10.07.11: Weekend of Woo-Woo

This weekend marked the second Introduction to the Tao of Equus clinic that Anne Clemson has held at Graham. Despite having only two students sign up, she wanted to go ahead and have the clinic, so I was the obligatory horse handler. I thoroughly enjoy the role, both helping to move the horses around when needed, but also being able to hear and process the material again. We jokingly have dubbed much of this work "woo-woo" because of its tendency to sound like crazy-talk of some sort. Energy and allowing your body and mind to be open to possibility can lead to some very interesting observations and conclusions, and often it can sound a bit out there to a person that wasn't in the midst of the experience. I suppose that is how much of experiential learning is... Being that this was the second time that I had gone through this clinic, I had an idea of what to expect, but relished in the differences that the group had on the information and the energy it created. I am also really aware that half of what I write in this post will probably sound kinda goofy and, well, woo-woo to most people. *shrugs* Ultimately, it is just the experience that I had this weekend.
At any rate, I also invited Shari, one of the participants, to stay at the house since she was coming up from Virginia and I don't like it when people have to find another place to stay. Plus I enjoy entertaining people once in a while. Anne commented on how brave I was, and I suppose I was taking a bit of a risk, but thankfully every time I have done that it has worked out very well, and the people that I have hosted have been super people, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them outside of the clinic structure. For whatever other reason, it also likes to rain during Epona clinics. The first one a year ago was doused by rain the entire weekend. A solid steady plain ol' rain. Comforting in a way. However, after standing out in it for several hours, not so enjoyable. We ended up coming into the house, and everyone threw various pieces of clothing into the dryer, and one or two even had to borrow some clothing to get warm and dry again. This time it wasn't so bad, raining harder only Saturday morning, but then, despite the radar, it continued to mist and drizzle for most of the rest of the day. I was quite content with that as it felt very cleansing, and we needed it so bad that it was a welcome relief after the burning sun that had been constant for the past several weeks.
It quickly became apparent during the introductions that we had a pretty special group of people, despite it being so small. Both Karen and Shari had backgrounds in complicated jobs, but had such strong connections to the horses and animals in general. Both of them had talents that included animal communication, but interestingly their abilities were different. Several of the horses that Karen described all had colors, each one of them embodying their own color that related to their personality. Shari, on the other hand, had taken a few animal communication classes and had an uncanny ability to 'hear' things that they were saying. Things that she had no way of knowing never having met any of our animals before.
We spent most of Saturday going over a lot of material, and did get to go outside and do the meet the herd exercise right before we broke for lunch. Storm's herd happened to be the most observable, though I was concerned they wouldn't be able to pick up on much because none of the horses seemed to be particularly engaging when we walked up. With only five of them in the pasture, there wasn't a lot of interaction going on. Punkin and Piper were close to the hay feeder, Storm was resting behind on a little bit of a hill with Winston standing close to him, and Woody was off on his own near the run-in shed. As we started to discuss their observations the horses still hadn't really moved around a whole lot, but I was floored by the details that Karen and Shari were able to pick up on.
Shari began first, and started describing a few things she picked up on, and when she started to move from horse to horse Anne stopped her and asked her to choose one to talk about first. She chose Storm, without knowing anything about him at all, and noted that he seemed to be on watch for the herd. Karen elaborated saying that he seemed to be a grandfatherly type, and called him a Sage. She noted that when any of the horses moved, he checked in to find out what they were up to. When they had finished giving their impressions and observations, Anne asked me to elaborate and tell them a little more about Storm. I filled them in on a number of other details, and was really able to confirm their insights. We moved on to Punkin next, and Karen said that she felt he had a really kind spirit and was very warm, but yet was also the bottom of the herd, while at the same time being a friend to all of the horses. Shari noted that she felt a bit of wariness when we approached, and that she didn't feel like he was entirely comfortable with us being there. I elaborated for them that again, they were both right. Punkin is the bottom of the herd only because he just doesn't need the herd and doesn't engage in the drama of the hierarchy. And at the same time while he is confident, he can be rather aloof and not really fully interested in engaging with whatever else is going on so the wary feeling that Shari got from him was still pretty accurate. It was Piper's turn next, and Shari's response made me laugh outright. Shari said that Piper told her first that this was her herd, and then that she ran the place. Shari said she involuntarily laughed, without really knowing why, and said she meant no disrespect in doing so, but the statement made her giggle all the same. I laughed out loud and explained that there is no way that Piper runs the herd, but I was sure that all the other horses probably humor her just enough to let her think so. She's the saucy little teenager, and probably learned well from Muffin but hasn't yet grown into her shoes. Karen noted that Piper seemed to be claiming the whole hay feeder, and when Punkin walked over and began eating with her, she got a bit upset (though not visibly), and Punkin ignored her attempts to own the hay. By this time Storm and Winston were interacting a little bit, playing lightly, and had moved down into the bottom of the pasture. Storm took a roll, and Winston rolled right after him. Piper decided that a roll would be nice, but she had to do it somewhere else, not where the boys had already rolled. Woody had wandered down among the trees in the back by this time as well. Neither Shari nor Karen were able to get a good read on Woody, and I explained his background, and the fact that he just didn't seem to know how to be a horse very well in the first place, and the fact that neither one was able to really pick up much of anything from him was not surprising. By this time the horses had made their way back up into the middle of the pasture, Storm and Winston playing off and on the whole time. It had begun to drizzle so we retreated back into the house to talk about Winston since he was the last horse to discuss in the herd. Shari picked up on the fact that Winston had very purposefully pooped right where Storm pooped a few moments before, and she said that the word that came to her mind was Little Buddy. I validated that, and got the suspicion that Winston probably thinks that Storm hung the moon. He's not buddy sour with him, but at the same time it is very apparent that Winston just adores Storm. He was rubbing his face on Storm's butt at one point, and there was an air of reverence and love about what he was doing. He rolled in the same spot, and in general was Storm's shadow where ever he went. They came back up to the middle of the pasture and Winston was playing with Storm, doing his cute little rears which Storm merely raises his head up to get out of Winston's way, which is quite comical (some day I will get a photo of it...).
We broke for lunch and headed to Toscana's and had a great time chatting and talking over really good food. When we returned to the house we picked up with the emotional message chart and understanding what each emotion means and the questions to ask to help resolve the emotion. The challenge for me is what to do with emotions that can't be resolved quickly, even while understanding the questions to ask of yourself. It is often difficult to move forward when the message behind the emotion is still cloudy. We wrapped up for the evening after much intense discussion about processing emotions and finding the resolve behind them.
Jim had gotten chicken for dinner, and since it was a still a little early, we headed out to show Shari the rest of the horses. I took her to see the geldings herd, and introduced all of them to her from the hill. She commented that Joker said that someone told him that something important was happening tomorrow, and that he would be involved. We headed back over to the other end of the barn, and introduced her to the diet field since they were all up and hanging out when we got down there. She hadn't been able to meet Tali yet and was interested in doing so. It ended up that each of the five horses in that herd came over individually to say hello and meet her. It was very calm, and none were pushing any of the others around at the fence, it was each one taking their turn. We spent a while leaning on the fence chatting and talking and rubbing on the horses. Tali came up, and Shari immediately pinpointed that she just loves Jim. We talked about the work we were doing with her, and her struggles with her balance and how slow it has been to make progress with her, but the fact that she is so wobbly now is a far cry from what she was like when she arrived here. We loved on Star, who was so willing to hang out with us. We were explaining the fact that her owner is almost never here, and Shari commented that Star had just told her that she really wanted to be in a program. It broke my heart to hear that and know that I just don't have the time to work with her, Tali and Storm barley get enough work as it is. We have long since known that Star would be delightful to work with, and it just seems easy to gravitate to her, there just are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs doing!
By that time Nancy had arrived, and we offered to give her a hand feeding so that it would be wrapped up faster, and with the four of us working it took no time at all. Shari picked everything up really fast and was able to lend a hand that really sped things up. As we were hanging out filling the water trough for the diet group I told her that I was concerned that Tali didn't enjoy the work we were doing. Before I could finish the sentence, Shari was assuring me that she does. I told her I was only worried because she did not seem to be all that eager to work, but had never overly objected to the work itself. Shari commented that Tali felt like she couldn't do the work well enough. I was a bit surprised by that, but made a mental note to be sure to try to explain things to her before we got set up for our next session. It made me wonder a bit if she had picked up on some of my frustration with the work in the last couple sessions that we had.
We finished up the chores in the barn, and headed up to get dinner fixed and crashed for the evening. It was a lot to think about, but a great experience, and I slept like a rock through the night!
We started the next morning out under the trees since the weather was finally clear. We began by drawing a card from the Way of the Horse deck. I enjoy doing that, and the cards are always so relevant to the situations in my life. I ended up drawing the Black Horse Wisdom card, which I think I have drawn before. It speaks to being 'outside the box' of the norms of society, and being creative and following the 'authentic self' path rather than conforming to the usual norms of society. I will have to go back later and read through the essay to get a better feel for how it relates to me again. The others drew their cards, and each one was always so relevant in so many ways for that person. We moved on to discuss the authentic self vs the false self or conditioned self, and what it means support the authentic self vs the false self, and how the false self works to drag you down. We also explored boundary work and how big our bubbles really are, and the fact that so rarely does anyone give respect to another person's personal bubble. The exercise is one that really heightens the awareness, and that added pressure makes the reaction a little more overblown, but it exemplifies what so many people miss about interacting with others.
We wrapped the exercise up and went down to work with Storm in the round pen. He was very interested in what was going on with the group of people that were watching him, and after we had a short chat, Anne headed in to demonstrate observing where a horse's bubble exists. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than expected because Storm didn't really have much of a bubble, and wanted to stick with Anne where ever she went. Anne was having a hard time demonstrating the bubble when Storm wouldn't even let her create one. She was successful in getting him to stop moving, but as soon as she would attempt to move away from him he would try to follow again. I suggested that she send him away rather than only asking him to stand still, and when she did that, he moved off and put his head in the corner by the gate with his butt to her. She was able to walk to the other side of the round pen while he stood sulking in the corner. She began to move in a gentle arc towards him, pausing each time that he made an effort to connect with her, even if it was as small as twitching an ear. Finally as she got fairly close, he turned to face her again and looked at her with a pleasant interested look on his face again. As we discussed what happened with the group, it was very obvious to us watching that he was sulking when she sent him away. He wanted to be involved so badly, and when she pushed him away, he put his head in the corner and pouted about it. He quickly came around though when she offered to reconnect with him again.
The exercise was basic, and we all agreed that we had similar experiences and were fairly conscious of our horse's bubbles and how to work around them, and what it meant to stay patient and wait for them when approaching through their bubble. Anne explained that the next exercise was about working with the horse to accomplish a task. Karen volunteered, and Anne took her to the gate of the round pen to do a body scan and give her the task. She stood for a long time working through the body scan, and as she stood, Storm became a bit uneasy. He would not settle down, and was pacing around the arena, nosing the grass here, moving off over there to snuffle leaves, looking out over there. He was continually moving, and it just seemed as if he could not stand still. Shari and I noticed that there seemed to be a connection with Karen's state, and Storm's actions, and when he came over close to where we were sitting, Shari reached out to him and let him know that everything was ok, and that he needed to do nothing about what was going on. He shifted his head, and stood looking at us intently through the rail before he blinked and wandered off again, this time visibly more relaxed again. He went over and stood at the gate, with his head over the top resting on Karen's head. He stood that way for a few moments, and then clearly turned his back on her with his butt near her. He stood that way for a moment, before turning back around to face her as she turned to face him. She stepped into the round pen, and he was already connected with her. Anne came back over to where we were watching, and explained that the task was for her to ask him to circle the round pen, ask him to trot, and then ask him to circle in the other direction. She was having some trouble moving him away from her and asking him to go to the rail, but he was moving around her beautifully, and responding to each of her cues. Anne checked in with her to make sure that she was feeling good about what was happening, and she said yet. After she moved him for a while she finished up with him and left the round pen to come back and sit down with the group again. Anne invited her to share, and she explained what happened with the body scan. She was feeling her allergies and asthma very strongly, and realized that she would not have enough power to be able to ask him to complete the task. She said that she felt him tell her that he could not take on that burden, and she responded that she was not asking him to. I realized that was the moment that he had turned his butt to her, and then turned around again. We explained what happened when he was a bit agitated by what was happening, and that Shari was able to communicate that he was ok and there was nothing he should do about the situation. The whole experience was beautiful, even if the exact task hadn't been accomplished.
Anne opened it up for whoever wanted to go next, and Shari said that she wanted to see me work with Storm, so I got up and headed over to do a body scan. I felt pretty clear, and so I headed into the round pen and started out with a little bit of scratching to say hello and love on him for a bit. I turned into the middle of the round pen, and he followed me and waited for what I asked. I asked him to head off to the left, and he offered the right, so I took it. I allowed him to find a good rhythm and keep moving out, and he did very well. When I noticed his balance slipping I asked him up into the trot, and he held the gait for a few strides before slipping back to a more balanced walk. I worked him for a bit in that direction, and then backed up to ask him to turn and face me, and asked him to move off to the left. He was not as willing to go to the left, and that took some encouragement, which initiated a buck out of him, but I just laughed and he didn't get too excited about anything else. I worked him for a while more before stopping and wrapping up. I figured no one was interested in watching me work for an hour, and I think Storm knew that I wasn't planning on really getting into any diligent long term work as he was not quite a cooperative as he usually is.
I returned to the group, and explained a little more about what was going on. As we talked Storm played in the puddle of water getting his legs completely covered in muddy wet spots. He wandered around a lot, and eventually laid down and rolled. At that point, it was fairly obvious that he was finished working with us, especially after he pooped and peed. He was through!
I returned him to the pasture, and then went to get Tali out so that we could continue some of the exercises with her. I headed down into her pasture and found all of them in the run-in shed to escape the bugs and heat. She stepped a little further back into the shed when I paused to say hello to her, and so I stepped up into the shade of the shed to get out of the heat of the sun. She was standing next to Bonnie, who was in the corner, and they both were in the same position. Bonnie kept looking over her shoulder at me, and then Tali would look over her shoulder in the same way. Eventually Bonnie moved out of the corner, and came to nose me, then stepped off and pooped. Tali moved around so that she was facing me, but really made no move to come closer. When Bonnie swung back around to head back for the corner again, she nudged Tali forward towards me. Tali took a few steps and stopped, and again Bonnie repeated the process until Tali was close enough to nose me. I gently put the halter on and led her up the hill and back down again to the round pen.
I turned her lose and she explored the pen while Shari got ready to go and do the task that we had been working on. She spent some time moving around the round pen picking up sticks and things to see how interested Tali was and get a feel for her bubble. Shari asked her to move off around her and was able to get her moving fairly steadily in a circle, interestingly enough it wasn't the full round pen. That seemed to be partially because of the connection and partially because of the mud. Tali showed off some of her gaits, and Shari had her work in both directions for a short time. When she asked for a little too much speed, Tali gave it to her, but then stopped pretty fast and put her butt to the center of the round pen. Shari smartly moved away to give her some distance and crouched down to let her have a moment to get herself together and get organized again. She was very cooperative and really tried to accomplish what Shari asked of her.
When she came out of the round pen we talked a little bit about what happened and discussed how Tali reacted to the different requests. Anne asked if we would like to try one more task, with all three of us working together in the round pen. The goal was to get Tali to accomplish something. We decided that since she isn't fond of mud or puddles that we would try to get her to step into the puddle, but would be content if she made a really good effort to get into the mud. We went in together, and it didn't take long, especially with a little support from Anne, for us to realize we needed to link hands to help keep our energy connected and help Tali find the right answer more easily. We worked on moving her around a little bit and asking her to go towards that side of the round pen. She began to understand a little of what we wanted, and got a little less confused. Karen suddenly realized that Tali was not very well grounded, and knelt down and did a little bit of massage on her leg, and then gentle tapped on her front hoof, drawing Tali's attention down into her hoof. Finally Tali shifted a little bit, and really was able to ground her foot. Shari moved to the next one and we quickly followed her, with me resting my hands on her shoulders while Shari stood behind me resting her hands on my shoulders. Tali took a few moments to sort out what Karen wanted from her, and finally was able to ground her other front foot. We moved back to her hind, which happened to be her right side, and it took her quite a while to find her foot and be able to ground into it. She stood there breathing for a few moments until finally she settled down. We repeated on the left hind, which happened much faster than the others, but didn't surprise me at all. She was standing at that point with her butt mostly to the water, so the three of us gently started arching towards the mud, swinging her front end around, and then passing her completely, and she followed right into the mud behind us. We all squatted down and waited at the edge of the mud, and she came over and nosed each of us, before we finally stood up and rubbed on her for a few minutes before heading back to sit down and debrief a little bit. We wrapped up the day, and talked about the things that had the strongest impact on us, and finally every one had to head home again to return to their daily grind. It was a great clinic, and I look forward to the next one that we are able to put together.

Next Page: 10.07.12: Impending Storms