Sunday, April 22, 2018

In Sync

In Sync

harmony or harmonious relationship

~what every horse person wants~

Many years ago, I had a grey purebred Arab broodmare that I rescued.  I called her Shakira.  I rescued her as an emaciated, heavily pregnant mare, in a barn full of the same.  She was lame and had diarrhea.  Her stall was filthy, with manure a couple feet deep and grooves worn away where the mare paced.  I found no food or water in her stall and she was covered in dried on manure that felt like someone dipped her in concrete.  I had my vet look at her and he strongly advised me NOT to take her.... but I did.  I could not leave her in a place like that.  

I brought her home on April 1st, April Fool's Day.  Once home, I worked on trying to get her clean but the dried manure would NOT come off.  Thankfully she was beginning to shed so as she shed then it peeled off.  She was a smart mare- Arabs are smart horses!  She was Egyptian bred and high strung but trusted me and allowed me to work around and handle her just fine.  She was around 10 or 11 at that time and had never been broken.  Her lot in life was to produce babies but wound up where she did for the usual reasons- nothing that has to actually DO with the horse... but an owner in over their heads.  This was at the tail end of the Arab popularity spike of the 80's- 90's.  Someone hoped to make some money but instead had a barn full of pregnant, registered, well-bred, skin and bones broodmares.  

I took good care of her- provided a clean stall, fresh water, and nice, clean grass hay and slowly incorporated grain and pasture.  She put on weight and muscle and began to feel good.  She looked so much better but even still had visible ribs at delivery.  Everything went to the baby.  She delivered a healthy foal 2 months later.  We had a bit of a struggle initially with her milk supply but things thankfully worked out.  I firmly believe I got her just in time.  Had she stayed where she was any longer, the foal would not have had enough and the mare surely would not have had enough nutrition.  

As an extra bonus... her digestive problems resolved under normal care and maintenance.  She continued to be lame until after the foal was born and an abscess blew out her coronary band and she was sound.  

I raised the baby and let the mare be a pretty pasture ornament.  She deserved it. The filly grew and blossomed into a gorgeous, young horse.  She went on to a good home and life went on.  

I can't even remember how I got back in touch with the filly's owners.  It's likely they called me.  The filly, named Shaklana, was shown in halter until she was in a horrific trailer accident.  This ended up giving Shaklana a large scar on her rump, ending her halter career and providing a lifelong fear of trailers.  Completely understandable!  Shaklana now was maybe 5 or 6 and the owners wanted to know if I wanted her back.  I took her back.  I still had the dam so was curious if, after all this time, they would recognize each other.  

Shaklana came home and after all the proper introductory steps to the herd, she was turned out into a large pasture with her dam.  

I will never forget it.  They touched noses and then immediately set off around the large pasture in one of those floaty trots Arabs do so well, with the horses looking like hovercrafts moving around the field!  They trotted, and floated... side by side, in perfect harmony, in stride, and in sync.  It was a beautiful sight!  I cried.  It was amazing to see.  Yes, I guess they remembered each other!  

What a beautiful thing is harmony!


Synonyms for sync

verb go along with; coexist


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

From Zero to Sixty

From Zero to Sixty

Horses Flight Response And Trauma Awareness

When I first got Willow she has 2 speeds, standing still and 60 mph! She would stand and basically let me do anything.  If she was nervous or scared while standing, she would spook in place but as soon as I asked her to move forward, she rushed around the arena, going faster and faster, with head up and eyes bulging out of her head!  (I am exaggerating slightly or embellishing.)

I worked with her all last year to get her to ride calmly and with a loose rein which she did- halleluja!  But I've have gone all winter without riding her.  :(  To see where her mind was at, I decided to just do some groundwork.

I set up an obstacle course in my riding arena but started off just grooming her.  Believe me, she needed it!

Willow, with dreadlocks. 

Willow's long tangled mane. 

Willow after her grooming session.  No more dreadlocks! 

Willow being brave!

Willow stood like a perfect student as I groomed her.  This is her first speed- standing still.  She is very good at it.  Willow is a bit of a wimp, bottom of the pecking order kind of horse with the herd and a generally unconfident horse but she does like people which is a great plus!  She just isn't very brave.  She needs a leader but is easily overwhelmed.  I decided to take my time grooming her so she got that positive reinforcement of being on her own, away from the herd with me.

Last year, when Willow first came to me, she would either stand still with manners (which is good!) or when asked to move forward quickly go from zero to 60!  Not so good.  It was pretty easy to see  she would 'lose her mind' when she had to move out and would become frantic and scattered. 

Some background on Willow- She had been ridden before me in one of those long shanked walker bits, hollow backed with head up and reins tight.  When I rode her once with me, she would walk fairly calmly but only if she didn't have to move any distance away from the barn.   She went from being 'balky, resistant' to becoming nervous and flighty moving away from the barn.  She braced herself against the bit which you can pretty much expect from the riding style mentioned prior, and she would try to bolt back to the barn.  She was NOT fun to ride.  I worked all last summer with her and we got to the point where I could ride her on a loose rein, away from the barn, gait, stop, and stay cool-headed.  It was really rewarding to see the progress she made.  You can read about it here.

Today she remembered she could be brave standing a little ways from me and she could think and remain calm when her feet moved.  Good girl Willow!!  We practiced going from a standstill to moving forward slowly to moving faster around the obstacle course...and then back to slow and stand.  Ahhhh.... big sigh!  It was a good way to ease back into riding and very good to see she retained what she learned.  Good girl!! 
Going from zero to 60 reminds me of a trauma survivor's reactions when escalated. Anyone who works/lives/ is a trauma survivor is likely to be familiar with this reaction.  A person can be calm, engaged, thinking and present one minute and then wham!  Something sets them off or triggers them and off they go!  They can spiral into high gear as the trauma circles around and around, just below their awareness and greatly affecting their reactions.  Possible reactions could include oppositional or defiant behavior, hyper-vigilance and highly emotional or at the other end of the spectrum, passive, compliant, shut down, depressed.  ~~  Please know, I intend no blame here at all ~~  I am a trauma survivor too and am speaking from my own experiences.  It is not a good place to be and I understand the struggle to keep a handle on your own reactions.  That is where the horses come in.  At least for me, they have been instrumental- along with professional therapy.  

Willow last year, a little bugged out by a broom.  

Willow, last year, outside and away from herd mates and a teeny bit on edge.  :) 

Lunging lessons last year. 

A MUCH calmer Willow, very far from the barn and herd mates after a couple months of training.  

In a horse, it is easy to see hyper-vigilance and reactivity.  Each body movement of mine has to be purposeful and clear if I want her to continue forward.   I  know to only give the slightest cue to move forward for a horse like Willow, because she can be so reactive.  Had I gone with a big whip and started acting aggressively or over-asserting myself, I would have put gasoline on to her fire.  That is NEVER my intention.  

The beauty of horses and working with them in this way, is they teach ME how to keep my body and mind calm, my energy focused and not aggressive.  I can be assertive but have learned how to bring my energy right down again after the correct response.  I can watch her 'reactiveness' somewhat impartially and allow her to see I am not adding to her high energy.  The more she focuses on me, provided I am calm and focused, the faster she comes around.  There is a great reward in seeing that reflected in this large animal in front of me.  

Willow surprised me today also by going over the obstacle course very willingly.  That was a nice surprise to see that the work we did last year stuck with her and she looked like we had just done this yesterday!  It was a good reminder for me too that I need to continue to be open to what she is telling me.  This is very much a two way street.  Things don't go as well when I am not receptive to her response and do not adapt to her sensitivity. 

Willow is even shy around the other horses, preferring to hang back.  
The lesson in this for us is as we observe the horse, pay attention to about what is going on in OUR own bodies.   We learn how to remain calm and focused under stress.  Learning to not be reactive back to someone just because they are emotional and reactive is truly a great skill.  I'll be honest, it is much easier to do with the horses then people sometimes...but that body awareness piece lets us know we are into our own flight/ fight response.  If we can recognize that....and NOT go zero to 60.... that is the golden nugget of being around horses. 

When we learn to stay engaged, observant, pro-active and assertive under stress and not aggressive, emotional or reactive, we have received one of the greatest gifts our horses can give us- if we are open to it. 

Willow at liberty. 

Romans 12:18

Willow, a black sabino TW mare
* Approach and Retreat, my oil painting above, has a description here you may want to read since it goes along with the topic.

As always, thanks for stopping by!  

Free Rein Art Studio 
Equine Art and Pet Portraits

Ride More Worry Less

Early Spring at Free Rein Art Studio

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Great End of Winter Groom Fest!

The Great End of Winter Groom Fest!

At Long Last! 

Today was simply delicious!  The temps were in the mid 70's, breezy, blue sky and just lovely!!  Spring's arrival seemed to stall out this year so today was very much appreciated by human and animal alike!  

One of my favorite bonding activities with the horses is to groom them.  As they shed, they are itchy, dirty and very appreciative of the extra attention!  We have had a cold, wet spring up until now so they were....a MESS!!  

This past year, I developed asthma for the first time due to aggravated allergies.  I suffered for months so I got officially tested for allergies.  I am allergic to the usual tree pollen, dust, a couple food allergies.....and horses!  Yes.  I mean, NO!!!  But yes, I tested positive to horses.  First I cried, then I thought about it and decided I would learn to manage it.  It has not been too hard actually, compared to the other allergens.  I was unsure if grooming the horses would flare up allergies so I decided to groom them out in the paddock.  I often do it that way because they seem to enjoy my company and they can have a say in whether they want to be groomed or not since they are loose.  They often position their bodies so I get their itchy spots.  

My Chihuahua. Fawn.  

My mudpuppies!  

First, though, I did my dog's favorite activity and took them for a walk around our pasture.  Even Fawn joined us.  Fawn is my newest dog, a 7 yr. old female chihuahua who came from a puppy mill as a breeder.  She past thru a couple people's hands and then I got her last winter.  She is a little, tiny, love bug!!

I put Fawn in the house- she is too little to be around the horses and headed to the barn.  I put some grooming supplies in a bucket and went into the paddock to begin grooming.  

The horsehair was flying everywhere!!  The horses loved it and I got covered, head to toe!  Each one, in turn, did some mutual grooming with me too which is always a nice compliment.  They still have gobs of winter coat but our time was well spent.  We bonded.  :) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Feeling Blocked?

Up against a wall?  Chomping at the Bit? 
 Feel the 4 walls closing in?

Are You Stalled? 

 How to deal with confinement, of the human or equine variety.  

I think we all have experienced the feelings of confinement or inactivity.  Humans may experience it more as an emotional feeling rather than physical.   Horses are built in every fiber of their being to be moving and interacting in a herd.  Maybe us too?  I don't know.  I tend to be more of a loner, more independant but that may be due to a variety of things.  I work as an artist so my work is solitary- hence why I end up blogging for the social interaction.  

My horses are basically kept outside with access to shelter 99% of the time for 3 reasons.  1.  They are happier.  2. I have a bad back from years of caring for horses so cleaning stalls risks me not being able to work at my other job.  3. I can.  I keep my horses at home and have the space and arrangement to be able to keep them out much of the time.  That said I do have to bring them in sometimes.  Those times usually consist of health reasons for them or to preserve my pasture/ paddock area.  Right now we are in mud season... uh I mean spring.  Its dreary, wet and cloudy today.  Not the best weather for anyone.  So my horses are in, due to mud in the paddock, in spite of living on a hill and good drainage around the barn.  Mud is inevitable when you keep horses.  I suppose to carry on with the comparison, having feeling of being blocked is a natural/ common/ expected emotion for humans.  Either way, they both suck!  

Photography by Sue Steiner, Free Rein Art Studio.

I have had times in my life where I have experienced rather persistant and severe depression.  Depression can feel very much like trying to walk while in deep mud.  You very much feel mired down.  Every step is a supreme effort and to pick out a course of action can feel like climbing Mt. Everest.  Now that really sucks!  I got thru my depression with the help of therapy, prayer, medication (I would never fault someone suffering from depression from trying medication- it can be a lifesaver for some people).  Horses have also been a huge help to me in dealing with anxiety and depression.  Exercise, regular sleep hours and good eating habits go a long way in helping someone feel better but when you are stuck in the mud, sometimes it is just not possible.  That is where horses come in for me.  

Equine Photography by Sue Steiner of Free Rein Art Studio. 

Horses get me moving.  Horses help me to see and plan ahead- for safety reasons.  You learn quick how to think ahead manuvering and handling horses in a confied space or else you get hurt.  Horses help calm me.  Horses provide exercise -- lots and lots of exercise!  I get outside and close to nature which is healing.  Horses provide human interaction with other horse people.  Horses keep me unstuck.  

Equine Photography by Sue Steiner of Free Rein Art Studio. 

When I get too isolated, horses help bring me out of my head and into my body.  This may sound weird to some, but it is a prime benefit of horse and human interaction. 

Equine Photographer Sue Steiner of Free Rein Art Studio. 

When I create, I spend a lot of time, 'in my head', so to get to be earthy and grounded is a huge benefit to me. 

So maybe there are some steps here that could help you, with or without horses, if you are feeling stalled, blocked, stuck, depressed. 

1. Know it is not permanent.  You do have choices and can work, in baby steps, into a more open and expansive mindset.  Sometimes our confinement is more in how we think than our actual surroundings.  Learn to recognize when you are in a black and white, all or nothing kind of mind set.  I found journaling to be a great tool for learn to recognize this kind of  negative thinking and then what I did was play devil's advocate.  My limited thinking might say:  I am stuck and can't do xyz.  I would expand on that thought and write to get as much of that feeling out and on the journal page.  I then would go back and search for the counter position- or what would my therapist say?  Or a good friend?  Or a loving parent?  Imagine how an encouraging, understanding and wise person would counter your negative thought. 

2.  As much as you can, learn to take good care of your body.  Try to exercise... even small baby steps help.  I am not one to go to the gym but walks around the block or to a park or on a walking trail can be so helpful!  If that feels monumental, walk around your space at home.  To get your blood moving and circulating feels good to our bodies.  Try to eat healthy, as best you can.  Try to sleep regular hours.  I would get into a terrible habit of staying up late, and napping during the day because I felt so lethargic.  Try, with baby steps to get on a regular sleep cycle.  I guarantee it will help.

3.  Find some way to incorporate some positive human interaction that does not revolve around your depression or whatever problem is causing you to feel stuck.  Take up a hobby- this is how  I discovered art and painting.   It was and continues to be so theraputic to me, plus now it is even more.  It has become my identity.  I am an artist.  That is a huge step from where I was 15 years ago. 

4. Seek professional help.  There is NO shame in seeking professional help.  I stress professional help, rather then relying on a friend is because it is too easy to use a friend in ways in which can become not very healthy for you or them.  It is often unintentional but just comes about because you and a friend can't have the insight and professionalism that may be needed.  You and your friend are too close to the problem to have a clear perspective. Sometimes, when someone is reluctant to seek a professional and use a friend for their therapy instead, it can become a crutch.  It is easier to tell a friend, rather than the professional, who may tell you things to hold you accountable.  It is just not a good idea. 

Pet Portraits by Sue Steiner

5.  And tuck away, in some part of your inner being, better days will come.  Hold on to hope.  People have a huge capacity to be resilient and heal.  You have it in you too.  We all do.  Hold on to that. 

Photograph by Sue Steiner

6.  When things are better, return the favor someone did for you, and show kindness to another.  Lend a hand to help.  Give encouragment whenever the opportunity arrises.  Pass it on.  This is good for you and them.  We all need encouragement for time to time.  Be that person who offers it freely! 

Happy Trails to you, always!

Thank you for sharing or referring a friend.  It is much appreciated!  

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mud Season

Mud Season, Oh Yah! 

and then comes the shedding! 


Good housekeepers, beware!  This is not for the faint of heart!  You may have made it thru winter, caring for your dogs and horses...but the real test is right upon us.... the dreaded mud season...followed close behind by... shedding.  I have a golden retriever- need I say more? 

Dirt tracked in on your boots, barn clothes and dog paws combine with hair of the equine and canine variety to bring you to your knees in humble disbelief.  How can we co-exist if I must live in a climate that insists on raining for days on end and animals that demand to live ~ outside in the elements?  (Not implying you do not provide shelter for your animals-- this is not to be taken literally but in jest.)  

If you think coming here will give you a concise 3 point list of 'how to's of conquering mess and mud, huh... sorry.  I have no idea!  I am an artist and my 'work' is making a mess and then putting it on a canvas or in a piece of jewelry or on a sign.  What do I do?  I throw up my hands in frustration and come here to vent.  It is what it is.  

horse and inspiring memes to share at

I love my dogs and horses, the mud, not so much.  We can all sing, April Showers Bring May Flowers Martha Steward like and go to Pinterest with all our handy tips, pretty bows and smiling faces but I have found mud season is something you grin and bear it until it is over.  In my neck of the woods, by mid May the world becomes a beautiful place (before the flies have too much of a chance to harass the horses).   And you can fix your eyes on the horizon and know grass season will be here soo too!  

 Think of it as having the whole riding season ahead of you!  An open road of trail riding awaits!

    Green, grassy hay fields will thrive in the summer that follows the mud. 

Horse Watercolor by artist Sue Steiner.

 You can kick your heels up with joy and enthusiasm for a lighter pocketbook (until the tack sales begin).

Adventure awaits- once the mud dries and the cleaning ends. 

Cat Portrait in oils by artist Sue Steiner.

And just so you know... I love cats too.  
It is just that my dogs don't share the same love for them as I do. 

We can get thru this mud season.  We have done it before, we will do it again.... 
Happy Trails to you!
Sue Steiner

Pet Portraits in Oils, Watercolors and Pastels