Horsey Therapist

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Once again

I took the recycling by horseback Saturday morning.

Here is Kacee packed up and ready to go.

Here we are at the town recycling.

I think I will purchase a set of bright neon green (high visibility color) bags with some meaningful logo for these trips to town. I'm not sure whether I want to display the traditional recycling logo or a business logo. Maybe both!

The trip to town, downhill, and more or less not the most favorite thing Kacee wanted to do, lasted about 1 hour 10 minutes.

The trip home, uphill with lots of places to trot and canter, and heading home which meant more energy (urgency?!) and straightness, lasted about 35 minutes.

I really enjoyed being off the main road for 1/3 of the ride, the worst third -- the most windy, curvy, steep part of the road. Instead we had fields and woods and even a steep but gorgeous trail by a waterfall!

I was aware leaving home that Kacee was not fully with me and due to weather and time concerns, I kept my focus on "I decide speed and direction" and carried on. We are far enough along that this worked. Interesting to note how frequently she had these "but I think there's something scary over there" moments on the way to town, and barely a look around on the way home.

I suspect her survival instinct was close to the surface as I asked her to leave 'home', and in all honesty, she was not believing me to be 100% her trusty guide and safe companion. But it was so much better than a few years ago, even a few months ago, and it pleases me tremendously that I can ask pretty much anything of her and she'll say 'yes'. And yesterday was much softer in general between us. Although she has not been acutely and obviously sensitive to my visualizing like Rusty is, I did that quite a bit to help us along. "Here is my focus for us, can you join me now?"

And as ever, I was noticing new things about my posture, especially that unless I paid close attention when I was 'straightening' Kacee -- asking her to let go of a thought off to the right for example -- my torso was twisted to the left, bringing my right shoulder forward and my right hand over her withers. What I did to change that was lengthen my torso upwards and bring a sense of radiant presence into that left part of my torso where I was collapsing. I often wonder about the energy of my left side as that is where I have had a variety of 'degenerative disease' processes show up.

Until further notice, I will assume that a key to my health is intentionally bringing/allowing light and life energy to flow in this area of my body. Time will tell!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I had fun today riding Rusty. It was my second ride since last fall. I realized when I decided to ride him that it was due to how much better my shoulder is feeling. Not 100% but close enough I am unconcerned about the consequences should I indulge in some moments of spacing out while riding Rusty. We do best when I'm paying attention in the 95th percentile or better.

After ground work of breathing, walking, trotting, and halting together, both directions, I bridled him, pleased with his readiness and helpfulness in taking the bit. Mounting was another event of presence and synchronicity.

I was conscious of softness from my core connecting with Rusty's core, and we were together for most of what we did at the walk. He had some ideas pulling him toward the arena gate but let go of this thoughts pretty easily. I kept breathing and focussed on where we were going.

Then a visualization shared on a yahoo list I read came to mind and I incorporated it in the rest of our riding time. Picture one of those cone shaped things that we put on dogs who need to be prevented from chewing on a leg bandage... Picture a cone of light coming out from me and my horse, a cone whose light shines where we are going, whose light defines where we are going. Like headlights whose direction, width, distance of projection are all in my control.

Rusty amazed me with how he responded to this! He was right there with me, and admittedly, I was right there with him. Even when we halted and I opened the cone of light behind us, he knew and was ready to flow backwards.

I added my counting for transitions of walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt, trot to canter, canter to trot. 1234, 1234, 12, 12, 123, 123, 123, 12, 12, 12, 1234, 1234, 1, pause... 1234, etc. We were together for this. I'd been doing this with Kacee, and there has been a lag time with Kacee and I. I count and sooner or later, sometimes with the need for reins or seat and legs, we come to be moving together at the changed gait.

With Rusty, I changed my count and he change his gait.

I was brave and did this more than once. Brave because I had the fleeting thought that this was a fluke and if I ask again, it won't happen. But it did happen and perhaps because it wasn't about me asking and him doing. It was about him being so open and available that my intention was his direction.

Now I can hold this in my cells and memory and welcome it when it shows up with Kacee, with Sofia, with anyone I am fortunate to be riding.

I think I'm more blown away as I think back on our ride, than when it was happening. At that time, it simply was what was. I was ready to be living my dream, no editing interruptions.

May the flow be with you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More practice being practical

Today I asked our Haflinger, Soli, to help out with some chores. We have had him pull a cart, even a sleigh, based on the information from his former owner that before being ridden by her for 6-7 years, he was a driving pony with years of showing under his belt.

Our tractor is in the shop, and for the most part it lives and works at our new place anyway. But here where we still live, it was time to drag the arena.

Soli and I had a job to do today! And we did it. Quite nicely, too. No gas cost, no tractor noise or emissions. Good exercise for both horse and human, and my personal effort to Live Green in the Green Mountain state.

(It looks like I'm walking right where the drag is, but I'm well off to the side of it, very cautious about safety around horses and equipment.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Trail Ride with a Purpose

Conflicting items on my to-do list this morning, until I had a bright idea.

Ride to town to do the recycling and mail some letters.

Town is a little over three miles away, and the road from here to there is windy, paved, and likely to have a fair amount of traffic.

I figured if I attend to me-and-my-horse, and my karma is good enough, we would succeed.

And we did.

I only wish I had toted my camera so someone could have taken our picture there at the recycling center!

Before we left, I spent some time in the round pen with Kacee to see if we could progress some more with our getting together before heading out. Kacee will do most anything I ask, however I have discovered that she doesn't always feel really OK about things I ask. Time in the round pen asking her to connect with me at the walk and stop and walk and trot is enlightening. As we indeed made more progress today, I went ahead with my ambitious adventure.

Our ride was actually better on the way to town than on the way home. Perhaps she was listening to me as we headed to some unknown destination, and on the way home she was certain where we were going and eager to get there sooner than I planned.

We had a nice side trip through the property -- woods and fields -- of some folks we know, and I now have an open invite to ride through their property whenever I like. That saved about 3/4 mile of road travel, and added some lovely time along the edge of some hay fields that I never knew were there.

We surprised a turkey hen on her nest, and we caused a porcupine to climb up a tree. Many, many drivers slowed way down which I greatly appreciated.

I entertained a fantasy of offering local recycling trips each week, perhaps enlisting our driving pony and doing the trip with him!

I had about 2 1/2 hours of practicing 'speed, direction, and destination' with Kacee today. She got a hosing down and some lawn time after we got home. Then I had did my duty with the 89 bales of hay delivered this morning, carrying them one by one from the trailer and stacking them in the barn. Lovely hay -- I'd forgotten the smell of freshly baled hay! This should cover us until our hay field gets cut.

I am fatigued in a most satisfying way.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My BS meditation

Painting more garage doors yesterday, I found myself focusing on BS for the afternoon.

Me? Focusing on BS?

Yup, me focusing on BS.

Breathe. Shoulders.

Breathe. Shoulders.

Breathe. Shoulders.

I breathe whether I think about it or not. However the focus on breathing, where the breath comes in my body, the depth, the pace -- the cadence and rhythm (!) -- of my breathing are important, and something I can control and attend.

My shoulders are here as part of my body regardless of what I do. However depending on where my mind is, their position changes. With my injury still healing, the position of my shoulders is important, and is often a matter of more pain, less pain, or no pain. With a delay in the pain factor (between position and resulting sensation), I want to develop a lasting habit of keeping my structure in proper place to replace my current habit of mind slips, shoulders rise.

I don't mind writing about this type of BS.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cadence, rhythm, and harmony

My Oxford American Dictionary says cadence (first definition) is rhythm in sound. It says rhythm (second definition) is a movement with a regular succession of strong and weak elements. It says harmony (fourth definition) is agreement.

Today during the homeward section of my ride on Kacee, we practiced cadence, rhythm, and harmony, concordance. (I like the word concordance. Maybe because it incorporates 'dance'.)

Practicing cadence, rhythm, and harmony in the saddle stems from what I have started doing during our groundwork time, gleaned from Mark Rashid's work with my Sofia recently. In groundwork, I'm practicing setting the pace, the energy level, the direction, how it feels, all that good stuff. The cadence, rhythm, and harmony.

Directing the cadence from the saddle. I like the dictionary's references to music (definitions other than already referenced) -- for cadence, rhythm, and harmony. In fact I was verbalizing our cadence for the twenty minutes it took to get home. A rhythmic song whose repeating refrain was One Two Three Four One Two Three Four. I was a bit surprised how hard it was for me to keep the rhythm when Kacee wanted to listen to the beat of her own drummer, and how hard it was Kacee to follow my determinations. I really should not be surprised -- I have been telling her for years as long as she walks when I ask her to walk on our way back to the barn, she can walk as fast as she likes.

So I'm changing the rules and I was intent on helping her find out what this new thing was that I was asking of her. She found it.

Meanwhile what a great meditative chant I had going. I had to really focus on keeping the rhythm I set! It comes so easy for me to fall into synchronization with someone else. Not useful though when it comes to riding. It's part of the gentle leadership role as I understand it. I prefer the feel of a ride on a horse who is understanding what I want and willing to let go of her thoughts, trusting me to guide us both through the environment step by step, breath by breath. We found moments of this today despite the newness I introduced.


I attended the annual Horses and Healing Conference recently (equine facilitated mental health orientation) at Horse Power in Temple, New Hampshire. Toward the end we were asked to find something that represents our heart's desire which we would use as part of a closing exercise.

I looked for a small pebble, remembering Mark Rashid's sharing what he carries in his pocket as a reminder (for 'gratitude' as I recall). I found a small piece of granite that had some smooth sides and some edges and thought this is good, it represents who I am, some smooth sides, some edges...

Then I got thinking about my heart's desire, and started looking for another pebble. I realized I wanted something that represents the smooth sides and the smoothed edges, as that is what I want to focus on, that is what I want to practice, that is what I want -- an increasingly smooth 'me' with fewer and fewer edges. Like the image I got from Mark talking about learning and refinement -- starting with a block of wood, then if you cut across all the corners to remove them, you have a block of wood with many more, but smaller edges and corners. Cut across all those corners and again you are left with more but smaller corners with less acutely angled edges. What I would call softer edges.

So I have this small pebble in my pocket and when I touch it, I think of softness and when my fingers come over the edged parts of the pebble, I feel the softness of the edges and rub some, bringing my intention for softness to the front of my consciousness while actually bringing more softness to the edges of the pebble.

Heat motivates

Sounds weird, doesn't it? To say that heat motivates. Especially this time of year where the heat and humidity confirm the onset of summer in New England.

But in fact it does motivate me. To get organized and prioritize my day according to the temperature.

Cooler in the morning, so I will go do outside activities with the horses in the morning. Warmer/warmer/hotter during the midday into the afternoon, so I will stay inside and do paperwork, rest, put up the excess asparagus and rhubarb that waits my attention.

Nothing like having rhubarb in the freezer for a freshly baked rhubarb something come the chilly days of next winter!

Perhaps living in India for three years affected how I respond to hot and humid weather. There were seasons when nothing ever dried -- not the washed clothes, not the towels, not the hair. I had a choice, yes. I could have moved. But instead I acclimated (in the true sense of the word!), continued with the multiple-showers-per-day approach to having some sense of clean and fresh, and learned to sip hot tea on a hot day, move slowly, rest in the hottest parts of the day, and enjoy the cooler times regardless of what a clock-based schedule might steer a person to do.

More locally, I recall some years back having plans to attend clinics at Piper Ridge Farm in May, July, September, October. Each of those 3-5 day clinics coincided with 90+ degree weather that year. What did I learn? When I'm focussed on doing something I enjoy (all together now: HORSES!) I don't notice the temperature.

I must mention here my cooling tools!

For years I kept a wet cotton handkerchief tied around my neck. Evaporation cools.

Last year after watching a colleague sport and rave about her cooling vest, I purchased some cooling body wear from I did not use kerchief or Cool Medics products when I lived in India. I did have the option of finding shade and resting during the day. Teaching now where currently we have no access to sheltered arena during these warmer months, cooling tools have been essential. Before I got the Cool Medics vest, I simply poured a liter of water over my head, shirt sleeves, and pants legs, about twice an hour. I may look weird, but comfort has always been my priority.

Encouraging motor skill activity in the young riders as they use water squirters helps in the lessons, too. Adds an aspect of fun for the riders -- how often do they find a target who begs to be squirted?

Full coverage of skin by clothing is important -- I learned that in India, too, along with the drinking warm in the hot season which apparently stimulates the body to cool itself. In any case, for sun protection and moisture conservation, I wear long sleeves all the time. Add the Cool Medics vest to the long sleeves, long pants appearance and imagine the strange looks I get!

Another remembrance from India -- their air cooling systems were open-weave coconut fiber pads that covered the windows and dampened. Again, the evaporation process created the cooler air. Now that's an energy saving approach -- very little heat generated in the process of cooling the environment!

(Check their website for products to cool the horses as well as humans.)