healing

Simple horses

There is this strange “sophistication”, a consistent “polished” look and way about the horses these days. I was looking through old photographs and papers, smiling at the memories of old competition days and the work we did preparing. Old boots shined up and well-worn… bridles that were both “at home school tack” and “show tack”… saddles polished well the night before and that one fancy saddle pad kept clean and spiffy just for the shows.

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I know riders these days whose Spanish top, zippered, posh black boots cost more than the horses I rode in my youth. And that’s okay. Times change. People have different priorities. People have more money (or so it seems).

Now, I grew up in wealth, actually! Yet, my absolute adoration of all things equine left the rest of my family cold. It wasn’t until I fell through a window (beside the entry door at my grandfather’s estate here), severed most of my hand from my arm and died in surgery, then was resuscitated that my parents decided they might ought to get a horse for me… it was worth it 😉

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My father chose a shiny, fancy young gelding over the older, plain, “bomb-proof” gelding I really should have had and the adventure began. Even with my new horse, in 1968, his presence was nowhere near the impression made by the modern mount these days!

mink and chili

I look at old photos and feel that deep pang of loss… a loss of the simplicity of just loving and bonding and struggling with horses. While I left the competitive world years ago, I watch the “horse world” around me now and wonder about what satisfaction there could be in the purchase of a made show horse, the repetition of drilled coaching, the need for extravagant clothing and equipment just to able to ride into the ring in the first place.

Do the current horse persons find that same tingle of butterflies in the tummy at midnight before leaving for the horse show while they clean tack on the living room floor? Do they laugh out loud with friends at the in gate, nervous laughter to make it easier to face the strangely complex course of fences painted in colors their horses have never seen before?

Do parents sit in the bleachers, as mine did, beaming smiles and offering words of encouragement? Or was it just that my parents were so very glad that I was even alive?

horse van at show

I feel particularly blessed to have known the “old days” of simple horsemanship; of wanting a horse so badly that I “cantered” all over the place on my two legs with such abandon that I slid across the slate entryway and through a plate glass wall… hand first, thank goodness, not head first!

I love that my Mum and Dad came on board with the whole horse thing and got us a horse van, built a barn (with their own hands) and helped me establish my own stable yard.

snookie jump

Horses. They healed me (and there was so very much to be healed). They made a life for me. And now I make their lives better, hopefully, as best I can. Since that dynamic childhood, I’ve been homeless. I have lived as a caretaker for a friend’s farm as she died of cancer. I have found a way to buy my own place in 2010, after driving home to New Mexico with everything I owned stuffed into my Jeep. And that home has now become a Sanctuary for horses in need and the people who who love them.

My favorite definition of love is:

“Love is the active promotion of the well-being of the love object” ~ E. Fromm

I love horses.

 

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Categories: healing, joy, Saving Horses, vision | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chiron

Chiron is a centaur… “the Wounded Healer”. When I did my first Vision Quest, a centaur came to me. Usually, one communes with a more “normal” animal or nature spirit.

The Vision Quest is simply being alone in Nature for a period of time to “cry” for your vision. I sat on a mountain after the death of several animals I cherished. I was feeling as if I needed to join them. I wanted to leave this life. I needed my vision. When, at night with a bright but not full moon, a being of human and equine merging appeared to me, I knew. I saw my vision as a calling to merge our worlds and our spirits – horses and humans. And to heal. To be healed and assist the healing of others.

To talk about it is difficult because it is a supremely personal experience. Yet, what I gleaned from that experience was something to share.

I had always taught gentle horsemanship and classical Dressage (NOT the kind of “Dressage” being practiced these days), but to become the centaur was a new way to see the relationships. First, I felt a need to abandon all the “let him know who’s boss”; “be the leader”; “you have to win” (and the horse loses?) rhetoric. Yet, we could not have horses walking over and through us and galloping off at will… so, I practiced my connection with my horses and taught a more integrated handling system of compassion and gentleness with enough assertive behavior to maintain safety. It worked. While I was aware that the wild Mustang needed to be approached with a kind of “morphed” horse/herd language expressed by the human – the horse who had grown up with us strange beings had a pretty good handle on what human language was all about.

And the healing, well I had been taught by the best. Herbalists and Reiki Masters and Travelers had honored me with their methods and knowledge. Horses would show me what they needed. As I studied modalities from Ayurveda to using Zeolites, I found that no one system applies in every situation. Simple was always best. Flexibility was imperative.

Chiron… I think all healers are wounded. We are wounded by loss. We are wounded by life, even wounded by love. What makes a healer rise from the devastation a wound can inflict is an awareness of things much larger than ourselves. Voices calling us to task from our own heart, singing us across the pain to see through new eyes. We become the merging of life and death, recognizing the bound relationship between the two and the truth that neither need be feared.

I am grateful for the times I was (and will be) guided by forces of Light and Love. It is truly the only way to live a life full of reason and, ultimately, joy.

Onward.

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The Special Needs Horse

The horse who is blind or losing his sight feels so very vulnerable. He must never be startled by a silent approach followed by a touch. We must talk to him in soothing tones and touch him on the neck or shoulder in a direct and comforting manner.

He should be led wearing a halter with lead shank and you keep your hand touching the cheek piece of the halter and his cheek. In this way, holding the lead in your other hand, you can direct him with a light, steady pull toward you or gentle push away to have him know to go left or right. If the ground rises, raise his head with halter and slow him while speaking to him. If the ground drops, stop him and take one slow step at a time so he can keep his footing. You may need to keep your other hand on his neck also to support him.

When grooming or massaging him, always keep a hand on his body so he knows where you are (starting at his shoulder). Leave his whiskers and feeler hairs on his face long so he can feel before he bumps his face on fences or trees and the like (we do this for ALL horses!). Remove objects he could stumble over, bump into or fall onto. Wrap pipe fences with spongy insulating foam to cushion a bump.

LOOK where you are leading him! Think ahead and prevent trouble.

equine eye

The horse who has foundered starts out with a lot of pain and even when healing well will be tender in his hooves for a long time. It is imperative that the coffin bone is supported and there are many pads available for use inside of boots or to be taped on the bottom of the hooves. In a sudden hoof crisis, I will cut a thick styrofoam cooler into a frog shaped piece that goes right on the frog and a circle that covers the bottom of the hoof (placed over the frog cover) that I duct tape in place to support the internal structures.

The foundered or Laminitic horse should be led on straight lines with huge curves to turn around – any stepping sideways can be extremely painful as the stretched laminae tear even more as the hoof rocks sideways! Therapy includes diet details, supplementation to maintain good circulation and many methods to restore the energy flow in the legs; restructuring of the hoof capsule. Hard ground, rough and uneven footing and going downhill can all be torturous for the foundered horse. Protect him.

The horse with back or hip trouble needs a large stall or pen that allows lots of room for lying down and getting up. Deep bedding helps prevent injury for the horse that must “plop” down or throw himself sideways to get up. Unless using it for therapy in healing, backing the horse up is to be avoided since it can stress the haunches and the spine.

Tendon problems need support wraps and spongy, firm ground rather than deep footing.

Bone problems need cushioned footing, no concussion, and a balanced diet (especially minerals).
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Reduce Scarring…

I saw that on a jar of ointment yesterday. It is a blend of Chinese herbs in beeswax and oils to use on burns and wounds. It got me thinking about scars. I have a few! So have most of my horses.

The funny thing about scars, they are made of tissue that is stronger (after they are set) than the original skin, muscle or bone. Physical scars make the body stronger if allowed to “do their thing”. Emotional scars can be strengthening if we see them through the eyes of a student. A student of Life.

My beautiful picture

There is no way we get through this unscathed. Life is a full spectrum. It is gentle and rough. It is great fun and it is scary. It holds us up and it knocks us down… but we have to get up again. Each time. The wound to our bum or our ego or our soul will form a scar. That scar will make us stronger if we see that spectrum of experiences through eyes of compassion. We become empathetic and compassionate when we experience this life fully. If you have never stubbed your toe, you do not wince in awareness when a friend tells you that she ran her little toe into the corner of a cabinet in the dark last night. Without experiences, we have no empathy. And paper cuts… well, just thinking about them and I can hear the sizzle of sheets through skin (I used to run printing presses!!).

If we look deeply into our pain as it is on us, we can sense the way through it. Scars will be physical and emotional and mental, but they will always make us stronger if we accept them, even honor them. Dear friends, be compassionate with yourselves!
Love is what matters.

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Yes and No

When you run a Sanctuary for horses, every day is unique… sometimes every hour! When you live in harmony with Nature (especially in the high desert), you have to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it comes to weather, finances, social interactions, relationships and goal setting.

My beautiful picture

We are up with sun, we are online into the night, we are juggling bits of money to be spread across payments that grow exponentially. We see the shining stars every night with barn checks and we fall into bed having missed a bath or a shower 4 days in a row…

Then we wake to gentle rain and the scent of suppressed dust in the paddocks, soft nickers wanting breakfast and a stillness on the stable yard that gifts us a day of introspection and rest.

My beautiful picture

New volunteers often say they don’t know how we do it, day in, day out… old students remark about the changes in the past couple of years that leave us all spellbound. Visitors ask if this was what I had always wanted to do…

Yes… and no.

I had wanted to live in Australia when I was young. I had wanted to raise half Thoroughbred show ponies when I was a teenager. I had wanted to operate a school of gentle, classical horsemanship paired with dance when I was in my twenties. In my thirties, I wanted to write novels. All my life I wanted to grow my own medicines for my family… all my life I wanted to be cherished, just as all beings do.

This Sanctuary, here in the New Mexico high desert, in the middle of a winter rain, warm and drenching; this is a huge YES. The “no” part is that I did not realize in my youth how important this life would be.

A mentor of mine when I was young, Mr. Charles deKunffy, wrote a note to me decades ago. It said, “Kathy, out of great dedication grow fine things. YOU will contribute to the equestrian arts”. No kidding!! THAT motivated me to push on when I was exhausted or discouraged. THAT made me push on when my hand(s) couldn’t even lift a coffee cup. THAT made me push past the mental whiplash inflicted by an alcoholic father and the degradation of molestation. A simple declaration of one’s worth by an admired teacher can be the difference between life and not living.

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So, I contribute; in ways I hadn’t realized would be my destiny. I have my connection to Australia that I now realize was a deep song in my heart. I have taught thousands of students, owned hundreds of horses, schooled hundreds more and stood by another hundred as they passed over… knowing that someone loved them, even though it was only me. I have healed and nourished and held more horses than I can count. Charles was correct… I was and am dedicated. I care.

And the horses here, a jumbled up group of almost every breed and age and background that one can imagine, these horses are the story to be told. Their stories. Colliding with humans, dancing with humans, fearing and respecting and loving humans they know us on levels we don’t know ourselves. I hope they know that I love them. Totally.

Am I pleased with direction this life of mine has taken? Yes. Just yes.

 

 

Categories: healing, Horse Training, Relax, Saving Horses | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Smelly Things

equine eye

I have a notebook from the 99cent store that says on its cover, “REFINDLY MADE FOR THE SUCCESS OF YOUR OUTSTANDING CAUSE”, just like that all in caps and with two strawberries (I think they’re berries…) to the left. I found it the other day trying to reorganize the office. Three pages in, I had written “Smelly Things” and listed, with bullet points, things that smell.

And, just a couple of days ago, a friend had her dog at the Veterinarian. Her young dog had been vomiting and had loose bowels; the Tech asked her wait outside, that it might be Parvo (it was not).

Yesterday, we had the equine dentist here floating teeth. He stopped a few times to smell the saliva on his hands for infection (I do that, too). I’ve been smelling LungTa’s (the Irish Draft horse) hoof with the abscess and finding the exudate to stink less and less.

All of these things have pointed me toward writing something about odors and their markers, so I decided to do so here. Most of us probably do a lot of discernment through our olfactory observations. I find myself to be quite sensitive to aromas… except perhaps the glorious smell of horses that others comment upon when arriving at the stable yard! Or the scent of Patchouli oil that I use making my own deodorant (apparently, I’ve gone nose numb to patchouli and must be reminded by others when I start adding too much).

I had a wonderful Vet named Skip who was also a friend. He has retired, but he often diagnosed firstly by scent. He and I could definitely smell Paro Virus (I learned it from years of Teching at an animal hospital and then when raising English Setters). He knew that cancer had a scent (there are dogs who can smell cancer, they say). I learned that particular marker, unfortunately, through the decades of rehabilitating horses.

Necrosis in wounds has a marker – the smell is probably familiar to most. And it is not host specific… people, dogs, cows, etc. as well as horses will have that similar stench when a wound goes septic.

My beautiful picture

That first whiff of stink can help us get to better treatment quickly, before the systemic infection sets in and the animal spikes a fever.

I am fully aware that this topic is not one to peruse over breakfast or share with a squeamish young daughter, but it is a subject worth noting because there are some life saving possibilities tied to the ability to denote subtle smells around us.

The horse’s poo can give us valuable insight into his health and the condition of his digestion. Beyond just the look and consistency (which, mind you, are vitally important), the odor from a bowel movement will have volumes to say. If the odor is sour and pungent, the horse likely needs probiotics. If it is a “meaty” smell, the diet should be checked and activated charcoal fed to detox the gut (there could be animal products in the feed or digestion is slowed or the gut has become permeable to the horse’s own blood). A sulfur smell can point to hind gut motility changes or simply come from sulfur rich herbs being fed (or MSM supplements).

Urine odor has its own story to tell. The stronger it smells, the more likely it is that the horse is not drinking enough water.

The horse’s sweat odor can have markers we should be attentive about. A stinky, urine-like smell can actually be tied to the kidneys not filtering properly. A sweet odor can be a warning about other organs and a foamy, thick sweat that smells like manure can signal dehydration’s arrival. This can indicate the need of electrolytes or even just salt deprivation (horses need free choice plain salt year round).

If the horse’s breath smells sweet and like a meadow, he probably has a healthy mouth. If there is any sour, foul or fermented smell; infection, improper mastication of food or injury could be present. These observations serve us, not so much as diagnostic tools, but as a pre-signal, a warning that we need to pursue a diagnosis. Catching a malady early can reduce damage, make treatment simpler and sometimes, save a life.

I have a whole detailed analysis of my own perspective about smells (with bullet points!). It is useful for me as a reminder to stay aware and I was so pleased to discover that I had not thrown it away. And the opportunity to chat on about the topic here just might help someone who is thinking, “Crikey, what’s that smell?” It is a message. Indeed it is.

 

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Being Fully Present

A long while back we harnessed our pony, Andy, hooked him up to the cart and taught some driving lessons at Dharmahorse. It was a great day for doing this since our earliest student could not make her lesson and it gave me the chance to take our late morning student on a brief drive around the property just for fun.
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The lessons on driving went well and when my young student arrived early, we just popped on her helmet and sat her beside me in the cart. What happened next was so interesting to me! She had never ridden in a pony cart. She was thrilled to do so, but she talked the entire time. I realized that she would never remember the look of Andy’s cute little bottom swinging with his stride as we rolled along. She will not someday think, “wow, I know what breeching and a crupper look like” or “the pony wears blinkers to keep his attention forward” – No, she was never fully present in that cart and I’m certain that years in the future, should someone ask if she has ever ridden in a horse drawn cart, her answer will be “no”.

It really was that disconnected. Now, sometimes we disconnect out of fear or anxiety about a situation. That is me on a roller coaster; just hurry and get me off of the bloody thing. Sometimes our mind is chattering so much that our focus is unclear or distorted. Often, we are just in the habit of being scattered.

So, like my young student, I know that I can hold myself separate from my experiences if I forget to focus and be fully present in the moment. Often, I have too many things on my mind. I have to know how each horse is feeling and what each student needs and match riders to horses for the benefit of both – while remembering to check on my brother and soak the food for the dogs and pay the water bill and move hay up for supper and get the dumpster out for the truck, and, and, and… you get the picture. It is something we all do.

I think of this series of mind checks and balances as a kind of lack of trust. As if I do not trust myself to remember what needs to be done, I constantly review and often chastise myself for any daydreaming or simple useless conversations. My, my… it is harder to release yourself from your own authority than it is to slip away from the domination of another. Just to relax is priceless and it is the foundation of being fully present in the moment. One must relax.

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Running on the bottom of the tank

Several years ago, I had an art studio in Tubac, Arizona. Across the courtyard from my place in “The Tower” was another artist, Linda. She and I both drove Jeeps.

Artist Complex

Linda kept her gas tank full all the time (back then, gas had climbed to over $5.00 a gallon there!) by filling it each time it got down to 3/4 of a tank. I frantically, holding my breath, made it to the gas station as the gauge read empty and put in 1/4 of a tank’s worth each time… we were spending the same amount of money, but I was in a constant hyper-vigilant state, living in limitation and fear (as far as the petrol was concerned!).

Tower Studio, Tubac

I was running on the bottom of my gas tank. In doing so, I created misery for myself (all through that part of Arizona are long stretches with no gas stations) when a simple solution, obvious but ignored, would have given me peace of mind. I could have filled my gas tank to the brim when a painting sold and adopted Linda’s practice of keeping the darn thing full!

I see this situation unfold in other strange ways in my life now. I was letting dishes gather in the sink to be washed because I “had no time”, but I did have to make time eventually to wash them. My solution now is to unload clean dishes from the dishwasher the moment they are done and place the dirty dishes as they are dirtied into the dishwasher immediately. Now, I’ve not had a working dishwasher until this home, so my appreciation for this is great.

What may seem so simply obvious can become overlooked and unknown when a person (especially a horse person) crams 24 hours worth of work and projects into 12 hours! Yet, I think about Linda a lot.

What would Linda do? I have asked myself – about laundry piled beside the full hamper; the full trash cans and it is cold and dark outside (to take them to the dumpster); the empty toilet paper rolls, dust bunnies in the corners, houseplants wilting, nose prints on the storm door (canine) – would she walk by and intend to address these later. I think she would just do what she saw needed to be done. And, unless it interferes with a lesson I have to teach, I just do what I see needs to be done now, too.

I remember being more like Linda in my past. I was organized and focused and had a great deal of confidence. I now remind myself (and am reminding you) that – if I can do something once, I can do it a hundred times – if you can trot one twenty meter circle, you can trot a hundred of ’em!

And, if you are feeling overwhelmed or disorganized, think, “What would Linda do?” It’s working for me.

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Falling…

We “fall” in love, we fall off of horses, we can “fall” into a situation, we are often falling for something that isn’t as it appears.

We are falling. (Tom Petty & “Free Falling” is now in my head!)

So falling has really good and really not so good implications. I recently had a student, who is a friend I care very much about, take a fall from one of the horses. It was no one’s fault. It was a series of circumstances that set the situation into motion too quickly. She was not harmed, but it hurt! And I know her confidence was shaken. It happens to each of us who ride horses. Sometimes we fall. But we hope fervently that those we instruct can be spared the experience. They cannot. And it isn’t fair to believe that not falling will build their confidence. Sometimes, it needs to happen to allow the student to move forward and let go of the dread – the wondering what it will be like. With helmets, safety stirrups and constant attention to the footing (soft place to land), I hope to set my students up for a protected ride and even a protected fall should it happen. That is common sense.

I know of horsemen and horsewomen who choose not to wear helmets when riding – I even used to be one! In the old days the “standard” was: riders under 18 years of age had to wear helmets, anyone jumping had to wear a helmet. I adhered to it in my schools. Now, no one rides at all at Dharmahorse without a proper helmet (all ages, all types of riding). Still there are gurus of horsemanship who even jump horses sans head protection and encourage others to choose that “freedom”. I don’t get it. When I see a precious student come off of a horse, I can at least know their brain is safe! There may be “road rash”, bruises, aches and pains – but a protected head means they will still be thinking and functioning – to be blunt.

Now, falling in love can be just as startling as falling off a horse! Loving another human is its own world – loving an animal, well, that is a gift and an honor that can expand into deep love for an entire species. I feel such love and admiration for each of these horses! They work so hard to help people and try so hard to understand the students who do not yet have control of their bodies and the signals they give! It is all a journey we take together. We just want to find rapport and be cherished – no matter our species.

Falling into a situation denotes something good has happened without effort or focus. I often find that, when people say “she just fell into that good fortune”, no one is aware of the work and attention that it took to “fall”! I firmly believe that the good stuff is attracted to us when we put our attention on it. It is a disciplined way of thinking and acting in life that creates the energy of the situation that manifests. Falling into it may happen, but the landing pad was likely being prepared well ahead of time.

And falling for something holds the image of being deceived or manipulated. “I can’t believe he fell for that!” is often the judgment leveled. We’ve all believed something we later found to be false or misrepresented – the best way to look at these experiences is as learning opportunities. And for me, a negative outcome strengthens my resolve – I hate the feeling of “I knew better” than to do something! No one ever gets me to agree to anything over the phone. I no longer give my power away to others to make them feel better.

So, falling asleep is good! Falling all over someone probably isn’t good. Falling through the cracks could go either way. Tonight, I’m thinking about all the beings I’ve fallen in love with so far in my life and I do not regret a single one. I’m thinking about all the falls I’ve had from horses… those I do regret to a degree, but I learned so much each time. And to all who read this, I strongly suggest that, if you ride horses, you wear a helmet. If you fall in love, I salute you! Love holds the world together, love heals us. My life is now more filled with love than it has ever been!

wedding7

At Dharmahorse tonight we are getting ready for sleep with little solar lights that look like stars sprinkled about the stable yard. Our weather has been odd, but this day was pleasant and I had the honor of bringing people and horses together to love and delight in each other. This is a good life. The love of my lives sits nearby, sharing this simple, joy filled time. I think I’m falling in love with this new, good life! “Free falling……….”

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In the presence of horses…

Time spent with horses is always time well spent. I remember my own childhood with horses and even when things went “wrong” for me and I was frustrated or angry – the horses taught me how totally nonproductive that was! As I work with new and young students in Horsemanship, I see how it takes them a while after first arriving, to settle and connect deeply not only with the horses, but with their own feelings and needs.

There is a great deal more to our Horsemanship than just riding. Being in the presence of horses helps us see our own issues in a new light. We can process problems while cleaning hooves and the horse will tell us if we are congruent or not – if he feels safe lifting a hoof for us; if he feels that we are clear and assertive; if he feels that we care or just do not!

Darj and Katharine

Our relationship with a horse is like a dance. It is based upon communication and mutual concern for the other. “Love is the active promotion of the well being of the love object” (E. Fromm) When we learn how to love a horse, we learn how to love. When we learn how to communicate with a horse, we are more clear in our communications with other people.

Horses need to know when they are successful and are pleasing us. We often let them know when they are “wrong”, but forget to tell them when they are “right”…

Categories: healing, Horse Training, Saving Horses | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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