Archive for March, 2010

Homesickness and Horse Training

Nova, in training, doing what she says is the "same ole," "same ole."

Do you think horses in training get homesick?

I do. And some of them have told me so in our conversations. But then again, I guess it depends on the horse and their personality. Like kids: some can never go to camp, period, because they get so homesick. And others would like to live there.

Last week I went with my friend Cindy on her obligatory weekly jaunt to work with her 2-year-old filly, Nova, at a horse trainer’s where Nova is spending a few weeks to get some basic etiquette and moves under her belt. Our impression upon arrival was that Nova was listless and kind of depressed and had NO idea what she was doing in this place.

Nova and Cindy, sharing a special moment while at the trainer's.

Homesick? I don’t know. It was not my place to tune in with Nova and ask her. But she sure didn’t seem particularly happy, so maybe missing Cindy and her goat and dog buddies, with whom she is very bonded, were why. Cindy and I are going to pick her up in a couple of days, and we can’t wait to get her back home!

Right now I can relate. Having moved to NM two years ago from the Texas Hill Country — not in small part to escape the ferocious heat and humidity which seems to prevail there at least half the year — I’m still getting used to the fact that our spring here arrives about two months after what I am used to. Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t go back, and I thrive on this climate of dry coolnth, wonderful snows in the winter, and fabulous summers where I don’t even need air conditioning.

But it’s March 31st, and everything where I used to live is, I know for a fact, so green it puts your eyes out, and there is literally no place more beautiful in the early spring than the Texas Hill Country.

So right now I’m homesick. My Texas friends have been raving about the beauty this spring, after their horrendous drought finally broke and Mother Nature gave them a real winter with lots of rain and cold. They are carrying on in glowing terms about the glorious wildflowers and the fantastic temperatures. So it’s a record-breaking-beautiful spring there and, as I sit here with a fairly high chance of yet another snow tomorrow evening, all I can think about is my Texas ranch.

No, I still would not trade places. And am willing to wait for my iris bulbs to bloom in another month or so (they bloomed by mid-February in Austin!), the fragrant lilac bushes all around the house to come out, and the beds of beautiful perennial flowers to unfurl their little fronds and smile at me.

But right now . . .  sob! I miss that gorgeous Texas ranch with its rolling meadows, craggy hills, huge oaks, all-weather creek that my horses could swim in at will, and the 200-year-old pecan and walnut trees next to it. I even miss the huge wild boar who regularly traversed my riding arena. I must say, that ranch is one of the most beautiful places on earth.And I was blessed to live on it for eight years.

I’m glad I moved. I love this high desert climate. I’m much less isolated and have many more kindred-spirit friends close by. And my animals and I are thriving here. I just had to share my homesickness . . . and a few pictures of my Texas ranch. Maybe the lesson for me is that I need to go to Texas every March or April to see my friends and to soak up the magic of its unsurpassed springtime!


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Are You A Victim of Brain Fog? Try This.

Me . . . in a mindless brain fog.

I told my daughter and son-in-law the other day that I felt really lucky I wasn’t a street person. The fact that my life is fairly well organized and successful is truly a miracle — and seemingly, at least at times, no thanks to me.

I had had one of those days where you can’t remember your left from right, appointment times, telephone numbers, where you’re supposed to be when. I don’t remember exactly what went wrong and got lost in the white-out of my brain fog, but I felt totally non compus mentus, non-functional . . . kind of absent from my body. All I felt like doing was sleeping.

Granted, I have been doing a lot of healing work lately due to what seems to have become a fairly chronic back problem, and I do know that can require a lot of energy — and a lot of sleep at times. But still. It’s very disconcerting and disorienting when one finds oneself feeling incompetent and disengaged.

So. I share this rather embarrasing report because one of my back therapists has given me a wonderful exercise for clearing the brain when one finds oneself in this muddled state. And I think I am probably not the only person to slip into this mindless la-la land from time to time.

This is not an original exercise. It was introduced by pranic healing master Koa Chok Sui in his book, SuperBrain Yoga. The goal is to do this for 3 to 5 minutes, every day, but even starting out with 1 minute will be effective.

  • Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, toes pointing straight forward.
  • Cross your right hand over to your left side and hold your left earlobe between your right thumb and finger (not sure which finger so I think your index would be fine).
  • Ditto with your left hand holding your right earlobe.
  • Squat down as far as is comfortable while inhaling.
  • Stand back up while exhaling.
  • Repeat for however long you can — 5 minutes is apparently optimal.

If you have bad knees and can’t squat, or are otherwise physically impaired, try the old Inner Tennis trick and visualize the squats while breathing as instructed.

Crossing your arms and hands to opposite sides of your body and then holding on to their opposite earlobes helps synchronize the left and right hemispheres of your brain, supposedly making you more alert and, possibly, even smarter. Also, your earlobes are huge acupressure zones, so something good is bound to happen when you squeeze them, plus all that squatting and breathing certainly can’t hurt in terms of oxygenating your body and brain.

I was just given this exercise today, so I admit I can’t vouch for it. But it sounds good, and there’s apparently plenty of back-up proving it.

And what did my kids say to me when I told them I was lucky not to be homeless? Being still in the throes of relocating to the States from the UK, finding work, getting settled, their response was simply: “Now you know how we feel every day!

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Hanging Out With Matthew Wood

Matthew Wood

My herb teacher, mentor, and old friend Matthew Wood has been in town this past weekend to teach an advanced class in herbology. Matt is a well-known and gifted Western herbalist who has many published books under his belt as well as countless workshops and clinics over the past 20 years. I learned of his Santa Fe class when I saw a flyer in Herbs, Etc. in Santa Fe a few weeks ago, and I immediately contacted him to let him know I was living here. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, but as we speak he is snoozing away in my guest room before we head out to return him to the Albuquerque airport for his flight home.

How I met Matt is another one of those happy, synchronistic events — one of the most meaningful in my life.

For my birthday, many years ago, a dear friend gave  me Matthew’s first book: Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers. This is a small book reporting on the magical properties of seven flower essences and the incredible results Matt had seen when he treated clients with them. As with all of Matthew’s work, his knowledge, experiences, and writings include not only the scientific aspects of the plants he works with, but also the mystical and personality elements of each. Matthew views all living things as having intelligence and awareness — certainly the plant kingdom.

Seven Herbs was for me one of those turning points in life that have no explanation. I was spellbound. I was transported to another level of awareness entirely. And the book catapulted me into a totally different spiritual realm than I had ever experienced — one that treasures the holiness and blessedness of every living thing on earth. In a real, gut-felt way, not one that just gives lip service to a prescribed belief system.

I did two things right away. 1) I sent a 4-page, handwritten letter to Matthew, via his publisher, realizing he would probably never receive it (he did not). 2) I made my first flower essence from the Showy Primroses that were the first hints of spring at my country property that year.

And that was that, as far as reaching Matthew was concerned. Or so I thought.

The Universe had other plans. About 2 or 3 years later I was talking to someone on the phone when the topic of flower essences and Matthew Wood came up. She told me he was due to come to town (then Austin, TX) to teach, and that the person who was hosting him needed a place for him to stay and in which to hold the class.

Done deal! My country home was a perfect setting for workshops, and I had a nice private guest space to boot. The rest is history. Matthew came to Austin several times, stayed with me, and taught workshops out of my home. I learned more from Matt than I ever could have imagined and later opened an herb store in a nearby community that catered to helping people with herbal remedies in more ways than the usual taking of supplements.

Those were wonderful years. I made a set of 37 Hill Country flower essences and continued to expand my knowledge of the vibrational, spiritual, and nutritional aspects of the plants, as well as of their properties when in homeopathic form.

Having Matthew back in my life is such a gift. We not only have a great time hanging out together, but he is helping me with remedies for my back problems of this past year.

Now . . . if I can just get him out of here without his absconding with my precious little Chihuahua, Frida, whom he has fallen in love with! (Can you blame him?)

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Growing a Garden: Are 30 Leeks Worth It?

Everyone growing a garden probably has their own standard for measuring success. Mine is 30 leeks. Here they are.

I know . . . you can barely see them.

I picked these last few vestiges of last year’s vegetable garden 3 days ago and took this picture after they were washed and cleaned. So what if they look like chives? I’m certainly not going to make an issue of it. And the potato/leek soup I made from them was delicate and delicious believe it or not.

As anyone growing a garden can tell you, doing so is not for the feint of heart. You can pour more money, sweat, tears, and toil into growing a garden than you might into raising a child. Really.

The gorgeous home and property I moved onto a couple of years ago had SIX spectacular raised-bed garden plots. “Made to order, I thought. NOW I will finally be able to have the vegetable and flower gardens I’ve always wanted!”

NOT!! When I got ready to plant I discovered that the harmless little green stuff growing along their edges, which I thought would be easily eradicated, was bindweed — a pernicious plant indeed whose roots go at least a foot deep before veering off sideways to pop up new “little green stuff” over yonder. Bindweed is well named, as it takes over everything and really binds up your plans.

The only solution was to cover those beds in black plastic and let them sit for at least a year to really kill out the bindweed. Alas.

Thus was born a new plan for growing a garden — creating a magical spiral one in the adjacent area that had been cleared and well prepared for the previous owner’s child’s playscape. “Perfect,” I thought. Here it is.

This is the spiral garden, with my expensive master gardener standing in the middle of it, AFTER the following steps were taken:

  • figuring out where it should lie and mapping it out
  • clearing the chippings off said mapped area and into what would be the pathways
  • cutting the underlying weed barrier cloth out where the spiral would be
  • bringing in lovely, rich garden soil which had to be wheelbarrowed to and distributed throughout the spiral
  • amending that lovely, rich garden soil with even more lovely, rich nutrients like cow manure and mushroom compost (mushroom compost?!)
  • installing an intricate drip system throughout the spiral
  • erecting a 3′ chicken-wire, bunny-proof fence around said area
  • laying gravel atop one exposed, unplantable corner
  • planting

All with the help of said master gardener — except that last step. I did the planting myself.

You get the idea. A few weeks and mucho $$$’s later, I was finally in business for growing a garden — ta da! Was it worth it? You be the judge. I took this picture one evening of just one day’s harvest.

We ate, and ate, and ate from our lovely garden. Squashes of several varieties, ditto for tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, chard, onions, carrots, tomatillos, fava beans, okra, cucumbers . . . and, finally, just this week, leeks.

A master gardener myself I am not. I learned a lot from last year’s garden. For one thing that leeks seem to take a long time and after 10 months mine were still tiny. But they were there, holding their little green heads high — after a big snow storm last week. Maybe I planted them too close together. Maybe they don’t like this climate. I’m not sure what went wrong and why they were so stunted, but I decided they deserved a place on our table so dug them all up and did indeed make one of the best soups ever!

So is growing a garden worth it? You bet it is! At least to those of us who value every morsel of organic, homegrown nutrition we can get. We’re ready to go again, in both the spiral garden and whatever parts of the raised beds the bindweed will allow.



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Dog Training: Who’s First Through The Door, You Or Your Dog? And Does It Really Matter?

In dog training does who goes first through the door really matter? Yes, it really does. But not for the reason you may think. At least according to Temple Grandin.

Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, has a PhD in animal science, has written five books, and is one of the most cutting edge authorities on animal behavior — largely due to the fact that she is autistic so can relate to animals and understand them in ways most of us cannot. I have read her books and am a great fan of hers because she has revolutionized many of the slaughter house processes in our country, making them much more humane for the animals. But more than that, her observations about animal behavior and what animals respond to just make good sense to me.

Dog training techniques have evolved into several different schools of thought in the last few years, but the older, more classical approach of dominating your dog and making him relate to you as an alpha is still very predominant. We all know the drill: choke chains, barked commands, harsh jerks on the lead to get the response we want, etc. In other words . . . proving we are alpha.

I’m not passing judgment here and do prefer the milder techniques of dog training myself. But I do believe there are those dogs among us whose aggression or lack of control almost demands that these dominating techniques be used. I found it to be true myself, in fact, 25 years ago when my 100-lb. Old English Sheepdog, Samson, who required three 6-week courses of training to even pass the basic level of obedience, could still not restrain himself from loping across the park to leap on terrified toddlers, or, sadly, to scoop up unsuspecting cats (usually ending in their untimely death).

Samson’s brain, from day one in his litter,  was in some kind of mindless overdrive, and the only thing that finally jarred it into a state where he could think clearly and hear a command was a few carefully devised sessions with a shock collar. Yes, I said a shock collar. Two or three well-timed shocks, along with appropriate commands, enabled Samson to start thinking instead of just reacting and totally changed his life . . . and mine of course. Samson turned out to be a great dog after all . . . but that’s another whole story.

So what’s the deal about who goes through the door first – you or your dog?

Well, as in the case of Samson, what’s important here is your dog’s ability to control his reactive behavior. Not whether you let him go through the door before you or not.

To put it very simply, a dog who can WAIT is a much safer dog than a dog who can’t. A dog who can WAIT (or ‘stay’, or both) has learned to deal with the emotion frustration. And, for dogs (as for many other species), frustration leads to rage, which is one of what Temple Grandin identifies as the seven basic, hard-wired emotions in almost all animals. And rage happens to be the one that leads to out-of-control aggression.

So for a dog to learn to deal with frustration, especially if he is hyper-reactive or classified as a ‘dangerous’ breed, is not only crucial, but is almost tantamount . . . as dramatic as this may sound . . . to his survival. You can see why including this in your dog training program, no matter what method you employ, is paramount.

Puppies begin learning to deal with frustration immediately, almost from day one, because they are constantly pushed aside while nursing and have to seek out another teat to clamp on to. These informal dog training lessons continue amongst the littermates, and then continue within the context of your own family, once that puppy has become a member of it. I could go on and give dozens of examples.

But the point is, teaching your dog to deal with frustration — whether that be by taking his bone away or by teaching him to “wait” when he is eager not to — is one of the greatest forms of insurance you can buy for shaping him into a happy, healthy, well-integrated member of society.

Your dog doesn’t really care who goes through the door first or whether you include this lesson in his dog training. He doesn’t have an agenda about who’s alpha. At least most dogs don’t. He just needs to learn to be a willing family member, just like one of your kids, who sometimes has to wait his turn and sometimes gets to go first.

If you’re a dog devotee — and especially if you’re having a dog training problem of who goes through the door first — I urge you to buy Temple’s latest book, Animals Make Us Human, and read very carefully the chapter on DOGS.

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Animal Communication: Telepathic or Psychic Phenomenon?

Many people approach us animal communicators as if we can see the future. Read a crystal ball. Tell them if their animal is going to get well or not.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Madame Zuzu  we are not!

No discredit to those who truly ARE psychic, like Sylvia Browne and John Edward, to name just two who are quite famous. But talking to the animals, aka animal communication, is not about seeing all there is to be seen or knowing all there is to be known.

Animal communication is about having a conversation. Just like you would with a person. Asking questions, listening carefully to the answers, and basically having a two-way dialogue that is give and take, share and share alike.

TELEPATHY is defined by as communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means. Okay, granted. That’s woo-woo enough. But nothing like the definition of  ‘psychic.’

PSYCHIC, according to sensitive to nonphysical or supernatural forces and influences : marked by extraordinary or mysterious sensitivity, perception, or understanding.

When a psychic is looking for information, s/he doesn’t ask the subject to tell  about or describe it. S/he just ‘gets’ it . . . psychically. Possibly including background information and future prognostications.

When an animal communicator is looking for information, on the other hand, s/he opens an animal communication conversation by inviting the subject to talk and then proceeds to ask specific questions based on the client’s request.

True, conducting a conversation through “extrasensory means” is certainly enough outside the norm as to be somewhat remarkable. But if you think about it, we all to some degree possess an ability to communicate without the spoken word. Intuition plays a part, but also lots of other receptive abilities we may have lost during our evolution. Your dog knows when you are mad, right? And it’s not because he has mastered your language. Those same instinctive ways of perceiving are still innate within us humans. And those subtle receptive abilities are all plugged in during animal communication.

In my animal communication practice I am often asked by the client to quiz their animal on matters that go far beyond the conversational level. “Will another surgery (the third) finally cure this cancer?” is a question I had just this week from someone whose horse faces possible euthanasia due to a years-long, chronic, and malignant eye condition. This was a question the horse was supposed to be able to answer.

In such a scenario I am compelled to explain to the client that the horse (or other subject) is not psychic (well . . . maybe some of them are, but in general we can’t expect them to be) and that he would no more know the answer to this question than the person herself does. And I certainly do not claim to be able to look at the horse and just know, psychically, the answer to this question myself.

Oh. Aha. They get it now. We are really just conversing, not divining. And their animal is not a psychic medium. We are having an animal communication session, not a psychic reading.

Now . . . all of the above said . . . there are many, many animal communicators who do possess psychic skills to one degree or another. And those skills do often kick in during an animal communication session.

So if what you want is a psychic dimension added to your animal communication consultations, then search for an animal communicator who touts herself as possessing such. But, as always, ask for references and know what you’re getting.

Otherwise you might end up with a Madame Zuzu after all.



Talk to Your Animals. Here’s How.

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My Two Girls

My Two Girls: Bella & Her New Friend, Lopeh

I never thought I’d have a mare . . . much less mares in the plural. Why I thought that, I can’t tell you, except maybe for the fact that my geldings seemed so well-suited to me and my needs.

I’ve had horses in my back yard for 25 years now, and they’ve always been geldings — until four years ago. That’s when I broke the mold and took my beloved Mustang mare, Bella, and she has gone beyond all expectations in terms of being the perfect horse match for me.

So what did I know? Nothing, obviously, about mares.

Still, after Bella arrived, and we were so perfect together, I was quite sure I would never get another mare. For one thing, none would ever be able to measure up to Her Highness; for another, I didn’t want Bella to feel her supremacy was being challenged in any way.

And then along came Lopeh, a little QH 8-year-old mare who was a rescue from a nearby breeding herd that was being dispersed rapidly — headed for the chopping block if not adopted out fast. I took Lopeh only because nobody else wanted her, which I chronicled in Be Careful What You Wish For.

Two weeks later we lost our alpha gelding, Gabriel, and Bella went into a deep depression. Our other herd member, Copper, was 33 years old and not much into keeping company with Bella, so I thanked my lucky stars that Lopeh had joined our lot and hoped her presence might take some of the bite off losing Gabriel for Bella.

For weeks nothing much helped Bella, though she did naturally gravitate toward Lopeh and the two of them stayed together. But Bella was very sad and unhappy, often seen with her head hanging low. So there was bickering and nit-picking between them while Bella worked her way through the heavy throes of grief she was experiencing.

During those early stages Lopeh wasn’t a very attractive herd mate either. She came to us scared to death and unapproachable, and laid her ears back and threatened to kick if anyone, human or horse, did something she thought might be threatening. I seriously doubted I would keep her because I did not want that kind of energy in my herd.

Fast forward four months. I had Lopeh sold in late January, and thought it was the right decision, but then the buyer flaked out and didn’t show when she was supposed to, so, for some reason I’ll never understand, I decided to keep Lopeh.

I guess that was a turning point in many respects because about that time Lopeh finally absorbed the good vibes of our peaceful tribe and turned from a hot little tart into a sweet, loving, cooperative little lady. She’s great on the ground, hopefully will be a good ride (soon to be determined), and now loves our attention and treats.

And, best of all, she and Bella are now true pals. They’re exactly the same age  so have a lot of youthful energy. We see them running and playing together frequently out in the pasture now, something Bella has never had a real opportunity to do with my herd because all its members were elderly or ailing. And being a rather, ahem, robust draft horse type of Mustang, this is something Bella needs desperately! Bella is happy again, and slim (for her), and Lopeh has become a little pussycat (knock wood!).

So things turned out for the best and all is well in the small horse herd here at Sol y Cielo.

And, the best part? I have learned that I LOVE MARES!!!!!

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