September 5: Inner Work

This morning I had the realization that I’ve taken to not making a journal entry unless I actually do something with Kastani. I also found I’m not making journal entries unless we’ve done something interesting, new, exciting… Then I realized that even if I’m not physically working with Kastani we are still building our relationship, I’m making observations about him, and things are happening within me.

Aren’t those things worth tracking?

I did do a session with Kastani on the 3rd. We just worked in hand. I was so tired. Gearing up for a live workshop here and I’m trimming feet and mowing weeds. I was so played out there was no way I could scramble onto his back and have any sense of balance so I promised him a short session in hand just to keep us both moving. It was one of those days where he didn’t refuse but he looked at me with that - ‘why are you even out here look’.

What I hear from him right now is that the 2 week project is done and I’m busy and tired so just let it go. He’s in a good a place and can hold the work we’ve done. AND, sometimes they really benefit from a week off in the midst of all the work. I realize there has been a fear of losing momentum again. After he had 2 weeks off around Mom’s Memorial it felt a bit like we backslid. I don’t want that to happen again.. I have such a pattern of losing momentum with my own horses for one reason or another. Time to let that fear go and just be present.

I realize that this riding bareback experiment is going to take some strength and coordination. My MovNat certification weekend is fast approaching and I’m not in full training like I need to be to pull that off. It’s time to get myself sorted a bit more. The last few days I started diving into course content for MovNat again. Spending more time on the floor and really focused on my arm and shoulder strength and stability. My left rotator cuff is bothering me. No lifting my arm over my head or hanging. I spend a lot of time exploring various avenues for strengthening/releasing - trying to discover if something is too tight or too loose - shoulders are so complex and all the muscles have to be in balance with one another.

Things I’ve learned about my left shoulder:

Hanging is too much for it - and when hanging it’s not a question of engaging my biceps to try to keep my elbows bent and support my weight that way (in fact that might be how I originally tweaked my shoulder) It’s really a question of holding from the backside and underside of the shoulder blade and allowing those great big muscles and grip strength to do the job. Watching others hang, they are so relaxed about it!

Using my arms to support weight. I am doing better with this but not in all contexts and I can really feel the instability in that left joint when I do things like use that arm to post off of to get up on Kastani. From a strength perspective I’m finding ways to hang from the sides of door frames so I don’t have so support my full body weight but my shoulder can get used to letting go and allowing these other muscles to do their jobs. There’s a huge psychological component to this.

I also realize my shoulders have been rounded forward most of my life. Opening them up requires physical effort. On the floor I can sit with my hands on the floor behind me and practice shoulder stability with my chest open. Lifting my butt of the floor makes it more demanding and I’m starting to be able to do that without pain on the front side of my shoulder joint. It took a long time just putting my arms behind me and leaning back a hair to start building that strength. I can see how diligent I’ll need to be to get this arm and shoulder thing going before November!

Now, here’s the big thing. I’m becoming aware there is a strong emotional component to this shoulder issue. Every time I lay quietly and just let my arms and shoulders rest I find they are so balled up and tight they hover above the ground vibrating. as they start to let go they shake and finally release and relax to the floor. Just before the release I am always flooded by emotions. Sometimes it’s a tsunami wave of grief and disbelief that Mom is really gone. Sometimes it’s the edges of panic. Sometimes my whole body will feel like it’s on pins and needles. It’s intense. It’s a huge reminder that I have not processed through all the various aspects of what happened with Mom. And it could be there’s other older ‘stuff’ trapped there too. These patterns in my shoulders have been around a long time!

This morning as I lay in bed tracking the patterns I feel in my neck and shoulder I asked my body - ‘what’s this about?’ I felt a pattern of tension and focused on it. It intensified and traveled throughout my shoulder into my rib cage and upper back. It was so intense it felt like my whole left upper body was on lock down. I just allowed it happen, getting tighter until it was all just rigid. And then it started to melt slowly. I felt a bit of fear/anxiety and then it was gone and another pattern of tightness would arise. I tracked three different patterns of tension that all followed the same pattern of getting tighter and then rigid and then slowly melting. I have not test my shoulder range of motion this morning. My sense it to let it rest. But now I’m sure, there is tension disrupting that delicate balance of muscles in my shoulder. and there is definitely an emotional component. I can feel Kastani holding space for me to find peace and let my nervous system reset after all the trauma of this past year. He is a wise one!

And this is such a great reminder to me that Kastani and I now have a bond that goes beyond just what we do together in the physical. That connection allows us both to continue working on our own things even when we aren’t together.

September 1: Finding new motivation

It’s so interesting. With the close of the two week short course, hence no more obligation to film and write about sessions with Kastani, I found myself making excuses not to go work with him. And it’s not that I didn’t have a blast working with him and getting as far as we did. So what’s up? As usual, this journey of working with my own horse is all about me, not him!

Saturday I was just plain tired. I had to admit it. I had a million things to do and just had to admit defeat. It was too hot, too fast. First day with no company and no obligations in a very long time. I just reveled in the pajama day atmosphere and allowed myself to rest. Nothing at all wrong with that.

Sunday I got out there a little late again. I am mowing weeds and doing major outside clean up for the clinic here this weekend and that took priority. That weed machine is heavy duty though and I so I quit before I was too tired to stand and determined to go get Kastani.

The conversation that was running in my head went something along the lines of this:

“you know you have a lot to do today. You really should just skip working with horses and go get computer work done. It’s not like you’re getting paid to spend time with this horse.’

And there was/is the crux of the matter for me. I have always been in a position where I had to prioritize my time focusing on the things that generate income so that I can feed and care for my horses, my property and myself. That is the highest priority and so my personal horses are always on the back burner. I had not realized how pervasive this belief is until now. So despite being rather played out from being vibrated inside out for the last 40 minutes I decided to take my rubbery legs and arms and go grab Kastani.

He did give me that look yesterday, like why are you here? You need to rest. I didn’t have my phone with me so no music which meant I had to dig even deeper to find my internal energy and drive that Kastani is happy to follow. He had me stand with him for a while and just be. I love when he does that for me. I did a little massage out there in the pasture (gelding scar area was warm today) and then he allowed for the halter and followed me in. Trimmed his hind feet. Brief session in hand because that’s all I had energy for.

But, it felt good to actually make time for myself and my horses. Gin and Aero both got a good grooming and coconut oil smeared on all their itchy spots.

So this morning I was determined to find a balance and get my clean up work done and still do something with my horses. I got smart this time and started with the horses. Trimmed Huey’s front feet, groomed him and led him around a bit. He still pivots every time her turns so I did some bodywork to free up his low back. Plan to pick another horse to commit to practice with each day not that Kastani is taking so little time to connect with! Maybe it will be Huey.

Kastani was there waiting for me. They are in dry lot for a few days to manage weight and let the grass grow a bit. Not happy horses!

Today I decided to turn Kastani loose in our little work space and see how he moved on his own. So fascinating! He was much more willing to go out and move on his own than the last time and far more responsive to my energy and intention. He had some lovely trot and looks fantastic in motion! Temperatures on the rise so put the bridle on and did a few minutes of in hand and then jumped on my ‘mounting tub’ and waited for Kastani to come join me.

I could feel him hesitate - the sense being - that loose trot work got him quite warm and he was concerned I might want to do more than he had energy for. Fair enough. I sure know the feeling having skipped riding the day before for lack of energy. I silently assured him that I recognized the heat factor and I didn’t have much energy either. It just seems important for both of us that we keep building on what we have so we don’t take steps back. He seemed to agree and walked over, lining himself up.

He is such a saint about me mounting! The muck tub was a bit squishy from being in the sun so again it wasn’t the most graceful mount. That and my arms felt like rubber again - weed machine and hoof trimming - sigh. Once on today he walked right off on a loose rein before I was really settled. I’m taking this as a good sign that he’s feeling more comfortable with me on his back. and that I’m also feeling more comfortable. I’m slowly finding my equilibrium up there - such an interesting balance practice!

Today he spent a lot more time in motion and had a lot fewer poke into the bit and stop episodes. He’s finding a way to be connected to me, carry me, and respond to me while moving freely forward. The feeling was pretty incredible a few times. His back loose and free and this sense of energetic impulsion that the first time he offered it up took me off guard and my body reacted by grabbing the reins to slow him down. Oops. My apologies - we stopped and I had to acknowledge and flat explained out loud to him what had happened. Old fear response in my body that just took over. I had to sit and breathe for a few minutes and then we tried again.

He is so forward and free it’s both liberating and slightly terrifying. I realize there’s this part of me that fears the loss of control. This smaller space is such a great container for me! A little at a time I’m finding my balance sitting on this forward, athletic being. It’s a lot to keep up with and not block and I can only do it a little at a time. He can only be so free and energetic a little at a time. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes is all I spent on his back today but oh how wonderful those ten minutes felt and yet more learning for me!

August 29 - Session 11 - 3rd Ride!

What a surprising and wonderful experience it’s been for me to walk through this process with Kastani. I am completely smitten with him. It feels amazing to have our relationship back on solid footing. I look forward to breaking things down one more time to redefine and refine my next steps!

This morning I was running a lot of anxiety for some reason. I felt quite tired, which is somewhat unusual after my day off. I even went to the mountains and soaked in hot springs. Possibly just a bit over done with everything that’s been going on in my world. It certainly didn’t feel like the ideal time to be working with Kastani but it also felt absolutely perfect since being with him is balm for my soul.

I gathered all my equipment, including, at long last, a muck tub to use as a mounting block!

Kastani has a knack for being the farthest away when he’s out on pasture. I have not tried to get him to come when called and besides, it’s nice for me to walk out there and clear my head/settle my dust. Especially on a day like today. He is so good at reading me, of course. So he popped his head up, took one feel of me and went back to eating. Another - why are you even here moment.

I had to acknowledge he was right so I took some time to feel my feet on the ground and look around. Notice what a beautiful day it was! It was actually a bit cloudy and blissfully cool this morning! I talked to him and explained that I realized I was buzzing and that I was really tired. I asked him if he’d be willing to spend time with me anyway just because I felt like the thing that would be most supportive for me was sitting on his back and moving together.

I put my hands on Kastani and he positioned himself, once again, with his rump toward me. I decided to do a little work on his hamstrings before haltering him. I noticed a lot of tension - as usual - but also found lots of stringy, tight areas. I wonder, if in his years away from he, he had to have antibiotic injections because that’s what this kind of stringiness reminds me of. In the course of working in more detail on his hamstrings my hands drifted closer to his inner thighs where I was quite surprised to feel quite cold tissue as compared to anywhere else on his body. This is something I observe in geldings if there are issues with the gelding scar. I’ve never noticed this on Kastani and wonder if it’s something that is getting stirred up as we get more into working. This happens sometimes where nothing is noticeable around the gelding scare until a horse goes to work…

When I asked him if I could halter him he politely kept grazing so I stood back and turned on my music on my phone. He’s so funny. If I do that he seems to realize I’m serious and he pops his head up and marches off with me!

Karin and I ended up doing some tag team facial release of the area. Again, I am fascinated by how he’s started to direct and do things in response to body work unlike any horse I’ve ever worked with. Leave it to Kastani! When he indicated he’d had enough we left him to process and move around on his own a bit and then I continued to groom him, put his bridle on and do our in hand warm up.

Today he did really well with turns to the left and right (with me always on his left side which is helpful since my left shoulder is bothering me). We also worked on more balance control and I started to find more ways to influence him with my entire body. The halt transitions were much better and I think a good part of that was that I did my request for halt in a more fluid and connected way. Overall he felt much better balanced and I’m pleased with the changes I’m seeing in his body.

He took a moment to consider but then walked over to the muck tub with me standing on it, at liberty. He positioned himself too far forward for me to mount and after picking up the reins to see if he’d step back, realized he was asking for more bodywork. I used the height to my advantage and did some deep work on the left glutes. When I was done with that he moved off so I waited a bit to see if he’d reposition. good opportunity to practice squatting on an unstable surface. Then I did a modified plank on the tub and stretched out my shoulders. Great way to keep myself busy so as not to rush Kastani.

He seemed in a good place so I repositioned the muck tub. It’s MUCH easier to hop on when the surface is solid! :-)

Today Kastani was far more responsive to my small changes of position. We got a lot more free walking in with fewer and fewer bumps into the bit. I like the way he’s feeling. He does struggle to feel my through turns - moreso to the left, which makes sense, but also a bit to the right. There was one brilliant moment when I felt the beginnings of enough energy and impulsion to start working on a trot transition!

August 27 - Session 10 - Second ride!

For the first time today I went outside feeling free of doubts and I had energy. After working on Rio’s feet for a bit I went to collect Kastani. It was already getting hot so I had determined that I would make this session quite to the point.

For the first time since starting back with Kastani after our break, he popped his head right up when he saw me coming and there was no negotiating about the halter. He picked right up and followed me back to the paddock. Also noteworthy, he walked beside me instead of behind me. Prior to today I’ve had to work to get him to stay beside me. This time he was right there. There is a sense of peaceful power about him right now and i marvel every day at how much he’s communicating to me on so many levels. Not just about how he’s doing and feeling, where he needs support and so forth, but also about what he wants to support me to change. This truly feels like a mutually beneficial relationship.

The message I’m getting loud and clear from Kastani is that what interests him is riding. I keep trying all these other things to see what might peak his interest. The only time I get this sense of ‘all in’ from him is when I break out the bridle.

I’ve assessed him enough over the last nine days to have a good sense of what his main issues are and how best to support them. I know he will not hesitate to let me know if there is something he needs addressed and so I no longer need to spend time with the phase one pieces unless he doesn’t connect with me to begin with for some reason. Certainly not the case today. Nothing showed up during grooming either so I dispensed with any other ground work and put the bridle on - again - considering the heat and how could we do this piece of work together as efficiently as possible.

In hand went well today. He’s listening more and more turning left and right and stopping well. After what felt like a decent warm up and sense that he was with me, I put my helmet on and broke out my make shift mounting block again. It’s really fascinating trying to jump on a horse bareback when jumping is not your strong suit, the thing you stand on wants to squish as you try to push off of it and your left shoulder won’t support your weight once you’ve jumped! parkour has really taught me how to adapt to these circumstances and do a few test runs to feel out how to get it done. So not gracefully and after several attempts, I was on for our second ride together. I love that Kastani stands their quietly on a loose rein just radiating peace the entire time I struggle to get on.

I’m loving taking these ideas I’ve developed for so many years and take them to riding. Kastani is the perfect dance partner so willing to explore and try this with me and he seems to like it. My goal is not to kick him or teach him some system of aids, rather to have us connect to where he responds to what he feels me doing in my core. It’s the same thing I do on the ground - connect so I feel his mouth softly in my hands and then make small changes in my body that invite him to shift his center of gravity back and lift his front end. When he does this he gets light in my hand, arches his neck and walks off in perfect balance. It may only last one stride and then he’ll push into the bit and dive onto his forehand. If I can just stay in my neutral posture and give him something to bump into he’ll rebalance and off we go again.

This second ride he listened much more attentively and after several minutes of experimentation on his part he finally found the place where we could flow together and marched off in a wonderful feeling free walk. There is no pushing, driving, cranking him into a frame. Simply connection and allowing for exploration to find the place of peace where we flow together effortlessly.

I’m always amazed how much tone it takes for me to hold my neutral pelvis in the face of his movement. It’s a lot of strength. I have to stop frequently to stretch out my adductor muscles and rest. These early sessions are short and intense bouts of physical exertion to build our core strength so we both stay sound and healthy.

In theory, if we work diligently in this fashion at the walk, then his gaits should improve as his balance, strength and coordination improve. I sure felt proof of that today when his walk freed up! It’s so different from what I learned over the years that it feels somehow wrong to do and yet this is what I learned works to rehabilitate horses from lameness so why not start here? Can’t wait to see where this leads!

August 26, Session 9 - best laid plans

Obviously, I was super excited to go play with Kastani again after our epic first ride yesterday! It was slated to be very hot again so I wanted to get out early. Well, all sorts of things conspired to keep me indoors until a little after 10 am. Sometimes you just have to prioritize the business end of life and it gets in the way. So, I was pretty cranky and tired by the time I left the house - so many small frustrations - figured I’d go do SOMETHING with him anyway.

How about a FUN day, I thought. So I set up a few simple obstacles in the arena and went to gather Kastani. He was not so interested but I negotiated with him and got him in. The whole herd ended up joining us briefly, which was really fun. For me anyway. Kastani dutifully, but unenthusiastically followed me around. I tried all sorts of things to try to spark his interest. He could have cared less.

Finally I gave that up and tried engaging the rest of the herd with us. So we all moved together some. Again Kastani followed dutifully along but didn’t have any spark. So I decided to take him out and about a little. We went down into the wash on the east side of the property. The downhill and change of terrain I thought might be useful for his shoulders.

This is when I finally, finally quit trying to make something happen and just be with my horse. He hung out and grazed at the top of the hill while I wandered down a ways. With just a little coaxing he ventured down with me and we hung out together while he munched on this odd, dried up grass that all the horses seem to like quite a lot.

I stood about 20 feet from him, at the end of my line. He grazed quietly after startling at some noises from the neighbors once or twice. What struck me was how peaceful he was about the whole thing. He wasn’t busy. Wasn’t clinging to my side. I felt no neediness between us and thought this is what it means to have a horse I can trust. He’s so okay on his own. We both were standing in our own sovereignty. Being together without needing anything from each other.

This might be the biggest gift Kastani has given me yet. To feel and see the distinct difference between this moment of just being together while each enjoying the space and time in our own way as compared with all the busy, contrived things I tried before. Trying to manufacture energy and enthusiasm where there is none. Some days during this process I have been able to perk myself up by going out to spend time with Kastani. My enthusiasm genuine. Yesterday there was no enthusiasm and he reflected that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivated me to go out and try yesterday anyway.

  • This feeling of pressure to work him multiple days in a row so we can build momentum and make progress. Holy cow. Just typing that sentence my shoulders went up around my ears and I quit breathing!

  • I’ve read a lot of posts recently that reiterate that horses are not meant to carry the weight of a rider. So that always plants this seed of doubt about what I’m doing. So I think there was some hesitation about riding again. Kastani has some odd lumpiness on his bottom line so I worry about strapping on a saddle and then I have voices in my head that tell me bareback is worse for their back than a saddle. I talked myself out of this train of thought that evening by really looking at Kastani. His back looks better and stronger than ever and the chronically tight muscles behind his shoulder blades felt better after my ride, not worse. He’s getting fit. He’s gleaming health. And he doesn’t seem to get sparked by anything other than riding.

What I learned is that Kastani is with me. All he wants is for me to show up when I feel good to be with him. He doesn’t care if it’s every day or not. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. I still can’t find words for how it felt to stand in the wash with him and realize how okay we both are. Independent and strong.

August 25, Session 8 - FIRST RIDE!

First ride is in the books!

After another relatively sleepless night I wasn’t sure I’d be up for doing anything with Kastani today. After serving Dad Sunday breakfast I felt completely frazzled. My Mother in Law is coming to visit on Tuesday and I haven’t really done a deep clean on my house since early in the year before things got so intense with Mom. It’s the way of things. Life can be so full and often quite stressful. I was feeling the pressure of all the things that need doing and it was just wrecking havoc on my nervous system.

Add to that the pressure to get outside before it gets hot…

Realizing that it isn’t going to go well to take my stressed out self to see Kastani, I chose instead to sit still for as long as I needed to clear my head and settle my nervous system. I started by just feeling myself sitting in my chair, my feet resting on the floor, breathe in and out in rhythm and notice what I feel going on inside my body. I’m vibrating and it’s hard to breathe. I realize there are a few niggling things I can attend to right now, a few small things off my plate. That gives me room to breathe. Now what else is on my mind?

I go through the things that are weighing on me and ask my nervous system questions about the things I’m debating about. How do I feel if I imagine going this route? Pause and notice how my body feels. What if I go this route? How does that feel? Some imaginings cause me to clamp down and feel like I’m trapped. Other imaginings cause me to settle and start breathing deeply. This is how I ‘muscle test’ things that I’m debating about. What really works for my body, my nervous system, if I get my monkey mind out of the way?

Of course one of the things that’s weighing on me is Kastani and what we’re doing together. I’m not happy about how the long lining is going. It’s a big question about do I keep going and see if things improve or do I switch gears. I’m not a fan of just changing everything willy nilly because then I never give anything a chance to really work. So, I connect myself to Kastani and ask him how he’s feeling. He shows me that he prefers the work in hand vs. the long lining. He shows me pictures of me walking beside him and how helpful it is to feel my body more directly. In fact, based on what he’s showing me I wonder if he might actually gain more body awareness by carrying me? Bottom line, he’s game, he’s just wanting to do it differently.

Out I go with my nervous system calm and my mind clear on what I want to do today.

Halter, bridle, whip, helmet and hoof trimming supplies.

Today I turned music on before I ever went out to the pasture. I walked out there with purpose and energy and Kastani popped his head up and looked at me. He was easy to halter today and walked right in with me. No diving for grass. I’m going to chalk this up to the fact that I was so clear and had checked in with him beforehand in a more direct way.

Groomed. He’s wanting a lot of attention on his hind quarters. His hamstrings and a few other areas are quite tight so worked on those. He did not request all that deep tissue work on his neck and shoulders today. Yay.

Rounded up front toes. I wasn’t thrilled yet with his hoof balance. May tweak a bit more tomorrow and work on the hinds. I suspect the inside heels are a bit high and that may be impacting how he’s moving behind. So we’ll fine tune that. He seemed happy with the adjustments to the front feet and I’m even more convinced some of what I saw yesterday was due to the change in his feet.

Today I decided since it was going to get hot soon to just put the bridle on and go to work. I feel I have a good sense of what his challenges are and the work in the bridle seems to address those things most directly.

Worked in hand. He felt much better today. Started to add in some variations - smaller circles, changes of direction, beginnings of walk pirouette. All led from my body, not my hands. Halt transitions were a bit of a challenge today. Did manage to work into trot but he was just a bit too busy in his mouth to make that productive.

After a bit things were feeling good enough I thought I’d at least work on mounting prep. Of course I didn’t have the muck tub I like to use as a mounting block and only had access to this flat hay pan. It’s a bit low and a bit squishy but I thought it would be worth a try. Good test of my Parkour skills! I was committed to not walking away from him and leaving him hanging today so figured I’d adapt to what I had.

Jumping has never been my strong suit and this thing squishes if you don’t stand just right. It was good practice for preparing, trying, adjusting, trying and finally getting all my body parts cooperating to get up and over. The whole time I’m feeling, sensing for any upset in Kastani. He stood so patiently while I sorted myself out. What a great guy!

Last time I sat on him bareback he hollowed his back and stuck his head up in the air and stopped breathing. That was last fall. All this work since then has really paid off. He did some interesting explorations in the halt, as did I. I could feel how tight the muscles were under my thighs (the same muscles that are always tight) so I tightened my thighs and released them to help him feel that tension. Then I had to work to find my own balance on this round boy who’s a bit wide for me bareback.

We sat in the halt exploring how my body sits on his back and his body balances beneath my weight. I had to work a bit to find neutral pelvis bareback. It always surprises me how much core strength this takes when I haven’t done it in a while. Little by little we come together and then I pick up the reins, wrap my legs and shift my body position to create a bit of forward intention. The first steps are tentative. One step and we both fall out of balance and have to regroup.

We just keep pausing, stretching my legs while he stretches his neck. We reconnect and explore this mutual balance in motion thing. I’m having a blast experimenting with my theory about working with the reflexes to stand walk and turn. I don’t have to kick him or tap or anything, all I have to do is wait and support him finding/accessing his reflexes that allow him to walk off in balance. It’s a fabulous exploration that ends with some nice steps before my body is too tired to continue with any integrity.

We ended with some body work for Kastani and off to pasture.

What a fantastic feeling! I’ll see what I have tomorrow and what I see on the video before I get too excited. But, I am thrilled by how much better I feel over all by engaging in this physical activity/challenge.

Thanks Kastani!

August 24, Session 7

I woke up feeling highly motivated and actually got outside at a decent hour, thus avoiding some of the heat!

Kastani was out to pasture grazing away. Likely he felt he hadn’t quite had enough time out there when I showed up and he is really testing me. He’s requiring me to dig deep and really show him that I have the energy to engage with him with some enthusiasm. At least for now, I’m finding music on my phone is the thing that gives us both something to focus on.

Nothing much to note during grooming. He’s not wanting me to rub so deeply anymore. He is still presenting his rear end from time to time so still working that out. He got a good grooming and then I decided to fine tune the balance on his front feet. This was useful. He seemed to be having a bit of trouble balancing and still struggles with mobility in his shoulders which make holding his front legs up a challenge. We got some fine tuning on both fronts. I’ll work on the hinds tomorrow. I still feel like I need to work a bit on his toes but we’re getting close.

Then Aero came over and absolutely insisted on having some attention paid to his hind quarters. He was threatening to knock over the tub that held all my tools. So, I succumbed and found myself elbow deep in his left hip. This is a big no no and I know better. I am usually so careful not to disengage from the horse I am working with but I did today and left Kastani hanging. Which I just think is horribly rude and disrespectful, as though he has nothing better to do than stand around and wait for me.

Then, to add insult to injury I realized I left my pad for the lunge surcingle behind and elected to run to the tack room and grab it. Leaving him hanging yet again. Every time I disengage like that I have to find a way to reconnect and it can only happen so many times before a horse just loses interest. Sorry buddy… Clearly need to work on my focus!

We did a bit of figure eight and he was a bit stuck going left again. Hard to know, given how disjointed my connection with him has been if this was because I did some shifting of things with his feet or if he was just questioning my intentions since I’d been so disorganized and easily pulled away. And, we had a day off. I do know he tends to do best if we just get on with it and not review or belabor things too much so I went ahead and tacked him up. Second time in surcingle and long reins.

Today was not as smooth as the 22nd. I’m anxious to get some consistency here and get multiple days in a row so we can make some genuine forward progress. About half way through long lining I realized I was being pretty nit picky about his head and neck position. We were both over thinking things is what it felt like. Finally I just tuned into the music that was playing and said lets just go move and quit worrying about all this fussy stuff. That was the ticket! Much better after that. I’ll be curious to see what I see on the video captured today.

I need to see what I have tomorrow before I feel like I can take another look at my riding goal to determine what our next step is and when.


August 23, Self Care Day

After our session on the 22nd I was so excited to keep going and see where we end up. Unfortunately, I slept very poorly on Thursday night. Something that’s been happening on occasion since Mom’s passing. After feeding Friday morning and getting hung up in a few projects it was already hot and I was ready for a nap.

There are times when it’s best to just pull the plug and conserve energy. Today was one of those days. Especially in light of Kastani’s recent assessment of my timing for this project.

Rest and movement practice ruled the day.

August 22, Session 6

This morning I felt really good. Still tired, but determined to show up for Kastani. For the first time since I began this project, he popped his head up from the grass when he saw me coming. He still isn’t exactly shoving his nose in the halter. It feels a bit like he’s testing my resolve. Once the halter was on he went back to grazing and I couldn’t find a way to get his interest without pulling or pushing so I moved off and toward his rear quarter and turned on my music. He popped his head up and came to see me.

Things I need to note:

  • Coming in off pasture as we neared the gate to our work space I really picked up my energy. Not in a contrived way, but in a moving through my environment way. I was taking bigger steps over and around things. Hopping across ditches and then just ran underneath the top strand of tape into the paddock where we were to work - Kastani followed along really well and ducked right under the tape with me! I want to find a day to go for a neighborhood or property walk where I engage with obstacles and let him follow along. I’m super curious how he’d like this.

  • When I groomed him today all the crazy stuff he’s been doing that made me think he was really itchy was gone. I think this is significant because the last session he wanted to lean into me so much - so the itchy maybe wasn’t itchy so much as it was wanting me to dig deeper and do some massage on a few spots.

  • He still wanted some deep massage on his left neck, across top of withers, down back side of shoulder blade and then he moved me to his left hip, then right hip. He’s getting very specific about what he wants and is no longer grabbing at my shirt sleeves in frustration.

I started at liberty just to see how he felt about following my ‘lead’. He picked right up and followed me but he wants to hook on and follow rather than to out and move on his own. We did the figure eight and some changes of direction. He’s looking much better going left.

Today I introduced the saddle pad and surcingle. He sniffed both and stood at liberty while I placed the pad, then the surcingle on his back. No sign of worry other than a slight raising of his neck so once the surcingle was in place I did a little move to help him release some tension in his neck and then invited him to move around. He was quite stuck this first time having something strapped around his middle. Once he moved he was fine.

Put bridle and long lines on and worked him on the long lines. I love the long line work. It’s a great place to practice being specific with my body language. I’m far away and have to be organized and quite meticulous with a horse like Kastani that is kind of overly flexible in some ways (noodly) and stiff in others. We were able to practice a free walk on a loose rein and he found his power walk again. We had that 3 weeks ago but had lost in during our break. We practiced a collected walk. Halt transitions. Changes of direction and trot. He was brilliant and of course, my camera malfunctioned and I didn’t get ANY of it on video. UGH. I guess this session was meant for him and I to share on our own.

Great day!

August 20, Session 5

Today I went out with a renewed sense of purpose. I didn’t feel as tired as I have but I still notice that my energy can be low but I’m combating that by playing music on my phone.

When I went out to the pasture today he was grazing with determination. I now see this as a test to see if I am really in that place of flow. I tried just moving, nothing. Then I tried putting the rope around his neck. Nothing. Then he shifted and placed his rear in front of me so I did a little massage. Then I turned on some upbeat music and he finally decided I was committed and allowed me to halter him.

Nothing of note leading in.

When I groomed him today he really leaned in on a point at the upper front edge of his scapula. He really wanted me to dig deep and massage there. This went on all across his withers on the left side, into his upper back and down the back edge of his shoulder blade. Wow. He’s never asked for anything like this before. I finally gave up and used my elbow because my fingers couldn’t take it.

He followed me nicely and his figure eight is looking better.

Fairly soon we shifted to work in hand since it seems to be his preference.

He was not quite as busy with his mouth but still twisting his head in funny ways and chewing a lot. Still believe he’s working something out. Today I noticed especially that he wants to drop his left shoulder in towards me.

In the end he got some good straight steps where he was quiet in his mouth and had a spring in his step. I noticed he was falling forward often so we started to work on collecting his walk for balance control. This was hard for him - he does love his power walk!

We were able to get a few short trot transitions. Hooray! I feel like we’re coming back together and it feels so very good.

August 19, Animal Communication to the Rescue

I decided not to try to work with Kastani this morning because I was just too tired. It’s important to recognize my own limitations. And I am so filled with doubts about what’s going on between Kastani and I that I feel the need to gain some clarification before continuing on.

The first question I asked Theresa:

Is Kastani on board with being my demo horse/dance partner for this two week workshop.

Theresa got very quiet. Then began translating for Kastani - he said - he doesn’t feel like it’s the right time for me to be doing this. He says I’m still recovering from and processing my Mother’s death and that I need to rest.

It’s funny, I had a feeling he was trying to get me to stop but I didn’t know why. Someday I’ll learn to trust my instincts and listen deeper.

I explained to him that the course is already going and that I feel I have no choice but to continue. I explained that he’s right. I should be taking time to grieve but it’s time I just don’t have. I have to work to generate income, especially since I took so much time during Mom’s illness…. I also explained that spending time with him is hugely supportive for me. I just really enjoy being with him.

He said that he still wanted me to take time and we’d have to feel it out from day to day. He explained that when I am properly resourced and feeling good I have a certain energy and way of being that he really enjoys interacting with because things just flow between us. He was unwilling to compromise on working with me when I’m not in that flow.

Good for him! I love this horse SO much!

He says that if I take care of myself properly I’m welcome to keep showing up and testing the water. When I am back in flow he’ll happily join me in whatever I want to do for the class.

The second question I asked:

I felt he was perhaps irritated that I had started over instead of picking up where we left off. He confirmed that was indeed the case. He gets frustrated with perpetually starting over. This is so helpful as it gives me a clear path forward with him.

The third question:

I shared about experimenting with the bits and working in the halter. He says he prefers the bit I always use with him and confirmed that he uses the bit to help him work things out in his body. He really does not like me doing work in hand in the halter. It does not give him the input to his body that he needs.

Last question:

Is he on board with my plan of riding him again. He said an enthusiastic yes! He wants to ride with me. He is excited about it and reminded me of something he said when he was young - he still sees his purpose as doing tricks that make people laugh. He says we’re not there yet but he’s looking forward to it!

He has such a sense of humor! :-)

So excited to move forward from here! I have a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.

August 18, session 4

Working with horses is always surprising. I’m endlessly fascinated by what comes up when I decide on a particular course. Kastani and I have been cooking along really well. Before this last break he was so with me - excited, engaged, waiting for me and keen to work. We were trotting in hand with nothing but feather light contact. Now, I’m faced with this guy who is cranky with me, offering up absolutely no energy or enthusiasm.

It’s interesting because I am also keenly aware of the pressure I feel. I have the camera running. I’ve set a goal for us. I feel lots of doubts about what I’m doing and why.

Reflecting on our last session, i realized I never asked Kastani if he wanted to participate as my dance partner for these two weeks. I said as much, out loud, to him during our last, less than satisfying session. The look on his face was priceless. The sense I got from him was like - ‘yea, I’ll forgive you this time, but it would have been nice to be asked.’

After the last session I have two observations:

I get the sense he’s really cranky about something. I have two theories

  1. That he is irritated that I went back to basics instead of just picking up where we left off.

  2. That he is trying to tell me he doesn’t want to work right now. I really have the sense he wants ME to stop and just be. Inconvenient timing for that!

My other theory is that the body work I did has stirred up some old physical and emotional stuff that he’s wanting time to work through.

Today I determined to return to what we were doing before our break. I have become very aware that when I come back to a horse after some time off it can take several sessions for them to become enthusiastic again. So my thought was to persevere even if he was reluctant and try to get back to what we had before.

I found Kastani in the farthest reaches of the pasture where he completely ignored me. He never does that anymore. I put the rope around his neck and picked up some energy. It took several tries to get him to join me. He finally did when I promised I would keep it brief today.

He followed me in willingly enough but with little enthusiasm again. It’s so hard not to take that personally. I’ve taken to putting music on via Spotify to help give us some rhythm we can both tap into. It lifts my mood and helps with my enthusiasm. I did that when he finally let me halter him and followed me in.

I groomed him and did a little work at liberty. He picked up some energy but not a lot and really just wanted to connect and follow me around. Fair enough. Into the bridle to do work in hand. He’s so very busy with the bit that it can make feel insecure. Especially about filming the session and sharing it. But I persevered.

My sense is that Kastani is working through something physical when he’s doing this. I do my best to stay out of his way while still offering support from my core. I find it useful to ask him to move while he’s working the bit in his mouth. He pokes his nose out, turns his head to the side, twists and reaches and dives. After a while, he’ll find a place where he lifts his back and his whole spine comes into perfect alignment. Then he is light, soft, with a spring in his step. His mouth quiet. These moments are still brief but oh so sweet.

Tomorrow I will take a day off from physical interaction with Kastani and check in with him via Theresa. She can help me find clarity about what he’s trying to tell me with his very different behavior. I look forward to that. Sometimes it helps to reach out for help! Objective third parties are always useful!!

August 17, 2019 a pause

I had the best of intentions to get out early this morning, feed and work with Kastani before it got too hot.

A poor night’s sleep left me with little energy and it was already quite hot by 7:30.

Sometimes it pays to recognize my own limitations. Let go of my agenda. And just take a day off.

Kastani, for his part, seemed like he was waiting for me.

All the other horses went marching right out to pasture. Kastani stood waiting in the paddock. When he did come out he stopped beside me and presented his back side. I did some massage on his hamstrings and stretching his tail. He really seemed like he had picked up on my intention to work him this morning but when I explained my change of heart he headed on out to pasture.

I have officially let go of my agenda.

I still have this overarching goal of riding him in two weeks but also recognize some things go stirred up. There is no rushing this process - even if I do want to share the riding pieces with my class!

Time to take a breath and regroup.

August 16, 2019 Session 3

Today was a big test day. After two days of bodywork I thought I would come prepared to do some work in hand.

Kastani was out on pasture - as far away from me as he could be. Normally he pops his head up and acknowledges me with a nicker. Sometimes he’ll even come and meet me half way. Today he just kept eating. I had to really negotiate with him to pick his head up from the grass long enough to let me put the halter on. Then it was right back to eating. I recognized this as anxiety. But I also wanted to see if we could work through it.

And of course, I have this goal of riding him in two weeks and demonstrating this in an online class. Man, that agenda can sure take over! With camera running I did more assessment, more addressing of what still seems off on his left front (though some better). I decided to try a different bit today. He usually plays a lot with the other one and has a very busy mouth. However, he also usually is markedly more interested in working with me since I started working with the bit. I never thought that would happen!

It’s all on video so I won’t belabor it here.

Suffice to say that Kastani was really annoyed with me. In hindsight I believe he was still processing what had been stirred up by the bodywork and he needed a day to process and digest. He said no out on the pasture and I just pushed my agenda.

After the fact I felt all sorts of a fraud. And I realized, in part, what I think he was conveying is that I did not talk to him about my idea of filming our interactions for this class. I did not include him in the decision making and he was withdrawn by way of trying to let me know he was less than pleased. Kind of along the lines of ‘I’ll participate fully when I’ve been asked properly!’

Of course he’s absolutely right. I don’t know when I will learn this lesson. It’s all fine and dandy to make these decisions but I have to remember that my horses are used to being given a voice and a choice. Sorry buddy.

After getting over the shame attack, the doubt and all the second guessing about what I was doing, I decided to schedule an appointment with Theresa to make sure he’s on board. I’ll talk to her on Monday. Then, I did my own checking in and really included Kastani in the thought process about how to proceed. Thanks to his input I realize I was getting hung up on teaching training technique and forgetting that what I teach now is the dialogue, the conversation, the dance. Phew. Some quick adjustments to course content and we’re off and running again.

I’m always so grateful these guys are so forgiving.

August 15, 2019 second session

Today I decided to leave Kastani in the dry lot and work with him before I turned him out to pasture. I wasn’t sure if his lack of enthusiasm yesterday was because i pulled him off of pasture or something else so this is an experiment. I do know that I keep waiting to start too late in the morning. It’s just relentlessly hot and that may be part of why he’s less energetic than he was a few weeks back.

It’s always interesting to do these things with a camera running. I definitely feel the pressure to get something done. To work with him whether my heart is in it or not, whether his heart is in it or not. But I also recognize and remember that sometimes it takes three or four days for a horse to become interested and enthusiastic about working again. He’s been on vacation after all.

I almost get the sense he resents the 2 week break. I think he was feeling good in his body and isn’t thrilled with having to lose ground and regain it. Memo to myself, he does not hold what we build for 2 weeks yet!

Today was another day of finding him off on circles to the left so more bodywork and assessment. He did a lot of processing and again by the end almost seemed more stuck than when we started despite looking quite a bit better in his body and no longer dragging his feet.

My sense is that I’m stirring up some old emotional stuff.

Onward…

NOTE:

Now I have enough information to take my step 1 and break it down to a starting point:

I have a lot of theories right now so tomorrow I’ll test some things to see if I can narrow it down even further.

scan145 (2).jpg

August 14, 2019 First session

I’m realizing my goal of riding Kastani in 2 weeks may be somewhat ambitious.

This is the story of my life. Just when I’m making real progress I have to stop in my tracks. Kastani and I worked together really consistently for most of the month of July. He was super happy about the work we were doing together and progressing so well I felt ready to start riding him. Then it was time for my Mom’s Memorial service. I had to stop everything for the week before and was just wiped out the week after. Part of the reason I chose Kastani for this project is that it’s not always easy to come back after a bit of time off.

On August 14 I trudged out to the pasture with Steve in tow filming. Kastani allowed me to put the halter on him and lead him in. I groomed him and took him for a short walk to reconnect. He was a bit sluggish and seemed off on his left front. He did just have his feet trimmed the day before. Hmmm.

I haven’t done any palpation or bodywork with him in some time so I began to assess points around his face and jaw: tmj, teeth, atlas and mandible, hyoid and so on. The space between the atlas and mandible on the right was distinctly smaller than the one on the left. I could feel my own jaw lock down in sympathetic response (resonating with what he was feeling). A little movement and bodywork to release that right throat latch and off we went, walking our figure 8 pattern again.

If anything Kastani seemed more off. He was emotional, yawning a lot and unsettled. It seems I’ve stirred something up here…

I spent the rest of the session doing bodywork and allowing him time to move and process.

In hind sight, as I contemplate the session, I find it significant that I have this goal of riding him and now is when he shows me this issue. He has had a pattern, since I started him back, of tilting his head to the right when circling left. He also has a pattern of resisting a leg yield to the right. I know he has some issues in his shoulders and neck that cause him to get a bit heavy on the forehand. It seemed as though we had broken through that but now he’s showing me another layer of stuff.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

scan142 (2).jpg

Defining My Dream

One of the things I’m realizing about myself recently is that I don’t tend to dream quite big enough.

It’s been some years since I took a break from riding. I can feel the desire returning. The desire to apply all the horses have taught me, my newfound strength and confidence from doing Parkour and MovNat, and see if it’s possible to ride in a way that feels good to me and to Kastani.

I’ve chosen Kastani for my dance partner for this 2 week workshop and I’m setting the goal of riding him by the end of the two weeks.

It’s been a long time coming. Kastani is the first horse I ever started. We butt heads a lot back then and ultimately I felt I couldn’t give him what he most wanted - LOOONG trail rides! - he left us for 8 years and got to be a trail horse. When his person could no longer keep him she brought him back, per our agreement. Now in his early 20’s Kastani was out of shape and rather disconnected. It’s been a bit of a journey of intermittent time spent reconnecting with him over the last few years.

Finally, this year, I broke through his shell and he seemed to actually be happy to interact with me. I’ve no doubt he had memories from our previous time together and was skeptical. Now he seems clear he is home for good and he’s ready to bond with me. I fall more in love with him and his sense of humor every day.

So my dream is to ride Kastani again. My way. With him fully on board.

To have Kastani be the horse who carries me into this new era and helps me define what riding means to me.

I see us moving together in mutual alignment, strength and independence. I feel his power and grace as he carries me. My sense of freedom and joy as he moves freely with power. The late summer air smell of dust, grass and horse as we fly through the pasture, the wind cooling us both.

I feel confident, strong and capable up there. Kastani enjoys the time together and seeks me out for more.

As fall progresses I see us trailering out to the desert for quiet rides together exploring nature.

I can’t wait to get started!