is symbolic then I don’t feel that burning it is the answer. Feather does not feel anger and resentment. He’s filled with wonder and hope.

 

Feather’s halter repurposed to represent his message of transforming pain and anger and fear and transmuting it to Love and Peace and Beauty. I will keep it as a reminder of what’s possible.

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He came right back after the shock of the halter falling away from his face, allowing me to put coconut oil on all of his sores and just oozing softness and gratitude. This horse!

Feather has a message to share this morning:

It is hard to swallow what happened. My entire family band ripped from our home range. Violently chased from the air, trapped, and then ripped away from each other. Many of us never to see one another again. Life will never be the same. That is hard to swallow. The suddenness and irrevocably of what happened at such a young age is what sticks with me.

I carry wounds from my past experiences but they do not define me. They cannot take away who I AM unless I let them. I never did. I never will.

Most of the people I encountered did their best and I could feel their good intentions. I harbor no resentment or ill will towards them. I do not understand why my family had to leave our home, but it is done, there is no going back.

There have been many situations I faced in this human world that were stressful, sometimes even terrifying and painful. And yet, I find human beings intriguing. If my life is to be lived among them, I will learn all I can about them and find a way to understand. I see others of my kind working in cooperation with humans, sometimes in ways they even seem to enjoy.

I was determined to find my way to humans I could trust. And I did.

Feather says that in his experience, it’s fear that drove humans to put the halter on his head to begin with. Fear that drives so much of what we do or don’t do.

When his halter came off yesterday and I felt that sense of hope and wonder, I spoke to Kim again, reminding her of the conversation we had about the halter being symbolic. Here’s the rest of the message Feather shared through Kim:

I feel a sense of wonder and hope. Not only at the feeling of ease and freedom from the pressure and pain and restriction of the halter, but at the patience and persistence of how you showed me I could really trust you. Trust you to the point that even when my instincts and fear tried to tell me I wasn’t safe I was curious enough to quickly come back. To keep testing the waters. I finally see what you’ve been working toward now…and love that you trusted ME so much, and didn’t try to push things.

The release of the halter. A momentous day. But only one day among many more to come. Today I will go sit with Feather as I have every day for the last four months as we continue to build on the trust we have built in each other. There is a bond there now that cannot be broken if we just stay this slow and steady course. We humans could learn a lot from Feather about letting go of the past, and being fully present in the moment. Making the most of what life throws at us and not allowing the actions of others, of those things outside of our control, to define us.

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Feather and I would like to thank all the many people involved in his arrival on my doorstep. Really too many to name, but two key players:

If you’d like to continue following Feather’s journey, he has his own Facebook page: Gandalf Gray Feather

 

 

 

For the Love of Jean

Some days the world just needs a little more light in it, so today I’m writing about a  person who inspires me every single day. Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a road trip with my Dad to visit one of my best friends, Jean. Jean is 86 years old and up until recently was still trimming her own horse’s feet. Stage 4 melanoma has forced her to take a step back. She rests comfortably, it seems, in this place of knowing this disease might take her life tomorrow, or the treatment that’s been on hold due to the pandemic might show up and cure her cancer so she can come meet Feather and the burros in person one day. Her eyes are alight with love, hope and trust in God’s plan for her.

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Jean and Barb Young at an Anna Blake clinic several years ago

If you’ve been to any workshops at my place you likely met Jean. And she likely made an impression. Her hugs, which are always delivered consciously heart to heart. The fact that she looks you right in the eyes and holds your gaze as she smiles, radiating love, letting you know she really sees you. The way she listens, taking meticulous notes to study later. Her thoughtful questions, and even more thoughtful responses that contribute her unique wisdom to the conversation. Everyone that meets Jean feels privileged to have had the honor of her company.

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Jean came into my life roughly thirty years ago. Back in the days when I was a barn manager organizing visiting clinicians. Jean and her partner Bill would show up in their rig, camping out in the truck bed that Bill had engineered for them to sleep in long before the days of people tricking out vehicles to live in! Two of the kindest people I had ever met we were soon fast friends.

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Jean and Scratch working with Mark Rashid who she still talks about as one of the greatest influences in her horse life.

Every clinic or workshop I ever held or hosted Jean was there with her horse Scratch. Not a day goes by that Jean isn’t learning. We celebrated her 80th birthday at my house during a workshop!

Mark Rashid was always one of her favorite people to work with. Just yesterday she told me that she has been re-reading all of his books, beginning with the newest and working her way back to his first. She was mesmerized by how much she learned going through again. She has no ego about herself and her skills with horses, always ready to step into that beginners mind and studiously absorb what anyone has to share.

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Jean still lives in the house that she and Bill built together more than 30 years ago. Fiercely independent on the rocky, pinon choked hillside in a house engineered by Bill so they could live, essentially, off the grid. The house is a marvel, designed with composting toilets, solar, ingenious water collection devices and clever touches like the hole in the guest bathroom wall shaped to match the silhouette of the mountain range you see through it across the valley.

Bill devised ways to capture rain water to fill the horse’s water tank, he built a water wheel out of old army food trays to bring irrigation water up from the canal to their property….

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Jean, arm in sling, carefully overseeing my trimming job on Wamy

A few summers back, Jean and Scratch were riding the irrigation canal as they usually do. It was her habit to hop off and let Scratch graze along the canal on the lush grasses. To get back on, she had to lengthen a stirrup, climb aboard and adjust the stirrup again before taking off for home. Something had Scratch a bit spooked and as she was working with the stirrup he wheeled away from something, knocking Jean to the ground. She broke her arm.

At 80 something the doctors were inclined to just let it heal however it healed. When we spoke about it I suggested that she make sure the doctors met her first. That they knew she was not your typical 84 year old woman. She trimmed her own horses for crying out loud! She needed the use of her arm. When the surgeon met her it was clear they needed to repair that bone and get her good use of her arm. I’ve never met anyone so diligent about their physical therapy!

I was quite flattered when Jean asked me if I’d come down and trim her horses for her until she was able to take over again.

This year I started going down every 6 weeks or so to trim again as she focused on healing her cancer, being true to herself as always! Susan took these photos last week as Jean inspected my trimming.

Four years ago or so Jean talked to our animal communicator, Theresa, to make sure that Scratch and Wamy were doing okay. They are both getting older and she made the decision that she would no longer trailer them to clinics so they didn’t have to be unnecessarily stressed. But that did not stop Jean from coming to every workshop I ever held, on any topic I could dream up! She would work with my horses and take what she learned back to hers. She and her neighbor Ellen sharing their ideas and giving each other feedback in their explorations.

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Jean loved staying with our friend Susan and made good friends with little Bee

Jean loves horses. She is one of the most committed people I have ever met to selflessly learning all she can in service of being a better human for her horses, and any horses she meets along the way. Us and the herdShe worked hard to learn how to hear what the horses have to say to her. It was not something that came naturally. But boy, whether she is sure about what she’s hearing or not, the horses have NO doubt she cares and is listening with her whole heart.

Over the years, Jean wrote me letters. Hand written or typed, with her thoughts about the workshop she just attended, or stories about her horses. She’s been working on writing a book about her life and the lessons she’s learned from the horses. I cannot wait to read it! Last year, when Mom was sick with her cancer, Jean sent a card every single week. Every SINGLE week. And not just a card with her name signed, but a hand written story, words of comfort or encouragement.

I could go on for days sharing the joy of Jean but instead, I’ll leave you with a few of her own words in hopes they inspire you to share some love and joy in the world today:

From Jean December 2019

“Each morning when I awake, I thank the Lord for his Blessings and Love and ask him to make me aware to share them with every person and creature I meet that day. And each day these Blessings and Love flood me with their gracious bounty!”

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Do me a favor, and spread some love and joy in honor of Jean today. And if you have a few prayers to send her way we’d appreciate that too.

When Everyone Tells You You’re Wrong

Each horse as individual meme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tango with Horses Tribe (private group on Facebook):

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom (sharing courses that teach people how to do their own detective work, rehab, bodywork, animal communication, and beyond):

Registration now open for Module 1 of a 3 part series on intuition and animal communication!

Quality Time

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Aero and Gin on pasture this morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tango with Horses Tribe (private group on Facebook):

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom (sharing courses that teach people how to do their own detective work, rehab, bodywork, animal communication, and beyond)

Walking through the open door

Atlas hand position

Doing some bodywork last year

Sundance: Part 2

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

And then:

“Oh yes”.

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

He says:

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

He’s really easy to connect to.

Again, he says:

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

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

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

He confirms:

“Yes!” – he IS feeling keen.

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

Sundance says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tango with Horses Tribe (private group on Facebook):

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom (sharing courses that teach people how to do their own detective work, rehab, bodywork, animal communication, and beyond)

Opening the Door to Healing

Sundance: Part 1

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

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

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

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

‘What if it could be better?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tango with Horses Tribe (private group on Facebook):

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom (sharing courses that teach people how to do their own detective work, rehab, bodywork, animal communication, and beyond):