Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Mane Thing

Mane and Tail Obsessions

The photo above is of my horse Remmy.  I took this with my cell phone which gave the image a weird distortion of her proportions but I love this photo in spite of that because of her kind eye and that flip of her mane!  

I am going to confess that I am in a mane and tail obsession right now with this horse.  I have been fussing over her mane and tail like crazy lately!  I just came in from the barn and her tail does not have one single tangle or knot in it!  Smooth and silk- as is her mane!!  Her tail touched the ground until I trimmed it a couple days ago.  Her mane is way past her shoulders and is also shiny and tangle free.


My Remmy is a diva for sure!  A pretty, pretty girl-- smooth bodied, kind hearted and her coat is coming in like silk!  I love it when their winter coats shed out and their summer coats come in so silky smooth!  Remmy is also so fun to ride.  She has comfortable gaits and is a smart cookie!!  I am having a great time with her.  She is 5 and an off the track ex-harness horse who is just newly under saddle.  I am having a great time training her and loving the progress we are making.  I have ridden her all winter, in all kinds of weather, on the trails and she is great!  We've had our challenges -- she does not like the white flickering electric tape on one corner of what I call our trotting track when its windy out but we've been able to overcome and meet each challenge head on!   Oops, wrong wording!  We did meet our learning to 'canter' challenge head on - as in my head on the ground after a very enthusiastic gallop up our hill but I had on my helmet and all is well!  :)  My advise to you is always wear a helmet!  My fall was funny because I did not suffer any injuries other than a slight concussion, due to my helmet protecting me!  

I am looking forward to lots of long trail rides and possibly some showing or hunter paces this summer with Remmy.   We'll see.  My favorite thing to do is just ride around the beautiful farmland around my home.  I feel so blessed to live in such a beautiful area and value the therapeutic value in having a horse like her that is just the right combination of fun, level headed and challenging.   Each time I ride her I am reminded how to be brave and intentional in what I do.  

Happy trails!


Out of Body vs In Your Body Experience and Horses

Equine Art by Sue Steiner, original oil painting

People often talk about 'out of body' experiences.   We've probably all experienced those times when some stressful event happens and have a surreal feeling of not being completely there.  It can happen in a fun way when you are so happy you have to pinch yourself to see if its a dream or those awful moments when something terrible has happened and you go into deep shock and denial.  We will take those extreme ends of the spectrum out of this conversation and just talk about everyday ways in which we can get kind of 'out of body'.    

I find I can get this way when I am distracted, busy or over committed.  I lose touch with when I've eaten or I stay up late in spite of needing sleep.  I keep working in spite of not feeling well.  I do my heavy barn chores in spite of sore muscles.  I tune out what my body is telling me.  This goes along with the theory of how we need to just buck up and deal with it!   Its not always a bad thing.... but to be out of tune with your body for long stretches can cause health problems.  To be out of your body as in being 'ungrounded' means you lose out on much of what is going on around you in the moment.   

An area I am exploring with my own horses is seeing the reaction in them when I ground myself vs. when I am not grounded.  Being grounded is being in your body.   Being centered is being in your body in a specific way.   Sally Swift's classic riding book 'Centered Riding' makes this concept familiar to many horse people.  

If you are curious as to how grounded of a person you are I found this online test.  

  How Grounded Are you?  

In my everyday life I failed this test miserably!  :)  I think it is NOT very ADD friendly!  As an artist who may have just a teeny bit of ADD tendencies it is not easy for me to stay grounded in my every day life.  Creating art can be a wonderful 'out of body experience' which I value greatly!  But having my head in the clouds at other times is not so great.  This is what the quiz told me.  ~~ Your score is 80%. Being grounded is foreign to you. Do yourself a favor and try some grounding exercises to reintroduce yourself to your body.~~  Oh great!  

The good news is that horses are very grounding!  I have discovered as I recognize my ungroundedness away from horses I see naturally become grounded WITH them!  It's also not particularly safe to ride most horses NOT grounded.  Its hard NOT to be connected to your body when you ride.  The ultimate ride comes when you are connected to your body and your horses body.  I enjoy riding bareback for this reason.  I have a great bareback horse that prefers being ridden that way.  I ride her with a bareback pad and a rope halter and really enjoy being able to feel her muscles.  She is also so tuned into me that it has taught me to balance and stay relaxed.  A common tendency for people who first ride bareback is to want to clamp down with their knees and legs and hold on that way.  In fact keeping your muscles soft and relaxed with your legs not tensed allows for better balance and a more relaxed horse!  My mare is very sensitive to leg pressure - she responds to the slightest tensing of my calf muscles so for her to have me clamp down would feel like I am screaming at her.  I think most horses are capable of being this sensitive but  some have learned how to tune us out and become dull as a result.  Or anxious.  Kind of like people do!   We all can relate to people who cope by either being so insensitive or to being the other end of the spectrum and SO sensitive they are hard to work with.  Somewhere in the middle is the goal!  Balance in life, balance on the horse!  

I am beginning my exploration of somatics, horses and healing.  
somatic /so·mat·ic/ (so-mat´ik). 1. pertaining to or characteristic of the soma or body.

Horses provide a wonderful way in which we can see immediate results with how 'in our body' we are.   As a person experiences how this feels with a horse they can learn how to use that in their everyday life.   The bridge between the horse experience and everyday life experience is where EAL or equine assisted learning comes in.   People are put into situations in equine sessions to experience this kind of thing and then it is learned and hopefully applied in their life.    It can become like a muscle memory not unlike an athlete learns for their sport.  You first have to learn how to locate the muscle, experience the feeling and then practice it until it becomes second nature.  The muscle, using this term loosely, in EAL is the body sensation of feeling grounded.  Some can understand the process in theory but not know how to identify the feeling.  When it is experienced in a session with the horses giving feedback it can be learned and practiced.   

I should clarify also that EAL is typically not a riding experience so my example above of bareback riding is just a personal experience I enjoy that really allowed me to feel the in tune with my horse.  There are many ways to experience this on the ground  which does not require horse experience provided you are part of an EAL or EAP session.  I don't recommend people trying this without someone experienced in equine assisted learning or equine assisted psychotherapy.            

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Expanding My Horizon

equine art by Sue Steiner,Sunbathed oil painting

I am going to an Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) demo this Friday at Wager's . Way Farm  I've been communicating with Ginny Telego, the President and Equine Specialist of the program.  The program is, an equine experiential educational program for personal development and team building.  People can learn more about themselves through these experiences because the interaction between people and horses help to bring out the group dynamics in a way that can be experienced in a non-threatening way to give immediate feedback.  We learn to feel how this change feels in our body and mind and then see concrete reactions in the horses.   It is really a fascinating subject.

Wager's Way offers team building for corporate development and has this to say from their web site:

Wager's Way began as a dream in 1995, when Ginny Telego realized that horses could have a profound effect on people's lives.  After many years of training to hone Equine Experiential Education skills, Ginny assembled a team of co-facilitators -- both horse and human --  and found the perfect place to launch a venture aimed at guiding people through seismic journeys of self-discovery.  Wager's Way became a reality in 2009.
Wager's Way now offers programs for businesses, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.

I am looking forward to the demo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can't We See Eye to Eye?

Which Way to Go?

Yesterday I was confronted again with how my perception of safety differs from my horses perspective of safety.   We had high winds and a forecast calling for snow and rain.  (It missed us thankfully!!  This IS April.)  

I typically turn my horses out on 24/7 turnout by mid April depending on the weather and pasture conditions.  They were out, enjoying themselves and doing quite well but with this stinking weather forecast I thought I better bring them in.  Cold wet rain or snow would not be good!  I had the stalls clean, bedded and fresh hay and water.  I had the 'bait' of a handful of grain in their buckets which normally brings them in at a gallop.  I also think its funny when they come running to me this time of year to feed them when there is MORE food out there than in the barn!  I rattle my bucket and begin to call 'Time to EEEEAT hoooooorsessssss!'   That is my call to them.  Kind of like the farmer who yells 'Suuuuuuueeeeeeeyyyyyy' to bring the pigs in which by the way I take some offense to since my name is Sue!    Anyways I call to the horses to the far end of the pasture and they look at me but don't take one step.  I call some more.  I rattle my bucket.  I bang on the gate with the lead snap.  Nothing.  They are in a tight group still at the far end of the pasture.  I resign myself to the fact I need to round them up so I go out in the pasture.  Usually this will get them moving in my direction.  Typically they see me and start walking toward me.  Not this time.   The wind is really kicking up now.  I want them in.  They appear restless and now move to the center of the pasture but make no attempt to go anywhere toward the barn.   As I walk closer they circle around and place themselves in the center of the field again. 

By now I can clearly see they have no desire to come into the barn.  Their sense of safety lies in being together in their herd and staying out in the open.  They wind has them ansty and they feel at ease not where I want them but where their horse perception tells them to go.  Since I had to go in and cook dinner I decided to leave them out and if need be come out later to bring them in.  Since the snow/rain missed us they got to stay out.  

It was a reminder to me how I want to place MY perception of comfort and safety on to them but in reality that is not what makes them feel comfortable or safe.  Sure, if the rain or snow came they might of changed their minds but maybe not.  God has provided them quite well with ways to deal with different weather conditions.  My horses have a run in also (which they rarely use)  but the point is I place my ideas of what I like on to them and then the horse often times is kind of stuck.  How many times do horse people blanket, shoe, stall their horses because that is what makes THEM feel best?  

In this situation the horses gave me a lesson in how we don't always see eye to eye and that's okay!  

I am trying to learn in my human relationships how to keep my 'stuff' as mine and allow other people their 'stuff'.  Here are some ways this plays out in our human relationships.

Responsibility:  I am responsible for my actions, my emotions, my decisions, my behavior but I am not responsible for someone else's.  (Let's leave the parent/child relationships out of this example.  Obviously a parent of a small child IS responsible for the care of their children.)  
If someone you work with is having a grouchy day, you are not responsible for their mood.  Concentrate on doing your job to the best of your ability and then allow the other person to have their own emotions.  It does not have to effect you.  

Control:  I can't control someone else's reaction, behavior, decisions or attitude.  That is theirs- good or bad.  I can control mine though.  The more I practice controlling my own reactions, behavior, decisions, attitudes the less I am effected negatively by what someone else does.  

Decisions:  The best personal decision making policy is to do what you feel is right which is not necessarily what will always make others 'happy'.  You can't  make everyone happy.  That is not in your control so do what you feel is the right thing to do.  

Individual Preferences:  Everyone has a right to their own opinion.  They can have theirs and I can have mine and we can still get along.   Each of you may have very valid reasons for your opinion and that is to be  respected.  No need to tear down or belittle the other person-- or change your own views to pacify someone else.  

Those are just some examples I have been trying to incorporate into my life.  I tend to want to make everyone happy and take on the emotional responsibility but that is only an illusion.  I don't have that kind of power.  :)  I tend to be an 'emotional sponge' and soak up the emotions around me which in a large part came from being put in a care taker role in an abusive relationship as a child.  I learned how to tune into those things as a way to try to prevent abuse.  I am learning to tone that super sonic intuition down since its not useful in my life now.  

One of the real gifts horses give to us is to teach us how to be aware of the 'undercurrents' in relationships.  Horses are masters at reading people's body language, energy and intentions.  This is why they are so effective in equine assisted  therapy and coaching sessions.  

Next week I am going to a demo on EAL (Equine-assisted Learning ) Corporate Team Building.  Ten just a couple days later an EAL Learning Boundaries demo.  I will post more my experience on this blog.    

Happy Trails!


Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Fringe

Subtle Signs of Pulling Away from the Herd

I love observing herd dynamics.  I find it fascinating how the horses interact and now that I am working as an 'equine specialist' in equine-assisted therapy sessions it is also part of my job!  How cool is that?  

First thing I do when I wake up:  

1. Look at the sun rise.  I love that 99.9% of the time it is beautiful!
 I am reminded of the glory in God's       creation each and every day! 
2.  If my horses are turned out  I looked to see where and what they are doing in the pasture.  

I have an appy gelding who has had on again and off again lameness.  We were on the upswing and then had a setback and now am on the upswing again.  Yes, I know that is the nature of 'on again, off again' but I am always hopeful the on again will just continue!   I got this horse from an auction a couple years ago and pretty much saved him from the meat market.  He is a gorgeous 16 + hands red appy with a big white blanket.  He also had terrible under run heels and long long toes when I got him.  He had deeply embedded thrush that has been SO persistent!!  The infection got into the sensitive part of his foot and has been extremely difficult to get completely rid of in spite of meticulous hoof picking,  clean stalls, dry turn out etc.  He gets lots of turn out to keep him moving in a nice, large grassy pasture on a him so he is not living in mud.   I have done everything I can do besides move him into my living room!  I get kind of OCD ish about him but anyways it is what it is and we are plowing thru until he is 100% sound!  

One of the things that horses can do when slightly 'off' or even ore so when ill is not stay up with the herd.  In the wild these would be the ones who would get eaten obviously so I am sure the horse feels extra vulnerable.  I also know horses tend to NOT like to let on they are not well for this very reason.  My appy in particular is a very stoic horse.  I have to watch him very carefully for the slightest signs of pain so I can get on top of what is probably another flare up of this stubborn thrush.  

 Other signs of chronic (non acute or sudden onset) pain I see in horses are the look in their eye which is hard to document or describe but when you see your horses day in and day out and KNOW them you can see it.  I always feel weird telling the vet a series of vague symptoms- one of which is they have a concerned look in their eye.  But I have caught illnesses that way that the horse was doing a pretty good job of covering up otherwise.  Another is either scrunched nostrils or flared nostrils.  In my opinion when it gets to this point the pain is more severe.   Listlessness, restlessness, grouchiness can also be indications of discomfort and pain.  

Here is a list of chronic pain symptoms in horses I found on this site:  

Possible behavioral signs of pain in horses may include but are not limited to the following

  • Abnormal postures:
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • rigid stance
  • head pressing
  • feet held abnormally under the abdomen
  • limbs held forward one another or in abnormal positions (weight rocked back on heel or forward on toe)
  • fixed board like stance with immobility,
  • splinting;
  • lowered head or neck
  • inability to move head and neck
  • fixed position of head, neck and limbs
  • inability or unwillingness to move tail
  • tail clamped to body
  • ears held in abnormal positions
  • weight shifting from one limb to another
  • getting up and down frequently
  • frequent changes in recumbency when recumbent
  • ear position immobile, back or flattened
  • dorsal recumbency (foals)
  • Abnormal gaits or movements:
  • Restlessness
  • reluctance to be handled
  • flared nostrils
  • muscle tremors
  • head bobs on movement during trot
  • walking in circles
  • sweating at rest or sweating excessively during exercise
  • rolling, thrashing, kicking or biting at body
  • constant head, lip, eyelid, tongue or swallowing movements
  • frequent excitement or aggression
  • head shaking
  • stomping
  • tail swishing
  • playing in the water vs. drinking
  • lip curling
  • head tilting
  • attempts to urinate without production
  • uncontrolled anxiety
  • restlessness
  • escape attempts
  • straining to urinate or defecate
  • Vocalizations:
  • whinnying frequently
  • "calling" to other horses
  • Snorting
  • Forced expiratory noises
  • Miscellaneous:
  • profuse sweating (often foamy) in all or one area of body
  • dilated pupils
  • glassy eyes
  • wide eyed look
  • anxious appearance
  • groaning or moaning
  • forced expirations
  • increased sleeping time
  • non response to caretakers or normal stimuli
  • eyes appear dull, listless, and distant
  • Appetite:
  • feeding with unexplained interruption
  • playing in food
  • bruxism
  • food held in mouth uneaten
  • decreased eating or drinking
  • off schedule eating or drinking
  • non finished meals

It always comes back to knowing your horse and being a good observer.  

I tend to find ways in which horses tell us something about ourselves too.  One of the things that came to mind as I watched whether my appy was with the herd or holding back, how we as people tend to withdraw also when we are feeling pain.  Sometimes the pain is physical and sometimes emotional.  Either way it is important for us to maintain connections during those times.  If the pain is physical and you need to restrict your activities that some times is just a logistics problem.  But when the pain is emotional and you withdraw you can wind up getting isolated from your support system at the time you need it the most.   If that's the case a way to take good care of yourself during those times is to create a smaller herd possibly of understanding friends that you can be open with.  Finding someone you don't need to hide your pain from is so important!  Seek counseling.  Write in a journal and get it out so you can interact in your social circles.  Stay physically active.  Exercise releases endorphins that elevate mood.   Eat right and get enough sleep.  Look at the sunrise and find ways to incorporate beauty and God into your life.  This will help you to see a bigger picture to your situation.   Learn to shrug off what is not yours to hold-- control over others, responsibility that is not yours, other people's emotions and reactions.   Find ways to express your feelings rather than stuff them.  Know that although feelings can be very painful,  feelings and emotions do change.  Talk to someone about it.  Finds ways to make baby steps even in a new direction.  One step will build on another.  You do not have to be alone in your pain.  

I find my horses to be a wonderful calming presence in my life.  They make me exercise and get fresh air when I would not otherwise.  I feel calmer and happy around them.  They are beautiful to look at and interesting.  They provide us with a wealth of information too on how we can learn to be more in tune with ourselves, the environment and people around us.  

One of the best ways we can take care of ourselves is to seek counseling and to talk to your doctor if you are feeling emotional pain and you don't feel like you are making progress or have options.   

One of the things I find amazing about horses is during this whole painful process of getting my appy comfortable and sound I had to cause pain to relieve it.  That kind of sucked but ~I~ knew to get him better would be a process and if we stuck to it and kept at it he would do better.  I could of chosen to not go thru the process because I didn't want to face the pain but he would not of gotten better.  I got him sound last summer.  We will do it again even though he doesn't know the process and doesn't know the painful part of the process is necessary.  He knew it hurt and in spite of that he allowed me to keep working on his feet.  This 1000 lb animal, in pain, tolerated more pain so I could make him better.  I am learning in the painful times in my life, there is a process to better understanding and a better outcome-- even if in the process I can not see it.  The sun WILL come out again.  

Take care and happy trails!