Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Many Hats We Wear... An Ode to the Barn Manager

This past year has been an adventure for a lifetime.
Uprooting, changing our entire lives and jumping in head first.. neck deep.
There was a lot of sink or swim learning to be had,
No time to sit back and ponder the consequences or cost.
New horses, new ailments, new diagnosis, new skills, new friendships, new family members...
A lot of new.
But at the same time a lot of the same old, same old.
Get up each morning.
Work hard.
Work harder.
Walk.. A LOT.
Aching muscles.
Scooping poop.
Stuffing hay nets.
Scooping poop.
Stuffing hay nets.
Scooping poop.
Lay down each night.

We wear a lot of hats in this career.
Assistant vet.
Event planner.
Personal fitness trainer.
Equine behaviour specialist.
Saddle fitter.
Emergency farrier.
Shoulder to cry on.
The one who never cracks.
The straight face in times of panic.
The safe place in times of bad news.
The diplomat.

A lot is expected of us in this role.
For the many boarders we take into our homes, horses and humans alike.
We are responsible for them.
We take care of them in so many aspects of life.
Not just the basic feed and water of their horses.
But those needs of the heart, of family, of safety and often of hope.
Heart to hearts with sincerity.
Unity of family.
Safe barn walls to remove the masks needed for a harsher world beyond.
And hope that we can continue to move forward.
Hope that our horses will be happy, healthy and sound.
Hope that we will be happy, healthy and thriving.
Hope that these partnerships will be ever strong but ever changing.
Growing and reaching.

We keep our chins up high with strong shoulders to support these many hats.
But this past month I am ever grateful for those who have seen the burden they can bare on us.
For those who see the fading glimmer in my eyes and have taken me aside to give me my strength back.
Thank you for being strong for me.
For us.
For our horses.

There is no time when our names will be in lights as a barn manager.
We do not get to stand in great coliseums and be celebrated for the day to day work we do.
There are no rewards.
No ribbons.
No glamour.
But there is life.

Ever fulfilling and peaceful life all around us.
Happy and healthy horses living enriched and safe.
Sparkle in their eyes and a spring in their stride.
They are our foundation.
They are not the means to an end, a device of winning, or a vehicle of ego.
They are our purpose.
To nurture.
To soothe.
To love.
And continue on, step by step.

This is a plea of empathy.
Of compassion.
Look to your barn manager, staff and everyone involved in the care of your horse and thank them.
Remember that they are the only reason your horse lives as wonderfully as he does.
As a team, together, we all make this world a little bit better for horses.
And that is the final hat we all should wear.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Journey of Hope

It's begun.

We've started our Journey of Hope Horse Rescue.

Please see our GoFundMe below to help us get started.

My heart has always been in horses. 
Now my life is horses.
But my heart aches for those in need. Over the past few years we have taken in OTTBs and other unwanted horses needing care, rehabilitation for both body and soul, and given them a forever home to live at peace. But this past month I have been motivated beyond my limits and we are starting something bigger. We are opening a rescue so we can help more than just a few. We want to help the many. But we cannot do this alone.

In Journey's honour we are starting an OTTB rescue at our farm; dedicated to him and his final journey. We are asking for donations so we can begin rehab for other unwanted OTTBs in pain. These donations will go 100% towards the needs of these rehab horses. From feed, supplements, blankets, trimming, chiropractic and massage care; to transport and training.
We follow our own rehab models at Nature's Run Equestrian; based on natural horse keeping with a focus on enrichment, physical and emotional conditioning and herd socialization. We give full body treatments from qualified professionals in barefoot trimming, massage and chiropractic care.

Horses are our life here. We give everything we have to put back into them. But the costs are piling up and since having to put down Journey we are at a loss to be able to bring in our next rescue. These donations will be tracked and documented towards each of our rescue horses; and our rescue will be registered as a not-for-profit in the new year. Right now we are asking for help to get back on track as the winter creeps up and many horses will be looking for safe, warm homes.

Every little bit counts.
Please share our story and get others involved.
We are always looking for volunteers to join in on our adventures in helping these incredible horses find stability and happiness once again.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for everything you can offer to these horses. Their gratitude to you can be felt in every soft nicker at each meal, and in their free running strides in the fields.
Much love.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Time for Change...

Well it came and went.
That inevitable breaking point where my students and I faced our last straw.
And so begins our march for change.

Karen Rohlf, Dressage Naturally

We have started the Ontario Bitless Organization.
A group where bitless riders, trainers, owners and supporters (yes even those who ride with bits!) can come together to start discussing how on Earth we are going to change our Equestrian community to allow the inclusion of bitless into the show ring.
This is a group who will be inclusive of all in favour of excellent horsemanship regardless of their tack, training methods or husbandry. Because at the end of it all; as long as the horse is healthy and happy.. we are doing it right by them.
The horse comes first.

Bitless in the Jumper Ring

So I am writing this blog as an outcry to my fellow bitless supporters.
There is an entire community of riders being excluded from show.
They are a large group of horsepeople who want the ability to enjoy showing just as much as the rest of us already do.
They want to be able to go into the show ring without dirty looks, off glances and rolling eyes; to showcase the hard work they have put in with their horse.
They want to be represented by a governing body in the Equestrian world who believes in them.
They want to represent a larger group of individuals; be a part of a community.

Bitless Dressage

And right now they are being told that they cannot do that.
They have to change how they have chosen to train their horses, because an old rule book, in desperate need of updating, tells them that's the way it is.
This is the way it's always been.

Research into classical dressage will tell you otherwise.
As far back as the 1600s horses were started in a bitless cavesson and trained without a bit to "save the horses mouth" for finer movements and finesse. A bit was not introduced for a full year; so the horses would learn self carriage, confidence and body aids. The bit was added as a finesse tool for refinement of these teachings; not as control.
Many forms of horsemanship follow these same principles now.

Karen Rohlf trains her dressage horses first in bitless to encourage confidence and natural self carriage before introducing a bit for refinement. Though many of her horses she states she would never start in a bit as they don't need it. This is a phenomenal article on why the choice needs to be allowed; to use a bit or not.

Parelli encourages using a natural hackamore (bitless rope hackamore) in freestyle riding before introducing a bit for refinement.

Josh Nichol encourages use of bitless sidepulls to find softness and feel with your horse through rein aids.

Wrangler Jayne supports an entirely bit-free horsemanship practice by using horse psychology to motivate the horse to want to work, bringing out extravagant and exuberant movement the horse naturally has.

These are only a few examples of many horse trainers from around the world who recognize the need to allow bitless riders into show. At the end of it all; it needs to be the educated choice of the trainer, rider and horse of what tack will be used for show. Exclusion of a choice that affects thousands of riders is not the community I want to support. Changing one sentence in a rule book, removing one tack exception and continuing on our merry way seems a lot easier and more beneficial to our industry than vice versa.

Please help us in our fight to end the exclusion of bitless in showing!
End the Exclusion of Bitless in Show
We need everyone to sign this petition, and join our Bitless Organization!

Monday, August 17, 2015

One Year of Barefeet

We just marched happily over our one year anniversary here at Nature's Run Equestrian; and among the list of improvements we've successfully added to our farm and the livelhood of our horses... rehabbing all of our horses barefoot has been the most rewarding test of time!

While I wish we had been better at taking pictures throughout the process I want to take this day to celebrate our hard hooved graduates!

First and foremost, the main event who started it all.
Marry Me Johnny

I purchased Johnny in the spring of 2012 after he was left neglected over the winter with poor nutrition, poor hoof care and zero rehab from going barefoot the fall before. We went through many different rehab ideas for him; we even tried shoes! We spent 6 weeks in shoes before I couldn't handle the stress of it anymore. He was throwing shoes almost every 3 days, hurting himself in the process and ripping more hoof away than if we had left him barefoot. So I looked into barefoot specialists. I went through a long list of different specialists before a chance meeting with Kaileen at our boarding barn in the spring of 2013. We've never looked back. Though we have changed a lot along the way!
In the beginning we had Johnny on a 6-8 week schedule. He was living in a smaller dirt paddock and was eating from a round bale; with daily grain and mineral supplements. In this approach we managed to fix some of his major flaring/quarter cracks; but were unable to fully heal his hind quarter cracks. He also remained very flat footed; which made hard ground a very difficult adventure.
We then moved for almost a year to another facility with very similar living conditions. We saw little to no change in his feet.
After moving to our farm things changed the most. He was off of round bales and onto hay nets scattered throughout a large, hilly pasture with mixed terrain including pea gravel. We added black sunflower seeds to his diet. At this point in time we had to start changing his trim schedule. He was growing more hoof in 4 weeks than he was in 8 before this.
This was the changing factor.
4 week schedule of trimming and his angles started to change with each trim.
Now a year later, he has almost completely grown out his platypus feet and is now able to not just walk, but run on gravel without issue. We can hack out on the gravel road and back forests without a misguided or ouchy foot. He even started to grow new concavity in his soles! No more duck feet.
Now we are excited to document the growth of callus on his soles.

Next is Floyd.
Floyd came to me with chipped and flared long toe thoroughbred hooves. His previous owner gave me hoof hardener treatment to paint his soles with as he has always been very sore on hard ground.
We immediately put him onto a 4 week schedule; and the results have been incredible! He received his one year anniversary trim with us on Friday, and his feet are gorgeous! (I promise I'll post pics as soon as I get them) No more flaring, no cracking, no chips, holes or markings. They are the right size and finally at the right angle.
From here our next goal is to help him grow a stronger sole, and allow callus to grow in and help him over tougher gravel. While he isn't as ouchy as he used to be, he is still needing more rehab into conquering gravel roads.

The most surprising thing to me with him is his ability to move now that he has better angles. Over the winter I was worried he may be suffering early effects of arthritis as he was very stiff in his hind end. But with proper conditioning and now proper hind hoof angles, he is a beautiful mover; even over fences!

My favourite story of all is of our boarders!
How many we had coming into boarding skeptical of how we could bring their horses around from years of shoeing to be comfortable and forever sound barefoot.
Convincing them of a 4 week schedule, showing them how much faster their horse's hooves were growing in this new environment.. it was all part of the master plan!

Now we have 30 barefoot horses roaming our pastures over sand, gravel, rock and grass without issue. Many who hack out on to the gravel and asphalt roads daily.
No their hooves aren't waring away from the hard ground.. in fact, they are growing faster! Their hooves are adaptable. And giving them the chance to grow with the right environmental influences is so important.

I hear about it all the time; how not every horse can go barefoot. And yes, I am sure there are few who need shoes for corrective purposes from time to time. Just like we need casts or supports from time to time. But going barefoot is not about taking off shoes. It's about management, nutrition, conditioning and movement! You cannot take shoes off of a horse, and continue managing them in the same manner and expect them to come around eventually.
You need transitional varied ground types, sources of natural biotin minerals, lots and lots of movement and TIME.
It's taken us over a year to get some of our hardest cases sound again. But once they are fully rehabbed, they will be sound for life.
And that is the most important aspect of it all.

I owe my start in barehooves to Kaileen entirely. She has continued to educate me and my clients throughout the years; and I am happy to call her a friend and fellow equine enthusiast. She is here weekly to keep all of our horses on track; and is a key element in our decisions for footing and nutrition towards sound hooves!

You can check out Kaileen's Facebook page at:
Empathy Equine Natural Hoofcare

Friday, July 24, 2015


What makes you worthy of respect in this world?
Respect can mean something different to everyone.
Maybe you deserve respect because you work hard.
You love a lot.
You give more.
But what if you are demanding respect...
Can you really dictate who must give you respect, because you are worthy of it?
By your own tone and recognition?
To me that is the complete opposite of what respect is.
Respect is earned.
It is given to you freely by others; not taken from them.

The same is true with our horses.
You cannot force a horse to respect you with a stick.
You can't demand his attention, his love, his dependance.

The same is true in our hearts.
You cannot force someone to see you the way you see yourself.
You can't demand people to stop their own thoughts, and only hear your own.

Creating a respectful attitude is hard work.
Being open minded, loving, observant and level headed takes a lot of mindfulness.
A lot of try.

I have fought a lot in my life to try and win respect from those I have always looked up to.
Coaches, bosses, people who I thought worthy of my respect.
Those who I worked hard for, bled for, cried with, cleaned up messes for....
And at the end of so many of those stories, I have found one big hole in my heart.
And it dawned on me, in the dust of all of this silly competitiveness that has been thrust upon me;
That I was trying to force those people to see me.
When all they could see was themselves.
And when I kept trying to paint myself into that picture; I would get washed out.

I see this happen with students and their horses often.
We try so hard to get them to see us, to feel our hearts, to see our try...
But in the process of that so very left brained try; we lose what is most important.
To just feel.
To just be.
In this one moment.
It is so healing.

We create the world around us which is respectful.
It shines respect out; so respect will come back in.
Our family here has a moral standard.
If our horses are not standing on grass, drinking clean water, eating daily fresh hay and socializing with their herd mates... we are not doing our job.

That idea continues to get me in trouble.
It sounds like I am condescending, I am calling people out.
But the truth is that if that statement offends you, or forces you to look at your own situation with a new light.

I'm glad it stirred in you.

I hope it inspires you to make change for your horses.
I hope it inspires you to go outside and do everything for them.

Because there is no respect that I cherish more, than that of my horses seeing me as their caregiver, their mother, their provider. And not because I forced them into it with a stick.
Because I lulled them to sleep with my touch,
I brought them fresh hay each day,
I cleaned their paddocks instead of going for a ride,
I washed their wounds,
I soothed their aching muscles,
I provided them shelter,
I provided them dry grassland,
I gave them a home.
I take the greatest pride in their healthy living to the best of my ability and resources.
And that is something no one will ever take from us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

And then just go back to grazing...

I find myself lost in gratitude at times
when the whole world goes quiet and all that is left to be heard is the wind in the trees, the birds in the distance singing merry tunes to the sun and the gentle munching of grass...

Four solid hooves keeping foundation to a thousand pounds of precision.
Flowing mane amidst a mess of soul.

These beings are my salvation.
They keep me true.
Keep me safe.
And at peace.

They are here to listen.
To give me strength.
To give trust and gain trust 
To have confidence in one's self
To ask for confidence in them.

In a world of misplaced hate and cruel intentions I am lost with their most primal instincts.
How far ahead of us they are...
Herd instincts;
We may not like each other much but together we will survive..
No hoarding, only sharing.
Strict rules of membership but benefits galore.
Come be safe with us.
Come run and frolic...
Be free yet solid.
Chaos comes but only for an instant and then...

We just go back to grazing. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Little Bits of Confidence

When I first started my lesson program here; I had one solid plan.
"Show team for teens and adults"
Who knew that only a few months later I would find my truest calling.
The littles.

      In the past few months my lesson program has grown to include some very young and even shorter students. Younger kids who didn't fit the lesson model at other facilities. They are nervous, unconfident and need a lot of time to think and regain confidence. They can't be told to "just do it" because they've done that and it didn't work for them. They got spooked, they got scared and in many cases they fell off.

      This is where I come in. And while I was a bit hesitant in the beginning; I cannot begin to describe how incredible it is to see those little light bulbs go off.. And a smile return to a stressed and nervous face. So far we have kids as young as 6 years old facing their fears and overcoming obstacles. One of our young girls has progressed from lead line to walking, steering and stopping on her own in 4 lessons time. She even walks over a tarp and up onto the pedestal; both on the ground and in the saddle.
      Another is this little man, he had a bad experience in a riding lesson and lost his confidence. So far to the point that he wouldn't get back in the saddle. It's taken 3 lessons to get him comfortable again. But just this weekend he swung his leg up over that saddle and sat down. Took a deep breath... And got off again. To some people that may sound like a pretty lame lesson; but Max overcame so many obstacles in his own life that day! To get him comfortable we did a lot of different things. We started him on the ground learning how to confidently lead his pony around. Over obstacles and turning, stopping. Confidently. We had him stand on the mounting block and practice putting weight in the stirrup. Stand up, take a deep breath, step down. Approach and retreat.
      What strikes me as the most interesting point is that I can use my horse training methods to help these amazing little horsepeople. I use approach and retreat. I give them support, but them give them space. I help them relax and take deep breaths.
And the most wonderful things come about.
They start to have fun again!

      But through it all there is one most important aspect; the horses who carry us onward. My reliable horses take their job of carrying very precious cargo, ever so seriously. Blondie is our number one for confidence building; and I cannot speak highly enough of her attitude and endless patience during her lessons. Our next in line for this supportive role is our new pony Ziggy Stardust. She holds great potential and is just the right size too ;)

      If you are having any confidence issues, whether you are a little horse person, an adult or any size in between; I encourage you to come out for a lesson with one of our steady eddies. And remember why we began our journey with horses in the first place; to have fun!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Grace and Gratitude

There is a place for you.
Somewhere out there, in you and all around;
There is a place for you.

In the recent months here at the farm I find myself in a constant state of positive energy.
I belong.
I thrive; rather than just survive.
I walk with a bit of pep in my step, rather than dragging my sorrows along the way.
I have purpose.
I have myself.
I have a place.
I have a place just for me.

It wasn't always like this.
This is something that I have been reminded of lately.
As I work along side the little people in their first steps into horsemanship,
or with teens searching for that all familiar place...
A place for them.
A place for them with horses.

Not just a riding stable.
Not just somewhere where a horse becomes a vehicle for our entertainment...
But somewhere where they can breathe with a horse.
Walk next to a horse in pure confidence.
Step into the saddle and know they belong there.

I took a lot of on and off years to find that place.
Ironically a hard enough fall and whack on the head to realize what I was doing wasn't what I was needing...
And what I wanted was most definitely what I needed.
And what I needed fell into place; year by year.
Once I knew I had to find that place for myself.

So now I have an overwhelming sense of endless gratitude.
An attitude that sticks with me day by day, and second by second.
I work harder than I have ever worked because I know deep down to a cellular level;
This is undeniably where every atom of my being is meant to be.
And I have to give it back to the world around me.
I worked so hard to get here.
I struggled.
Got back up.
Asked for help.
Got broken hearted.
Got injured.
Got help.
Got better.
Was given more.
Was needed.
Was wanted.
Found purpose.

And now I want to help others find their own path to this feeling.
This confident, all knowing feeling within; that gets me up every day.
That keeps me working after my feet hurt.
That warms my heart at night.
That fills my soul with light.

Religion always confused me before finding this place.
But isn't that what every religion is really searching for, underneath it all?
All knowing.

I read a lot of posts online about how many people hear a version of themselves within, that talks down to them.
That hates them.
That hurts them.
Tells them they aren't good enough.
That they can't.
That they never will.

I know that voice.
I wish I could share that with everyone I know in pain right now.
I know.
I feel it too.
I let it hurt me.
I let it take control.

But there is another voice in there.
One that speaks a different language.
One that you have to feel.
It doesn't talk in your head.
It's in the rest of your being.
It's the warm fuzzy in your cheeks when you stand in the sun.
It's that tingling in your ribs when you see the love of your life.
It's the tickle in your tummy when you get excited or nervous.
It's the energy that drives you when you are feeling so good.

Embrace it.
Listen to that feeling.
Not to the voice in your head.
Drown that voice in this feeling.

Somedays I catch myself.
I'll be working away wondering how we will ever get everything done in time...
Sweating. Aching. Bruising. And complaining.
And then I'll look up.
I'll see all the ponies napping together in the afternoon sun.
Deep breaths of full bellies, sighs of content hearts.
And then I remember that I am one of these souls.
I am full.
I am content.
I am full of grace.
And I am forever grateful.

Much love.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Motivation is my Salvation!

I don't know about yourself, but this winter has been one for the books for us here at the farm! Between broken water heaters, burst water pipes, frozen gates and the 4 feet of snow... It's weighed on us all. A lot.
And with it, came a serious dip in training time. Another serious dip in riding time.. and overall; a loss of motivation. But this past few weeks have shown their promise to me. I stepped up my game and got "focused".. for myself and for my horses.

Q and I are set to go to Kentucky in October; and we have A LOT of work to do before we even joke about competing there. That was my first kick out of being a lazy toad... Another push in the right direction was having a Parelli horseless workshop here in February. I've been on the fence about following the Parelli program for some time; mostly because of miscommunication and a lot of misunderstanding. The workshop fixed that.
What an amazing community of people. I have been searching for those who are in this strictly for the horse, and they are right up my alley!

After the workshop I decided to get my feet wet further and have been taking weekly lessons with a Parelli instructor, Maureen Owens; an incredible horsewoman! She has set me straight and I am gungho about it. Maureen sat me down and we planned out my goals for my horses; the path to Kentucky with Q and my Parelli level auditions with Johnny. I got a million whiteboards together, laid out my plans...

And I am following them!!

It's only been a couple weeks, but I can feel such a change in myself. And in Q. We have made leaps and bounds in the past 2 weeks; and I am no longer nervous to start saddle work with him. What an incredible partner he is; now that I have cleared some muddy waters and he can understand me.

This new found motivation is so fresh feeling. I have time to make these goals a reality. I have the best support team of coaches, horses, friends and family to keep me engaged and accountable... I've never felt this free before.

It makes me think about how many riders can get stuck without a coach. Without someone to keep them accountable and constantly improving. I've been stuck in that rut so many times, and it gets so rough to deal with after awhile. Like... is this all there is? Or am I really good enough to just stay at this level? I hate questions like this, because it goes against my core values. One which matches the Parelli values perfectly: dedication to never ending self improvement! But how hard is it to continue to self improve if you don't have someone to show you what you can improve upon.

The past 2 weeks I have signed up for 2 clinics over the spring and summer; one with Don Halladay in May and one with Waltr Zettl in July. These two clinics mean I need to be at a certain level of training, fitness and emotional clarity before Q and I walk into the arena. This is what drives my motivation. What keeps me focused. I don't get lost thinking I'll just try this one day or miss a training session just once; because I know I need to be working on specific tasks to get us moving forward. That's not to say we don't have fun, or try anything new.. it's just in a certain order and with specific purpose. It fits a timeline, with a goal.

With all that said, I encourage you all to set your goals! We learned about SMART goals in civics class and I'm sure all rolled our eyes at them in highschool... But they play a big part of success now that we are on a path to reach a real goal.. Something tangible.
Then, with those goals in mind, find the right coach to keep you accountable. Nothing can make me miss a training session with Q now that I know Maureen is coming every Friday. I don't want to waste a lesson working on something I should've been working on all week. I want to take the next step and get to the next progression.. however big or small that may be; I'm addicted.

Anyone else have some big goals for this year? Anyone else headed to Kentucky in October for the Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New Pieces of My Heart - Being a Foster Mom

      Sometimes things are thrust upon us that we are not ready for, not even the slightly bit prepared for; but nonetheless events unravel and we are left with the decision to respond or turn away. I have never been very good at turning away... I can work hard to avoid these certain situations in the beginning, but once I am asked for help; I can never turn away. Not until I am satisfied with the result... Or at least happy with the current path.

      Last fall we had a foxhound join us on the farm for a short week after being rescued from certain death at a hunt camp. He came to us skinny, battered, bruised and shaking like a leaf. Loud sounds made him shiver, and he was very uncertain of new people.. especially men. He spent the week with us living out happily in the barn at night, and with our dogs in the acre run behind our house during the day. He became part of the furry family. But we worked hard not to get too attached; we knew he was going to a new home at some point. And we wanted to save ourselves, and him, the removal from our family.
      He went out to a couple a couple towns over, and we thought he would be happy. He spent a couple months there with another dog companion. But changing circumstances put him back in our lives... It's funny to think that some people can so easily pick up a dog, love him for months, and then decide to put him in a shelter without a second thought. They dropped him off and that was that...

      So we finally made the decision to bring him in the house, it was freezing outside and there was no other option. I couldn't let him suffer any longer than he already had... Our Aussie had a different idea around this, and so the first week was very high stress for everyone. He would herd the new pooch around the house, and constantly try to dominate him. They drove us mental. But one day they settled. And things got a lot better. Until they got a lot worse.
      After such a hard life, this poor dog had turned to a fight instinct to survive. So whenever he was spooked beyond control, he would lash out. He never hurt anyone, never hurt any of our dogs... But he was a bit scary for my family. While he had become my loyal companion, it was clear to everyone that he wouldn't fit here long term... The decision was made that while we had planned to rehab him and find him a forever home; we weren't capable of giving him that home anymore. And so a search began to find the right home. Unfortunately because of his fear aggression we needed a home that would be able to handle his needs of comfort, calm and quiet and easy.

      Which brings me to today.
Today I took Barney to an amazing rescue kennel and horse sanctuary. They assessed him and loved him. They quickly saw the dog I had been falling in love with the past 3 weeks. But I also saw more too. Barney and I were connected... When he got worried in the new environment he turned quickly to me and ran over for comfort. He always looked to me for guidance and approval for each step. I was overwhelmed with guilt. How could I let us develop such an attachment, when I knew I had to let him go again? All I want is for him to have the right home. To find consistency, love and sanctuary. He has the biggest heart and he deserves so much more in this life. He has been passed off too many times and he needs a forever spot.

      Being a foster mom is the hardest job I've had to endure this far in my life. I've found new pieces of my heart on this journey... New pieces of strength, but also of overwhelming appreciation. I will never be able to do this job again. For as much as I have grown in this experience, I have also broken down. I know now that I am not strong enough to let go the way that is needed... Being a mom means making the hardest decisions against everything you feel in your heart, for the right of this life you have taken responsibility for. For this heart, this soul and those eyes that look to you for the world.
      I have found the greatest appreciation for my own mother in this journey, for how many hard decisions she has made for me in my life. And how many pieces she must have of her own heart by now. To know that feeling is one of the most important aspects of our lives, because it separates us from just our own life force, and expands it to another's. To feel this much is a gift.

      And though I feel so broken now, thinking constantly of Barney's eyes running to me for safety. I can only hope that since I know in my heart he is so capable of loving us, that he will be capable of putting the pieces together and loving another. His forever mom. Not just his foster mom.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Why and How Come of the "Pedestal Stand"

A couple weeks ago we had a brand new pedestal dropped off from some amazing friends; and since then I've gotten a lot of questioning looks from those outside of the Natural Horsemanship community. 

"Why do you make your horse stand on the elephant circus stand?" - one of my favourites so far.

      So I've decided to let everyone else in on our little secrets; and I'll start with saying that it's not just because it looks cool. 

There is a multitude of benefits for using the pedestal, but I'm going to stick with the top three for now...

1) Trailer Loading Confidence
      Horses have a pretty hard time figuring out a trailer the first time, and even if they get it, they are still pretty nervous about it for a long while after. Trailer loading is one of the most difficult parts of horse ownership; and speaking from experience, I've seen every gadget under the sun to get a horse on a trailer. So... wouldn't it be nice if a horse could just walk on a trailer and load themselves? Maybe be soooo confident that they can just put those feet right up there and walk up, wait patiently and be tucked in for the drive?
      Working a horse on a pedestal is a great first step to trailer loading practice. Horses are claustrophobic by nature, this means they are uncomfortable in small spaces (like a trailer); but they are also nervous stepping up onto things from a lack of proprioception (wiki: from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own", "individual," and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.) So teaching a horse to trailer load with a trailer from the get go, is making them deal with 2 pretty innate fears for a flight prey species all at once.
      This is where the pedestal comes in. The pedestal allows the horse to learn how to lift it's hooves (both fronts and the hinds) and legs up onto something solid; without having to squeeze into a foreign and scary place too. They can gain confidence with their proprioception of their front hooves going up, and backing off. As well as eventually progressing into standing up with both fronts, and then adding hind legs without turning or spinning. Being able to teach and reward this behaviour creates a building block of trust and confidence for when you finally ask them to step into the trailer.

2) Multi Height Confidence
      Horse's do not naturally walk over anything off the ground. They walk on hills that take them up and down, and over logs and trees for brief moments; but there are very few situations where they are standing up over the ground on an object. That means they are not used to stepping up and being confident there. This makes the pedestal an ideal candidate to test your horse's willingness and trust in you, but also to create a building block of trust in themselves.
      Well trained horses are those who have a high level of emotional fitness; they are comfortable in their own being and can work or play without panicking and throwing a fit. They can respond to their environment, rather than react to it. This makes them an ideal partner for sportsmanship and a great athlete in high pressure situations.
      A pedestal can be a training tool, as part of a training regiment, to build confidence and emotional fitness. It's also a great bonding tool for growing a partnership.

3) Building a Partnership Based on Trust and Respect
      Teaching a horse how to step up on a pedestal (or any new scary object) allows you to show your horse how confident you are, how knowledgeable you are and how safe it is to do what you ask of them. It also shows them your patience, and encourages them to try. Once you can get your horse to trust you to put a foot up, and they can immediately see it's not going to hurt them.. they can find trust in your guidance. Especially if when they stand up on that pedestal they learn about happy treat time.
      I use the pedestal with all of my clients, pleasure and show alike, to build a partnership based on trust. A horse can learn to stand on a pedestal for anyone over time, and it can be a triggered trick for sure. But those first few times of progression together; to let go and trust each other is what makes this exercise so useful.
      It's also a great place to create a "safe place" in your training regime. If your horse can get stressed out easily, teach them that every time they are on the pedestal it's quiet time; treats, love and relaxation. So they can learn how to self soothe in high stress times. And trust that you understand that they need a break too. When I'm working with Johnny sometimes we'll get a little too high strung and he'll go to the pedestal and demand his own time out to breathe and regroup. He is a highly emotionally fit horse now; and the pedestal used to be an absolute nightmare for him.

And yes, it's even fun to ride up there too!

Until next time, don't forget to keep on keepin' on!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Time and Time Again...

Have you ever heard the phrase "Time heals all"?

I get told it a lot. It's an occupational hazard of being an empath.
But what does it really mean to us? Why is it something that comes up time and time again?
Does time itself heal us, or do we get desensitized to the pain over time...

As someone who feels just about everything, I have to tell you that time does not heal all. Time helps you hide all. Taking steps to heal that pain is what heals over time. Not the other way around.

      I was reminded of this idea today as I've been working with Q a lot more to get him ready to start actual saddle work. I found myself in a state of constant procrastination of the idea; and I decided to sit down and really puzzle through why I was giving him more and more time. I discovered my excuses were because of that phrase... If I kept giving him more time, he'd be more ready to start work again. He wouldn't shut down again. He wouldn't lose weight again... he would be healed.
      But it became a very flawed notion. Because giving him time suddenly became not working with him. And that would've been sending us backwards. So I picked up my act, and started a real work schedule with him on the ground. The results have been amazing. He is one of the softest horses to cue on the ground; he's willing and connected at the slightest try. And he has begun to value me for more than just the hay net lady. Before he would only run to the gate when it was turn in for grain time; now he approaches me any time I am near for some social connections.

      The other night he told me in more ways than one that he was ready to start saddle work; but more importantly that he was ready to trust me. He's ready to be a responsible partner. After our ground lesson and liberty games session; I took him out to his paddock and instead of leaving me at the gate after our "one last carrot" moment... he turned to me and put his head next to me. Then he backed up and put my body right next to his heart girth. And leaned into me. He took so many deep breaths and just stood there; with just enough pressure against me that we were connected, but not enough that he was pushing me off balance.
      At first I was really confused at his behaviour, I thought maybe he was trying to show me a painful spot, or wanted me to itch his belly. But every time I went to move towards him with my hands he would lean back, wait for me to stop, then lean back in.
      Eventually I took the hint, put my head against his back and leaned back into him. He took this deep relaxing breath and relaxed every muscle in his body. And there we stood, breathing in rhythm...
It brought tears to my eyes. He has been so hard to reach for so long. But all I had to do was stop trying to fix him, stop thinking I needed to do this and that. And just BE with him. I had to let go.
It's always about letting go.

      I think that's where this "time heals all" thing comes in. As if time makes it easier for you to let go; or it forces you to let go without knowing. But the truth is that letting go is a conscious act. You have to recognize your tension, recognize what you are holding onto with that human death grip.. and let it go.

"If you love something, let it free"
There are no truer words than those.
Let go of the reins.
Open the gate.
Let go of the lead.
Let go of this caged tunnel vision thinking.
And just be in the moment.

      That moment with Q at the gate is one of the most important moments in our entire year together. I know how calm and connected he can be. I know he can relax into my soft pressure, and I into his. This is the most important conversation we have had to date. And to me it says we are ready to take a step into another world. Upward and onward.
He has healed me. He has shown me what I am capable of if I allow myself to be.
To let go and follow my instinct.
To follow this feel.
This deafening ability to feel everything; so I can absorb and then let it go back into the world.
Positive. Grounded.
Time and time again.