“This Is What We Are Doing Now”

20171202_165026 (2)I had a kind of revelation the other day, after posting “This is what we do at sunset.” Here’s what I originally wrote:

I got to the barn today a few minutes after sundown. The light was fading but the sky was still bright when I reached the pasture. The herd was moving slowly, heads down, toward the east end of the pasture, each horse in his own space but obviously connected. It was so peaceful.

I didn’t have a plan for my time with Galahad, though I had thought about taking him out and feeding him some dinner at the car. We rarely do anything after dark these days, so I figured it would be something different and interesting for him.

He saw me halfway across the pasture; he lifted his head in acknowledgement but went back to grazing. When I got close enough to touch him, he sniffed my outstretched hand, gave a deep “blow,” and dropped his head again. He didn’t even check me for carrots or cookies—he just continued to graze. I heard, “This is what we do at sunset.” It felt important.

Thank goodness I have grown to know him well enough to understand what he tells me, and to read his mood. Tonight, he wanted nothing more than to share this nightly “ritual” with me. So I spent half an hour or more just being there with him. I scratched his rump once or twice, touched him on the withers and shoulder a couple of times, and he leaned into me as he grazed. Nothing was said; nothing was needed. It was certainly a privilege for me to share, and I think he appreciated my presence, too.

“This is what we do at sunset.”

I love this short post—it’s a real feel-good essay, and an almost-accurate reflection of my experience. But even as I posted it, something was nagging at me.

A couple of days later, an email newsletter provided me with the insight I needed.

Here’s the newsletter, from Anna Breytenbach’s AnimalSpirit. The article is “Projection vs Perception,” which describes a group of whale watchers encountering a pod of whales off the shore of South Africa a while back, and singing to them. One of the whales lifted her pectoral fin out of the water and stayed that way for quite a while. The people interpreted the action as the whale “waving to them.” Anna, realizing that this was probably a projection of a very human activity onto an animal, checked in intuitively with the whale, who reported that she was using her fin to feel the sound waves coming from the humans.

That was the key I needed to understand my nagging discomfort with my blog post.

In my mind, I went back to that magical evening in the pasture. What I had actually heard from Galahad was, “This is what we are doing now, and it is important to us.”

That’s quite a different thing, isn’t it? My interpretation is romanticized, satisfying in human terms. But it’s not accurate. The actual message was more about the herd engaging in a mutual activity that strengthened their bond. It was more about doing something together in the moment, focused both on the environment and on the other members of the group.

Interesting.

When talking about working with the imaginal world and its inhabitants, I always tell my students and clients to be careful not to impose our meanings on those Others. It’s so important! And in my personal experience, when I’m wrong about a “message” from one of my imaginal contacts, it’s almost always because I’ve misinterpreted it—it’s not that I haven’t perceived it. I’ve just projected my own wishes and needs and expectations and values onto the other being.

It’s the same when we interact with other humans, actually. We need to be so careful to actually listen to the other person and hear what they are trying to say, without interpreting their words from our own viewpoint. Each one of us has our own perspective, and it’s a gift to be able to really listen and try to see the world from that other person’s point of view. If we would all try to do that more often, the world would be a different place.

So again, the horses have taught me a valuable lesson. I’ve added a couple of parenthetical words to Anna’s beautiful summary of what happened with the whales:

When we are privileged enough to encounter a wild animal [or another human being] in their own environment, behaving in a way that is natural for them, we humans have the opportunity for conscious choice: we can project our own humanness [or our own personal values and assumptions] onto what we’re observing and thereby completely misinterpret their behaviour and intentions, or we can tune into the perspective of that non-human and directly perceive their truths…beyond the constraints of human perspectives. Direct perception is the wise choice.

My thanks to the whales…and the horses….

 

 

This Is What We Do At Sunset

24232056_10213164801708926_2901769623883996780_n (2)I got to the barn today a few minutes after sundown. The light was fading but the sky was still bright when I reached the pasture. The herd was moving slowly, heads down, toward the east end of the pasture, each horse in his own space but obviously connected. It was so peaceful.

I didn’t have a plan for my time with Galahad, though I had thought about taking him out and feeding him some dinner at the car. We rarely do anything after dark these days, so I figured it would be something different and interesting for him.

He saw me halfway across the pasture; he lifted his head in acknowledgement but went back to grazing. When I got close enough to touch him, he sniffed my outstretched hand, gave a deep “blow,” and dropped his head again. He didn’t even check me for carrots or cookies—he just continued to graze. I heard, “This is what we do at sunset.” It felt important.

Thank goodness I have grown to know him well enough to understand what he tells me, and to read his mood. Tonight, he wanted nothing more than to share this nightly “ritual” with me. So I spent half an hour or more just being there with him. I scratched his rump once or twice, touched him on the withers and shoulder a couple of times, and he leaned into me as he grazed. Nothing was said; nothing was needed. It was certainly a privilege for me to share, and I think he appreciated my presence, too.

The nearly full moon rose as I watched.

“This is what we do at sunset.”

Hawk

Kanapaha-2008_04_09-IMG_0128

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Florida; photo from Wikimedia.

Well, my morning last Sunday was way more exciting than expected: I went out to the barn around 9:30 to get Galahad out. He wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but he let me put his halter on. He was a little balky when I asked him to come out the center pasture gate. That’s unusual for him—he generally loves to come out of the pasture.

This particular morning, though, he told me that there was something scary in the water tank there—not so scary that he wouldn’t go to the tank, but too scary to get a drink. He kept looking and snorting softly, so I went to look, and sure enough, there was something: A red-shouldered hawk, by some misadventure, had gotten stuck in there and nearly drowned.

I took off Galahad’s halter and went to get a small rag to cover the hawk’s head and several towels to wrap him up and soak up some of the water—he was waterlogged, hypothermic, and not moving much at all. I was afraid he was too far gone to save, but I had to try. I told him each step in the process, hoping he could feel my good intentions.

Even sopping wet, the bird weighed almost nothing—amazing. I carried the soggy little bundle over to the barn to find a dear friend of mine who could be counted on not to squeal, go crazy, or insist on unwrapping the hawk. I wasn’t sure quite what to do next.

And the oddest thing: I asked my friend what she thought I should do…and she “just happened” to have the World Bird Sanctuary’s Raptor Center phone number programmed into her phone—she and her husband had needed to call them about a bird just a few days ago. The Center is located about five miles from the barn. So she called and left a message. “Coincidence,” huh?

I kept changing the outer towels without taking the covering off the hawk’s head, and held him on my lap until I could feel his warmth coming through. He never offered to move, except that after half an hour or so he’d flex his feet when I touched them. The huge claws on those powerful yellow feet are amazing. That’s all of the bird that I could see, and I didn’t want to risk upsetting him by looking at him.

I had to get home to teach my Sunday afternoon dreamwork class, and finally, when the Sanctuary didn’t call back right away, I decided to just take him there. So I let him sit (covered with his towel, in Galahad’s feed pan) on the floor of the car until I could get him to the Raptor Center. So fortunate that we have experts so close by! On the drive I played recorded nature sounds to him, and he attempted a faint whistle, but didn’t move.

The volunteers who met me at the Center determined that the bird was apparently uninjured, just chilled and in shock; they put him in a cage with a heat lamp, took my information, and gave me a number where I could call and get updates on his condition. I didn’t take any photos—no time while I was getting him out of the tank, and once at the Raptor Center, it seemed somehow intrusive. Dunno….

What an amazing adventure. Thank you, Galahad for letting me know! I think the credit for this “save” really belongs more to my horse than to me.

I called the Sanctuary this morning for an update for “my” bird: He’s doing well, eating on his own, but may in fact have a fractured coracoid (a bone in his shoulder). That’s something they can’t see from outside, so they’ll feed him up in an indoor cage for a week, then put him in an outdoor flight cage where they can check him out further. Once he’s healed, he can be released.

This part of the story alone would be amazing enough—how often are we given the opportunity to save a magnificent wild creature like this?

But there’s more: I’ve been seeing this particular species of hawk regularly (and not just randomly) for about a year now. There was one sitting in a tree out at the Rescue Ranch one day, for instance, just eyeing me; one flew at windshield level across the highway right in front of my car a couple of months back, close enough for me to see his eye. Up close and personal; they had something to tell me, it seemed.

I shared the story in the class on Sunday, where we were talking about the relational, collaborative nature of the universe. One of my students pointed out that there must be a message for me, and an important one, if this bird was willing to nearly die so that I could really hear him. So I checked in with him in reverie during the class:

From the porch of my imaginal cabin, I can see Hawk on the ground near the steps. I invite him onto my arm, but then he takes off into the sky with me, magically, on his back. Thrilling, that flight! We land on a lichen-covered branch somewhere in the woods…and suddenly I am Hawk, flying blazingly fast through the air.

Such a feeling of power—I can feel the strength in my pectoral muscles, powering my wings. I feel the physical pride and power of my being, the enormous vision that I possess, the certainty of my ability to find and capture the prey that I need to survive. “Ruthless” is one word that springs into my mind. Ruthless. Discerning. Far-seeing. Ruthless in achieving goals, in taking my prey, my sustenance. Power. Speed and precision.

“Take what you need! Have no doubts!”

Collaboration indeed! If I hadn’t cultivated the willingness and the ability to hear Galahad (and not just see a stubborn horse who didn’t want to leave the pasture), and if Galahad hadn’t understood that I would listen to him, that hawk would be dead now. There is no doubt. I couldn’t see him in the tank; he was tucked under the rim, where I had to go over and actually look into the water to see him.

And if I hadn’t cultivated the ability to interact with the unconscious, non-rational world and receive its messages, this experience would just be an interesting coincidence, a fun story to share with friends, but without higher meaning for me.

Wow……

Unforgettable.

 

Horse Treats

20170731_135034About a month ago we noticed that Midders was spending time licking the ground at one particular spot in his paddock. That sounded like a mineral deficiency of some kind, so we put out a small pan of salt and loose minerals near his chosen spot.

The first few days we only put a little bit in there, and he’d empty it by the next morning. Now we leave half an inch or so in the pan, and he takes what he needs. Problem solved. For Midnight, anyway.

Over the weekend they got a little bit of rain at the barn, and on Monday when I went to refill Midnight’s mineral dish, there had obviously been some standing water in it. It had since dried up, and I noticed what looked like a dried leaf in there. When I picked up the “leaf,” though, it turned out to be a little mummified tree frog.

I was horrified! What a dreadful way for the little guy to go, poisoned by Midnight’s minerals! Frogs are so fragile, with their delicate skin, and this little guy never had a chance. Wow…I felt SO guilty…. Collateral damage….

Anyway, I picked his stiff, shrunken little carcass out of the pan and set it in the back end of my car. There he rode for a couple of days while I contemplated putting him on my “curio shelf”—that spot in my office that contains feathers, a deer jaw, some shells, an empty wasp nest, some interesting sticks, a dead dragonfly, and other curiosities. (Some kids never grow up, right?)

Then I forgot about him. Such is the life and death of a tree frog, I guess.

Galahad, meanwhile, has had some kind of grunge growing on his legs since late winter. It was going away, with treatment, back in March when Nevada died and I quit paying attention. Now it’s mid-summer and he’s still scabby and itchy, but fortunately for him, I’ve kicked back into gear and am doing the cleansing-and-treating routine again, and making progress.

So the other day I had him down near Midnight’s area, tied to the fence while I scrubbed and treated his legs. Once that was done, I turned him loose and went to put away my stuff and feed the Old Man while Galahad grazed nearby.

Then I happened to look toward the open back end of my car, and of course Galahad had his head in there. That’s where all the good stuff is, right? But what on earth was he eating? I knew that everything was covered up, but he was doing that licking, head-tossing, contemplative thing that all horses do when they taste something for the first time (horse friends, you KNOW exactly what I mean).

And then it hit me…. No, it couldn’t possibly be….

Yep. He was eating the frog. That dried-up, mummified frog that had been sitting in the back of the car….

And he ate it. He didn’t spit it out. Nope. He chewed it up and swallowed it, then went looking for more.

OMG. My horse is a closet carnivore.

Sigh…. Well, maybe he’s just invented the newest horse treat and I’ll become wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice…or maybe wealthy beyond the dreams of those of us who have horses. I can only wish.

 

Back in the Pasture Again

20170723_161545Great news—Galahad is back in the pasture!

After four hot nights in the barn, Galahad decided one evening that he was ready to go back out. I took him out of his stall and, as usual, he went first to check on his buddy Dancer across the aisle. After a good sniff, he headed out of the barn and practically dragged me out to the pasture gate. When I turned him loose, he ran over to Stewart and Moose, said hello, and immediately started grazing right next to them. So I let him stay. He was fine when I checked on him an hour later, right before heading home for the night.20170720_102819

It was HIS choice, which is how we roll most of the time these days. Poor Dancer was still in jail, but Galahad was done with confinement.

I was vastly relieved. Keeping a pasture horse confined temporarily is a big job—twice-daily walks, extra hay and water, and the worry! Fretting about him standing around all day, bored out of his mind, when he’s used to walking almost constantly and watching all the goings-on in the world…plus the heat in the barn. Even though there’s a ventilation system in there, it’s stiflingly hot.

Anyway. The next morning I went out to be sure all was well—he was fine, though sporting a slice or two from someone’s hind shoes. And he was so sleepy—he’d had no special buddy to watch over him while he slept, so he likely didn’t dare. But Dancer got to go out that afternoon, when the weather finally broke. Thank goodness!

Here’s a link to a video I took right after Dancer got done racing around the pasture, which didn’t take long. It was still hot! These two were obviously SO GLAD to be back outside, and in each other’s company.

Anyone who says that horses don’t have deep emotional lives has never paid any attention to them. But so many people really have no clue. These are not animated motorcycles, folks…. If you want something to catch, ride, and put away until next time, get a scooter.

The following day the weather finally broke. The temperature dropped to the low 90s (from 108 degrees!) and even better, the humidity was down, too. I was able 20170724_130355(1)to spend four blissful hours in the company of my horse and his friends, which I haven’t been able to do for months, and live to tell the tale. And it’s been forever since Galahad has been able to nap with me like he loves to do. There’s not much sweeter than the hot breath of my best boy as he dozes next to me.

Wow. I am so blessed.

 

 

“Stall Rest”

20170628_130416 (2)Galahad’s in a stall for the next few days; he refused to go back into the pasture last night.

His best friend Dancer’s owner put Dancer in the barn, unfortunately, because of the heat. It’s supposed to top 100 degrees for the next four or five days, and the thinking is that it’s better for Dance to be out of the sun.

Dance’s owner texted me mid-afternoon to let me know what was planned, and was concerned at that time about Galahad. Apparently Galahad was very upset (as was Dancer). Somehow both horses knew that this wasn’t a “take Dance out for a ride” event. How do they do that? But they knew.

I got a call from Midnight’s neighbor’s owner around dinnertime. Galahad, she said, was completely soaked with sweat and behaving strangely—standing in the corner of the pasture, then running over to the mares pasture fence, then running back to his corner.

I dropped everything, of course, and raced out there. Poor Galahad was huddled in the far southwest corner of the pasture, as far as he could get from the other two horses—Stewart the Pony and Moose—and obviously very stressed. I took him out, and instead of standing to wait for me to close the pasture gate like he usually does, he took off for the barn at a fast walk, and I had to scramble behind him to pick up his lead rope.

I could hear Dancer screaming in the barn, and I guess that he had been screaming all afternoon, because Galahad knew exactly where he was and went directly there. They nuzzled noses a bit, and Galahad must have decided his buddy was all right, because then we went walking around for a while.

He was on edge the entire time. I  hosed him down—he had been sweating and rolling—and although that cooled him off, it did nothing for his nerves. Between bouts of standing at attention and staring at the pasture, he lawnmowered the grass between the barns, spooking at every noise. I wanted to walk him down to Midnight’s paddock to get flyspray, which I had forgotten to bring; he would have none of it. He flat-out refused to go down the lane. This was beyond his usual stubbornness. There was just no way that he was going down the road.

Finally I started to calm down and listen to him, and stop trying to get him to do anything in particular. Poor guy was so tense! About that time a friend came by and offered us some of her fly spray, and Galahad was willing to walk over to her horse’s stall and stand there while I sprayed him down. We grazed a bit longer, but I was getting hot (though the sun was behind clouds and it really wasn’t too bad, considering…), so I suggested to him that we go back to the car and get carrots, go say good night to Dancer, and head back for the pasture.

All went reasonably well, except that he wouldn’t leave Dancer’s stall…and then he parked himself out and peed, right there in the barn aisle. I don’t think I have ever seen Galahad pee outside his own stall or the pasture in the entire time I’ve had him. Nevada, yes. She’d pee while you were sitting on her—she didn’t care. But Galahad prefers not to do that kind of thing “in public.” He peed, and then he went over and looked in at Dancer—there was no question that it was deliberate.

I thought he’d leave the barn with me after that, but he wouldn’t. Apparently he was planning on spending the night right there in the aisle. After some persuasion, I got him back out and we started off to the pasture—but he was having none of that, either.

Now, Galahad is always reluctant to go back to the pasture after he’s been out, but this was really different. This was a sullen, foot-planted, leaning-back kind of refusal to move. I’d persuade him to take a step, and he’d either plant himself again or dive for grass. Either way, he was not moving. Ten minutes later, we were fifteen feet closer to the gate, and he started to side-pass toward me. That’s his way of pleading with me not to make him do whatever it is I’m asking…but there’s also a feeling of threat buried in there someplace, covering desperation. Hard to explain it but you can feel it if you’re paying attention.

It was hot, and I was tired and frustrated and worried—I’m not nearly as convinced as Dancer’s owner that a stall is a good place for horses in the heat. So I wanted to get him back into the pasture. No dice. When sidepassing didn’t work, he started to spin and dance around on the end of the rope, getting more and more agitated.

Yes, I could have MADE him go. I could have used all the Natural Horsemanship methods, “moved his feet,” and he would eventually have walked over there. I could have put him back, locked the gate, and left. But there would have been a lot of drama…and that was definitely NOT going to help his nerves. It was too much of a betrayal of our growing relationship for me to be willing to do that. And once I left, then what? A night of terror for him? “He’s just a horse; he’ll get used to it.” Yes; but at what cost?

Finally, I gave up—should have done that an hour earlier. We went back to the barn, found an open stall across from Dancer, and called the barn owners to be sure he could stay there. He went right in, and though he wasn’t best pleased when I locked him in (with lots of hay and water), he didn’t argue.

So in the end, I figured it out, the message he’d been sending me so clearly all evening long: He’s afraid to be out in the pasture without Dancer. He doesn’t feel safe there; he doesn’t trust the other two horses, all that’s left of his herd, to keep him safe. He and Dancer are OK together, but once they’re separated, he’s on his own—the worst possible thing for a herd animal.

Once I understood that, everything fell into place. This has been a terribly stressful time for the gelding herd—new members, lots of fighting, and then the loss of the two herd leaders. Charlie, mean and domineering as he is, still left Galahad feeling safe. And bossy little Otto actually would be a great herd leader if he could take his little band off by themselves—he’s very protective and capable. But those two are both gone now. Stewart the Pony apparently doesn’t inspire confidence, and easygoing Moose isn’t leader material.

Poor Galahad. His herd members are being “picked off,” one by one…maybe he’s next, eh? No wonder the poor guy is terrified to be out there alone.

So he’s on “stall rest” until the weather breaks. Wouldn’t be my choice for him, but it’s the only one I can see at the moment.

I hate Missouri summers….

 

“Attunement”

20170628113955 whinny whinney(1)Thank goodness, things have turned a corner for Galahad and me. Actually, of course, I’m the one who has turned the corner; he’s still his own horsey self.

I’m working differently with him the last few weeks—not so goal-focused, mostly just being with him, either in the pasture or taking walks, sometimes spending short amounts of time in one or the other of the arenas but not drilling anything. It’s been almost entirely about what he’s willing to do, rather than what I want him to do. I ask him to do something, and then wait to see what his answer is. If it’s “no,” I might ask once more, in a different way, but I don’t argue (except about going back to the pasture—that’s a different issue entirely, alas!).

It’s making a big difference. Galahad seems to be more relaxed, and I certainly am. He’s much more “with me” than he had been—checking in with me as we’re walking, coming over to check on me when we’re in the arena (where he mostly grazes along the sides, at this point). The other day he actually told me when he was ready to leave the arena—he came over and pointed to his halter, then stood for me to put it on him.

So that’s wonderful!

Things have been kind of crazy at the barn this last ten days or so, though. There are three new horses—two mares and a gelding—in the pastures, Stewart (the small-but-fierce pony) is back in the geldings pasture after a couple of months in a stall, and the dominant gelding has left permanently. The boys are in an uproar with all of these changes. The mares, other than all being in heat, have settled into their usual peaceful state.

The biggest issue in the pasture is actually not the new horses, though—it’s “Hans” the Fjord, who’s just a bully. He was a real pain in the hind end when he first arrived, but over the course of a couple of years he’s mostly settled down. Now, however, he’s reverted to his aggressive, nasty self in spite of the grazing muzzle he’s been forced to wear for several months. He chases all the horses away from the mares, attacks the new gelding, and in general keeps everyone riled up and stressed. Darn guy.

All the commotion has made me even more glad to have discovered this new way of working with Galahad. Like all the geldings, he’s been upset by the changes. He’s had a very hard time paying attention to me the few times he’s been outside the pasture, because he’s been so focused on what’s going on back with the boys. That’s not like him. I’ve never heard him whinny so much in his entire life as he has in the past week–check out this video!

For a couple of days, Galahad seemed to be “making his move” in the pasture, thinking about becoming the Big Man On Campus and being just ridiculous about it. That was while Stewart the Pony was still in the west pasture for six hours a day. I got Galahad OUT just fine, but when I went to put him back (we have to walk across the west pasture to get back to the east side where the herd is), Stewart kept threatening to charge us, and they got into quite a yelling contest (“I’m gonna stomp you!” “No you’re not! I’m gonna stomp YOU!”) and I ended up having to call the barn staff to come get Stewart.

While waiting for that to happen, though, I had to take Galahad back to the arena—and he did NOT want to go. He shifted, strutted, barged into me, and threatened to go up on his hind legs. That’s the moment I really discovered the value in this new way of staying attuned to my horse.

The Natural Horsemanship requirement in that situation would be that he pay attention to me, that he “respect” me, and that he obey my commands. There would have been a lot of running him back and forth in front of me, making him circle, or various other things, but all of it would involve “moving his feet,” making him put his attention on me and do what I was asking.

If I had tried that (I could have done it, no question—I’ve done it many times when he’s been “bad” or “opinionated” about something, or when he didn’t want to go back to the pasture and tried to block me) there would have been a lot of drama.

What I did instead was require him to be mindful around me, so that I wasn’t in danger. I did that, in the moment, using a stern voice, grounded energy and body language,  and bumping his nose with the halter a couple of times to get his attention, when he was threatening to go up on two legs or turn around and run back to the pasture to beat up Stewart. But the big voice, the bump on the nose, and me saying “Cut it out NOW! You’re scaring me!” worked just fine. I calmed down, and so did he. Almost immediately. Then we walked on.

I could feel that he was still really excited, but it brought him back to himself without pain or threat or any drama, and with no requirement that he obey anything other than basic manners to keep me safe. He was still prancy, but it was OK—it accomplished exactly what all the other stuff would have done, without the drama. I was afraid, and I told him so—“You’re scaring me. Cut it out!” (bump bump)—and he knew exactly what I meant.

It was different—it’s hard to explain, but it felt really different. It was the same thing I’d have done with a human friend if they had been being nuts and putting me in danger—I’d have grabbed their arm and said, “Cut it out! You’re scaring me, and I need to be safe. Stop it!” And that would have been it. That’s what I did with Galahad, and it worked. He walked with me, but making the choice to control himself.

What I sense from Galahad more than anything these days, honestly, is appreciation. I think he appreciates that I’m not asking of him more than he can give. Does that make sense? It’s like I’m acknowledging his perspective—“I know you’re distracted, and I know you’re having a really hard time coping with all this and paying attention to me too.” I just feel like this way is good for our relationship where some of this other stuff would not have been. It might or might not have damaged it, but it certainly wouldn’t have furthered it in the way that I’m looking for.

So I’m so glad to have that understanding at this point.

 

[Disclaimer: I’m studying online with Paulette Evans of Ribbleton Attunement in Australia. I make NO claim to deep knowledge of her methods, which I greatly admire. Anything I say about them here in my blogs represents my own current understanding. I highly recommend that you take a look at her site and consider signing up for her courses!]