Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beauty in the small steps

Yesterday after I took the picture of the buckeye tree and came back home, I got to thinking that it might already have buds and that I hadn't looked closely enough. Today's first stop in the pasture was the buckeye tree. Sure enough it was covered with buds that I had overlooked. It was a good lesson for me in the difference between thinking I had seen a tree and a different level of seeing a tree. After examining the buds, I looked down by my feet...

...and saw the buckeye seed pods from last year sprouting with their own vigorous growth.

Here is the root of the main tree sprouting from the moss-covered rock. I can only imagine that a seed pod must have gotten lodged in the rocks and found some way to nourish itself.

Before I made it to the horses, I found another interesting phenomenon in the pasture. These leaves were decomposing in a beautiful lacy pattern that reminds me of translucent insect wings.

As I rounded the hill, Sundance came into view first. Her head shot up and turned my way, assessing whether I was friend or foe. In this moment I felt her as part of a larger organism called "the herd". It was like she was the part of the body who could see what was coming, and by her movements, she transmitted to the rest of the herd whether what she saw she judged as friendly or dangerous. The "herd" also consists of the two mules across the street and horse and pony next door who all keep a close eye on each other. I stood still to watch her assessment of me. After a few head bobs, she returned to grazing. I watched two little bluebirds in a bush between her and I. The also were part of a larger herd. Their assessment was to fly away and watch from a higher vantage point.

The horses seemed to be on a mission that didn't include me, so when Sundance cantered off to be closer to Patrik and Sofi, I followed them.

On the other side of the hill, I saw what they were after...the remnants of their oat hay breakfast. After some nosing around of the oat hay, Patrik spied me and led the herd at a brisk trot over to the rocks I was standing on.

It's a very typical thing that the horses will get close, but then go nose-down and start nibbling grass even though I can see clearly that Patrik's eyes are on me the whole time. I suspect that he is keeping this distance to give himself a chance to check me out and get a feel for where I'm coming from. Then he can decide if he want's to be with me or not.

He decided to come closer and say hi. I saw that the little ear flies are already out so I rubbed my fingers in his ears and disturbed their biting activities. As long as I'm gentle with it, Patrik seems to enjoy the itching.

Then I got down to assessing what the wet coat had dried to. Hmmm...I wanted to see if Patrik was up for giving me a ride today, but was I up for the dirt that would cover my jeans?

Patrik made my decision easy. He stepped over to the rocks and waited for me to hop on. He was more attentive than I think he's ever been before. We were able to walk forward, turn, and stop all on the first subtle cues.

The view from above.

After about two minutes of a fully connected ride, he went back to nibbling grass. I stayed on for a little while, feeling the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments in his back. Since I've changed my way of "riding" and no longer ride with a saddle, halter, or bridle or for more than a few minutes at a time, I have gained a new sensitivity for the structures beneath my seat. I have to also be intimately tuned in with his own feelings since I am completely at his mercy in this situation.

I have spent years now exploring for myself the question of how I want to be with horses and specifically the question of riding. The conclusion I've come to at present is that if the horse comes over to where I'm standing or sitting on a rock or fence, and stands quietly of his own choosing while I get on, then I figure that he enjoys something about what we're doing and I'll get on.

The next question is, when do I get off? Of course if the horse starts to do something that scares me, like trot or canter when I haven't asked for it, or go in a direction that I don't want, or not stop when I ask, then I jump off. (Fortunately I'm pretty nimble in such acrobatics.) The first times I did this I was startled to find that Patrik actually looked guilty, like he knew he had done something that I didn't like. When I jump off in those circumstances he always immediately turns around and follows me back to the fence or rock again where I get on and then he listens much more closely.

But what about the times like today when he just goes back to grazing, seemingly ignoring the fact that I'm on his back? I know that the structures of his back pay a price for having my weight on them so I try to use my own body as a guide. When my own seat bones start to feel a little pressure-sore, like I need to shift my weight, I will get off. At that point if I want to ride more, I'll go back to a rock or fence and if he follows me and repositions himself for me to get on, then I figure he agrees.

Today after I got off, he chose to remain grazing, so I snapped a picture of the faint imprint of where my leg had been.

I think I should mention that the way I'm riding is the result of years of work and re-building from a traditional riding background to where I'm at now. This is not a quick path to doing beautiful things with horses. There are little steps that can lead in this direction though. Anything that feels like more than a tiny and logical next step is potentially very dangerous on many different levels.

Find the beauty in the small steps and then when you look back, you will see that you have found a new path.

On my way out of the pasture I saw a beautiful scene of the sheep doing what they do best, Being.


  1. Stormy, what a gift your observations are, and the photo vignettes of your natural environment are glorious worlds within worlds!

    You wrote: "It's a very typical thing that the horses will get close, but then go nose-down and start nibbling grass even though I can see clearly that Patrik's eyes are on me the whole time. I suspect that he is keeping this distance to give himself a chance to check me out and get a feel for where I'm coming from. Then he can decide if he want's to be with me or not."

    I have experienced this same phenomenon and am convinced this is the pause in the moment where the horses entrain their heart organ to our magnetic field--its a manner of assessment wherein they discern our mood, our intention, our health and to what degree we are ourselves aware.

    Stephen Harrod Buhner writes about the heart as an organ of perception in his book, The Secret Teachings of Plants:
    "A continuous stream of very rapid information -- in the form of temperature fluctuations, velocity, pressure, chemical, electric, magnetic -- begins to flow from the parts to whole and from the whole back to the parts in order to stabilize the system, according to Stanford University biologist Jan Walleczek. The meanings within the molecules, called the electromagnetic (EM) signature, tell the receiving organisms how these inputs affect its state of being. These meanings are analyzed and integrated into the organism, and a response is initiated.

    "All living systems work this way, retaining an exquisite sensitivity to disturbances of their equilibrium. They remember this equilibrium because they are highly intelligent and possess a soul force, this thing that comes into being that is more than the sum of the parts."
    --Stephen Harrod Buhner

    This is something we humans have a facility for, like all living things, only ours has rather atrophied from lack of awareness, lack of use, but we can awaken such perceptions, which it sure feels like you are beginning to explore and share in your blog. How wonderful for the rest of us to learn from you in this way!

    I remember a painting by camouflage artist, Bev Doolittle: a verdant mountain scene with the illusion of aboriginal faces and eyes woven into the foliage and the rocks, following the passage of two men on horseback. The title of the painting is "The Forest Has Eyes". Ever since I was a young girl, who loved to tramp across the wild-side of fields and forests, this is how I felt, that I was not alone, that I was being appraised by the surroundings themselves. This brought out a sense of respect and responsibility within me, and I always felt my surroundings approved of my presence, leaving me feel quite loved and never ever alone.

    Thank you for sharing with us your growing awareness, Stormy, your blog is lovely!

  2. Hi, Lynne - fancy meeting you here! Hi, Stormy - thanks for the cool blog! Your comments about Patrik checking you out reminded me of something which happened the other day when I was visiting a friend - a 2-year old filly at the rescue barn. She saw me coming into her field and went back to grazing. I watched her for a little and then decided maybe she would rather be left alone, so I turned to leave. Next thing I know she's coming up behind me. We hung out together for a while, and then she followed me to the gate and kicked at it with her front legs after I'd gone through.
    - June

  3. p.s. and thanks for the comment about taking small steps - i keep thinking i ought to BE THERE ALREADY (!) - thanks for reminding me to take it one day at a time!

  4. Another horse today reminded me of what you said about Patrik - she is a rescued t'bred mare - everyone says she's very sweet, but she always would give me what a took to be a malevolent glance if I approached or passed by her. Today I was in her pasture talking to her buddy, and she approached me of her own accord with a very gentle, kind expression on her face. I guess she just needs to meet people on her own terms.
    Also - today I was working with a 2-year old ex-nurse-mare-foal filly. If she's going to be adopted, she needs to be willing to come up and have her halter put on. Today she really didn't want to, but finally she came up to me and touched the halter with her nose. Whereupon I turned and left, thinking that this was a good way to "reward" her and to "train" her to be willing to come up to the halter. Half-way back across the field, I looked back, and she was staring at me, like, "What the heck is the matter with you? - I finally come up to you, and you walk off." Guess I dropped the ball on that one.
    - June
    I'm not really "Terence" ... how can I change it?

  5. Aha, I managed to change it.