Saturday, August 25, 2018

Shifting Gears

     Life and horses sure do have their ups and downs. Lucy, Scootch and I went for a leisurely ride the other day around my father-in-law's cattle farm. It was a beautiful day to explore a very interesting place. While I had my concerns about their calmness in such an interesting environment, it was more like curiosity for me. We set out on our tour, me riding my little young Arab, who always proves to be a good girl, with Lucy in tow. We passed lengthy corn rows, a giant tractor mowing hay, big ol' tire pile, barns and fences. Scootch was calm enough to listen to me when things concerned her, and Lucy behaved much like a sleeping baby in a car seat. Lovely day.... 

      As we rounded the back stretch, Snoozing Lucy took note of the herd of cattle practically a mile away on the other end of the field, and started up a conversation with them. That was my cue to get ready to start back, hoping to get ahead of potential drama. Now I had a horse that seemed to have turned part cow in tow, and a young Arabian getting fancy on me. Doing my best to manage the one under me and wrangle the one next to, behind and around me, I found it getting a little irritating. Scootch wanted to trot, and my requests to only walk got me hops, head tosses and a real bouncy ride. Then something told me to look behind me, only to be faced with a galloping herd of about 50 head of Angus headed right towards us. Good thing my panic button is set to dismount. I hopped off my rabbit faster than she could take another step, and we stood there and eyed those cows down. I guess we won the staring contest and after a few short minutes the herd decided we weren't that interesting and went back to their pasture. 

      I mounted back up and we headed back. Believe it or not, the cow encounter wasn't the tough part of the ride. Now my mares were worked up. I continued the conversation with Scootch about keeping a managed pace. While she's usually not too tough to get to slow down, she was resenting the fact that I was asking. The balance between her forward and my whoa was finding its middle in a vertical fashion. More head flipping and front legs, maybe back legs too, coming up off the ground. Yup, there definitely was a buck in there that made me feel old. My job in the  conversation was to try to keep in the communication realm, rather than an argument. But she was getting offended. I was a bit too considering she seemed to be trying to dislodge me. I had to be soft in my hands along with my request or I really would have ended up in the soybeans. I again dismounted and continued the conversation on the ground. Again, feeling a bit old. 

      I left that adventure with the knowledge that I've got two good horses, and some things to work on. There was nothing wrong in that situation with her or myself, only that the communication that we had was being tested at a different level. For her, its a concern about being able to be somewhere in the middle, somewhere between a stop and go, between an I can and an I can't. And I totally get how she feels.
      My life over the past month or so has been a series of starts, false starts, ends, and screeching halts. It leaves me feeling a bit like I'm floating above all these changes, trying to get above the squish in the middle that expects me to find a place to be. I trust that there is a path in it, much like I know that my horse could trust me in her discomfort. That only makes it somewhat less hard. The thing about changes is that they are never easy, but we can get better at them. If we do it enough, and we will eventually, we can gain skill in balancing ourselves through them. What helps is having some kind of lifeline, trusting relationship, or motivating belief that there will be a positive result.  

Balance....we resist it so much, but that's what these shifting gears try to teach us. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Collective Contemplation

I love fast horses. Forward movement and energy is a thing that resonates with me. Perhaps its the athleticism, the spirit, or that fact that it gives me something to work on. I have trouble riding a slow horse, perhaps because I find it hard myself to sit still.

My own tendency for a driving seat has gotten me into trouble however; from a runaway or two to strung out gaits, not to mention putting that extra perk in the prey animal. Through the years I have been able to work on this skill on a variety of levels, using horse psychology and improving my riding skills and horsemanship, as well as gaining a better understanding of horse's biomechanics. This last area is my most recent endeavor, and surprisingly sheds a lot of light to connect all the others.

One of our therapy horses is a young Appaloosa mare, sensitive and smart. She is also fast and opinionated. In our training routine we have built a good bit of trust and communication, which has reduced the opinion factor greatly, turning her opposition reflex to more willing partnership. She loves her job in the psychotherapy realm, and does really well taking riders with special needs, however one area of difficulty has been in transitions with a new or unskilled rider. I began to understand that the opinions she was showing stemmed from concern that she could not manage her fast body effectively in those moments.

Once I had developed an effective communication with Diva for forward, I began to address the balance factor with transitions. Balance in her body, balance in her mind. She showed fast results and was soon willingly moving forward, and stopping softly. As we practiced this balance in a dim arena at twilight, I saw the changes in her body as more relaxation and attentiveness, as well as a springier step. Her center of mass was moving towards her hindquarters, giving her an opportunity to use her strength. She was also paying thoughtful attention to our agreement, and no longer irritated.

It was only after our ride that I noticed the changes in my body. My core was strong and enlivened, and my attitude as well was improved. I realized that I had been blowing through my day and my emotions, giving no thoughtful attention to my agreement with myself.

During our collected and attentive ride, both Diva and my solar plexus was engaged. This space in our bodies is an energetic center for our personal power. In other words it is our physical access to self- confidence, assertiveness, and usefully expressed emotions. It is our access to effectiveness and balance. In working out this physical muscle in a mental game, the emotional aspect of the imbalance had relief.

So often we think that emotions are just emotions. They get so personal and so entrapping. We then live at the effect of our emotions, and other's emotions. When we see an expression from others, we blame them and take it as truth. When we see an expression in ourselves, we begin to believe that is who we are. Like a forward horse in an unbalanced gait, we trip, buck, pin our ears, and worse, go faster.

Sometimes we forget that we can collect ourselves. In finding a safe and balanced space within our own bodies and minds, we can rethink our emotions, make better transitions, and express our truth more effectively in the world. This space is sacred to us. It does not belong to anyone else and cannot be shaken by anyone else without our attention. It is our agreement with ourselves.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Never has there been a little girl turned horsewoman without that mildly obnoxious quality known as persistence. You know the type- the ones that show up at the barn one day and never leave, the ones that ride their bike down the road in the rain to pull you out of your cozy house so that they can get their riding lesson, the ones that at 65 years old, after family and kids finds their way back to the barn to finally fulfill their childhood dreams. I know the type well, because I am one. I am not sure where this quality stems from, though I must say that I continue to learn its value, and this year has brought me a great many lessons in persistence.

There are many types of persistence, ranging from pesky to downright stubborn, and the variations in quality get different results. Horses will teach you the difference. Go ahead and get stubborn with a big dominant gelding. Try exasperating a mare. Horses' best survival quality is to out-persist predators. Perhaps the term second wind came from watching a horse run on a longe line to be "worn out" then find the gumption to still buck his impertinent rider to the ground.

These types of persistence have no feel, no thought, and no balance. However there is much to be said for the type of persistence that pays off. Pat Parelli talks about horsemen needing to be Passively Persistent in the Proper Position - meaning that a person needs to be able to maintain their goal, thought, and intention in a way that offers some freedom of movement. The "passive" part indicates an allowing for things to go as they will. The persistence will continue to revisit the intended goal no matter what, and the proper position will allow for the person to be ready and aligned for optimum influence, when the time in right. Because horses are so good at reading intention, and reacting to it, we learn that too much push can send a horse over the edge, and too little may mean that you are the one hanging on for dear life.

While the events of this past year have taught me a lot about passive persistence in the proper position in realms of business building, as a therapist, and as a rider, the space that I am most grateful to have learned in is in my relationship with my mare Lucy. And by relationship, I do not mean simply how we feel about one another. I mean relationship in the terms of the connected influence we share on each others lives and behavior.

Lucy has been, shall we call it, my "ride or die" for quite some time. And sometime around the late fall of 2015, the riding stopped. She had become progressively more lame, and despite my general attempts at helping her heal, a more complete diagnosis indicated navicular syndrome. This is a disease typically caused by some old impact or injury which damages the functioning of the bones in the hoof, causing pain and lameness. I began with the usual protocols of special shoeing and anti-inflammatory medications, with limited success. Persistence, but not in the proper position. In early spring of 2016, there were several changes to the herd, and my first horse and partner of over 20 years passed away. My world was rocked, and the instability I felt in my core must have been reflected in my mare, as she shortly thereafter became ill. She was laying down for hours a day at a steadily increasing rate. While my focus was on burying my grief, and she seemed otherwise fine, it took me a while to recognize that something was not right.

She began to have some strange nerve and muscle spasms which got my attention. My wheels turning, I had already begun to suspect ulcers, and my thoughts confirmed by knowledgeable friends led to continued research. And my mind continued to churn. Proper position perhaps, but too passive. One day, during a therapy session I heard a thud on a stall wall in the barn, and my horseman's instinct told me a horse was cast in their stall. Finishing off the session in a semi-professional manner, I then turned my attention to Lucy who was laying in her stall, rightly concerned. I assisted her up which was not difficult, but she immediately started to twitch all over her body. Not wanting her to go down again in the stall and feeling movement a good option, I brought her outside. The twitching continued and her lips began to turn blue. In those moments following- maybe 20 minutes feeling like a lifetime- I summoned all the persistence in the proper position that I had. I ran for my phone and redlight, called the vet, and willed her to come. I redlighted the shock points I recalled and kept Lucy standing. I expressed to her in my most clear, leaderly, and not so passive way, that she was not going to die today. And she did not. The following hours, I played with decisions of treatment, though not sure what I was treating.

The good news was that Lucy seemed to feel like her old self after a shot of Banamine. We took blood and tested for those ulcers, which then were treated, morning and night, for 5 months. Lucy's gut condition improved and I continued to play with formulations of feed and herbs and energy work to support her. But every morning I would drive to the barn with a knot in my throat. For at least 5 months. But we continued, passive persistence in the proper position. Slow moving, that. In the meantime of gut healing, we saw ups and downs in her lameness, as well as an eye scarring/ blindness that she had been nursing for a time becoming more and more ugly.

Many days, my irritability was rampant, others, I kept a tight lid on. But with the recollection of the day when I swore I was not going to lose her, the level of my discouragement over my lost riding mare was not as overwhelming as the gratefulness that I felt for having my mare, however she was. Lord knows she has me however I am.

I began to find my feet, and a proper position. But first I had to wrap my mind around passivity. I had to allow my horse to be as weak as she was, not just in her present state but in my future mind. I had to give up the psychological pressure that I put on myself and her to be how we used to. I had wrap my mind around not riding her. Now I had not ridden her in nearly a year, but the thought of never riding her again, was pretty icky. However in present tense, there is no never. But today, we were not riding. My goal continued to be to get her strong and healthy and happy. Passive Persistence.

Horse Folk is Poor Folk, but I was gratefully able to set my proper position on "Get $500: Go to the vet". I say that because I could have made the statement, got the money, and paid bills, bought Christmas presents, or went shopping. But the proper position that I set in my mind had my action button tuned to dial the vet's number, when the right moment appeared. With a further course of action pursued, Lucy is feeling a bit better on her feet. But the work is not done. All of the work of the past year would fall apart if my persistence lapsed. Now is the time for me to help her find her proper position.

As we work to train her body to be well, I continue to try to be present where we are. Being present is a passive state, it is not a pushing state. Persistence continues to be there as a presence itself, an influence only had by taking up space. It continues to remind one of the goal, of the desired state. It also does not push hard, because it is in for the long haul. Finding ones proper position can be a challenge. All there is to do is keep checking. Not the results, or the goal, but your position. Are you where you need to be? Are you doing what you need to do? I got a fortune cookie about a year ago that still sticks on my fridge and in my mind. "Do not be upset with the results that you didn't get, from the work that you didn't do." In other words, check your position.

I am deeply grateful for the results that I have right now, and I know that in a moment it could all change. But my passive persistence in the proper position does not need to change. Not all that much.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Who I am with you

The days I get to spend in the pasture and sunshine are very important to me.  I get to spend time with the herd, and though the opportunity is often there, I usually end up taking advantage of it during those times in life that I really need it. When I need a good recharging, my favorite grounding space is in the grass or hay, on a warm sunny spot in the pasture, next to a snoozing horse.
Today I was enjoying the sunshine next to my snoozing Isis,  who has been a joy in my life for about a year and a half. So we haven't gotten too many pasture snoozing sessions in yet.  As I was enjoying her grounding company,  I thought of my other wonderful horses and wondered how I got so lucky. When I brought Isis home, I had no idea she would be an incredible therapy horse, or be willing to do anything I asked of her, or trust me so much. It was strange how that seemed so much like my other horses.
I realized that though my horses have all been completely different in personality, who they are in relationship to me is quite similar, because who I am in relationship to them is exactly the same. I notice this as well in my relationships with friends and family.  They behave in a very similar way towards me. Because, well, that's how I've trained them.
We often say in experiential therapy that wherever you go, there you are. This is why experiential therapy works, particularly equine therapy. Our behaviors and skills that we use in one area of life, we use in all areas. It's who we are. And when we can become aware of it, we have opportunity to choose how to be.
I didn't know what kind of horse Isis was going to be for me, but I guess I should have. Because I knew who I was going to be for her. Relationships aren't 50-50, and they aren't 100-100 either. They are more like this constant intermingling flow. Like a trickle of rain that creates a small rivulet, and in a million years looks like the grand canyon. 
I'm not saying that my horse human relationships are perfect. There are those things I see in my mirrors that I don't like too. Supposedly, if we see how we are enough, and it makes a deep enough impact on us,  we are willing to change. Then who we are is different, and our relationships will be different. And the people in our lives will be different.
Who we are actually creates the world around us.  You may think that you don't matter, but who you are makes an impact. Everything from the smile you give your coworkers in the morning to being there for your kids at night. It matters. This, to me is one of the most powerful and humbling lessons there is to learn.  It's actually scary to realize the responsibility we have in our lives, our relationships,  and the world.
Simply by recognizing and acknowledging who we are and the impact it has, our world changes. Power lies in knowing that who we are is exactly who we choose to be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Shape of a Cowgirl

There are songs that are written about angels on earth,
And a magical thing called a cowgirl.
But those stories and songs are just stringing along
Those that don't know the shape of a Cowgirl.

For there's something that happens between heaven and earth
When a Cowgirl loses a pony.
I wouldn't deny, there's tears to be cried,
Though the songs say she's tougher than nails.
But what happens next, some may not expect, but those know the shape of a Cowgirl.

A smile on her lips shows up through her woe,
As though there's a secret that only she knows.
The reason is that- that good pony left
A space in her heart and her soul.
And since that pony has gone, her heart stretches on, beyond horizons and hills.

To reach for her friend whose wings take him on takes a big stretch of her stride.
And arms reach out longer, past fences and borders,
And her feet take on something like flying.

So there's the shape of a Cowgirl if didn't you know:
A Cowgirl's heart and a Cowgirl's soul expand to wherever her partner goes.
For the piece of her soul that her pony owns,
That is the reason the Cowgirl roams.
And the depths of her heart that her pony has filled- the size of the space that he's left- how high and how long that love is,

Well that is the shape of a Cowgirl.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lead Mare in the Making

The old mare watched the tractor work,
A thing of rubber and steel,
Ready to follow the slightest wish,
Of the man who held the wheel.
She said to herself as it passed by,
You gave me an awful jolt.
But there's still one thing you cannot do,
You cannot raise a colt.
Source unknown

If someone were to ask your definition of leadership, how would you answer? Perhaps the picture includes someone intelligent, confident,  organized, high energy, and with a five year plan. Maybe it's someone with charisma, all the right words, and a three piece suit.  I might answer that I see more leadership in a scruffy mane across the fence everyday, than I see anywhere else.

Horses are splendid examples of group dynamics, which is why they are used so widely these days in the therapeutic realm. The role of lead mare has been something I have cherished and respected since meeting the tall dark warm blood in our herd at least 7 years ago. But what I have noticed lately about lead mares has knocked me off my toes.
They all are.

Today if I look out over the pasture, I will see each of the five mares clear about their role, but confidently challenging it. Each one from the mature sensitive mare to the one who has given birth and mothered, the big one no one can ignore, and the young filly in a constant state of learning. But the mare that's caused me to notice all of this is my mare Lucy. Over the past 7 years I have watched a horse who I would diagnose as "passive" show up today as a mare that I am sure secretly runs the herd. She's not the first one at the hay bale, and she's not the one to show the new gelding where to stand. But she is the peacemaker of the herd. And the troublemaker.  Everyone misses her when she's gone. The herd is provided with a steadiness because of who she is. She's taught people and horses in a way that makes them think they are doing it all themselves. I even watched her make baby faces at the new gelding the other day, for a reason unknown to me,  this mare that regularly dishes out nasty faces to other horses on trail rides and in the ring.

I've watched her growth through the years not only in what we have done together but who she's been in the herd. I can't help but notice the mirror reflection on my own growth as well. Growth ranging from confidence and learning to self respect and self restraint. Mostly I hope the skill I can posess that I see in this lead mare is the graciousness and openness of heart that she has cultivated. The ability to be ok with everything as it is, and yet know that there is a way to make a powerful difference. 

Every mare in that pasture is a lead mare. Some have more dominance traits, and some have more experience.  But with a mare as with a leader, there is a driving purpose to be fulfilled that will never be satisfied.  The purpose is the herd. It's safety, it's togetherness, it's serenity. A leader is someone who knows his purpose is the herd, and plays whatever part is necessary to make it work.

I used to think that some horses were leaders and the rest just followers in their own regard.  Perhaps my definition of leadership has been very humanized. In a world of bullies and indentured servants, when someone tries to fulfill a calling, we label them "entrepreneurs". We call women who raise families "stay at home moms", as though location is needed for definition.  We think leadership is what you do and accomplish,  rather than what you provide and who you are. Leadership is something that can be present at any moment,  simply by doing what you know there is to do, and by offering what you have to the herd, to the situation. It might mean backing away, or fighting, or a calm steady presence. As I see it from the mares, it's not what you do, it's for what you do. For the herd.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Dark Horse

It was a little hard to have a productive therapy session with the high pitched screaming and thunk of hooves hitting the boards that was coming from the barn. Smoke, the handsome black horse that had come to the farm about three months ago had been steadily making his presence known to the herd, and the gelding in the stall next to him was getting an earful. Though the aura of terror in the stalls was irritating, I could understand his point. Horses have dominance conversations all the time. It's just that it seemed to be gettin worse, rather than resolving. So I was thankful when it was time for Smoke to go out to the field, with his pasturemate Buddy, who he had been getting along with nicely. As I turned Smoke loose in the night and fumbled with Buddy's halter, I was nearly knocked over by a blast of black hide and hair flying towards the innocent paint horse. And before I could regroup, it happened again. I was on my toes the third time around,  however,  and after the two were successfully turned out, the drama appeared over as quickly as it started. A couple days later, Smoke gave a lovely therapeutic riding lesson, like a trustworthy mount with a true calling.

I have been finding myself the victim of a dark horse lately. It rears it's ugly head mostly when I am alone. It sounds like grumbling, complaining,  anger, greed. It assumes something negative before anything is present.  The dark horse has a very limited focus, and generally feeds itself. And then, just when I an afraid it will swallow me up, something happens,  and the dark horse is brought out into the light. It gets held up to reality. To connection, to feedback, to a smile and truth. And shakes out its mane and it simmers down.

So I wonder at myself and this dark horse I have. How does one navigate between the waves of dark and light that show up? How can you tell the difference between the horse in the stall next to you that you just met, and the one you've been friends with for weeks, and not attack the wrong one?

Wait and see.

Night turns into day. Shadows turn into evidence. Hold your dark horse up to the light, you might find him warm and happy in the sun, ready to nuzzle your chest and lick your hand. Maybe just hold those thoughts for a while and see if they change. Our problem often is that we believe everything we think. Have you ever noticed that you tend to think the same things over and over? Same gripes, complaints and problems?  Brains are very programmable, but we often don't pay any attention to what we are programming. We don't leave any room for creative process in our thoughts. No room for possibility.

Taking your dark horse to the light might look different for everyone.  It might mean sharing your feelings with a trusted friend. It might mean excersizing to get out of your head. It might mean therapy, or just taking a break. Once the light has cracked in, make room with it. Create. And know that the dark horse will come again. You just may know better than to believe it this time.