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*Moonsong Highlight: Charlie!*

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” – Virginia Woolf

Ladies and gentlemen, Charlie. Charlie is full of equal parts personality and heart! He owes much of his wonderful life to his owner Joni, who adopted him from Days End Farm Horse Rescue after he was let down from the track. Charlie raced 9 times, a few of which were presumably following surgery to remove one of his vocal chords. That wasn’t the only trouble he had in his throat; Charlie also suffered from “roaring” (laryngeal hemiplegia) on both sides, and arytenoid chondropathy on both sides, as well. By the time Joni had him evaluated by a surgeon, it was determined that his airway was the size of a human’s pinky finger!! Joni recalls, “I’d had him 9 months at that point, and I knew he deserved more out of life.”. Well, he did, and he got it, and man is he living large now!!

To read more about “roaring”, click here: Roaring is a fairly common condition that results in a roaring or whistling sound during exercise, exercise intolerance, and propensity for infection. It is most common on the left side of the throat because of the position of the aorta in the body, and it happens due to atrophy (wasting away) or paralysis of the muscles of the larynx (voice box). It is found often in male horses (frequently thoroughbreds) who are tall in height.

To read more about arytenoid chondropathy, click here: Arytenoid chondropathy is a more unusual condition that generally affects young (2-4 year old) racehorses. It involves the growth of granulomas (tissue growths) around the larynx that may be due to trauma, infection, or previous surgery. The symptoms are similar to “roaring”, and various treatment options are available.

In Charlie’s case, the only option for a full recovery was a tracheostomy, or the creation of a permanent hole in the trachea (windpipe). To watch a video of a tracheostomy procedure with explanation, click here:

Charlie’s surgery went well and he made a full recovery, although Joni recounts that it was a trying time for her, as she did not know anyone whose horse had also had a tracheostomy, and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect post-operatively! Now Charlie basically has an extra (large) nostril at the front of his throat. Does it require cleaning? Of course. Does it make noise? Yes! Does he seem bothered by it? Not at all. Can he live a happy, functional life with it??? Absolutely!!

What I love about Charlie and Joni is their precious, patient relationship. Neither one pushes the other past a point of comfort, ever. Charlie has suffered from upper and lower GI ulcers and discomfort, parasitic infections, head tossing and skeletal misalignment, eye trauma, and the list goes on and on. Joni cares for him no matter what. She provides him with everything he needs to thrive, and she loves him with all her heart. He responds with jovial antics and soft gestures of familiarity and thanks. It is an honor to watch them together.

When I’ve seen Charlie, it’s been to focus on specific problems: GI discomfort and reactivity (kicking, etc) to touch at the tummy and flank, instability with pain at and around the lower (lumbar) back and pelvis/SI joint, and recently, head tossing with no specific cause as of yet. With Joni present, he is able to express himself in an environment of safety and understanding, and we find ways of relieving his discomfort that work for him.

I’m so thankful that Charlie and Joni came into my life, and very inspired by their journey together. Here’s to all of the owners out there who pull up their bootstraps and provide for their 4-legged steeds, regardless of agenda or preconceptions! May we all be as lucky as Charlie at some point in our lives!  


*Moonsong Highlight: Ukiah!*

"Movement is the song of the body." - Vanda Scaravelli

I’ve wanted to write about this big handsome guy for a while now! Meet Ukiah, the 16-yeart old Dutch Warmblood. Imported several years ago to the United States, “Ki” lived much of his adult life at what is now known as Safe Haven Equine Warriors, a 501c3 nonprofit rescue in Sykesville, MD. More recently, he was officially acquired by his devoted owner and biggest fan, Katy (although truth-be-told, everyone knew they were peas in a pod long before the partnership was made formal!). Thanks to Katy’s patience, open-mindedness, and commitment, Ukiah has learned to manage impressive physical and emotional difficulties…not limited to generalized nervousness (no small thing in a horse his size!) and stringhalt-related behaviors.

How? Mindful training including positive reinforcement, methodical nutrition adjustments, routine-oriented and heartfelt care, well-informed environmental and facility decision-making, and…bodywork!

I could write a book on these two, but let’s focus on something educational for today: “stringhalt”. What is it? How is it different from “shivers”? How can we help?

Horses with stringhalt are sometimes referred to as “marionette horses”, because of how they look when they move. The hind legs behave spastically, pop up off of the ground and stay suspended in the air, and may slam back down to the ground (watch out, farriers!). A horse may look like he is hopping in an uncoordinated way, or may refuse to walk for fear of losing her balance. Stringhalt can be most obvious during gait transitions (walk to trot, etc) and may be intermittent or constant. Eventually these horses have difficulty backing up and may develop dangerous behaviors (such as rearing) if pressured to do so. Its cause is a bit of a mystery, but it manifests as neuromuscular dysfunction, can be related to EPM infection in the United States, and ingestion of certain plants in Australia.

Shivers, on the other hand, usually includes some trembling of the hind legs and tail (and sometimes other body parts), and a gait in which the horse again contracts the hind leg but then typically swings it out to the side, before slamming it down. The movement may be exaggerated after resting, backing up, stressful situations, or during times of increased carbohydrate intake. It is often related to glycogen-storage/metabolic disorders like EPSM and PSSM.

Can a horse have stringhalt *and* shivers? Yes. If you notice any of these behaviors in your horse, even mild twitching, stumbling, or intermittent stomping, ask your veterinarian for a lameness evaluation and labwork including a metabolic panel, testing for glycogen storage disorders, vitamin and mineral levels, and infectious diseases including EPM and Lyme.

To watch a horse with stringhalt, view this video:

Stringhalt is not considered a “lameness” because it is not known to cause pain. Most often, it affects a group of muscles and ligaments in the rump and hind legs, most notably the semitendinosus (“hamstring”) and the lateral digital extensor tendon. See the pic below for these. 

In unrelenting cases, the lateral digital extensor tendon can be surgically cut to prevent the hock from working in overdrive. There is a much scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet not only for shivers, but for stringhalt as well (this would include limiting grass from the diet in the spring and summer months). Additionally, supplementation with Selenium and Vitamin E, and to a lesser extent Magnesium and the B Vitamins can help tremendously.

In terms of bodywork, we need to be careful when handling horses with stringhalt and shivers. As prey animals, one of horses’ most fundamental needs is to be able to flee a situation with agility and speed. It’s no wonder, then, why they tend to develop nervousness and anxiety as we approach and handle their legs and feet. These conditions are most prevalent in large breed horses like Drafts and Warmbloods, so a loss of balance can be catastrophic not only for the horse, but for the human!

Once a horse allows touch at the hind end, purposeful work at and around the hamstring and hock can be very helpful in calming excitable nerves and musculature, encouraging fluidity of movement, and reestablishing a sense of proprioception and comfort. It is very important to use consistent pressure and steady rhythm with these horses. In addition to deeper traditional sports massage of the hamstrings, direct pressure or gentle massage at the following acupressure points can also be extremely helpful: Bai Hui, BL40, and BL60. See below for locations of these.  

Ukiah is a beautiful mover and a very happy guy these days, thanks to Katy’s genuinely loving and thorough caregiving. Life threw some curveballs but keeps getting better and better, because they have (and trust) each other. It is a true honor to be involved in their colorful journey together!


*Moonsong Highlight: Nellie!*

"We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." - Anais Nin

When I first met Nellie this weekend, the two words that kept resonating in my mind were, “May I?”. Moment by moment, breath by breath, touch by touch, her permission preceded any progress we made together. 

She has every right to require explanation, transparency, kindness, and proof. At 18 years old, she deserves this and more. Bought from slaughter by her previous owner, she was presumed to have had driving experience. An explosive reaction to harnessing proved otherwise, and she did what any frightened prey animal does: she tried to flee. The problem was, she was still strapped into the equipment. For three days she dragged it around with her, injured and unapproachable. You can imagine the trauma that experience inflicted on her sensitive, otherwise capable body and mind. 

Nellie was surrendered to Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue where her rehabilitation began, and has since been adopted by her current owner (and greatest champion), Lauren. Lauren honestly described Nellie’s potentially dangerous reactivity to me at the start of our session. Revealing this to professionals working with our horses is as necessary as it is appreciated! She also described recent progress made through the use of positive reinforcement training, stable herd dynamics, regimented care schedules, and lots of TLC. 

We began by sharing space. Nellie had freedom of choice and movement throughout her session. It’s important to always be mindful of the difference between invitation and insistence. We can offer without expectation, and we can provide without demand. In bodywork, there is no reason to require that a horse “do” something for us. We can ask permission to share our offering, and we can be grateful when permission is granted! 

Here is one of my favorite techniques for gaining trust and safely sharing space with another:

“Hard eyes vs. soft eyes”: 

1.      Hold your hand about 1-2 feet in front of your face. Look at your palm. Find a spot that you like: an intersection of two wrinkles, a freckle, a scar, etc. 

2.      Focus with all of your energy. If your gaze drifts, just refocus on the spot you’ve chosen.

3.      Begin to notice the rest of your body as you continue to focus: Is your jaw clenched or relaxed? Where is your tongue in your mouth? Are you blinking? Swallowing? Breathing? Are your knees locked? Are your shoulders square? 

4.      Take a break, and then look at another person or an animal with these “hard eyes”. Notice his or her reaction to your gaze. Even if your intentions are peaceful and friendly, your body language is that of a predator, and your actions may be interpreted as such.

5.      Find your spot again. This time, continue looking at it, but simultaneously allow yourself to see objects in the periphery. Expand your field of vision a little bit at a time, as your spot simply anchors your gaze.

6.      Begin to notice the rest of your body as you continue expanding your peripheral vision: Is your jaw clenched or relaxed? Where is your tongue in your mouth? Are you blinking? Swallowing? Breathing? Are your knees locked? Are your shoulders square? 

7.      Take a break, and then look at another person or animal with these new, “soft eyes”. Notice his or her reaction. Your body language is that of a friend!

There is always a difference, literally and figuratively, between looking and seeing. Seeing with soft eyes allows us to appreciate, to feel, and to be present with another living being. If we ask permission, invite communication, and celebrate participation (no matter how slight), we pave the way for success…whatever that means in any given situation. 

I am so excited to join Nellie and Lauren on their journey of trust, respect, comfort, and love, and I truly can’t wait to see where it takes us together!


*Moonsong Highlight: Maverick!*

“Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” – Michel de Montaigne

He has a star on his forehead as bright as the Sun! He is charming, intelligent, and naturally athletic and talented. He is a 14-year-old registered Holsteiner named Maverick. He loves bananas. I like to think about the fact that his dam (mother) was a Mustang! His human mama, Sue, is his lifeline. He pines after her, and he responds instantly to the tone of her voice. It’s no wonder – Sue is one of the most authentic and kind people you’d ever hope to meet. Horses gravitate to those who feel clear and safe.

I’ve known Mav for a long time. Recently, we met to assess the potential benefit of having his hocks injected. I am often asked about this particular procedure, benefits vs. risks, how to measure results, length of time between treatments, etc. As a disclaimer, I will point out the obvious, which is that I am not a veterinarian!! But, hopefully I can share some information that may be helpful…

The hock joint on a horse is akin to the human ankle. Certain conformational issues can affect its function and longevity, such as leg straightness, comparative lengths of the upper and lower leg, spine curvature, pelvic/hip height and angles, etc. Certain disciplines can predispose a horse to hock arthritis, particularly if he/she is started early in life or if demands are too great for his/her maturity level. 

To read more about the hock, click here:

When a hock is “injected”, this means that a substance (often a steroid for inflammation plus “HA”, or hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring bodily substance found within the synovial fluid of joints and elsewhere) is injected in a sterile manner into 1-2 locations in the joint. There are pros and cons to this procedure. For an overview of those, click here:

It has been shown that resveratrol supplementation can significantly reduce side effects of hock injections, as well as prolong the beneficial effects of the procedure. Resveratrol is a naturally-occurring anti-oxidant compound found in high amounts of certain plants, including the skins of red grapes. To read more about this interesting connection, click here:

The jury is still out on how often to have hocks injected, how long to wait after injections to begin exercise, and what exactly to expect from the procedure. The question I recommend asking your vet and/or bodyworker is, “Might there be anything else going on, to account for my horse’s discomfort, lameness, or behavior?”. Sometimes, there isn’t (or at least, we can’t find anything). But often times…there is!

To check the integrity of Maverick’s hocks, we performed flexion tests on both hind legs. To watch a description of flexion tests, click here:

After a horse’s limb is collapsed and flexed for 60-90 seconds, he/she is trotted off in-hand as we watch for signs of lameness, which may manifest after the isolated joint is released. Maverick trotted off soundly after flexion of both hind legs. When we watched him in all 3 gaits (walk, trot, canter) on the lunge line, we noticed that his stifles (knees) “slip” or become hypermobile, as he transitions down from the canter to the trot. 

This begged the question of what else might be going on. As we traced his body, we found the most prominent reactivity and sensitivity at the stifles and pelvis. While it is true that hock issues can eventually lead to dysfunction elsewhere, we knew from Maverick’s history and his negative flexion result that it was prudent to address things from the “top down” first, paying particular attention to the stifles.

For stifle dysfunction, I usually recommend the following:

-Weekly bodywork, including massage, energy work, and range-of-motion exercises.

-Use of body wraps during exercise to encourage stability of the joint and proper use of surrounding/supporting muscle groups.

-Hill work: Walk or trot straight up a long, gradual hill, but “zig-zag” down in long switchbacks. Avoid coming straight down hills!

Sue is dutiful about practicing exercises between sessions, and because of that, Maverick is resilient. For now, he is improving and getting ready for the spring season! His eyes and affect are bright. He’s handled recent changes in environment, feed, and routine with ease, his body condition is excellent, and he is happy as a clam! Sue loves him unconditionally and provides for him in every way that she can. I am so grateful for the both of them, for being beacons of light in my life and work.


*Moonsong Highlight: All the Pretty Little Horses*

"Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleep my little baby.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses..."

It’s been a particularly busy bodywork winter this year. I’m as grateful as I am surprised! Usually I sit down to write a “highlight” with one particular animal in mind, or on a theme that’s permeated recent sessions. Today, the season is punctuated to me by the sound of freezing rain on a red metal roof. The trees bow to each other in quiet, icy fellowship. The dogs are buried in fleece blankets, and the horses are munching on hay in the barn.

I wish my mind were as quiet as this day, but it isn’t. The more I insist, the more defiant it becomes! It spins in and out of the present moment like a top, and I am taken with it through loads of “to-do” lists and “first-world problems”. The scattering brings angst. We all know the feeling: the accidental loss of self; the unconscious prioritizing; the fallout, and the repair.

When the mind eclipses the spirit, when life gets in the way of living, the heart cries out.

Today the story in my heart is one I don’t often share:

I grew up involved with horses (my twin sister and I volunteered at a therapeutic riding facility in exchange for lessons), and I’d been fascinated with unicorns from the time I was born, I think. But, life pulled in other directions, and I ended up working happily as a professional freelance musician and living as a true urbanite.

My partner and I bought an old rowhome in the middle of the city, but then I became very ill. It was a time of great mystery and pain for everyone involved. I spent the better part of a few years in hospitals. When I’d come home, he'd drive me out of the city. I loved to just sit and watch horses as they grazed, or ran, or slept.

My grandmother had given me a tiny wooden book engraved with the words “Love the Little Things” on the cover.  I have no recollection of this, but at some point during a particularly bad spell, I made a list in that book of all of the things I hoped to do, if I lived. At the top, I wrote:

      1.  Be with horses.

Eventually things turned around and I got better. Shortly thereafter, a fire started at the other end of our block and all of the houses in the row were destroyed. I threw all of my salvageable items into a blue milk crate, and we found a place to rent in the country.

Suddenly the horses were everywhere. I started over, as an adult returning to a world I’d only known as a child. Volunteering, riding, studying, teaching, training, managing barns…I was doing things with horses, to horses, because of horses. But it wasn’t until I began studying bodywork that things felt right to me. And the rest is Moonsong history.

One day, shortly after I’d decided to quit my day job and practice bodywork full-time, I pulled the milk crate down from a shelf. I unpacked it to find the little book and the list. Perplexed, I stood there gazing at my own handwriting, trying to make sense of something I knew but didn’t remember. I slowly realized I’d been shown a way to truly “be – with – horses”. I’d arrived without realizing it. A precious gift had been woven into the tapestry of my life.

How did it happen, this mystical turn of events, and why? Was it divine intervention? Clairvoyance? Collective consciousness? The heart’s desire?

I woke up into my own life and the horses were waiting. With their beautiful bodies, their delicate minds, and their wildly free spirits, they’d been waiting all along.

Mirrors and messengers of truth, horses guide with soft and infinite wisdom until we find ourselves. They ask nothing in return. How lucky are we, to twist their manes around our fingers, to cradle their hooves in our hands, to feel their breath on our cheeks, to be carried on their backs? How lucky are we, to share this life with them?

Love the little things!

“Blacks and bays,

Dapples and Grays,

All the pretty little horses…”


*Moonsong Highlight: Handyman!*

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." - E.E. Cummings

It’s the Handsome Handyman!! We love this guy. Handy is a strapping 6-year-old Azteca gelding. The Azteca breed is a combination of the Andalusian (Lusitano) and the Quarter Horse, and since its foundation in the 1970s has become the national horse of Mexico. These horses are known for their beauty, temperament, and athleticism, among other things…and Handy is no exception! He is confident, comical, graceful, strong, wild, and friendly. His owner Tanique loves him almost as much as he loves her! Sometimes I think his heart might burst right out of his chest at the sight of her…

To read more about the Azteca breed, click here:

Several weeks ago, Handy started having uncharacteristic behaviors under saddle. He balked at the idea of moving forward and contorted his back as if he might eventually buck. For such an easy-going, amicable guy, this was a red flag. Sure enough, during his body tracing, he was very reactive about palpation (touch) along his back and at his pelvis, and his reactivity was asymmetrical. He avoided pressure by moving away, swished his tail, pinned his ears, and shifted his feet.

We knew where to work, but why? Well, of course we can’t always know for certain, but Handyman’s type and patterns of pain are consistent with a growing horse. At 6 years old, he is approaching his maturity, but there is still time (and room) for one more growth “spurt”. Horses whose bodies are changing can struggle with discomfort, coordination, and fatigue during these times, and we can support them through bodywork and mindful training. 

Below is a picture illustrating the time it takes for various growth plates in a horse’s body to fuse, or “close”. These times apply to every horse, regardless of breed or type. 

Much on the topic of growing, maturation, and training has been debated over the years. Probably the most famous article ever written on the subject is by Dr. Deb Bennett, Ph.D., a true authority on the evolution, anatomy, and biomechanics of horses: 

Some highlights from the article are below:

“Believe it or not, horses have more than one “growth plate”…[the] schedule of growth-plate closure (which begins around the time of birth and extends until the sixth year, and is coordinated with the eruption schedule of the teeth) has been well known since the early 19th century.”

“There is no such thing as a slow-maturing breed. The Quarter Horse is not an ‘early maturing’ breed – and neither is the Arabian a ‘slow maturing’ breed. As far as their skeletons go, they are the same. There are some breeds of horse – the Quarter Horse is the premier among these – which have been bred in such a manner as to look mature long before they actually are mature.”

“Most of the growth plates above the distal radius in a three year old horse are unfused, including, most importantly, those of the animal’s spine. It is the spine of the horse that governs the overall coordination of the limbs.”

“Bottom line: you can sprain a horse’s back (i.e. displace the vertebral physes) a lot more easily than you can displace those located in the limbs.”

“So do you then have to wait [to start your horse] until all these growth plates convert to bone? No. But the longer you wait, the safer you’ll be. Introduce the horse to equipment (all kinds of equipment and situations, with the handler on the ground) when he’s two, add crawling on and off of him at three, saddle him to begin riding him and teaching him to guide at four, start teaching him maneuvers or the basics of whatever job he’s going to do at five, and he’s on the payroll at six. This is what I’d do if it were my own horse.”

Luckily for us, Handyman has allowed methodical, progressive bodywork that includes massage and acupressure at his back and pelvis, and gentle manipulation of his tail and limbs to encourage balance, proprioception, and confidence. His training is always appropriate in terms of time and expectations, and includes the use of body wraps, hacking out on hills and trails, and careful arena work. His symptoms and behaviors are beginning to resolve. 

It’s thanks to Tanique’s perceptive eye and compassionate heart that Handy’s growing pains were addressed before dangerous behaviors developed. We will continue to support him as his body and mind mature. It is an honor and a privilege to be involved in his care. It’s like a love triangle when the three of us are together, and I am so grateful to occupy one little corner!


*Moonsong Highlight: Mackenzie!*

"I have looked at you in millions of ways, and I have loved you in each." - anon.

What better time to give thanks for this dearest cherubic creature, than during the holidays. Friends of animals, meet Mackenzie, the West Highland Terrier. What an incredible guy he is! At 16 ½ years old, he is truly going strong. He walks like a little muscle man, bowlegged from his arthritis and two post-procedural cruciate ligament repairs. One knee was repaired traditionally, using mainstream surgical techniques. The other (equally successful!) was repaired by a holistic veterinarian, using injection-based therapy. His spleen was removed last year when his condition quickly declined due to a mass that appeared on imaging some months prior. 

He is maintained on a healthy diet, prescribed supplements, regular exercise, and a beautiful connection with his lifelong owner, Kathryn. His most favorite thing is to be swaddled and rocked by her, with his head over her shoulder and heart pressed against hers (in fact, that’s how he was positioned for the majority of our session together last week). He has at least three beds to choose from at any time. He has a one-year-old feline playmate named Marigold. He receives healing treatments when he needs them. He rides in a stroller when his legs get tired. 

One of the points we used with Mackenzie last week was Kidney 27, translated loosely to “all that is, was, and will ever be”.

Image result for dog kidney 27

Mackenzie has known nothing but the truest, most generous love for every moment of his precious life. His relationship with Kathryn, the way he looks at her and rests in her arms, reminds me of how we are all capable of being. 

Every single experience we have on this earth is a miracle. Every feeling, every breath, is the greatest gift. Each moment is the most amazing, the most important, possibly the last. We should say the things that need saying, do what needs doing, and give all that we have. 

We can live cautiously, and we can try to rationalize love. Or, we can choose vulnerability over shame. We can choose forgiveness over resentment. We can draw empathy from our deepest pain. We can gaze at each other in wonderment. We can honor this life by being present in it. 

We are blessed to be here. 

Happy Holidays to Mackenzie, and to Kathryn, and to all of you. Here’s to a peaceful and joyful year ahead for all of us…


*Moonsong Highlight: Alter and Gentil*

"My heart is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure." - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alter and Gentil. Both of these majestic horses epitomize the characteristics of the Lusitano breed: they are powerful, elegant, brave, intelligent, and kind. They dance exquisitely to earn their keep at the distinguished First Choice Farm, where they receive world-class dressage training and excellent care. Their owner Kathy commits to them with her own daily doses of heartfelt comaraderie, riding, hand-grazing, and devotional carrots. :)
It’s an honor to rest my hands on these boys each week. What I feel in their bodies usually aligns with traits I find typical to Lusitanos. Iberian (Lusitano and Andalusian) horses are some of the oldest breeds in the world, and they have been bred selectively to preserve and fortify their natural physiology, movement, health, and temperament. To learn more about the breed, read here: 

In terms of bodywork, what I notice a lot about Lusitanos (and Baroque horses in general) is the size and quality of the trapezius muscles, at and around the withers. These horses tend to be very wide and quite substantial here. Unlike with humans, there is no bone in the horse that connects the foreleg to the body; this becomes the job of the trapezius muscle. It also pulls the scapula, or shoulder blade, forward and up. You can see why its function is critical for freedom and agility of movement! Here is a picture of the cervical (neck) and thoracic (upper back) trapezius musculature. 

Image result for horse trapezius muscle

What’s interesting about the trapezius muscles is that although they do move and power other parts of the body, their function is also to stabilize and protect. Many mammals carry their young by the skin (and underlying muscle) between and behind the shoulder blades. If you’ve ever seen a mother dog or cat do this, you know that her baby will submiss immediately once pressure is applied with the teeth to this area.

Tension or pain here will generally cause a submissive effect throughout the body, even for adult animals and/or animals not usually carried around by their parents this way. This submission or weakness causes a lack of self-actuated movement. Pressure applied here - from touch or tack - when there is already discomfort or tension, can cause a horse to “shrink”, drop away with the rest of the back, avoid contact, and not actively participate in exercise or interactions. He or she may also begin to “shrug” the shoulders, which then complicates movement and freedom of the latissimus dorsi muscle and humerus bone (see below), both of which are integral for comfortable and functional front end movement. 

Left unchecked, trouble here will eventually effect the longissimus dorsi, or long back muscle as well, which supports a rider, affects the mobility of the pelvis/hip and extension of the spine, and allows a horse to carry his head (which, unlike ours, is cantilevered) with ease and expression. Lusitano and other Baroque horses tend to have large heads and necks compared to other breeds, so function of this muscle too is particularly important!

But enough nuts and bolts, already! Other than their bodies, what is amazing about each of these boys? 

Alter is one of the most docile stallions I’ve ever met. He is practically unflappable, and even under stress, willing to acquiesce, communicate, and forgive. He is fiery without being aggressive. He stands on an imaginary pedestal. He knickers wholeheartedly at the sight of food. He loves hugs and Reiki at his heart chakra. He feels like a humble old friend, a noble gentleman. 

Gentil and I are still getting to know each other. Imported recently from Spain, he arrived a stallion and was gelded last month. He seems confident yet shy. Until recently, his hormones (and the frustration they caused him) influenced his demeanor, concentration, and physiology. He’s now beginning to soften and show curiosity, engage in reciprocal dialogue, and understand the benefits of human partnership – both on the ground and under saddle. 

It’s a gift to be able to spend time with each of these handsome guys each Wednesday. I am so grateful for their lessons and their company, and for the ancient stories their bodies tell. 

I write today in loving memory of another Lusitano who shared his First Choice home with Alter and Gentil, and whose legacy set a lasting precedent. He shared his gentle heart with so many. Rest in Peace, Tonico Do Top. Thank you for shining your golden light on all of us.


*Moonsong Highlight: Howard!*

"To live in the present moment is a miracle." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, as I rested my hands on Howard’s withers during the start of his bi-weekly session, I berated myself for not yet having written a post about him. How could I have let another week slip by? My mind has been spinning lately, trying to keep up with limitless tasks, to rationalize complex emotions, to trust precarious truths. It’s all so inconveniently…human! 
I was becoming more shameful by the moment, when all of the sudden, he leaned into me, lifted his hind leg to his belly, groaned, and then stretched it straight out behind him until he quite literally pointed his toe. Next, he shook and shimmied, sighed, chewed, and turned to look at me, as if to say, “You gonna get going, or what?” And just like that, *poof*: I was sling-shotted right back into the present moment, and with a heartfelt giggle to boot. 

When I think of this beautiful large pony, so much comes to mind. He is a teacher and a guardian. He’s a performer and a pet. He can be sweet. He can be naughty. He can be both at the same time! He shows up when it counts, no matter what, and it’s fair for him to expect the same of us. 

Through our time together, we’ve journeyed through ear-shyness and reactivity at the poll, back tension, arthritis, GI distress, and cribbing. I’d like to take a moment to focus on cribbing. It’s not the main focus of Howard’s bodywork, but it is a great educational tool. We both hope the info that follows may be useful to someone else out there!  :)

Cribbing is what’s known as a “stereotypy”, or a repetitive physical behavior. Used to be called a “vice”, we know now that there is no real or necessary reason to consider cribbing (or acts like it) to be negative characteristics. Stereotypies don’t indicate neuroses and aren’t contagious to other animals. They don’t necessarily affect the body’s (or mind’s) functionality. Read the articles for more info: 

Of course, compulsive, severe, unregulated, or long-standing cribbing will affect the musculature and skeletal function of the neck (and back), and the shape and size of the incisor teeth. And, cribbing can be related to GI upset. I find that addressing the gastrointestinal system, through bodywork, nutrition, or environment (or all of the above) often does alleviate the natural urge to crib. This makes sense, because cribbing stimulates the release of saliva, which prevents the stomach from becoming too acidic, thereby lessening the likelihood of ulcers. It also lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels and stimulates the release of endorphins. Once stress is decreased, the parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) nervous system regulates digestion as it slows the heart, allowing the body to rest. A restful body heals and functions well. 

It’s all a miraculous, self-perpetuating cycle, as you can see! 

For all of these reasons, and many more, it’s wise to view cribbing as a helpful, informative clue. The degree to which Howard cribs is one of the best objective barometers of his overall well-being (and therefore, the “success” of each session) that we have. 

I am so grateful for Howard, for the way he participates so unabashedly, and for the way he keeps me honest in my work. I am equally grateful for his owner Allie and her daughter Abbie, for providing him with a life of comfort, stability, and reward. He’s a lucky guy and we are infinitely lucky to know him. 


*Moonsong Highlight: Notty!*

“Well, look who I ran into,” crowed Coincidence.
“Please,” flirted Fate, “this was meant to be.”.

-Joseph Gordon Levitt

Sweet Notty. I promise to write much more about him in the next Highlight, in which he’ll be flanked by his 4 buddies (Footie, Pinecone, Fumi Man, and Smudgy Bear). For today, I hope the experiences he and I have shared so far will help me describe some of the complexities of neurologic disease in horses.  

It’s always interesting how things happen in clusters. As unfortunate as coincidence sometimes is, it’s certainly one of the most efficient teachers. Notty is one of three severely neurologic horses that I’ve seen in the last week. The root cause of his symptoms remains a bit of a mystery, although over the years, he’s had repeated exposure to Lyme Disease and a suspected neck injury. One of the other two horses referenced has a probable vitamin and/or mineral deficiency, and the last has been diagnosed with exposure to Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM)

All three of these horses’ symptoms are different, in their type, severity, and consistency. Since the nerves control virtually every function of the body (and brain), diseases or injuries that affect them can manifest in innumerable ways. These include, but aren’t limited to: gait abnormalities and ataxia (loss of coordination and control), skin sensitivity, muscle twitches, disorientation, anxiety, aggression, depression, appetite and weight loss, and changes in urinary/bowel habits, tail function, hearing, swallowing, and vision. When neurologic signs are part of an infectious disease, there may also be fever, joint pain and swelling, and malaise.

To read more about Lyme Disease, click here:

To read more about EPM, click here:

To read more about Vitamin E and Selenium deficiency, click here:

Interestingly, alternative medicine (mostly acupuncture) studies on the diagnosis and management of neurologic diseases – and EPM, specifically - have found that their presentation and treatment may involve the right hind leg more than any other area of the body. This doesn’t mean that we neglect other areas of the body in order to prioritize that one; in fact, my main goal with with these horses is to help support, encourage, and celebrate everything about them that is still functional and strong! It’s imperative to find the place where the “reserves” are hidden.

As humans, our brains like to categorize and look for patterns. It’s easy to develop a myopic view of a situation, focusing on the “bad” rather than embracing the good. But horses are sensitive enough to be deeply affected by our concern, even when it comes from a place of compassion. One of the most helpful things we can do in a very worrisome or confusing situation is to say, “I see you.” Meaning, I see the whole you, the one you were before this happened, the one you will be again. Neurologic disease is scary, but reassurance is one of the greatest antidotes to fear.

The unpredictability and implications of neurologic disease can be dangerous. Signs can linger after it’s “gone” and wax and wane with seasons, hormonal changes, metabolic, physical, or emotional stress. It can allude diagnosis because most infectious disease lab testing relies on an animal’s immune function (ability to make antibodies, etc), not just the presence of a foreign invader. “Normal” ranges for vitamin and mineral levels can be huge, and we almost never know a specific animal’s optimal baseline (because we don’t test during healthy times). Identifying neurologic changes through imaging requires sensitive, appropriate modalities, many of which are prohibitive for financial or other reasons (such as whether an animal is well enough to withstand general anesthesia for an MRI, etc).  

Technically speaking, there are a few things that are safe and helpful in terms of bodywork for neurologic horses. These include:

      1. Acupressure at the “Bai Hui” point.

2. Deep, rhythmic, reassuring strokes all over the horse’s body (enough pressure to move the skin), paying particular attention to the lower legs.
3. Ample breaks during a session to allow for movement and processing.

4. Open and prompt communication with a horse’s veterinarian.

There is so much we don’t know, and there are limitations with how much we can do safely, when a horse is severely neurologic. That said, we can decide to live in a world of possibility, and we can always offer ourselves and our love…even when traditional solutions escape us.   

Love is sustaining Notty and the other two horses mentioned, as we continue our search for answers. Their courses of treatment will depend on diagnoses we can hang our hats on. Their dignity, however, will not. If you are reading this, I ask that you please hold them (and all others like them) in your heart. Thank you!


*Moonsong Highlight: Domino!*

"Respect is one of the greatest expressions of love." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Domino! But when you do, be sure to introduce yourself properly. Stand close but not too close. Turn towards her but don’t face her directly. Speak kindly without patronizing her. Touch her when she’s ready, and only with the back of your hand, at first. Share enough of yourself to intrigue her, but don’t bore her with the details (you know, the ones that no one really wants to know anyway!). We don’t have to love each other to be friends. Respect, however, is crucial.

Domino does exactly what mares are born to do: she discriminates. In the wild, it would be her job to direct her herd to safe and favorable environments and size-up any potential predators. In doing so, she’d not only be preserving her own life, but also setting an example for others. Domino was likely a VERY good mother to her two foals, using clear and consistent communication to teach boundaries, manners, and life skills.

I met Domino during a recent bodywork workshop and two subsequent private sessions in North Carolina. Her beautiful markings make her an eye-catcher in the dressage arena, where she has been quite successful. Her temperament typifies that of her breed. Leopard Appaloosas are known for their independence, courage, and intelligence. Read more about their interesting history here:

I could write a book on Domino, because she is truly one-of-a-kind, and she captured my heart immediately. But let’s focus on something that affects many horses and their owners and trainers: GIRTHINESS! Like many horses (mares especially), Domino is very touchy at the girth area, just behind the elbow, at the barrel. When touched in that area and during the tacking-up process, she pins her ears, swishes her tail, and turns to threaten a bite. Some horses will follow through on this, others will cow-kick (kick forward or out to the side), squeal, bolt, or buck, if their more subtle warnings go unacknowledged.

Many people punish this behavior and go about their business, teaching a horse that expressing physical or emotional discomfort is unacceptable. This doesn’t alleviate the discomfort, which then continues to build, silently. You can imagine the end result. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all paid the price in some form or another!

So, what *can* we do, to actually help alleviate pain or worry, while establishing a new association with contact at the girth (or any uncomfortable) area? Here are some ideas…

1.      Ask your vet about the possibility of ulcers or GI upset, and treat thoroughly. Often, the route (slurry vs. powder) or timing (between meals vs. with meals) can be as important as the medicine itself. Natural digestive aids include pre- and probiotics, alfalfa, aloe vera juice, papaya, slippery elm, licorice, and marshmallow root.

2.      Perform bodywork before tacking up! See the recent video on the Moonsong Facebook page for an idea or two.

3.      Consider the shape of your horse’s barrel when tightening the girth. For example, a deep-chested, apple-shaped horse may not have contact with the girth below the elbows, because the body is more narrow there than it is behind the shoulder. Check the midline (underneath the tummy) for snugness, rather than at the side of the barrel, for this reason.

4.      Tack up from both sides of your horse (this includes girthing) instead of only from the left.

5.      Tie a fleece polo wrap to your girth billets and practice “pretend” girthing this way, so that your horse makes a new and positive association with the tacking-up process.

6.      Only tighten the girth one hole at a time.

7.      Use a contoured or anatomical girth, and experiment with soft materials.

Domino responded beautifully to our efforts because we committed to acknowledging her well-informed opinion. She’s lucky to have an owner who is as respectful as she is loving.

It’s our responsibility as humans to invite dialogue without ever censoring content. After all, once horses know we are listening, they’ll tell us everything!


*Moonsong Highlight: Vegas*

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…

I'd like to share the story of Vegas’ life, but he is the only one that knows it. He is quiet.

He’s a handsome Appendix gelding. His current owner Shelley acquired him as a steady trail horse for her and her husband. He is quiet.

We heard that his previous owner rode him with a bicycle chain in his mouth. We can surmise the rest. He is quiet.

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on…

Vegas threw Shelley off during what was an otherwise relaxed trail ride, seriously injuring her. His sudden skittishness has emerged intermittently as others have attempted to ride him since the accident. He’s considered a loose cannon for good reason. Due to his unpredictability and inherent strength, he’s not ridden outside of the arena. Still, he is quiet.

“What should I do?” Shelley asked. “I don’t know if he’s getting what he needs. I feel like he doesn’t even know I exist.”

I met Vegas during a recent workshop and session trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the workshops, we discuss the physical and the metaphysical: connecting with the spirit of the horse through the body, inviting vulnerability through attention, welcoming communication through gesture, and reaffirming trust through touch.

We began our session by practicing “body tracing” with Vegas. Body tracing is the act of physically tracing the body with our hands, looking for signs of reactivity, and noting painful or uncomfortable areas that will require further work.

Vegas had no reactivity. None. He was quiet.

That’s just the thing…he is exceedingly quiet. He is silent, muted, motionless. Barely a breath, not even a blink. Not one single blink of his eyes throughout the entirety of his body tracing sequence, something that takes on average 10 minutes from start to finish.

More than quiet: Paralyzed. Incapacitated. Traumatized. Lost.

We shifted the focus of our session from anatomy and physiology to energy, patience, and permission. Our only intention was to be present with and for this special horse. Shelley was standing in the corner of the stall with her arms crossed. We began Reiki at the brachial and heart chakras. These are areas associated with human trust and bonding, empathy, and compassion. We waited.

…meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again…

In my mind, I asked him, “What do you need?”.

Vegas took a big breath, shifted his weight for the first time in over half an hour, lowered his head, and walked directly towards Shelley. He placed his big forehead in her chest, his nose on her forearms. There he stayed, blinking   slowly, breathing heavily into her, resting his body for what seemed like the first time in all his life. He was quiet. Finally, truly, deeply, quiet.

Vegas needs Shelley. Like a compass needle pointing North, he told us so. His behaviors are likely the result of trauma he endured before she knew him. They are not aimed at her. He is not “dominant” in any sense. By all definitions, he is completely submissive. His reactivity demonstrates only that his past experiences have prevented him from regulating his emotions in the face of fear.

Vegas knows Shelley as his caregiver, his rescuer, his safest place. She gives him more than most of us will receive in a lifetime. She is enough for him – not for what she does, but for who she is.

We are always enough.

As expectations shift from the archetypal to the intangible, we are reborn into   ourselves. What a gift it is, to be alive.

…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Mary Oliver, Wild Geese)


*Moonsong Highlight: Alfie!*

"The source of all happiness lies in thinking of others." -  Santideva

A few weeks ago, Alfie and Maria went for a ride. Alfie wasn’t himself. He was agitated and upset. His behavior escalated until he bucked, reared, and flipped over, landing on his back with Maria beneath him. Incidents like this are most often labeled as “behavioral”, and the horse involved is forever viewed as a threat or failure. Many owners in Maria’s position would feel angry (or at the very least, resentful), as healing from serious injury requires considerable time and rehabilitation. They would reprimand the horse, disown him, or worse.

We’ve probably all been in a relatable situation: We’ve all experienced pain at someone else’s hands (whether its infliction was intentional or accidental), and cast blame as a result of our suffering. This is human nature, and it’s understandable. It’s also counterproductive. Imagine what the world would be like, if we all chose to act with compassion in the midst of despair. Well, that’s just what Maria did. Her first courageously empathetic act was to have Alfie’s body evaluated for pain. She suspected a physical reason for his explosive behavior. She was right. As selfless as she is brave, she’s set an example for all of us. She and Alfie remind me that we can always love, even when our bones or hearts are broken.

If you watch the first video posted on the Moonsong Facebook Page, you will see the way that Alfie communicates his distress. In his sweetness, he refrains from reacting wildly, but in truth his discomfort is severe enough to warrant volatile behavior. I can almost guarantee that if I’d pushed directly down his lower back with so much as a fingertip, without any preparation, I’d have sent him through the roof. The same goes for if I’d ignored his warning signs (swishing his tail, pinning his years, shifting his weight, lifting his leg to kick). Imagine that pressure magnified by the weight of tack and a rider!

Due to his back pain and pelvic instability, Alfie’s bodywork includes “top-down” and “bottom-up” releases. We hope for the body to learn to function well and independently, both at rest and while moving. This requires that we address problems from multiple planes. “Top-down” work includes traditional sports massage, TTouches, acupressure, and trigger point therapy, modalities that involve doing something to the body to bring comfort. “Bottom-up” work includes Somatics and the Masterson method, among other techniques, which involve allowing the body to process information through its own doing.

With Alfie, I try hard to acknowledge every effort he makes to communicate, and I adjust my approach to keep the conversation easy. None of us enjoy being censored, stifled, or restrained, physically or emotionally. Sometimes our own fear or reluctance inhibits us from speaking our truth. We check off boxes and follow rules...but meanwhile the pressure builds. We’ve all known someone that seemed so “quiet”, so stoic, when seemingly unprovoked or erratic behavior shattered our perceptions. We’ve all been unpredictable ourselves, too.

It’s to our benefit, as humans, to sensitize ourselves to the subtleties of nonverbal communication. After all, intention always speaks first. If we listen fully, if we truly attend to one another, we invite expression as a whisper rather than a scream. We can hear everything! We show our devotion through our presence. Truth and love abound.

Maria was listening just prior to the accident. She knew something was amiss, and unfortunately there just wasn’t time to respond. Now begins her journey back to health and wholeness, and Alfie‘s journey of relief, regulation, and happiness. Please keep both of them in your hearts as they travel apart and together, weaving through a life they will always share.


*Moonsong Highlight: Zahara!*

“We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.” – Alan Watts

“She wasn’t what I was looking for at all! I was looking for something totally different. But I love her so much.” As Terri stood there and shared this personal revelation, her newly acquired horse Zahara nuzzled her sweetly, wrapping Terri in her neck and holding her there. Terri had envisioned her next horse being a bay gelding. The picture had been clear in her mind. But yet here she was, beginning this new journey with her big, beautiful, gray mare. 

Our conversations during bodywork have included everything from veterinary practicalities to relationship woes to equine menstrual cycles (and everything in between), and there Zahara stands between us, gently blinking her soft white eyelashes as if to say, “Mhmm, mhmm.”. She is a witness to our relationship, just as I am to hers with Terri, and Terri is to Zahara’s with me. 

Our personal relationship with ourselves and nature can be private and sacred. Intimacy is the sharing of our own thoughts, feelings, and existence with another. There is also really something to be said for being or having a witness, a third party, someone who validates another’s experience just by being there to see it.

Many times an owner will notice something I didn’t during a session, simply because I’m involved in the process. Or, a horse will show something with his or her body that sparks a specific question to an owner, one that otherwise would’ve gone unanswered. So often, horses stand silently by, holding space for the humans whose minds frequently overwhelm the senses, just waiting for us to see.

Zahara’s first session was typical, in that it was about meeting each other, acquiring a history, familiarizing with touch, asking and answering questions, putting pieces together, addressing discomfort, and making a plan. A bump here, a scar there, her posture, her preferences, how she shows reactivity, the nature of her releases. The look and feel of her front legs prompted some inquisition, and I learned she’d foundered previously and had surgery of both deep digital flexor tendons. In this case, I was the witness to a story Zahara and Terri already knew, and it informed my work and expectations.

Zahara was a little subdued during her second session. Terri noticed a few small hives on her chest, and I felt a lump on one side of her neck. It came to light that she’d been vaccinated earlier in the day. In this case, Terri and I were both witnesses to what Zahara shared. We paid close attention to what was before our eyes and under our hands. Before any real bodywork had commenced, Zahara was uncomfortable and covered in hives from head to toe. We were able to cold-hose her and administer Banamine until she received the veterinary treatment she required to combat a serious vaccine reaction.

Last week, Terri shared that Zahara had seemed grouchy during one of the bodywork techniques we’d introduced previously, one that required touch at and around her lower abdomen and flank. It seemed out of character for her. As we moseyed through the barn, Zahara batted her eyes at every gelding that walked by and even tried to follow one outside! We surmised that perhaps she was in season, something that can cause mares to be simultaneously flirtatious and cranky. Keeping track of her behaviors on a calendar will hopefully confirm our suspicions. For now, we respect her right to communicate appropriately. As soon as we acknowledged her discomfort and adapted our approach, she settled and accepted touch. Not only that, but she stood happily between Terri and me at the end of her session, as we discussed our oh-so-human philosophies on the great mystery of life. She was then a witness to our conversation, wrapping us in the soft tapestry of her presence.

Zahara embodies the definition of true femininity. She is immensely strong, perfectly soft, naturally beautiful, and infinitely wise. To witness the beginning of this new chapter in her life is such a special gift!


*Moonsong Highlight: Nikki!* 

"The more we share, the more we have." - Leonard Nimoy

I’ll never forget the time I couldn’t catch Nikki in the paddock. Around and around and around we went, dancing through all of the normally tried-and-true techniques for retrieving a horse, to no avail. I’d look away, speak softly, direct his movement with my body language, shake my jar of treats. He’d stand for a moment, silently blinking his big eyes with equal parts curiosity and skepticism, considering if what I had to offer was worth it to him. Nope! Not this day. His friends had all gone inside. The sun was setting. I was tired and becoming exasperated. And yet, there was something so sweet about him, so innocent, so charming. Don’t tell him this, but I would’ve stayed out there all night with him!

In hindsight, I’d walked right into his paddock, his space, his world, expecting him to come to me just because I said so. I’d done everything “right” but I hadn’t earned his trust. How many times do we do this with horses, other animals, and even with people, on a daily basis? How many times do we ignore, compress, distort, or obliterate a boundary out of necessity or convenience? When do we truly ask for permission to share space with someone? How often do we really acknowledge and celebrate the invitation to do so?

Every time we walk into a horse’s stall, we are really walking into his home, his bedroom, one of the only things that really belongs to him. It took a while for Nikki to trust and want to share his space (and body) with me. At first, I’d stand catty-corner to him against a wall, arms by my sides and palms forward, just waiting. He’d approach and retreat, approach and retreat. And then, one day, he stayed long enough for me to stroke his withers with the back of my hand. Things progressed from there, at his discretion. 

Now he smashes his nose through the bars of his stall door at First Choice Farm, waiting his turn for bodywork on Wednesday afternoons. He pushes his tummy against mine and points with his nose to parts of his body needing special attention (it’s true). He nods his head and flares his lip when he feels good. He puts his chin on my shoulder and breathes into my ear. He is so funny to me!

As you would expect, Nikki’s emotional apprehension affected his body. As a result of this and his own unique conformation (which included a very prominent sternum, or breastbone, and steep neck), he tended to hold his head high and drop his back away from the contact of a rider. The muscular tension that results from this posture causes discomfort, and in an effort to escape the discomfort, a horse will further arch his back and try to move away, with increased tempo and a generally frantic way of going. You can imagine how this creates a self-perpetuating cycle! 

In bodywork, we’ve been inviting Nikki to stabilize himself by balancing in the center and over the lower third of his body, open his shoulders to allow his sternum to lift, and release his jaw, tongue, and throat…all while constantly reassuring and grounding through his lower legs, tail, belly, mouth, and ears and a routine that he knows and likes.

Which came first, the emotionality or the physicality??  It doesn’t matter now, because Nikki has had the support of an entire team of people collaborating on his behalf. From methodical, creative, and patient training techniques and beautiful riding to frequent veterinary treatment including hyaluronic acid injections, artful farriery, considerate stall placement, regimented feed, groom, and turnout schedules, use of the Theraplate platform and SUREFOOT system to aid in conditioning, grounding, and proprioception…Nikki has had a metamorphosis. 

None of this would have been possible without the kindness and empathy of his devoted owner, who provided everything from afar for the sake of their life and relationship together. Nikki is strong, inside and out. He shines, he beams! I hope to support him for as long as he wants to be my dear, sweet friend. What a gift it has been to learn from him.


*Moonsong Highlight: Love!*

“L” is for the way you look at me,
“O” is for the only one I see,
“V” is very, very extraordinary,
“E” is even more than anyone that you adore can…
LOVE was made for me and you.

-Nat King Cole (Kempfert/Gabler)

She’s Love and she’s so lovely! Just look at her: a real beauty. If you go to the Moonsong Facebook page, you'll see a picture of her jumping the moon (or about 10,000 hay bales, depending how you look at it). This thirteen-year-old Thoroughbred had a brief racing career under the unfortunate name of “Expect No Love” and was then retired and let down. She found her way to a wonderful trainer, staff, and home at Walnut Pond Farm, for a fresh new start. She’s a substantial lady, put together phenomenally well. Her conformation, athleticism, and enthusiasm would allow her to excel in virtually any discipline. The problem? Until recently, she wasn’t quite “in her body”. When stressed for any reason, she quickly lost her composure, awareness of herself and her surroundings, and her ability to communicate safely and appropriately.

When I met Love for the first time, she was dancing around on the wash stall cross ties, eyes wide and nostrils flared, distracted and calling for her pasture-mate. In her own stall just moments later, her anxiety continued as she twirled and snorted, unaware of me and the space we were sharing. Was it the safest thing in the world, to be in there with her? Maybe not. But, I’m here to tell the tale, so obviously things worked out alright!

Most people have been supremely frightened or even traumatized at some point in their lives. Many of us know the feeling of “dissociating”, or feeling detached from our physical or emotional reality, during times of severe anxiety. If we haven’t been there ourselves, we probably know someone who has. Our minds allow us to disconnect because the truth of an experience is simply too hard to bear. So, what brings us back to the here-and-now?

There are many answers to that question and they all depend on the situation and the individual. Generally we require a variety of “coping strategies” that reinforce our present connection with ourselves and the world around us. They may be physical, such as vigorous exercise, mindful breathing, use of weighted blankets and deep pressure, and nutritional support. Or, they may be cognitive and emotional, like the use of daily affirmations and journaling, mindfulness, acceptance, or spiritual practice, psychotherapy, and the list goes on…

Horses in an extremely heightened state of anxiety can be dangerous, as we all know. Here are some techniques that have helped me when working with those that have dissociated or become “untethered”. You'll find they aren't altogether different from the human coping strategies listed above! I try to connect with a horse through as many senses as possible, since the senses allow us to take inventory of our surroundings and participate fully in our reality.

-Keep body language clear but unassuming. Be strategic and proactive with position and proximity. I imagine an impermeable bubble around myself. I am a friend inside that bubble. This establishes a soft boundary that allows for safe and fluid movement and communication. Make sure you can see the entire horse peripherally, and he or she can see you, too.

-The use of aromatherapy during times of distress is so effective. Smell is the sense most directly connected to memory, so the addition of essential oils to bodywork or training sessions can be a great associative and conditioning tool. The oils themselves also have therapeutic qualities, as well. More on that in a future post!!

-Make an effort to speak in low, soft, slow, sighing tones, imagining the way horses nicker to those they love. I speak just as I would to an upset child. Use few words, make sure they are truthful and encouraging, never patronizing, and repeat them.

-For stability and reassurance, keep two hands on the horse if at all possible. I make sure to use deep, slow, rhythmic pressure for a horse in panic. Deep pressure is imperative! Focus on the lower legs, barrel, ears, muzzle, and tail (usually in that order) for grounding and calming. Ironically, these areas can be the trickiest to access with a nervous horse. If necessary, I use a bamboo stick or training stick first, graduating to direct touch with hands.

Lovely Love began responding to these techniques within about 10 minutes of her first session. Very soon after that, she became comfortable enough to communicate areas of discomfort and receive more traditional bodywork. She is supported wonderfully with a small herd that suits her, a dependable routine provided by a caring and attentive staff, and an exercise regimen that appropriately challenges her body and mind. She’s come into her own, and she is content and thriving. 

Will she have anxiety again? Yes. Can we help her stay “in her body”? Yes. Is she perfect just the way she is? YES, YES, YES!! After all, she is Love, and she was made for me and you. 


*Moonsong Highlight: Frosty and Spirit!*

"When the world is so complicated, the simple gift of friendship is within all of our hands." - Maria Shriver

Frosty and Spirit! Fuzzy peas in a friendship pod. These guys do so much fun stuff together, including lots of trail riding. If there is one thing that allows horses to get to know and appreciate each other naturally, it’s hitting the trails. Senses are stimulated, riders are (hopefully!) relaxed, and as prey and herd animals, horses find solace in each other. Trail riding is also a great addition to any conditioning regimen: horses must place their feet with precision; they develop cardiovascular fitness as they traverse hills and navigate over logs, rocks, and tall grass; they use stabilizing muscles to balance over uneven terrain; they develop confidence, independence, and trust in their riders as they encounter water, unfamiliar objects, and wildlife. The greatest part is that it feels like play! 

In terms of bodywork, the issues we’re addressing with Frosty and Spirit are similar. We’re attempting to influence pelvic tilt and create a squared, balanced, functional, and comfortable way of being. You can see some ideosyncracies (and resolutions of these) in the “before” and “after” bodywork pictures on the Moonsong Facebook page

The diagram above shows three positions of the human pelvis. I’m including this because it’s easiest for most of us to imagine physiology as it applies to our own species! If you’re so inclined, look at each position and try to replicate it in your own body. Then, exaggerate the posture and try to walk (or run) around…perhaps while no one is looking, HA! Notice where you direct your gaze, how the rhythm and reach of your stride is affected, how (or if) you breathe, and whether this is similar to or different from your typical way of going.

In an ‘anterior tilt’, the back is hollowed and pelvis tips forward, putting weight on the knees and balance over the toes. If you try to stand like this, you’ll likely feel strain in your lower back. You may also notice tightness in the front of your chest, as your sternum tries to compensate for what your rear end is doing. You may feel “knock-kneed” as your legs come closer together and hip angle closes. You’ll reach out with your arms (because you’re falling forward). Effects of an anterior tilt in horses manifests similarly: Their backs hollow and head lifts, straining the lower back and underneck. Weight falls on the stifles, and in an effort to balance the effects of propulsion, it then shifts to the front limbs and the toes. The result is a horse that is “heavy on the forehand”, “upside-down”, “cow-hocked”, “toed-out”, short-strided, reluctant to reach and become round, has stifles that slip, and may stumble in the hind end.

In a ‘posterior tilt’, the back is rounded and pelvis tips backward, putting weight on the backs of the hips and balance over the heels. If you try to stand like this, you’ll likely feel some strain in your thighs, hip flexors, and lower abdomen. You may also notice a hollowing of your chest and splaying of your shoulder blades. Your stance may widen, and your hip angle will open. You may feel your arms swinging behind you as your gait sways more than usual. Your shoulders might sag. Effects of a posterior tilt in horses is similar: They appear unnaturally round and “tucked-up”, as their weight shifts to the back of the hips and onto the hocks, which may become prematurely arthritic. They land on their heels and may appear to paddle with their feet. They may be “behind the bit”, “bow-legged”, “toed-in”, over-reach with the hind end, and seem careless or uncoordinated with their front feet.

As you already know or have surmised, a pelvis in 'neutral' position alleviates tension and pain and allows for full functionality of the entire body. We use a combination of techniques to neutralize the pelvis in horses. It takes time and patience, but it’s well worth it! First we teach, then we practice, then we wait for the body and mind to process and integrate new information. And then…we reevaluate with trust and an open heart.

I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to care for and work with these wonderful boys, and I hope we’ll share memories of this special time together forever and ever. Thank you, Spirit and Frosty, for reminding me how to love unconditionally. May your lives be as perfect as the twinkles in your eyes!

*Moonsong Highlight: Ziporah!*

All the wild horses
All the wild horses
Tethered with tears in their eyes
May no man’s touch ever tame you
May no man’s reins ever chain you
And may no man’s weight ever lay freight your soul
And as for the clouds
Just let them roll away
Roll away
Roll away

-Ray LaMontagne

Hip, hip, hooray!! It’s Zip, Zip, Ziporah! She’s fought the big fight, and she’s winning. If you’ve followed along with the Days End Farm Horse Rescue or Moonsong Facebook pages, you know this little mare’s story of resolve, restoration, and recovery from a situation of starvation and neglect. To quote one of Days End’s recent posts:

She came to us from Frederick County, Maryland on April 17th as an emaciated, sick mare. Her condition rapidly declined just days after arrival requiring us to pick her up multiple times with the Large Animal Lift. We feared that we may have been too late to save her and placed her in our Anderson Sling for full-time supportive therapy on April 20th.

When I met Ziporah, she was emaciated. Wobbly on her feet, she swayed from the lightest touch and was reluctant to even turn her head towards me for fear of falling over. Her condition was further compromised by severe edema (large collections of lymphatic fluid) at her abdomen, hind legs, and chest. Her skin was scalded from urine because she was unable to posture properly. Sores covered much of her lower extremities and her back, as she relied on the sling to stay upright and had no muscle or fat to protect her joints. Her fur was falling out in clumps. She was sweating in some parts of her body and not others. She didn’t bear weight on her right hind leg, which was disfigured and dysfunctional. Her tail moved spastically. She dropped her back as I traced along it with my finger. But, for as vulnerable as she was, she was present. She was so dear! She moved her big, fuzzy ears to listen as I spoke to her and she courageously accepted touch all over her body.

Where to begin with bodywork? At the beginning! Being together. Moving slowly and gently, with clear rhythm and purpose. Creating a predictable sequence and reliable routine. Enabling confidence and inviting continued participation. With some horses, an “agenda” is either unnecessary or it reveals itself organically. But for Ziporah, time was of the essence. We needed to address her edema in order for her to be able to stand, for her body to heal, and for her to regain her life.

For a concise description of the lymphatic system and edema, see here.

I began with Reiki and then a specific type of bodywork called 'lymphatic massage' using herbal liniment, as well as acupressure specific to edema. Once the fluid began to reduce, I introduced very careful tail traction (as the tail is an extension of the spine) for balance, as well as gentle manipulation of the pelvis to encourage more functional posture. Then came weight-bearing exercises for stability and confidence: Holding one foot off the ground requires a horse to use the other three. Over the course of a few days, Zip became more able and willing to rely on her right hind leg as part of her “tripod”, which told me we were approaching her liberation from the sling and from her stall.

From standing for 20 minutes unassisted to making 10 laps around her stall, walking on the rubber mats inside the barn, and cruising around the mulched common area of Days End Farm…Ziporah’s willpower allowed her to finally be turned out into a paddock, drop and roll, stand herself up, whinny, and begin to be a horse again. She was gifted with a series of beautiful springtime days and an army of people who believed in and provided for her. We were gifted with the miracle that is her relentless spirit and her precious life.

Through this experience with Zip and with the punctuation of Mother’s Day, I’ve been reminded of a time over a decade ago, when my grandmother stood by my bedside and rocked me in her arms. I could hear my mother weeping behind her. I was sick and too weak to speak or move, halfway here and halfway somewhere else. But I knew her. I felt her tweed jacket against my bare arms. She smelled like soap and floral talcum powder. “You’re beautiful. I love you,” was all she said, over and over and over again. Her heart spoke to mine. She gave me the gift of life through love.

I dreamt about my grandmother last year. In my dream, she fell into my arms. My hand was over her heart as I felt it stop and start again. She looked into my eyes. I picked her up and carried her to a garden filled with twisting, flowering trees. The next day (in real life), she suffered a cardiac event and her mind began to slip away. She was eventually transferred from the hospital to another facility. Her room now looks over a courtyard filled with twisty pink crape myrtles. When I visit her, she’s sometimes without her faculties. But our hearts know each other. We meet where Ziporah and I met, in that place of all that is and has ever been.

Thank you to the wonderful folks at Days End and places like it, for making the world a better place. Happy Mother’s Day to all women who care for children, adults, or animals, and let us all remember those that have loved us for the beautiful creatures that we are.


*Moonsong Highlight: Katie!*

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!”

And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”.

-Iain Thomas

Imagine your grandmother, mother, favorite aunt, sister, and most authentic friend, all wrapped into one…with four legs and a soft, round, furry body…and you will just begin to know what it’s like to be with the lovely Katie. At 27 years old, she has some very sage advice to offer. Her equally wise owner (who’s fulfilled that role and then some, from the time Katie was just a wee baby) knows that it’s best to listen carefully and not question this strong, benevolent mare. Her actions are decisive and well-informed. She is quite capable of managing herself and others (horses and humans) with clarity and grace. In her lifetime, she’s been a reliable teacher for adult riders and handlers, coddling, educating, and disciplining fairly and with care. Because of that, sharing her space even for a brief moment, being allowed to soothe and support her aging body, feels like a real honor. Her presence is so concrete, so solid…and yet, I feel like Katie brings with her the wisdom of lives upon lives upon lives.

Katie’s father was a draft-quarter horse cross, and her mother was a thoroughbred. At this point in her life, she’s maintained medically for issues such as arthritis, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and estrogen dominance, among other things. She’s endured some notable accidental injuries including a fence board impalement and surgery. Recently, she showed resistance and spasticity of her right front leg during hoof care and farriery. The cause was unknown, and the suspicion was something in the knee…but her owner just had a feeling that the causative issue was something higher up. Lo and behold, during the first pass over her body, above and in front of the scapula (shoulder blade), Katie let down her guard enough to show us where she needed help. 

I worked very gently, because deep muscle massage requires the clearance of lactic acid and actually demands a lot of a body, especially one that is elderly and/or already under any metabolic stress. So, using a combination of acupressure, myofascial release, and Reiki at the base of the neck and front of the shoulder (accessing the C7-T1 vertebrae of the spine and the “brachial plexus”, or group of nerves between the scapula and ribs), I worked slowly, promising to give and receive within her limits. As she rested quietly, her head low, eyes softly closed, lower lip drooping, breathing gently, I believe we were all silently rejoicing in the opportunity to witness her well-deserved comfort. And to think, it was her owner’s intuition that had led us to that peaceful place!

What is this thing we call intuition? Last week, as I was circulating the farm, I felt unsettled about one particular horse. He hadn’t “done” anything perceptible at that point, hadn’t given me any tangible reason to worry. It was just a feeling. Happens all the time, right? Right. So I went back to check on him. I took inventory of physical clues, and again, nothing. The third time I felt pulled to him, something told me to wait. As I did, he finally began to show signs of mild distress. By the time we got back out to him for some medical treatment, he and his herd were standing at the top of a hill I’ve frequented hundreds of times, both in real life and in my dreams. It’s one of my favorite places in all the world. The peepers were singing and the air was still and cool, and I felt like we were being gently magnetized there, together, by the moonlight. 

He improved through the night. The last time I went to see him, I didn’t say a word. He separated from the herd and walked all the way up the big hill to me, put his chest to mine and crooned his neck, locking his chin between my shoulder blades and pulling me into him. We stood there like that for probably five full minutes. Finally, I put my hands on his big shoulders and asked, “Will you be o.k.?”. He held his breath for a moment and then took a step back, sighed, looked at me briefly, turned and walked back to the herd to graze. Yes, he was o.k.

Most people, when asked, will share some story of a time when they felt something before it happened, had a premonitive dream or an experience that made no sense but explained everything. Often, those moments happen in tandem with animals or as we commune with nature. Our rational minds and logical thoughts are necessary, of course; they allow us to function appropriately in society, and they are sometimes even imperative for our survival. But our “gut feeling”, “sixth sense”, “coincidence”, “serendipity”…what we feel, for and with others, always speaks the truth. 

Our heart's desire won't ever lead us astray. It may be faint but it’s like a pure and constant lullaby, guiding the direction of our lives. If we trust it, if we listen, we'll meet the best version of ourselves...and a love as beautiful as the moon.


*Moonsong Highlight: Patronus!*

“The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. Yeats

Everyone, meet Patronus, one of the world’s most special “defensive charms”! According to J.K. Rowling, the Patronus is “a pure, protective magical concentration of happiness and hope”. Knowing this fancy pony, I would be hard-pressed to argue that definition! He lives and works at the distinguished First Choice Farm, but his journey to that destination was not what most would typically expect. His owner Denise (also a human and horse bodyworker – no pressure there, HA!) adopted him from Days End Farm Horse Rescue almost 7 years ago, where he’d arrived as a neglected stallion. He was rehabilitated and started there, and given a new lease on life. He’s the only gelding on the stallion side of his barn now, something that always makes me chuckle…and his stall is nestled between two of his many long-time pals. He works hard and is a master of turn-out time. He’s one of the most intelligent horses I’ve met. Among his many sparkling gifts is a great capacity for versatility. And, he is a perfect friend. 

When we don’t know animals from the time they’re born, we’re left putting pieces together by asking questions. Why are they the way they are, physically, cognitively, and emotionally? How do things feel to them? How do their bodies affect what they are asked to do? How can we help?

Patronus’ conformation, or the way his body is put together, is really interesting to me. He’s naturally very athletic, light on his feet, and his large joints are very mobile. He’s slight but not small. His head is set on the higher side, and when I try to envision the shape of his cervical spine, I imagine it being tall with relatively steep curves at the top and bottom…like a swan swimming. When a horse’s head is set high, it can be for an anatomical reason, or due to alertness, discomfort, training techniques, habitual posturing, or all of the above. Inviting a horse to stretch along the back, out of the withers, over the poll and through the jaw allows the head to lower on its own, bringing relief of discomfort and tension and allowing for increased functionality and performance. As we’ve seen in other posts, it also is a sign of submission and trust, and it perpetuates the release of “feel-good” endorphins that inspire continued comfort.

When Patronus and I started working together, he was very reactive at the poll and atlas (top of the head and neck, where the skull meets the spine) and clenched his jaw, showing me that his TMJ was locked. Sometimes this happens because of issues directly at the site, and sometimes as a reaction to things elsewhere…and often, both. The old chicken and egg scenario! I often see a pattern in horses with tension at the TMJ, in that it’s almost always mirrored in the neck and upper back as well. Comparatively, if you or I clench our jaws or grind our teeth we’ll tend to have tension in our necks and between the shoulder blades. The way it manifests behaviorally is often in herky-jerky movement during bodywork and riding, resistance to the bit, hollowing the back, squinting the eyes, bracing through the jaw, shortening the stride, and resistance to reaching out from the base of the neck during exercise.

With Patronus, my gut feeling is that his discomfort does originate at the upper neck and TMJ, for primarily anatomical reasons, and this affects the rest of his body. To access this joint, I work my way up his neck, celebrating his releases becoming more immediate, longer-lasting, rhythmic, and smooth. Then I access the TMJ using different points at and around the poll, eyes, and ears, at the face from outside of the mandible and finally, from inside the mouth. He knows the drill by now and enjoys the feeling of mobility in his jaw. He offers his head and neck on his own, opening his mouth, sticking out his tongue, flexing his jaw from side to side, rocking his head, and yawning. 

If I’m lucky, he’ll put his chin on my shoulder when we’re done.  He likes to groom my ponytail. On a really good day, he puts his head right on top of mine and leaves it there! I guess I’m the perfect height for that, and he gets a hug (or two, or ten) out of it too. 

He’s a sparkly gem, a magical inspiration. His resilience and fortitude remind me that we can either drag our past along, burdened by the weight, always striving for something more. Or, we can pick it up and carry it with us, cradling it gently and close to our hearts, with lightness in our feet…whispering, “Thank you, I love you,” to all that is new and good.


*Moonsong Highlight: Cooper and Celeste!*

"We are not meant to be perfect. We are meant to be whole." - Jane Fonda

Cooper and Celeste! Same species, same residence, same discipline…even the first letter of their names is the same! But these two horses couldn’t be more different from each other. Cooper is an imported Oldenburg, while Celeste is a home-grown Thoroughbred/Holsteiner cross. Cooper loves to jump, while Celeste prefers flat work. Cooper is a young gelding, and Celeste is a seasoned mare. Cooper exhibits stereotypical masculine qualities, and Celeste is the embodiment of all things feminine. The “yang” and “yin”. The puzzle pieces of existence.

I’ve been working with these precious horses back-to-back on the same days of the week for bodywork, and each time we’re together they illuminate for me something Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling (one of my all-time favorite horse and communication experts) wrote: “For our intimate circle, we always seek that which is either very much like us or else the complete opposite, because both are actually very close to us!”. We understand those most like we are, and we are intrigued by those that are different. Learning to communicate with our counterparts as easily as we would with our confidants allows us to be whole.

In ancient Chinese philosophy, it is said that everything is comprised of “yin” (feminine ) and “yang” (masculine) qualities. We are all an amalgam of these qualities, and it's the combination of them that brings about synergy; that is to say, the whole is greater than the sum of its (or his or her) parts. Femininity, passivity, intuition, darkness and night, coolness, softness, slowness, and the moon are all aspects of the “yin”. Masculinity, activity, logic, light and day, warmth, hardness, speed, and the sun are aspects of the “yang”. We all contain all of these elements, in varying degrees, but individually they emerge and sink as they need to throughout life.

Cooper…his name starts with a “hard C” sound. The yang. He meets me at the door to his stall, attentive and alert, eager, curious, jovial. As I work on his body, he grabs the zipper of my jacket with his mouth and moves it up and down. He puts his hoof on my stepstool and then kicks it over. He nibbles at the toes of my boots. The more I giggle, the more he plays. As a young gelding, the reactivity he shows is directly related to his own evolving anatomy and the way his body is adjusting to itself. He is the center of his own universe, and boy is it a fun place to orbit! As I work on him, I offer essential oils that will interest without overstimulating him. I alternate sides of his body and change my rhythm, pressure, and quality of touch frequently in order to engage his mind. I allow his motion and give him breaks. He shows releases by slowing and regulating his movement, keeping four feet on the ground and distributing his weight evenly over them, and relaxing his tail. He becomes more aware of his internal environment…back in his “body suit”.

Celeste…her name starts with a “soft C” sound. The yin. She waits for me in the corner of her stall, receptive and subdued, gentle, interested, alluring. I ask permission to work on her body, and as I do, she wraps me in her neck like she would a foal. She lowers her head and sways in an almost imperceptible way towards me, delicately sharing space and inching closer. She responds to tender words of adoration. As an adult mare, the reactivity she shows is enigmatic and complex in origin; her body is affected by subtle metabolic, emotional, and probably hormonal rhythms, as well as sensitivity to changes in her external environment like temperature and seasons. She chooses essential oil of Rose: a natural, deeply feminine fragrance associated with the heart chakra and feelings of love, connection, healing, and beauty. As I work, I wait. I move slowly and with great care and respect. She shows releases with immense and cavernous breaths. She shifts her weight and rests her legs. She adopts a far-away look in her eyes and she is connected to the Universe again.

When I leave their barn on Monday afternoons, I am grateful to feel replenished and rebalanced by these two special creatures! They are like bookends, their bodies warm pillars solidifying the experience of complement, cooperation, love, and life…for me and everyone lucky enough to know them. 


*Moonsong Highlight: Freja!*

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” – James Beard

She’s Freja the Fjord, and luckily for me, she’s stuck in a love sandwich! In a video on the Moonsong Facebook page, you can see part of the 2nd session with Ms. Freja, where we work on addressing ear-shyness. I’ve known this little beauty for quite some time but just recently began working with her in a bodywork setting, as a gift to her from her loving owner Courtney. During the first evaluation of her body last week, Freja showed very little reactivity anywhere, which was a great testament to her thorough training, peaceful lifestyle, solid conformation, and natural athleticism. But, it’s a well-known fact that she has significant apprehension about touch and manipulation of her ears. With horses, we call this being “ear-shy”. Sometimes the behavior is related to pain, sometimes to noise sensitivity, sometimes as an association with being handled, tied, bridled, or ridden. Regardless of the reason, it can be a dangerous and frustrating issue for all involved. Addressing it could potentially save a horse’s life (and spare her handler some trouble, too!). I talk a little more about that in the video…

We knew that Freja had some plaques on the inside of her ears that have been treated regularly. Recently it was discovered that she also had a more invasive growth in one ear, which was subsequently removed and biopsied. It is very likely that she’s had pain recently or in the past, and probably anticipates discomfort as a person is approaching her ears and head with their hands or any kind of equipment. The obvious part of this problem’s solution is removing whatever is causing her pain. The other part is helping her build new, positive associations with touch in this area.

In the business world, teaching world, and really in most professions that require productive communication, it’s recommended that criticism be constructive in nature and prefaced with a compliment or praise. Ideally, it is also followed by another compliment or praise. This creates a “sandwich” of sorts, and allows people to feel appreciated before and after they receive a suggestion for improvement. Studies have shown that this is a very effective way of communicating and maintaining longevity within relationships.

I first heard of the sandwich concept when I was learning to teach early childhood, and I found it super beneficial in terms of cultivating a positive classroom environment. (We called it a “love sandwich” in my kindergarten class, because the first words out of our mouths had to be words of love!). Offering a compliment or bit of praise to someone requires that we consider all that we see in that person and aren’t held hostage by a negative idea. In that way, it may actually alter our own perception of what we think needs to “change”! Following-up with another offering of love means that we remember the essence of our relationship, see the other for who he or she really is, and don’t leave him or her feeling inadequate due to actions or behaviors. This is an important distinction to make, particularly in the world of horses. It also means that we create a soft and safe environment that invites dialogue and promises heartfelt reward.

With horses, of course we aren’t offering compliments and giving verbal criticism. We are offering ourselves, familiar and pleasant routines, and helping manage difficulty by presenting attainable “rewards” in the form of comfort. I really commit to employing the love sandwich method during bodywork and training sessions, because it works! It keeps relationships with horses vibrant and dynamic, and it keeps me honest in my work (and life). It’s important to remember that:

1. The “bread” needs to have good ingredients and substance (authenticity). Praise and comfort can come in many forms. It may be that we offer a reassuring word, a familiar touch or gesture, a scratch, a treat, or even a break from what’s going on, but what we provide as our canvas should be purposeful and genuine.

2. Always start with just a nibble of the “meat” (tofu for vegetarians, heehee!). Not a mouthful, a nibble. What we attempt as a stretch from the ordinary, be it something new, something worrisome, something uncomfortable or unfamiliar, needs to be attainable, manageable, and always fair.

3. Avoid the “open-faced” sandwich (forgetting to end on a positive note).

4. Be patient. Bodywork and training, like good cooking, require time, sensitivity, flexibility, and care. We can sustain and fortify each other through what we provide, but we need to be aware of each other’s appetites, tastes, and capacity, and respect that these may change over time.

It may take a while for Freja to become comfortable with casual touch of her ears, or it may not. Time will tell and her comfort will dictate the pace of things. For now, we are all grateful to share this life with her. She reminds me of a cross between a fuzzy peach and Tina Turner! Her ear feels like a baby bird in my hand. She is perfect, just as she is, stoic, sturdy, sunny, and sweet.


*Moonsong Highlight: Mr. Rhee!*

“We are constantly invited to be who we are.” – Henry David Thoreau

He was the first horse I ever worked on. I did most things terribly wrong, and he told me so, in his ornery, quirky, lovable way…but he also showed me when we were on to something good. There was no guesswork or gray area. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was an animal that redefined and epitomized the word “friend”.

Mr. Rhee was a retired racehorse bred by Monty Roberts and Bobby Frankel. I met him when I was teaching and working at a beautiful farm that provided a range of services to clients and students. Mr. Rhee participated in equine facilitated learning and psychotherapy sessions at his discretion, but he was also simply a long-time resident of the farm, having been retired from thoroughbred racing years prior by his one-and-only owner, Kathleen (who was and is one of the most knowledgeable horsewomen I’ve ever met). Their relationship was something of comedy and beauty. She was there, day in and day out, making his mash, cold hosing his legs, scrubbing his water trough, supporting his aging body’s every need…responding to all of his peculiar antics with fondly sarcastic chuckles, in a voice as familiar as it was comforting to him (although he’d probably never admit that). He was there with her too, like a human in a horse suit, bonded through dutiful actions and a routine that carved, preserved, and sealed their connection with each other.

And then there was Mr. Rhee’s relationship with his friend Remy, which followed a similar commitment to another horse he’d known named Linus. Remy was a tenderhearted Appendix gelding who’d had one eye removed and suffered a major neurologic event leaving him unable to stand or walk on his own. Throughout Remy’s initial journey of disorientation and pain, Mr. Rhee was there. Of his own accord, he presented and positioned himself in order to support Remy’s weakened side with his own body. Remy literally leaned on Mr. Rhee as he learned to walk and function again, and Rhee simply wouldn’t let Remy out of his sight from that day forward. The two earned “bragging rights” in the form of free-reign around the farm and were inseparable. I can still see them moseying into the barn for their extra lunch, sharing a stall (and feed pan, if you weren’t careful), grazing peacefully side-by-side on sunny days.

It was an unusually warm Sunday evening in April when I worked on Mr. Rhee. I remember the way his liver chestnut coat stuck to my hands as it moved over his wiry muscles, somehow still primed after all those years of retirement. I remember his well-sprung ribs, his chiseled cheek bones, and the star on his forehead that colored his dignity with a touch of boyish innocence. I remember the sway of his back and the swagger in his walk. I remember how he would shake his head, with incredible force and speed, as if to say, “You’re doing it wrong!”, or, “More!”. I remember how he let me practice, teaching me far more than I was capable of receiving at that time, and I remember the combination of disbelief, curiosity, and relief I felt when Kathleen told me he looked comfortable in the days following his session. Just by being who he was, he influenced the trajectory of my life.

Mr. Rhee and I were the same age. He passed away almost 4 years ago at the age of 34, and his birthday was just last week. He visits his owner in her dreams. Happy Birthday, Mr. Rhee. Thank you for being a special friend to so many, including me. I love you.


*Moonsong Highlight: Le Cheval!*

 “Praise the bridge that carried you over.” – George Colman

Thank you to LeCheval Stable for hosting this weekend’s Bodywork for Therapeutic Horses workshop! As a therapeutic riding instructor, this opportunity was near and dear to my heart. Horses that partner with humans in therapeutic settings endure significant physical and emotional demands, and we owe them our unconditional appreciation and support for all they do.
In this clinic, we covered topics such as a horse’s role within a treatment team, what to do when a horse says, “NO!”, conformation’s effects on movement and rider balance (and riders’ effect on the horse), body language and body tracing, types and uses of touch, reactivity and release, and techniques for issues commonly confronted in therapeutic settings...such as back pain, mouthiness, and boundary-setting.

We also talked about ways to connect with horses! As basic as this sounds, it is (to me) the essence of bodywork. In the sacred space between “reactivity” and “release”, there is an opportunity to offer our whole selves, our own unique gifts, and our open hearts, with grace and wisdom. Receiving information without passing judgement invites dialogue and precipitates healing. Acknowledging another’s presence is a deep act of love.

We practiced the following techniques, for sharing with students, staff, and volunteers, and as strategies for connecting and communicating with our horses:

-“Heart to Heart”: Place your hand over your heart. Visualize a colorful bridge connecting your heart to your horse’s heart. With each breath, imagine a ball rolling over the bridge, to and from your horse’s heart to yours and back again. Watch your horse for signs of softening and release.

-“Breath to Breath”: Stand beside your horse and simply breathe in tandem with him or her. Notice how you adapt your breathing to match that of your horse’s, and how your horse’s breathing changes based on the environment that you share.

-“Eye to Eye”: Practice looking at an object (such as your hand) with “hard eyes”, focusing on details like the creases in your palm. Then, continue looking at your hand but allow your field of vision to expand to include objects in the periphery. Practice switching back and forth from “hard eyes” to these new, “soft eyes”. Use only soft eyes as you gaze into your horse’s eyes or at his or her body.

-“Here I Am”: Approach your horse slowly and from the side. Use a relaxed, ambling gait rather than squared shoulders and hips. Tilt your head slightly to expose the soft, vulnerable part of your neck. Speak tenderly. Place and rest your hand gently at the shoulder or withers before moving anywhere else.

-“Loving Touch”: When in doubt, use the back of your hand rather than the palm. Touch your horse as you would like to be touched. Keep your fingers together like a mitten, not apart like a claw. Always keep two hands on the horse. Use more pressure than you think you need. Establish rhythm. Imagine sending love through your hands.

As always, the horses were the greatest teachers this weekend. I hope Willow, Bella, Strawberry, and Terra (and let’s not forget Peaches and Sonny) can feel the bridges we built from our hearts to theirs, like colorful ribbons in the sky!


*Moonsong Highlight: Diego!*

here is the deepest secret nobody knows…
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

Meet Diego. In a video of him on the Moonsong Facebook page, you can see one of his devoted young riders employing some of our bodywork techniques as part of her tacking-up ritual, much to his satisfaction. ;)

How many hearts has “D” carried in his? Well, let’s see. There are the hearts of the tiny children he’s softly toted around during leadline lessons, as they found their balance and learned to post…up, down, up, down, up, down. There are the hearts of those same children, grown up and sailing over jumps at hunter shows with confidence and speed. There are the hearts of all those children’s parents, evolving from nail-biting spectators to proud, savvy providers. There are the hearts of those that skillfully rehabilitated him as an almost feral, neglected stallion, supported his transformation through loving care and effective training, so that he could be adopted into a lesson program and a stable home for life. There are the hearts of all the other horses he’s known, those that have come and gone, shared his hay, played with him, slept nearby. And then there is mine. I hope there is room in his for mine. It swells with tender admiration as I sit here and think of him. I’d be honored if he would carry my heart in his.

I knew Diego years ago but was very fortunate to be reconnected with him recently. When we met again, he was having pain. He buckled under touch along his back and at his croup and pelvis, was sensitive to brushing, had begun swishing his tail under saddle, and had almost collapsed suddenly during a warm-up ride with a small rider. His tack was fitted regularly, he’d been vetted, received methocarbamol (muscle relaxant), and his workload didn’t exceed what’s appropriate for him, his size, breed, and age. He was still having trouble. The problem was at his mid-back. I couldn’t say what had happened or why (as is most often the case!), but Diego decided to show us where. He bravely accepted some bodywork despite his discomfort, and that was all the information we needed to make a plan.

Often, when an animal is very sensitive to light touch of their fur or skin (like brushing, scratching, blanketing, clipping, bathing, flies landing, breezy days, etc), our tendency is to back away – to touch more lightly, for fear of worsening the sensation…or to stop. This notion comes from a place of compassion and empathy; but in actuality, often it’s deeper, slower, more constant, and rhythmic pressure that can bring some relief to superficial pain. This is one technique Diego’s caregivers and I have explored with him during bodywork. We also focus on:

- keeping fingers together (like a mitten), not apart (like a claw);
-keeping two hands in contact with his body at all times, stabilizing our own bodies to gauge and adjust pressure (this also completes the energetic cycle);
-working at his belly, flank, lower legs, and tail, bringing awareness away from his back;
-warming up his back prior to tacking up;
-checking the turgor of his tail prior to mounting, to make sure it feels robust but relaxed, not clamped, and not limp (as the tail is an extension of the spine).

As an aside, I should mention that the chakra located at the center of the body (belly and back) is the Solar Plexus. It is associated with fire, the color yellow, willpower and energy, confidence, and freedom of the spirit. It’s also where we sit when we ride horses…yikes!!! Next time you’re plodding along enjoying a piggyback from your trusty steed, be mindful of the fact that you may inadvertently be smothering his or her “life force”!! ;) Notice your own Solar Plexus, that place just beneath and deep to your sternum, the pit of your stomach, where you feel the direction of your “moral compass” and presence of your own life force. Your truth, your sense of self, beams out of you here like a radiant beacon. Your horse’s needs to shine, too!

Diego is feeling renewed and restored these days, thank goodness. He and I are both so lucky that he’s got such a faithful and committed team and fan base. Not hard to see why…he is a real gem, a solid citizen, a guardian, and a keeper of so many hearts, large and small and in-between.


*Moonsong Highlight: Beau!*

 “Feet, what do I need you for, when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

If you visit the Moonsong Facebook page , you will see a video of Beau lifting and lowering his feet quietly. It might not look like much to some, but to Beau, his owner Stephanie, and me, it was awe-inspiring! In June of last year, he reared on the crossties during farriery, flipped, and landed on his right side, seriously injuring his hock. His recovery has been guarded and prolonged, but because of the daily devotion of his owner, he's progressed from stall rest to grazing, turn-out, handwalking, lunging, and most recently…going happily under saddle again!

What caused his accident? Most likely, fear, and a very mighty “flight” response. Beau, like many horses, has always been very apprehensive about pressure at the poll and with manipulation of his feet and legs. We can’t say for sure why, as he came to his owner with these insecurities. One could surmise that he experienced a traumatic event during which his head was tied down and he couldn’t escape, or his legs were hobbled. These would be extreme situations. He could’ve gotten hung-up in a fence. Or, it could just be that vulnerability isn't something he wants to feel, or that trust wasn’t something he had the chance to practice earlier in his life.

When I first started working with Beau, he had a history of head tossing and rearing (or threatening to rear), with the slightest poll pressure. He was also head-shy in general, so accessing his eyes or ears was hard. During basic hoof care maneuvers, he would slam his feet down hard. He needed to be sedated for farriery, but even then, had a lot of trouble putting and keeping his hooves on the hoof stand. In my first session notes from Beau, I wrote that he was “a dear teddy bear of a horse, as stoic as he is kind,” and that he seemed “tremendously grounded but infinitely wise.”. I would write those same words today! There isn’t a mean bone in his body. And yet, some of his reactions were dangerous. What is it about the poll and feet that invite so much reactivity for certain horses?

When we ask a horse to lower his head in our presence or give his foot to us, we are effectively taking away his most dependable, innate means of survival: the ability to flee. Horses in the wild don’t lower their heads to graze or even shift their weight to rest just one of their limbs unless they know for certain that they are safe within their herd and environment. They only lie down for 3-4 out of every 24 hours, and only then if other herd mates stand guard over and around them. They are constantly shuffling for a place in the pecking order, proving their worth as dependable, trustworthy companions to others through their actions. Why should we as humans be any different? Although we may expect that domesticated horses trust us implicitly, isn’t it fair that we earn their faith and prove our worth as their capable guardians first?

Beau’s bodywork sessions have included almost everything from Reiki at the crown, withers, and tail (7th, 8th, and 1st chakras: connection, trust, and safety)…to adapted traditional and lymphatic massage of trouble areas (including the hock) to address diagonal tension resulting from favoring an injured limb…to acupressure and TTouch for anxiety at the poll…to a hybrid of Masterson and Somatic approaches for restoring confident balance and independence of the limbs, as well as patience and trust in his human handlers.

All the while, Beau’s owner Stephanie has cared for him by keeping his hocks warm with Back-On-Track boots each night, visiting and handwalking him before and after work on the hottest and coldest days, supplying him with high-quality supplements, target training him so that he feels comfortable ground-tying on a black rubber mat (something he needs to be able to do for farriery), and diligently practicing our leg and food exercises so that he consistently lifts and places his feet like an absolute gentleman. He's been quiet and cooperative during his recent farriery visits, and he's received shoes a few times since his accident without any trouble. Not only that, but he's eager to get to the arena to exercise and has even become a little studdish lately, showing off his strong, resilient bod for all the ladies!

We all love our Beau-Beau. He’s got his feet on the ground and eyes on the prize, and his choices are a testament to the enduring trust that awaits us all, if we're brave enough to hand over our burdens and lower our heads. 


*Moonsong Highlight: Hank!*

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” – Josh Billings

Last week was one for the dogs! Meet Molly the Labrador Retriever, and Hank the German Shorthaired Pointer.

Ladies first! Molly has been loved by her family (the Fords) from the time she was a puppy, and she’s now 14 years old and going strong! She spends her days curled up under her owner’s desk in a cozy hair salon and still romps around in her wooded yard with 2 (younger) canine companions. Molly has allergies, some lipomas (fat deposits), and arthritis. As a very cute aside, she gets acorns stuck in her paws.

And then there’s Handsome Hank! This 10-year-old boy was adopted from a rescue and has been doted on by his devoted owner Katherine ever since. He’s had both ACLs (ligaments of the knee) replaced at different times, and had surgery involving rods and pins to repair a femur fracture as well. On top of this, he was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease (chronic failure of the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol) after becoming gravely ill years ago.

Because dogs aren’t generally used to staying in one spot for too long, and since we usually meet in their homes where they can move about freely, techniques like Reiki and acupressure tend to work well. I think this is because both are adaptable, gentle, precise, fluid, and safe, and animals are sensitive to all of these aspects - especially when their discomfort is close to the surface of the body, chronic, or amplified for any reason.

Reiki is intuitive, but the chakra governing much of the lower back, hips, and spine (where both Molly and Hank have pain and discomfort) is the Root chakra. It’s located at the dock of the tail on animals, and is associated with survival, grounding, and trust. Bringing awareness to this area is thought to quiet fear responses and support the lower extremities and intestines.

Acupressure points, or “acupoints”, alleviate pain by rebalancing the flow of energy, increasing circulation, releasing endorphins, and activating somatic sensory nerves. The numerous points used to soothe the arthritic joints, hip dysplasia, or pain in the lower limbs are found mostly in the soft depressions of those areas and can be accessed using varying degrees of direct pressure or gentle, circular massage.

Does this stuff work? Of course! But in my opinion, when it comes to companion dogs, there is nothing in this world that will bring swifter and deeper comfort than the mere presence of their own people. It's obvious in the way Molly sighs at the sound of Betsy's voice, the way Hank’s entire body softens at Katherine’s lightest touch, and how both dogs look adoringly toward their humans even in the most mundane moments...just gazing tenderly as if to say, “You are perfect to me, exactly as you are, and I am here for you.”.

Dogs see us for who we are, not what we do. Without hesitation, they forgive everything. They carry the weight of our deepest secrets, and somehow in return they manage to love us more than we love ourselves, more than they love themselves, and in the purest and most joyful ways. Once they are in our lives, they inhabit and protect our hearts forever.

“Sometimes Me think, ‘What is Friend?’. And then Me say, “Friend is someone to share the last cookie with.’” – Cookie Monster  


*Moonsong Highlight: Teaching and Learning*

To them I may have owed another gift...
That serene and blessed mood
In which the affections gently lead us on...
While, with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

-William Wordsworth

Funny how things come in waves sometimes! Over the last week or so, I was lucky enough to work with some new animals and also with the children that are involved in their lives. Some of you may know that I used to teach music and kindergarten. Now I tutor on the weekends and teach therapeutic riding, and life is full, but there are times when I reminisce about the classroom. Being with young children was a blessing, and it was every bit as rewarding as it was exhausting (shout-out to all the teachers out there!).

What I loved most about both the arts and early childhood education was the aspect of experiential learning: “doing” before “knowing”. Maybe it’s because young children don’t yet have the fine motor skills to communicate through writing or the vocabulary to converse fluently, or that developmentally they aren’t prepared to sit still at a desk for eight hours a day…but even in the most stark and rigid systems, it's generally implied that effective early education requires an integrated, kinesthetic, and flexible approach. This means delivering material and evaluating understanding using multiple modalities, so that new knowledge is internalized by and meaningful to every child.

So what on earth does this have to do with bodywork for animals?! To answer that question, I’ll turn to some of my own recent experiences, because (as always), the animals are some of the wisest teachers of all.

Although bodywork isn't “teaching” in a traditional sense, there is certainly an aspect of understanding that takes place throughout the process of each session. To me, what is being delivered, exchanged, internalized, and (hopefully) accepted is a “truth”, of sorts. My truth and your truth may not be the same. Our truth and an animal’s truth may not be the same. One animal’s truth may be different from another’s, and what looked like the truth for any of us today may change tomorrow! But...what is it? What are we looking and feeling for during bodywork, and how do we know we’ve found it?

Like us, when animals experience physical, emotional, or cognitive discomfort in some way, they usually show it. Signs can be overt but are usually subtle at first, because vulnerability is not something any of us typically wear on our sleeves! In fact, it’s been said that vulnerability is the first thing we look for in others but the last thing we show of ourselves. (This makes sense when we think of it in terms of survival).

Physically, signs of discomfort, sensitivity, or reactivity can include anything from widening of the eye, holding the breath, raising the head, clenching the jaw, tensing the body, stopping digestion, experiencing agitation and restlessness, and the list goes on. Conversely, signs of relaxation, comfort, and acceptance include softening of the eye, yawning and sighing, lowering of the head, licking, chewing, swallowing, suppleness of the body, increased GI motility, resting of the limbs, and again the list goes on and on. Just as a parent knows when his or her baby needs a nap, a meal, to be sung to or swaddled…or a teacher knows when his or her class needs a stretch break, different explanation of a topic, or more processing time…we can provide appropriately for animals by being present and sensitive to the signs they are communicating to us.

What we actually do after receiving this information is where things become complex. Not complicated, but complex. There is a diagnostic element at play, as we attempt to interpret signs and sort through a toolbox of the most useful modalities, keeping others close at hand, just in case. We prioritize areas of discomfort and sequence work for efficiency’s sake. We look for patterns and explanations. These are all analytical, intellectual approaches that appeal to our human minds and can help us manage an otherwise mysterious and even confounding scenario.

But then…then, there is this other piece. There is this esoteric, metaphysical, inexplicable voice. It speaks to us in a language that we can’t hear but we understand, from somewhere invisible and yet inside our own selves. Call it intuition, call it infinite wisdom, call it love. It is the truth! When we don’t know where to look, what to do, or how to help, we can commit to simply being present and openhearted, and it will guide us.

It’s the interplay of intuition and intellect that holds this beautiful complexity. Navigating it, especially with agility and lightheartedness, is a lifelong pursuit and practice. It’s also something we can learn by watching animals and children! They explore. They play. They learn through experience, not through “mistakes” (because, authentic learning is free of judgement).

In teaching, we hope that students arrive at and share their truth by means that suit them best. Only then will knowledge "stick", because it's meaningful. As practitioners, we reflect on and hone our own craft so that we can adequately meet their needs. Bodywork is really no different. We ask questions, stay open to communication, allow for processing, provide a flexible approach, and celebrate the arrival of “release” (truth), whenever and however it finds us. And then...after all this searching, it's like we've known it all along, through and with each other.


*Moonsong Highlight: Nani!*

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” – Cormac McCarthy

She’s Nani, she’s pretty, and she is tough! If you take a look at the Moonsong Facebook page, you can see a video of before-and-after work on a large scar at her left shoulder.

When she was just 4 years old, this petite and athletic thoroughbred was involved in an accident involving a blanket bar (and her shoulder). Although the injury was managed at that time, an exam 7 years later revealed wood chips embedded in the site and her wound needed to be debrided and retreated. Despite this trauma, Nani went on to have a long and successful career as a hunter/jumper. She was retired to flatwork a few years ago. When we began working together, Nani was having trouble tracking to the right and with her right lead canter departure. She was also noted to experience significant spookiness and reactivity in the arena. She could be “mare-ish” (girthy and kicky), and was difficult to catch in the field. Much of our first few sessions involved gaining each other’s trust. At first, Nani was highly emotive, but her sensitivity meant that her expressions were charged. For as much as she sought out human touch, she seemed confused about how to respond to it.

“Working” on the body without the mind’s permission is counterproductive and futile, especially when it comes to animals! It was my job to find (or recognize) the little keyhole into Nani’s world, so that she might allow access to painful areas and feel comfortable communicating changes to me and everyone else.

In hindsight, I believe there are three things that have served us best during our sessions. The first is predictability. Like most of us, animals thrive on routine and understanding. We all just like to know what’s going on, right? Nani has come to ask for and expect certain gestures, strokes, sequences, rhythms, and interactions during bodywork. These are promises I’ve made to her, and I know she understands the intention behind every touch, look, word, and breath.

The second is position. I always approach Nani at her shoulder/withers/lower neck area to begin bodywork. This is a gentle, respectful, loving place. It’s where mother horses nuzzle their foals. It’s where pasturemates groom each other. It’s where prey animals with peripheral vision (such as horses) can adequately see and take inventory of a situation. It’s also where the Brachial chakra is located. We all share almost all major chakras, or “wheels of energy”, but this one is specific to animals. The Brachial chakra is considered the root of all healing, and imbalances here are thought to manifest as resistance to human touch and bonding. Bringing awareness to this area through loving touch helps restore trust in and comfort with others.

Third is…aromatherapy! Using safe essential oils during bodywork serves a few vital functions. The oils are legitimately therapeutic and can be applied in different ways to promote healing, relieve pain, restore or boost immune function, stimulate cognitive function, induce relaxation, and the list goes on and on. Interestingly, smell is the sense most directly connected to memory. We’ve all experienced catching a whiff of something only to freeze in our tracks and be transported instantly back to another time or place. I hope that the oils help animals build associations between their senses (or immediate environment) and positive experiences. The first time I worked with Nani, she chose a very particular blend of oils. When she’s presented with it now, she nickers, lowers her head, and shows that she is prepared to receive bodywork. I also use it when it’s time to invite her in from the field or give her oral medications, something that used to cause her a lot of anxiety.

Nani has become softer and more supple in general, she’s a breeze for blanketing, and is easy to catch in the field. She stretches her body on her own when she’s at liberty in the pasture. Her shoulder still gives her trouble from time to time. Everything is a work in progress and we have a ways to go! But, now we are able to work together with the discomfort in a simple, consolidated way…through the keyhole…and relief is just a touch and promise away.

I love this girl so much and always really look forward to our weekly bodywork dates. She’s resilient, through and through. She’s quirky. She’s lovely. She’s Nani!


*Moonsong Highlight: Stanley!*

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt
swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

- Mary Oliver

The courageous and remarkable Stanley. What a life he’s had! And what a vastly different life it could have been, without his devoted owner Tanique's unwavering love. This Arabian/Dutch Harness Horse cross typifies the word “exuberance”. His energy is boundless and pure…but how, when, and where to direct it can be confounding for him, because (like all of us) his actions are informed by his past experiences and associations.

I was smitten with Stanley before we ever started working together, but I revered him as well. At that time, he could’ve been described as “hot”, defensive, and physically and emotionally reactive. He was suspicious of touch and anxious about being in the barn. During his first session, as we walked briskly alongside each other in tight little circles, his head flailing around, I kept hearing the word “frantic” in my mind. I realized that I had that inevitable choice to make: I could ask him to slow down, so that I could employ a formula of tried-and-true calming techniques, possibly “changing” his behavior and fulfilling an agenda. OR, I could commit instead to being present with him, moving at his rate of speed (literally and figuratively), and only with his explicit permission. It’s been said that being present is an expression of love. Sometimes our greatest job is just to say, “I’m here.”.

Over time, Stan’s releases have become more rhythmic, predictable, and sustained. He’s comfortable expressing himself, and because of that, his expressions are regulated and understandable. Our shared emotional vocabulary has increased, so our physical conversations can be more dynamic. He now enjoys his time in the barn and in a stall. His eyes are bright. His body is soft and functional. His personality has been illuminated, and he communicates with even more unabashed charisma than before! He’s back “in his body” – not because he’s been desensitized or tethered to human constructs or expectations, but because he’s been seen. Tanique had always acknowledged him for who he was…but hey, we all need a witness sometimes!

Physically speaking, Stanley has a significant club foot on the right that has affected the angle of his pastern, flexibility of his knee, position of his shoulder within the girdle, and musculature across the base of the neck and withers. I see this pattern with horses having experienced longstanding lower leg or foot pathology, such as club feet, navicular, metabolic or mechanical laminitis, etc. To help Stan find relief of pain and ingrained tension, we use a combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up” myofacial release work, in combination with basic somatics to encourage his own understanding of rebalancing his body so that he can move with comfort, confidence, and freedom. Energetically, the areas of his body that require the most support correlate directly with the brachial (withers), crown (poll), sacral (croup) and root (tail) chakras. These energy centers govern acceptance of human touch/bonding, anxiety and nervous system dysregulation, boundaries and emotionality, and fear responses. By bringing awareness to these areas through Reiki touch and other means, we invite innate and inherent wisdom to guide our healing.

This hopefully will all translate to groundwork and very positive under saddle experiences, which are just around the corner! Stanley’s body is now prepared to support athletic pursuits, and we’ll continue providing emotional support so that his mind can stay open and ready to learn. This handsome guy keeps me humble and honest, and he makes me giggle a lot, too. I’m so lucky to have known him in this way. Can’t wait for loads of new adventures together! 


*Moonsong Highlight: Lucy!*

"Change is a gift in delicate wrapping, that has to be opened carefully, then embraced." - Ruth Ostrow

She's Lucy, all wrapped up like a present, and just in time for the holidays! Lucy and I have been together three times a week for a little over a year now, and she's been as sweet as sweet can be for every moment. She's a registered Appaloosa with a brief Western pleasure and halter history, and she was acquired by her current owner Barbara with hopes of being a dependable trail pony. Most of the time, that was the case; however, a few times, it wasn't! And once, a big spook resulted in an accident that very seriously injured Barbara. The goals when I met Lucy were to a) improve and maintain her conditioning through regular exercise, and b) help her become comfortable and confident on the trails again.

Lucy has some known arthritis in her hocks, so she receives injections every six months, the anti-inflammatory Previcox, Pentosan injections, and eats a daily natural anti-inflammatory concoction called "golden paste" (turmeric, coconut/olive oil, black pepper, and water). Her owner is meticulous about farriery, vetting, dentistry, and saddle fitting, and Lucy's stewardship is provided by a small, attentive, and very loving staff. It's no wonder she nickers at the sight of humans...oh, and treats! Even though her discomfort is well-managed, and she is sound, there are still times when her hocks are stiff, stride is short, weight is on the forehand, and tempo is rushed. And, she drags her toes. We can see evidence of most of these things in the last picture below, when she is on the lunge.

So...why wrap her up? Well, body wraps provide consistent sensory input from the outside of the body, which ideally improves proprioception (sense of the body in space) and quiets the mind, just as a "thunder shirt" can do for dogs fearful of storms, or a weighted blanket can do for people with sensory needs and anxiety disorders. Learning, communication, and training can only take place in the absence of fear and distraction. For Lucy, the wraps serve as a reminder for her to engage her hind end (hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and stifles) entirely and with proper alignment, so that she tracks up straight with comfort and ease. They also "swaddle" her as we work together, so that she is experiencing a sense of touch and connection from a distance (or when I am sitting on her back).

Here, I've just used a very simple "promise wrap" as developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, using an extra-wide Ace elastic bandage that attaches at the stirrup billets. From the pics, we can see that her body is becoming round, she is comfortably energized...and ready for adventures out-and-about, which is exactly what we've been doing lately!

First, they were short little strolls around the arena...then, predictable and measured walk and trot sets just out of sight of her, around adjacent fields with a kind buddy horse...and finally, totally alone, having faith in ourselves and each other. Lucy's owner Barbara is a brave and resilient woman who is determined to experience the trails again. Lucy is a generous, soft-hearted horse with tenderness to spare. The pair is bonded and inseperable, and to continue helping to support them on their shared journey is an honor. Here's to many more years and stories together!


*Moonsong Highlight: Gideon!*

"A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn't protect itself and it doesn't hide. It stands out, like a baby's fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through." - Anne Lamott

He's Gideon, and he's large and in-charge...of our hearts, that is! This most noble Clydesdale cross embodies the term "gentle giant". He's steadfast in the face of adversity, dedicated to his owner Amira (who is equally dedicated to him), and learning to use his body and mind in ways that are new to him. No one knows the real intricacies of his life story prior to a few years ago, but he likely pulled a cart or carriage of some sort and was pretty good at his job. Imagine the agility required to transition from that lifestyle to one designed around carrying a human on your back...and with poise and lightness to boot! Not an easy task for this guy, but he's doing it (and well).

Like many of us, Gideon has developed habitual posturing patterns based on his daily needs and tasks. Those patterns create others, and the result is a cascade of compensation. What we (as humans) notice is usually the last manifestation of this cascade. Could we fix it there? Maybe. Would it last? Probably not. The trick is committing to an open mind and heart, so that we can receive information in an unbiased, nonlinear way...and have the flexibility to manage the truth, whatever and wherever it may be.

When I first worked with Giddy, he was very reactive at the poll, along his back on both sides, and behind his elbows, at the girth. His releases were somewhat short and their rhythm irregular. He was guarded and resistant in his hind end and again at the poll. Most notable, though, was his tendency to stand with his right hind foot pointed out to the side, rotating his leg out from the hip and disengaging the stifle. Judging by the shape and flare of his (huge) hoof, it seemed as though this had been going on for a while. Why was this happening?? Was this the beginning or end of his cascade?

Well, I can't say for sure, but dedicated work at the SI, hip, and stifle (primarily myofacial/somatic release work and foot placement based on the teachings of Jim Masterson, among other modalities), in support of his regular, consistent, and quality training, has helped. Gideon’s owner has applied these concepts and practiced stretches and release work on an almost daily basis, and the results of her diligence are truly remarkable. Not only does he choose to place and engage his leg properly at rest, but he is able to canter without becoming "strung-out", hold his leads comfortably in both directions, and has begun offering flying lead changes.

More important to me than any of this, though, is the fact that by addressing an obvious abnormality in one part of the body, we have invited and enabled connection elsewhere. Giddy's resistance at the poll and in his back are minimal now, and he offers his own releases freely, frequently, and for prolonged periods. He is content, through and through, and he is thriving. His energy is as big as his heart and the lessons he has to share with us!


*Moonsong Highlight: Scarlett!*

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." Lao Tzu

Meet the OTTB, Scarlett. This buxom babe is as demure as she is powerful. She's tried her hoof at varied disciplines and has talent to spare, but recently she's become upset and volatile under saddle. Her owner has gone to great lengths to help her, sending her to professional training (twice) and continuing the search for answers and solutions. We began our work together a little over a month ago, beginning with bodywork and later integrating groundwork and lunging in preparation for riding. So far, so good!

Scarlett is complex. Her reactive behavior can be intimidating, and if met with equally reactive resistance (or insistence), learning opportunities could easily escalate to explosive and traumatic events. She thrives on soft verbal praise and kind, attainable expectations. She needs adequate time to process what she feels and thinks. Like all of us, she seeks acknowledgement and understanding. 

The nuts and bolts: dedicated work at the poll, sustained invitations to lower of the head below the withers; TTouch and gentle manipulation of the ears, mouth, lower legs, and tail for trust, groundedness, and appropriate activation of the limbic (emotional) center of the brain; myofacial release work at the shoulders/withers and SI/hips in preparation for lunging and athletic work; ample processing time; verbal praise; myrrh, frankincense, lavender, chamomile oils during Reiki to help quiet fear/flight response, manage herd-boundness, and accept human connection; isolating body parts (shoulders/barrel/hips) during lunging; associating verbal cues with gait transitions; encouraging steady rhythm and tempo.

My experience with Scarlett has been limited to our brief time together (she's moving away next week), but I feel so grateful to have met her. My hope is that she will be carried through the rest of her life with appreciation for the beautiful, loving, and perfect creature that she is. Please hold her in your heart as she begins a new journey, and stay tuned for updates!