Moonsong Highlight: Friend


 He said, “I am the Smokey Mirror, because I am looking at myself in all of you, but we don’t recognize each other because of the smoke in-between us. The smoke is the dream, and the mirror is you, the dreamer.”

This past Monday, I was at a foxhunting facility that is usually very busy. For whatever reason, it happened to be quiet that afternoon. It was a nice surprise. I was thankful for the chance to share some peaceful time with the horse I’d come to see. He and I have known each other for a long time!

His body’s conformation is unusual and requires significant upkeep, but he is a remarkably talented athlete and a real charmer, to boot. His sessions almost always involve a combination of manual therapy, proprioceptive exercises, cold laser, and energy work. This day was no different, except we were wrapped in the gift of quiet, together. I couldn’t help noticing how comforted we both felt. It’s amazing how stillness never feels lonely, when we realize we’re always sharing it with someone or something else.   

 He looked at the stars again, and he realized that it’s not the stars that create light, but rather light that creates the stars. “Everything is made of light,” he said, “and the space in-between isn’t empty.”

I was standing on my stepstool, in order to effectively reach the top of his body. I had my back to the barn aisle. I heard a soft nicker, and then an even softer female voice: “Hi, Friend!” said the voice, “Hi!! Hi, Friend!” I could tell from her tone that she was smiling as she said it. Out of curiosity, I peeked over my shoulder.

I saw an owner I’d never seen there before. She was probably 55-60 years old. Her unkempt bob-cut hair swung a little as she ambled up to her horse’s stall. Her glasses sat a bit crooked on her face. She wore a bright orange polo shirt that was tucked into her khaki Carhartt pants, which were tucked into her knee-high muck boots. Her belt matched her shirt. She carried a herringbone purse in one hand and a grooming box in the other. She smiled like a little girl.

Her horse looked like some type of Saddlebred cross, sway-backed in his old age. He was a lovely liver chestnut color. There was some gray in his face. His ears sat close together and were perked completely forward, at her. His eyes sparkled. He arched his neck and marched in place in his stall, pushing his nose between the bars of the door, licking his lips. As she hastened towards him, he looked to the horses on either side as if to say, “You see her? That’s my best friend! She’s mine! She’s here for ME!!”

They were mesmerized by each other. It was as if they hadn’t seen each other in a million years. And yet, it was easy to tell they are together every single day.

                    “The real us is pure love, pure light,” he said.

Like a fly on the wall, I witnessed their caring interactions. Her sole purpose for the visit was to groom him, talk to him, touch him, give him occasional treats. I overheard her asking him questions he couldn’t answer, reassuring him when he became excited about the goings-on outside, giggling at antics she’s probably managed for years, thanking him for everything under the sun. His eyes followed her everywhere. He hung on every one of her gentle, whimsical words.

I thought about introducing myself, maybe asking to take their picture, making some chit-chat, learning their story. But there was no need. I snuck out quietly, without either of them ever knowing I was there.

Witnessing a love like that was a blessing. It was also a reminder: horses have served us for thousands of years, and still do, in spades. But there is no reason our relationships with them need ever be utilitarian. We owe them and all other living things our gratitude…not only for what they’ve done for us, but for who they are, and for the life we know only through each other.  

   He looked at his hands, he felt his body, and he heard his own voice say, “I am made of light; I am made of stars.”

 He saw himself in everything – in every human, in every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth.

 He was very excited, and his heart was filled with peace.

 -excerpts from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Moonsong Highlight: Shrike

I couldn’t utter my love when it counted
Ah, but I’m singing like a bird ‘bout it now
And I couldn’t whisper when you needed it shouted
Ah, but I’m singing like a bird ‘bout it now

The words hung above
But never would form
Like a cry at the final breath that is drawn
Remember me love when I’m reborn
As the shrike to your sharp
And glorious thorn

-Hozier, “Shrike”

Last week, I looked over an owner's mask to see her beautiful eyes fill with tears. She recounted a freak accident the week before, when she’d been thrown from her horse and injured. Her medical diagnostics revealed a sinister issue having nothing to do with the accident. She is alone with this overwhelming news.

I wanted so badly to see her face, to hold her hands, to put my arms around her. But I couldn't.

Another day, a trainer acquaintance of mine told me that her mother is in the end of her life, they won’t see each other again, and her husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. From six feet away, she said, “I am having a really, really hard time.”.

I wanted so badly to go to her, to sit next to her on the bench, to let her rest against me for a while. But I couldn't.

Another long-time owner told me during her horse’s session that she’s become depressed. Like many, her initial shock over the current situation first evolved into productivity. She completed projects and had time with her family. There was momentum. But things changed. She said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”.

I wanted for us to snuggle her horse together, to tack him up together and take turns riding after his bodywork, to peck each other on the cheek when we said goodbye, like we used to, like little girls. But we can’t.

This is just a smattering of all the things people have shared lately. Some of us are directly affected by the virus. The rest are indirectly affected. Everyone seems sad.

My uncle passed away a few days ago. I am heartbroken for him, for my aunt, my cousins, and for our whole family. I was listening to music when I found out. At that exact moment, a song came on that I’d never heard before, the lyrics to which are at the top of this page. If you haven’t already, please read them now.

For a studio version of the song, click here.

I planned this post with the intention of sharing lots of kind and thoughtful gestures I’ve witnessed or received lately, through my work with horses; to offer some levity, like an antidote. There is certainly enough sparkly material for that!

But distraction would not be the most authentic way to honor the people and animals in my life right now.

I want to tell you that I understand how you feel, because I feel the same. We are together in this.

We don’t need to pretend, or sugar-coat, or minimize. Let’s say what's important, while we can. Now is the time.

I’ll start:

Thank you for all that you’ve given me. Thank you for sharing yourselves and your horses with me. You fill my heart with the love that keeps giving. I owe my life to you.

It doesn’t matter how well we know each other. If you are reading this and need help, just ask.  💗

Moonsong Highlight: Mattering

"What matters to you defines your mattering." - John Green

I’m sitting here in my safe little house, writing about my safe little life, where I live autonomously and don’t really have to worry about exposure to the virus, or any kind of persecution, or violence. I’ve been torn about whether to post lately, in light of all that’s going on.

But here goes:

What does “matter” mean?

Recently, I asked someone if I mattered to him. I expected a yes or no. Instead, his reply was, “What does ‘matter’ mean?”. I was unable to answer, although I knew what I meant. I couldn’t rationalize an idea that lives in the heart.

It didn’t feel necessary, fair, or even possible to me, to define a state of being that is both intangible and real. After all, logic isn’t a prerequisite for connection. Horses teach me that every day! Our analytical minds protect us, but they can inhibit us as well, from embracing what we feel and know is true.

Ironically, we may “matter” most not when we are acknowledged, but when we choose to acknowledge someone else. We exist and function in relation to others. Responsibility to ourselves is paramount, of course; but the content and quality of our interactions give meaning to our lives.

Last week, I used a broom to shoo an angry 8-foot black snake away from a young off-the-track filly during her bodywork session. That seemed important. I coddled horses in the ends of their lives. I taught babies at the beginning of theirs. Horses rested their chins on my head. They breathed in my ear. They nickered at me and wrapped me in their necks. They also kicked at me, leaned on me, bit me, stomped on me, and ignored me. At times I felt successful and strong. At times I felt inadequate and weak.

Do you know when I felt like I mattered most? When it wasn’t about me at all.

A dear friend and mentor of mine lost her husband a couple of weeks ago. You can imagine how the implications of this were compounded, during such restrictive times. We couldn't be together, so I went to see her horse. I knew how he was missing her. I thought of her as I touched him. I remembered how she’s been there for me, and for him, and for so many others: consistently, unconditionally, benevolently.

When we finally were able to meet, in the midst of her grief, she asked me about my life. And even then, she remembered every detail. I thought I was there for her…but suddenly I mattered too, in the most tender and humbling way. 

I can’t help but treat others better because of how she treated me.

We are living in a time when these concepts must be at the forefront of our consciousness: for ourselves, for other people, for animals, and for the future quality of life on this planet. What does “matter” mean? When and why do we matter to others? When and why do they matter to us? How do we know, and how can we show?

It is important to be able to distill our beliefs, particularly before we impose expectations onto someone else; the better we explain, the clearer our communication, and the healthier our relationships. But we must allow the heart to inform the mind, and listen to its wisdom:

We are enough when we are alone.
We matter when we are together.
We are loved in all ways, always.

The Pandemic

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. - Proverb

What a time this is!

I’ve been deliberating over what to write about, and when…hoping for clarity or conviction…waiting for the dust to settle, so that ideas might be received as intended. Adjusting to a slower pace. Yearning for momentum again. Facing our surreal reality, and managing its effects.

Reflecting, reorganizing, receiving. Knowing the fullness in the space.

I turned 40 the day things shut down here in Maryland. It was such a beautiful day outside. Since then, sentiments around “distancing” have flooded our collective consciousness. It is easy to feel agitated, or restless, or stuck. It’s natural to feel lonely. It’s okay to be afraid.

In the midst of this turmoil, we have been given the gift of renewal. It may not be pretty (in fact, we all know it won’t). But our future depends on how we choose to handle discomfort. What is mine? What is yours? What is ours to share?

The only truth within uncertainty is love. The only way to find it is through connection.

We connect most deeply with each other during times of vulnerability and surrender. We can meet in places even more beautiful than our imaginations can paint.

Many of you have expressed to me the heartache you feel, in being separated from your horses. What is it that you miss? Environment and routine? Camaraderie? Physicality and pursuit? Sensory experiences? Sure, yes. All of the above.

But what we miss the most is what we love the most: a union built on trust and reinforced through reciprocation; needs met through honest communication; authenticity; affection; strength and freedom; tenderness and beauty.

We may feel fragile and helpless, but we are alive and resilient. We have the chance now to honor every moment.

We can gaze at our fears as we would into the eyes of our horses. We can cradle our anger as we would their heads in our arms. We can speak to each other as we would to them: softly, gently, with adoring words of gratitude. And we should.

Horses are prey animals that dance gracefully to a predator’s tune, simply because they are patient and brave enough to listen. 

Perhaps our greatest tribute to them, until we meet again, is to live like that ourselves.  ❤

Moonsong Highlight: Chris

“And still, even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth:
'You owe me.'
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky." - Hafiz

During a short break during this weekend’s workshop at Elysian Fields Farm, I was so fortunate to have a conversation with a participant named Chris. Chris is a professional dog trainer who specializes in reward-based training. She is also the owner of a very lucky mule named Gus, and one of those people you just feel glad to meet. Her demeanor is humble, her affect welcoming, and her words the perfect blend of poignancy and humor. I wished we could’ve talked for hours.

We had a brief chat about the dynamic relationship between patience, processing, and training. That’s when Chris reminded me of a simple, sometimes uncomfortable, but inescapable truth:

Humans are the only species that dominate purely for the sake of dominating

No other species on the planet controls for sport. Hierarchies exist in nature, of course, but only to serve fundamental survival needs (like eating). Why do we, as humans, feel a need to exert power for power’s sake? What do we gain by subjugating another living being? Haven’t we the tools and experience to devote our lives to being with others, rather than doing something to them? 

From domesticated and wild animals, to flowers and water and other human beings! How often do we acknowledge and celebrate what it means to be here together: living, dying, loving, and being loved? 

We’ve evolved with the ability to act intelligently, responsibly, and mercifully. We should realize the choices we’ve been given, as “predators”, in this day in age. We have the capacity to choose gratitude over greed, benevolence over shame, and empathy over indifference.

If you are reading this, please join me in taking a moment to really open your heart to someone or something today. Be brave enough to receive. Listen with your whole body. Feel the light that comes pouring through!

Moonsong Highlight: My Library

"Life is a book, and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read." - Cassandra Clare

Suzy Q, Celeste, Doodle, Matilda, Hermes, Faustine, Bump, Jose, Pocket, Owen, Harry, HR, Bella, Lilly, Magic, and Chance. Sixteen horses and their loving owners made a recent trip to upstate New York one of the most memorable experiences of my life. So did other footloose travelers along the way, friendly locals at every stop, and openhearted hosts and animals that shared their spaces so hospitably. Those at home were never far from my mind. 

It’s been a while since I’ve traveled for more than just a few days. Alone but never lonely, I carry with me (as we always do) the library of my life: every book another living being whose presence has informed my heart. What gratitude I have for my beautiful library! How I will never realize its depths.

How I long for enough time to hold every book in my hands a thousand times, to live by the lessons hidden in each page. I bow my head to read and remember…

There are those people and animals I’ve known most or all of my life. Their stories live in weathered, complex volumes whose meanings evolve with me. Rows and rows belong to them.

There are those I’ve met just in passing, but whose gesture or kind deed redirected a moment, a day, the dynamic web we all navigate together. They are picture books with few pages. Their covers are soft and pliable. I can slide them in anywhere along a shelf; their simple lessons always apply.

There are alarmingly magnetic books that sparkle and draw my eye. I reach for them quickly and without thinking, for they are irresistible! In my haste, those nearby tip and fall. Some tidying ensues, some apology, some reflection, but never any shame; we wrote a story together and it was important.

There are people and animals so solid that their sole function is to stabilize an entire row of other, less organized, less substantial beings. Unassuming, they’ve offered themselves and never held a grudge. I regret leaning on them without really knowing their stories.

There are comic strips, soft and worn from so much handling. I place them gingerly atop a shelf, as I’ll need to look at them often and giggle. Preserving them is the essence of lightheartedness.  

There are simple postcards, sent from afar. Their handwritten notes invite a sigh, a tilt of the head, a softening of the eye, a flutter of the heart. I touch the words just as I touched the creases of their aging faces, their hands or paws, their backs, their soft bellies. I remember the physicality of loving and being loved by them.

There are those that selflessly left pages blank for me. They held space for me when I was a tornado. I tossed them sideways onto a shelf and bent their pages in my carelessness. I couldn’t bear to read my own story in the context of theirs. Still, they wait patiently in my library.

There are those written in unknown languages. They have mismatched covers and are printed upside down. They don’t fit anywhere. They are the most painful, the most misunderstood, the most impossibly tortured and beautiful. They are perfect. I don’t need to read them. I cradle them in my hands, pull them to my heart, press them against my cheek, kiss their covers and smell their pages. We rock and sway together, humming the only song we were born knowing. Through each other, we find ourselves. We are safe together here, in the library.

Thank you, all of you, for your stories and lessons. You’ll never know what you mean to me. You’ll never know how many libraries you inhabit. Just by being who you are, you live forever. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Moonsong Highlight: Napoleon

 “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Napoleon arrived at Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue as a feral stallion, having been previously abandoned.  

We all know the realities that face horses in this position who, through no fault of their own, have become fearful, reactive, and dangerous. Napoleon was almost euthanized for these behaviors. Luckily for him, he met Shelby Piovoso, the Head Trainer at GGDHR. Through her commitment to natural horsemanship and positive reinforcement (R+) training, she gained Napoleon’s trust and ended up adopting him herself! The pair have grown and developed together, doing truly remarkable things at liberty and under saddle.

This hasn’t been without some unique physical and psychological challenges. Shelby has noticed a shift in Napoleon’s behavior during his training sessions lately. Understandably, he’s always been discerning and skeptical with humans. He’s seemed resistant to learning, opinionated and obstinate, and resorts to threatening tactics in order to communicate his dissatisfaction. However, he’s acted shameful and deeply affected when Shelby retreats, either out of her own (valid) fear, or out of respect for his need for processing. What a conundrum!

I think we’ve all felt the discomfort Napoleon has been feeling. We don’t want one thing, but we don’t want the alternative, either. In fact, we don’t know what we want, but we feel agitated by all available options. We begin to alienate others because we are confusing to be around, and isolation fuels the fire…after all, effective communication takes practice.

When someone else’s behavior affects us, it is so important to remember that he or she is probably suffering more than we are. There may be circumstances in his or her life that are limiting the ability to feel, or be, peaceful…circumstances we know nothing about.

We’ve all been there. As events overwhelm us, we have less capacity to give. We have less tolerance for vulnerability. Our needs change. That’s life.

It can be hard to be empathetic toward someone during these times, especially when his or her behavior contradicts the essence of what we believe our relationship to be. Things may seem inequitable. We may feel resentful. But, we are all different today than we were yesterday, and we will all be different tomorrow.

To really love someone is to be present within ourselves and in the space that we share. There are always miracles hidden there!

From the bottom of my heart, I was truly humbled when Shelby requested a session not to necessarily work with Napoleon’s body, but to brainstorm ways of reestablishing their relationship through touch. I could only suggest techniques that have helped me with fearful and reactive horses, or with those that have “shut down”.

These include intention-setting, general body language and awareness, hand placement, and measured pressure.

We could call this CranioSacral Therapy, or Reiki, or any number of other things. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how we label it.

What does it look like? Well honestly, it looks a lot like giving Napoleon a hug!

That’s what we did during his session. Standing body-to-body and softening our eyes…placing one hand at the withers and the other at the center of his strong chest, and then at the center of his soft tummy…providing deep and reassuring touch…with the intention of sharing space and nothing else.

To practice this with your horse, try placing your hands where you see the GREEN dots in the picture below. Provide deep and consistent pressure, and wait patiently.

Thoughts come in, and they go out. Where should I touch? How long do I wait? What am I looking for, to know if it’s “working”?

The answers to these questions lie in trust. Trust the being you are with. Trust yourself. Trust the wisdom of the space that holds you both. Breathe into it, and just see what happens.

We are all gifts to each other, regardless of the choices we make.

There is no doubt that Shelby’s and Napoleon’s relationship is deep and resilient enough to withstand any “growing pains”. We will see what happens with a few new tools, renewed curiosity, and loads of patience! Please hold them in your hearts as they continue on their beautiful journey together.