Pausing

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

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

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

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

Next Online Class Offering:

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

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

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

The Tango with Horses Online

The Role of Play in Well-being

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

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

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

Rafe Kelly of Evolve, Move, Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens when we repress our play drive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Facebook:

Andrea is also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

What our students are saying about Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

Stuck Inside

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

– Charles Hawthorne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Facebook:

Andrea is also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

What our students are saying about Awakening your Intuition Superpower!

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

 

 

 

 

What do I do about feeling anxious when I ride?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Module 1: Awakening you Intuition Superpower!

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

Jean’s Last Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing from Ellen, with her permission:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and joy for us all,

Ellen’

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

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

For Jean and Aero: The End of an Era

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From Aero to Diane Barrett while she cooked dinner, shortly after he passed on Wednesday August 5 at 6:45 pm:

And so I rest my weary bones

Turning my eyes to the light

I have been so very blessed here

Fulfilled and joyous I take flight

It feels like the end of an era.

It began twenty odd years ago when I lived on a ranch on the side of a mountain in a town called Rifle. Most of my days there were spent blissfully alone with the horses. Between myself and the property owner, and a few boarders, I was responsible for the care of roughly 20 horses, plus or minus, at any given time. This was a pivotal phase in my life. I became an equine bodyworker and started doing rehab work while I was there. But it’s also where I had the single most important paradigm shift in my understanding and way with horses. It’s where I was introduced to homeopathy, and immersion into working with animal communication as an everyday part of my work with, and care for the horses.

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Aero standing sentry over his herd on the side of the mountain

Looking back, it’s those years that provided the first opportunity I had as an adult to spend time alone with horses, discovering my own way of interacting with them. I hosted a lot of clinics while I lived there. Jean Hennen and her partner Bill, with their horses (Scratch and Tay with Jean – and Buddy and Wamy with Bill) were fixtures at every clinic I ever hosted. It didn’t matter if it was a riding clinic or body work clinic, they were there. The dark green pickup with the custom topper Bill engineered so they could sleep in the back of the truck and have room to sit up on the bed, with the tan stock trailer in tow, coming down the various driveways of places I managed over the years is forever etched in my mind. And with it, the feeling of joy that they were there again!

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Jean’s favorite clinician by far – Mark Rashid – riding Scratch

Aero and his buddy Jiminy came into my life while I was on that ranch on the side of the mountain. Their person, Karen, was a classically trained homeopath. Aero was the first horse that I consciously employed animal communication and homeopathy to work through his emotional issues, and distinct lack of social skills with other horses. The results were nothing short of miraculous and I never looked back. When it became clear that Aero had no interest whatsoever in being a riding horse, Karen asked if he and Jiminy could simply retire in my care. Jiminy passed some years ago, but Aero stuck around. For starting out so socially inept, he sure turned out to be one of the best herd leaders I ever had.

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I used to joke that Aero must have been a fish in a past life! He loved nothing more than water!

Aero taught a lot of people over the years. He was possibly the pickiest horse ever about body work, meticulously teaching me to respect his boundaries and by all means, be fully present when I touched him! If I did not listen, or was tactless and distracted, I was met with snapping teeth and a flying rear hoof as he snaked his neck and cow kicked in my general direction at the same time! He never did make contact but boy was he loud and clear! I will never forget working with Jock Ruddock on my Level 2 certification in Equine Touch. I still have a clear picture of Jock looking over his shoulder as walked away to assist the level 1 students, saying, ‘good luck!’ Thanks Jock…

Jean came to every clinic I ever hosted, even after Bill passed ten years ago on August 5th at 88 years young. He died after suffering a massive stroke. The result of a fall he sustained that morning while playing tennis with several lady friends. Jean was off riding her horses in the hills at the time. Self sufficient and amazing humans. I always felt Bill chose a good way to go..

But I digress, as I said, Jean came to every clinic I ever hosted. A voracious and earnest learner who always showed up ready and willing to try something new. She followed me from my first job managing a barn in Carbondale, through all my evolutions for 25+ years. She never waivered in her dedication to learning the latest thing I latched onto, and always joked that she was looking forward to being able to say she knew me before I got famous. I cannot tell you how much it matters to have people in your life who believe in you the way Jean believed in me. I am forever grateful.

After one of my workshops, teaching some new idea of course, she hands me an envelope and tells me to open it later. Not one to argue with Jean, I thanked her and put the envelop in my pocket. That evening, when I pulled it out and opened it, I found a short note attached to a check that was made out to me. The note said: “I know not everyone can afford to work with you and pay what a clinic is worth, but this is what the last 3 days were worth to me”. And there is a check for three thousand dollars. How did I ever deserve such a friend as Jean?

Of course, Jean knew Aero from the time he first came to me. She made a point of spending time with each and every horse in the herd, especially in the last few years as she, Scratch and Wamy (the two remaining of her herd of 4) made a mutual decision that they didn’t need to be hauled to clinics anymore. Jean could go and work with my horses, bringing what she learned back to them to explore on their own. We were just laughing this last week about how long it took for Jean to get Aero’s name right. She always wrote down the names of all the horses and humans at the clinics to ensure she would remember them right.

Aero turned 31 this year. Tall and lanky, he sometimes would lay down in just the wrong spot and find he didn’t have the right traction to get those hind legs underneath him. I swear, if he could lay down NEXT to the water tank in mud, he would choose that spot! He might struggle a bit and ultimately find a way up. Other times he needed a little encouragement or help from me. As he got older, I kept a close watch on him, looking for signs that he was struggling more than he should, that I should let him go. Each spring and fall I have Theresa do a check in with all the old ones to find out how they are doing, if anyone is feeling they are nearing the end of their life…

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Romeo, on the left, Aero on the right, and Gin in the middle. Romeo and Aero were inseparable until Romeo passed. In the last few years it’s been Aero and Gin.

Way back on that ranch on the side of the mountain, when I realized how intelligent and sentient horses really are, that I can communicate with them accordingly, well, from then on, I vowed to take that level of communication and connection into every aspect of their lives. Each horse is involved in all of the decisions related to their work, care, and ultimately when and how their life ends. Several years ago, I took a look around and realized that my core group of horses from those days in Rifle were all over 28 years old. As they pass on it would truly be the end of an era. This group of horses that lived with me for 20 or 30 years and made me the horseperson I am today….

What would that be like?

Last year, Jean learned that she had malignant metastatic melanoma on her head. It was stage 4. Never one to take a conventional approach to anything, Jean embarked on a mission to do what she could to slow it down and maybe cure it. Her best chance at a cure was a treatment that got delayed due to Covid 19 lock down back in March. She finally got her long-awaited treatment about 6 weeks ago, but by then, it really was too late. It was clear to all who bore witness that the cancer was winning this round. Still, she lived far longer with this disease than most and retained her quality of life with fierce determination, in true Jean style!

She spent the summer re-reading every book Mark Rashid ever wrote. She owns them all! At one of the first clinics I ever hosted for Mark, Jean latched onto a concept he taught. Her interpretation was that if she thinks walk, Scratch should walk. Sometimes she would get the connection just right and off Scratch would go. Elated she kept seeking that elusive connection, her Holy Grail of horsemanship. A month ago, with the help of her neighbor and friend, Ellen who spent so much time learning together and sharing horsemanship philosophy, Jean mustered up that determination of hers because she felt that she finally understood what Mark was talking about. She got on Scratch bareback with just a halter, and did several laps around the ‘learning center’ as she called her arena, successfully getting Scratch to walk according to Mark’s theory. She found her Holy Grail!

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Jean came to visit after she learned of my friend Cori passing. I shared a story about Cori’s family tradition of making earrings out of cherries. So here we are with our cherry jewels.

Last week I got word that Jean was declining and that if I wanted to see her, I should come sooner rather than later. Of course, I hustled down there, trimmed Scratch and Wamy’s feet and sat with Jean for a while. She was still absolutely determined to stay strong enough to give that treatment time to work. It was amazing to see such drive to keep going in someone who outwardly appeared so frail.

On Monday evening, Aero came in for evening feeding having clearly done something to his hind end. As is always the case with him, I wondered if this was it? I gave him the night to see if he was just stiff from a struggle to get up, or a stumble and tweak incident. By morning it was clear he was not going to recover from this. Much like Jean, he made it clear he was not ready to go. He had unfinished business.

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Aero and Gin this year on Memorial Day

Following my instincts, and trying to imagine what a 31-year-old horse could have left to do, I decided to turn him and Gin out with the rest of the herd. That core herd they were a part of for so many years. The herd they chose to be separated from as they both got older. Before heading out with the rest of the group he paused and had a long chat with Feather. Karin said it looked like he was telling him important things he needed to know before he left. Then, Aero waded right into the herd, defending Gin, and telling those boys to mind their manners! He reveled in his power and had a wonderful day.

In the meantime, my friend Diane said she felt a strong connection between Aero and Jean. Aero felt her inner conflict about letting go and wanted to help. Jean had had a rough weekend and yet, was still conflicted about letting go before the drug could work. When I told Steve that Aero was working his timing to go with Jean, he said, ‘Jean just wants to ride the tallest horse into Heaven!’ I loved that image and idea so much that I had Ellen share this vision with Jean, and tell her what was going on with Aero since I knew she’d want to know.

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Who wouldn’t want to ride this guy into Heaven?

Jean loved this idea too. Ellen said she kept whispering Aero’s name over and over like she was intentionally connecting with him. Jean’s friend and care giver said it’s all Jean talked about for several days. How she wasn’t sure how she was going to get on such a tall horse, and what if he passed before her, she’d have to run to catch up. Early in the week Jean made peace with the fact that she was dying. Aero’s timing seemed to give her comfort and help her make the decision to stop fighting.

On Wednesday morning I decided Aero was stable enough for me to go visit Jean one more time. She was awake and lucid and so I just went. Steve drove so that I could make arrangements for Aero on the way down. I lined up the vet for that evening. And had the backhoe guy on standby to bury him for me. I had a truly special visit with Jean, sharing memories of when we met at that first clinic back at the barn I managed in Carbondale. It was her neighbors Ellen and Jacob who had coordinated that clinic and brought us together. We talked about how horses have always been part of her life. Even when she didn’t have horses, she tied reins to her bicycle and rode broomsticks.

When I got home, Aero had naturally started separating from the herd, and Gin was staying with them. Now I understood his unfinished business. He needed to see Gin back into the herd. To do the job he’s done so many times over the years, and make sure that she was integrated back into the group safely. When I led him down to where we would bury him, shortly before the vet arrived, the herd lined up along the fence line to see him off. Making a hard left, he walked down that fence line and greeted each herd member, pausing where Gin stood in the middle. They nickered softly to each other and Sundance took one step forward between them. Aero pinned his ears at Sunny and gave him a stern look, and then he was done.

He passed the baton to Sundance, leaving Gin in good care with her herd. They all stood by, along with his human friends, to bear witness to his passing. There is always a moment when we all feel he is gone, and in that moment, the entire herd, led by Gin, filed away back to the paddocks to eat. It was a beautiful experience to witness how Aero navigated the end of his life. With similar determination to Jean! He passed on August 5th, the ten-year anniversary of Bill’s passing. I have felt his spirit standing vigil over Jean ever since.

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This afternoon Jean passed peacefully at home, just as she wished, with her loyal friend by her side, and Aero in spirit form ready to carry her off into the sunset, back to Bill and Tay, CC and Buddy, and so many more who went before her. It might seem like a tragedy for me to lose both a horse and human friend in one week, but really, it is such a blessing, as Jean would say. A blessing to know they walked the last leg of their journey together.

I spent the afternoon tuning into Jean and Aero and this is the message that came through loud and clear form Jean. I could even hear her voice..:

‘Please don’t shed tears of sadness for us, only tears of joy for the wonderful lives we both lived. We both lived and died on our own terms. Who can ask for more than that? Full, rich, deeply satisfying lives.

We are SO blessed! There is so much to be grateful for.

YOU have been a blessing in my life. (this last is from Jean to all of you, but it’s also from ME to all of you!)

And so, it is, truly, the end of an era…

Sundance: Finding the Path Forward

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It’s been a while since I last shared an update on Sundance and his rehabilitation. The truth is it’s been a waiting game for the last several months. I’ve been working with homeopathic remedies and flower essences to see if I could find something that would give him some relief from the physical discomfort, but also help him resolve some of the mental and emotional pieces that hold him back from being a willing participant in any physical therapy I might try. Getting his feet in better balance has been both a priority and one of the greatest challenges. He doesn’t want to bear weight on his right front to work on his left, and he doesn’t want to bear weight on his left hind so we can trim his right.

Any time you have multiple lameness issues it’s tricky, you have to pick a place to start. Our first step became pain relief to get his feet trimmed. In all honesty I kind of threw the book at him. I tried all kinds of things. Some with more success than others. Most remedies seemed to give him 3 days of relief and then he’d be worse again. I was basically chasing symptoms with homeopathy. Not my favorite way to use that modality, but since nothing else was helping him (NSAIDS do very little for him), I went for it. When I found a remedy that seemed to work well, I dosed quite heavily for nearly a week. Finally, I realized that I was causing an aggravation of symptoms by giving him more than he needed. For several weeks now he’s had nothing and I can sense the homeopathic still working in his system. Everything calmed down and there were small signs of improvement.

This has been a good reminder to me how potent homeopathy can be, and how important it is to let the remedies work without needing to constantly try to fix things, or make things go faster. Healing takes the time it takes. Sundance has been brewing these issues for 8 or more years. They are not going away overnight, no matter how I might wish it so. I took a deep breath, and stopped giving him remedies. I waited and watched, trying to be objective about how things were shifting.

There were small positive changes. And, there were some things he was masking that are becoming more obvious. He has a distinct lack of stability in his pelvis that for the first time has me convinced that he really does have an old injury he’s been protecting. Subtle signs of that were always there but I doubted a fracture until now. We’ll never know exactly what he did, but one thing is clear, he needs to build stabilizing musculature to help him feel better in his body. We do bodywork to help release excess tension from compensating for the ringbone in his front limbs and instability in hind limbs but that’s not enough. He needs to build functional strength. But how do to do that with his willing cooperation? That’s the trick.

In hand work would normally be my go-to for this, but he is so resistant that it’s not particularly effective. Working with my friend and colleague, Diane Barrett, on the animal communication side, I know we started from a place of him not being interested in doing rehab. He was resigned to his fate. Ready to just be crippled and have his life end early. But as the remedies take effect, I see openings. I see hope, and a willingness to engage in the rehab process that has never been there before.

For the first time since he’s lived with me, last week he got his feet trimmed and he fully participated. It was hard for him but he stood quietly and he allowed his feet to be fine tuned instead of just dashing off what we could get before he could no longer work with us. This is a huge step in the right direction!

I’ve started long lining some of my other horses so I decided it might be worth a try to long line Sundance. It seemed like a long shot. I haven’t asked him to do any real physical therapy because if I can’t support him so that he’s not just limping around then all I’m doing is reinforcing the pattern he already has that’s causing him problems. But, since nothing else was helping, why not. You never know until you try!

I wanted to take him to a square pen with nice sand so that he could move on soft ground. It took some convincing. He did not want to walk with me, and kept looking at me like, ‘really, can’t you see I’m lame?’ But finally, he decided to hobble with me up to the paddock. The last time I put a surcingle on his back was the first week he lived with me. He was so tense he would have exploded had I cinched it on. He has objected strongly to any tack other than a halter since. When I approached with the surcingle I did it assuming he would be fine, that he had agreed to give my idea a try. And he was fine.

He was also fine with the long lines, even though I have never long lined this horse and don’t know if he has ever been long lined! Every day these horses convince me more that I don’t have to ‘train’ them, I just have to gain their trust enough that they agree to try things with me. It took a little trial and error for us to find what worked. He was so lame that I wasn’t sure this would be at all helpful for him. Initially all I cared about was getting him going forward so he could feel that I wasn’t going to do anything scary or terrible with the equipment. Once he understood what he was meant to do I was able to pick up contact to influence how he moved.

We typically train horses to go forward. There’s nothing inherently wrong with encouraging forward, but sometimes we get carried away, pushing them to go more forward than they are capable of doing while still retaining control of their balance. And that is not good. Almost every horse I take in for rehab has that default mode of going on autopilot, charging around on the lunge (in fast forward with nobody home). I have taken to working my horses in a mule tape halter. It’s soft, pliable, wide, comfortable, no metal, no knots, nothing that could inflict any pain. That means I can’t influence him to slow down and stop, essentially running away from me, by making it uncomfortable for him to do so.

Here are few screen shots from the video of that first session. This is how he started. Ouch.

He is NOT light in my hands and that’s okay. He needs something to lean into to find his balance initially. To feel something different in his body. We work on walk, halt transitions until he starts testing the water, shifting his weight tentatively towards his haunches. He has to explore his own movement potential.

‘Can my left hind leg really support me?’

‘Can I put weight into my hind quarters without pain?’

It’s my job to convince him to try it. I’m not going to make him do it if it causes him pain, but we won’t know until he tries.

And this is where we ended…

And try he does! We started out with a tense, balled up guy who could barely move. By the time we finished, just 10 minutes later, his back was loose and relaxed and he was walking 80% better than when we started. He got a good 3 days of better movement out of that one session before he started to get worse again. When I went to the pasture to retrieve him yesterday, he put his nose right into the halter and followed me gamely to the work space. He worked hard, and used himself very well for 10 minutes. That’s enough for now. Any small changes in how he moves will ultimately help to restore his soundness. I believe we have found our path forward with a horse who is now fully engaged in his own healing process!

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

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The Tango with Horses Online Classroom offers a variety of options for learning more about working intuitively with horses and your own mind, body and emotions.

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Dancing with Gray Feather

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In Tango the leader is the one responsible to change and adapt to the follower. The leader defined as the one initiating the interaction, or dance. It makes sense that it should be me that changes, after all, it’s my idea to teach this horse about dancing with me, not his. A forced or coerced Tango is intensely unpleasant and not my goal. My greatest wish is for Feather to know what it feels like to be liberated by our shared movement.

How can he know what to expect, other than what he knows from his past? He has no context for what I have in mind, nor how my intentions will impact his life. He is understandably skeptical.

Why should he trust me?

Why should he let me in?

It’s up to me to reassure him, to give him a reason to join me in this dance, to weave a bond that spans his lifetime. I cannot force him to accept my invitation, but I can keep showing up with clarity, peace and consistency.

Our first dances are short and intense as we learn about one another. He is focused on me, scrutinizing every move, every gesture, trying to make sense of my actions. I make him nervous. He doesn’t know how to respond. He doesn’t understand what I expect or why he should consider complying. We must look a bit like panthers circling each other, both cautious. I don’t know how he is going to respond to me either and that puts my defenses up.

Standing face to face with this proud boy as he lunges in my direction, one thing is clear, I will never force him to do anything with me. And why would I want to? I love everything about his personality, including this fire he shows. His willingness to communicate with such clarity, letting me know exactly how he feels, is a gift I plan to treasure and cultivate so that our Tangos are expressive and full of life!

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These are just a few screenshots from a few seconds of interaction. All I had to do was establish my own boundaries, no need for punishment. The next moment he is calm and we are dancing again.

It isn’t easy to stand face to face with a lunging 5-year old horse! My reactions haven’t always been useful. The wave of emotion he projects hits me like a wall of heat, a pressure wave that knocks me back long before he is anywhere near touching me. He doesn’t have to connect physically to get his point across. In early days that pressure wave often felt angry. But underneath anger is almost always fear.

What good does it do for me to lash out defensively in response to his fear, or even his anger? It takes tremendous self-control standing in the face of his emotional reaction without reacting, other than to define my own boundaries. In those early days, when he had very little conscious control over his emotions, I initiated interactions from outside the paddock fence. I did that until I was comfortable that he would never make physical contact with me when he lunged. When I trusted the meaning behind the action, that it really wasn’t about me, or even really, directed at me, I could comfortably stand face to face with his powerful presence and simply breathe. I stayed outside the paddock until I trusted myself enough to stay in a state of non-reaction.

The last thing I want to do is shut him down. Tell him that expressing his opinions and communicating how he feels is not okay with me. Whether we agree all the time or not is unimportant. What matters is that he knows with every fiber of his being he is safe letting me know how my presence and my requests make him feel. For the rest of his life I want to know how he feels, honestly and unvarnished. His behavior is always either an accurate reflection of how I made my request, the quality of my presence, or what’s going on in his mind, body and emotions. I might trigger memories from a past experience, or ask him to do something that is so difficult that he gets frustrated trying to execute the task. Sometimes my request is confusing because I’m not fully present in the moment with him.

I don’t expect him to change who he is or how he feels. I have no intention of dampening his great spirit, or trying to mold him into my vision of what a horse partner should be. And so, I learn how to stand face to face with his grand expressions of self and breathe. Together we explore each other’s boundaries and find ways to gently explore physical contact, and shared movement. When he gets frustrated or confused, I can’t imagine punishing him for ‘bad’ behavior. That emotional wave he sends out ahead of his actions makes it abundantly clear when he is frustrated, confused, angry, afraid, playful, or mischievous. I love it all!

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Feather, and all my horse friends, shape me into a better leader. Someone who is calm, patient, and adaptable. Someone who refuses to take other’s actions and words personally, and is able to celebrate the diversity of opinion and experience that make each being unique. I can’t imagine living in a world where we all agreed and shared the same views. How boring. I am stronger and more resilient for learning to adapt to all the horses I share my time with. Each one, like Feather, is unique and expressive. I love that about them. I love how every conversation is different. It keeps life interesting. It makes me a better person.

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

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The Tango with Horses Online Classroom offers a variety of options for learning more about working intuitively with horses and your own mind, body and emotions.

I am also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

 

Swimming in the Pool of Fear

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The air is thick with tension. Fear, frustration, and anger are fairly normal responses to the unknown. These are the emotions that mobilize us to take action to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Typically, once appropriate action is taken the stress of the unknown can recede into the background a bit because we are safe in this moment. But sometimes the stressful emotions take hold on such a deep level that there is no sense of safety. We begin to resonate, or vibrate at the same frequency. When the dominant frequency is fear, anger or frustration, it’s all to easy to find ourselves swimming in that collective pool of emotions.

When Feather arrived here he was often on high alert. He spent good chunks of time staring off into the distance, trying to figure out what the neighbors were doing. Convinced everything that happened was something he needed to respond to, as he marched with purpose from one vantage point to the next. He didn’t feel safe in his own skin, let alone anywhere else.

Feather was here a few short months before the pandemic hit and notification came down that the Governor was ordering residents to shelter in place. Talk about fear of the unknown. Everyone’s stress levels were through the roof as we grappled with possible loss of income, empty shelves at the grocery store, and the threat of becoming ill. This kind of fear is palpable and hangs heavy in the air.

The morning after the shelter in place orders came down Feather was beside himself. He paced the paddock, head high, back hollow fixated on something off in the distance to the north. So fixated he couldn’t breathe or stop long enough to have breakfast, so convinced there was an immediate threat to his life. It’s easy to pick up on that dominant frequency and match it when you already live in that state and it feels so familiar to you, as it did to Feather back then.

Moving to stand near him I scanned the horizon for visible signs of danger. I talked to him, and shared mental pictures about the boundaries of the property, how we were safe here, that anything ‘out there’ couldn’t come here without our permission. He remained unconvinced, so I expanded my own sensory awareness to see what I could feel, fully expecting to find nothing ‘out there’ to worry about. To my surprise, as I extended my sensory reach to where I thought he was focused, I felt fear. It was palpable. And not at all surprising under the circumstances. I just never expected what was going on in the human world to have such a profound impact on Feather.

It’s so easy to find ourselves unconsciously swimming in the pool of fear, anger, or frustration. But swimming in the pool of fear only serves to keep us stuck there. Filled with stress and tension, our ability to take appropriate action that would make us feel safe is compromised. Ongoing stress also compromises our health and well being.  As I stood with Feather, I showed him that the fear was coming from all over, and explained why all the people were scared. I showed him how to feel his feet on the ground and look for safety instead of danger. We hung out together creating a pool of safety and sending that frequency out into the world.

Feather lowered his head, took several steps back, cocked a hind leg and went to work. He stood that way for nearly two hours sending some peace out into the world before he finally ate his breakfast. Like Feather, we can choose to step out of the pool of fear, anger and frustration, to be fully present in THIS moment, creating a frequency that fosters a sense of safety.

Of course, there are still a lot of unknowns, still a lot to be concerned about, things that are outside of our control. All anyone can do is take appropriate actions, be prepared, and do what we can to ensure our well being. Knowing we’ve done what we can, then drop into the moment and rest there. Feather’s reaction to the collective fear was such a great lesson for me in choosing to be fully embodied in each moment, to step outside the dominant energy and consciously contribute some peace. The only way that dominant energy can shift is if more of us chose to step out of the pool of fear and into the moment where all is well. Trust the process, trust our instincts to guide us well, and live each moment to the fullest!

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

On Facebook:

The Tango with Horses Online Classroom offers a variety of options for learning more about working intuitively with horses and your own mind, body and emotions.

I am also available for private consultations and virtual lessons.

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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