Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Horse/Human relationship chart

Sunny has taken to more extreme measures to let me know he wants to go for a walk. Since I've been down with an aching back I haven't been able to take him out on our regular adventures. He's always been quite good at getting his intentions known but today he must have thought that I needed something more clear. He sat down next to me and put first one paw and then the other on the arm I had folded across my knees and then gave me the most pitiful "I NEED A WALK" face you've ever seen.

I know, I know too...

Mark Mottershead and I have been working on defining the different levels of how people relate with horses. What follows is a very rough draft but I thought it'd be nice to get feedback about what other people think of the specifics of this chart and the general value of having a chart like this. Most people will not fit solely in one category or another, but I think it's an interesting place to start creating a model. Oh, and for the record, now Alexander Nevzorov rides no longer than 5 minutes at a time.

No restraint* at any stage in training
Minimal (if any) riding (5 minutes maximum)
No use of pain or force


Short periods of riding (up to 20 minutes up to 2 times/week)
No bits
No spurs
Uses a combination of liberty and restraint*-based on-line (with a halter) training
Minimal use of pain or force (hitting, whipping, jerking a restrained horse)
No competition


Regular riding (typically over 20 minutes, more than 2-5 times/week)
May use bits
May use spurs
Most likely will spend more time using restraint*-based training than liberty training
May compete occasionally, but it is not the main focus of their relationship with a horse
May trailride


Regular riding (typically over 20 minutes, more than 3 times/week)
No aversion to using bits
No aversion to using spurs
Will likely rely on "gadgets" such as specialty bits, spurs, martingales, sidereins, etc. to achieve results
Will often use more restraint*-based training than liberty training
Likely to rely on pain or force (hitting, whipping, jerking a restrained horse) for results
Competition based training, result oriented

*Restraint: any form of restricting the horse's movement which is potentially painful, including halters, bridles, neckropes used higher than the lower half of the neck.
Neckropes used gently on the lower half of the horse's neck and not tied to inanimate objects are not considered restraint.
As a separate topic, I'd like to write a little about the difference between rope halters and webbed/flat nylon or leather halters. Rope halters made it big in the 90s when they started being marketed as standard equipment for "natural horsemanship" training. Let's look behind the marketing hype and see what they actually do from a horse's perspective.

First off, the main characteristic is that they are made of a thin rope or cord, typically about 1/4" thick, doubled in some places such as over the poll and nose. The halter is held together by knots and some designs have additional knots in the nosebone area.
Flat nylon and leather halters are typically constructed of 1" wide material without significant knots or bumps against the horse's face.
From here on out, it's simple physics. Smaller surface area = Greater force.

Sure, it may look like your horse prefers the light rope halter, but the moment it comes into action, whether by a human's pull, or the horse's pull when tied or he steps on the rope, the amount of force will be greatly multiplied. Maybe someone can help me out with the actual numbers, but let's think about the amount of force on the extremely sensitive poll area when two rounded 1/4" ropes dig in versus one 1" flat piece of leather or nylon. This isn't even taking into account the effect of the knots on certain delicate pressure points on a horses nasal bone.

It's no wonder horses seem to behave better in these halters, they are being subjected to significantly more pain. This is the same principle that makes stud chains effective. Their small size and bumpy profile guarantee that there is a smaller surface area and therefore the human can create greater pain with less force. In short, rope halters are a quick-fix substitute for a real relationship with your horse.

When I was looking at halters on Ebay I came across this classic description:
The rope is 1/4 " Thick, it's thick enough not to hurt your horse, but very durable and keeps them from leaning on it.
Well, why do you think the horse doesn't lean on it? Because it hurts!

Ok, now I'm really rolling. I used to be a "bit expert". I even produced a video called "Understanding Bits" and taught bitting clinics and wrote articles about bits. I'm going to indulge myself for a few moments and get this out of my system.

Here are two descriptions of bits currently for sale that make me cringe when I realize who must be reading and believing them. These are not relics from our ancient past, they are currently in production and use today:
...The small chain mouth conforms well to the bars and tongue making it comfortable for your horse to pack. This bit has light control and is excellent for training or relaxed pleasure riding...

Or how about this one...
...Distributes even pressure on nose, corners of mouth, bars, curb and poll. Excellent bit for a horse that needs a little more control in the turns.
The amount of misleading information about bits is mirrored throughout the other pieces of equipment that are typically found in any tackroom. But I'll stop myself here and get on to the day.

My dad called this morning. I felt like Julie from the movie Julie/Julia. He had read on my blog that I wasn't feeling well and had a painful back. It must be a sign of the times when your parents know about you more quickly from your blog than in real life! I'm not sure that that's a good thing. He was the first to correctly identify the mystery plant though. Goes to show that this acorn didn't fall far from the tree.

Speaking of the mystery plant, I haven't been down to photograph it recently, maybe...back willing...I'll take Sunny for a little stroll down there tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are the redbuds...

And the beautiful smooth, red wood of the manzanita...

And the first leaves on the persimmon tree...

So, what I'd like from you readers is comments or questions about the levels of horse/human relationship chart and of course, anything else you'd like to add to the discussion.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hail surprise

I woke up this morning to two great surprises. The first was a hail storm. Here's a picture of some tiles with the hail outside of my trailer. The tiles were a gift from my now deceased shamanism teacher. Maybe the hail too.

The second surprise was when I saw that Margrit Coates has added her comment to the Great Debate post. She has been on my mind recently. For those of you who don't already know her, she is a well respected animal communicator and healer and author of such books as, Healing for Horses, Horses Talking, Animal Healing, and Hands-On Healing for Pets. I listened to a Horse Conscious interview that she did on March 21st. I'll transcribe a little of it here, to whet your interest. If you would like to hear the whole interview you can become a member of Horse Conscious and download it. Note: This is slightly edited from the spoken version for better clarity.

Mark Mottershead, speaking about the shift in ways of being with horses:
How do we change that, do we take an active part or do we just wait for the greater consciousness know...?

Margrit Coates: I think that people have to come to the realization themselves. I don't ride anymore because I had the great revelation one day where I thought, "You know, horses were never evolved to carry people on their backs."

Mark: Physically you mean?

Margrit: Biomechanically they're not evolved to do that. So I said, "Ok, I'm going to set you free, so you don't have to have me sitting on your backs ever again." The relationship I have with horses now is from the ground as an equal and you know, all of this "using" horses. I've bought a jumping horse, I've bought a racing horse, I've bought a dressage horse. It has to come from the people where they actually say, "I realize now this is a member of the horse nation, that these are equals, they're spiritual equals and actually we're doing something very very wrong by using them...and it's slavery."
She goes on to say that she does feel riding is ok in some circumstances but that she feels personally uncomfortable with it.
Margrit: It's humans realizing that they are still slave masters and what they're doing it with now is animals, with horses. That's the day that we all need to strive towards is saying, "Ok I'm setting you free to be a partner."
I think this is well said. Let me try to explain what this new way of being with horses is for me in words that I haven't used before. I am interested in developing a common language between my horses and myself. In the development of this language there is no time or place for me to assert physical control over the horse by any means, halters and small spaces included. Everything must be based on absolutely equal respect for each other. There are times when I will use a halter, for example if my horse needs to be led in a dangerous area, but I do not consider this part of building our relationship, it is simply what must be done in a moment.

I will add once again that the way I decided for myself that I would know if the horse was a willing participant in riding, was that the horse had to come over to where I was standing or sitting (on a rock or fence) and position himself so I could get on. This took over two years to get to this place with one horse (Patrik) who had always been a very willing traditional riding partner. With Sundance, a horse who I had ridden for 11 years, she has only let me on her back once under these terms. As for Sofi, she still hasn't allowed me on, and perhaps never will.

Since this is my virtual pasture and if you readers were my guests here, I would start out by laying down the ground rules and telling you that until you develop your own relationships with the horses, I will not allow you to get on their backs. If you are able to slow down enough to connect with them in their space, they may allow you on.

If you wish to continue telling me how much your horse loves being ridden, please take off all the tack for at least a week, turn her out in a large space, and then get the horse to come over and ask you to get on her back and take you for a ride. The third time this happens, get somebody to video you and send it to me. I also have to add here that some horses have been trained to go bridleless but they were trained with a bridle and show obvious signs of robotic obedience such as this.

This is all fine if you want to have a relationship with your horse that will end up looking to untrained eyes like you have done something amazing. But the truth will be known between you and your horse and to those who have developed the heart to see. This type of training has nothing to do with developing a language and relationship based on equality and respect.

Since my back still won't allow me to walk more than 100 feet at a time, I spent the day without horses. Nature kept me plenty occupied though with some impressive hail storms and periods of sunshine.

Here's a beautiful lady in her spring gossamer dress, cloaked with sunshine.

Here are some clouds to help you slow down.

The acorns have been busily germinating for quite some time now but I realized I hadn't taken any pictures of them yet.

Here's the hail storm in full force. I hope it doesn't knock too many blossoms off the trees.

Teeny snowballs.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aslan is on the move

Today I woke up still feeling the effects of what may be a head cold, or allergies, and with the added element of a lower back in spasm. Colds or allergies I have dealt with but every step or movement accompanied by shooting pain whether sitting, lying, standing or walking is a new challenge.

It definitely brings me into the moment.

The weather outside seemed a good reflection of my internal state. Even in this I see a beauty though. Let me see if I can explain it.

I am reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I had loved the Narnia books as a kid, and have eagerly watched the first two movies as they've come out in the past few years with stunning special effects.

Going back to the original book I am a much different person than the one who read it probably 26 years ago. In the dedication, C.S. Lewis writes the following:

To Lucy Barfield

My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. Lewis

I think in some way, C.S. Lewis is the affectionate Godfather to all of us who are seeking a path which can only be found by chance, through an old wardrobe, a song, an unplanned meeting with a horse, a poem, or a certain type of human being.

In the books, he leads us in his gentle way into the land of witches and lions, talking animals, and stone statues. I get the feeling that he is right there, holding my hand as I, little Lucy, say out what I see, whether or not others can see it too. Some listen and don't believe, others might have seen it too, and still others are so wrapped up in their desperate attempts to look good and be important, that they will even deny what they've seen.

The message that strikes me in this moment is from the part of the book where the children first enter Narnia and are taken into the home of the Beavers. They want to save Mr. Tumnus, the faun, and their brother Edmund, both of whom are in the power of the White Witch. The children think that what must be done is to go directly to the Witch's castle and find some way to rescue their friend and brother.

The Beavers know differently. They have heard that Aslan is on the move. They know, beyond a doubt that the only way to have a chance of saving Edmund and Tumnus is to go first to meet Aslan.
"Who is Aslan?" Susan inquires.
The rest of the books are meant to introduce us Lucys and Susans and Peters and Edmunds to who and what Aslan is. There is no answer which can be written and encompass Aslan, he can only be known through a feeling that we tune into and can be guided by. I believe animals live in Aslan's kingdom. Adult humans need to be reminded of it and guided as best we can guide each other to remembering that once we are part of this kingdom, there is nothing the White Which can do that will harm us.

My last posts have inspired many new questions and ideas to debate, which I guessed would be the case. If I've absorbed anything in the past 4 years, it is that the path to Aslan's kingdom does not lie on this level. Eventually we all may find solutions to our problems, and I will do whatever I can to help.

Right now, the shooting pain in my body calls me to end this post. What is it in the moment for you? How long have you been sitting at your computer? What else are you avoiding by choosing to do this? The path to Aslan's kingdom lies only in this moment, not whether you ride your horse tomorrow or not.

Here's a view of my office. The space where dreams are created.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The great debate

tonight's sunset

Since I'm still feeling sick, I have done my best to stay quiet and let my body do its thing...which means no horse time. I did get to talk with Mark Mottershead of Horse Conscious on Skype today. We started off by watching this clip. It truly brought home the differences between what people say and what they do. As usual, we batted about our different ideas and approaches to what we could offer the horse community to help it along the way from dominance to partnership.

The best way I can sum up our difference of opinion is this:

I believe that the best step is to do what Alexander Nevzorov has done which is first, walk his talk of no pain, punishment, force, and nothing which isn't in the horse's best interest, even if that means no riding. Secondly, to educate himself and anybody else who is interested about the horse's physiology so he has the scientific facts to back up his claims.

Mark thinks (Mark, correct me if I'm wrong here) that it's too big of a leap for most people to make. He wants to create a forum led by people who are headed in the direction away from humans exploiting horses to considering the horse's view on their relations with humans. Along the way there are many different points. To use a bit or not? Liberty training? Punishment versus reward...of course all good questions for people to consider and answer for themselves.

One of the things that both of us want to have happen, is for more people move down that road. Will that happen through discussion and debate, or an individual making a choice for herself? For me, it was the ability to see that what Alexander does with his horses, and their state of being as a result of it was something that I had never seen before. Then, I took his word (through the website at first) that in order to achieve that relationship I had to stop using bits, shoes, competing, punishing, forcing, and nearly all riding. Yes, this was a price I paid. I could no longer make a living giving lessons, I was no longer in demand across the country as a judge, and honestly, for the first couple of years I felt more like I was an incompetent child around horses rather than an accomplished horsewoman.

Yet something in me kept pulling this direction.

I suspect it will be this way for others too.

No amount of convincing or debate from other people could have inspired this change. It came from my feelings when I was with the horses themselves and the things I would see myself do, and be supported in doing by other trainers. What was required for me, was first to admit that the current relations I had with my horses and those of my students was not what my heart longed for. Secondly, I had to meet that person who was able to show me without a doubt that the relationship I wanted was a real possibility. Once those two elements were in place I put myself in a position of following the steps that this person laid out. Now that I'm 4 years down the road of adhering to NHE guidelines, they are no longer rules that I'm experimenting with, I see them as essential pieces of creating the type of relationship I want with my horses.

What the crux of the debate between Mark and I may hinge on is that he sees that people still want to own horses for the purpose of riding them. When the purpose for having a horse is to ride, the rest of the elements have their logical places. In that case I can understand the use of bits, shoes, whips, spurs, martingales, halters and punishment-based training. And, yes, even if that is the case there is also the possibility of achieving that in more "horse conscious" ways which would take into consideration the physiology and feelings of the horse to some extent.

Would you get rid of your dog if you knew you'd never be able to ride him? Of course not. You never had any expectations of riding your dog, therefore, your relationship is not based on that. Would you get rid of your horse if you knew you'd never be able to ride her? What is the difference? The only differences I can see are our conditioned expectations, (i.e. that being ridden is a horse's purpose), and the fact that it does appear that we can ride horses without causing them undue harm, and that it appears that sometimes they even enjoy it. The first difference would be relatively easy to let go of if the second two differences were proven to be false.

I wanted both. I wanted a great relationship with horses and to be able to ride. It was hard for me to believe at first that those couldn't exist together. Now, I see it as obvious. If, as research shows, a horse's physiology never evolved to carry a load from above, and that by being subjected to such a load for more than a few minutes at a time, the horse will experience numbness, pain, and other scientifically proven consequences then there is only one thing that will induce her to bear that load...a greater pain from other sources...or a huge love for the human involved.

Herein lies the heart of the "horse conscious" dilemma. If a person does choose more horse conscious ways without at the same time learning about a horse's physiology and the signs of discomfort and pain, the horse will probably allow herself to be ridden. It us up to us to understand the costs of this.

So, I will state right here and now that if the most important reason that you have your horse is to be able to ride her, then this blog is not for you. Riding may happen as a result of putting the relationship first, as it has with one of the three horses I work with, but there is no guarantee, nor even a likely possibility that your relationship will include riding to any serious extent.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Where to start

In response to the last posting

Lisa wrote:

I have looked at Alexander's website and the online school, and truthfully felt a little intimidated not knowing if I would have much to contribute to the discussions, or if I was a good enough horse person, but I will look again and apply for the forum.

and King's caretaker wrote:

I am wondering where to start with liberty work? How do you best learn to read your horse so you stay safe?

I think both of you are in a very common position. The shift in the horse world will not come from those who are the good "trainers" and already deeply entrenched in old mindsets. It will come from people like you who are starting from a more open place. Asking questions, especially in regards to the "status quo" is probably the most important thing you can do right now.

Lisa, don't worry about not knowing if you will have anything to contribute to discussions. You will be there as a student. Share from your heart and ask about the experiences you have with your horses and you will be guided by the other students and horse advocates who truly have only the horse's best interest in mind. People who have been there for more than a few months and who have been able to make use of the community support and lessons find themselves gradually absorbing this different way of relating to horses.

I found it an invaluable part of my own journey to be surrounded by a world-wide community of people who don't compromise on any issue regarding the horse's well-being. I hope that one day more of these communities will exist so people can be part of them face-to-face with others; not for a weekend-workshop, but as a daily way of life.

While you both are waiting for your applications to be accepted I will answer the other question about how to start with liberty work, learning to read your horse and stay safe. I think Carolyn Resnick said it well in the special features of the Path of the Horse DVD. Her father told her to focus on what she can do with a horse, not what she can't. If that means all you can do is watch your horse from the other side of the fence, then do that as much as you can.

I remember when I first took away any way of controlling Sofi's head, I was only able to get close to her from the other side of a fence. I mean this literally. Me...with over 20 years of professional horsetraining under my belt including a year "starting" her. I would reach out to pet her and she would make a nasty face and kick full force at the gate, or lunge towards me with her teeth bared and ears pinned back. So, we started on opposite sides of the fence, or only when I had a very long whip in my hand...not to hit her but to swish back and forth to keep her far enough away that we both felt safe.

To a horse, the most natural thing you can do with her is to simply spend time with her doing nothing. Look at the flowers, listen to the birds, watch your dog, read a book if you need that to stay still. The hours you invest in these activities will bring you closer to where the horse lives than any "training" you will be experimenting with in the future.

Remember, the shift doesn't need to happen world-wide, it only needs to happen within your own heart for your horses to feel it. That one shift is what changes the world.


Here are the visual records of my morning's walk down to feed the horses.

Here's one of the mystery plants, starting to stretch up! Remember, email me if you think you know what plant this is ( Don't post guesses on the blog. The first 3 correct answers will get a free Path of the Horse DVD. Nobody has guessed correctly yet.

Patrik and Sofi happily cleaning up what Sundance left from last night. Sundance was more interested in the new oat hay more than her old grass/alfalfa mix.

This is a very old apple tree that still produces some years. The sheep and goats especially love the fallen fruit.

Either I missed the blossoms or they didn't emerge this year. Last year was a bumper crop. These are the leaves emerging now.

And progress on the oak leaves. It always amazes me how different the young oak leaves look than the mature ones.

It was hard to admit, but I am feeling sick today. I'm hoping it's allergies that can be dealt with but only time will tell. JD is back and will take care of the horses until I'm feeling better. I am lucky beyond belief to have help both on the physical level, and beyond.

I spent a lot of time today in my trailer trying to rest my body so it can fight whatever it may have taken on. I watched two spiders very silently, still-ly waiting for their meals. I think their ways can be a good metaphor for a quality that most humans seem to have forgotten the value of. Myself included in many moments. They position themselves in places that seem right, spin their webs, and then wait. When the time is right, their meal is delivered.

Have you experienced this quality today?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Developing relations

The following is an email I received a couple of days ago.

Hi Stormy,

I have recently purchased your video The Path of the Horse, and have been very moved by it. Since getting it we have watched it every day. I have also read Linda and Carolyn's books as well as Imke Spilker and am very interested and do work mainly with my three horses at liberty. I have one horse who is coming two and one coming three. I would at some point like to ride them, even for short times and am wondering what you would suggest for bringing this subject to them. If I work with them and keep playing and developing a close relationship will it be possible to ride them without any formal "colt starting" program?

I am fascinated really by all of these different trainers, I love the dancing and the running free and the absolute joy you can see from the horses. I guess that is my biggest wish. I am really resonating with Carolyn Resnick and Imke Spilker, and am now also planning on getting books or DVDs from Klaus Hempfling. I live in Calgary Alberta right now, but within the next few months I am moving to British Columbia where I will have the opportunity to live with my horses at home instead of boarding them, so I am looking forward to having more time with them.

Thanks for any ideas or suggested websites or books.


Lisa's horses Comet, Selene, and Josie. Selene and Josie are rescued horses. Photo Courtesy Lisa.

Dear Lisa,

Your question has inspired me to take a deeper look at what I would wish to create, both virtually in this blog pasture, and in reality here on the other side of the camera lens.

I have gained ideas and inspiration from all of the trainers that I interviewed in the documentary. As far as taking the philosophy of "do no harm" to its logical conclusion, I have to say that Alexander Nevzorov has created the model that I think goes the farthest towards the end that we are all heading, whether we are currently conscious of it or not.

Mr. Nevzorov spends an extraordinary amount of time and money researching the history of horse human relationships and documenting it in films for Russian TV viewers. As an offshoot of that, we get to read about it on his website and the different publications NHE (Nevzorov Haute Ecole) puts out including the Equine Anthology which is available online and translated into English.

The way I would describe his conclusion in my own words is as follows. The logical progression of our relations with horses, which started out as a reflection of our human need to control through force, fear, pain, and intimidation, as evidenced by horrifically painful bits and spurs, will evolve into control through friendship and play, at which point it will no longer be control at all, instead it would be better termed harmony and friendship, discipline, respect, and a very subtle level of communication between two species.

So, with a big nod towards Alexander Nevzorov, these are the signs that will be the natural result when someone comes into a truly close, empathetic relationship with a horse. These shouldn't be seen as rules. I believe that they are natural conclusions that a person will discover when they have evolved to the next level of relationship with horses as outlined in the Path of the Horse documentary.
  1. The main objective of the human-horse relationship must be to maintain or improve the quality of life for the horse. A human may benefit along the way, especially in terms of learning to operate in more subtle realms, but that should not be the primary purpose of the relationship. Anything that does not maintain or improve the quality of life for the horse will not be indulged.
  • In all training work with horses, whether it be playing together, grooming, or more concentrated work to gymnasticize the horse, the horse must be fully at liberty without anything on his head and in an area large enough that he can choose to participate or leave.
  • This includes all riding work. If a horse is in a situation where he cannot receive adequate exercise without being ridden, then he is not being kept in a humane situation.
  • There may be times when head restraint is entirely necessary. In this case, a flat, wide halter should be used and the horse should have been previously taught to give to pressure from this halter after having developed a close, trusting relationship with humans. Examples of when it might need to be used are for veterinary procedures and leading in potentially dangerous areas. These instances should be kept to an absolute minimum.

  • There must be never be physically painful consequences to the horse in any training situation. Of course some necessary medical procedures or horse-to-horse interactions by their nature may be painful but those should be minimized whenever possible.
I believe the biggest hurdle we human have to jump, is learning how to experience horses in a new way. We will need to develop eyes and feelings that can identify when something is happening that is not in the horse's best interest. The signs above will give a person a good idea of where they are at in relation to the Path of the Horse.

In direct answer to your question about riding your horses without any formal "colt starting" program I can say in general "yes". If your horses trust and respect you because you have earned it, then being on their backs (provided that they do not have pathologies and that you are of an appropriate size/weight for their size and conformation) will be no different from any of the other exercises you do with them. The question you will first need to answer for yourself is, "Am I on the horse's back solely for his own benefit?"

I suggest to anyone who is serious about this path that in addition to any other trainer that you are interested in, also apply for Alexander Nevzorov's free online school at . The perspectives that are discussed there are an invaluable piece of taking the next step even if you have no wish to do Haute Ecole with your horses.

Comet, Selene and Josie. Photo courtesy Lisa.

I believe this one is Comet. What a beautiful eye. Photo courtesy Lisa.

And as for my horses today...JD is having a well-deserved although short vacation so I was up before dawn to let the horses out and feed them breakfast.

Then later in the day I made my way down and recorded some of the new blooms. I'll have to figure out what these are. They are quite pungent and are on some bushes with big spines.

Here's a bad picture of the first blackberry blossom I've seen this year.

And I caught a picture of the horses and the grandmother oak in the pasture.

Here's another view of this special tree.

As expected, I spent plenty of time doing this.

Then I captured a very subtle yet fascinating video. I almost wasn't going to post it, but then I watched it and saw so many little things going on that I couldn't not post it. I started out videoing because I had caught Sofi in a rare relaxed, maybe meditative state. By the time I had pulled out the video camera and started shooting, we weren't quite in it anymore but what you see at the beginning is a pretty close approximation of it. Note the rate that I'm petting her at and imagine that I'm watching all her subtle signals to tell me how she is receiving it. I've found that horses rarely enjoy their faces being "petted".

Then in the background we see Patrik taking an interest in what is going on. Sofi immediately senses what he's up to and starts to show her readiness for what may be coming. I try my best to put myself between Patrik and Sofi and let him know that I'm having time with her now but I'm not entirely successful. Then he goes and takes a drink. I try to coax Sofi back into the state she was in, but she is too concerned about Patrik who then does his famous trick of walking over with a mouthful of water and trying to dump it on an unsuspecting person. I'm not sure if he does this on purpose or not. All the while I'm trying to keep him away from Sofi. At the end he decides he has better things to do and Sofi asks for one more scratch, but then signals that she's done by a classic head shake, nose down position and then walks off. All this in three and a half minutes!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Name that plant

I met the parent of this little plant last year for the first time. When she was about this size, I started taking pictures of her and watched over the months as she developed into a most beautiful adult. She was alone in the woods under the Madrone trees last year but this year there are about 6 of her babies sprouting up including another sprout from the parent plant. (shown at the bottom of this picture). Does anybody know what it will become? I'll send a free Path of the Horse DVD to each of the first 3 people who can identify this plant. Email me at: with your guess.

I haven't gotten much pasture time in the last two days. I'm watching the balance in my life between being with people and animals. In the past, my focus was so much on animals that I was quickly becoming alienated from my own kind. Now I'm beginning to appreciate that the most important thing is that I become someone who is able to help people, and from that the animals will also be helped.

As most of us on this path of the horse feel, it's much easier to be with animals than humans. They aren't capable of taking on the layers of lies, manipulation, and hiding that humans have. Slowly, very slowly I feel the threads unwinding as I put myself into situations where I am the student (with help, lots of human help!) and am able to look into what I've taken on over the years and determine in a moment if I want to still be that person.

The horses were very happy to hear me whistle them in to dinner. Taking care of animals is such a simple thing to do. I think it's a way of connecting us back to something we humans have done for thousands of years. This is especially so with horses and other large animals where we must go into their environment, whether it's wet or cold or dark or muddy. The animals must be cared for in the best ways we know how. If it takes a horse to make me want to become a better human being, then that's ok with me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reality check

Thank you everyone who has sent words of support for the neighbor horses. I wish I could write more of what is going on with them here but I need to respect the privacy of the family that had them. I spent a lot of time on the phone today talking to various people about the different options. Tomorrow is a vet evaluation and we'll see where it goes from there.

In finding a good situation for these horses, all the issues we're facing both in the horse world and the larger issues like the economy have become very real to me. I spent a lot of time talking to people who have made it their life's work to take care of the horses that individuals can no longer care for. It looks nice that I'm sitting in a big pasture with my three horses but the reality is that if we aren't the ones who need help, then our neighbors are. Let's not wait until it takes things as big as deaths, earthquakes and tsunamis bring us together.

Please take a moment if you own a horse and think about what would happen if you died suddenly. Will your horses be taken care of the way you'd like? I know we all try our best to take care of the horses we have now, but it takes some extra planning to help assure that they continue to be cared for once we're gone.

If you breed horses please take an even deeper look at our situation. Of course nobody wants horses to go extinct, but if breeding were stopped for even one year, or better yet, two or three years it would probably impact the entire horse world in a positive way. Breeders might have more room to take in horses whose situations have been compromised by the loss of so many jobs and the value of a horse would again rise from what it is now. Also consider the emotional costs of having to send a horse to an auction or having him humanely put down. The fact of the matter is that there just aren't enough good homes for the number of horses we have.

To complete this circle, instead of looking for a young horse from a breeder, consider rescuing a horse. Just because a horse is "rescued" doesn't mean that he or she necessarily has any problems. If you are looking for a horse to rescue and want to work with the horse in the ways I do (see The Path of the Horse video if you don't know what I'm talking about) send me an email. I get offered free horses who would love this type of work frequently.

On a lighter note, I am gaining an even bigger appreciation for the support team I have here. It's an amazing brand of magic my friends can work by asking what seems to be a simple question that somehow has the power to turn all my previous thinking upside down and inside out. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that I've ended up here.

After all the phone calls I was able to take in some of the extraordinary beauty of the spring.

The oak leaves are just starting to emerge...

The redbud trees are budding...

Poison oak is showing its colors...

And I had to look twice when I saw one of the Scotchbroom plants blooming today. Usually they aren't blooming until May!

I have no idea what these little guys are but they sure are beautiful.

And here's Patrik blooming in the pasture.

JD came out and took a short video of me, Patrik and Sunny running. We did a lot more work together before JD came. I still haven't figured out how to be in the space of working with the horses and taking pictures at the same time. I doubt it's possible.

More ticks on Sundance today. I'm getting to know her body language when she feels these little buggers crawling on her. I found two unattached on her udder area and this one between her foreleg and chest.

I thought this would be an interesting thing to show. The lines are the evidence of an abscess Sundance had in her hoof last November. The abscesses typically come out the coronary band and are very unnoticeable (other than the extreme lameness in the horse). Once they come out, the horse is sound again and then the evidence that there had been an abscess grows down the hoof wall until about a year later it is all grown out.

Sunny and Sundance ... dancing in the sunset.

Here's a relic we found in the pasture.

Drinking in the transition from day to night. Sunny is tuning in.

One of the people I met on the phone today was Donna from Home At Last sanctuary. She is a wonderfully dynamic woman who has the task of caring for 55 horses. She and her husband have dedicated themselves to this mission in their retirement years. Once a horse goes to Home At Last, that's where they will live out their days. Donna also works with NorCal Equine Rescue, a rescue organization started by a woman named Tawnee when she was 18. If you are looking for a place to give money or time to support horses in need, these are two that are really walking their talk. If you breed horses especially, I urge you to check out these organizations to get a look at where your horses may end up if they are lucky enough to avoid an auction.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Born into another path

It's hard to believe that anything could be wrong on a day as beautiful as this. Sunshine permeates the soil, warm breezes filter through new leaves, beautiful horses graze on tender grasses.

Patrik noticed that I was sitting in the pasture and came up...maybe to ask why I was caught in my head, maybe just to see if I'd brought him a treat.

If I were as able to live in the moment as the horses do, life would be much simpler. But I have been born into another path. The fate of the neighbor horses weighs heavily on my mind. Hopefully the situation will be resolved within the next day. Meanwhile, the internal battle is raging. Whatever action I take will be a reflection of where I am coming from. The best I can do is make a decision from the highest love and compassion that I am capable of and the result will take care of itself. I am thankful that I am in the best place to learn this.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

From competition to compassion

I was probably 10 when I first competed on horseback. Kiowa, my Appaloosa mare, dutifully carried me around in circles as the judge looked over her clipboard. My first ribbon was pink, the second was blue and it came with a silver bowl in a box. I posed for pictures, I drank in the congratulations, and I remember clearly the feeling of a smile on my face that wouldn't come off for hours.

I had taken a place in the time-honored stage of human development that pre-dates the first Olympics. Competition. Humans and animals alike have always competed. In the animal world, competition between individuals and/or family groups determines who gets the food, the mate, the territory, the shelter. Humans, with their innate drive to create beyond our immediate needs, have continued to develop the forms of competition from there. In our current society, some form of competition typically determines who gets the job, the accolades, the respect, and the ultimate form of security in this day and age, money.

Competition historically has been an integral part of human development. Anything that we make into a competition, children seem to be naturally attracted to. When teaching kids about horses, it became obvious that competitive games could grab and hold the attention of almost any child. We could make games of learning horse colors, breeds, markings, identifying parasites, and learning anatomy. When I was playing with the neighbor kids a couple of days ago, in order to get their minds off complaining about the walk we were on, I suggested we make a game of counting who sees the most animals on our journey. Again, competition. The game served its purpose. We looked out and saw many more animals than if we hadn't been competing, and in the end, the kids had a memorable adventure.

Over the years, the line of ribbons hanging in my room lengthened as I continued to chase that competition high and the sense of accomplishment, approval and security that it brought. I mounted fancier horses and spent longer hours studying and training. I learned from human experts, each with their own line of ribbons. What a seductive call it was, to chase the ribbons and surround myself with the community of other ribbon-chasers. I taught kids how to win ribbons and readied countless horses to take their places underneath the humans.

The cost of competition

As adults we seem reticent to relinquish our interest in competition. Ours is a society where individuals compete for jobs, recognition, money and mates. On a broader scale, throughout human history, kings have sent subjects to compete for land and resources. Religious leaders send followers to compete to win back holy sites and homelands. Dictators, and despots, presidents, and prime ministers send armies to win their wars, to fight for the human rights their society believes in, and to protect the foreign governments that they have allied themselves with.

Aren't we justified if today we are fighting the Taliban, taking a stand against the veiling and subjugating of women, fighting against terrorism? Shouldn't we also be fighting against equestrian competition, taking a stand against the bridling and punishment of horses? Is fighting what the women need? Will it help the horses? Are the deaths of American, UK, Canadian soldiers, our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons worth this? What about the death of racehorses and other competition horses who have been worn out by overuse, like a professional gymnast or dancer forced by societal pressures to continue performing beyond the limits of what their bodies can endure? Is this the price they are expected to pay for being born a racehorse or for having Olympic dreams?

If we win, what is it that we will have gained? A ribbon? A signed piece of paper? Some numbers added to our checking account balance? Have we changed the heart of any human being, or have we driven something further into hiding, from which it will re-emerge later as it makes its next bid to be heard and understood in the only way it knows how, fighting and competition?

If we are the ones who believe that we have the higher consciousness in these matters, then isn't it even more of our responsibility to be the ones to become the examples of how to operate in the world we are creating? Are there any Gandhi's today? Is there anybody loved and respected by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists? Who is respected by Sunnis and Shiites, Parelliites, and Nevzorovites? Who is respected by both professional trainers and the horses themselves?

Who decides when will it be time to end competition? Who determines when is it time to look at others and ask how we can help? What do we have that we can give to help another?

The condition of compassion

When Hindus and Muslims were fighting amongst each other, after being freed from British rule, Gandhi chose not to listen to his friends debating the best course of political action. He stood up and went to the heart of the rioting in Calcutta where he, a Hindu, stayed at the house of a Muslim friend. He listened to a voice within and chose fasting for himself and advocated non-violence for all who would listen. Through his self-imposed penance, he brought peace to the land.

Near the end of his fast, a Hindu man came to him saying that he was going to hell because he had killed a child in retribution for Muslims killing his own child. Gandhi told him that he knew a way out of hell. He said to find a child whose parents had been killed and raise him as his own. And he added that he must be sure that the child was a Muslim and that he raised him as a Muslim.

Maybe we are incapable of understanding why someone believes that a woman should be covered from head to toe with a burka and should not continue her education past age 10. Maybe we think that we would never condone keeping a healthy two year old Thoroughbred in a 12' by 12' stall, taking her out only under the subduing forces of bits, chains, whips and spurs. Maybe we are so disillusioned that we see ourselves as separate from and superior to anyone who believes that this is the best way to live our lives and take responsibility for the lives of those around us.

We can hold on to these illusions or we can look to see if indeed the same seed lies within us, waiting for the right conditions to allow its germination. What if we had been born in Pakistan to a loving mother and dedicated father who had been told that the best way to raise their child and be part of their community was to follow their religious laws? How would we know that there are other alternatives? How is that different from a new mother being told that the best way to treat her newborn baby is to circumcise him and vaccinate him and leave him in a sterile plastic crib to be viewed through a glass window? Isn't that the way most of us were brought into this world?

We cannot feel so righteous when we see that the seeds within each human being are the same. What germinates depends on many factors including the society, class, religion and family that we are born into.

Competition will always be a part of the animal world, and it has its place in human development, but if we are going to survive and evolve, the seeds of competition must be left untended and we must direct nourishment to the seeds of compassion.

By the circumstances of the family I was born into, the time and place and society that I am part of, the gifts of a healthy body and mind that I have been given, and the outrageous good fortune of knowing a living human being who has traveled the road to true freedom, I consider myself one of the wealthiest people on the planet. This kind of wealth has nothing to do with the size of a bank account; it is the ability to see that we have enough, and to give what we do have to help the lives of others. By being able to individually touch and influence another's life we can move from competition to compassion. By holding the hand of a child, of a suffering adult, by giving our neighbors a hot meal, or traveling across the world to help build a school for poor Muslim children, we are watering the seeds of compassion within ourselves and those we can touch. These are the actions that can change hearts.

In Thailand on the border helping to build a school for migrant Burmese Muslim children

I can still see the seeds of competition within myself, in the small moments in my life. I am not different from the president who sends his troops to combat. He wants to win to help assure the security of his people and his homeland. The Taliban wants to win to gain the security of their people, their religion, their homes and their beliefs. In my own ways I want to win to assure the security of my way of life, to enlarge my monetary resources, to be able to improve the lives of my horses and my human friends.

If I cannot see the other in myself, I have succumbed to the illusion that we are separate. It takes a brave soul to look within and see the seeds of competition still germinating. It takes an even braver soul to admit it in a moment. It takes a great soul, a mahatma, to inspire others to walk the path from competition to compassion. All of the seeds are within each of us. The ones we care for are those that will grow.

At the end of his life, Gandhi headed to Pakistan, the land of the Muslims. He said, "I am simply going to prove to Hindus here and Muslims there that the only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts. And that is where all our battles ought to be fought."

He was asked, "And what kind of warrior have you been in that warfare?"

"Oh, not a very good one," he replied, "that is why I have so much tolerance for the other scoundrels of the world."

The biggest smiles on the faces around me now come not from competition but from compassion.