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.
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.
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.
When I first started Equine Sport Therapy School, I was optimistic, naive even. To be honest, I had no idea what I was in for and was caught unprepared, not by the subject matter, not by the people, but by the horses. You see, every month, after spending the weekend cramming my brain with information, I would head out to practice my newfound skills on the horses in my area. That first month is still etched in my mind. We had learned to massage the neck. That’s it. But when I went out to try it, I was baffled. Not a single horse would let me even put my hands on them. You better believe that two year program looked like a life sentence right then. Back at school, I approached my teacher with my problem, holding back tears. His simple response, “Alexa, I think it’s time to teach you how to ground.”
Last week was one of those weeks I dread as a horse mom. It started when my mare Diva stopped eating, snubbing her hay and leaving her entire bucket untouched. Not good. Then the glassy eye, out of it, lowest of low energy. Belly sounds ok. Under her lip. Wet. No rolling. No biting at her belly. Good. And then, of course, what only horse owners do, the searching of the paddock for her poops, and examining consistency and number, not easy when she lives with two others horses. Poops were harder than usual and littler. Hmmm.
I am not a neat freak. In fact, when I was a kid my bedroom contained a very distinctive purple shag carpet. If you could actually see said carpet, which was a rarity, considering the piles of clothes and stuff, there was a rising fear of what could possibly start up a colony or a little village in a carpet that hadn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in a terrifyingly long time.