Friday, October 24, 2008

Teaching and differences

It is interesting how much overlap there is between teaching people with disabilities, teaching horses, and teaching 'normal' people who are handling and riding horses. I guess it's all on some strange continuum perhaps related to brain size, potential for complex thinking, and access to frontal lobe/thinking brain.

The ones with less ability to access their thinking brain in 'normal' ways -- and those would be the humans with 'disabilities' (the humans with VERY different ways of thinking and communicating) and the horses -- draw out more patience, curiosity, determination, and creativity in order for me to feel some satisfaction in my chosen role as instructor, trainer, consultant, etc. I am not one to feel OK about saying the same thing over and over again in hopes something will sink in (although key principles certainly don't change).

I have learned to do a sort of triage when teaching (although I have not before put this into words). I may not ever be able to help a rider's ankle mobility for example, if that rider has cerebral palsy, but within the limits of safety, I can help that rider feel more balanced, more in tune with and in charge of their horse despite limitations of body position and flexibility.

So that experience might in turn influence my focus with a 'normal' rider. (And please know, I'm not convinced there is a 'normal'!) If my effort to influence position of body parts for example is not resulting in a change, I will focus on something else so the rider CAN succeed and will at least feel good about the learning process, and hopefully I can also help the rider make some changes and be better able to influence their horse to do what the rider wants to be doing.

And that will also influence my approach with a horse. Perhaps I need to adjust my focus today to fit what the horse is ready to do today, rather than force my agenda and perhaps get X or Y accomplished but without that 'I'm OK with what we're doing' feeling that is an ingredient I highly value.

I find I have to be in an open-minded creative mindset or else I miss a learning opportunity -- mine OR my student's. For example with a rider with autism -- and no two are alike at all except for the umbrella generalization that they will perceive the world and communicate about their perceptions in ways that surprise, puzzle, and amaze me -- like with a horse, I consider it my job to find how to communicate successfully. The horse left on its own is not likely to come asking me how to be more balanced when doing a turn on the hindquarters, nor is a person with autism likely to come ask me for anything, much less instruction in something foreign and perhaps even a bit frightening.

And with these two 'sorts' -- horses and riders with autism -- I must keep refining what I notice so I can more accurately perceive their communications that come either spontaneously or in response to something I have expressed. No big surprise to many, this ability for anyone or any horse to be communicating very clearly -- according to their perceptions -- while OUR reception of their communication is usually impaired.

I would say the same thing for 'normal' students. When communications are not happening as we would expect (I say ABC, rider understands ABC and proceeds to attempt ABC versus I say ABC, rider understands ACF and proceeds to attempt AFG), then something, somewhere in the communication system is not working. I tend to start with me and what I might change -- words I chose, checking what the student understood of my instruction, etc. Then I wonder about the rider's current state and if anything (like emotions, internal monologues, etc.) is preventing access to listening, absorbing, acting on new input.

When that is the case -- for example with a 'normal' rider who has residual fear from a past relationship (could be a fall of this horse, could be a disruption from a human relationship that messes up the ability to be assertive and clear without emotion, etc.) -- and thanks to my professional clinical experience, I will open the door for us to air out some of the subterranean stuff that is interfering. Of course not all riders are open to this, but the ones who continue to ask for lessons with me have learned that this is part of what they get. I am not interested in helping a rider who refuses to acknowledge that the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects we bring to our equine relationships are very important. Admittedly, this may not be a conversation we have in the first few lessons, however when I hear riders express frustration or anger at themselves or their horses, I respond to that, not just their balance, their posture, their timing, etc.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lessons in drywall

I am proud that I am finding ways to explore, discover, learn, and become more aware and effective while doing something quite... err, well, mundane. If I weren't intent on studying life, I might call the task horribly boring and certainly tiring. Putting in drywall screws all over the walls in our new house readying it for taping and mudding. I get out the knee pads if I'm really low to the ground, and I get on the step ladder if I'm higher up. Due to my beloved shoulder, I have my height limits!

I watched a couple of times when Mark Rashid change his available power by adjusting the form of his skeletal alignment. He was doing things from the core and with intention, using a willing clinic participant to help him demonstrate some ways to be effective while staying soft, using our core rather than strength. The core and intention are augmented by proper alignment of the body. I have a tendency to drop my left hip back, so when using the cordless drill today, I kept adjusting my pelvic orientation to be perpendicular to the direction of force, and each time I did that my task was easier.

When riding and walking, I have been focused on my right hip 'stuck forward'. It is quite a lot easier to bring my left hip forward than to bring my right hip back. I'll see what happens with this discovery next time I ride.

Mark Rashid Clinic

Here are some of my notes from a recent clinic with Mark Rashid and his wife, Crissi. Unlike previous note-taking, I did this after the clinic not while it was happening.

Be the magic. Don't act then wait for the magic to happen.

Lead -- rather than ask my horse to do something then join her in what I've asked or pushed her to do.

I can.

Any thoughts I have are distractions from our connection.

The greater my awareness, the more responsibility I have.

Softness comes in many forms. It comes from the joy and connection, not from doing something like someone else is doing.

"Getting through the brace" is quite literally that. Nothing esoteric at all. Simply using my intention in action to move through the brace, move to the other side of the brace. Not push against it with the hope of helping the horse reconnect with my plan.

Feeling my legs/energy down and encompassing my horse. No more 'my legs' and 'her body'.

Stark realization of my stopping point regarding canter departs. My mind went something like this: 'I hear Mark telling me we can do it, that my horse is ready. I believe things Mark says. But me? Do this now? I don't think so.' My realization came the evening after day one of a 2 day clinic. The next day I went to my riding time with a deeper level of openness to Mark's direction. I had a smaller gap between hearing directions and acting on them. Progress!

I have a significant brace against being told what to do, even when the person telling me (Mark) and the direction being given (being soft and effective and connected) are 100% what I want and coming from a source I respect and trust. Regardless of my conscious wants, the brace keeps me from simply following directions and discovering how easy it is to be the magic. (My husband had a big 'aha' moment followed by laughter when I shared this realization with him -- he knows this brace well!)

Mark spoke about people who die in head-on collisions because they are focused on the oncoming car rather than seeing the openings to the left or right where they can direct their own vehicle. I realized I can adapt the same 'look for the openings' when my braces show up. Instead of staying focused on 'oh, look, here's my brace', I can look for how to blend. Make THAT my practice now that I am aware of this brace.

Blending and bracing cannot coexist.

Make horse versus help horse versus do this together. Make and help reflect dualities of me and horse. Do this together reflects the actual togetherness that exists everywhere (except in our thoughts about things).

There were many opportunities to learn these things experientially - riding my horse and engaged with energy stuff with Mark and other clinic participants. It was super. These clinics are healing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


From :

Be The Change:
What do you consider to be the most invaluable aspect of your own life? Find a way of sharing it with others.

I signed up for daily emails from their website. Today's message was especially meaningful to me.

In some areas of my life I feel like I have been knocking at doors that are locked. Not locked and barricaded, but locked. Last night I started thinking about resuming writing activity on the book my father told me to write. Then this email quote arrived and bingo -- feels like it's addressing just what I need to hear.

There are ways I can share what is important to me. These ways may not be the ones I have thought were available to me, the ones that I thought would open doors with that lovely flow of Things Going Right with the Universe.

I have a long history of not listening to what my father has to say, and certainly spent many of my younger years doing exactly what he told me not to do. Two biggest examples are: Do not ride a motorcycle. I forbid you to hitchhike.

Perhaps without his disapproval -- his adamant disapproval -- I may never have pursued those two high risk activities. But he disapproved and I was compelled to act. Despite some mishaps in each arena of high risk behavior, I am alive and able to recall and reflect and make other choices.

So it struck me when, last spring, he told me to write a book about what we were discussing. Horse oriented of course. And I started right then and there. So I have the beginnings of this book and as I said, yesterday it called to me. Time to focus my attention to this possible way to share something I highly value.

Of course, time will tell how deep is my commitment to this. I am so quickly distracted at times from completing some very dear endeavors.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I just read a mini-report from a friend who rode with Harry Whitney in a recent clinic in Virginia. She focussed on a new word Harry was using: "withyouness" and how it has helped her with her horses.

I like that word. It reflects the core of what is so important: I am present, horse is present, we are present together.

Harry has long talked about horses holding back, not giving 100%. His use of "withyouness" points us toward what we want to be replacing that holding back.

I like to think in terms of people behavior -- often my own -- to help understand horse behavior. I am very familiar with doing something half-heartedly. Of doing something reluctantly. Of doing something 'just because' without a lot of energy. Just getting by.

It doesn't feel good when I proceed like that. Every cell in my body, every micron of energy is compromised. We are designed to do things with all of our energy, focus, physical and spiritual gusto. Although looking at the social systems that contain and define so much of our expressions, dreams, and day to day actions -- who would know we are really designed for such a passionate existence? We are so often praised and rewarded for mediocrity.

I love telling frustrated parents of precocious and/or willful children: hey, these things that are driving you nuts right now are qualities of a great leader in the future!

So back to our horses... Our horses become dull with us. Often to suit our degree of dullness, of holding back. Often to suit our fear of living life fully -- in full awareness, in full integrity, no more little white lies to ourselves or others... A little intimidating even to consider it!

A dull horse is unpredictable. We do not know what lurks below the dullness. A dull horse is difficult to direct. Our requests have to permeate through an unknown series of levels before we are heard. A dull horse is defended. Defended against our chronic absence perhaps?

I need to bring myself more fully into the present moment in order to be with my horse in the present. It means practicing being present. It means grieving and laying to rest familiar habits of this or that which help keep me someplace else. It means pursuing with passion that which is important to me: connection, togetherness, "withyouness". It means facing my fears as quickly as they surface to consciousness so they no longer pull me away from the Now.

When my horse is confident I am here with and for him, then I will have earned his attention and respect, and he will not simply allow me to direct him, but he will melt or meld into my sensible leadership performance.

Because we tend to think and act as if our horses and our Selves are separate beings, this "withyouness" concept is potent. It can help us think our way into a together place, to recognize it and appreciate it when we find it either because of our prolonged and determined search for it, or because of a moment of grace when we are gifted with an experience of this present connectedness.