Friday, December 26, 2008

Peaceful Christmas

The horses didn't much like the flax cookies in their noontime Christmas mash, but they gobbled down the warm beet pulp, rolled oats and carrots, gave us a nuzzle and wandered into a sun patch to vacuum up their hay.

Contentment, the theme of the day's celebration, with a healthy dose of gratitude and peace thrown in the mix. We absorbed the music, the light, food and companionship and felt full. However, a tiny insistent voice, like an oily flax cookie, burped its way into our conciousness occasionally with a reminder that things might be very different next year. We acknowledged its message, and continued to enjoy every golden moment.

For the first time in our adult lifetime, we were able to hold on to the positive perspective we had created around us. The joy of creating, for its own sake, a festive living room, complete with a perfect tree and small homey vignettes reminiscent of the Cape and of Scotland welcomed Doug and Rob to share the gift with us. Candles, sparkling ornaments and warm eyes - how wonderful to be a part of this magic!

But, what of the voice? We remarked over soup Christmas Eve that things would be different next year, not through a wish for it to be so, but that our collective lives would be changing. Whether for good or otherwise, our familiar pattern, established over the years, would shift in perspective and urgency. Priorities would be changing, our spiritual cameras refocussing.

Ominous? Decidedly no. More of an acceptance of things, of challenges yet un -named, and of our place in the greater scheme of things.

We can 'blame' the horses for this sense of solidity. They have been our guides on this journey, they have put our feet firmly on the ground. With gentle breaths or whitely rolled eyes, quick feet or langorous grazing, they are doing their part to lead us to the inevitable changes to come.

We trust them because they have led us through a multitude of changes to this point of growing strength and wonder.

Bless all. Peace to all. May your feet feel the ground.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Finally, snow is on its way tomorrow and our camera is ready to expose the fuzzy fluffy ponies as they progress on their daily routine of eat, roll, stand, make faces, wander around, sleep, drink and watch the house for action.

We have been pondering where this is going, as the clear track begun a while ago has become obscured by connected but random musings. Much as the horses meander through their day, our mind does the same, sparked on occasion with a burst of energy and focus directed at this time at the preparations for Christmas.

But, a thread is there, part of the letting go/ living in the moment theme. Hyperfocus, of which we are almost incapable, gets things done with efficiency and provides time in the day for the tidy completion of each task. As our mentor has demonstrated with her exquisite example of horse management and care, along with gifted, feeling riding, hyperfocus and letting go are not mutually exclusive, and must exist together if one is to be complete.

Thus the horses exist, always with both extremes at the ready to complement and fluctuate as needed for their survival.

A rider necessarily must have the ability to tap into what the horse percieves and how it might react to its horsey needs. A true test of the trust placed in its handler is the horse's willingness to put aside its own needs in favor of those of the human. When the horse feels a threat - and horses are nothing if not feeling, emotional creatures - it must focus on its own survival and interests, the human element becoming irrevelant. With a strong bond of trust in the human, the horse looks to that human for its safety and well-being, ranging from food and shelter to correct physical and mental development.

This, to us, is the core of all correct training. In its purest from, training is but a free give and take relationship between two species who have made a committment to each other. Each is a teacher. It is incumbent on each to listen, to keep an open mind, and to communicate clearly. Horses have but one language, of body and facial expression developed through evolution to maximize their chances of collective survival. We, as analytical beings, have the ability to observe and learn this non-verbal and complex form of communication, and enter into a a world of magic, of Equus.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Walking out on the icy slope down to the horses early this morning, arms laden with sweet hay, we had a moment of dread thinking of the winter to come. Would we need our YakTrax much, or would the temperatures be so cold the ice would grip? We always hope for snow, great drifts of it, where our boots sink from sight and the sun sparkles off the myriad tiny facets on the pure surface. We dream of the transformation of the brown lifeless ground into vibrant fluff, when the horses' eyes brighten like those of children with a snow day, snowcicles dangling mockingly from their chins, great puffs of warm breath blasting from their soft noses as they trot with lightness and bounce through their field. The snow allows them to be free from the uncertain rutted footing that plagues so many of the dormant days. Their hooves dance upon pure downy crystal.

Ground. Grounding. Being grounded. Ground work. A theme here which is fundamental to all endeavors, particularly when dealing with horses. It implies solidity of purpose, committment and basics. It is Zen , in the moment, a placing of one foot in front of another. Allowing gravity to do its work, the deliberate becomes free within the bounds of physics, the tools of artistic and creative movement.

Our job as riders is to permit the full, willing and free expression of our horses - insofar as a horse under a rider's direction can be truly free - so that together they form a seamless entity of grace, power and beauty. The human element becomes incidental as the images merge into one. We, too, require grounding to be a true partner to our horses. The calm and open spirit is one which feels the irregularities around it and can adapt to them, even becoming one with them through acceptance. Rather than dwelling on the bumps and ruts underfoot, one opens to all possibilities.

So, we wonder if, when we ride, we might actually be riding the ground beneath us? Our horse is our interpreter, and we must be free in our movements to feel the ground under his feet. To be free enough, we must be grounded, also.


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Monday, December 1, 2008

Extraordinary glimpses into the natural life of the Cape Cod coast this past Thanksgiving weekend left us with a sense of wonder and humility, not an unusual reaction to being home, but striking in the connection these collective experiences gave all of us who shared in them. We were open to them, excited by them and blessed to witness them.

The runners among us discovered the turkeys on North Pamet Rd, a flock of a dozen or so, pecking along the side of the road into a driveway. Fearless, they parted as Hal ran through them, dark headed females and colorful males. Being in the feasting mode, we thought some might be killed off to roast and sit on someone's table, although we knew the timing was wrong. The relief was great, nevertheless, when the same flock was spotted, unafraid, having their own feast the next day.

Early Thanksgiving morning, we went with Bhuie down the path to the Pamet, where the tide was approaching its high point. Into the strong east-bound current, in true bold labrador style, Bhuie lept after her tennis ball as three great blue herons flew cawking overhead, not too concerned by our activity but apparently intent on following their particular daily routines. The peaceful, beloved sweep of the river, browned by the autumn, dormant for the winter, breathed into us its timelessness, its being, its song, and we gave thanks.

Later, in the still damp air, we heard the muffled pounding of the rollers breaking across the sandy shoals toward the Great Beach as we walked the sandy path surrounded by scrub oak and pine lining gentle rises and dips. We had heard from Amy that there was a pod of whales playing off the shore and we hoped to see them. Crossing to the dune, we spotted Rob and Bhuie on the overlook and joined them there.

A distant fountain showed just below the horizon, joined by another, a glistening dark back briefly showing, then more to the south, backs, spouts and an occasional tail, circling gulls and disturbed water. We has been on time for the whales, after all. They, feeding, shared their playfulness with us as they, too, enjoyed their Thanksgiving feast. Their table was set for six to eight and we could imagine them telling those stories best saved for family gatherings, what Auntie did, what Grandpa said, what they did when the whale boat trips waited for a show last summer.

We left the Cape yesterday, refreshed, grounded and happy to be part of this amazing natural world.

And what has this above to do with the development of classical principles of horsemanship? Well, nothing and everything.

In domesticating the horse, indeed all animals we use for our necessities, we take them from their habitat and social structure and impose our limitations upon them. Where we can observe creatures in the wild, by taming these creatures, we change the species dynamic. Herd situations may remain, but only at the will of the human keepers. A new and permanent element has superceeded the equine instinct. We have made a deal with the horse 'If you allow us to make use of your strength, we will provide all your basic needs'.

The key word here is 'allow', as it implies willingness on the part of the horse to work with us. It implies a mutual relationship where we, in turn, allow the horse to do the jobs we ask of it. We allow the horse to stretch toward our hands, or to find the trail on its own, or we allow with our hands over the top of a jump, allowing the horse to clear the obstacle in safety.

So, too, is the training process a building of a partnership, a marriage of two merging into one, stronger than each individual alone. We show the horse what we want, we encourage it to act counter-intuitively, trusting us to make decisions for it. We are responsible for developing the carrying muscles of our horse, that it can perform the work required. We treat our horse with dignity, being sensitive to its needs. We reward and correct with kindness, with clarity.

Simply put, this is the basis of the classical tradition of horsemanship. Beginning with the writing of Xenophon to the present day, this tradition emphasizes communication based on the ability of the equine species to understand. It is a language of the body and subtle fluctuations of energy. It respects and builds its curriculum on the horse's unique and remarkable sensitivity to the world around it.

We have been humbled by the whales, the turkeys and the herons because they have allowed us to observe them unfettered. We are humbled by the horses because they allow us to share in their view of the world while doing our bidding.

An incredible thing, this.

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