Recently, I happened upon a quote in reference to horses and humans that states, “Two Feet Move our Body, Four Feet Move Our Soul.”
How true. I’ve always felt that working with and playing with horses feeds my soul. Learning to understand their individual “horsenalities” and how to communicate with them is helping me to be a better horsewoman and a better person.
Last summer I returned to the Parelli Campus in Pagosa Springs, CO, where I was fortunate enough to attend Linda’s “Secrets of Horse Psychology” course. I took my horse Chaco who had been to the campus two years earlier with me for the “Journey to Level Four” course. That course started the process of changing my relationship with Chaco, an RBE/LBE, (Right-Brain Extrovert/Left-Brained Extrovert cusp) who desperately needed a confident leader. The confidence came, but Chaco still presented me with interesting and sometimes frustrating challenges; and at that time last summer, challenges having to do with his insecurities about his feet.
The first day of the Horse Psychology course we listed our “problems” and our “goals” as a group. Many of the problems centered around our horses’ lack of confidence – around, over, inside or through objects, lack of confidence with other animals, other people, other horses, and lack of confident with their feet( i.e. jumping barrels, going over ground poles, trailer loading, crossing water).
I quickly learned that I was not alone in my challenges! The overarching “goals” for the class were: 1) to be confident for our horses in every situation, and 2) to learn how to make good decisions to achieve that confidence.
I decided that my goal for the course would be ALL FOUR FEET – All four feet over the ground poles, all four feet in the trailer, all four feet in the pond.
As the course progressed we learned about what is important to horses—safety, comfort, play—and how to tell if the horse’s needs in these areas were met. We learned techniques for reading our horses and how their behaviors presented either fear or dominance. As we learned these behaviors and techniques for addressing our horse’s individual horsenalities, we were shown demos and given tasks to practice them. One of the most captivating demos of the course took place at Linda’s arena where we got to see Linda working with her own horses; Highland, Navi, Hot Jazz, and the amazing Dylano—all with different horsenalities.
I learned a lot from watching Linda work with and adjust to each of the horses’ needs in the moment. Those last three words are important because although sometimes skeptical, horses don’t live their lives dwelling in or thinking about the past, and they also don’t make plans for success or failure in the future. Horses live in the present and behave according to how they view what may or may not happen to them in the moment.
During the two-week course, Chaco and I made great improvements. I saw Chaco’s trust in my leadership grow. By the end of the course he soared through the cavalettis, made several trips through the pond, and stepped inside a scary pink trailer–with all four feet—twice!
Tackling problems and learning about my horse through psychology has given my horse even more reason to trust me and it is also helping me to build a better relationship with him—as well as with my other equine friends with their own set of challenges. It is helping me to achieve my own personal development goals in my horsemanship and in other areas of my life.
Building communication and working in partnership through different and unique challenges is something I no longer fear or dread. It has become something that I am ever grateful for – and something that truly moves my soul.
Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of attending the 2016 Parelli Savvy Summit ( http://www.parelli.com/-2016parellisavvysummit.html), and celebrating their 20th anniversary of this amazing event at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado—the land of milk and honey. For some reason, I have always referred to the Parelli Ranch as “the land of milk and honey”, and I recently asked myself why? The first image that popped into my mind was A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh—a beautiful series of books my father read to me almost every night as a child— and the loveable bear’s search for “hunny” in the Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie the Pooh was never happier than when he was scooping honey out of a honey tree, or had his nose stuck in a pot of the sticky gooey stuff.
Unable to fully reconcile my connection with the ranch to Winnie the Pooh, I decided to look up the phrase land of milk and honey on the Internet. My favorite definition that came up was from the website Culinary Lore (www.culinarylore.com/food-history). It explains: Land of milk and honey is a literary expression that comes from one of the greatest works of literature ever written, the Bible. In Exodus, when God instructs Moses to lead his people, the oppressed Hebrew slaves of Egypt, out of bondage and into freedom. He promises them their own land. He does not tell them exactly what land, but describes it as a land flowing with milk and honey.
Again, maybe a stretch on the connection with the ranch, but upon further introspection, perhaps not so much. The key word in this phrase to me is “freedom.” Pat Parelli often refers to the ranch as “The Eagle’s Nest.” The eagle represents freedom and liberty, doesn’t it?
As Linda Parelli often says, “How interesting!”
Now, it makes complete sense to me. In my mind and experience, the Parelli Ranch IS the land of milk and honey, because there, I have learned to break free of my previous “assumptions” about horses and how to work and play with them. Most importantly, I have learned to break free from the assumptions I have made about myself. Horses have the ability and power to transform lives. By studying them, so can we. If we tune into our “natural” selves, and appreciate the natural power of horses and working in natural partnership with them, we can free ourselves from our preconceived notions and beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us.
One of the most inspiring demonstrations at the Summit this year was the spotlight session with Caton Parelli, Pat’s son. Thirty-three years ago, Caton was born with hydrocephalus—fluid on the brain, and the condition left him with extremely limited body function. The doctors told Pat and his former wife, Caton’s mother, that it would be best if they institutionalized Caton. Pat refused. Not only did he refuse to sequester his child from the world, he decided to put him on a horse. Pat strapped Caton to the saddle with a seatbelt of sorts. While mounted and holding the lead rope of Caton’s horse (a term called pony-ing) Pat and Caton took to the fields and mountains, riding and herding cattle. Unfortunately, when Caton was 12 years old, he suffered a stroke caused by his condition. A blood clot had traveled from his lungs to his brain, rendering the left side of his body completely immobile. Again, Pat and Caton remained undeterred, and Caton continued to ride and play with horses, activities that eventually helped him to regain his mobility. Since then, he has competed in branding, reining, roping and cutting competitions.
During the Summit Spotlight, Caton and his mount cut a cow from the herd. Pat challenged Caton to run alongside the cow and lean down and touch her between the ears. Sounds easy, right? As Caton and his horse sped around the arena chasing down the cow, the crowd cheered with abandon. After several adrenaline rushing laps, Caton was able to reach down and touch the cow on its hind quarters. He didn’t touch the cow’s head, but no one cared. In those moments, we all not only saw, but lived through, the difficulty of the challenge—a tough one even for a perfectly abled-bodied person. The moment Caton’s fingers finally touched that cow, the crowd roared and rose to its feet in thunderous applause. Once the ovation subsided, Pat said to the crowd, face beaming, something to the effect of, “I don’t have a handicapped child. He’s a horseman.”
Horses can heal, and this was one of the highlights of the event this year.
Caton is but one of the many examples of the healing power of horses you will find anywhere in the world. In the last two articles in my blog, “The True Measure of a Champion is What is in Her Heart”(https://karibovee.com/2016/09/07/the-true-measure-of-a-champion-is-what-is-in-her-heart/) and “Para-Equestrian Dressage Begins at the Paralympic Games” (https://karibovee.com/2016/09/10/usa-para-equestrian-dressage-team/) about Para-Equestrian Olympians, I highlighted five amazing athletes with major physical challenges who competed in the top equestrian sport in the world, the Para-Equestrian Dressage competition during the Paralympic Games. Each one of these athletes has had to overcome many incredible physical challenges, and they have done it with the partnership and love of their respective horses.
Come to think of it, perhaps Winnie the Pooh does have a connection to the land of milk and honey, or rather the Parelli Ranch. Pooh lived a pretty carefree and simple life in the Hundred Acre Wood, free from preconceived notions and assumptions about things. Through his characters, A.A. Milne approached common human problems in life with a philosophy built on nature, purity of heart, and simplicity. His characters were all animals that facilitated lessons and experiences for Christopher Robin, their human, just like the horse does for many who use equine therapy to learn and heal.
Champions are the type of people who have chosen a road less traveled. They have sacrificed their time, money, and sometimes their relationships, to achieve their championship dreams. There is a certain drive and force of will these people have that not everyone is fortunate enough, or strong enough, to foster.
As we are in the midst of the Olympic season, first with the Games in August, and now with the Paralympics starting this week, we get to see these champions doing what they do best, at the peak of their performance, competing for the elusive Holy Grail of all awards, the Olympic Gold Medal.
Athletes of this caliber are indeed special, but one in particular stands out to me: Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. Lauren is a 4-time World Para-Equestrian athlete and 3-time Paralympic medalist, having earned gold and silver medals in the Paralympic Games in Beijing (2008). In 2008 and 2014 she was named
Canada’s Equestrian of the Year and in 2015, she was inducted into Canada’s Paralympic Hall of Fame. All amazing achievements, yes, and all from a person who has no feeling below her belly button and paralyzed legs. It seems mind boggling, but what draws me to Lauren is her devotion to and passion for natural horsemanship. In addition to all of her monumental achievements, Lauren is a Parelli 4-Star Senior Instructor and Horse Development Specialist.
Lauren was introduced to the Parelli Program before her tragic accident. As a jumper, she appreciated the methods and learned the hallmark Parelli Seven Games. But, like many of us, at first, she didn’t take it too seriously, and just had fun with it. At 22 years of age, while training to perform stunts with horses for the movie industry, Lauren climbed to the top of a pile of 100-pound stacked hay bales at feeding time. The stack was unstable so she jumped 10 feet to the ground and one of the top bales fell on her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Lauren thought she would never ride again. Three weeks later, she was allowed home for a visit, and wheeled herself down to the pasture to see her horses. Only one approached her, unafraid of the contraption she had to sit in for the rest of her life. Her horse, Peanut, had not forgotten her owner, and as horses are so apt to do once a bond is created. Peanut loved and missed Lauren unconditionally. After that, Lauren felt she might be able to ride again.
In 2002, just two years after her injury, Lauren hired a trainer and began competing internationally, representing her country. She was nominated for and began training for the Para-Equestrian 2004 Paralympics in Athens, where she came very close to achieving Top 3 in the dressage competition. In 2005, Lauren realized that she no longer wanted to train the way she had trained for Athens and wanted more of a partnership with her horses. It was then that she reached out to Pat and Linda Parelli and began her natural horsemanship journey once again. Still with no aspirations to continue on to Beijing in 2008, Lauren went to the Parelli Colorado campus for a two-week audition to become a part of Pat’s barn. Lauren says that after seven days of riding with Pat in the mountains, she was inspired again to see how far she could go with her horses. She moved to Florida to train at the Florida campus with the goal of competing in the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics. It was through Pat and Linda that she found her Paralympic horse, Maile, and realized her Olympic dreams. Lauren has another shot at the gold this year at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, September 7-18, with her horse Onyx.
Lauren inspires me in so many ways. She has overcome what seemed to be insurmountable odds to achieve her goals, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to be a better partner to her horses. She wanted to be completely involved in their training, both physically and emotionally. Although I have no aspirations to achieve what Lauren has in her equestrian career, I can relate to her desire to want more than the ribbon. She wanted those awards to really mean something, from her heart. She wanted to be able to foster a deep and meaningful relationship with more than just one “good” horse. She wanted to prove to herself that she had the heart and the desire to be the best partner she could be to a number of horses. Regardless of what she may do in Rio this summer, in that she truly has succeeded.
Relationships between royals and commoners don’t happen very often. In 1936 England’s King Edward VIII’s affiliation with a commoner forced him to lose the crown when he wanted to marry the famously divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Since his time, things have loosened up a bit. Prince Charles married the late Diana Spencer and is now married to Camilla Parker Bowles. England’s beloved Prince William married Kate. All of these relationships, perhaps aside from Charles and Diana, sprung from shared passions. As I wrote in my last article about Queen Elizabeth, “The Queen’s Private Passion” (https://karibovee.com/2016/08/04/the-queens-private-passion/), we all know about QEII’s passion for all things equine, particularly the horse itself. This passion has led Her Majesty, too, to engage in an on-going, unlikely relationship with a commoner—who is also an American.
An avid thoroughbred racehorse breeder, the Queen wants only the best for her four-legged friends. In the late 1970’s, the longest reigning monarch of all time reached out to a cowboy from California who had fostered the reputation of being “the man who listens to horses.”
Like his fellow horseman Pat Parelli—also a cowboy from California whose had an audience with the Queen, Monty Roberts decided as a young man that violent means for training performance animals was not the answer. Roberts studied horses in the wild and learned how they communicated with one another. He noted their body language, how they set boundaries, showed fear and expressed annoyance, relaxation or affection, and then developed gestures to mimic those behaviors. Robert’s method came to be known as “Join Up.” Impressed with his philosophy and training methods, the Queen hired him to help train her racehorses.
Robert’s relationship with the Queen has remained steadfast since the 1980’s. With the Queen’s encouragement, he wrote a book entitled, “The Man Who Listens to Horses.” Published in 1996, the book became a phenomenon. Documentaries were made and more books were published. In 1998 he became one of several natural horsemen who served as inspirations for the movie “The Horse Whisperer” starring Robert Redford.
In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed Roberts with an honorary Membership of the Royal Victorian Order—an order of people who have served Her Royal Majesty in a personal way—for his contributions to the racing establishment. He has served the Queen and her horses for a quarter of a century.
The relationship between the QEII and Roberts was much more widely accepted in the late twentieth century than the relationship held between her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, and one of her Indian servants. In fact, Victoria’s friendship with 24-year-old Abdul Karim, who was 42 years her junior, was viewed as more akin to a scandal.
After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Victoria missed the companionship of a man. Albert provided support, ideas, and indispensable advice to the Queen from the time they courted, until his death. Queen Victoria later found solace in John Brown, a servant she also had a deep and lasting platonic relationship with after Albert’s death. In Karim, Queen Victoria was once again able to find the same comfort after John died.
Brought to England in 1887 as a personal servant to Queen Victoria for the Golden Jubilee, Karim immediately endeared himself to Her Magesty with his gentle nature and advanced intellect. She gave him the title of “ Munshi”, the Urdu word for “clerk” or “teacher”. Within one year, he had become one of her most trusted confidants and she promoted him to a status well beyond servant.
Although the Queen benefited intellectually and spiritually from Karim’s advice and companionship, the rest of the royal household did not see his value. Many of Victoria’s other staff and servants thought him well beneath them and resented the closeness between Karim and the Queen. The fact that she showered him with gifts, honors, and a large land grant in India didn’t help matters.
I found this relationship so interesting that I have infused it into my second Annie Oakley mystery novel. Like the unusual relationship between QEII and Monty Roberts and Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim respectively, Annie Oakley found herself in an unlikely friendship with royalty of another kind. Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux Chief and warrior, who was also a principal player in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, became smitten with Miss Oakley, when he first saw her perform in 1884. The great Sioux Chief felt that Annie was “gifted” by a supernatural force that enabled her to shootequally accurate with both hands. Because of this, and their close rapport, the Chief symbolically “adopted” her and named her Watanya Cecilia, the Sioux name for “Little Sure Shot” – a moniker that stuck with her throughout her career.
I think that unlikely relationships are always the most interesting to read and write about. The single factor in each one that bonds each of the people in them together is a profound respect that crosses social, racial, and religious boundaries. It is truly remarkable and heartwarming for Her Royal Majesty QEII to reach out to a cowboy fromCalifornia; for Queen Victoria to take in an Indian servant as a confidant, and a for a famed Indian warrior to be so touched by a young white girl’s special talent, that he wants to make her his daughter. It reminds us that no matter what a person’s title or status in society, we are all human beings who have a desire to share our passions and interests. I think it is a good lesson for all of us.
As a horse enthusiast I find it interesting that many people do not know that equestrianism is actually an Olympic sport. I also find it interesting that people do not realize that dressage is part of the Olympic Equestrian family. Actually, it is amazing to me that many people do not know much about dressage at all. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and poetic of disciplines, and it requires an absolutely rock solid relationship between horse and rider to be successful.
Dressage has its history in the military, going way back to the first documented accounts of the discipline in the writings of the Greek Xenophon. The horses chosen for this military discipline had to be obedient and maneuverable, and required a rigorous system of training. “The system of training was built upon throughout the ages, with many well-known riding masters, military and civilian, writing books expounding their methods.” (Source: United States Dressage Federation – www.usdf.org)
Equestrianism in general, and dressage in particular, did not make its debut in the Olympic games until the 1900 Summer Olympics, and then only as a military discipline. Commissioned military officers and “gentlemen” were the only people permitted to compete in the Olympic equestrian disciplines. The military test included obedience and maneuverability (or what would become dressage) and the ability to jump obstacles.
After the US Cavalry was disbanded in 1948, the focus for dressage shifted from military to civilian competition, and it quickly gained momentum. Women as well as men ventured into the sport and in the 1952 Summer Games, women made their first equestrian appearance in dressage. It wasn’t until 1956 and 1964 respectively, that women could compete in jumping and eventing.
Equestrianism is one of the few Olympic sports in history where women and men are allowed to complete against one another. In team competition, teams may have any blend of male and female competitors, and are not required to have minimum numbers of either gender; countries are free to choose the best riders, regardless of their gender.
Dressage has changed dramatically since its early appearance at the Summer Olympics. Jumping is no longer required, but the tests on the flat are now more difficult and include more challenging movements such as the piaffe and the passage. Today’s dressage horses are specifically bred for the discipline and their movement is much more refined and dramatic than in past years.
Lis Hartel from Denmark was the first woman to win a silver medal for Individual Dressage in 1952, and she was also the Danish champion that same year. Hartel had the heart and drive required to be so successful. Despite contracting polio in 1944 at the age of 23, which paralyzed her legs and affected her arms and hands, Hartel was determined to continue her equestrian career. Against medical advice, she went on to finish second at the Scandinavian championships, despite the fact that she needed help to get on her horse every time she rode.
In 1992, Hartel was inducted into Denmark’s Hall of Fame, and in 2005 she was named one of Denmark’s top 10 athletes of all time. An empowered woman, Hartel paved the way for other empowered and dedicated women in the sport.
That type of drive and dedication brings to mind other empowered women and Olympic athletes who will be competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympics such as Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. Her story is especially moving to me because Lauren is also a practitioner of natural horsemanship and is a Parelli 4-Star Instructor and Horse Development Specialist. Lauren became paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 22 when a 100 pound bale of hay fell from 10 feet above onto her spine. When she left the hospital, Lauren said she would never ride again, but it was her relationship with her mare, Peanut, whom she now calls her “heart horse”, that gave her the inspiration and courage to ride again. To date, Lauren has earned gold and silver medals in the Beijing Paralympic Games 2008, as well as bronze and silver medals at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Most of us have no room to whine or complain that horsemanship is hard and often frustrating. To overcome such a tremendous hurdle takes an inner strength that most of us can hardly imagine.
Liselott Linsenhoff , a German equestrian and an Olympic champion, became the first woman to receive an Individual Dressage gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics. In the 1968 Summer Olympics she took home a team gold with the West German team. Lisenhoff won many world championships and her daughter, Ann-Katherine, also became an Olympic champion in equestrian arena.
It’s funny how a passion can run through families. Equestrian Olympic athlete Zara Phillips Tindall, the second eldest grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II and daughter of Princess Anne, says her love of horses came from her grandmother. (https://karibovee.com/2016/08/04/the-queens-private-passion/) Her mother, Anne, participated in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal as a member of the British team riding the Queen’s horse, Goodwill. Zara, as a member of the Great Britain Eventing Team, won a Silver Medal at the London 2012 Olympics. Sadly, Zara did not make the team this year and will not be competing at Rio de Janeiro – but there is always the next Summer Olympics four years from now.
The latest female equestrian to win the Olympic gold medal in Dressage is another Brit—Charlotte Dujardin with her power horse, Valegro, in 2012. Dujardin is said to be the most successful British dressage rider in the history of the sport and the winner of all major titles and world records. She has been described as the most dominant dressage rider of her era. With Valegro, Dujardin currently holds the complete set of the available individual elite dressage titles; the Individual Olympic Freestyle, World Freestyle and Grand Prix Special, World Cup Individual Dressage and European Freestyle and Grand Prix Special titles. Dujardin is the first and to date the only rider to hold this complete set of titles at the same time.
Dujardin and Valegro are competing in this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but this year will be Valegro’s last. Dujardin is retiring her partner after an amazing career. “Dujardin says she will not let the pressure of being an Olympic champion affect her. ‘I just take it all on board. I try not to let that all bother me. Riding Valegro always makes you smile, so I enjoy it.’” (Source: BBC.com article”Charlotte Dujardin: Valegro to retire after 2016 Rio Olympics,” published November 16, 2015 – http://www.bbc.com/sport/equestrian/34832755)
(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcDLLxgWa_YCharlotte Dujardin’s World Record Breaking Freestyle test at London Olympia, FEI, Published December 18, 2014)
This year, the United States has four stellar Equestrians on its Dressage team: Allison Brock from Loxahatchee, FL with her partner Rosevelt, a 2002 Hanoverian stallion; Laura Graves from Geneva, FL and her own KWPN gelding, Verdades; Kasey Perry-Glass from Orangevale, CA with her partner Dublet, a 2003 Danish Warmblood Gelding; and the well-know Steffen Peters from San Diego, CA with his partner Legolas 92, a 2002 Westphalian gelding.
While all of the equestrian athletes, both horse and human, are to be greatly admired and respected, I always like to root for the home team. Best of luck to the four riders and their partners on the US Dressage team, and best of luck to Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick. I’m on the edge of my seat!
I hope this article helps to shed some light on the uniqueness of all equestrian endeavors and especially the role it plays in the Olympic games. The bond between horse and rider is absolutely vital to achieving greatness in equestrian sports. Most athletes must be in tune with their bodies, take care of themselves, and learn to push their limits. The equestrian athlete not only has to take care of him or herself, each one also has a 1200 lbs. partner, who needs love, attention, and understanding, to take care of as well. I sometimes think this is taken for granted. I hope that I have helped people to appreciate the enormity of an equestrian athlete’s passion for and dedication to their sport. Go USA!
Note: Some of the material in this article has been cited from Wikipedia.org., and Dressage Today article “Get to Know Canadian Dressage Paralympian Lauren Barwick” Dressagetoday.com
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
– Barbara Kingsolver
I love this quote. As writers, we all want to sell our work. We all want our words to be cast into the world to make a difference. But, do we write to sell? Do we write to what sells? Sometimes we do, but what is more important is the passion within ourselves that, for some reason, we need to get out and share with anyone who will listen–er, read.
I’ve attended many writer’s conferences and seen and heard many successful, well-sold authors, and most of the time their main message is this: Write what you want to read. I think this is so powerful. Fiction has its trends. By the time you finish your masterpiece, it may not be sellable. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. Times change. Trends change. Write what you want to write. Your passion will lead you to success–whatever your definition of success entails.
This dovetails perfectly with a conversation we had this week in the Level 4+ Riding Course I am attending at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, CO. As some of you know, Parelli Natural Horsemanship is a method, philosophy, and practice of partnering in harmony with horses by communicating in their language. Monday we talked about 7 Cardinal Rules for Life:
Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb your present.
What other people think of you is none of your business.
Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
No one is in charge of your happiness. Except you.
Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
Stop thinking too much. It’s alright to not know all the answers, they will come to you when you least expect it.
Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world.
I would add only two things: Be who you are. Love who you are.