For many years I have been fascinated by, and studied the teachings of, such gifted horsemanship teachers as Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert and Joe Wolter. It is clear to me that this way of thinking and working with our horses has rich rewards. I am truly grateful for all that I have learned from my mentors, and I am inspired by the opportunity to help people grow toward achieving equanimity with their horses as well.
The Story of My Teacher - Desiree
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t horse crazy. I first cajoled my way onto a horse at the age of six, and into lessons when I was seven. As kids, my friends and I couldn’t ride often enough or go fast enough, escaping with our horses from everything. In the summer we raced through the bridle trails of Indian Hill. In the winter we took off through snow into woods where you could ride all day and never come back on the same trail.
I found Desiree, my first horse, just out of college – or maybe I should say she found me. You often hear about people being powerfully drawn to a certain horse, a mysterious mutual attraction that at first seems to defy logic and then blossoms into a life-changing relationship, and that’s how it was for us. I met Desiree at a camp where I was a summer counselor and felt an immediate pull toward her. When I heard that she was going to be hauled away to slaughter, I knew I had to save her and that she had to be mine, although I had no way of knowing how I would cover the expense of a horse.
That first year, Desiree and I went everywhere, and we went there very, very fast. Then one day as we were jigging along, someone rode up to us and said, "You know, Buck Brannaman is going to be in town next weekend. You might get a lot out of his clinic." So I went to watch. I came away inspired and excited about the changes he was able to make with the horses, and the way he made those changes – forging bonds based on leadership, trust and kindness.
The next year I brought Desiree to his clinic with me. She dragged me into the arena, and I remember when Buck asked me to tell him about her I said, "Well, she’s a little neurotic." After that clinic, I came home with a different horse and she came home with a different person. I realized that in order to have the relationship with her that I longed for – a true, deep connection physically, mentally and spiritually – I was going to have to throw a large part of what I knew out the window.
I wasn’t raised looking at horsemanship from the horse’s perspective. In the hunter/jumper training of my early years, I was taught by my instructors that, as the human, you use pressure to force the horse to do what you want; that’s how most people did it in those days. When I saw at Buck’s clinic that there was a different way – and how powerful that way is, for both horse and human – I knew it was going to change my life and I was hooked. Absolutely hooked. I’ve studied with Buck since 1990, and to this day I feel so privileged to have been introduced to him and to teachers like Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Bryan Neubert and Joe Wolter. It’s extremely humbling as I continue to study with the great masters of horsemanship. I recognize that this is a lifelong journey and there is always more to learn and refine.
The years since then have brought many changes, as they will. In 2008, life forced me to say goodbye to Desiree, my beloved girl, my teacher, my friend. As anyone who has loved and lost a horse knows, it is never an easy goodbye, and they remain in our hearts as long as we live: we’ve become the men and women we are today because of the paths we traveled with them.
For the past few years, a handsome sorrel gelding named Phoenix has been quietly biding his time, patiently waiting for me to be ready to open my heart again, and in June 2012 I finally took a deep breath and did. He is his own being, and we will have our own journey... and we both like to go very, very fast, but in a more controlled manner.
But that first experience with Desiree remains the defining moment in my life, the turning point that marks "before" and "after." I understood even then that every quality I develop as a horsewoman carries beyond my work with these sensitive, powerful creatures – it carries into my own development and way of being in the world, into my friendships and relationships, into the way I parent my children. I look back with deep gratitude and, as I think Desiree would want, I look ahead with joy.