Monday, February 25, 2013

RIghting Wrongs

Both of my horses are incredibly bored right now, and Silk is especially cranky. We have lots of ice, more than a few inches of snow, water and mud in the corral and pasture, and there’s not really any more that I can do to make it easier to get around in there. Fortunately, both horses have the good sense not to run and try anything dangerous. Still, as they stand there, I feel like they expect me to “fix” it – make the ice and mud go away, make the grass grow.  I know that I’m just imposing my own frustrations on them when they actually are much more accepting of the mess than I am. Nonetheless, we’re not happy campers in the here and now.

Luckily for me, I can distract myself from the February blahs by reading a good book. I just got Linda Kohanov’s “The Power of the Herd”, and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s like sitting down with a very smart friend and opening up my mind to new historical information and insights into both horses and leadership. Who knew that George Washington was such a cool guy? And learning about the concept of “cathedral thinking” puts a whole new perspective on how one might regard one’s accomplishments. Kohanov really gave me an important series of “A-ha!” moments when I read “The Tao of Equus” many years ago, and I admire all of the ways that she has helped humans and horses get along better in the world. While I am only half-way through her new book, I did read something that set me thinking about how people misperceive horses’ “bad” behavior, and it made me aware that I am so much more in tune with Silk and Siete than I was when I first began caring for them.

Kohanov says: “Inexperienced equestrians often mistake a stress response for an attack, needlessly escalating the situation. Violently punishing a frightened or frustrated horse raises his blood pressure, accentuating the flight-or-fight response, causing him to act out more dramatically. Immature trainers also tend to hold grudges, treating the horse as innately stupid or arrogant. This hopelessly critical attitude, reinforced by defensive, mistrustful posturing, virtually guarantees that the rider will continue to misinterpret the horse’s behavior and overreact to perceived threats, resulting in greater confusion, fear, anger, and resentment- increasing the possibility of panic and injury in both “partners”.

Looking back on early experiences with both my horses, I recall several key instances when trainers responded to Silk and Siete’s behavior in this way.  I knew that they were mistaken, and I felt enormous frustration that I couldn’t find a teacher who would show me a better way to interact with my horses.  I quickly came to realize that I had to figure it out for myself since what I believed was so different from what most trainers were insisting was the ”right way” to do things. Linda Kohanov was like a beacon in the fog for me, letting me know that I wasn’t crazy or “wrong” in the way that I was relating to my girls.

I’ve also been thinking about how many of those harsh, grudge-holding trainers eventually came around to realizing that there were other less painful and more successful ways to handle horses.  As Henry Shukman, a writer and Bhuddhist philosopher, points out, “ Being wrong can, and often does, bring us closer to being right.”

Before I start to pat myself on the back for seeking out kinder, gentler ways to be part of my herd, I also need to stop and take a look at my own reaction after I have any of those “A-ha!” moments. Shukman also says, “We tend to cherish the new insight rather than notice the more important giving up of the old viewpoint. Perhaps this is the very mechanism by which we all but inevitably end up turning the new view into the next old one, which must in turn also be relinquished. And so our path goes on.”

Silk and Siete don’t harbor any resentments for the inconvenience that Mother Nature is causing them. Yesterday, in the moment of standing on ice, after eating all the hay that I gave her, Silk let me know that she was not happy about the situation. I get it that as Silk was pinning her ears the day before as a way of telling me “this sucks”, it wasn’t because she was blaming me.   This morning, she didn’t look out the stall door and get depressed that here was another day where the corral and the pasture were still in a dismal mess. She had let it go. Here I am, wishing that the weather report was different, getting frustrated that I can’t do anything to make life better faster, when maybe I should just trying being more like a horse.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's V Day

"Some people wish each other love on Valentine’s Day. Some wish prosperity, health and wealth. I would wish all those onto all persons, but one more, the most critical. I would wish remembering.
Remembering that Love is not fancy, and thus to take care to adorn Love carefully, so as to not occlude its humble street origins… that Love does not stay alive by asking ‘how much’ but by ‘how well and how deeply?’"
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Moderate Voice (
Read more at 

Monday, February 11, 2013

26 Inches!!!

We woke up Saturday morning to 26 inches of snow.  It took my husband and me over an hour and a half to get to the barn to feed the horses. We were using his mighty new John Deere tractor with the world’s largest snow blower, but the drifts were shoulder high and the snow was so wet that it was hard to move it. All day, we plowed and shoveled and in the end, I must say we did a very nice job of clearing paths and runways so we can move through the white mountains.  Now, we are getting freezing rain, which is going to turn to plain old rain.

This is the recipe for true disaster around here. When we have a lot of snow and the rain can’t drain into the ditches, the barn floods.  So far, we are on the edge of the rain on the weather map. I honestly wish we would have more snow instead of the rain.  I’ve just mucked and fed and chopped up the icy patches, and it’s only 7:30 am, so I hope I’ve got a jump on it.  My friends in California are all checking in with wisecracks, but I was reading somewhere some quote about how you don’t know how strong you are until you  have no option but to be strong.  My right elbow and arm have held up through all the shoveling, although I was pretty sore on Saturday night.

Yesterday, on Sunday at the crack of dawn, my daughter and I had to go to New York City because she had a very important interview that she did not want to postpone. So, in the dark, we drove down unplowed roads to get to the 95 and brave our way to the closest open train station.  It took double the amount of time it would usually take, and I was loving our old Landcruiser with the four-wheel drive. I felt like it was some kind of dream. We got to Grand Central, walked to the interview, walked back and got on the train and were home in record time.  I was so happy to pull in the beautifully plowed driveway and see my horses standing in their little cleared off runway in the pasture eating hay and my puppy playing with my neighbor who had been babysitting her.

Stella is a riot in the snow. I need to shoot some video of her leaping in the deepest snow banks. She has no fear and as she gets buried over her head, she shoots straight up in the air and launches herself into the next deep spot. Boing, boing! She was loving it, and the best part is that it only takes about ten minutes for her to be completely exhausted. She sleeps on the couch for a few hours and then runs to the back door, ready to have at it for more playtime. It reminds me of how I was when I was a little kid and it snowed.

How many days until Spring?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

All the Trees

I woke up at 2 am on Wednesday night to a fierce wind howling and the sound of cracking wood.  There were three loud pops, and I knew that trees or branches were falling near the barn.  I leaped out of bed and ran to the window, but it was pitch black out there. For the next two hours, I fidgeted in my bed, trying to talk myself out of going outside to see if the horses were safe. Then, at 4 am, the wind started wailing, and the windows of the house began shaking like they did during Hurricane Sandy. My daughter rushed into my room, and we agreed that it would be best to go down to the living room. There are several huge trees that could hit the house if they came down, and I was seriously considering taking child, dog and cat to the basement. My husband was out of town, as he often seems to be for these major weather dramas. Sometimes I think that Mother Nature consults his travel schedule before she decides to stir things up.

For the next two and a half hours, my daughter kept talking me out of going outside to see if the horses were okay. If she hadn’t been here, I probably would have been crazy enough to try to check on them. As soon as the sky began to lighten, I rushed to the windows to see what happened out back. There was a big tree down behind the pasture and several really large branches in the pasture, but the barn was fine. This morning, as I stood with Silk while she ate her breakfast and looked at the debris still scattered across our property, I felt such strong attachment to each of the magnificent trees that I live with every day.

I realized that I can distinctly remember the trees in each of the yards that I lived in since I was a child.  There were the elm and pear and crabapple trees I climbed in Illinois, and I can recall almost every detail of the landscape where I grew up. Then, there were the grapefruit and fig trees that delighted me in Los Angeles. And the five avocado trees I loved in San Diego. We lived in an old avocado grove, and it was heaven to reach out and pluck them off the twisted branches and throw them in a salad. And the huge whispering pines in Virginia that soothed me to sleep at night. There was a time, for sixteen years while I lived in New York City, where I lost contact with nature. I did walk in Central Park often as a way of calming down and centering myself, but my attention was focused on my career and seeing the world and riding on the edge of what was next.

There’s no doubt that Silk brought back a big piece of me that had been missing when I was lucky enough to find her sixteen years ago. By the time we left North County in San Diego, there were big ugly MacMansions planted on the crest above the ranch -- but in the beginning, I could ride her up the hill, past the eucalyptus tree where the red-tailed hawk had a nest of babies, and stare out at the Pacific Ocean.  Standing with my horse this morning, while she munched on her breakfast, I was reminded of all the beautiful views that I’ve seen thanks to the trails we’ve gone down together. I’m so lucky that she came into my life.