Healing Work(s)

 

Chillin'

~*~

It’s been just two months since I embarked on my Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) journey, and the rate at which new information and change is flowing in, through and around me is nothing less than astonishing.

So much growth in just eight weeks and on so many levels it’s put me into heavy duty integration/processing mode. However, this makes writing about it a challenge.

Even though the information I’m learning resonates with me at a deep level, the facts and feelings are still finding their way home. I’m looking forward to the day when the words just trip from my finger tips onto the keyboard and into my blog posts, because for now it is an arduous task at best. Clarity is important when sharing this incredible work. I want to do it well.

Having said that, I’ve written a short piece of fiction in three parts inspired by a prompt and a few supportive blog followers, that touches on one of my experiences from the first FEEL session in July. Here’s the link to the beginning: Lost and Found … Part I in case you’re interested in reading it. Parts II and III appear in consecutive posts. The setting and characters are fictitious, of course, but the work is not.

My experience doing Reflective Round Pen work at that first session turned into an incredible life altering moment for me. I was not planning on putting it into any written form, at least not yet. But then the prompt came and sometimes you just can’t plan for these things. I like the way the story turned out. I hope you do too.

Of course, behind every experiential learning activity is a wealth of research and background information to support it. I’ve spent a good deal of time reading from a number of books and resources that help to bring the work to life.

For instance:

Institute of HeartMath ~ is an “internationally recognized nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to helping people reduce stress, self-regulate emotions and build energy and resilience for healthy, happy lives. HeartMath tools, technology and training teach people to rely on the intelligence of their hearts in concert with their minds at home, school, work and play.” I’ve really enjoyed learning about this and plan to become really conversant in it.

Institute of Noetic Sciences ~ founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell ~ “a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research, education, and membership organization whose mission is supporting individual and collective transformation through consciousness research, educational outreach, and engaging a global learning community in the realization of our human potential. “Noetic” comes from the Greek word nous, which means “intuitive mind” or “inner knowing.” IONS™ conducts, sponsors, and collaborates on leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, exploring phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigour. … The Institute’s primary program areas are consciousness and healing, extended human capacities, and emerging world views.” I’m just learning about this. It’s fascinating.

In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness … by Peter A. Levine PhD ~ this has been an incredible source of understanding for me with respect to how early childhood and developmental trauma has shaped my life, and provided greater awareness concerning how trauma may be managed and released. Many lightbulb moments here. And lots of processing.

The Way of the Horse … by Linda Kohanov ~ I reflect on a chapter a week, depending on which of the cards call my attention. It’s amazing how the information I read reflects so accurately the place I am in my life in that moment. A great learning tool and beautifully presented.

Reading and connecting to the information presented in these resources alone (and I’m just barely scratching the surface here … there is so much more) has been heart and mind opening to say the least. My understanding and experience of life, and my Self in it, has deepened dramatically. The amazing thing about this work is that as I learn I also heal. It’s so profound. I’m finally integrating the idea that my past is not my future. Emotions are information, not prison guards. Allowing them to speak; listening to what they have to say is the beginning of healing and letting go. When we are stuck in our emotions we are stuck in the past; stuck in our lives. Debilitated. From my own experience I know this is not a nice place to be.

Of course, learning to treat emotions as information takes time and practice. From what I’ve experienced so far, it’s worth it.

For instance, the incident with the dressage boot was extremely painful on a physical level, and frustrating in other ways. However, as soon as I started listening to and considering the deeper body-held message of trauma real healing ~ physical and emotional ~ was able to begin. Lifelong trauma held in my hips finally released. In fact, my hips have never felt better. What I realized was that looking at the issue as more than just physical; being willing to recognize the emotions that sat in the background waiting to be acknowledged and released was an important part of the healing process. It IS an important part of the healing process.

All of this simply confirms for me that unless we are open to the lessons life has to teach us in the moment, they will be repeated until we finally make the connection and do the work to heal.

Awareness is key.

Bear’s Boo Boo

At RestMeanwhile, Bear’s in recuperative mode.

In my last post I mentioned some concern about a possible issue with his left stifle. Flexion tests showed that Bear’s issue was acute rather than chronic, though we do need to keep an eye on a couple of things. He’s been put on a joint supplement that will help and he’s been only in light work of late. Today he had a chiropractic adjustment ~ his first in almost a year ~ and this should make a big difference. He certainly enjoyed it.

The thing I’ve realized is that he’s processing, too. Like me, Bear has absorbed a lot of new information this year. His body is being asked to work in a new, more correct manner, and the old ways must be released. This is bound to cause some strain. Like breaking in a new pair of shoes there’s bound to be some discomfort for a while until they’ve moulded to your feet. Bear’s body is moulding to a new, more aligned way of being and it’s taking some toll right now. With patience and lots of pampering he’ll be his new self in no time.

I’m excited for the possibilities that lay ahead for Bear and me, but am in no hurry. Everything has a process that must be respected or we just buy ourselves more unnecessary misery. By my observation the only thing that’s ever in a hurry is the ego.

Remember the Titanic? ;-)

When Harry Met Dorothy

Interestingly, while Bear’s been off I’ve had the opportunity to ride another horse.

Harry is a 20-year-old chestnut Trakehner eventing horse whose mom doesn’t make it up to the barn very often right now. A few of us have been offered the chance to nurture and exercise him, and I am participating. (The fact I would do this indicates how far I have come since last year when the adrenal fatigue was still so in control of my life I was only riding Bear three times a week. Now I’m riding two horses ~ Bear five times per week and Harry two to three times per week!! :-))

Harry and I have been an item for the past two weeks or so. Bear’s good with it. He knows there is enough love to go around and that no one can take his place in my heart. (Horses do need to know these things.)

My first time out with Harry was disorienting, to say the least. He and Bear are so different. However, as we got to know one another and our relationship progressed both on the ground and in the saddle we found an understanding.

Like any new relationship I had to find my place in his world. Had to release any expectation and embrace the new experience. Riding Harry the same way I rode Bear was not going to work. I needed to adapt to Harry’s needs; learn the language he understood before piling on any new information that was intended to make his working life a little easier. Slowly building a synergy with Harry was my primary goal ~ first at walk and then trot and then, when completely comfortable, the canter. My intention whenever trying a different horse is to feel what they need, not demand from them what my ego wants. Proving myself is not the point. Creating a good working relationship with a horse that has allowed me to take up residence on his back for half an hour is the goal. It’s better for both of us.

I’m pleased to say my approach has worked well. Together Harry and I have grown, and what I have learned from Harry I am adapting to Bear. It makes a difference.

But that’s what moving beyond our comfort zone does, isn’t it? It gives us another perspective that we can integrate into other areas of our lives. Sure, anytime we move beyond what we consider to be normal there is a period of disorientation. How we move through that momentary feeling of imbalance and confusion depends largely on how aware we are in the process and how open we are to change.

Harry has proven another wonderful catalyst for change for me. He has tested my skill and expanded my comfort zone in a way I was not anticipating. That said, I appreciate any horse ~ any person~ who, without agenda or judgment, is able to help me find a missing piece of my Self.

When Harry met Dorothy her life changed … again.

The healing journey continues.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Correction

Hands

~*~

A rare thing indeed … an image of Bear and I (taken by my husband) with our coach who, through the creative use of a shovel he usually uses to fix the footing, is showing me correct placement of my hands.

It’s a heavy shovel. He got tired quickly. Still, he held it there long enough for me to get the point.

Correct hand placement is an ongoing struggle but one I am determined to master. It’s obvious how much better Bear goes when I’m using my hands properly.

Bear is off this week with a lameness issue in his left hind. The vet is coming today to check him out. Nothing serious, I dare say. It’s just that now he’s moving more correctly his weakness there is more pronounced since he can’t mask it by over-compensating somewhere else.

We think it’s in his stifle area (the knee joint of the hind leg). I’ll let you know what we find out.

We’re both weaker to the left. A lot of correction going on.

More on the FEEL course soon. It’s difficult to write about while I’m learning so much.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

The Master

Bear and I are really fortunate to be working with a coach of the German school.

I call him the Master because he is just that ~  a Master horseman.

As the Master, he is most invested in the development of both horse and rider and is, as a result, thoroughly engaged in the process of training.

This is great for us, his students, because it spurs us on to engage our best energy as well.

It also makes for great photos ops …

~*~

Scheduling

The Master has claimed the blackboard outside the arena door and this is where we congregate for lesson scheduling.

~*~

Entering

Arrival of the Master.

I featured this image on my photography blog Eyes to Heart recently. If you’re interested, link through to this post to read more about my experience with this incredible teacher.

~*~

Investing

On the ground the Master demonstrates, in his own special way, the nuances of the perfected ride.

~*~

Observing

The Master is always on the move ~ whether he’s running beside a student as they execute a particular movement, standing in the middle of a 10m circle shouting encouragement or leaning on a shovel between shifts of scraping footing back into the track, he’s a going concern.

And yet he misses nothing.

Did I say he’s “invested?”

~*~

Connecting

Being able to teach the student effectively means having a thorough understanding of the horse. Occasionally the Master will ride his student’s horses, including Bear, to get a clearer understanding of how the horse is working so he knows what the student is up against.

Since the dressage boot incident the Master has ridden Bear several times and taken the opportunity to sharpen him up for me. The difference is amazing!

What I’ve I learned from this is that it’s not necessary to carry the burden of training my horse all on my own. The Master knows a lot more than me and I’m happy for him to share his wealth of knowledge and skill to help bring out the best in Bear … and me.

Bear is working more correctly and is happier too.

~*~

Trotting

When all is said and done it’s about developing a healthy relationship with the horse by employing key principles of horsemanship and adopting correct techniques.

I have learned so much in the past several weeks simply through observing the Master. Whenever I ride I do my best to emulate his very correct position and use of the aids.

And now, with my back fully healed and Bear with valuable training under his girth, we’re on the right track and things are going really well. (Photos at a future date.)

And we have the Master to thank for that.

The journey continues …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

PS More on my experiences with the FEEL certification program coming up!

To Every Thing There is a Season …

Since starting my FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) certification course a month ago I’ve been incorporating new ways of being and little challenges into my day-to-day experiences with Mr. Bear. He is an eminently patient horse and has indulged my flights of fancy quite willingly. Actually, I think he quite enjoys the extra attention and the deepening of our bond.

Having been forced out of the saddle for the past 21 days, or so, with a wretched back issue (see last post) I’ve been proactively making use of the extra ground time to incorporate a new activity into our routine … playing with the purple Pilates ball.

At the moment Bear is learning to “be” in its presence.

The idea to introduce Bear to the ball came about as a way to deepen our awareness together. I knew that expanding Bear’s world to include the way of the purple ball would require more awareness on my part as I observed his reaction to his new inanimate friend. It wasn’t my intention to overwhelm Bear with this experience. I simply wanted to expand his world in a fun and controlled way.

It all began three weeks ago, the day before my injury.

The first thing I did was to set the ball up outside his stall and sit on it. No big deal. He sniffed around and then returned to his pile of hay in the corner.

Next, I propped it up against his doorway and left it there. I walked away and, with camera in hand, waited to see what would happen next.

~*~

Unsure

At first he was all “Hmmm, I don’t know about this …”

Getting acquainted

And then he got brave.

Bemused

And then he got bored.

No worries.

It was time to try “the purple Pilates ball in the paddock test.”

Again, after maintaining his initial distance he was fine with it.

Ball Outside

A week later, my lower back wracked with muscle spasms, I put Bear in the arena for some free lunging. He’d been off for a few days (because I wasn’t able to ride him) and I wanted him to be nice and loose for my coach’s ride on him the next day.

When Bear was done free lunging he ventured, without any encouragement from me, over to the purple ball which had been sitting in the middle of the arena the entire time. Of his own volition he began to play with it, rubbing his muzzle back and force across the top of the ball with all the familiarity in the world. I only interfered when it looked like he might pop out the air intake valve and bite it off.
Ball Boy

He was having fun with the ball! Again, the point was not to overwhelm him but to see if he could accommodate a completely foreign object in his life and maybe even learn to interact with it.

My hope is that at some point he’ll figure out how to kick it, however I’m not going to force him. I’m simply going to facilitate this learning for him. I’m really just so happy that he has been able to accept this new experience so calmly. But then, as I’ve said, it was never my intention to overwhelm him with this new information. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own life, the learning stops and the dissociation begins when I’m bombarded with new information and too much stimulation. I imagine, given how sensitive my horse is, that it would be the same for him. Anyway, expanding my boy’s world by degrees is far more effective in the long run and a lot more fun.

The pleasurable things of life are not meant to be rushed.

And so it goes with his present under-saddle training which is, I suppose, a funny thing to say about a horse already in his prime. However, like me my darling boy is a late bloomer with low mileage and a willingness to learn. As long as we don’t overwhelm with the learning curve we’ll both do well and be fine.

~*~

A short update on my injury …

The aftermath of the saga of the bad dressage boots continues.

Finally, after two weeks of misery, I was able to get back in the saddle Wednesday of last week. Oh, joy! Bear is being so well schooled by Stefan and becoming so much more confident it’s like riding a completely different horse. I was so happy and felt so good after my brief ride that I decided to give it another go the next day.

Bad boots ... bad, bad, bad dressage boots ...

Bad boots … bad, bad, bad dressage boots …

So, Thursday arrived and I got on again figuring I wouldn’t push my luck but simply stick to good forward walk exercises as prescribed by my coach. Rode in the arena for a little time, then outside around the property and, as everything was going so well, finished inside again with about two laps of trot in each direction. In total about a half hour in the saddle. And then I dismounted … and that was it. Excruciating pain across my lower back and into my right SI joint to the point I could barely walk never mind bend down to remove Bear’s bandages or take off my half chaps. Thank goodness there was someone else around to help me get sorted or I don’t know how I would have managed.

On my way home (and I was driving which in itself was most uncomfortable) I stopped in at the chiropractor who gently popped everything back into place. After a dizzying Epsom salts bath I spent the evening resting in front of the TV watching Downton Abbey (my distracting panacea when I’m unwell) while alternating hot and cold compresses (thank you, darling husband) and loading up on anti-inflammatories.

The next day I was mobile again, but still quite sore, especially while sitting down. As the days progressed the pain became pretty much isolated to my right SI joint/hip and the muscles supporting it. Walking, stretching and rest ~ plus an additional trip to the chiropractor ~ was the order of the day.

I’m happy to say that today ~ one week later ~ I am feeling much better and am hopeful that I’ll be in the saddle again tomorrow for a short period of time. Likely after my coach has warmed Bear up so the effort for me will be easy. I can hardly wait!

In the meantime, Bear has continued his training with our masterful coach while I have learned through observation, which is an important and effective method for me. Together we’ll continue to integrate our energy ground work exercises for the FEEL course. Naturally, that includes playing with the purple ball. ;-)

To every thing there is a season, and I have entered yet another season of deep healing.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

(This post is re-posted and updated after I discovered it had mysteriously disappeared to a July 1 publishing date.)

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Bad Boots … Bad, Bad, Bad Dressage Boots

 Bad boots

… Bad dressage boots …

~*~

Silly title. Silly story. A moment of tragic(?) nonsense that shows that sometimes it just doesn’t matter how well you take care of your equipment things can, and do, go wrong.

Don’t worry. It’s not about Bear. He’s in ship shape shape.

No, it’s about a sad state of affairs relating to me and my custom-made dressage boots.

Okay, I bought them almost 10 years ago and for about seven of those years (up until fairly recently, in fact) they sat in a boot bag at the back of a dusty closet. Why? Because a sprained ankle all those years ago made it impossible for me to put the darn things on and once out of the habit of wearing them I just couldn’t be bothered.

Read on …

And then I moved to this dressage barn and, come spring, everyone was casting away their winter footwear in favour of dressage boots. Boots designed to give the leg a steadier more effective contact with the horse’s side. Plus, their stylin’. So, I decided, “Me too! I’m going to start wearing my dressage boots again. It’s time.”

So, I fished them out of the closet and took them to the barn. I located my boot hooks (because the only way to get these darlings on is to insert boot hooks to boot loops on the inside of said boots … and pull!!!) and went to work.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The darn things were so stiff from lack of use I couldn’t get my foot anywhere near the bottom of the boot. Not only that, they were really, really tight.

I talked this over with the other riders who commiserated on this state of affairs and offered some helpful advice:

“Take them in and get them stretched and, while you’re at it, get the shoe repair guy to put a zipper in each boot so it isn’t such a struggle to put them on.”

Hmmm … zippers. A novel thought. I’d noticed that many of my fellow riders, including my coach, had done just that and that they’d all gone to the same zipper putter inner at a shoe repair shop not far from my home. Eureka! That’s what I would do.

So, I packed my boots back into their bag and took them to the shoe repair guy. I explained to him what I needed.

In his thick middle European accent he said, “No problem with the stretching, but not the zipper. These are very good quality boots. Well made. Custom, yes?” I nodded. “You should try first the stretching and oil them to soften the leather … and get inserts to keep them from collapsing. If this does not work, then we try the zippers. But first,” he repeated with a knowing look, “stretch the leather. Yes?”

“Yes, I guess so,” I responded, unsure but willing to lean on his expertise.

So, I left the boots and hoped for the best.

A week later I picked them up and took them home to shine and polish according to the shoe repair guy’s explicit instructions, focusing especially on the ankle area to soften the leather.

Excited about trying them out, I took them to the barn the next day and, after dousing the insides liberally with baby powder I inserted hooks into loops and attempted to pull the right one onto my leg. It was a struggle at first, but eventually I got it, and the left one, on. I rode. Awkward doesn’t describe it. I hadn’t ridden in them in years. Still, I thought, the more I wear them the easier it would get.

Fast forward through the month of June (away) and most of July. I rode in my half chaps mostly, due to the heat, but on a cooler summer’s day, Tuesday of last week, in fact, I struggled into the boots for a lesson. Things went swimmingly.

“Do you see a difference when I ride in these boots?” I asked Herr Coach.

“Absolutely!” he responded.

So, I reasoned, I must wear my boots.

Removing the boots was a struggle. Bootjacks are an absolute necessity when extricating oneself from the vice grip of a close-fitted tall boot, and I had to wriggle myself free of both boots with a great deal of care.

The next day my hips were really achy. I asked the barn manager, “Do you think my hips are sore because of the different leg position my dressage boots put me in when I’m riding?”

“It’s possible,” she said. “The leg does hang differently in those tall, stiff boots.”

Hmmm … the only way to get used to the new leg position was to keep wearing the boots.

So, on Thursday last week four of us went out on a lovely hack in the fields. I wore my dressage boots to continue breaking them in.

When we returned to the barn and after I’d untacked Bear and made him comfortable, I went to my locker to fetch my bootjack so I could remove my boots. Once again I had liberally sprayed baby powder into my boots before putting them on, so I anticipated they’d slide off with ease.

Right boot ~ with the heel of my boot wedged in the curve of the bootjack I started pulling my leg free. My foot began its slow migration up the boot … and then it got stuck.

“You stuck?” A concerned fellow rider enquired as I clung to the doorway between efforts, a contorted look on my face.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

“If you need a hand, let me know.”

“Thanks … I’ll do that. Appreciate it.”

Then I tried another tac, wiggling my foot up and back and up and back. Finally, it came free.

“Hallelujah!”

One down, one to go.

Setting my left heel in the bootjack and resting my right foot (now sporting a paddock boot) on the base of the jack for leverage, I grabbed once again onto the doorway and began the ordeal.

Once again my foot slipped from the bottom of the boot and got wedged at the ankle.

Hmmm … that hurt. Try again.

Okay … breathe and heave. No movement.

Again … breathe and heave. And this time I noticed how the torque in my body was putting uncomfortable pressure on my hips and in my right groin area. “Oh,” I muttered aloud, “this is why my legs and hips have been aching the last couple of days. From the effort to get these boots off.”

A light bulb moment, to be sure, but useless to me at the time as the only way to get the boot off was to continue what I was doing.

I rested for a moment. Regrouped. Surely just one or two more tugs of my foot would extricate it.

One … two … heave …

Like the crack of a whip I felt a sting across my lower back.

“Uh … oh! That’s not good.” I exclaimed aloud as I grabbed the back of my waist and winced. “Now I need help,” I said to the concerned rider as she once again walked by.

Seeing my distress she escorted me as I hobbled across the aisle and into the tack room. I lowered myself gently into the well-worn blue leather two-seater couch, and breathed.

“Now,” instructed the concerned rider, “give us your foot and we’ll pull this thing off for you.”

Yes, it took two people to pull the b(**&y thing off.

After the ordeal I attempted to stand up … straight. Impossible. So, after taking care of my equipment (including cleaning those evil dressage boots) and seeing to Bear’s needs, I went directly to the chiropractor for some attention and then home for an Epsom salts bath.

The next day I felt a bit wobbly, but got on Bear anyway just to see if a walkabout would help massage out the kinks. Not a chance. It was actually a pretty foolish thing to do. If my darling boy had spooked I would have been toast.

For three days I could barely walk. I spent the weekend sitting on a heating pad and taking anti-inflammatories. By Sunday evening I was in so much discomfort I finally booked an appointment with my massage therapist who, fortunately, had some time available on Monday. After spending quality ground time with Bear, albeit hunched over like the fellow of Notre Dame legend, I went for my massage.

Afterward I felt freer in the hips, but still wobbly, and the ache in the depths of my lower back was still keen.

“No riding!!” the massage therapist warned.

“No problem!” I answered, resigned and sad.

So, my coaching scheduled for Tuesday was turned into a training session for Bear with Herr Coach. I watched from a chair in the corner of the arena with admiration and envy.

I wanted to ride.

~*~

Bear today

… Bear …

~*~

Wednesday rolled around and Herr Coach rode Bear again. I had my camera with me and took a few photos, including this one. I marvelled at how much my boy had changed and developed since January. His uphill movement giving him a bearing of lightness I’d been longing to see for years. And he looked so beautiful.

“I hope to ride by Friday,” I told Herr Coach optimistically before he left for vacation, “but if I can’t he’ll get the time off and be ready for you to pop on him again next week.”

Herr Coach thought that a good idea. There would no point in riding with sore hips and undermining what had been achieved in the two training sessions. Bear would simply get confused.

I went to the chiropractor again. He worked his magic and I felt a little bit better again.

“No riding!!” he warned.

“Of course not,” I sighed, disappointed but resolved to doing what must be done to heal.

And then this morning, after several days of being stalwart and philosophical about it all I finally had my little feeling-sorry-for-myself meltdown. And it wasn’t that I really felt that sorry for myself, it’s just that I was soooo frustrated that my life had been derailed by a pair of stupid dressage boots. Had the shoe repair guy put the zippers in when I asked him to this would never have happened. As well, in the middle of all of this discomfort, and in my darkest moments, I was haunted by the idea that the pain might never go away and I’d never get to ride my beautiful horse again!!! (Wah!)

Still, it was only a short, dark period of self-indulgence, and then I let it go.

This afternoon I went to the barn and spent a few hours with Bear, reviewing exercises from the FEEL program and playing with him in the arena. It was a lovely time and I soon felt much better. I even began to look at this unexpected hiatus and “hip adjustment” as another opportunity for growth. Maybe, by some miracle, it would mean my hips would be looser and more cooperative in the saddle once I climbed back in.

As for the bad boots … the bad, bad, bad dressage boots … I took them to the shoe repair guy and, as I stood there clutching my aching back, demanded he put the zippers in notwithstanding his admiration for the original workmanship. Custom-made, last-you-a-life-time dressage boots or not, they’re garbage to me without this important mechanical adjustment.

I pick them up August 2. I sincerely hope I’ll be riding by then.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

Do Nothing? Are You Kidding Me?

 

My Classroom

Welcome to my classroom …

~*~

 

When I first heard about Wu Wei* (the Taoist practice of “non-doing”) my immediate reaction was “Do nothing? Are you kidding me?”

It came up as an exercise we FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) program participants are to incorporate into our regular routine with the horses. Let me explain.

Being more in tune with the needs of my horse and understanding the context of choice in his life requires mindfulness on my part. People say that animals are dumb, but based on my experience I don’t believe this for a second. Horses know the difference between a hand that hurts and a hand that heals. They know from the moment someone appears on the horizon if their intentions are fair or foul. They read our body language all the time and respond accordingly. So, it’s up to us to be mindful of how we interact with these beautiful beings. It can literally make, or break, the relationship.

If we want to know what kind of an impact the environment is having on a horse’s frame of mind it’s really simple ~ read the horse’s body language. For instance, if you look at the image above, Bear’s relaxed stance, floppy ears, semi-closed eyes and level head tell us that in that moment he’s happy just chillin’. ;-)

There’s more to it than that, naturally, and perhaps I’ll write more of it at another time, but the bottom line is horses respond to whatever energy is present in the moment.

Part of the curriculum of the FEEL program is learning to understand energy ~ how it works; how it connects us; how it heals; how it can hurt. One way or the other it’s all a matter of intention. Intuitive impulses, when we are in touch with them, can alert us to trouble and allow us to make the choice to move away or put up a fight. As prey animals horses are imbued with this instinct. They sense danger even when they can’t see or hear it, and will respond appropriately to survive.

This is what makes them such valuable teachers in the human pursuit of self-discovery. Since horses can only ever reflect the truth around them they are the perfect mirrors for helping us to see who we are.

For some people, naturally, this is an uncomfortable prospect. For others it offers a marvellous healing and personal growth opportunity.

For instance, how a horse reacts to two different people depends entirely on the energy each person brings to the relationship. As an equestrian coach it always botheedr me when one student would say to another: “You won’t like Mouse, she’s mean/won’t canter/ is really hard to ride,” etc. Or, conversely, “You’ll love Mouse, she’s so sweet/has a brilliant canter/is lovely to ride.”

The fact is, Mouse will respond to each rider differently based on whatever energy they carry around with them. For instance, Mouse may perform well under the gentle and confident leadership of a rider with a quiet hand and light, effective leg aid, but become resistant and anxious with another, more fearful, less educated rider who kicks mercilessly and pulls on the rein at the same time, sending the poor horse mixed messages. The riders’ experiences with the horse will be much different based on what they bring to the equation. The horse can only respond according to the information she’s receiving. Perhaps the most that can be said about Mouse is that her response to each rider is totally honest.

Still, I’m getting a little side tracked here. I’m merely attempting to show that the energy we emit is inevitably what comes back to us.

Understanding this and other truths of emotional energy is teaching me to honour the privilege of having the trust of a 1,200 lb prey animal like Bear.

So, what about Wu Wei?

Loosely translated Wu Wei is the art of “non-doing” or “non-action.”

“In our culture,” as author and horse trainer, Linda Kohanov, writes in her book The Way of the Horse: Equine Archetypes for Self-Discovery, ” … those who work more, buy more, try harder, and seem busier are the ones we’re taught to admire and emulate. The art of not striving has been lost, and we’re suffering from a host of stress-related illnesses as a result.”

Of course, I live in “this culture” and what has been my stress-related illness in recent years? Adrenal fatigue.

So, the challenge of Wu Wei is to do nothing constructively and see what happens. It’s not about being a couch potato on a Sunday afternoon watching reruns of your favourite TV show.

No, it’s about being in the moment and allowing all distractions to subside; to engage with nature and feel it’s impact upon us. To do nothing.

A foreign concept for most people.

With the FEEL program our task is to practice Wu Wei in the presence of our horses and, in the process, create a deeper connection with them and, potentially, our inner selves.

My first attempt a couple of weeks ago was nothing if not magical …

Before bringing Bear in from the paddock I allowed myself a few extra minutes to practice just “being” in his presence.

I entered through the paddock gate without calling to him, which is my usual practice, and parked myself in the middle of the paddock from where I could see him just over the rise of a rolling hillock. Standing there quietly and not drawing attention to myself, I focused on my breathing and and simply observed my beautiful boy as he grazed. Within a few seconds he raised his head and turned to look at me, as if acknowledging my presence. I stayed where I was; didn’t speak. He then turned his whole body toward me and started walking over ~ a slow, sauntering kind of walk which told me he was relaxed and happy to see me. I held my ground waiting to see what he would do next. I kept focused on my breathing. When Bear was about eight feet away he stopped for a moment, respecting an unseen but important personal boundary. I waited. About a minute later he walked right up to me. Sniffed at my hand, my back (found the carrot in my back pocket and helped himself), sniffed up my arm, down the outside of my leg. I didn’t move. Didn’t touch him. After a minute or two he drifted away a few feet and began to graze again, happy just to be near me. I smiled and waited, curious to see what he would do next.

Outside the paddock a slight commotion occurred as two horses being led in opposite directions were brought to a halt and their handlers had a brief and quiet chat. Being the curious boy he is, Bear left me and wandered over to the gate to check things out. I didn’t move; didn’t follow; didn’t say anything, and watched with interest as he indulged his curiosity. I will admit that for a moment … and just a moment … I was disappointed that he’d left. I felt abandoned. Our lovely moment, it appeared, had ended all too soon. Still, I tried not to judge and waited to see what would happen next.

As the two horses were eventually lead their separate ways Bear followed one up the fence line. Then he broke away and, much to my pleasure, wandered back to me. He put his muzzle right into my hand as if to plug into my energy once again. It was such a profound experience I almost wept with the joy of it. More than anything else he wanted to be in my company … in that moment. He didn’t want to eat (which is what horses do all the time except when they’re sleeping or working). He didn’t want to engage with other horses. He wanted only to be with me. :-) And I didn’t have to do anything but be.

Of course, the purpose of the FEEL program is to demonstrate how these concepts we learn with the horses can be applied to every day life …

As I observe it, we have become human “doings” and forgotten to be human “beings.” We’ve forgotten that periods of limbo are a natural part of the living and creative process. Part of my quest over the next several months as I complete the FEEL program and gain an even deeper level of self-awareness, is to learn to be comfortable in limbo ~ to honour the constructive and regenerative aspects of “non-doing” so my life takes on a more balanced way of being. This may be a tall order, but the more I practice the easier it it will get. As Linda Kohanov writes: ” … lack of control is infuriating and frightening for the intellect. For this reason, it’s beneficial to practice “not doing” voluntarily rather than wait until circumstances force you into those inescapable limbo periods. Training the mind with a regular dose of Wu Wei quite simply strengthens courage and creativity on all levels.”

I have Bear to help me with this, but practicing the art of “non-doing” can be as easy as standing in your back yard or other safe, peaceful area and observing as nature unfolds around you.

I’d like to challenge you to take 20 minutes to try this out. Put away your technical gadgets, clear your mind, focus on and slow your breathing. Be still. Spend time with nature by simply being and observing. What are the birds doing? How many butterflies do you see? How do you feel watching the squirrels chase each other through the trees? What sounds do you hear that you would normally miss? Should you choose to do this, I’d be curious to know what this experience was like for you. I find there is usually a natural conclusion to each session. That is, I don’t have to do anything … the end just is. ;-)

I try to spend 20 minutes or so two or three times a week just hanging out with Bear ~ either in the paddock or sitting in a chair outside his stall. It’s a pleasant exercise for him too because it releases him from the expectation of having to do something every time I show up at the barn.

This week I will get to spend more time in Wu Wei than I had planned as I am forced into limbo due to back spasms. But that’s a story, perhaps, for next time. ;-)

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

* What Is Wu Wei? One of Taoism’s most important concepts is wu wei, which is sometimes translated as “non-doing” or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu Wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which – without even trying – we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise. (Source: About.com)

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014 

Disclaimer: The events described herein are taken from my own experience, knowledge, and understanding and are shared for entertainment and information purposes only. Should you wish to try any of the techniques or exercises shared within the framework of this blog, please ensure that both you and your horse(s) are adequately prepared. And remember: while I have enjoyed some success using these techniques, you try them solely at your own risk.

 

 

 

A Moment With Bear …

While I gather my thoughts around what to write in my next blog post, let me just share this one beautiful thing …

~*~

Among the Dandelions

~*~

… a moment with Bear.

Hope you’re having a great summer so far …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

Restoration Isn’t Just for the Medieval …

Dozing

 ~*~

Looks like Bear’s has an easy life of it, eh? Basking in the late spring sunshine. Not a care in the world, except that his buddy, Dream, has left him on his own for a while. This is how I found him when I arrived at the barn on Friday. All by himself in the middle of his paddock, chillin’.

I’ve never seen him do this. At first I wondered what on earth was going on but then, as I moved closer, he rolled over on his back for a little scratch, stood up and came over to greet me. He was feeling good and relaxed, and he wanted me to know.

A little R&R between rounds of training ~ rebuilding muscle; rewiring the brain; re-establishing connection is important. Rest is good. It gives us strength for the next leg of the journey. Gives us an opportunity to regroup; rebalance and, possibly, recalculate our next course of action. Given my experience with adrenal fatigue, which is stress induced, I firmly believe we need to incorporate more opportunities for rest into our daily lives. It’s a challenge, I know, but not impossible. And it’s important. Information overload and manic, perpetual doing is undoing our world, if I might be so bold as to say so.  As I’ve learned, running on empty is nothing of which to be proud. Self-care is important.

Mark my word … ;-)

Bear and I had a rest from each other for two weeks …

Initial separation from my boy is always difficult. As a vacation approaches I gradually distance myself from him so that when I leave it’s simply a matter of saying “Goodbye, buddy, see you in a couple of weeks.” It’s good for both of us. Then, knowing he’s in good hands, I am able to enjoy my vacation worry-free. Of course, if anyone needs to reach us in case of emergency, they have our mobile number. Otherwise, the mind switches gears and my focus is on where I am.

Where we were was Italy ~ a vacation in the planning for a year. We spent three days in Florence; a blissful week at a rented Tuscan villa with five other couples in our neighbourhood, and ended with three days in Venice. It was a truly amazing experience.

When I was deep in adrenal malaise six months ago the last thing I wanted to do was plan, let alone go on, a trip. My last few travel experiences had been rather less than enjoyable from a health perspective, and for a long while I felt I would never travel again. It was just too stressful.

The villa in Tuscany. Serenity now ...

The villa in Tuscany

The planning of this trip was left up to my husband, although I did have a say in where we would go. The villa was a no-brainer ~ we’d been having organizational meetings of the “Tuscan Twelve” since June of last year. The villa near Iano was selected by the group last August, so we didn’t need to give this any further thought. However, because of my debilitating health situation I wanted to keep the rest of the trip as simple as possible ~ no flitting all over the country trying to see everything and getting into adrenal overload. I had no desire to feel miserable for 14 days.

So, I suggested Florence, because it was only an hour away from the villa, and Venice because it was two hours by train from Florence. My husband was good with that. Both cities we’d visited previously as part of a cruise experience and as any of you who have been on a cruise will know, eight hours at a destination is really only enough time to help you decide if you’d like to return again. We’d talked many times of revisiting these two beautiful cities and experiencing them more completely, so that’s what we arranged to do.

I’m not going to get into a travel log here. It was a phenomenal trip on so many levels and one that proved an important point ~ the worst of the adrenal fatigue appears to be behind me.

Italy, with all its culture, flavourful food, fine wine, dry climate, bright colours, flair, antiquity, art, music … and on, offers such an all-embracing panacea of rest and relaxation. I have not felt so good anywhere in such a long time. Even the travel days, while they didn’t exactly agree with me, were less stressful than other such experiences of the recent past. (I will mention that when we arrived in Florence ~ via Frankfurt ~ my one piece of luggage did not arrive with me. That got me pretty close to a panic attack that first night. Fortunately my husband was able to help me through that experience and I managed to get to sleep. The bag arrived the next morning after breakfast. How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F? My medication was in that suitcase!)

In Italy I felt my sense of wonder return; my energies revived. I felt restored. (I want to write about it more fully, but may need to start another blog to do it justice. ;-) …) It seemed like both the end of an old and the beginning of a new chapter. The end of an intense period of healing that began five years ago with a trip to Sarajevo, and the beginning of a new enlightened phase of healing that includes the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification program I’m starting tomorrow.

I’m ready to take the next step. My adrenals will support me now, I know it.

And then there’s my beautiful horse who was so happy to see me when I got back. He had a lovely time of it while I was away, make no mistake. Enjoyed lots of fussing over while he worked and played hard and got plenty of rest.

We both needed this break from each other to help process all the new information we’ve absorbed since our move to the new barn six months ago and to prepare for the next period of growth.

Together we’re gearing up to enjoy this new chapter ~ and while it’s going to be a lot of work and life expanding in ways that, at this point, I can only imagine, I can’t help but feel it’s also gonna be fun!

~*~

Bear 13

… The birthday boy …

~*~

It seems fitting that as we enter this new chapter we’re also celebrating Bear’s birthday. He turns 13 today. That’s right up there in middle age. Time to start thinking about some joint support. ;-)

Nurture what you love … and get some rest.

Restoration isn’t just for the Medieval. ;-)

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014 

 

When Life Takes Us Full Circle

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past several years it’s not to judge the process.

When we launch into something we often have a pre-c0nceived notion of how things are supposed to unfold.

It’s simple, right? Have a dream; set a goal; plan a destination and that should be enough to get us on our way.

Well, it is, and it isn’t.

John Lennon famously said that “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Often what we don’t understand is that life, no matter how topsy turvy and mettle testing it is at the time, is unfolding as part of the plan to reach our dream. It’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the journey and be immersed in it wherever it takes us. We may reach, or even exceed, our dreams if we just hold on tight and don’t let go.

Good things comeThis is all very philosophical and a round about way of getting to my point …

Eight years ago, after reading “Riding Between the Worlds” by Linda Kohanov, I had a dream to acquire the training I needed to help people heal through the way of the horse. I was already a nationally certified equestrian coach so this would be a natural extension of what I was already doing. In my innocence (or ignorance) I thought achieving the dream would be a simple case of signing up for Linda’s course in Arizona and, once completed, setting up my shingle somewhere here in southern Ontario.

Nothing could have been further from the truth … because I was disconnected from my truth. At the time I was in my early 40s and struggling with life on so many levels, looking for escape. My focus was on running away rather than walking steadfastly toward something.

The dream identified, life unfolded ~ a veritable roller coaster ride:

Down ~ Within months of formulating this dream I was restructured from my job as an advertising copywriter and went into a depression.

Down ~ Six months later the horse I’d been part-boarding for two years died of cancer.

Up ~ Four months later, after a relatively easy search, by all accounts, Bear cantered into my life.

Up ~ One month later training began with Chris Irwin ~ my introduction to healing with horses through his Train the Trainer program and Equine-Assisted Personal Development. This was when I started to realize how broken I was and led to eighteen months of art therapy.

Up ~ In the meantime my partner (now husband) and I enjoyed four years of twice yearly world travel to places I’d never imagined going. (2008 to 2012)

Down ~ A trip to beautiful, battle-scarred Sarajevo in 2009 sent me into five years (and counting) of psychotherapy ~ my own life battle scars screaming for attention.

Down ~ Then early-onset menopause and all the joy that brings took its toll. (2010)

Down ~ Adrenal fatigue and its bitter anti-social pill insisted I shut down my life and focus on healing. (2010 to present)

Down ~ No more public singing performances (my adrenal health couldn’t support it) (2011)

Down ~ The attempted suicide of a family member and resultant trauma threw another curve. (2012)

Up ~ Our beautiful wedding brought immense joy. (2013)

Up ~ A barn change signalled a new beginning for Bear and I. (2013)

Up and down and up ~ The death of old friendships and the birth of new ones tested my emotional resiliency in ways I had not expected.

Yes, life happened; demanded I pay attention; tested my resolve, strength and commitment to the ups and down; the highs and lows of the healing process. Could I weather the storms I was intending to help others with through healing with horses?

It was an honest enough question. How could I facilitate in others what I had not experienced for myself?

These experiences have, indeed, brought me full circle to the point at which I am happy to announce that I have registered in a six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification program which begins at the end of June. It’s a program based on the teachings of Linda Kohanov and, as luck would have it, the sessions take place just a half hour away from home.

It’s a big decision made after much considered thought and meditation. However, I feel that it is the right move for me as I continue along my own healing journey. I am confident this course will teach me much about how I relate to the world and will help to heal aspects of my inner world still requiring attention. And, of course, it will take me another purposeful step closer to realizing my dream of helping people heal through the way of the horse.

I’m ready for this new step but am not kidding myself ~ it will be another intense period of growth bringing with it the inevitable roller coaster of emotion.

Still, I’m game.

What’s another roller coaster on the circle of life when it takes us closer to our dreams?

I firmly believe our heartfelt dreams never die. When a dream is meant to be it seems that life provides the experiences we need to create the environment the dream needs to come true. It’s why we must never judge the process or how long it takes … or quit.

Hold fast to your dream. It may be closer than you think.

~*~

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks. When I return my plan is to post regular updates as I proceed through the FEEL certification program and, of course, share the cheeky shenanigans of my beautiful Bear.

Of course, life unfolds as it should. ;-)

Always remember to nurture what you love … and that includes you.

Dorothy
Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change Is In The Wind

 

Change is in the wind ...

~*~

 

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.
Gail Sheehy

 

When change is in the wind, horses, as prey animals, put their face to it and give their full attention. In a matter of seconds they’re able to surmise if there’s a threat to their well being; an opportunity to engage with someone or something interesting, or if they can put their nose down and carry on business as usual.

Change is in the wind once again for Bear and I.

I’ve faced it and decided to engage.

No, we’re not moving. We’re perfectly happy where we are.

So, what’s happening?

We’re embarking on a new path of learning and growth.

This hearkens back to my last post ~ A Horse Is Never” Just A Horse” ~  but not in the way I described or expected as I wound that post down.

No, it’s bigger than that, and as soon as I have confirmation, I will fill you in on the next leg of my healing journey with my beautiful horse.

I anticipate this will denote a slight shift in the focus of this blog.

Change is in the wind … Stay tuned!

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy
Horse Mom

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014