Shetlands get a bad rap. I’ll admit to weak moments myself, and the utterance of strings of profanities that would make a sailor blush, when faced with the sheer brilliance and equal stubbornness of the Shetland pony in my care. He escapes from everything, destroys lovely expensive muzzles like a man with a plan, moves his current roundpen home mind-blowing distances daily with his neck and sheer determination, constantly finds the most trouble possible, breaks latches, pees on his hay and generally is one or two steps ahead of his person and I. In the same paragraph as I admit frustration, I’ll also admit mad respect. This pony is undeniably committed and he’s got the smarts to back it up. His main commitment? Read on to find out!
I keep telling myself that I wrote a book on this stuff and I should be more sorted. Ironically though, in my book, I write about the importance letting yourself blubbery, snotty mess. About taking the time you need to let things move and sort and digest and release. I write a lot about self-care and about our own unique process (and how it looks different from everyone else’s). This week I took my own advice.
Let me tell you about it, this surreal week of mine. I feel like I’ve had about 16 baths (it was probably closer to 6 but they’ve been really really long, so long my hands and feet turn into raisins). I just want warmth. And Netflix. Both of those things. Kia and I have been doing some good cuddling. I have been hiking with Reilly. I have been dancing most mornings, in my kitchen, to my besties excellent Spotify playlists. I have been still and quiet. I crave manure to pick (come on ponies produce!). I have eaten my weight in chocolate and twist of lime tortilla chips (damn, they are good). I have been counting Kia’s breaths per minute several times a day and mildly obsessive about her breathing the remainder of the day. I have been dreaming up article titles like this one. Riding Diva bareback. Talking to girlfriends over hot chocolate. Crying. Planning where she will be buried and her ceremony, complete with which bulbs I need to plant (this redhead is very specific). Crying some more. Opening up space for people Kia and I haven’t seen in a while to come visit. I allowed myself to be whatever and wherever I needed to be, in preparation for all of it. In preparation for being the best steward for her that I possibly could be. As it turns out, and as I suspected, my self care is entwined with my ability to care for her – the paradoxical, beautiful truth.
As I write her story, or my version of her story, my red-headed firecracker of a pomeranian cross Kia struggles to catch her breath. Despite her stubbornness and her unwillingness to accept what is, her heart is failing and it is deteriorating daily. This morning she came close to fainting, her body collapsing, her breath gurgling, her eyes glazing. She struggles and yet, she fights, or she does one better, she lives fully and with abandon, just as she’s always done.
When Kia came into my life she was just six months old, tenacious, territorial, and, quite frankly, a bit of a shit. She had been rescued by a friend and client, and bore the marks of crate bars on her nose, which she still carries today. To say she was poorly socialized in her first six months would be an understatement, and to this day, I thank the lord she is less than twenty pounds and adorable (there’s a reason one of her nicknames is ankle biter). But, like her adopted mother Elaine, her heart was as big as the sun and her love ran deep and strong.
You may have witnessed me waxing poetic about my lofty goal of transforming the perceived experience of sharing space with an animal from owner to steward or caregiver or person or, really, anything other than owner. That word gets under my skin. Owner. It’s like that zit that won’t give me the satisfaction of popping, it just brews and stews and generally acts like, well, terrible. So you might say, the term holds a little charge, and with good reason. Under that title, animals have been neglected and abused and oppressed and, in general, treated like lesser beings for thousands of years.
Owner denotes power, dominance, replaceability, repression and oppression. It speaks of a living breathing feeling being as a piece of property. It screams inequality. You bet your bottom dollar this word and all it represents gets under my skin (and yes, I am a big fan of musicals, but I have a feeling you’re not the least bit surprised).
Yesterday, I had the chance to work with an amazing mare. Ever since beginning of my career as an equine sport therapist in 2003, each horse I meet builds on my knowledge and understanding, and over the almost 14 years since it’s become increasingly obvious that each horse is a unique individual, with their own preferences, quirks, conditioning and genetic legacy. Every day, at the risk of sounding cheesy, I am humbled to be allowed to work with them and by their generosity in sharing wisdom and understandings that, I hope, contribute to me being a better human being. My love of horses is a deep, deep well, a constant filling of my cup.
Alright, enough of the sappyness and back to my story. I relate this particular story partially because of the rising awareness around touch and consent in human beings and where the line is, and partially because very little has been said about this subject when it comes to animals, particularly horses.
When did you discover your horse obsession? For me, the age is unknown (I was wee), only the feeling. A feeling of utter awe and inexplicable understanding. A feeling right in the centre of me that knew that these powerful creatures would be my north star from this day forward.
Thousands of wheelbarrow loads of poop, rides, grooming sessions, hay bales, hoof pickings, dollars spent and bum rubs later, and the addiction does not appear to be fading. On the contrary, it seems to be picking up steam. It may have a little something to do with my mare Diva meandering her way into my life and heart almost exactly 13 years ago and flipping my world, quite literally, on it’s head. Perhaps?
Last February in Perth, Australia, at a workshop based on my book, Death Sucks: A Straight-Up Guide to Navigating Your Pet’s Final Transition, two amazing women arrived from Singapore to steal away all of our hearts. And in the process, we learned of Hope, a dog that had been a transformational whirlwind in their lives, the light of their life, the inspiration for their careers, and the focus of their last several years. Her care, her needs, and her very presence were all very big. Hope was, during our time together at the workshop, in the last months of her life before making her final transition. These two women had come to the workshop to be with their grief, to understand how to let go, and to prepare themselves for the inevitable. She had been on the verge of this final transition for quite some time, in the space I often refer to as the peaks and valleys. It wasn’t until several months after they returned home that she finally expressed her readiness to let her very well-used dog body go. With the help of a dear friend and veterinarian, these two women said goodbye to Hope in the most beautiful way imaginable, showering her in love and blessings, rose petals and prayer flags. Hope, a rescue that had seen the worst of the human race, parted this world knowing a depth of love that many of us only dream of.
I remember the moment as clear as day. It is that powerful a memory in a brain that doesn’t hold onto many (I always say my brain does regular clear outs of information it deems unimportant).
I’m fourteen or fifteen and I’m riding a lesson horse in a ring. We’re jumping, or we’re trying to. It’s not going well. My instructor is screaming at me. Screaming. My horse is, looking back in reflection (hindsight is indeed 20/20), terrified. He has refused a jump, more than likely because he’s scared of it. My instructor is screaming this at me over and over. “Get it done!” and “Don’t let him get away with it.” Eventually, with much kicking and whipping, he carried his terrified self and mine over the jump. Our heart rates were both racing. We were both scared, bordering on traumatized. Both in a place where we are unable to think or be effective in any way.
As I write this my brain feels like it just ran a marathon and needs to sit on the couch for a week watching Netflix just to recover. You see, this horse girl just made her first foray into the world of Deep Democracy (learn more about this amazing work here), arriving at the event with terribly sweaty palms and a racing heart, prepared for a potential onslaught of uncomfortableness and things that I have had the privilege to avoid more often than I’d like to admit, like conflict and feelings.
When something is causing that much upheaval in my unconscious it usually means one of two things: either run far far away OR get a whole lot closer and take a deeper look. This event, when I checked in with my inner guidance system, was the latter, hence my attendance despite some noticeable reluctance. I should probably give you a bit more context at this point on why my palms were so so sweaty. This particular afternoon of Deep Democracy was dedicated to a rather taboo subject matter, which I have already hinted at several times. Yes, we were talking about privilege.
To be sure, energy is a big part of my life. Everyday I work with it with horses and other animals as a part of my job.
But the truth is that energy is a big part of everyone’s life, whether you work consciously with it or not. Energy makes up everything that is us, or our horses, or the food that we all eat. In fact it is the very essence of each cell of every animate object and each particle of every inanimate object. Energy flows and moves in different frequencies and makes up our blood, bones, muscles and organs. It is the composer who miraculously creates harmony in our thousands of bodily processes. The fact that to the majority, this energy is intangible, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. We can feel it if we stand in the middle of a crowded city, or if we stand at the edge of a peaceful forest. Most importantly, we can feel it with our horses.
Stop what you’re doing. Come a little closer. Breathe deeply. Listen with all your senses. Animal wisdom is subtle but potent, filled with aha’s, new perspectives and potential growth. The animals in our life, whether they’re chasing squirrels, hunting bugs or napping for what seems like an eternity, seem to have this whole living well thing sorted. Even the birds and the bees have a thing or twenty to share about living a rich and vital life. And even though we’re spread out across the globe, our animals remain the same – unconditionally loving, beautifully expressive and a beloved and essential part of our families.
As an animal intuitive and Equine Sport Therapist, I have the distinct pleasure of spending my days connecting with animals and their awesome people, and getting a backstage look into their connection with us, how they stay vital, and what really makes them tick. What I have learned and keep on learning about these incredible beings never fails to blow my mind. I’ve realized that our animals have this life thing a whole lot more figured out than most of us do. They tend to live well balanced, relaxed, fun and connected lives. In fact, when it comes to living well, you may have a powerful teacher napping it out on that cushy bed across the room.
Now that I’ve come out of the closet as a highly sensitive person (not that there was ever really any doubt), it’s time to get real about something else. Both of my horses are highly sensitive horses aka HSH’s (it has a nice ring to it). I know, you’re floored. This is shocking and wild news. To help you pick your jaw up off the floor, let me give you some context and a little look into how I figured it all out.
With Diva, my Percheron Morgan mare, the dead give-away came the fateful day, twelve years ago, when she spooked at a car that came too close on the road we were walking down, ran me over in her fear and dragged me (because my hand refused to do the smart thing and let go of the reins) down the road by my middle finger. To this day, I ponder the symbolism of the subsequent break and the rather unfortunate splint I was required to wear. But, pondering aside, it was that day, fairly new to our then blossoming/frustrating relationship, that I started to understand the extent of her sensitivity. Not surprisingly, this happened at about the same time as I was battling similar labels and losing…I was finally beginning to swallow the realities of being a highly sensitive person.
Years ago, when my mom attempted to give me the book The Highly Sensitive Person, I distinctly remember the feeling. I felt insulted, slighted and not in the least bit grateful. “I am not highly sensitive!” I declared with fervour and perhaps, although I seem to have repressed this particular memory, a small temper tantrum. This type of passion, I now realize, is generally only reserved for things that really sting because we know in our heart of hearts that they are true. Which was precisely the case in this situation. At the time I viewed being highly sensitive as something to be avoided at all costs. It was like admitting I was weak, emotionally immature, out of control even. And after spending a good chunk of my existence as a tomboy, over-achiever, control freak, goodie two shoes and not necessarily in that order, that pill seemed nearly impossible to swallow. It took me years after this passion-charged moment to understand/admit that this quality embraced is actually my superpower, amplifying my intuition, enhancing my ability to communicate non-verbally with animals, powering up my empathy and allowing me to walk into a room and read an entire crowd merely through feel.
So, first, let’s take all of this down to it’s foundation. What is this animal communication thing so many people are talking about? Does it work? And how is it helpful? Here to help me explain and to share her top ten awesome reasons to learn animal communication is my dear friend and animal communicator extraordinaire Laura Bird.
Thanks Alexa. People are animals too! Before we got all caught up in our superiority and technology we too had to listen to the Earth, Animals and natural cycles to survive. This natural instinct or intuition is the place where animal communication happens and it’s a part of our brain that most of us don’t exercise in our busy modern lives so it atrophies. It can however be re-awakened and strengthened again and most people have the distinct feeling of remembering how to listen rather than learning.
I don’t care what kind of rose-coloured glasses you sport, the reality remains that the world has just about as many assholes as it can handle. The guy that cut you off this morning in traffic AND then gave you the finger, that guy who makes inappropriate comments every time he takes a breath, the lady at Starbucks who spills her coffee on your new shoes and doesn’t even look back and all the power-tripping buggers with mama issues and well, let’s face it, Donald Trump.
We all know them and we all love to hate them, spending countless hours plotting our revenge, our fabulous comebacks, and how to orchestrate that one thing that will hurt them back just as much as they have hurt you. Hold that thought. Because you and I both know that there is no comeback in the world that is going to make an asshole magically turn into something else, like a gentleman or a saint. And this is the most annoying, verging on infuriating, part of it all. So if your revenge plots, wickedly awesome comebacks and semi-serious murder fantasies aren’t going to cut it, how are you going to deal with the assholes in your life in a way that actually works?
Over the last twelve years as an Equine Sport Therapist, I’ve spent the better part of my time diving into what makes the best horse-human relationships tick and how to help horse women everywhere cultivate this kind of stunning connection with their horses. A connection based on trust, communication and relaxation, where the horses are balanced, healthy, willing and full of life, and the rider is intuitive, trusting and having an awesome time.
You might get glimpses of this garden of Eden in equine form, but does it stay? Can you maintain it?
Speaking from personal experience, there are countless factors involved in creating a horse-human partnership that is beautifully harmonious, a dance. My mare Diva and I fought for a good long while at the beginning of our relationship, with tiny glimpses of relaxation and harmony, and you know what? A lot of the time it sucked – I spent a whole lot of time questioning myself, my methods and what I was doing there in the first place. And then, with a whole lot of work and learning, we found our groove and remain besties in and out of the saddle to this day.
In a little less than a month, I board the ridiculously long flight to the big down under. Today, I bought one of those airplane pillows and a very grown up but still cool carry on bag and thought, holy crap this is trip is real. It’s really happening. And by it I mean this: My first time in New Zealand and Australia (a dream come true!), the southern hemisphere launch of my first just-me book, a straight up guide to navigating your pet’s final transition, a first for a brand new 2-day offering – Death Sucks – an essential workshop for animal lovers to cultivate the skills to move through this inevitable transition with their animals as gracefully as humanly possible, a first for a master class with One Spirit’s Laura Bird for animal professionals and practitioners to support those who midwife this powerful and challenging transition.