I feel him looking at me as I walk to another horse to deliver his breakfast. I turn to him and meet his eyes. There is a gleam there it’s welcoming, and full of light. I’m drawn to him. I walk over to his stall, hesitate, and then slowly lower my hand to the spot between his eyes. I stand there a moment and lower my head to his. “Hey little man,” I whisper, “today we can ride.” I step away so I can open his stall door and take him out to his pasture after his morning meal. A few hours later, chores are finished, I’ve spent time giving a lesson and riding Sassy and now it’s time to go get Buzz. I feel an excited flutter in my stomach as I head to the barn to get a halter for him. I head up to his pasture and let my mind settle on him. I let my intention and energy go out ahead of me as I walk out towards him. I see him from a distance, he’s at the bale with his herd. My stomach flutters again, my pace increases and I find myself excited for this moment. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to ride him and I feel like a little girl again. I hop over the little creek and come up the incline towards his bale, he lifts his head and I see the look in his eye. The open warmth, the twinkle and in an instant I’m pulled back in time. I see Dunny, the first horse I ever gave my heart to in front of me, the anticipation and love I feel in that moment is pure, young, and hopeful. I’m 9 years old again and he’s right there, I can almost touch him. Then I blink and the illusion of Dunny is gone, but in front of me stands Buzz. The twinkle in his eye is still there, and he feels as adventurous as I do. My heart sings as I gently halter him. We walk up to the barn, I feel his energy through the lead rope, his footsteps match mine and we are one as we walk back to the barn. My stomach is still fluttering as I saddle him up and as I offer the bridle he leans forward and takes the bit from my hand. I look at his eyes, they search mine and our souls touch. We stand together for awhile. Eventually I lead him to the mounting block and swing up, my mind reaches towards him, I feel his energy come up through the reins and it’s right there waiting for me. Everything else falls away as our energy blends together and we move off as one.
Last Wednesday our governor issued a shelter at home edict for all activities that are non-essential. We all knew it was coming, but when the words were finally spoken, my heart began to race, and I knew I had to let my boarders know they couldn’t come out. How do I do such a thing, tell them they can’t see their trusted horses who are their companions and trusted friends? Hanging out with their horses gives them a sense of tranquility, of enjoying shared space with another being that is gracious and forgiving. The barn is the one place that feels uncontaminated by the virus that is attacking our world. But then again, the feeling of security is being yanked away from us because now the experts have determined the virus lives on pretty much everything that the infected person comes into contact with. And to make matters worse, an infected person doesn’t always feel sick as they spread the virus around like a wildfire. I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie for the end of the earth. Anybody else?
Wednesday night was long. I agonized over how to let everyone know. I drafted several emails until I finally had one that spoke from my heart and pressed send and exhaled. The few responses I got were very kind and supportive. We had two days before the edict would go into effect. All the boarders came out to groom, ride, and love on their horses and say goodbye for the next two weeks while I hid in the house because in here my daughter is in the high risk category and I cannot risk carrying the virus to her. I know there were tears as they left and I understand. I would be crying too, it’s not just the saying goodbye to our horses for two weeks, I think a lot of it is because this is one more thing that this awful virus is taking away from us. Just one-more-thing……….
I’m alone now here at the barn. Saturday was my first day, and I could hardly get out there. I was so down and hurting for everyone that I had to call my mom. My poor mother, she answers the phone and I was already sobbing that I couldn’t do it. It felt like I was breaking so many hearts and I wasn’t ready. Of course being the woman she is, she got me turned around and I was able to pull myself together and head out to the barn. The geldings were up and ready for breakfast and I peeked into the pasture to see who was at the gate. It was Jethro, so I went into the barn and made up his breakfast and put it in the stall. I walked out and he was waiting for me, he gently put his head in the halter and quietly followed me to the stall where he immediately got to work on his meal. The next horse I wanted to bring in was Sisco, I thought about him, pictured him in my mind as I made up his breakfast, when I went to his pasture he was standing at the gate saying hello. The whole morning went like that. It felt like they knew something was happening and they chose to make it easier for me. There was no fighting at the gate, no rushing me to their stalls, and no kicking out at each other while in their stalls. There was quiet communication happening all the time and the hush went from feeling claustrophobic to feeling calm and gentle. I’m starting to appreciate the hush, to welcome it and the gentle, quiet communication from the herd. I hope we all get through to the other side of this pandemic and maybe also learn how to appreciate the hush and the quiet slowing down of our lives.
Today he’s quieter in the pasture, down the hill a bit and away from the gate when I go out to get him. He sees me coming and yawns, I lift the halter and lead rope up and slip the halter over his face. He is quieter than yesterday but still not totally relaxed. He walks behind me, giving me more space, I like that. It doesn’t feel like he’s going to run over me or clip my heels.
We go through the barn door and I feel his anxiety go up and he crowds me. I step away and gently send him in a circle until he is behind me and I walk on with him at a comfortable distance away. We go into the arena and I unclip his lead rope. He stands a minute then steps over to me, again he crowds me. It feels like he wants reassurance, but I want him to feel comfortable enough in his own space. I walk away and he snorts at the hula hoop as we pass, I circle it with him right on my heels, his head is so close I feel his breath, I quietly change direction and circle the other way, he quiets a bit in the circle and I feel him slow down enough to give me space.
We walk on, he in his own space, me in mine. I like it this way, it feels like we are two friends enjoying each other’s company. Not like I’m protecting him or consoling him, but like we are just walking together and experiencing the same things. We circle around the barrels, then around the hula hoops and mounting blocks. There are times he snorts and scoots into my space, and other times he stays in his space and we move together without the need to reassure each other.
He drops his head and walks away from me, he is curious about the smells in the sand and he notices the dogs. He becomes curious about Gunner and they actually sniff each other. He then walks away, he steps into his own space and explores the sand, the barrels next to him, and then takes in a deep breath. A horse in the barn bangs his bucket which startles him again, his eyes widen, his head pops up, and he comes into my space. I back away from him a little and he stops. He looks at me, I see the worry in his eyes and body and I quietly say his name, I open my heart and send out support, my heart whispers “I’m here, I won’t leave you, I will protect you. We are ok”. I ask to come into his space. I allow my energy to come into my hands and ask if he wants energy work. His eyes blink, and he visibly relaxed. I come into his space, my hands are warm with energy, I feel them heating up and am amazed at how God does this through me as I barely touch his hair and run my hands along his body. He starts to blink and it’s slow, his eyes lose their anxious look and his head comes down. He works his mouth a bit and I think he is going to yawn, but he doesn’t, he moves away instead and I step away as well. He leaves my space again and explores the area around us. I step over and away from him. I walk towards the other end of the arena. I hear him follow but he’s not so close that it feels like his trying to jump in my skin. I step sideways and circle back around him. He circles as well, his head drops and he makes a tighter circle. His nose is touching the ground and he is sniffing the sand. His legs buckle and he lays down and rolls.
I smile at him and my heart says, “good job little man, you’re doing it. You’re going to be okay, I love you and I am thankful for you”. He stands up from his roll and shakes like a big dog. He looks over at me and I know what he wants, it’s very clear. If he was a person he would say, “I’m hungry, where is my breakfast?”. He makes me laugh and I head out of the arena and get his meal.
I feed Buzz and turn him out. I know his journey back from his fear isn’t over, there will be days of healing and days it doesn’t feel as good, but he is on his way. I just know it.
He has become afraid. I feel it when I put his halter on, when I lead him to the barn, and even when I feed him his morning supplements. He feels like a coiled spring as I lead him into the barn, if I stop he runs into me because he walks so close. I ask him to back up, but he scoots right up next to me as I continue our walk into the barn. He even will keep walking and knock me into the gate if I don’t stay aware of where he is at all times. If I ask him to back off with too much energy he dances around and snorts. He is ready to explode.
I’m not sure where this fear, or anxiety is coming from. Is it because I was using him in lessons and at times his students react with fear when he moves too fast? Did something happen in the pasture? Was it the time I picked up the hula hoop and he jumped back in fear as I rolled it away? I guess it doesn’t really matter what started the fear, I just need to find a way to help him.
Yesterday I led him into the barn and he literally felt like a pot ready to boil over. I lead him into the stall for his feed and he lost it. He pawed the stall door, reared up, and then I knew. He needs me now, this cannot wait until it gets warmer. It is time to help him get to the bottom of this fear. I walked him out to his pasture again to give him some time to settle down, and allow me to work on the morning chores a little bit. I talk to Joanie and Kristin and let them know I can’t let it go anymore and need to work with him and they agree to finish up chores.
I enter the pasture again, and see him there. There is confusion in his eyes, and fear. He is on high alert. His body is rigid, he is holding his breath, and his head is as high as he can get it. I slow my pace down, slow my breathing down, and approach him quietly and allow him to hear my breath enter and leave my body in a regular rhythm. He blinks a little and his head comes down just enough for me to slip the halter on his face. We walk to the barn, and he is almost on top of me, and is snorting with every breath. I feel the anxiety rolling off of him and my heart beat accelerates to match his. Poor little man, I think as I try to control my heartrate and breathe as deep as I can, hoping his heartrate and breathing syncs to mine. I turn him loose in the indoor and he takes off. He is scared. The barrels are set up in a pattern we were using for lessons, the hula hoops are out as well with some ground poles and the mounting block. He appears to be afraid of it all. He gallops a few laps, then slows to a trot. He still is blowing and his head is held high. I leave him in there for a bit, just to see if he can work things out on his own, and I return to doing chores. He can’t settle though and he comes to the fence with his eyes opened wide and presses against the gate. I need to help him, so I slip in the arena with him. I figure he needs to move his feet to release some of the tension that is built up in his body. I can see the energy bottled up in him, the tension can be felt from across the arena. In my mind Mark Rashid’s words come to me about resetting the horse, get them to canter until they start breathing, then they shake like a big dog, and release all the tension, and reset their nervous system. But, I am afraid to attempt that. The temps are in the teens and will be falling to below zero by nightfall. I don’t want him to get overheated when it’s so cold, I will never get him dry enough to be turned out. So I decide to try my own experiment.
It seems as though he does need to move, so I twirl the lead rope a little bit and he takes off like a rocket, tail pumping up and down, head up, nostrils flaring, and snorting. His legs move like pistons and his hooves dig deep into the sand. They are moving so fast he kicks sand up against the arena which makes a racket, and scares him a little more. After a couple laps he slows to the trot, still snorting, still swinging his head one way and the other as it’s lifted as high as he can get it. He glances at me and I step away from him. He slows his trot a bit more and his head comes down, I step further away from him, giving him space to release a little more, and he does. His head comes down, even with his withers and he licks his lips a bit. I step away a little more and then to the side to change his direction. He turns around and trots off, but he notices the hula hoop on the ground, he snorts and veers towards me at the other end of the arena. I quietly move my body and direct him back the other way again. He moves toward the hula hoop, sees it and veers at me again, I use my body position to direct him back the other way again. We do this a few more times and then I decide to try to ask him to weave through the barrels. I look where I want him to go, feel back towards him and ask him to move through the barrels by feeling him already going through them.
He follows my thoughts and does as I ask. I see out of the corner of my eye his head lower and some relaxation in his body. I begin to feel everything I want him to do, and he does it. We weave through the barrels, circle around, weave back, circle again, go towards the hula hoops, circle back. I step over to him, and physically become his leader, he starts to follow me, we circle around the barrels one way, circle back. There are times he slows down and sniffs the barrels, I stop with him and breathe. We move off again, circle the hula hoops, and then back to the barrels, then around, and around again. I lead him back to the hula hoops, we circle them. I’m noticing as we circle them he starts to relax, there is licking of his lips and a few times he chews. I walk in more circles and he relaxes a bit more. He reaches out and sniffs the hula hoops, he sniffs the mounting block and I feel calmness in him. It’s a good feeling and I smile. I walk to him and ask if he wants me to run his energy. He allows me to reach my hand up to the base of his ear and I start running his bladder meridian. He likes it and accepts my energy. His head lowers almost to the ground, as I reach his hocks he yawns and releases. I feel his calmness and my heart relaxes. I leave him there and get his supplements and he eats in peace.
He was nervous again this morning. I know this will take time, and every morning I will probably have dance with him. That’s what it started to feel like yesterday. A dance that weaves us through the places of anxiety. We feel the nervousness come up and do a circle around it. It doesn’t feel so scary when you can walk around the anxiety. The circles seems to unwind the fear, and make it smaller.
Buzz seems to like the circles, I do as well. They calm us, and help us redirect our thoughts, the circles feel loose, round, and soft. They ease us away from the straight lines and hard corners of our fears. Today Buzz and I weaved and circled again.
He didn’t want energy work, but today he rolled. He felt comfortable enough to roll, in the arena, among the barrels, with a hula hoops as our witness. You see, I don’t think it was the hula hoops, the barrels, or the mounting block. I think it was in him, something happened that made him afraid and he put that fear onto something he could see, touch, and circle. I think he is on his way to losing the fear, and I hope I can help him by staying open and letting me see what he needs. I look forward to tomorrow to see what he will show me, and I am honored he is allowing me to help him round up his fears and let them go.
I approached her, she seemed open but unsure. She was moving at the end of her rope, turning, twisting, stepping, then moving over and doing it again from the other side. She tossed her head. I approached her and she sighed and relaxed, but her energy was humming. A totally different energy than what she’s had before. I’ve noticed she seems more energetic, open, curious, and well…. she seems more alive. At this point I have some feeling of guilt,. For you see, she’s been my horse on and off for the past 10 years. Nora has been one of the cornerstone horses in my lesson program. You probably have met her type, she’s the horse I can put anyone on, she’s steady, prefers to stop over going, the one that allows the beginners some leeway, and for that more advanced rider, she cuts them no slack. I’ve seen her reduce students to tears of frustration and lift them up until they have tears of elation. I tried to sell my Nora girl, but it didn’t work out. She made it clear she didn’t want to leave and I thank God that Katie was sensitive enough to realize that and open my eyes to what Nora was feeling.
So now, she’s mine. She’s all mine, no one else’s. I’ve found that I’m selfish where she is concerned. I dream of her, I can close my eyes right here at my desk and feel her soft coat, see her eyes, smell her wonderful horse smell, and feel my love for her open my heart in gratitude for all she’s given me. She’s taught me how to teach, she’s given me Sassy, and she’s given me her bubbles. But today, today she gave me another a gift. The gift of seeing her become something new. She is open to herself, I saw her exploring the sensation of being tied up, the movement back and forth, the testing of the boundries. In the barn she responded to grooming like a colt would. She startled at first, then trusted me enough to settle down, but then pushed on my boundries to see where they were. There was an opening in her I never felt before, it was as though she was enjoying just learning. I know I’m making her seem human, but that’s how it felt. It made me a little giddy, but then as I realized my student wasn’t going to ride and I didn’t have to teach, I found myself feeling a little lost. It’s been so long since its been just me and my horse, I was unsure what to do. I looked at Nora, she looked at me, and I swear a bubble of anxiety came up in both of us. What do we do? How do we be human and horse together without teaching? Then a lightness came in, I felt like that little horse crazy girl again. I untied her and walked into the arena. She literally was dancing besides me! Nora! Dancing, I’ve never felt her light like this before, on her toes with a sparkle in her eye. Where was the calm, quiet, shut down horse I was used to seeing? I turned to Kim and Kristin who were watching me and I said “She’s so open!” We went into the arena together, side by side, her dancing on her toes and me, trying to dance with her. I found myself trotting next to her, weaving between the barrels set up in the arena as laughter bubbled up inside of me. I had to slow down and she continued to dance around me until I caught my breath enough to do it again. We danced together, Nora and I. I had tears of joy on my face and she had joy in her heart. As I turned her out with her herd, she turned to me, dipped her muzzle down to my hand to say goodbye then she danced off to her herd. I can’t wait to see who we both become as we go onto this next journey together.
She was born 10 years ago, just 10 short years ago. She had what would be called an amazing pedigree, but I’m not so sure. She had Bey El Bey and Huckleberry Bey in her lines, but she also had Affirmed, Magnum Psyche, and Padron there too. I’m not sure, did her breeding cause her to have demons, or was it just who she was?
I met Tefah when she was a year old, she took my breath away with her perfection and her beauty. I mean, right? She was bred to take your breath away. Her lines spoke of beauty in the halter world, that’s what her grandsire and great grandsire were bred to do, just be pretty and be dammed about how they felt on the inside. They are stallions bred to be afraid in the show ring because that’s what the people in the audience want. Right? Bring them in, terrify them and call their terror beauty because it makes them run for their lives in fear with their tail flagged, high stepping, and head held high in the air as they look for a way out. Cool Huh?
Do I sound angry, you bet I am. I bought Tefah when she was just a year old, she had started training as a halter horse. She was beautiful, but terrified. My first glimpse of her was seeing her rear up over the stall door over and over again. She was just a baby, and she was scared. Couldn’t anyone see that? She touched my heart and I bought her right there.
When we got her home, I put her in the round pen where she ran lap after lap. Head up in the air, nostrils flared, and scared, so scared, the audience would love that, wouldn’t they? It took me several days of sitting with her to get her to trust me enough to come to me and be haltered. Once she realized I wasn’t going to scare her, she relaxed a bit and I turned her out and she was quickly integrated into the herd. JJ accepted her almost right away and took her under his wing to join Sassy who became her friend and big sister. Sassy was 2 at the time and I enjoyed watching them playing together. I dreamed of the day that I would ride them, they would be “my girls” and we would explore the world together.
I noticed a few differences between my girls though. Tefah worried about a lot of things. She was afraid of changes on the ground, lead ropes, of being tied. One day she would be fine, the next day something would trigger her, and she would pull back and flip over. We quit tying her up when we brought her in, but she continued to pull and scramble back if I put her anywhere other than the end of the barn by the back door.
At the age of two I started her under saddle training. But she didn’t respond well. One day she would lunge beautifully, the next day she would lose her mind and rear, snort, and generally be afraid of anything on the ground. A puddle, or a wet spot in the arena would set her off, a shadow or a ground pole would guarantee a backward rush, head shaking, snorting and trembling. So, I kicked her back out into the herd to let her just be for another year. When she was 3, I started her again, with the same results. Yes, there were days, and sometimes weeks where she went along with the training, I could see her intelligence and her desire to learn and be with me, but other times she was terrified. Her energy would shoot out in all directions at once. She couldn’t walk forward under saddle or while ground driving without feeling like she would explode. Once again, I stopped and turned her out. This process was repeated again when she was 4,5,6,7, and 8. There were times her training progressed, and we did well together. On those days I wasn’t sure where I ended, and she began. Reins and leg aides weren’t even needed, and we would end those rides with smiles in our hearts. I just couldn’t believe how easily she connected with me. But other times the demon would come, I don’t know how to describe what would happen to her other than it was like seeing something become possessed. Her eyes would open to their widest point, her breath would whistle, her body would tremble, and she really did not seem to know who she was, what she was doing, or where she was. I’ve seen her take off in terror and run blindly over chairs, the mounting block, and anything in her path, stopping only when blood was streaming from her nostrils and from the cuts on her legs from running over things. I thought what is this? What am I doing wrong? I called in people to help me. Chiropractors, other trainers, veterinarians, body workers, more chiropractors, cranial sacral workers, animal communicators, and sent her off for training. I’ve given her supplements, herbs, and essential oils. I tried magnesium to help her brain, I had a saddle built for her just in case it was the saddles fault. I knew this was more than a trust thing. I was losing her; I was seeing less of my “baby girl” and more of the demons. I sent her to a dear friend to see if she could find a way to her. But the demons followed Tefah there, she attacked the other horses, pulled back when she was tied, and she struggled. My friend did make progress, and after two months I came to ride her and bring her home. Under saddle she seemed calmer, my friend had explained things to her better than I had and it felt like she was more available, but I could still feel the demon lurking and I have to tell you, I was afraid it was still there. We had a 6-hour drive to bring her home, and hour into the drive Tefah lost her mind. The trailer started bucking, jumping, and swaying from side to side. I’ve never felt anything like that. I found a country road and we pulled off. Joanie was with me and we looked inside. Tefah was standing there with terror filled eyes, kicking over and over again. And she was kicking hard. We talked to her; it didn’t help. There terror wouldn’t leave. I walked to the back of the trailer and touched the door, she kicked it so hard she bruised my hand. I looked over at Joanie and said, “we can’t open the door, we can’t help her!”. I didn’t know what to do, the blood had started to fly from cuts in her legs, but if I opened the door I was afraid she would run us over and run herself to death, or into traffic where she would die and possibly kill others. So, Joanie and I jumped into the truck and just started driving. Tefah kicked like that for an hour, when she finally stopped, we pulled over at a gas station to see her. Blood was splattered all over the interior of the trailer. The trailer was dented in several places. Her lead rope was hanging, the partition was now on the floor and her hay net was under it. We checked the wounds on her legs and were thankful they had quit bleeding. She was exhausted and standing quietly. I called Anoka Equine and the vet on call agreed we shouldn’t try to open the door or take her out, just get home and she would meet us at the farm. We pulled into the driveway under the cover of darkness. Everything seemed dark, including me, Tefah, and the night. The sadness was overwhelming, along with terrible guilt, and doubt. We had to use a crowbar to open the trailer door, the interior of the trailer looked like a murder scene, and Tefah looked exhausted, weak, scared, and helpless. The vet did a wonderful job stitching her up and Tefah’s wound healed, but both her heart and mine were left bleeding.
As she healed physically, I spent more time with her. When she was up to it, I started working with her, but I knew I would never ride her again. I tried to connect with her, to feel what she was feeling, but she locked me out. It felt like her brain was deteriorating and I couldn’t stop it. Was her brain deformed? Was her brain damaged because of head injuries related to her terror? Was it because of her halter bloodlines? I just didn’t know, and I probably will never know.
I’ve noticed Tefah isn’t there anymore, she doesn’t relax, her eyes don’t soften, and she holds her breath. The other horses must notice it because they have sent her out of the herd. She’s lonely out there, alone and afraid. I talked to my vet and discussed what has been happening to her, the two of us agreed we should set her free.
Yesterday, we did let her go. It was one of the most painful things I have ever done. As she left this world, I felt her anguish, she never has let me feel that and it overwhelmed me. I fell to my knees at her side and let the anguish was over me, then there was a feeling of peace. When I felt her beautiful soul leave this world, I was able to lay next to her and hug her like I’ve always wanted to, and I felt her peace. Rest well my baby girl. I wish I had been stronger than your demons, but I wasn’t and I’m sorry. You will always be in my heart and thank you for that last hug and for finally letting me feel your pain. I’m sorry you felt like you had to hide that from me. I would have let you go sooner if I had known. I know you were a good, good horse and I hope you feel healed and free as you run with JJ. I just know the two of you are together. I can’t wait to see you, and to hug you again someday. I love you baby girl. I always will carry you in my heart.
It’s time to sell my partners, my friends, my lesson horses. Those of you that know me know that I’m not good at this. Its easy for me to buy a horse, but the idea of selling them makes my stomach roll.
I have Chance for sale, he is our sweet, gentle, beautiful, young, little Morgan gelding. He loves me, I feel it every time I’m with him, and he has only been here a year. He settles the front pasture, they follow him and he leads with gentle assurance. I restarted him under saddle and as he learned he became soft and relaxed. He came here so wound up he jumped over the mounting block the first time he saw it! He’s young, this little guy, but so eager to learn. He loves people and will spend the whole day with us in the barn if we let him. I have never been around a horse that likes to snuggle like he does. He has given us his whole heart and his trust and I never want to let that go.
Then there is Cherry, our teacher, she’s our middle aged girl, she has taught more people than I can count, and I trust her with both my smallest riders and my more advanced riders. She’s my go to horse in all things. When people come to visit they ride Cherry, she’s patient, she’s sweet, and she is gentle. Cherry has taught me how to listen, to pay attention to the little things so I can keep her comfortable when her navicular issues come up. I’ve learned that horses know their bodies best and listening to them is a great way to help them heal because of Cherry. She’s a healer horse, the one that will come up to you in the pasture when you don’t feel good and stand with you. She talks to me easily and is easy to understand. She’s matter of fact and she’s dependable. She’s that horse that you say is worth her weight in gold. That horse that’s been there done that and is ok with teaching humans how to do it all.
And finally, there is Nora. Wow, Nora- I can’t believe I’m selling Nora. She has done so many things with me, and for me. My heart has named her “Bubbles”, because that’s what I feel when I ride her. She is my Sassy’s mother, she’s the herds mom figure, she is totally trustworthy and she will teach anyone I ask her to. She’s a tough teacher, once she knows you can do something, she won’t accept you backsliding. She hold advanced students to a higher level and allows the beginners to make mistakes. She has been my rock in times of crisis, I have cried into her mane probably as much as I have into JJ’s. I ride her without reins, feel the wind on my face, and she gives me wings. With Nora I feel like I can fly. She’s MY teacher.
So it’s time to say goodbye to three parts of my heart. My softie, my friend, and my shoulder to cry on. When I look at the situation logically I think I should sell Chance to someone off property, that makes sense right? Since he was only here a year and could be okay out there with people that aren’t in our little bubble. Then, Joanie can buy Cherry, they can take care of each other, and finally I found someone who is willing to learn the way we are with the horses to buy Nora and she can teach them our unusual ways! so it’s all set…. right? Wrong……..
Cherry and Joanie started arguing a little, the person coming out to see Chance couldn’t decide if she liked him or not. But Nora and Katie are getting along. In the meantime I keep telling Joanie I wish Chance could stay here. It’s hurting my heart to think of him leaving. Especially since when he first got here he was so anxious. It all feels wrong (except Katie and Nora). Then, right in the middle of everything Brandi goes downhill fast and we have to let her go. Now, we have another wrench in the plan since Brandi was going to live with Amity, who is a current student. Brandi’s job was to teach Amity how to own a horse. Did I mention that Joanie really loves Chance? Oh, I may have left that out……
This whole journey of rehoming my horses feels like an uphill battle. My heart feels too quiet and heavy, I’ve lost the desire to ride, I’m agitated and can’t stop my worry. Looking at my horses makes me feel sad and unsettled, then one day my heart wakes up and I notice how Joanie and Cherry are arguing about teaching each other. Neither one needs to be the student and it is not working out to have two teachers own each other. I see Joanie take Chance out after morning chores, and how they lean towards each other. My heart swells up and I feel their love. Light bulbs go off in my head! Joanie helped me train Chance, he trusts her as much as he trusts me. I blurt out, “Joanie you love Chance!” She knows that, it’s not news to her. I’m sure she is thinking “duh!” and she probably rolled her eyes a little bit. I say maybe I made a mistake in thinking Chance was too young. He loves you and he needs a teacher. We talk and decide she will call me or text me after she thinks it over. Well not too far into the evening she texts me that she will take a chance on Chance.
The next day I see Amity and ask her if she would like Cherry. Her face lights up and she gets up out of her chair with a huge smile on her face! She says Yes! and gives me a big hug. My heart opens up even more. It feels so right and easy. Why did I shut my heart down in this situation?
I almost made a huge mistake by forcing my heart to be quiet and to only be logical in who should buy my horses. The heart factor is very important and I almost cut it out! You should see Joanie and Chance, they are enjoying each other and Joanie is teaching him like the pro that she is. Cherry is in heaven, she’s teaching Amity and enjoying only having one rider who is mindful and eager to learn. Amity had been dreaming about Cherry before I had ever said anything about Cherry to her! And Nora lets talk about Nora! She showed Katie her bubbles the other day and Katie felt them! Her face lit up and I wish I had taken a picture, the look on her face took my breath away. I even saw Katie drop her reins and just ride Nora with feel. It’s amazing how much our heart knows, and maybe we should take the time to listen to what it is saying. I know I will be moving forward with a lighter heart that knows my horses are with the best owners they could have. And now it’s time to enjoy my Sassy girl, she’s waiting for me.
This morning I woke up and my heart felt heavy and at first I couldn’t remember why. But then it hit me. Today I was going to say goodbye to one of my friends, my co-teacher, my horse. Today is the day I set up with our vet to let her go. The pain in her eyes, in her hips, and the tightness in her muscles was becoming constant and her soul whispers to me, “please let me go, it’s time for my rest.” At first I fight her whispers, I turn away and try not to see, but she’s determined to show me and her whispers seem louder. I pick up her lead rope and the exhaustion from her washes over me in waves, I can barely lead her into the barn because it’s overwhelming me. I feel tears trickle down my face as my heart answers her and it says “Okay, I will call, I will let you go.” I stand with her for a moment, dry my tears and contact her vet. He agrees with me and we set up her appointment. I tell her two more nighttimes, then we will let you go. She looks at me and continues to eat her breakfast. She knows I will do this for her.
So this morning the two night times are over. I look up, and check my watch, it’s 9:30, chores are almost done, the horses have been fed and now it’s time.
I walk to the wall of halters and pick one that fits her the best. This is the hardest part for me, the last walk to the pasture to get her. I feel the inside of me shaking, I don’t want to do this, but she asked me to, and I know I can’t deny her this. I see her at the edge of the herd, I walk to her and gently buckle the halter on her head. We stand there a moment, and just share space. We feel the sun, it’s so warm and it feels good to just stand there with her. She sighs, I turn and lead her towards the barn. Just before the gate, she stops, there is a moment of panic from her. I didn’t expect that. We stop, I stand there and whisper, “I love you.” She relaxes and walks with me to the barn. We groom her there in the barn, scratch her in all her itchy places, she makes her camel face as we scratch her belly and for a moment I smile.
Kate braids her mane and we give her handful of horse treats. I then gently lead her to the trailer. She sends out a little nicker, looks around, then walks into the trailer with me. I gently close the door and on legs that are still shaking I get into the truck, start it up, and ease down the drive. I’m glad my mom and Kristin are with me. I feel so shaky on the inside and I don’t really want to do this. My mind screams stop, but my heart says keep going.
We get to the clinic and walk her back to the place we will let her go. It’s still beautiful weather, the sun is shining and she is with people who love her. She knows she was loved, and loved well. Our vet comes out and gives her a shot of something to help her relax and we walk her to the back of the clinic where she will rest. Our vet gives her the final sedation and she lays down and nickers as she leaves us. I will miss her gentle nicker, her eagerness to eat, and her way of teaching our students. She was a good, good horse, our Brandi Girl. I hope someday to see her running with our herd, with no pain, a healthy glow, no limp, and clear eyes that don’t hurt anymore. Run free dear Brandi. Run Free. You were a great teacher, partner, and friend.
I stand here with Cherry like I’ve done a hundred times while we wait for our student. Cherry is tacked up and relaxed. Her energy is quiet and she’s aware that I will not be riding her and someone else will. We share space, but today I want to be closer to her. I need to feel her, I observe how her coat is already changing and getting ready for fall, I notice her cowlick where her mane meets the skin on her neck, her tail has many colors, white, black, and grey. Her pink nose is slightly burned and I make a note to make sure we put her fly mask on tomorrow morning. She sighs and shifts her weight, I gently touch her rump and lay my head there. She sighs again.
My mind starts to wander, back a few years to when the barn was really busy. There were kids and parents everywhere. Cherry was busy too, everyone loved riding her no matter what age they were. The two of us taught well over a hundred people together. We teamed up to show them how to have a relationship with a horse, and it was possible to have a relationship with a horse that wasn’t theirs. They got the chance to learn how to walk, trot, and canter on Cherry’s long but beautiful back. They learned how to ground drive, how to lunge her, how to saddle her, how to give her a bath. For 11 years she has been my partner. She’s been rock solid and gentle. She’s been a team player and I hope she thinks that of me as well.
I love this horse, I love teaching. But today we had our last dance with a student. Cherry and I are retiring. It’s a bittersweet day, I did not expect to have so many mixed up feelings swirling through me. I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring. I look forward to seeing my horses retire and enjoy their new partners who will spoil them and make them feel special. I look forward to spending time with my smaller herd and riding! I also look forward to spending time with my boarders and help them with their horses if they want me to. It’s been a great life. I loved to watch the kids who called me Mama Cheryl grow up. It doesn’t seem possible that the little 7 and 8 year old girls have grown up and have lives as adults. Where did the time go?
I am so thankful for our students. They have taught me more than I ever taught them. I’m going to miss that look in their eyes when they get what I’m explaining, and the look in Cherry’s eye when she softens and places herself in their hands because they earned her trust.
It’s been such an honor to have you all in our lives. I’m a bit sad that it’s time to say goodbye. To all of you that trusted me, I just want to say thank you for……everything.
I close my laptop, take a deep breath as I stand up from my chair and stretch. The dogs sense my movements, open their eyes, stand up, stretch, and yawn. They walk to the door with me and impatiently wait for me to get my winter gear on before heading out the door. Not a human word has been spoken, it is quiet here and our conversations come through in our body language and intent. The dogs run ahead of me and through the barn. I start to think about Cherry, since she is who I need to bring into the barn for a lesson. I close my eyes for a second, make sure I am grounded and breathing properly. I check in with my body and release any tension I may have. I stand up tall, feel my feet on the ground, and let my joints and muscles move me towards the mare’s pasture. I think of Cherry as I pick up the halter, unbuckle it, and drape it and the lead rope over my arm. I let the ground support me, I open my senses, feel the gentle breeze, it has a hint of warmth in it, I do believe spring is in the air and it makes me smile. The earth smells alive, wet from the melting snow, the ground is softer but still hard underneath a layer of mud. I must be mindful of where I place my feet since the ground is partially frozen and uneven with hoof prints. I reach the gate and take another deep cleansing breath. I open the gate and try not to make a harsh sound with the chain. I don’t want to disturb the herds spirit and energy. The horses notice my approach, I scan them to find Cherry. I see her, but she hasn’t acknowledged me yet. I think of her, and what we are going to do together. I think of her student. I hold him in my mind, I allow what his energy feels like to come to me so I can hold it in my heart to show Cherry.
She knows I’m coming, I see her ear swivel towards me, and then forward again. There, she turned her head and looks at me. I stop walking, my heart says hello to hers. She moves her mouth, I see her lips twitch and then she yawns. I continue my approach and stop short of her. My heart says hello again, she looks away at the bale, then over towards her herd. She really doesn’t want to come to work today. I nod my head, my heart says, I know. I hold her student in my heart and let her see him. I give him a name, so she knows him. She likes his energy, her eyes turn towards me again, her ears prick forward, and she leans a bit towards me. That’s her invitation to come in, I approach and gently strap the halter on her head. I turn to face the direction she is facing and we share space together for a moment. My heart asks her “are you ready?” she shifts her weight forward and our energy connects as we walk back to the barn together. I tie her up and gently start grooming. She pins her ears when I reach her chest, I soften my hand and gently stay there for a moment and she relaxes, her lips quiver, then she yawns. I continue grooming, watching her reaction and adjusting when she tells me I need to. Her student will be here in a ½ hour and I need to put the saddle on. I show her this in my heart and go to get her stuff. I set the saddle pad on her back, she holds her breath, I step back and just share space with her, touch her shoulder gently, and she puts her head down and yawns. I go get her saddle and gently place it on her back. Don’t pull, she says with her face and ears. I won’t my heart says, trust me, I’m watching you. I see you. I see your anxiety. Ok, she says, go ahead, be gentle. I will I say. I finish putting on her gear and we stay silent together, sharing space, sharing thoughts through our body language. I love being right here, in her world, trying to listen to what she is saying. It’s so quiet, peaceful, calm, as we explore ways to talk to each other. I show her the student again, she sighs. It’s ok we can do this. I know she says, it’s almost time. We connect again and our bodies hum with each others thoughts and energy. She’s sleepy, I feel that. I am too. I notice we both are swaying as we breathe, we hear the birds, the swan, the geese and the ducks swimming in the pond. We feel the breeze as it gently touches our faces. The sun feels so warm, it’s nice that winter is almost over. It’s been a rough one. We both slip in and out of relaxation. The only sound is our breath.
Then WHAM car doors slam, dogs go running. There is so much noise. Voices, laughing, running, barking, I yearn to go back to the peace we had, but it’s time to enter another world. I must quickly change the way I was thinking and put it back into humanness. It’s louder, harsher, startling. Others are getting into our space too fast. I can’t think of the right words to say hello. They don’t see that I’m startled, I’m trying to say hello. I shake my head, get myself back in my body and make a shield for Cherry, she’s not ready yet. I stop my student, ask him to get her bridle and I walk into the office with him. I find the human words to say hello to his family. Tell Boomer to get down, feel Lainey against my leg. We get the bridle and walk to Cherry together. He feels my energy and slows down. I gently put Cherry’s bridle on, and he responds to my quietness. He looks at me and smiles, I smile back. I ask him to take her for a walk. He connects to Cherry, she sighs and moves with him. She remembers him, she likes him, and she enjoys helping me teach him. His energy is good and he is learning how to talk to her. He feels her and is quiet. She likes that. I must use my human words to talk to him, but I use the horse’s words to show him. He likes that. Sometimes I get lost trying to find the human words, it is hard to be human when the horse’s words are so easy. They use their bodies, their minds, there intent, and their energy to tell me what they want to say. Humans are hard, they use words, but their bodies say other things, their energy jumps around, one second calm, then another worried. Sometimes I feel caught between the two worlds, not sure of who I am, or how to speak.