Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dance: Liberty's Patron Saint of Lost Souls

This is one hard blog to write. You see, beautiful Dance passed on October 12th at the age of 19. She was owned by Hazel and was a much-loved mare. Hazel loves race horses and horse racing. She acquired Dance from a breeding farm in San Luis Obispo and brought her to Canada in 1997 with a young foal at her side. Dance had seven more foals before "retiring" a couple of years ago to Liberty Stables.

When we first met Dance, she was a bit underweight and a little volatile to handle, especially when she was taken away from her field mates. Hazel asked if we could work with her to build her skills and confidence. And so I spent quite a bit of time taking her away from her field bit by bit and doing some ground work. When she got outside her comfort zone, it was not beyond her to rear up. She was also known to strike out with a back foot with lightening speed. After a while, and with little progress, I decided to find out via an animal communicator if she wanted to "work on her stuff". She gave a succinct "no". And so Hazel agreed to honour that and the following spring, she was turned out with the herd to see if she could enjoy retirement in the wide open spaces.

I should also mention that Dance had a pretty significant addiction: she was a "cribber" or wind sucker. That's when a horse clamps down on a rail or post with their mouth and sucks in air. It gives them a "high" of sorts. It is a menace of an addiction because cribbers can get so hooked that they do damage to their teeth. They can also be very difficult to keep weight on because they literally would rather suck the fence than eat. As well, eating can trigger a desire to crib more and so it is a vicious cycle. Dance was a very dedicated addict.

I have to admit that at first, my inclination was to scold her and to try and discourage her when she cribbed. I quickly learned though, perhaps as with any addict, attempts to discourage are futile. And so, I decided a better approach would be to accept her addiction and to love her in spite of it.

When we turned her out into the field, we thought that she might crib less since it was a hike to come in to the nearest fence. Also, we hoped that she might lose interest with the change in lifestyle.

Her first winter out, we worried about her weight and so we brought her in each day for extra feed. It was during one of these feeding times as I stood waiting for her to eat that we had a "chat". We talked about whether she could take responsibility for herself, to love herself enough to eat lots and gain some weight (and strength). It was really neat. I explained that we could help her so much but that at some point, she needed to help herself.

Gradually, two things started to happen. Firstly, Dance started to show up on her own at the gate for her extra feed most mornings at about 9:00! Secondly, when I fed the herd by rolling out a round bale, I started to notice that she wasn't at the bottom of the pecking order, that she could actually move other horses and get in there to eat.

And then, the really neat thing was her eye started to soften and she would even on rare occasions, nicker a greeting at the gate. Wow. The cribbing continued unfortunately. But we just ignored that and carried on.

Gradually, a new horse emerged. The farrier noticed she was changing, the vets kind of shook their heads in amazement that a horse with such horrible teeth could eat enough to sustain life, especially grazing. And much to my enjoyment, and Hazel's, Dance started to be soft, responsive and gentle. I forgot that she used to strike out with her hind foot, and rearing up on the halter was a thing of the past. Her body weight was good and she had a beautiful shiny coat.

Last summer, Dance formed a strong friendship with an older gelding and a beautiful mare. They went everywhere together. Dance looked fantastic and although she was still cribbing, it seemed less frequent and intense. I truly marveled at how she had transformed herself! In fact, in a lovely moment in July, I was visiting with Dance along the fence and she turned her body to the side. I thought for a brief moment that I could just slide my leg over and sit quietly on her. I didn't do it but made myself a promise to consider it if the offer came again. I had no idea if she'd ever been ridden before but my trust was so great, I believed it didn't matter.

Then, in late September, something changed. I noticed that Dance was no longer hanging with her friends. Instead she was frequently by herself near the horse shelter. The cribbing intensity increased, her eye had changed. She had gone to a dark place. I felt like I'd lost her. We all wondered what had happened? We called on the animal communicator who said that Dance was indeed in a dark place. She wanted to know where all her babies were so she could tell them she loved them and Hazel gave us the information. Then, one day, I had to lead her somewhere and the old rearing, frantic behaviour that I thought we'd said good-bye to had returned. We did energy work, looked at changing her feed again, scrambling for ways to get the newly emerged confident beautiful mare back. She had worked so hard. Was she undergoing another transformation? The animal communicator thought that perhaps she had a role to play in helping lost souls. We weren't sure what that would look like. But her journey with addiction was amazing and an inspiration.

And then we found her in the field on the morning of October 13th. She didn't look like she'd struggled at all. It was as if she'd just laid down and passed. What a shock. But wasn't she working on a new mission? Didn't she see the light in the darkness?

We told the other boarders and clients one-by-one about Dance's passing. It was amazing how many of them she had touched in her own way. They each recounted times and moments they had shared with Dance. Most of these people choked back tears or outwardly cried at the news.

One of our clients in particular recounted an amazing story. She found out about Dance on Friday. The next day, in a moment of self reflection and subsequent sadness, she felt the amazing spiritual presence of Dance. This beautiful horse laid down and wrapped the woman in a warm energetic embrace while the woman cried away her pain. It was when we heard this story that we realized that Dance indeed had a new mission. She is our patron saint of lost souls providing support to whoever needs her.

I must thank Hazel for allowing us this amazing journey with her beautiful horse and for trusting. This way of being with horses is so new and so amazing. And yet, we are being called to notice the openness, the courage, the deep love these animals are capable of. And if we're lucky, we can begin to experience it ourselves.

In life, Dance showed us that we can in fact transform ourselves. What an amazing inspiration she was, and continues to be for all of us.

This whole month as I've contemplated writing this blog, two songs keep playing in my head if you want to look them up. One is Christina Aguilera's "Lift Me Up". The other is Beyonce's "Halo". They are both deeply moving songs that somehow remind me of Dance's journey.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Come With An Open Heart

This is about a very large horse. His name is Ulysses. He is 18 hands high. He takes up a lot of space in more ways than one. He came into our lives in an unsual but very deliberate way. To make a long story short, Dessa and Rosie (pictured here with Ulysses) were looking for a "project" horse for Rosie. Nine year-old Ulysses showed up in spades. Large, scared, angry, they took a chance on him.

When he first arrived at Liberty Stables, Ulysses wouldn't let anyone in, physically or emotionally. Just allowing anyone to move from his head down his side was not permitted. He was frightened to come into the barn. In the arena, any sound or movement would send him moving as if he didn't know where his feet were. He was sore as well. But out he went into the herd where the other horses and the wide open spaces started to work their magic. This took care of a lot of his physical issues.

Meanwhile, Rosie started to work with Ulysses. An accomplished horse person, Rosie patiently put all agenda and expectation aside and started from the very beginning. How many times had people tried to "start" Ulysses? How many times had his trust been shattered? Starting over one more time, well, that would be a challenge.

Now I should say that Ulysses is a Boss personality (Dominant, Energetic, Afraid, Aloof). This is not an easy personality. They are typically a challenge in the beginning, especially if they don't have a job they can attach to. And so with his size coupled with his personality, he lived up to his name in more ways than one.

I would see Rosie and Ulysses periodically along the way. And I saw Ulysses out in the field on a regular basis. Something started to happen. He truly started to look different physically. He gained muscle in all the right places. Was he playing with other horses? Was he approaching people in the field? In the barn, while he took up the same amount of space as before (getting around him was a challenge), the energy was changing. Oh, and he developed a way of telling us if he disliked what was happening. He would stomp the ground with his rather large foot!

He was becoming a big presence of a different sort around Liberty Stables. And then, a year ago, I was putting together a "team" of horses to do a new program on self awareness. This required horses to come into the arena and interact with a group of people. Guess who "signed up"? Yes, Ulysses did. What do I do with that? So the day came when the first group arrived to do the Horseplay program for the day. What horses should I bring in? Guess who again? Ulysses. Would that be a good idea? Would it be safe? Okay, trust it. Breathe!

Ulysses was awesome! Several people in the group were drawn to him. They were in awe of his size and cautious around him. But they saw something in him they could relate to. And he was so "into" his job. He went from person to person, getting right into their space, totally engaged and engaging.

I got used to the idea that Ulysses was on a mission. And so when he showed up recently to "teach" one of my beginner riders, I wasn't totally surprised. But this was different. Being on the ground with Ulysses was one thing. Having someone ride him was completely different. Rosie got to where she could ride Ulysses. But it wasn't as if he'd had lots of riding - and certainly not in a positive, confidence-building sort of way. What if a new rider did something to trigger his fear or his anger?

And so now I was feeling some pressure. One evening recently, I gave this considerable thought. Is this insane? Do I know what I'm doing? Does Ulysses know what he's doing? I went to bed that night feeling uneasy. Early the next morning, I became aware of a presence. It might have been a dream. It was Ulysses. Unmistakably. Do horses just show up like that?

You're worried. Yes, I am. You're worried about teaching me and a brand new rider? Yes, I am.

Then, I saw - or maybe it was felt - Rosie and Ulysses together. They were so lovely. Rosie was patient and gentle. She felt her way through the process of gaining Ulysses' trust. Ground work, liberty, line driving, saddle on, saddle off, leg in the stirrup, sitting on the big horse, walking a few steps, trotting big and proud. Then, as clear as can be, I felt or heard the following:

"Come with an open heart." Just like Rosie did. We will feel our way together into the unknown.

Wow! How can you not respond to that? How can you not trust that? Rosie, you've really done something amazing here. And Ulysses, how much more inspirational can you be, for me, for the people who are now showing up for you to work with? Come with an open heart.

And so, I do not truly know where this will take us. My students have not ridden Ulysses yet. They are so keen though. We are carefully feeling our way. But I do know that so far, that big horse has shown he can be so very, very gentle. They are aware that he is still working through stuff. Aren't we all?

But what an awesome potential! What a great place to start. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Moving Through Fear, Ego, Drama Into Confidence

Dawn is from Boston and CR is from Montana. They met in Millarville, Alberta. It was no accident some would say. But they are an unlikely match. Dawn is new to horses but they've been a lifelong dream. CR is not new to humans and he is not a beginner's horse. But somehow, all of that was irrelevant in light of the connection they immediately felt.

CR is a beautiful moving horse, light, very senstive but prone to nervousness and anxiety which is why he didn't seem an "appropriate" match for Dawn. He was also the herd boss with somewhat of an ego, his actions seeming to originate from anxiety. He didn't suffer fools gladly!

But, somewhat surprisingly, he went to work "teaching" Dawn under the skilled guidance of Dessa Hockley. And Dawn, with patience and enthusiasm, embraced their experiences together in the arena. Their relationship grew. Dawn went out to the field each time she had a scheduled lesson and most of the time, he agreed to come in with her.

And then, this past winter, he stopped coming in. Dawn patiently agreed to spend lots of time with him in the field which turned out to be just what she needed to help dissipate the stresses in her busy professional life. But what was going on?

When doing herd checks, I would see CR, usually from a distance, approach him and check him over. He would tolerate my attention - not unusual. But then we noticed he was kind of depressed. So I decided to try and offer him my homemade brand of energy work when I went to see the herd, something he surprisingly said yes to - but from a distance. Dawn continued with her visits, enjoying her many field experiences. But there was no evidence of willingness to engage as before and come in.

One day this summer - a hot day - I went to check the herd. They'd come in from the field and were in their paddock. It was quiet, except for the buzzing of the flies requiring frequent tail swishes, head shakes and foot stomps. There was CR in a prime spot in the shelter, head facing inward and surrounded by several horses. Would he like some energy work? Yes. From a distance? No. Come in here. Seriously? There's no room. Come in here. Okay.

So I went in there and made my way to his head. Stand with me. Okay. It was hot! It was crowded! The flies were terrible. There we stood. For how long, I have no idea. Then, he reached out and touched me. It was done.

Through that time, we started to notice a change. Something was happening. He and Dawn were having rich conversations. Sometimes they sat together in the field. This wasn't a change per se. But he was starting to engage. Dawn even got to sit on him one evening while he grazed on the lawn. His eye looked different. His expression was more ... aware. He seemed to be meeting things with interest, ears alert instead of off to the side. He seemed taller! Occasionally, he even approached me when I went to check the herd instead of me approaching him.

Then, in September, he agreed to attend the week-long Women's Retreat with Dawn which meant leaving his herd and staying with the other horses in a different field. It was difficult but he made it to Thursday before he really had to go back out to his herd. But while he was in, we noticed again. Something was different. Dawn definitely felt it. It was as if a new CR had emerged! Still the herd boss, he had a new confidence about him, now moving amongst the horses with assurance, the old anxiety gone.

It seems he had moved through his fear, ego, anxiety, into confidence appearing now to be comfortable with himself and able to engage with Dawn and his environment more willingly, intensely, deeply and with a new kind of awareness. It was as if a huge load had lifted from his shoulders. He even exhibited something akin to compassion with a skill for healing as evidenced by an experience I'll tell you about another time with my injured horse, Diva.

Other horses have done this too. They've gone through a process where they've faced something and then emerged. Sometimes their process is a very physical one with an injury or illness. Others, as in CR's case, is more of a detachment and depression. A friend of mine calls this a "healing crisis" in humans. Hard to believe, but this "crisis" is actually a signal that you are ready - to face, deal with, allow, and then to emerge. If you're someone like Dawn watching the process, it's not easy. And whether you're the one in it or the one watching, ask for and be willing to receive help; breathe deeply; listen closely and with an open heart and, most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Trust it all.

Getting back to Dawn and CR, what an example of awareness and courage. Facing those things from the past that keep us stuck in the drama and allowing it/them to pass through can take us to our true essence, our authetic, confident selves.

This exceprt is from "Litany Against Fear" and is by Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series of books:

"I will face my fear [anger, sadness, pain, guilt, ego].
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where fear has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I remain."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Wise Sage

There once was a wise sage who wandered the countryside. One day, as he passed near a village, he was approached by a woman who saw he was a sage and told him of a sick child nearby. She beseeched him to help this child. The sage came to the village, and a crowd gathered around him, for such a man was a rare sight. One woman brought the sick child to him, and he said a prayer over her.

"Do you really think your prayer will help her, when medicine has failed?" yelled a man from the crowd.

"You know nothing of such things! You are a stupid fool!" said the sage to the man.

The man became very angry with these words and his face grew hot and red. He was about to say something, or perhaps strike out, when the sage walked over to him and said: "If one word has such power as to make you so angry and hot, may not another have the power to heal?"

And thus, the sage healed two people that day.

(author unknown)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Horses Speak on Relationships

The horses showed me an interesting concept this week. I was pondering all the fabulous horses in my life and thinking that I have several “significant relationships” with quite a few horses – and people of course. I asked myself, “how many “significant relationships” can one person have, not feeling overwhelmed but truly wondering? How do you make sense of them all? How do I value them? Do I have enough time and love to share with all of them?

And so I wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper starting with the number “1” and going up from there. Guess what came to me? Of course the number “1”. Hmmm. That’s interesting! And so I wondered: is the one “significant relationship” in one’s life with self? YES.

So then I asked myself: how does one look at/perceive/view all the other relationships?

This is what came to me:

All other relationships are partnerships. So, for example, Diva is a spiritual partner and also a partner in our mission together managing the herd (see below). Smoke is a partner in play and riding and exploring the possibilities in the new things we’re doing. Some of the others like Angie, Spike, Sid, Ulysses are teaching partners. Tegie is my partner in writing and end-of-life process (see my previous blog), and spiritual matters (they all are really at some level – spiritual partners I mean). Then when you look at human partnerships, they can be about play, spirituality, support, companionship, family, financial, work and so on.

But all partnerships – here’s the thing – are a reflection, at some level, in some way, of you.

The other thing is they change as you change. It's inevitable. Resistance is futile! We can’t be afraid to allow them to change. We can't hang on to them in hopes that they will never change. This is scary to us.

On a more uplifting note, the feelings we get within all our relationships (with self and others) are perhaps what living is all about. The experiences, the things we do together are all expressions of us, who we are in that moment. So a question which I find interesting to contemplate is "what do my partnerships reflect about my relationship with my self?" (Note that past partnerships don't have to influence future partnerships if you're worried about repeating "bad" experiences because you are always changing and evolving if you allow yourself to. And, this isn't about being critical either. It's an exercise in observing objectively and is to be approached with compassion.)

I guess to be bold, we could ask “what do I want my partnership(s) to be about?”. These are interesting questions.

Diva showed me that sometimes you don't know what your partnership is going to be about. You are drawn to each other. It all seems "right". I was drawn to Diva because I thought she could really take me places with my riding. Then, she would make someone a lovely hunter pony.

Well, here I am 3 years later. We've been through some stuff! In fact, part of the experience with her has been about letting go of riding altogether, at least in the "old" way. I have had a true awakening in that I've had to examine how I truly feel about a lot of things and confront them and come to terms. Talk about a "New Normal". And now she is my partner in most things spiritual and all things to do with my work with the herds at Liberty Stables. I would never in a million years have seen where this journey was taking me. Talk about a reflection of the changes in my relationship with myself!

Buddy, my beautiful horse for the past 12 years (that's his eye I'm reflected in in the photo above), has been another amazing partnership. He's an example of a long-term partnership evolving. I trail rode with him for years doing "the thing". Then, we started riding less and less. And he started getting crankier and crankier. And an animal communicator told me that our "purpose" together was done. Talk about harsh! But I was feeling that too along with lots of guilt. We were done. He still wanted to be my horse but he was on to another purpose, something with a young girl if possible. I choked that information down. Then, I noticed as Tegie started to deteriorate that he was really looking out for her (I have so many stories to illustrate this). Wow! He's my partner in caring for Tegie!

And so we see a reflection of our relationship to self in external partnerships. At the core of our relationship to self are our fears and our life purpose (or passion or the thing(s) we are here to experience). I sense that the journey is about noticing our fears, expressing ourselves, but also about having fun, being inspired and inspiring others and embracing the courage to feel deeply and honestly and then to respond. What amazing insights, what an amazing journey.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The "New Normal"

I have a beautiful horse named Tegra. She is in her mid-twenties and has a chronic, degenerative health problem. She's had this for some time. An animal communicator (thanks Bridget) told me she has volunteered to demonstrate the end-of-life process, not that I haven't been through this many, many times before! But never with a horse, and seldom with the animal being allowed to "pass" without assistance (i.e. euthanasia). I could have had Tegra euthanized, especially since she's of "no use". However, as you might have guessed, I haven't chosen to do that. Instead, my horse Buddy and I are caring for her for as long as it makes sense, and hopefully, until Tegra is good and ready to go!

Buddy's involvement in this is a whole other story. He's my partner caregiver. Horses can see caregiving and teaching as a job as we've seen countless times. I'm extremely grateful that he's agreed to this role. He's very good at it as long as he gets his alone time :-)

The past few days, Tegra has had some breathing problems. Despite attempts to manage it, it hasn't gone away. Knowing that her condition is going to deteriorate, I've resigned myself to the fact that this breathing thing could be the "New Normal".

The "New Normal" is what I call the state after which you realize there's been a change. Change typically means you can't go back. It's permanent and so you go through the emotions that change bring about. Sometimes these emotions are about joy, elation, relief, jubilation. Often, they are about grief as you come to accept that things will never be that exact way again.

But you do adapt. The key is in the acceptance. In Tegra's case, it's acceptance that she's reached another milestone in her journey. It's seeing if anything else has changed. It's assessing whether adjustments need to be made and so on. It's the "New Normal". Talk about grief. The end is getting nearer. But then you see the horse again. She's so brave, still stubborn, still energetic (sort of), still interested in food, still able to nicker in her beautiful deep voice, still able to see whether Buddy is near, still able to hold her head at the level of my heart and make me feel grateful and sad and emotional and joyous all at once, to feel deeply and to be okay.

The "New Normal". Who am I in the "New Normal"? What does life look like now? How do I orient myself to the "New Normal"? These are excellent questions. It's the essence of change. The key is acceptance that the change has come in whatever form it has taken. To trust that all is well in your universe.

A friend of our family passed a couple of days ago. The "New Normal" is life without her. A friend and client accepted a new job. The "New Normal" is new work, new routines. The "New Normal" is okay. It is just that, the "New Normal". And acceptance of that means that everything once again is in perfection, in that moment, in that place, in that energy.

Thanks for showing me the "New Normal" Tegra, and for still being here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Amazing Connection

It doesn't make any sense. That's what we say sometimes when we observe interactions between some people and their horses.
On this day, Rachel went to get her beautiful horse Mona out in the herd. They were out of sight when the herd came thundering in from the field to their catch pen. Where's Rachel? Did Mona come in with the herd? Was Rachel trampled out there? That was big horse energy, dangerous even.
Then, walking totally calmly, heads lowered in communion, energy seemingly in balance, came Rachel and Mona. This photo was taken as they came through the gate towards the barn.
It doesn't make any sense. Mona should have come with the herd. Rachel should have come in "empty-handed", shaken even. But instead, this young girl and her very special horse were quiet and safe, in their own world of friendship and respect. Wow. That is unbelievable. The presence, connection, awareness is just amazing.
Thank you for showing us the possibilities!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Dog and the Orangutan

I had to make an entry into the blog regarding this amazing story. There have been a few like it I've noticed where bonds between individuals of two different non-human species have formed. It's interesting in this video that it's an orangutan and a dog: the orangutan being human-like and the dog of course being one of our closest non-human companions. And so, it kind of makes sense.

At any rate, I was very moved by this story. There's another story that got me about an elephant and the dog who became great friends in the elephant sanctuary. Have you seen that one? Perhaps this is anthropomorphising in that it looks like these animals are "best friends", but it appears that they have truly chosen to spend time together in trust and play. What's also amazing to notice is these animals don't "speak" the way we do. They communicate without words. At the risk of sounding arrogant, this is remarkable. They don't have or need verbal language to communicate with each other.

We are noticing this with the horses. In my personal journey, I am learning to trust my intuition and my non-verbal abilities - which we all have - to receive and send messages, in other words, to communicate with the horses. It's going reasonably well but it has been a challenge to deal with the mental chatter and to trust what I'm "hearing".

Dogs are probably the masters of reading our non-verbal communication which is maybe what makes them good at these unusual interspecies friendships. Hard to say. In the book, Edgar Sawtelle, the author is truly gifted at describing in rich detail the dogs' experiences with humans, especially the dog named Almondine. Her main human is a young boy, Edgar, who is unable to speak. He can only sign and they get each other in ways that most of us only dream about. I'll write more about this later and perhaps include an exerpt as an example.

At any rate, enjoy the video!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Blog is Born

You haven't heard from me for a while. I've been playing with some horses AND doing research on a new book I want to write called "Is Your Dog a Rock Star?" But more about that later. My friend and business partner has a new blog. It's called Beyond Horse Personalities. Dessa Hockley has been busting to share some of the amazing stories and revelations she's been witness to through our work at Liberty Stables. You'll have to go and see what it's all about. The book, "Is Your Horse a Rock Star?" is making its way around the world. People are blogging about it and taking the quiz.

And I won't forget to keep you posted about the dog book as we are affectionately calling it....