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.