Shadow’s Secret: An Easter Story of Renewal. Part 1

Shadow is a 21 year old gelding owned by Jeanine, a friend of mine. He’s a striking flea-bitten Quarter Horse/Percheron cross that stands about 15.3 hands and weighs about 1125 lbs. We met last year while riding at Dawson Forest, a local wilderness/preserve. Since then, we have been meeting weekly to ride the trails that loop throughout the 10,000 acre tract. Jeanine and Shadow have unwittingly become part of my ongoing conditioning program for my Morgan mare, Mandy.

I thought that Mandy had a big extended trot till I saw Shadow motoring down the trail. Like Mandy, Shadow is a natural trotter who prefers that gait to cantering. He has a huge hindquarters that powers him along like rolling thunder.

During the many miles and hours we have spent together on the trails, I’ve been able to piece together Shadow’s story. Jeanine has owned him since he was five, and has ridden him over these wilderness trails since then. In previous years, she had the time to spend as much as five days a week riding him here, where they would typically charge up old steep mountain roads and jump fallen trees for fun. When we started riding together, Jeanine would talk about looking for a new mount who would be able to keep up that pace with her. Shadow now struggles to move up any slope, and he is always now so very slow to move out at the pace she prefers.

I quietly listened to Jeanine’s frustrations during our rides while trying to relate her perspective to the horse I was getting to know. It wasn’t so much his body language, as the impression I felt from him. I told Jeanine that I thought he was a wonderful horse who still had many years ahead of him as her trusty mount. Sometime later, when she realized that I was an animal communicator, Jeanine asked me to talk to Shadow.

Shadow told me that his primary issue was emotional and it involved Jeanine. He said he was upset with her constant demands to perform at a higher level. I began to quickly see Shadow as an incredibly sensitive horse who could become very stubborn when pushed too far. Unfortunately, his owner with the driven type-A personality, was not able to accept his slowing pace and athleticism. The more she used the riding crop on him, the more he resisted her urges. To make matters more complicated, I began to sense that Shadow was actually responding to my subtle, energetic encouragement as we all rode together. He was beginning to look to me as his leader.

This was not something that I could easily share with his owner. I chose to gently coach her on how to show Shadow how much she appreciated him. Over time I began to see a pattern in how they interacted during the course of a typical ride. Jeanine would almost always arrive at the trail head with her ‘driven’ personality in full expression…and by the end of our ride she would become mellow and genuinely appreciative of Shadow’s effort. It didn’t hurt that Shadow was always very exuberant and motivated on the return ride back to the trail head.

One day, after the end of a ride while we were removing tack,  I bluntly told Jeanine to go over and tell Shadow how much she appreciated him. She did so with genuine heartfelt emotion. Shadow’s response was palpable. I could see the change in his expression and body language. More importantly, Jeanine saw it.

After our winter rides, Jeanine and I would often share warm cups of tea. One afternoon, while sharing tea, I spontaneously offered Shadow a piece of an oatmeal cookie I was eating. The look on his face when he tasted it was priceless. When I then gave him a whole cookie, his eyes changed. Jeanine was practically speechless. She said that was a face she hadn’t seen since he was five years old. Jeanine took him home promising to be more attentive and appreciative. It felt like they were beginning to discover each other all over again.

To be continued…

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Shadow’s Secret: An Easter Story of Renewal. Part 2

A day or so before our next ride with Jeanine and Shadow, I decided to check in with Shadow non-locally and ask him how he was doing. In all the time I had been around him, I had been so distracted by the emotional ‘noise’ that I had yet to explore any of his physical issues. I had assumed that the main reason for his reluctance to charge up hills was perhaps a nutritional deficiency. He didn’t strike me as being in inadequate physical condition because of all the exercise he’d been getting.

I was stunned when I asked him about the next priority issue that was bothering him. Shadow said that he had not one, but both first ribs misaligned. Oddly though, he did not have any other of the compensatory physical issues elsewhere in his body that are typical of a horse with a first rib misalignment for such a long time. I assumed it was a testimonial to his great physical strength.

Jeanine was alerted to this news and I recruited her to help me realign his ribs during our next meeting.  We decided to do the session before we rode, in order to assess his performance and movement during the subsequent ride. Jeanine does not weigh much more than 100 lbs., so I was extra careful as she held an uplifted, folded leg on the opposite side from where I stood at Shadow’s shoulder. When I felt we were all ready, I encouraged Shadow to snap his head and neck around to me in a movement sharp enough to pull the rib underneath his unloaded shoulder blade back into proper position. Sometimes you can feel the movement of the rib. Sometimes you can actually hear it. This time Jeanine was able to hear it. I watched Shadow’s face relax as he licked and chewed. When I then asked him, he confirmed that it was back in place. Fortunately, we were next able to realign the other rib just as easily in a few more minutes. Shadow was a very cooperative subject for what can be a tricky maneuver to achieve.

Soon we were underway on our ride. Jeanine noticed a subtle shift toward lightness in Shadow’s movement. I was expecting more dramatic changes but didn’t say so to Jeanine. Every case is different and I was waiting for what lesson Shadow had in store for me. The following week Mandy and I were out of town for an endurance ride, so we didn’t see Shadow that week.

When I called Jeanine to set up our next ride, I asked about Shadow. She said that she felt him moving better downhill and not much difference when going uphill. I was stumped. This was not the response I was expecting from Shadow.

On Good Friday we rode again together. I could still hear Shadow huffing and puffing out of breath as we trotted up the first hill on the main trail. Something told me to hold my opinion for a while until we spent more miles together on this ride. The day had started well enough but my departure from home to travel to pick up Mandy and then trailer on to the trail head had been marred by the worst traffic jam I’ve experienced in my intown neighborhood. It was grid lock. My attempts to call Jeanine to warn her of my delay were met by busy signals. My 45 minute commute ended up taking 90 minutes. It took another 45 minutes for me to catch Mandy, connect and load the trailer, then drive to the trail head.

As soon as I arrived at the parking lot, Jeanine called me. She apologized and said she had just that minute found her phone off the hook. I told her no worries, as I had just that moment arrived. Jeanine and Shadow live 5 minutes from the park and were on their way to meet us within minutes. As I scraped loose hair and mud from Mandy’s coat, I mused over the interesting ‘coincidence’ regarding our mutual hindrances that had blocked our scheduled meeting arrival…until an almost simultaneous resolution. I wondered then what was waiting to reveal itself to me next.

To be continued…

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Shadow’s Secret: An Easter Story of Renewal. Part 3

Because of our very delayed start, we did not have enough daylight to do the entire Orange Trail Loop. That was the trail that featured a long and steep climb from the Etowah River up to the crest of the highest elevation in the preserve. I wanted to see how Mandy would do on this climb after completing our first 50 mile endurance ride a weekend earlier. And I wanted to see how Shadow would do, now that his two ‘first’ ribs were realigned. We decided to take the Orange Trail to connect with the Lime Trail where we would then go to the river at the base of a wonderful waterfall. From there, the gradual climb back to the Orange Trail would offer a good workout and enable us to get back to the parking lot before dark.

During our gradual descent down to the river, I felt Mandy to be slightly off as we cantered. As she stood in the cold waters at the base of the falls, I realized that her feet were slightly inflamed from eating the new spring grass that had finally emerged in her pasture. Her left hind was also quivering. I noticed that it stopped quivering every time she fully loaded that leg with her weight. That was the same leg muscle that had cramped painfully during our first attempt at completing a 50 mile ride in February. We got pulled from that ride at mile 42 because of that cramp. I asked Mandy and she answered that she preferred that I remain mounted, and that when we climb that long grade back up to the Orange Trail, that we do it at a canter so that she can avoid overworking the muscles she uses when trotting. Besides, cantering uphill can often be less strenuous than trotting uphill.

I told Jeanine of our plan and suggested that this could be a real test of Shadow’s ability to charge up a long ascent with his newly balanced body. I wanted to make sure she was game. I felt that Shadow would try to follow Mandy at whatever speed we went. Something told me that this was just the tactic required to test Shadow. Jeanine said “Let’s go!”

Mandy jumped ahead of  Shadow and flew into a canter, her bare feet rattling among the stones scattered along the washed out trail basin. She acted as if on adrenaline, no longer noticing the discomfort in her feet as she charged up the rocky old gold miners’ trail. She was stretching her hindquarters as she surged up the twisting road bed. Behind me I could hear Shadow panting. What was different now was that Shadow was not fading. He stayed right behind Mandy. And now I could hear Jeanine whooping and hollering. All this commotion on Mandy’s heels encouraged her to drive harder up the trail. We soon were beyond the stretch where big slabs of exposed bedrock paved the slope. Then we bounded up the section that was an eroded wash, like a huge clay half pipe in the forest. Next we flew along a subtle roller coaster over softer, more forgiving footing strewn with leaf litter. And then we made the zigzag turn around the big oak where the trail opened up to our final ascent up another washed out clay based roadbed. All along Shadow was right behind. He stayed with us throughout the ¾ mile climb.

When we topped out along the ridge where the Orange Trail ran, it occurred to me that Shadow was breathing deep for the first time in a long time. He was panting, but his breathing did not sound labored .  Once we reached the Orange Trail, I walked Mandy briefly till I was sure Shadow had recovered. Jeanine was ready to continue so we cantered and trotted along the winding ridge trail till we reached the sections of scattered mud holes across the trail. The quick transitions of walking/trotting/cantering did not seem to bother Shadow. Jeanine and I both sensed that his recoveries were getting better and better.

I then realized Shadow was now able to breathe deeply without the pain caused by those misaligned ribs. He was literally learning how to breathe deep again as we were riding together. And I could tell that he was enjoying it. His eyes were bright. His jaw was relaxed.

We continued on together this way till we eventually reached the pond near the trail head. As we turn a final corner we follow the old roadbed that runs along the earthen dam containing the pond.  Here is where Jeanine typically cues Shadow for a last charge along this straightaway. And so she does. Shadow takes off at a trot that looks like a sprint. Mandy responds but her feet are too tender for her to tolerate the extended trot footfalls required to catch Shadow. We ease over to the softer shoulder of the old hard-packed dirt road and canter alongside Shadow who is now offering a huge extended trot. It’s so huge that Jeanine is now squealing. She hasn’t felt that movement while riding him in years.

As we slow to a walk to let them cool down during our return to the trail head, Jeanine tells me about a psychic friend she knows. She had recently received a phone call from her from out of the blue to tell her something. She told Jeanine to breathe deep. She said she needed to give her breathing more attention because she was breathing too shallow. She felt some urgency about this and wanted to alert Jeanine. This message was now haunting Jeanine as I had kept telling her that Shadow’s issue was that he couldn’t breathe deep before…and today he was learning how to breathe deep again.

When we return to our parked horse trailers, Jeanine tells me about her first horse, Zipcode.  She got him when she was 12…42 years ago. She still misses him. She briefly describes a terrible accident they had that knocked all her front teeth out. She doesn’t blame him and still misses him. There was something powerful I felt as she was telling me this. I turned and looked over at Shadow, who was tied to his trailer and facing away from me. But I could clearly see his eye watching me intently. I turned and looked at Jeanine again. The look in her eyes told me she was still missing Zipcode. I couldn’t stand the tension any more. I walked over to Shadow and quietly asked him if he was the reincarnated spirit of Jeanine’s long ago Zipcode. He nodded “Yes.”

In that moment I understood so much about Shadow. The reason he was so slow whenever he and Jeanine began their rides…was because he was taking care of her. The reason he was so tolerant of her nagging him to move faster was because he loved her so and was stubbornly being her protector. The reason he was so slow at the beginning of every ride was because Jeanine taught him to start slow when she first got him. Back then, she was still recovering from a severe traumatic adult injury that had threatened to end her riding forever. When she got Shadow and started riding again, she was tentative and afraid to go very fast. She had trained him to go slow back then and he was still trying to protect her now. I don’t believe Shadow remembers the details of his life as Zipcode, and the serious accident he had with Jeanine the teenager. I do believe he feels very strongly about protecting her today and keeping her safe.

I walked back over to Jeanine and re-introduced her to her long lost Zipcode.

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Someone asked me about joint supplements.

When I found Mandy in 2005, she had arthritis in both hocks. She had a distinctive paddling movement in her hind legs as she trotted. As the years progressed, she developed a noticeable ‘clicking’ sound in one of her hocks as she walked. In 2006, an animal communicator/body worker told me that Mandy had arthritis. In 2007 I slowly began learning how to balance her diet and balance her body. In 2009 I had learned how to identify physical misalignments in her body and how to re-align them. It was my research, beginning in 2007, on ways to help her right hock that led me on this journey. It was not until 2009 that I learned how to specifically re-align her hocks. Her misaligned hocks were actually the end of a string of imbalances and misalignments that began in the front end of her body.

Some of those issues were initially created by a simple misstep into a shallow hole as she ran–causing a first rib to misalign–a very, very common experience among horses. Other issues were set up by injuries Mandy sustained before we ever met. I believe she was alone inside a 2 horse trailer that rolled over upside down. I believe she was seriously injured on the track while harness racing. These are all old injuries that I have detected after gradually studying and learning her physical body…and learning how to communicate with her and ask her specific questions about herself.

I believe much osteoarthritis is caused by a chain of events put into play initially by imbalance and/or misalignment of the body. This causes stress on the joint and surrounding soft tissue. Sometimes this stress is caused by simply overworking the joint; typically it is an imbalance in the body/limb that exerts too much stress on the joint. The stress causes inflammation–the body’s way of protecting itself–which in turn causes heat. Wolff’s Law states that heat draws calcium. This is why stressed and inflammed joints accumulate calcium and the supporting soft tissue calcifies. Reduce the mechanical stress…and the inflammation is reduced. Reduce the inflammation…and the heat is reduced. Reduce the heat in the joint…and the calcification cycle is interrupted. Interrupt that cycle long enough…and the body begins the process of reabsorbing that calcium deposit and using it where it is needed.

Mandy will be 19 this June. By then, I expect that we will be competing in 50 mile endurance rides rather than the 25-30 mile events we’ve been doing since 2008. She has no arthritis today. No clicking sounds as she walks. I do not regularly give her any specific supplement now as maintenance for her joints. In the past, I have occasionally given her some MSM (bio-available sulfur) and Dynamite’s ‘Free and Easy’ ( Chondroitin, Glucosamine, Gelatin, Calcium Heptahydrate, Calcium Ascorbate, Sulfur, Hyaluronic Acid, Yucca, Una de Gato (Cat’s Claw), Whole Leaf Aloe Vera, Amino Acid Chelates of Zinc, Manganese and Copper, Apple Flavoring.). The Free and Easy is designed to support the joints, cartilage, and ligaments.

For now, it appears that what I am doing is supporting Mandy’s body sufficiently, given the demands we have imposed on it. And what I am now doing does not involve specific supplements targeting joint support. It will be interesting to see how her body will respond to the demands of competition over a distance double that which we have been running. Time will tell.

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THE STORY, Part 1: “Shadow”

I wish I could say that I was born loving horses. I was fortunate to have horses around when I was much younger, before I started school. I think there were about 18 months back then when we moved across the road from my cousins, before my first day at school. That was in 1955 and 1956. They had horses and I learned to ride. I went on to first grade at a different school than my cousins’, and the separation then began. Within a year or so, they moved away and with them went the horses. One of those horses was a little filly named Shadow, born in 1955.

I got the chance to ask my aunt about Shadow just a few years ago. She’s since passed on, the last remnant of my Dad’s family and in-laws.
Aunt Sarah said that Shadow’s birth was a surprise. She said that my Uncle Buck happened to notice her mom, Red, with a newborn out in their pasture one morning as he was going down their driveway to work. They did not even realize Red was pregnant!

Aunt Sarah said they remembered that Red had jumped their fence and had been found up the road with a big black stallion. Red had to jump the stallion’s fence, too, to join him. From her description of the stallion, he sounded like he could have been a Morgan. From pictures I have of Red, she appears to have been a Tennessee Walking Horse. The photo’s I’ve seen of Shadow show her to resemble a Morgan. About 14 or 14.1 in size.

About six years later, my dad arranged to bring Shadow back from Nashville as a gift for my sister. Within a couple of years, she discovered boys and cheerleading. Shadow became Dad’s horse then. Apparently Shadow had been taught to drive by my uncle. My dad acquired a buggy and harness and would drive Shadow around the neighborhood. I was soon involved in high school and considered my dad’s interest in his horse as quaint.

Another sister started riding Shadow when I was away at college. I wasn’t even aware of this till she told me a couple of years ago. I had no personal interest in horses, no particular interest in riding. For me, it was something old fashioned that my dad did. Once or twice a year, especially during the holidays, I’d watch him harness Shadow and then he’d let me drive her a bit as we sat together in the buggy touring the new subdivisions replacing the horse pastures and woods around our homeplace.

Shadow lived in a barbwire fenced enclosure within a pine grove between our house and the road. She lived alone. She did have a run-in shed and an antique tub as a water trough. As the neighborhoods grew around us, she became a local celebrity and often entertained visitors bringing apples to her at the fenceline. When she occasionally got bored, Shadow would lean against the barbwire fence until it popped, freeing her to wander the neighborhood at liberty. She was smart. She only did that in the middle of the night when there was no traffic on what had become a very busy thoroughfare. I still remember the middle of the night phone calls and rescue/recovery missions.

I remember when Shadow died. I believe it was April 1994. I got the call from Mom who asked me to come and help Dad. When I arrived, a tractor was already employed in the task of digging a burial place for Shadow. I know nothing about the details of her demise. Never did. Her body was laying where she fell. I recall being a bit overwhelmed with the sudden end of a significant part of my father’s life. I was somewhat dazed as he and I both crouched down at her body and prepared to roll her into the fresh pit. All I remember is that Dad moved first and moved quickly to roll her. It was over before I could react. He did it by himself. I’ve never forgotten that moment. I felt very inadequate.

Shadow had lived for 39 years. Born the same year we had moved across the road from the pasture that was her first home. Only five years younger than me. And she had been part of my dad’s life for more than half his life. I had been almost completely uninvolved with her.

To be continued…

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THE STORY, Part 2: Big White Dog

It was late February and the daylight was fading. The Friday of President’s Day weekend 2005. I had just finished a day hike in the mountains with friends. We were in two vehicles, driving back to my mountain cabin for dinner and more camaraderie. A fun getaway for the weekend.

Within a few hundred yards of the turnoff to my cabin, I saw a pickup truck parked on the side of the road next to a white pony. Brake lights glowed from the pickup and I could see exhaust from the tailpipe. Something was odd. I slowed and pulled in behind the truck…only to see it immediately scratch off and roar away into the dusk. The pony, meanwhile, began trotting along the roadside away from us and in the direction the truck went. It had a purpose to its trot. As if it knew where it was heading.

I  glanced again at the pony and realized it was no pony. It was a large white dog. A Great Pyrenees dog.

I knew that it would probably not survive long on that mountain road in the dark. I jumped out of my truck and called. It immediately turned to look at me, and then came trotting back to greet me. It was a very young male, apparently very happy to see me, sporting a freshly cleaned thick coat and wearing a brand new red collar without tags. Something was very odd.

Without hesitation I decided to take him to the cabin with us. I would put him in the back of my 4Runner, but first I had to move my Lab, Bo. I didn’t want to chance a dog fight inside my truck, already packed with hiking buddies. My friends had parked their car behind me so I quickly moved Bo from mine to their vehicle. Then I picked up the Big White Dog to put him where Bo had just been in the back of my 4Runner. He didn’t feel as heavy as my 74 lb. Lab! He was practically skin and bones on a huge frame covered with an immense white coat.

Once back at the cabin, I realized I had no more than an hour before work offices would close at 5:00pm. I had to hurry and make phone calls to the local agencies that could take this dog till his owner was found. I was not in a position to keep this huge guy throughout the weekend. No one was offering any help till I called the County Sheriff’s Department. After listening to my description of the dog and tracing my location, the woman on the phone said “It sounds like one of B.J.’s dogs. I don’t have time to explain cause I’m the only one here on dispatch. Here’s her number. Call her and good luck!”.

Meanwhile the Big White Dog had been tethered to a rail on my front deck…and was threatening to pull it apart in his attempts to join the crowd inside. I quickly called B.J.’s number only to get a recorded greeting and voice mail prompt. All I could do was leave a message and wait. By now, my cabin full of friends were getting impatient for food and more entertainment. They obviously were not sympathetic to my predicament.

Forty-five minutes later the phone rang. It was B.J. She told me that they run an informal rescue at her farm for Big White Dogs. That was her term. I had never heard of that term before. BWD includes very large herd guarding breeds including Great Pyrenees. She said this dog had just been delivered to her farm. They had just given him a bath and a new collar. No time yet to create a name tag or receive a rabies tag. The previous night had produced a windy storm and a tree had fallen across the fence around his enclosure. He had jumped the fence and was apparently on his way back to where he had been living…over 100 miles away. Her farm was only two miles away. She said she’d be right over.

Minutes later I see headlights in my driveway. I walk out and greet B.J. and her partner. We exchange pleasantries and gather the Big White Dog from the deck. B.J. thanks me again and invites me to visit their horse farm. I was already vaguely aware of its existence, tucked away off the two lane county road connecting our two locations. She says they have about 30 Morgan horses there. Finally, she says that she’d better get “Bo” back  to their farm before it got any darker. I was puzzled. What is she talking about, taking my “Bo” away to her farm? She then pointed to the Big White Dog, sitting at my right foot, looking up at me with a big happy grin on his face. His name was also Bo. I then looked  to my left where my black Lab, Bo, was sitting at my foot, looking up at me with a big, happy grin on her face. Black dog on my left named Bo. White dog on my right named Bo. “There is something very, very odd about this”, I thought to myself. I made a mental note to take B.J. up on her invitation to visit  her horse farm. I didn’t even know what a Morgan horse was. Something told me that it was important to find out.

To be continued..

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THE STORY, Part 3: First Test

Months would pass before I would meet up with B.J. again. I had mistakenly transposed two digits in her phone number when I had rewritten her number down on a clean notepad. Whenever  I visited my cabin in the mountains that winter, I would call the wrong number and leave a voice mail message that would never be returned. Winter became spring and I started a routine of riding my mountain bike from my cabin to that Morgan horse farm. It was good exercise for me and my Lab, Bo, who would run alongside me as I pedaled along the paved  two-lane roadway which soon became a gravel country road leading to the long dirt road to B.J.’s farm. Since I was not making contact with B.J. by phone, I thought that I would surely catch her at home during one of those weekend bike rides on the dirt road rimming her horse farm. It would take many weeks to finally catch up with her.

One warm weekend in May, B.J. was outside moving a couple of horses from one paddock to another when Bo and I came around the sharp turn in the road alongside those paddocks. I hopped off my bike and re-introduced myself. She laughed and said she knew who I was before my bike had stopped rolling. She then immediately handed me one of the lead ropes attached to one of her horses and asked me to hold that horse while she moved the other one into the adjacent paddock. As soon as the horses were moved, she quickly turned and walked toward the barn, still talking. She again laughed and said that she would enjoy continuing our conversation, but that she had a barn full of stalls to muck out. I grabbed a muck rake and started in one stall while she cleaned the next one. We spent the rest of the afternoon like that…talking about horses and doing various chores around the barn.

When it was time for me and Bo to head back to my cabin, B.J. invited me to go riding with her and her partner on the next Saturday. I quickly accepted. She told me to meet at the barn at 9:00. It would be sometime much later when I learned that they were very particular about who they rode with. Unwittingly, I had already passed my first test in what was to become a long journey into horsemanship.

To be continued…

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THE STORY, Part 4: The Awakening

Saturday morning arrived with the promise of new beginnings. It was still springtime in the mountains. Appalachia was alive with the celebration of the season. The air was fresh and clean and filled with the songs of birds. The forest canopy and ground cover was unfurling tender new growth that appeared as waves of green washing up the ancient slopes from shady coves below.

It was almost 9:00am and my new friends would be waiting for me at their barn. I arrived a few minutes early, fully expecting to have to go catch a horse and tack it up myself. When I walked into the barn, I saw a sturdy chestnut mare complete with tack, standing quietly where she was tied off at a ring on the wall of the aisle. She blinked as she watched me carefully. I then heard B.J. call out “That’s your horse. That’s Mandy.”

What I remember next was sitting in the saddle and letting that feeling fill me up. I felt flooded with scattered memories of childhood rides and the occasional trail ride as an adult. I looked down and realized the saddle had no horn. I would later learn that it was a type of endurance saddle. We were still standing at the barn entrance and waiting for B.J. and her partner to finish tacking up. I felt the need to move so I experimented in cuing my mare to slowly circle.  B.J. quickly corrected me.  “She doesn’t neck rein. You’ll have to use direct rein.”  So began my first personal lesson in natural horsemanship.

After a brief demonstration of direct reining, we were all mounted and ready. I followed as we walked together from the barn, up the single lane dirt road to the end of B.J.’s farm, and then made a sharp turn from the road onto a forest trail. We were now in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Even before acquiring my mountain cabin, I had years of experience hiking and backpacking the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina. I had hiked extensively in the immediate area of where we were now, including the Appalachian Trail, the Benton-MacKaye Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail. And yet, I found myself now exploring a trail system completely new to me. It was an unnamed trail system apparently maintained and used by only the local equestrians. I recognized portions of our route as segments of the forest service roads I had explored with my Lab on my mountain bike. I had recalled seeing horseshoe tracks on those rough roads and wondering who was riding in these mountains. Now I knew.

That day we not only followed forest service roads, we rode along single track paths improved from animal trails. We waded across bold mountain streams. We jumped ditches, descended steep slopes and climbed straight up the other side. We even left the trail behind and bushwacked through the forest. I never knew horses could do this. I had never been on a horse who enjoyed doing this. I felt like I was awakening to a whole new way of enjoying the outdoors. In truth, I was awakening to a whole ‘new’ way of being in the natural world. I was awakening to a whole way of being.

We finally looped back around to B.J.’s farm and returned to the barn…five and a half hours after we had begun our adventure. B.J. later told me that there were three distinct times during our ride that they expected me to come out of the saddle. I remember feeling a bit uneasy on the steep stuff…and being behind Mandy in my seat when she suddenly jumped a ditch…and dodging one very low branch much too late by bending myself backwards instead of anticipating it and ducking forward. But I had managed to stay in the saddle through it all.

The next morning, my cabin phone rang early. It was B.J. “So…how do you feel this morning?” she asked. “I feel fine!” I answered. “No, really…how do you feel?” she repeated. “Really. I feel just great” I insisted. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone line. Then she blurted “We haven’t ridden in two weeks and we both feel like we’ve been run over by a truck!” Before I could respond, she then added “You’re welcome to ride with us again anytime you’re interested.”

To be continued…

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My Journey to Becoming a Horseman.

I’m a seeker in the process of re-inventing myself. My guide is my first horse, a Morgan mare named Mandy. Although I grew up around horses before I started school, I did not find Mandy until 2005. What followed has been an intensive course in learning all about the Horse. I’m a constant student and Mandy is my teacher. My “coursework” has led me into the realm of equine nutrition, “natural horsemanship”, barefoot management, founder rehabilitation, endurance competition, equine body work, energy medicine, and even animal communication. This blog is about our journey.





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Camp Osborn Pow Wow Endurance Ride. 2/18/12: Ride Camp.


It was about an hour before sundown when we finally arrived at ride camp Friday, Feb. 10.  The day after my birthday. Two hours later than planned. I had been up since 4:45am and had traveled about 250 miles. I quickly found a space among the larger truck and trailer rigs amid the pines. There were two suitable large pines available for running a high line from which to tie Mandy. I quickly unloaded her and walked her briefly around the site so that she could snort and greet the neighbors. Soon she was securely tied off from the high line, water bucket was filled and flakes of hay were tossed.

Next I quickly unrolled my expedition tent and had it erected within a few minutes. I always like to get my tent up and snug before dark, before it rains. While placing tent pegs I smelled something awful. I then realized that the entire area around my site had been used by my neighbors as a toilet for their dogs. Their old, sick dogs. Very smelly dog poop. It took me awhile to clean the area and relocate my tent several feet to a safer spot. Somehow I managed to avoid stepping in any landmines.

Next I unpacked Mandy’s dinner ziplock, mixed it with some water and liquid electrolytes in her black dish, and nestled it by the water tub tied to one of her trees. Then it was Bodacious’ turn to eat. She got her regular mix of kibbles and canned food stirred with water into a stew.



By now my blood sugar was crashing. I needed to eat. But I had not yet erected my kitchen. I have a tent lean-to that I erect next to my Brenderup trailer. It always gets an admirer or two at endurance ride camps. Once erected, I then set up a camp table with chair underneath the canopy. I hang a lantern from the trailer sidewall under the canopy. I heat water with a JetBoil Personal Cooking System that I use when backpacking. It sits neatly on the camp table. Within two steps I can reach my 4 Runner hatch back where my cooler and my dry-goods locker sit.

My original plan was to join some friends at their camp and use their grill to heat up a take-out Cuban dinner. Bistec a la Parilla. A marianated ribeye steak with tomato criolla sauce, yellow rice and black beans. Thirty minutes before my arrival at ride camp I finally got a call back from Alisa, who informed me that she and Carlos had already passed me on their way back to Atlanta. She was sprawled out on the truck back seat, heavily medicated, and suffering from a broken tailbone. During the 50 mile ride that day, a deer had almost collided with her mare in a bizarre accident that sent Alisa crashing to the ground on her tailbone. Needless to say, I was not then joining them for dinner.

Another friend called me and her grill was cold because she was about to walk over to the ride meeting at 7 pm. I begged off joining up at ride meeting. I had to eat…soon! I spent the next 30 to 45 minutes in a stupor as I struggled with my tent/tarp/lean-to. It’s a great concept but a terrible execution of interconnected tubing with stretched-out shock cord that must be threaded through narrow sleeves in the fabric. In the dark. Amid steady winds that were now approaching 20 mph with stronger gusts. Eventually I figured it out and was able to strap it tight against my trailer and stake it down securely. Fortunately it had a large window that I opened. allowing the wind blasts to spill out before ripping the whole thing away like a big kite. Remarkably, it remained intact throughout the weekend even as the winds approached a steady 30 mph.

With my kitchen canopy erected, I could then install my table and camp chair, and arrange my lanterns so that I could see without using my headlamp. I could now finally eat! Exhausted, I sat down and opened up my cold dinner. I was now feeling sick and did not see how I could be fit to ride early the next morning. I heated up some water for hot tea and drank that while inhaling my cold bistec a la parilla. The protein helped. I started to come alive again.

To be continued…

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