Horsey Therapist

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Aikido partner at home

I have an Aikido partner here at home. An unusual one. A four legged one. No, not one of the horses. Rather, one of the sheep. Imagine doing push hands with a four horned ram.

Fortunately and surprisingly, I am physically stronger than him. He has dangerous ramming power at speed so I need to take care to engage with him when he is close, not when he is approaching from ten yards away. The impact of that I'm not ready for. I'd like to think that one day I could successfully redirect all that energy and come out unhurt. It is not out of the question, just premature to think I could do that.

But a close encounter with this attacking ram I can handle. And I seek to get smoother, softer with this. The other day when I found myself being attacked -- ram attempting to ram me -- I grabbed two of his four horns and did a mix of redirecting him and bracing myself. I was very relieved that I was able to prevent him from hurting me. I have given it quite some thought, imagining how I might be more successful with redirecting that energy, and less reacting with bracing and brute strength.

Part of me likes having the brute strength so I will have to employ extra awareness and clear intention to break that habit. *g*

Last evening I had a different approach to dealing with this ram who started to show signs of preparing to attack me. I had hay in my arms (the usual scenario) and was headed for the hay box where Sofia and Bo would be eating. I wanted to position myself so Sofia and Bo were between me and the ram -- he does not attack them. Sofia moved off leaving me unprotected. Bo was still near by and I asked him with words and nodding of my head to move there, in the space between me and the ram. HE DID!

He doesn't know that he just earned a higher level of appreciation by his responsiveness. Or maybe he does. He's a dear pony, unruly at times when he gets lost in his own thoughts about what horses should be where, but otherwise so eager to try -- oh gosh, he falls in the Good Student category... one who really tries hard to get the right answer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Defenses and Aikido

I have long had the habit of introspection, thinking about what makes this or that meaningful, why do I do this, why does she/he react that way, why, why, what, how, who, why, why, why...

Learning Aikido is easier when I am not thinking. What? Not thinking about learning something new and difficult? Yup.

Uncommon, but not all that hard. I just have to give in to the learning part of it and skip all the I'm A Good Student stuff.

(Thank you for that awareness, my Aikido/Horsemanship friends!)

I started Aikido class without really knowing what was ahead of me. I went hoping to become more centered, learn more about energy and using my body and mind softly and effectively. I never thought about the Martial Arts aspect of Aikido! Yikes.

Something has caught my attention. As I learn to defend myself (and believe me, I am at the pre-pre-K level of learning!) I find I have less to defend. What I mean is, my psychological defenses are less active as I develop some physical ability to defend myself. In the very first Aikido class I learned two escape moves, how to get away if someone grabs my arm. And it was easy once I got the feel of it.

It reinforces some thoughts I've had about the motivation for psychological defenses -- survival. No different from the survival instinct of our equine friends. Well, what we do when our survival is threatened tends to be different from what horses do, but that basis behind our actions is the same -- we are scared we will not survive. Psychological defenses stem from our early life when indeed, our survival depended on the attention and life support of others -- mom, dad, grandma, whomever it was.

I wonder what we humans would be like if we had the ability to run for our lives by the time we're 10 minutes old, rather than being dependent for months!

Friday, December 28, 2007

I belong outdoors

I started with the title "I belong outside" but the connotations of 'outside' reflect a former me, who only felt comfortable outside, on the outskirts of a close group, outside the norm, outside any perimeter within which I might have found what I was always seeking. Unable to tolerate the closeness that fosters intimacy and meets so many needs on so many levels. The closeness I so desperately wanted.

So I changed the word to 'outdoors'. THAT meaning of 'outside'. And that is all I meant by this.

After feeling mopey, depressed, discouraged, down, sad, tearful, et cetera, for the past few days, I went out to feed hay before heading out for my third Aikido class this evening, and discovered the snow had come off the barn roof. Emergency! Briefly complaining to myself, I took to shoveling it. Why the urgency? If I shovel it clear while the temps are still in the low 30s, it is sooo much easier than shoveling it after it has frozen hard -- a very likely event during the next 12 hours.

My heart rate went up, my muscles warmed, my mood lifted. How simple is that?

Rusty as my teacher

[Finally! I am able to upload this picture from the October clinic with Mark Rashid. Below it is the text I wrote in mid-November.]

Today I learned something special from Rusty. I've been keenly trying to learn this lesson with every ride since my clinic time with Mark Rashid. It's about how I sit, and my desire has been to learn how to sit so that I no longer interfere with Rusty's movement.

I've been making strides (no pun intended) each ride. Rusty might not think so. I'm sure it upsets him each time I'm pitched too far forward and/or tight in my back, causing him to hop around with his hindquarters like a fish out of water. Poor boy.

I do this when we are cantering to the left. Not to the right. Mark and Crissi, his assistant, helped me identify where I was blocked in my energy (seems to coincide with tightness in my body), and helped me find a better way to ride. But it was a kindergarten lesson with them, simply opening my awareness and setting the stage for my progress to continue here at home, which it has.

[Interesting addendum: a week or two ago when I was riding Rusty out on the roadway -- only safe footing around here some days -- he cantered just fine on the left lead. So something is different in me when I canter him in the ring versus canter him out in the open. As soon as the footing improves and my general mental stability returns to a level where I trust my decision of when and whom to ride, I will explore this further.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Becoming balanced thanks to Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is a Physical Therapist working in Guilford, CT who specializes in functional biomechanics. I found him because my father has had increasing back pain some years after back surgery. My father is very conservative about whom he praises. He praises Paul Bauer. That got my attention.

What further got my attention was my father's brief description of what Paul Bauer does and demonstration of some exercises Paul has Dad do.

What further got my attention was my youngest brother's lengthy description of what Paul Bauer does and his lengthy demonstration of exercises Paul has him do. Different body issues therefore different exercises. This brother and I have talked numerous times about bodies, alignments, exercises to help, actually since he was a teenager and I was first starting body awareness through yoga and meditation.

He had remarkable though partial success with the approach to pain free living outlined by Pete Egoscue ( I had done the Egoscue exercises for some years because a dear and horsey friend, PP, recommended them plus I saw the changes in her riding after she had been doing them herself. Nothing like improved riding to get me to notice!

So, I decided I wanted to be helped by Paul Bauer. It involved a long trip and an overnight stay. And I have nothing but excitement and praise for Paul Bauer and what he has offered me.

His assessment covered every joint and associated muscle groups -- both strength and range of motion. I was not surprised when he discovered that I am strong for my age, and have full range of motion in all my joints. I was very surprised to learn that I do not use muscles in my lower lumbar to support the proper curve of my lower back, and correspondingly I overuse muscles of my upper lumbar.

Because I was confident I would not return for 4-6 months, he gave me a progressive program to follow. I hurt after my first attempt at using the muscles of my lower lumbar, finding them precisely via the exercise he taught me. In fact it took me a month to develop strength enough to hold the position for a minute each leg, two reps.

My riding position has changed. My walking position has changed. My sitting position has changed. My sense of body presence has changed. My life has changed. I am definitely more fluid and soft through my back, and move with more ease. And I'm not finished with restructuring my lower back -- just a couple of months since my first contact with Paul Bauer.

If anyone is interested, his clinic contact info: He is not the only one who provides functional biomechanics at this office or other offices of the company, but I cannot personally vouch for the level of excellence of anyone else.

From the website:

Physiotherapy Associates is committed to leadership in the field of rehabilitation care through our focus on patients, professionals, and technology. The successful integration of practice, education, and research within our clinics provide our patients with the highest quality of care.

The goal of physical therapy is to prevent injury and restore patients to their highest level of function in the shortest amount of time. Our therapists take each patient's need and develop a program specifically tailored to the individual.

A link to an article about functional biomechanics:


I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful RNB is alive. I am grateful to see, feel, smell, touch, hear a full array of sensations representing Nature's bounty. I am grateful for an extended blended family full of care and love regardless of how we are related. I am grateful for friends and companions of various species.

The more I intentionally focus on gratitude, the more I will develop the habit of gratitude and replace other attitudes and moods with one of gratefulness.

I am grateful for the family members who are removing ice and snow from the roof as I write. I am grateful for the opportunity to ride a horse today.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The heart stutters, too

Well, not sure of that analogy.

My dear RNB had a heart attack on Thursday. Life has changed suddenly! He is well, I am well, and both of us are feeling vulnerable as we figure out how to proceed with life style changes, especially his diet and activity level. I am feeling vulnerable as I process past losses and times of caregiving. I do better with a solid buffer of denial between me and death.

I am benefiting by thinking through all the heart attack risk factors with him. I am considering giving up my white chocolate indulgence. Considering that, not committed to that. I am committed to going for recovery walks with RNB. Although we both are very active, neither of us pay attention to the 'steady' factor of raising one's heart rate -- that is what contributes to cardiovascular health, not sporadic upswings with great exertion followed by stillness.

I did get my heart rate up tromping through the knee-deep snow to get horses where they belonged. It was lovely -- after dark with an overcast sky lit by a hidden mostly full moon.

I'm grateful RNB is alive and has a good chance for many more years.

Stuttering, from a friend

My friend, BA, wrote me this and gave permission to post it:

So, I've been thinking a lot about your "Stuttering in Motion" post. I stutter too. Just a couple days ago I specifically remember a time I stuttered. I was walking from the house to the barn to feed and realized that I forgot the bottle of liquid I mix in the feed. Because I had been pondering your post, I circled around (moving forward), returned to the house to get the bottle, and made the trip to barn.

I find myself wondering if we are created by design to stutter? Do we accomplish more when we stutter? Are stuttering and multi-tasking the same thing? Are the hesitations and pauses our body's attempt to slow us down because we are moving too fast? Is it our body's way of trying to save us time and energy? Can we acknowledge and pursue the little reminders our mind offers without stuttering? Perhaps we can circle back (moving forward) when our mind gives us the reminder to save a trip and bring a scoop of feed for the geese. In an effort not to stutter, will I become so controlling in my actions that I become inflexible? Is there a way to remain flexible without stuttering?


[My comment: Good questions!!]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The body has memories

Second class of Aikido this evening. My first lesson in falling, which for me was about learning to roll. What I learned is how much I push (launching myself into a roll), how much I protect (worried about hurting my body), how much I think (wanting to analyze what my various body parts should be doing so I can direct the show), how many new muscles I met, both those I've not used (lower legs especially) and many maybe I've overused (back).

Thank heavens for the mats on the floor. RNB says we can get some for our new house. Heck, let's get them NOW! I know I will learn how to do this, gracefully, seemingly as effortlessly as it is demonstrated! Meanwhile, thank heavens for homeopathic arnica.

I cried when I got home. Just lay down and cried some tears and took a nap. Phew. Nothing special, just all that energy released from my body as I did it over and over and over, slowly making some progress toward some combination of letting go and moving intentionally. How is that for a paradox?

I suppose I still am releasing tears of sorrow about Gingersnap. A long email from GKM reminded me of some details of what a grand mare that Ginger was. She will be missed.

Fairlane Gingersnap

In memory of a dear horse, sister to my Fairlane Kacee, auntie to my Fairlane Rusty, and most importantly, long time beloved of my dear friend, GKM.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Deep, easy changes

[I retrieved this from my drafted entries and finally could add a picture! Apologies if you have heard this story already.]

I spent 2 days auditing and 3 days riding with Mark Rashid in late October. I had wanted to take Sofia but she was off at the trot so I took Rusty. I'm very glad I did.

Mark is remarkable. No pun intended. I have spent decades messing around extensively with energy, body awareness, meditation, and projecting thoughts and intentions. This experience with Mark was the first time all that sort of 'stuff' was present integrated with horsemanship.

Mark's life includes Aikido. I have no personal experience of it other than what he shared during an evening participatory 'demonstration'. I got a feel for what he calls "blending". And I had opportunities during my clinic time to start practicing that, to develop a better feel for 'blending', for making contact, feeling for an opening, and directing my horse. The goodness of this is beyond words.

OK, back to where I intended to start.

Day 2 of riding, Mark said to me, "Are you ready to hear something?"

I hesitated for one millisecond, letting the question sink in, then looking at Mark with eagerness I felt right from my center, I said, "Yes!"

He told me that the fronts of my shoulders are blocked, and these blocks are preventing Rusty from moving his shoulders. He described how Rusty was reaching forward with his front feet but he did not bring them back, so his stride was stopped. He proceeded to suggest I let these areas fill with energy, or light, or however I wanted to think about it. It was not a mechanical thing for me to fix, just bring my awareness there and let there be life there, enliven those areas.

I did. Immediately I could feel the areas in the front of my shoulders begin to buzz with energy -- energy flowed up through those areas and out in an upwards direction, allowing warmth, energy flow, tears, laughter, and big sounds rolling out of my belly up through this release. My eyes were wide, my body was soft, and this release was happening.

When I started riding again, with this feeling of life in the front of my shoulders, Rusty started finding a normal stride. It took some time going both directions before it felt solid, where I was allowing the energy and the openness, and Rusty was regular with his normal stride. At first Mark was giving me feedback when it was happening, then I could feel it. Then we brought this to the trot. Oh what a clear difference when Rusty could trot a normal stride!!! No more feeling like I'm riding a sewing machine! That poor horse, constricted in his movement all these years because of blockage in my energy. Phew!

[Thanks to Pam Y for the picture!]

Monday, December 17, 2007


Currently I get an error message each time I try to upload pictures here. is working on a fix. Meanwhile, I am limited to words, punctuation marks, and fantasies of what pictures I would upload.

If I get desperate, I will approach my blog via Internet Explorer rather than Safari. IF I get desperate.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stuttering less

I noticed today instead of stopping and starting in my stuttering motion pattern, I circled! In moments of indecision, I traveled forward, in a circle, until I knew where I was going. Interesting change! There were also a few times when I just came to a stop and stood there thinking until it was clear what I was going next to do. Progress!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Spiritual Bypass

What does that mean?

It means reaching for the wonders of the mystical connectedness while deluding oneself that one can attain some higher levels without reaching for the depths of the psyche as well.

Openness to all the goodness of the universe means openness without condition. Openness allows pain to surface, to flow, to be an integrated part of the self. When someone is in a Spiritual Bypass, they are pretending that the gifts of spiritual goodness are theirs while denying the gifts of darkness, of shadow, of pain.

If indeed it is all one, then the light and the dark are intermingled, intertwined, coexisting in some harmony that seems foreign or frightening to some, but intriquing and enlightening to others.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stuttering in motion

I stutter.

As a child, my older brother stuttered. He struggled to control the verbal stuttering that accompanied many of his thought expressions. He went to therapy for it and now, many years later, I recall his stuttering only because I realized last night that I stutter.

It is apparent not in my talking, but in my moving.

I have been aware that I move through space with stops and starts, especially if there are many things on my mind and I'm passing by reminders of those things and I stop to do this then move then stop to do that then move and sometimes in the middle of doing Y, I remember I had started to do X and I stand there actually wavering back and forth, my body demonstrating the indecision of my mind regarding what to do now. Hesitations, pauses, backward steps, sharp turns to left or right...

I want to change this. I did change it after it was brought to my awareness last evening during class. But to be self aware in the rest of my life, that depends on me, not my teachers.

So I set myself a little challenge: move forward.

Already this morning I have stuttered a few times, and it was those moments which led to this challenge. Regardless of what my mind is doing -- wondering, doubting, changing plans -- I will move forward. If I am headed to get a scoop of feed for the chickens and remember that I can also bring a scoop of feed for the geese at the same time, instead of stopping dead in my tracks and turning around to go pick up a second scoop, I intend to move forward, perhaps circle back or perhaps continue with my initial plan, but whatever I do, I move forward.

I set myself another little challenge this morning: wash dishes with opposite hands.

I have the habit of holding a dirty dish in my right hand and holding the scrubby sponge in my left. This morning I changed that. AWKWARD! I hope making a small change like this will help with the left/right differences I felt when introduced to two basic escape techniques in class last night. In fact, doing the dishes like this helped my left shoulder be soft and relaxed -- I tend to hold that shoulder up and forward more than my right shoulder.

I suspect this imbalance I found so blatant last evening is part of why my horses tend to respond differently to me whether longing to the left or the right. Yes, I continue to be motivated to improve my effectiveness as a horseperson.

Introduction to Martial Arts

I joined the Aiki Budoin ( and attended my first class.

Many lessons generated in less than two hours!

My hopes were to start learning to fall, to roll, stuff like that. What was presented was how to sit seiza, brief history of the Martial Arts taught at this dojo, how to bow, when to bow, then we proceeded to some hands on work -- two basic escape moves.


I am easily disappointed when my expectations are not met. However that state was acknowledged and released very quickly. No room for disappointments when there is so much to discover in life.

I came wanting to get to the active stuff, learn what I want to learn without considering that someone who has been studying and teaching Martial Arts for more than half my life time will know a sensible order to present material so I have the best chance of being successful in learning, in engaging in the culture of the dojo, and in adapting the philosophy and practices of the art forms taught there.

I have a huge, deep habit of stuttering -- not when I verbalize, but when I move. That is the best way I can describe it. Hesitate, pause, stop, interrupt the flow. Motion stuttering. Sensei Pristow spoke to me early on about moving forward, continuing what I'm doing regardless of doubts or questions about how well I'm doing the move. Wow, this will be huge for me to change. And during class I did change it.

My body hurts when I rely on strength rather than my center.

My left side is relatively really awkward compared to my right side -- and I'm left-handed? THAT was a big surprise!

The experiences of practicing two simple escape moves, of moving from my core, carried over through the evening, most notably when I was out with the horses feeding.

Coming from my center - the horses knew! I needed much less peripheral moving of my arms and body to influence their moving and their stopping. I stuttered once, and knew it instantly -- it was like switching gears from one world to another.

I felt the blending -- engaged in it -- without thinking it through while putting on and taking off the horses' feedbags. I was consistent about keeping my boundaries with every horse, not making exceptions for the ones I feel closer to, more affectionate with.

I am very excited about the effects from the one class. And wonder what incredible openings lie in my future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter scenes

Peacocks in snow...

Soli and Rusty and Jacob sheep...

Mixed species take refuge on the porch...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Snowy ride, PT in the saddle

I rode Soli today after some ground work with Sofia then Rusty. Snowy, soft terrain. Chilly and silent as dusk settled.

I was thinking about what I read recently -- a clinic report by someone who was with Mark Rashid. She described being in the round pen with him and following his movements as he worked with her horse. She mentioned his movement was continual and smooth and every moment of it intentional, so I was trying to keep that in mind when I moved around with Sofia then with Rusty. Awareness of flow when I'm doing groundwork will keep improving as I put my attention to practicing it. Meanwhile I move with staccatos and commas, to mix metaphors.

I was focused with Sofia on her understanding just where I was wanting her body. I am working on consistency -- both consistency from day to day with a horse, but also consistency from horse to horse with what I expect. Again thinking provoked by something I read about a Mark Rashid clinic.

I have tended to let Kacee come in close without waiting for permission or invitation. I have tended to allow a couple of horses to bob their heads when I remove their feedbags. I am challenging myself to see if I can expect the same from all the horses, rather than let my emotions steer me to offer affection more than clear boundaries. Mark speaks clearly about this -- that in herds, boundaries are a very important element, high on the list of what needs to be clear between horses. Affection is low on the herd list. We humans do it differently, and yes, we humans tend to get in trouble around horses!

The ride on Soli... well, I was feeling a little uncertain so I chose him rather than Rusty. Soli can fill in a LOT. I just needed him to fill in a little so my confidence would reappear which it did. I had my cowgirl plan -- go gather some fencing materials from the neighbors' field that we used when we still had cows. My plan was foiled by a gate frozen into the ground. I was unable to budge it although I could rock it back and forth. I need to time my next attempt with a thaw. Or get permission to approach that field from the other side.

That did nothing to spoil the ride though. Leaving fresh tracks in 6-7 inches of snow is special. And our return trip gave me the opportunity to criss cross and doodle in the snow like I would with paper and pencil.

Then we went out for a trail ride, the usual local loop.

I played around with influencing his feet with my thought, like thinking/feeling the right hind stepping further under him for a leftward diagonal walking stride or two, and played around with breathing the upward transitions and seeing if I can feel the change of rhythm first then follow up with the usual aids to bring us to trotting together. Some success. I am remembering to have patience and expect changes not perfection today.

PT in the saddle? Well, more than that really. Adventures in awareness... I was letting Soli swing my body. Soli is a short, stocky Haflinger, built like a tank really. My first ride on him a few years ago left me hurting from the stretch and the movement! Now I can let him rock and roll me while I put my attention on the swing and drop of my hips, and the swing of my shoulders, and the timing of the two. Then I remembered the front of my shoulders, and realized that I tend to be aware of my back, and so I let my awareness passively include the front of my body. It was something hard to put into words, but a feeling of a whole body, back front sides -- all my skin as one flexible three dimensional magnificent living sensing organ...

So, not just PT, but also meditation in motion.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Floating teeth

The equine precision floater was here yesterday. Five of the six horses were due for dental work. I wait for this man to come to Vermont because he has done well and I like his approach -- no power tools, no speculum. Builds on the cooperation with the horse to get this done.

Things went easily with four horses. And I'd hoped it would go well with Sofia.

It went better than before, but not well enough for her teeth to be floated. We agreed that next time I will have the vet here to give her some sedation. She responds well to a little sedation (based on when she had her wolf teeth extracted) and she needs to have her teeth done. I have other options like having a vet do her teeth but so far, I like what this man has been doing.

Although he hasn't figured out the effective feel with this particular horse. And it frustrates him.

The challenging thing is not to be frustrated with this horse as that breaks the connection of her trust or something. She has little tolerance for frustrated human energy. My successes with her mouth have been due to my ability to remember to offer 'centered softness' from within myself. She responds well to that. Hey, what a good human trainer she is -- these are qualities I want to have in my life and indeed, without accessing the best of myself, I ain't going no where with this mare's mouth!

But the floater got frustrated for awhile. I think he saw that in himself this time better than he has before. I am challenged to support and even defend my horse while maintaining a supportive and grateful relationship with the professional. Tricky business! It is easy to blame the horse, it is also easy to blame me. I would prefer he blame me, although I have made progress with this mare, both in her allowing me in her mouth and in understanding what she needs in order to feel OK about something happening that she would rather avoid.

She can avoid with me quite easily. Just watch how quickly she raises her head! I realized later, after my success a few days ago with her mouth, that I was really at a disadvantage and she was really helping me out: I was standing downhill from her. Go figure!

The floater didn't see how it might help Sofia understand what he wants by my using a floating tool with her then his using it. I think it is a way she would understand what he wants, building in tiny little steps from one thing she is OK with to another thing we want her to be OK with.

He did check inside her mouth with his fingers and that is what he acknowledged as progress. That and her softer eye, more relaxed demeanor. Definitely progress from the last visit.

We talked a bit about whether she was afraid or not. He was convinced she was not afraid, that it was an "attitude". I voiced my perspective that even though she shows behaviors we might call avoidant, angry, defensive, that underneath those feelings lie her fear and her lack of understanding of what she is being asked to do. I asked questions to better understand what "attitude" means to him, as well as to understand how he would change his approach depending on whether she was a scared horse or a horse with an "attitude". I think he referred to spending time together getting clear about who is boss.

Gosh, if bossing this horse around was the answer, we would have solved this dilemma already! I'm grateful she allows me to do what I already can do with her!

I will keep up with the fingers and floating tool in her mouth, and follow through with my agreement to have the vet here next time the floater comes to Vermont. Sofia is OK, and will be more OK. But not through force or intimidation. No thank you, say both of us!