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."