It’s that time of year again! The Whole Horse Apprenticeship will begin on March 15th. This is an 8-month online equine wellness immersion with myself and guest instructors (almost 30), split into four modules: physical, energetic, emotional, and spiritual. Our 2020 live webinars will be with Hannah Weston of Connection Training, equine researcher Dr. Emily Kieson and Elisse Miki of Equilibria Therapeutics (on equine cranial work) plus a special guest!
I don’t often use writing to vent, but occasionally, when consumed with rage, disbelief, or some other equally invoking emotion, my mind begins to whirr and my fingers get itchy. Today is such a day. I’ll spare you the specifics, but suffice it to say that I have had it up to here (insert me gesturing towards the top of my head and beyond), with human beings with a saviour complex. I will attempt, in this “passionate” little peice of writing, to explain why.
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!
This week, like much of the world, I was rocked by the tragedy in Florida. And then awed by the response, by the action of the survivors, by the voices rising up in unison. It is a powerful time in this world. A time where politicians “thoughts & prayers” are being called out as the farce they are, and action is being demanded. It is a vast contrast from life on the farm, and yet, it speaks to so many aspects of our world, where those in charge resist necessary change and the wave of support for something different, something more loving, rises like a tsunami to meet them. My deepest love and support goes to those impacted by this tragedy.
In my own little nook of the world, I dream of stricter gun laws and the end of machine guns in the hands of civilians AND I also dream of something else, seemingly unrelated, an inside-out change in the way we live and work with horses. When I check in with my spirit, it shares that my own unique way to be impactful in the world is this.
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.
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.
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.