Saturday, June 25, 2011

"A horse doesn't care how much you know, until he knows how much you care"

"Got the blue sky breeze blowin' wind thru my hair
Only worry in the world
is the tide gonna reach my chair
Sunrise, there's a fire in the sky
never been so happy
never felt so high
and I think I might've found me my own kind of paradise"
Zac Brown Band

Six weeks ago you couldn't have gotten me to willingly walk up to a horse if my life depended on it, today I received the lease papers for Cheyenne. Life is sometimes totally unexpected and confusing and flat out wonderful.

My friends keep asking me where this "horse thing" came from and why am I so into it. Truth I havent explained it to any of them, because I am not sure I totally get it yet, I think this is an evolving lesson, but the one thing I know is there is more to this than being "into it". I am "into" working out, I am "into" my gun and my shoes. They are hobbies, pasttimes, stress relievers. There is more to this than that.

I wish I knew how to put it into words, but when I walked into Woodloch stables a few weeks ago and put my hands on Snapper there was this feeling, almost like that of meeting someone and feeling like you have always known them, even though you have never met. There was this feeling that came over me of being totally safe and totally at peace, and anyone who knows me knows that is not how I feel about the world. And that feeling only intensified once I rode for the first time. That day I figured it was about Snapper, but I have had that same feeling when I have hung out with Abi, with Kass, with Cheyenne and even with the horses whose names I don't know at Sunnyside. I couldn't explain it, I couldnt find the words to translate it to, until today.

Over the last couple weeks I have heard the term "Natural Horsemanship" used over and over. In short it is a philosophy of working with horses based on communication and tapping into the natural thinking of a horse instead of trying to bend it to the human way of thinking. I started doing some reading on it today, partially out of curiosity and partially because that is how Cheyenne has been trained". And as I read the first few pages of the book, I was struck by how many times the author (Pat Parelli) kept saying that humans think different then a horse, but then he would describe horses..."they are born cowards and with the absolute instinct to flee first and ask why later....despite their size and power they inherently are afraid of all humans.....respect for a horse means an absence of fear....when something happens that scares them a horse doesnt think logically, they automatically go into full throttle, he tries to escape any way he can even if he hurts himself in the process...they give clear communications with no ambivalence". The descriptions go on and on, and as I read it, for a moment, I lost track that he was talking about horses and found him talking it about me!

That moment of realization helped me start to understand what I felt that day with Snapper and what I have felt since around horses. I felt understood, I felt like I fit, probably for the first time in my life I have found a place, at the side of a horse, where I felt normal. That my fears and insecurities seemed understood in a way they aren't with humans. That the look I saw in Snapper's face that day crossing the stream was him telling me, more than "chill out" but more so "it's ok, I get it" and the same with Cheyenne last week, it wasnt just her knowing she had a purpose, but her telling me "don't worry we are in this together and will figure it out".

I know some of my friends reading this will say "yeah right, like a horse can know that much". But it is one thing I have learned very fast about horses. They do sense where we are at, and they do communicate on an emotional level. All I have to do is watch Cheyenne get impatient when things aren't moving at the pace she wants to know how alike we are.

When you read anyting about horse you see the phrase over and over again "Prey Animal". Horses have an instictual fear of their world, they do everything they do to remain safe in a world that they are unsure about and feel threatened in. And while the same texts describe humans as "Predator Animals", that is not the case for all of us. The reality is for myself and many other people who grew up in less than safe homes we have grown up feeling like prey more than predator. We have lived our entire lives the same way as horses do and still do to this moment. We live on the edge, waiting for people to hurt us, expecting the bad in everyone, giving trust only to find it broken and it reinforcing our fears of the world.

My riding instructor Etta made a comment during my last lesson that really hit me. It should have been such a simple comment that went in one ear and out the other, but it has done anything but that. I have replayed it a million times in the last week. She simply looked over at me riding and said "You look so relaxed". I realized as I was processing that. I have LITERALLY never had anyone say that to me at another moment in my life. I live my life on guard, and she was completely right, that moment on Snapper may have been the first time in my life I felt truly safe, truly fearless and truly relaxed. In another word, like I was finally at a place where I truly fit in.

When you are working with horses they tell you the goal is to become part of the herd, for me I think I started a lot more a part of the herd than I even knew and that I have finally after all these years found my way back to the herd and THAT is what this "horse thing" is all about!

Monday, June 20, 2011

I don't really know how I got here, but I'm sure glad that I did.....

"I don't really know how I got here
But I'm sure glad that I did
And it's crazy to think that one little thing
Could've changed all of it

Maybe it didn't turn out like I planned
Maybe that's why I'm such, such a lucky man...

All the fights and the tears and the heartache
I thought I'd never get through
And the moment I almost gave up
All lead me here to you

I didn't understand it way back when
But sitting here right now it all makes perfect sense"
This - Darius Rucker

If you think about all the moments in life that if one step changed our whole lives would be different it can be really overwhelming.

There are so many times when we wish things could have turned out different than they did....I wish I had had a different type of family growing up, I wish I hadn't gotten sick, I wish I hadn't had the nerve damage,  wish I hadnt moved from the East coast, I wish certain people hadn't left my life, I wish I wasn't battling an eating disorder....but then there are days like yesterday where despite your religious or philosophical views of the world, you have to stand back and realize there are greater powers in play in the world and that things always turn out perfectly, even if we don't see that! That things happen for a reason, even if that reason seems to allude us.

If I tried to put all the steps together for you that lead to me meeting Missi and Cheyenne yesterday we would be here forever. The short version, when I moved to MN I met Tina, my cat "Nanny", she introduced me to Kathy who cleans my house once a month, then I met Janet in my Business Analysis class, Janet pushed me to try horseback riding, Kathy is a horse person and I started hanging out with her and her horse Abi after I realized horses were the calming hobby my trainer Nick had told me to search for, Kathy and I talked about me looking for a lease horse at some point, Kathy knows Missi, Missi's daughter doesn't ride Cheyenne as much anymore and Missi mentioned to Kathy that she was looking to lease Cheyenne, Kathy talked to Missi about me and yesterday Cheyenne trotted into my life! And that is the short version *smile*.

Cheyenne has her own story, she was a rescued abused race horse in need of love. She came into Missi's life in almost as amazing a story as me meeting her yesterday....a horse met in the dark and a face from a dream. Cheyenne has been part of Missi's life for 8 years and has seen her through her ups and downs and been her friend, companion and therapist. And now she has journeyed into my life when I needed her most.

The first thing I noticed about this 20 year old Standardbred mare was the look in her eyes. I couldn't put my finger on it until I looked back at the pictures I took of her yesterday, but she knows. She knows she is needed, she knows she has a purpose in life. That she is more than a pet, more than an animal to ride. Cheyenne knows that she fills a special place in the world. She knows that there are humans she is meant to heal. And I believe she knew yesterday she was meeting me for a reason. For having been ridden by a very few people since Missi adopted her she let me ride her as if we had always known each other, something very rare in horses.

Missi kept saying to me yesterday that Cheyenne likes to teach people. I can see in her eyes how much this beautiful Bay has to teach me, about life, about trust, about ceding control. That many of the secrets I have looked for solutions to in the world don't come from us "twofers" and that that many of my fears and insecurities I need to conquer are going to become part of my time with Cheyenne.
I have to admit part of what has been scaring me about the idea of leasing a horse (which is where the owner maintains control of the horse and you are allotted a certain number of days a week to ride) was knowing that I will become attached and fall in love with something that is not mine forever. That at some point Cheyenne and I will part ways, but I think that is one of the biggest lessons for to learn from her. I struggle with that on a daily basis in my life, worrying about losing people, about when they will walk away and getting so bogged down in that fear and worry that I miss out on the time I have with them. That instead of enjoying today I worry about tomorrow. One of my biggest goals during my time with Cheyenne is to not let that become my focus. Up until now everything I have done with horses has beeen a grounding time for me, keeping me in the moment not worrying about the future and what might happen, and I need to keep that front and center during my time with Cheyenne. Her time in my life is finite, and I need to find every moment of joy in it I can.
I can't even start to thank all the people who have played a part in this new chapter in my life. I don't really know how to express to those around me how much they change my life. They are words I have never really figured out, I just hope they know! I hope they can see it in my eyes!
But there is one little girl I want to thank specifically, who I haven't even met yet, Vanessa, Missi's daughter. Missi shared with me how torn Vanessa is on leasing Cheyenne. And I get that. I can't imagine sharing any of my cats with someone else. Vanessa, I just want you to know how grateful I am to you for letting Cheyenne spend time with me. That I will love her completely and do everything I can to make sure she is taken care of as well as you take care of her. You sharing her with me is changing my life and I will always be remember you for that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Equines and Escalators.....

"It's not what I've done; It's what I've overcome that defines me, and makes me different from everyone else" (from a friend's FB status)

I am only one of the millions of people in the world who grew up in dysfunctional, often abusive, homes. And I, like many of those "Children who were Broken", have struggled my whole life with trust in others. Too many broken promises, too many disappointments, too many hurts. I learned to live my life believing that the only thing I could truly believe in with complete certainty was myself, that I was the only thing I could be sure of and feel safe in.

And when that belief in my own body was shattered with my diagnosis of PTC and the resulting nerve damage and strokes my world changed. The reach of my world decreased and my body became like a foreign invader to me. It became yet another thing to doubt, to question, to fear.

It is hard if you have never had a serious illness or injury to describe not trusting your own body to be there when you need it, so let me  simply say for the last 16 years not once when I have put my right foot down to take a step have I done it without thinking about and hoping it holds, because many many times it hasnt. I have fallen, I have broken bones, I have been bruised and embarrassed. I have many scars from falls, from burns I didnt sense I was getting (due to the numbness)...I have learned to be cautious, too cautious.

There were a million things I wanted to do or try that I haven't because I didn't have the confidence in my body to make it safe to do them. I have avoided situations where stairs might be involved, I have skipped group activities where I might fall and be seen, and I have planned my life for 16 years around my body. Even with all the accomplishments in the last 18 months, I still pre-think every step I take, I still fear falling and I still limit my life. But slowly I am seeing that falling away.

While balance and core and strength are something my trainer has worked on diligently for the last 11 months, while my body was changing, I wasnt seeing it, or probably better said, I wasnt trusting it. Despite being shown over and over that I was safe doing things I still shyed away from them. I still hesitate before I walk down a flight of stairs, I still panick if I have to step up onto something without a hand hold.

But slowly I see that changing, and I think a huge part of that is my new found passion for horseback riding. I am learning by being in the saddle that my body can do what it needs to if I just let it.

This week in my lesson I was asked to try to ride without holding on to the saddle horn. To me this was the most ridiculous request I could ever have heard. There was no way I could not fall off it wasn't holding on. But for some reason I tried it, I think it was the trust I found in Snapper during our previous trail ride more than anything that got me to let go that first time. I am truly trying when I am riding to stop trying to take control. And what I found when I let go, is that riding was more enjoyable that way, not scarier. That I had more control not less, that I felt safer not at risk. That for all my fear about my balance issues and my legs, my body worked just like everyone else's would on a horse.

That experience really spurred me (no pun intended) to try to push myself this week when traveling. To stop holding on to hand rails so tightly, to get on and off the moving walkways at the airport without holding on. To really begin to believe that all the work Nick and I have put in this past year had changed my body.

And tonight I finally conquered the biggest mountain of all. One of my greatest fears has been escalators, particularly going down. I have not gone near one for 16 years, despite facing them daily with all my traveling. I was scared to death I would step on and go tumbling head over tail.

Overcoming this has been a primary goal for months with the trainer and despite me telling myself over and over I was going to do it, I would always stand at the top of the escalator and freeze. Eventually walking away and finding an elevator (which is often hard to find and time consuming, more than once I have missed getting on an earlier flight because I was futzing around finding an elevator).

And tonight was no different, I got to Detroit and was running super late and again nearly missed the flight they had held because I had to find an elevator. I decided no more. When I got to Minneapolis I was determined I was going to baggage claim via the escalator. I didnt. I stood, I froze, I chickened out and took the elevator! But that was my last straw. I made a vow to myself I wasnt leaving the airport til I had done this, even if it meant moving in.

It took me nearly an hour of standing staring at the thing, of lifting my foot and chickening out, of putting my hand on the hand rail and pulling it away. But all the time I kept reminding myself what I have done in the gym lately and what I have done on Snapper. And finally, awkwardly I took that first step. And my body cooperated. The next thing I knew I was down the escalator (truth after getting on the ride was easy, as I suspected it would be). I had done it. I had trusted my body to be there, and it was!!!!!

Just to be sure I did it a second time. I can't say it was a ton easier the second time, and it was still pretty awkward, but again. My body cooperated.

I truly hope this accomplishment tonight is a turning point for me, or a realization of the turning point that happened the first time I got on a horse. It is time to learn to trust my body again, to believe in it to function and to keep me safe!!!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Horse Lover's Bug....

My friend Kathy gave me this today, I believe she found it in one of the "Chicken Noodle for the Soul..." books. It was so touching I wanted to share it.

The Horse Lover's Bug....

All horse lovers know the bug.
It doesn't buzz or chirp or hop around.
It doesn't stare back at you  with big bulging eyes.
It lands on your heart, does its job and disappears without a trace.

You're not left with a painful sting, itch or a welt,
Just an inexplicable passion that shapes your thoughts, your habits and your dreams.

The horse bug is now a part of your fabric!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Four Legged Lesson in Trust...

Another amazing ride today, my first trail ride, again on the great Snapper (or Snapple as we may now be calling him...LOL). As usual I got there in a horrid mood, not wanting to eat at all today and really stressed out, and the second I started interacting with Snapper it all went away and I was only in that moment (a lesson Snapper reinforced by stepping on my foot to remind me he was supposed to be my sole focus *smile*)

After we saddled the horses up we headed out onto the stellar property at Woodloch Stables, I hadn't been farther than around the barns and arenas so had no clue the beautiful scenery on the property. We rode back to the fields and the stream. The stream ended up being my classroom for the day. This was the first time I rode on anything other than basically flat terrain and I have to admit all my fears came back about riding (or more appropriately falling off) and that was slightly heightened when the instructor's new horse who has never been across a stream decided he wasn't doing this and she sent us across with her watching from the bank (she only later told us she normally doesnt do that). Truth when her horse balked I was happy because I thought she was going to tell me I didnt have to go either, but now I am so glad she made me do it.

On the first trip across I was panicky going down the bank and even more so about crossing the water, I wanted to stop 100 times and chicken out (like I do in the gym when I tell Nick "I'm done"). And I think Snapper knew that, because after we got across and were turning around something really amazing happened, Snapper turned his head just enough to give me a look, and in his eyes I could see exactly what he was trying to tell me "relax, I got this one no problem".

And in that moment I realized why it is called RIDING and NOT DRIVING. That riding a horse isn't about me being perfect or knowing what I am doing all the time, but about learning to trust that the horse knows what they are doing, that they wont do something they are uncertain about (as George showed us) and that while trust is not something I have ever been good at and I am certainly not good at trusting when it means my sense of safety, that that is part of what I am meant to learn through these majestic animals. That they are there to teach my what humans have never gotten through to me on!

That second trip through the stream was a moment I will never forget. I can say without a doubt it is the first time in my life I have ever felt 100% safe and secure putting myself in the care of another living creature!

The rest of the ride was just beautiful, we rode through a huge open field with 5 foot tall grasses, the sun shining, it was so peaceful. I could have stayed out there forever (and Snapper seemed to agree, he thought he had found the buffet line *grin*). We also got a few minutes on the way back just him and I ahead of the other horses just for some quiet time, it was a great ending to the trip.

Although I have to admit I was sad when it ended, I could have stayed on his back for days. I knew my stressors and the noise and all of reality were waiting for me back in my car, but at least for that 90 minutes I had my silence and calm that I seem to only find on horseback.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Horses make so much more sense to me...

This whole new fascination with horses has really confused me the last couple weeks. I was never the little girl growing up who begged for a pony or wanted to be around horses. My cousin had a horse I got on a couple times, but it really did nothing for me, and more than anything it terrified the life out of me. So when I agreed to try a riding lesson a few weeks ago the last thing I expected was to find my "thing". That I would now be considering owning or leasing a horse, that I would be taking any chance I can find to ride, or just be around them was never even something I pondered.

In trying to make sense of this new found interest, it hit me part of why I enjoy being around that they "tell it" like it is...there is no guessing what they are thinking, there are no games....if the horse agrees with something you know it, and if they don't they make in abundantly clear. There is no having to figure out where you stand or what the hidden messages are!

That makes sense to me. I was with a friend yesterday trying to groom her unbroken horse, Abi. Abi wanted no part of it, he didnt stand and pretend he was good with it when he wasn't, he didn't humor us. He stomped his foot, snorted and walked away from us. When Snapper, the horse I ride up in Hugo, wants to eat, he stops and eats, when he wants to sleep, he stops and sleeps, he doesnt care if we are mid ride, or what I want from him. Clear signals, I know if what I am doing is right or wrong.

And he expects clear signals back from me if he is giving me what I need. I actually confused Snapper last weekend because with the strength difference between my left and ride side my cues to him are unbalanced and unclear. He wasn't sure what I wanted from him, so he gave me nothing. They give what they expect to receive - clear commands and responses.

When you are learning to ride they tell you everything you try to communicate to a horse should have three parts. You should warn them what you are about to ask of them, you should ask it and then you should reinforce it. Imagine how easy life would be if all our commications happened like that??

Beyond the most wonderful part for me of being around horses, the fact that it is the only time my mind seems to be able to so concentrate on one thing that everything else falls away, it is also the only time I dont spend time reading into things, analyzing them and questioning everything I do, because the horse gives me honest, immediate, reliable feedback. I dont need to guess because there is no question.

They also take clear responsibility for their behavior. They are proud of what they do and want. They don't half do anything, they don't blame it on others. They either do something or they don't, and if they do they give it 100% or they don't do it at all.

They also do not lose themselves or their needs in things. I am learning horse are MUCH more loving animals than I ever realized. Spending time with Kass and Abi yesterday it is VERY clear they know who Liz and Kathy are, they are bonded to them, they are loving to them and they accept love back. Abi gives the most amazing kisses. But despite that they are true to themselves. When Abi wants to set his foot somewhere, Kathy better know where her feet are because he is doing what he wants/needs despite his love for her. For them being in a "relationship" doesnt mean having to subjugate themselves. There is mutual respect and admiration, but not at the cost of self. I admire that. It seems to me in most human relationships people end up having to lose part of themselves, albeit to gain something in being in a relationship, to make it work. While maybe a worthwhile sacrafice, that we hide behind the word compromise, it still seems wrong to me. The way a horse loves makes much more sense to me. Love means adding to who they are, not becoming someone or something they aren't. Love makes them more secure not less, and too often in human relationships that is a rarity!

Added after posting....

Kass's Mom Liz just posted this on her FB page, it struck me how much it goes along with what I just said...!/video/video.php?v=170752506319821&oid=175055519187765&comments