It is cold, bitterly cold, the kind of cold that freezes your eyelashes and makes breathing, walking, and chores painfully exhausting. We find ourselves wanting to rush, to hurry and get things done so we can get inside. The snow is starting to fall, walking is a struggle and we fluctuate between slipping on the ice or plowing through the snow. I’ve got my scarf pulled up over my nose and my hat pulled down as low as I can without covering my eyes. Hearing and seeing have become a struggle, a battle of either staying warm or sacrificing my senses. I’m desperate for warmth, for coffee, or soup, anything warm. I see all the horses waiting to be fed and I want to cry because each footstep is an effort. It’s overwhelming to know that we need to be out here for hours to get chores finished, and that I must come back out again to tackle night chores. Joanie and Kristin are with me, we’ve stopped talking to each other because it takes too much effort and too much time.
We know we need to take hay out, and that task is looming over our heads like a dark cloud. The knowledge that we will freeze our hands to take the top off the nets, the cutting of the net that wraps the hay is painful, and driving the bobcat freezes our hands and feet. We finish feeding grain to the 18 horses that require it, and now it’s time to take out hay. Joanie starts the bobcat, Kristin is finishing up in the barn, and I head out to open the nets in the feeders. I’m walking out to the feeders, sight and sounds are muffled and my head is down as I search the ground for the best path. Suddenly, a pocket of warmth envelopes me and I stop. I look up to discover I have walked into a circle of horses and it is their warmth that stops me in my tracks. I close my eyes and feel them reaching out to me. The song “Breathe”, by Johnny Diaz starts to play in my mind.
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to take it in, fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe (just breathe)
let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe (just breathe)
I feel a rhythm here, it’s the rhythm of the herd and my body starts to follow their rhythm as I close my eyes. I feel my heart slowing down and my breathing changes. Chaos does not exist here and it is quiet. There is no worry, no pain, no suffering, no anxiety, just breathing and heartbeats, just being right here, right now, in this moment of time. That’s all there is. I find God here, I find rest here. The horses have become my gentle leaders, and I am grateful that they opened their circle of warmth to show me how to “Just Breathe”.
There is a shift in the circle, I hear the bobcat moving. Joanie and Kristin come out of the barn and down the driveway. I look up and see them. I see the smile in their eyes, and their spirits lift me up. I can’t wait to tell them what I experienced, but for a little while I want to hold it quietly in my heart. God, my horses, and my friends have shown me how to find warmth and rest where only moments before there was worry and exhaustion. There is such beauty here, even when the world is frozen.
That phrase has been showing up everywhere for me lately. Our pastor talked about it and how God helps us get up again. My teacher, Andrea, just gave us an article she wrote about getting back up again. At Bible Study last night we talked about Job being lifted up by God. My grandma used to say, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. It seems like we all need to get up at some point in our lives. I got to thinking about it a lot since it felt like God REALLY wanted me to ponder this. I’ve stepped back and rolled it around in my brain for awhile and my take on it is this.
We all fall down and our choice is to get up, or lay there. But there are times we can’t get up on our own. For instance, yesterday after morning chores I was exhausted. I had spent 9 hours the day before in the barn giving lessons and getting prepared for the cold snap. When I got in from the barn I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Wednesday morning I woke up with red rimmed eyes, a headache and depressed that I had to do it all again. I felt alone, dark, and down to the point I was nauseous and just wanted to go back to bed which I did as soon as I got back into the house from morning chores. It went from bad to worse. I tried praying, asking God why? And please pull me up out of the blackness. I hate to tell you but He didn’t immediately step in and lift me up into a shaft of bright light. I felt myself sinking deeper. I started to feel like a worthless lump of coal, good for nothing, can’t take care of anything right. I should still be in the barn taking care of things. I have horses to help, a chicken coop that needs revamping and etc. As I laid there I heard my cell phone ring, I ignored it. I heard texts coming through. I ignored them and kept telling myself how lazy I was and how useless. My alarm went off and nap time was over. I had an hour to get the house cleaned for bible study and I still had to give 3 hours of lessons in the barn. I dragged myself out of bed asking God to help me again. I had to put on a brave smiling face. People would be here that I had to help and horses that needed me to be there for them. Then out of the blue my phone rang in my hand. It was my sister, Chauna! She was FaceTiming me. I answer and there, right in front of me, is sweet Olivia’s face! Chauna and Olivia called me and we chatted. I pulled up a silly song on Alexa for Olivia to sing to. My heart got lighter, I started smiling and I felt peace wash over me as I lifted up. I saw the sun shining, felt my dogs nose under my hand and came back into the world of light. God did help, but I had to wait for his timing. I ended up really enjoying lessons that night after she called me. We had laughter, sunshine, and the sweet acceptance and unwinding from a horse that was worried before his lesson. During Bible Study my house was filled with women who all have had struggles, got knocked down, some of us are still down, others are standing up again. But we support each other in our journeys and everyone left with hugs and smiles.
As I pondered all this I realized yes, we all fall, and yes, we all should get up again. I got to thinking even more and realized that we don’t even know when we may be lifting someone up. I bet Chauna didn’t know she did that for me and that she saved my day. So, when you get that nudge that you should call someone, to smile at someone, or stop and ask them how they are doing. Go ahead, follow that feel! Once a small light appears, the darkness gets chased away and the light gets passed on to another. It’s pretty cool that when I got knocked down I got up again because my sister made that phone call, and a little 3 year old passed some of her light on to me.
They are as still as statues, the only sound you hear is the sound of their breath moving air in and out. You may see a shift of weight,or a flick of an ear when someone leans in too close, but that’s it. They allow me to move into their midst but just so I don’t touch or get too personal, I must stay in my own space.
It’s warm inside their circle, it’s peaceful. Contentment and quietness is present and their warmth washes over me. I don’t want to leave, I could stay there all day. It’s a place of peace.
Until…..Tefah comes in too far and Brandi lays her ears back. Tefah stops,exhales, and yawns. The peace returns and I feel blessed they let me into their world. Ah, to stay there would be heaven, but the world goes on and chores must be finished. Thank you, for letting me be a part of the herd and share warmth with you it was an honor.
Yep, another mistake. I was working with Jethro and his owner last Friday and got bigger than I needed to and he tipped too far into worry to keep learning. I had to take a breath and slow down until he felt better about what we were doing. It seems to be the way it goes, but holy cow, it’s so frustrating! We try, we make mistakes, we try again, and we learn. Horsemanship has lots of mistakes. When I think of the horses I knew from 2002 until now, I cringe. I let so many of them down with my lack of knowledge and with the mistakes I made. There are so many times I’ve quit on a horse and sent him down the road because I didn’t know how to handle the situation, or I was scared of his/her behavior, or impatient. Sometimes those thoughts stop me in my tracks and paralyze me. I get angry at myself and think what in the world am I doing? I don’t know enough! I’m a bad person! If anyone knew how incompetent I am they would never trust my opinion! But then I settle, I remember, I let the words of my teachers settle in my brain I let the feeling of a horse reaching up to say hi to me reach my heart. Because of my human teachers and four legged teachers, I have learned. I have a learn a lot!
Lets look at Dutchess and travel back in time to the year 2004. She was our sons horse. Nick loved Dutch, he went trail riding and gaming with her and they were a good team. Then she broke her scapula out in the pasture one night. She recovered enough to move but was never the same after that. She got mean! I mean really mean. She would hiss like a goose and kick you when you tried to get on her. Once you were on her she would kick the bottom of your foot. Nick became afraid of her and quit coming to the barn. I became afraid of her and didn’t know what to do. So I sold her to my friend who bought and sold horses. He knew the situation and he probably matched her up with someone that knew what they were doing. I sure didn’t . Looking back, the meanness she showed probably was because she was in pain. Today I would have waited it out longer, called in a chiropractor, called in a body worker, changed her diet and added herbs to help her with inflammation…. So many things I’ve learned since she was here. She’s one I wished I knew then what I know now.
Lets take a look at JJ. I had decided that join up was something I really wanted to do with each and every horse that I owned. Yep, every single one of them! Even JJ, the one that knew me, who knew my heart and soul. As you read this you probably think, No, don’t do it Cheryl! But alas, I did, I put my best friend in the round pen and chased him, moved him, and tried to make him submit. He ran away from me, looking over his shoulder and keeping his eyes on me like I was a deadly snake. I eventually stopped and met his eyes. I fell to my knees in horror of what I almost did. I almost broke our trust, I will never forget the feeling of that. If I was trying to be a horse advocate, how could I have tried to make him submit like that? I was so humiliated and overwhelmed with a feeling of total stupidity. JJ came to me as I knelt there and touched me with his muzzle on the top of my head. I know, it’s ok he said. You stopped, I still trust you. Thank God he knew who I was in real life and that the creature that almost ran his heart to the ground wasn’t who I was.
See, the horses are cool like that. They know our intent, even when we make mistakes. Maybe they know that we have to learn from our mistakes, that we are human and our egos get in the way. They seem to make allowances for our egos. Thank God they do or I would be in lots of trouble. I’m a bit slower in making mistakes since one lesson I have learned over and over again from them is slow down so we can see when the learning stops and panic sets in. For some horses the panic comes fast when we put pressure on them, others it comes slowly. I’m finding even when I think I’m moving slow, for some horses it might not be slow enough. I’m not taking about moving in slow motion, I’m talking about increasing pressure. For example lets look at Tefah. For those that know me, Tefah has been the horse that has taught me more than any other. I have learned much more from her than she will ever learn from me. She has taught me to wait, to listen, that she is a horse that is so sensitive that we cannot use physical pressure, she responds to my thoughts and intent and responds quickly! It’s hard because when I work with her, my direction has to come from the inside, the rope can’t pull on her, the reins cannot be used to drag her along. She will resist any pressure past what gets her moving. And by moving I mean her moving on the inside. If I put pressure on her past that tipping place I lose her. I used to lose her a lot, but it’s getting better. I wasn’t sure I was right in what I was doing with her, so I sent her off to my friend, Heather, who I trust absolutely, and who knows who I want to me with my horses. I was so relieved to find out she thought the same thing as I did.
So, the moral of this story is it’s ok to make mistakes, don’t let your past relationships that failed with horses stop you. Try not to go down that rabbit hole, keep learning, keep trying and thank the horses that were here before you know what you know now. Let the guilt go and don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. The horses from the past are who have made you the horse person you are today. And if you still think your gut may be a little crazy, go ahead and ask someone to help you, someone who knows who you are with horses and can give you an honest evaluation. If you have people in your lives like that, you are truly blessed.
I didn’t expect this to happen. I thought this blog would be in chronological order, but I guess God has other ideas. He put Captain in my mind today and I can’t let it go, it’s like he can’t wait for his story to be told and he won’t leave me alone. I mean, it’s so bad that I had to go to my computer after chores and taking care of John this morning (John had jaw surgery yesterday), and look up dates and everything I had about Captain. You see, he was a horse that came here at the end of his life. In fact he only lived with me from 12/10/2011 until 3/30/2012.
All I know of Captains previous life is that he was a rodeo pick up horse. He had to run next to bucking horses and pick up the rodeo contestants that needed help. I bet if we knew his whole history we wouldn’t be able to count how many men he saved. Captain was a horse with a big heart, soft eyes, a big body, and a kind soul. We met back in 2011 when my friend Annie called and asked if I had room for a rescue that she had picked up at a local feed lot. She warned me that he was bad, and that he would need some dental care. He arrived 12/19/2011 blanketed and had a huge swelling on his face. We took the blanket off and gasped, he was so skinny, and had lots of ticks on him. I don’t know how ticks could be on him in the winter. It was gross and heartbreaking. We quickly went into life saving gear, everyone here surrounded us, helped us financially and supported us emotionally on a journey that was uplifting, painful, joyful, and heartbreaking.
We quickly called out Dr. Marion who examined him and asked us to bring him into the clinic for teeth extraction. He ended up having two teeth removed that day and then we were on our way to helping him gain weight. Dr Marion did mention he had a heart murmur and that he was probably in his late 20’s early 30’s.
Captain was a gentleman, he was very quiet, like he didn’t want to cause any trouble or call attention to himself. I guess that you would call him stoic. He seemed to always have a worried look in his eye and I hoped that we could change that and give him some quiet time with all the food he could eat, all the grooming he could tolerate, and time with humans when we weren’t asking him to do a job. I was hoping that he could just be a horse, interacting with us just being humans and sharing the same space without him feeling like he had to be worried.
Over the course of a few months he gained weight, he got brushed by us and the lesson kids. We found he liked kids, they seemed to help the worried look leave his eyes and I couldn’t wait to see what he would do when one of them took a lesson with him.
On 2/1/2012 Captain was healthy enough that I thought I could sit on him for his first ride. He had gained some weight and seemed to have settled in quite well. He had started to relax out in the pasture, take time eating his grain, and we often saw him standing up by the barn enjoying the sun. The days were starting to get warmer and we all were excited to see how he would look when he shed out in the spring. He seemed so big to us. I bet he stood close to 16 hands which, if you know me and the horses I get, that’s huge! In fact I had to buy a new bridle that was big enough for his head.
On 2/9/2012 Captain became sick, he had this nasty goop running from his nose and it smelled to high heaven. I called out Dr Marion again and he diagnosed him with a sinus infection. When a horse gets a sinus infection it’s not an easy thing to clear up. They have to have a hole drilled into their sinus cavity, a catheter placed in the hole and we have to flush it daily with a mixture of saline solution and betadine. It’s an interesting procedure to watch, but I would rather watch it done on a horse that wasn’t mine. Captain was sedated, and the vet used a drill and then a bore to punch through the skull into the sinus cavity. Then he stitched the catheter in place and showed us how to administer the flush.
I’m not sure how long we had to treat him, but it seemed like a long time. He was a good patient, I’m sure it felt so weird to have us push that warm flush into his sinus, but he never put up a fuss. He stood so quietly, with his head down. We often would pet him and he would lean on us. It was a time to really bond with him, and I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with him for anything. We got to learn more about him, we learned he was patient, he was gentle, he was ok, and I think he was glad we were with him. To this day I can remember what his head felt like as it rested in my arms. I can still hear his breath and feel the gentle sway of his body with every inhale and exhale. It was a time of quiet contemplation.
Captain eventually started to feel better and I decided to try him in a lesson. We had a girl here named Hannah who loved my horse JJ and rode him regularly . She was a student I could count on to consider the horse she was on and stop the lesson if Captain needed her to. I felt that if I matched him up with a person that was a gentle as he was, that they would enjoy their time together. Needless to say the lesson was awesome. Hannah started out nice and easy, but Captain wanted to go, so they ended up trotting a bit and I think he even took her for a little canter. I know before he passed they cantered together, but I’m just not sure when that happened. They had a few lessons together and from the pictures that follow, I believe they enjoyed themselves.
In March we noticed that Captain seemed hot all the time. At least that’s what we thought. He was breathing hard and his energy level seemed low. Once again we called Dr. Marion out and he quickly diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. His big heart was failing and his lungs were starting to fill with fluid. We didn’t want him to suffer so we set up an appointment on March 30th to say goodbye. Over the next couple of weeks we spent quiet time with him, giving him treats, grooming him, and just letting him hang out with us, human to horse, sharing the same space. I wish I had known him when he was younger, when his joints weren’t swollen, when he was running next to the bucking horses, when he moved freely and challenged the wind. Oh I wish I had known him then. But, on the other hand, I got to know a wise soul, a gentle creature that was large in body, but soft in his communication. I think he was happy here, I think he got to feel love without demand for work and he understood how special he really was. I hope somewhere out there, there is a cowboy who remembers a big red pick up horse that saved his life. I hope in his heart is filled with gratitude for that big red horse. That’s all Captain needs, just someone to say thanks and remember him. As I write this I see him in my minds eye. He is alive in heaven, he snorts, dips his head down and runs away with his tail up in the air and his head held high. He says thanks for reading about me, and for remembering. He says he had a good life for the most part and he was glad for the gentle hands of children that petted him, hugged him, and let him be himself.
I look for him everywhere. Any time I see a red dun horse my heart skips a beat, I look at the ground, then slowly lift my eyes up to look at him. I search his face, could it be him? I know that he’s passed away by now since he would be in his 40’s but my heart still searches. Dunny was the first horse that truly was a friend, who listened to me, let me cry in his mane, who let me become such a part of him that it felt like we shared the same skin. I still can close my eyes and see him, the small star on his forehead, the way his coat glistened in the sun and the different shades of colors on his body that looked like puzzle pieces. I’ve never seen a horse that looked like him, and probably never will again. I believe he was magical. He talked to my heart. He steadied it and he accepted me for who I was. It’s actually hard for me to write about him, and that shocks me a bit because he is responsible for how I feel about horses today.
Oh Dunny, how I loved you. I loved the way the sunlight shimmered when it touched your coat, your warm, broad back, the white snip on your upper lip, the way you smelled, the nicker you gave me when I walked out to the corral. I loved the way you let me lay on you, feeling your breath underneath me and the warm sun on my back. How you would stand for hours with me up there. When I rode you, you let me ride and ride and ride. We explored all the roads around the farm, rode out in the pasture where Dixie lived. You taught me how to ride out a buck, how to run like the wind with you. I even think you loved me. Thank you for teaching me for being patient with me, for being gentle, and letting me have conversations with you. You showed me how to listen to you and understand what you were saying. You taught me that I could feel your thoughts through the reins, even though I didn’t know that was a thing. You taught me I could ride freely with you, no saddle, no bridle but you took me wherever I wanted to go. Thank you for letting me dream, for allowing me to pretend you were my horse and letting your heart beat with mine. When Uncle Ed sold you I thought my heart would shatter. I couldn’t believe you were gone when I got to the farm that summer. The pain of it staggered me and I was in total disbelief. I thought you would be on the farm forever. Didn’t they see how special and magical you were? Didn’t Uncle Ed know you were mine? How could he sell you? Did you think about me after you left for your new life?
Today I feel the pain in my heart almost as strongly as I did then, the tears run down my cheeks as I write this, and my heart aches. Every time I go to a rodeo or see a team of ropers I look for you since I was told your were sold to a roper on the circuit. I never saw you again, never got to say goodbye or hear your gentle nicker. I hope the rest of your life was sweet and beautiful and every once in awhile you remembered a little girl who loved you. You were a brave strong horse and you were my hero. I will probably always search for you and I will carry what you taught me in my heart forever.
Mistakes, we make many of them. It doesn’t matter if we are with our horses, raising our children, developing relationships with the ones we love, shoot: we can even make mistakes when cleaning the house, how many of us have been reprimanded for putting the roll of toilet paper on backwards or loading the dishwasher wrong? This world “protects” us from mistakes, we have cars that keep us in our lanes, spell check on our devices, the quick response on social media if we say something that isn’t politically correct, or if we write something with improper grammer, and heaven forbid if we accidently get our facts wrong. We’ve become a society terrified of making mistakes. I see it in both the children and adults I work with, I ask them to just be with the horse, connect and explore. Sometimes they start to cry because they don’t want to make a mistake. I made many mistakes in my journey with horses, some of them I wish I never made, but others I learned from them and they proved to be vital in my journey. Lets go back in time, when mistakes were okay………
As I sit here and close my eyes, I go way back in time, to one of my first memories. I’m sitting in the pickup between Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma is holding my hand, I’m so excited that I feel shaky inside. They’ve picked me up at the airport and we are on our way back to the farm. It’s a long ride, it’s feels like forever. I keep squeezing Grandma’s hand, and as we get closer the roads become red dirt, the air changes and I smell the cattle, I hear them lowing as I rush out of the car and run to the corral next to the feedlot. I see the horses, my heart explodes with happiness and I’m over the fence like greased lightning. I am home, and it’s good, very good.
Dinner was grand, it was probably sandwiches, but I was sitting at the table with Grandma and Grandpa. Just the 3 of us. I loved it when it was just the 3 of us. They would tell me stories, especially Grandma. My favorite stories were the ones about her teaching and meeting Grandpa. Oh, I loved them so much and they loved me. They loved me no matter what, even when I made mistakes.
That night I couldn’t sleep, the excitement was too much. So I snuck out and went to the horses. I did that all the time. I loved the dark, the quietness, the sound of the horses as they slept, the gently lowing of the cattle in the feedlot, the distant howling of the coyotes as they met for their hunts, the night had a different feel. A quiet feel, the horses welcome me as I crawled through the corral fence and into their midst. I wrapped my arms around the closest one and just breathe, inhale his wonderful smell, feel his muscles twitch under my hand, he is warm, inviting and curious about who I am. I move through all of them and to the corral fence. I climb up on the rail and settle myself on the back of whoever is standing close to me. I lay down, my head on his neck, my arms and legs hanging down, I feel him breathe, my breath matches him. The sounds fade into the distance as I slip off to sleep feeling accepted and safe. This is the place to feel safe to dream. I have the sensation of slipping, then falling, and BAM I’m on the ground. Owe, I feel a hot breath on my neck as the horses sniff me on the ground, I leap to my feet and hug the closest one. They accept me, my mistake of falling asleep on them and they comfort me in my embarrassment.
I’m out in what seems to be a big pasture, out back behind the corrals. Dixie is out there, she’s the only mare on the property and sometimes Uncle Ed breeds her and she has foals. I’ve never seen her foals, they must have been weaned before I get out there. I walk out to the pond where she is and she’s standing next to a rock, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to ride her since I never have before. I quickly jump up on the rock and over to her back. She turns and looks at me an stands still. I grab her mane and give her a kick, she promptly starts bucking and one, two, three I’m on the ground, but I’m still young enough to bounce. I stand up and walk over to her and being the incredibly smart person I am, I try again. She helps me dismount again, and of course I bounce. She comes over to me as I look at her in wonder. Why doesn’t she let me ride her? I didn’t understand. I got back up and just sat on her. She let me, I lay on her in my typical way and just rested with her. That’s who Dixie was to me, my friend who hung out. She let me make mistakes, and she taught me that not always did you need to “ride” a horse. Some of them could just be your friend and teachers in other ways. I don’t know how many years Dixie was on the farm. I think she was there at least two summers. That’s the way of kids, we don’t remember timelines, just the feeling we had, the sensations, and what felt right. We learned from our mistakes, but we weren’t afraid to make them. I miss that, the exploring to find what works, to not fear failure, or pain. During lessons I try to help others lose the fear of mistakes, but it’s hard. I find the fear creeping into my life as well. As I age the fear of pain starts to control me. I have slowed down. I don’t jump on every horse I see anymore, which may be a good thing since my ability to bounce has disappeared.
I hope you all can have an opportunity to explore a little. To find that little kid inside of you, close your eyes and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You just might discover something new.
Hello to those that have started this journey with me. I’m not sure what I’m doing, starting a blog, but I thought I would give it a try. I’ve had so many horses in my life since 2002 when my husband and I decided that getting a horse was important to keep me from “losing it’. My whole life, and I mean, my whole life, I’ve wanted a horse. I thought about them all the time. I spent many summer day’s on my grandparents farm on the backs of any horse on the property, I also fell off…… a lot! I was too little to lift the saddle and spent most of the time riding bareback. Getting on board was pretty hard, I tried climbing up their front legs like my mom said she did when she was little, that didn’t work as well as leading them to the cattle loading ramp and jumping on board, I also would leap onto their backs from the corral fence. When I was able to get Danny (Uncle Ed’s hired hand) to saddle a horse for me I would ride for hours and then at lunch time I would take the bridle off, turn out which ever horse I was riding into the corral while I had lunch, then come back out. That method backfired on me one day when the horses got loose. I guess I didn’t shut the gate very well and they all left, including the one with the saddle still attached. I was eating lunch in the house when the yelling started, but I quickly hid myself in the chicken coop until things quieted down. Lets just say that method was no long available to me after that. Now, don’t worry, I eventually got big enough to lift the saddles onto which ever horse I decided to ride, and my journey continued and I would like to share it in this blog. Please feel free to join me as I go down memory lane. Some days I may be joyful in my memories, some days sorrowful, some days extremely excited, and some days are filled with so much love that my heart swells up to think about it. I hope you all enjoy this blog as much as I hope to enjoy writing it. Thank you for visiting.