Author Archives: stablewomen

About stablewomen

Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary is the home of the Stablewomen Program and the permanent place of Peace for unwanted horses, now cherished. Katharine is the founder and president of this non-profit sanctuary where horses and people learn to interact with Compassion not Compulsion. Katharine is a columnist and contributing writer for newspapers and international magazines on the subjects of horses, schooling, therapy, plant therapies (herbs!) and Dressage in the old, humane fashion.

These Hands

I used to be embarrassed by my arm. After falling through the window and having my hand reattached (severed tendons, nerves, arteries and veins), I have always worn long sleeved shirts. The scars are nothing, really, now – compared to how they looked for those first few years… like an arm sliced up to use in a sandwich.

My hands worked so hard all my life. Decades of struggle; loading and unloading hay, holding onto spooking colts, keeping stallions under control, running printing presses, riding Harley’s, cleaning out needle valves on the carburetor of my Dodge PowerWagon, planting gardens, scrubbing Operating rooms, changing tires, dyeing clothing, kneading bread dough….. the things horsewomen do and healers do… catching my granddaughter at her birth, holding my Mum’s hand as she passed over, holding disabled children on patient old horses…

My hands have been useful. And they have seemed so ugly to me. I had Mark take a photo of the sore my new shoe created on my toe (it should not have happened, there is a nasty seam in one shoe). I saw my hands. I cried. How could they get so battered… so OLD? I’m only 63 years old; they look like a hundred.

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Then I thought about all they do and have done. In spite of a near crippling injury and being stepped upon by a horse; being exposed to countless hours in water and being soaked in cleansers… they are so resilient, considering. Years of wearing gloves and not wearing gloves. They have been useful.

I searched for the photo from our wedding, of Mark and me with our rings. I found it. I had turned my hand over because the palm is less abused looking. And I thought about how he, Mark, beloved friend and husband “took” that hand that day. He put a beautiful ring on a funky old finger and never has he seen these hands as ugly.

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Tonight I watch them struggle to type, one letter at a time… they serve me well. They succeed even when they ache to the bone. They are precious. They may drop silverware in public and let glasses slip to the floor… let go of the longe line, drop the wand, cramp up and let go of the hay twine, but then, after, they pick things up again.

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Object Permanence and Horses

A friend explained this concept to me a few weeks ago as I described to him how one of our horses in Sanctuary gets confused when a rider gets on him and “disappears” from sight. A light bulb turned on in me. Diamond is not being obstinate, not obtuse, he genuinely does not understand what has happened to the person who mounts him.

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While that may seem hard to fathom, after years now of working to heal his lameness, we had not been as connected to him as a riding horse. When soundness returned, we were careful to move gradually with him under saddle, making certain the footing for him was cushioned and that he only walked (for months). With another horse in the arena or with me walking along watching him and coaching a rider,  he seemed confident enough and willing to engage. I remained dedicated to getting and keeping him physically sound, without realizing that he had big gaps in his education and perception.

As students tried to take him out on the rail in the arena, away from me or another horse, he would worry. The rein and leg aids seemed to have little meaning to him. I knew he had been at a camp in the mountains, doing trail rides with children before he came to us. Thinking about this, I began to figure out that Diamond was comfortable as a “follower” and he likely only walked down the trails with his nose at another horse’s bum. He did not conceptualize a person sitting in the saddle giving him signals… he followed the other horses.

So, when we do a lesson on him, our success in getting him away from me and listening to his rider came with having his rider talk her directions to him continuously. If he is hearing her verbal signals, he stays connected enough to feel at ease and go where she wishes. If she is silent, he shuts down as if he has dropped an anchor and his confidence evaporates!

I then began thinking about the trainers who bring a young horse’s head and neck around to the saddle as they mount and stand during those first rides. It does effectively keep the horse from bolting, rearing or bucking, especially if one is starting the youngster without assistance – but now, I realize that the horse really sees where the rider has gone!

Oh yes, horses have great peripheral vision and can certainly see that something is there on their sides, but to know that a person is up there… I’m just not sure it comes by default.

We are working with Diamond. Filling in gaps, substituting the leg and rein aids for verbal aids. As time passes, I see him becoming more confident. I like him a lot and I want him to be able to comprehend what is going on, not just act as an automaton from being flooded and losing his desire to live. That’s not the way we operate here.

 

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The Right Way

I think about this constantly. I had some interaction with a woman who was chastising me for using a wand to direct my horse around me (loose in a turn out, no round pen, no lines or ropes) as he circled me happily. She is an advocate of clicker training.

So am I. I worked at a rescue that brought in Draft mares and foals from the PMU industry. There was an aggressive mare there whose daughter was still with her as a coming 3 year old! I used the clicker schooling (marking desired behavior) and was able to accomplish a lot with the mare to make her safer and help her understand us.

I trained Saddle Seat at one point back east; I rode colts off the track aiming to make them H/J prospects while in Florida; I had a blind retired Eventer that I rode! I worked with 3 year old colts and fillies who had never seen a human being until they were chased into stock trailers and unloaded into my barn aisle! I rode most of them eventually, but it was a long journey to get to the trust.

I rode under Charles deKunffy and trail rode my own mules… there are hundreds of ways to do things with horses and all of them are correct IF they do no harm.

You know why people get adamant about a particular style of training or handling or feeding a horse? It is because they’ve had success with it. That’s all. And because many roads can lead to the same destination, many people have lots of successes. That’s very cool!

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I sit here tonight thinking about how new, green horse peeps must feel confused or overwhelmed sometimes (especially with the endless information online) and wonder which is the “Right Way” with horses.

Imagine how confused and overwhelmed horses must feel by our methods! Truth is, horses are beyond remarkable. They can go from “owner” to “owner” and have to relearn or rethink what the signals and responses are from person to person. And try they do – horses want to please us!

If you are working with your horse and you are both safe and happy and understanding each other. You are doing it the Right Way.

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Compassion not Compulsion

That is our motto at Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary. It has more to do with the handling and schooling of horses than with our mission of rescue and care, but it is a thread that weaves itself through every endeavor. Compassion is more about empathy than about sympathy. While the two seem synonymous, they have distinct differences. We can feel both toward a horse who arrives starved, injured or abused, but it is the empathy that feeds compassion. Being able to imagine oneself in the “shoes” of another is the first step toward true compassion.

And life experiences give us that empathetic ability. Experiences are gathered through life like points on a scale from mild to extreme and we all have our own unique set of them. If we have never stubbed our toe, we do not cringe and gasp when someone describes ramming their foot into a cabinet in the dark. We can say that we “feel sorry” for them (sympathy), but we don’t relate on a comparative level. We have no empathy with them.

Compassion comes from awareness. With horses, we need to “think like a horse” to understand their perspective as prey animals designed to move across vast distances as part of a herd. Any life with us requires that they adapt to being confined on some level and dependent upon us for all their needs.

We need to become aware of how our lifestyles can impact the animals’ lives. They certainly learn to adapt to us, but that can sometimes mean that they acquire strange (to us) behaviors as coping skills. At the Sanctuary, we have a young horse who was starved nearly to death twice before she was three years old! Food triggers unusual behaviors in her (understandably) that include kicking the pipe bars of her fence as if to say “Don’t forget me!” as we start feeding a meal. We see these adaptations and adjustments in all the species we bring into our lives.

If a dog runs to the closet at 3:00 AM and starts digging in the corner (don’t yell “bad dog!” – I always say, “Good dog doing a bad thing”) we must try to understand why this is happening and give him something else to do.

Most predators, like our dogs and cats, re-act to stimulus. Their instincts are intact, even if the most hunting action they get is trying to locate the piece of popcorn that shot under the refrigerator last week. So the best trained dog and the sweetest cat in the world will both re-act without thinking when a bird flops down from the rafters to grab a grasshopper.

As you become aware of the instincts and qualities that your animal shares with his species, you can prepare his surroundings to enhance the things you want and to discourage the things you don’t want from him. Socializing a dog with people and other animals is of supreme importance because those very instincts that ensured his species’ survival in the past are the deep seated stimulus that could spark an attack under certain circumstances.

And teaching a horse to lead and tie and stand for the hoof trimmer or Veterinarian and to load into a trailer, etc. can ensure that his future life, should it turn out in another person’s care, will be free of the brutality someone might resort to in an effort to accomplish their goals. A horse with a broad education and exposure to many stimuli is less likely to panic when facing something new.

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Compassion encompasses the training and treatment of horses if we wish to communicate on the deepest level. This also extrapolates to our interactions with all animals and even each other. Especially with children and young animals, our first feeling might be that they are deliberately challenging us when, in all likelihood, they are simply confused or uncertain. By taking a moment to breathe and “put ourselves in their place”, we can draw upon compassion to solve problems.

A horse living 22 hours in a box stall is very much like one of us living in a large closet. When the door is opened and we walk out into the fresh air, we might very likely need to kick up our heels or squeal for joy.  A dog living at the end of a chain would likely become overwhelmed with enthusiasm upon seeing anyone who might spend some time with him. Feeling sympathy, we could feel sorry for them and say, “Oh poor creature”. Feeling empathy, we can imagine ourselves in similar circumstances and look for a way to help. By discussing the animal’s situation with the owner, we might find a way to help them build a proper fence to allow more freedom… some compassion based, creative thinking might help everyone involved. Empathy for an owner who has a horse or a dog he cannot handle could lead us into brainstorming solutions. Criticism, anger and blaming will certainly not help an animal, an owner, the situation or our own blood pressure (except in cases of abuse, when intervention through the authorities is needed). To begin with compassion, with empathy, has at least the possibility of improving a situation.

And holding our own actions up to the light of compassionate care, we can see when rushing a horse through a needed lesson or skipping over the foundation building experiences needed, especially for the young horse, will actually take longer than deliberate, consistent communication.

Putting ourselves “in his shoes”, we can see how the horse who is afraid to make a mistake becomes robotic and stingy with his responses to our requests.

We see how people who connect with the hurt and hurting horses can find healing for themselves as well. We are all in this together.

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The Healing Stew

Last week I was talking with a friend whose partner was having multiple maladies and could not go to work. She told me about his original problem – he was having leg cramps that kept him up at night. His doctor gave him a prescription for a sleep aid… the sleep remedy gave him anxiety attacks. He was given a prescription to suppress anxiety; which caused dizziness and he bruised his elbow badly after almost falling… so pain killers were added to his “stew”.

All of this was attempting to address the symptoms and nothing was addressing the original problem and what might have caused it – probably dehydration and/or low minerals like Magnesium! I have watched this with horses. Owners want immediate answers, immediate “relief” for the horse, so pharmaceuticals are added and tweaked until the side effects that accumulate become a bigger problem than the original complaint.

Don’t get me wrong – we need to suppress symptoms for our animals, we must be humane. But we must not consider that kind of relief as a cure… it is not. The underlying cause of the problem still exists.

A big old Stew of antibiotics, pain killers, steroids and/or vaccines are cooked up to “attack” a problem. For horses, a Veterinary farm call isn’t cheap, so many procedures are stacked to get the most stuff done for the money…

And the result of this desired outcome of money saved can often develop into much more work to do detoxing the affects of the original medications, even the risk of the horse’s life. “Seven way” and “Nine way” vaccine combinations given at the same time as a dewormer and sedation for dental work… ulcer meds, Cushings meds, tranquilizers for procedures (even for training), injections into joints, chemicals to suppress estrus, the list of possibilities for animals is astonishing. For humans, it’s mind boggling – just watch television – ads for a drug running 10 times as long as an ad for tires (and costing 10 times as much); listing side effects as young families smile and laugh and eat elegant food in a posh house… Then the ads begin from lawyers with class action lawsuits against the drug companies for all the deaths and trauma inflicted. All mixed up in an unhealthy stew.

Decades ago I taught classes at our University about healing horses and healing dogs through Nature. Holistic modalities and the different embodiments of our animals were my focus. I had people constantly asking how I determined which modality to use for an illness or injury – I needed to find a good way to describe my processes and I started calling it “Life Wave Integration”: honoring the Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spirit bodies of our animals. I wrote a book (now out of print), published before the Amazon way, that described this balancing process. It was called “The Well-Being of Pets & Companions”.

In my system, we used herbs and nutrition for the physical body; flower essences for the emotional body; essential oils for the mental body and stones/crystals for the spirit.

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We, then and now, rely upon simple things – Colloidal Silver to kill pathogens; minerals to support bones and muscle and hooves; Homeopathics to realign the bodies… nutrition as medicine and making that as simple and clean as possible.

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I would never tell someone to stop medications, ignore their Veterinarian, change their priorities. If one stops using allopathy, there must be a different plan to follow. You cannot just say, “I’ll never vaccinate again” without being aware of the need for and the methods to strengthen the immune system. Nature provides the methods… the baby’s first “milk” of colostrum gives the antibodies for his protection. Nature knows. The plants a horse instinctively seeks out and eats as a browser will have system boosting properties.

And for us, when we must use a vaccine, we give homeopathic Ledum and Thuja to prevent damages… hopefully. We feed red beets to clear toxins, burdock root to support the liver, calendula blossom for skin clearing, fresh parsley for the kidneys, hawthorn berries for the heart… every day, we choose foods to address the needs of each individual horse. Our horses thrive and heal… we even feed a lot of Magnesium!

 

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I’ve got the Orange Barrel Blues…

The past few months have been an exercise in creative planning – Our little city has been digging up every major road and Highway used to expedite traffic and get us to businesses and jobs; all at once. And what was a reasonable path through the maze one week is entirely restructured the next so there is no predicting any of it.

Businesses from one end of town to another are closing up shop (some having thrived for decades!) because no customers can manage to drive to their buildings. Not just for a week or two of inconvenience, some businesses have been inaccessible for nearly a year.

Having lived here since 1981, I am fortunate to know most back ways to the places I need to patronize and things that are not an actual need, well, it’s just not worth the effort, time and petrol wasted…

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So, yesterday, I drove our beloved Michelle to the airport in a nearby big city a couple of hours away. We crossed state lines, were whipping along at 70 mph on 3 lanes between tractor trailers when instantaneously traffic went to 10 mph and one lane. Several times we came to a stop (in these cases, I pump my brake lights and pray for good brakes behind me!). Then, just as quickly, we’re back to multiple lanes at 70 mph.

Home safe and relatively sound, I briefly considered a little detour into our city to grab some groceries… then I saw the line of tail lights, single lane of vehicles and spattering of orange barrels down the hill. “Hell no.” I was already fending off a migraine. “We’ll eat more lentil loaf and like it!”

So today’s sojourn to order fencing supplies and catch a bite of lunch was a great test of my intuition and, I’m proud to say, we made it to each place easily, serpentining through the incoherent jumble of orange objects. Decades ago, an ex-husband said that a wise person would invest in an orange barrel business. Crikey, how clearly he predicted that!

I am profoundly grateful that we live up on the mountain, in high desert and well away from so awful much orange.

 

 

 

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Something to depend on…

That’s what the horse’s gut requires. Right now, in New Mexico, we are having some struggles with getting hay, affording hay, the quality of hay…

Since we base all the horses’ diets here on roughage and there is no pasture on this high desert, hay is our most vital component for health, for nourishment. Changing the equine diet suddenly is detrimental to gut health. The only way to avoid digestive disturbance is to have at least one consistent food given every day, religiously.

For us that was Bermuda hay. As a base it is a good choice here. It does not have to be trucked in from a great distance like Timothy and other (nicer) grass hays. It can be in front of the horses “free choice” because they will not over eat Bermuda hay. Up until recently, the quality had been outstanding, each bale the same as another with sweet aroma, soft strands of tender dry grass… our experience for several years.

Lately, we have been lucky to get bales with sticks and clods of dirt in them. We were buying our alfalfa through friends who brought it over from Arizona. The advantage to it over locally produced alfalfa hay was/is the hay is grown all year ’round and there isn’t a rush of nutrients as happens here for the first cutting in spring. Yesterday, I had to purchase 4 bales of local alfalfa for $88.00 to grind for Vega. He is worth it. But, we pulled out some pieces of plastic and I had to examine a couple of beetles (they were not blister beetles) from it. It can drive you bonkers.

We got through a relatively harsh winter on beautiful grass hay donated by loving friends! We had some giant bales (one ton bales) also partly donated, partly purchased by us. It spoiled us! The struggle to unload such big bales and to chainsaw them in to manageable “flakes” was well worth it because the quality was so high.

Of course, all of that has been fed… used up by the first of this month.

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My beautiful picture

So, now I search for a source of the beardless wheat hay I bought last spring that sustained the horses’ good health all by itself. It looks like, come May, there will some affordable beardless (touch wood). Last year, the monthly hay cost was between $1,000 and $1,200. To be able to buy enough hay for 6 months would be a wise and wonderful thing… to gather $7,000 in donations to do so has not been our reality – we’ve been excited to get enough donations on a month by month basis!

Then there is bran, linseed meal, herbs, salt, etc. etc. Not to mention the stress financially of needing X rays or dental work on one of the horses…

So, something we depend on is a grass hay that we can base the horses’ rations upon consistently, day in, day out. We depend upon donors who provide the funds to buy the hay. We depend upon each other to drive to get the feed, unload it, secure it from the weather, feed it… so far, Mark and I pay for all the petrol to do these things. Dharmahorse does not have enough money to cover it and while we barely do, we believe in this Sanctuary.

So, something we depend on, above all else is each other. And that makes everything else possible.

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Comfort Zones

We all have them – those places where we feel at ease and the places where we want to escape, run, leap, dive under to find to a better feeling.

Sometimes being forced (or choosing to step) outside of our comfort zone can grow us forward; sometimes, it frays the insulation on our nerves to a point of shorting out.

Human, equine, canine, all of us face daily comfort glitches. For horses, their comfort zone is usually a certain distance away from a scary object. As they move a bit closer, they enter a “flight zone” where they go on alert and prepare to bolt. Closer even, their “fight” zone puts adrenaline into the bloodstream and they are ready to lash out if necessary.

Thinking about it, this applies for peeps and dogs, too. We all prepare through stages to protect ourselves.

One way to expand our comfort zones and feel at ease in more situations is to condition our responses and our bodies for coping. With our horsemanship, we do exercises that increase our balance and dexterity so that we become more comfortable when faced with a riding challenge.

A Dharmahorse exercise is to ride with a round cushion on our head to refine our balance – gradually moving up through the gaits as we gain proficiency. We walk, on the ground, with a book on our head first. The soft cushion is used mounted because horses don’t appreciate books falling onto their butts! Some don’t much care for the cushion, either.

You can work on hip control and pelvic tilts by placing that book on a table, hanging over the edge a bit. When you push the book forward with your hip bones, that is the tilt used to secure you in sitting trot or at canter. It is like pushing a swing forward as a child.

If you use one hip to push the book at an angle, you are practicing the aids for canter leads and lateral movements. The main thing to remember is to keep the hips loose and flexible so you have free range of motion. The rider’s seat starts out as interfering, becomes “following” and eventually influences the horse. We must have total control of our hip movements. This actually makes us more secure and we can move from one level, one gait, one path to the next with confidence.

From Yoga to dancing to tight rope walking; anything that increases your strengths (physical, emotional and mental) will expand your comfort zone.

Be bold, be aware and push the boundaries, just a bit!

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Bring a bit of joy…

A long time ago, I was married to a man who actually was old enough to be my father. While our relationship did not work out, there were some experiences I am so pleased to have had during my time with Bob.

He could not swim. Not that he flailed around in deep water – he dropped like a rock! Many of the things most of us have been able to do were impossible for Bob. Like going to the Water Park.

One of my favorite things used to be water parks. So…. with friends in tow who had children (often necessary for a day at the water park, justification, you see), I took Bob to Wet and Wild Water World.

His super pale skinny legs in shorts, wearing flip flops and a Harley T shirt, Bob looked as uncomfortable as he must have felt. At first.

I convinced him to trust me on some small slides with shallow landing pools where I rode down ahead of him, leaped off of my tube and stood by to catch him when he landed. And catch him it was! When he dropped from the slide into the 3 foot high water, he disappeared beneath it and I grabbed under his arms and pulled him immediately up to gasp some air.

Life guards stared and signaled at me and I told them, “he can’t swim” as he laughed and grabbed his tube to go again. “I’ve got him!” I told them and they stayed alert just in case.

Bob eyed the longer, scarier slides and soon found the courage to try them. I told him to count to 20 after I went down so I could get ready to catch him in the deeper water. The entire day was one of adventure for him and I was delighted to be his “catcher”! He never got buoyant, never was able to land on his feet, but he trusted me and had so much fun.

Our only casualty that day was the top of Bob’s feet – badly sunburned they were, having never seen the sun as far as I knew.

When we love, it becomes about that well being of those we love. When we love, it does not turn on and off like a switch. If we cannot live with someone, it does not mean something is wrong with them or with us. Instead of thinking about things that did not work out (in any relationship), I try to remember the times when the best of me found its way to the situation.

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Pathways

Even when it seems like we are treading water – movement is assured in this life. As I have watched several horses pass over to the next life, assisted with a precious spirit I tried to save and listened to the grieving of others whose animals have departed, I feel honored and humbled by the beloved beings I have known

Whether for decades, years or months, the connection to another is deepened by the knowing of each others’ essence and the realization that the veils between this life and the next are thin indeed. I have known horses I will never forget. The special ones who have been rescued from dire conditions and certain death are the most memorable sometimes. The ones who tried valiantly but could not rally against the neglect and injury are the most memorable always.

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As I look toward the rest of winter and we all retreat a little bit into our personal hibernation of the spirit – using the longer nights and cooler weather to rest a bit more and meditate a little deeper – I can exhale.

So much depends upon the love and awareness we have for our animals. Their lives are literally in our hands and we must do the best we possibly can for them.

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