Jun 18, 2012

My Learning Curve Goes Vertical

‘That’s great! Hoorah! But we don’t care! We want to read about Bryan! And what happened to Dixie?’

I know, I know. And I want to write about them all. But there is a context that must be framed before I write about specific horses any more. And here is the last corner of the frame. I promise. It might take me a couple of posts to write about it but bear with me.

I wrote before how I look back at my life sometimes and think what the heck. It does seem a little strange that these ‘coincidences’ just seemed to follow, one after the other, through the years. But rather than pursue that perhaps interesting but ultimately irrelevant metaphysical road, suffice to say that there was one more gigantic confluence of fate that put me irretrievably on the horse path that I had been placed on.

In 1994 we moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina. We bought an old barn and started a nice little teaching/training business. In time I met Barbara Stender, a dressage rider, trainer, and judge and we became good friends. Barbara is a wonderful mix of credibility, with a lifetime of USDF involvement and judging and education, and woowoo, with the highest TTouch and Centered Riding ratings that you could achieve. She is smart and funny and a super solid horse girl.

In the course of our friendship she frequently talked about this Mary person. This Mary person had developed a type of equine body work based on Feldenkrais principles. Just like Linda. Every year, Barbara traveled to Calilfornia where Mary lived and practiced, to learn more about Mary’s approach. In fact, Barbara had been Mary’s very first instructor, all those years ago when Mary was a little girl. They went way back.

But I was working with Maryann Olsen, a massage therapist trained by Joanne Wilson herself.  My horses loved her and I could always measure their improvement after one of her visits. I was still doing the LTJ stuff but you know me, Miss It’s Best When It Can Be Measured, and having a Jack Meagher/Joanne Wilson trained protogee come to my house was great. I had my labyrinth and my Wand/Whip and incorporated lots of Tellington-Jones ground work in to my day to day. My various rejects and rehabs and clients were doing great. We were winning at the shows.  I was happy and satisfied with what I was doing and the results we were having were solid and cool and measurable. So I didn’t listen all that closely when Barbara talked about Mary’s work

After one of Barbara’s visits to CA to work with Mary I let her work on one of my older ponies. I didn’t see much and certainly no big change or improvement. I was polite about it but kinda ho hum.

At one point, Barb was the dressage trainer and I was the h/j trainer for a local family.  Their hunter had deep and complex soundness and training issues; the horse had been terribly abused by the previous trainers they had worked with (that time honored ‘crank them in a bitting rig and tie them up and let them think about it’ technique). He was a wreck and it was a troubling situation, with lots of egos and agendas involved. I was starting to remove myself from the equation as I was only pissing them off by pointing some of these things out, but I went with Barb one day to watch her do Mary’s  work on the horse.

The horse was reactive and I knew he was just sore all over. But I didn’t see that Barb was doing all that much. Looking back at what I know now and have experienced since, let the operative words be ‘I didn’t see…’ But one thing I *did* see was the following. Picture a horse in cross ties. The horse is big, 17 hh or so. Picture a small woman (Barb) on the off side. Picture a tall somewhat bored (you can include know it all skeptic in there as well, its ok) woman on the near side. Tall bored woman sees horse raising and lowering his head, up, down, high, low, rhythmicaly, methodically. Tall bored woman can’t see small woman or what she is doing to horse. Tall bored woman, mildly curious, says quietly, ‘Barb? Whatcha doin’?’ Small woman answers ‘Come see…’

So Tall Bored Woman (that would be me) walks to where she can see. Barb is somewhat crouched at the girth line. She is not actually touching the horse. Her hands are about a foot away from the horse, in fact. She is moving her hands, palms outward, toward and then away, from the area at the horse’s elbow and heartgirth, like kneading bread, kinda. And the horse is moving his head and neck up and down. She is pushing air, it seems. And he is feeling it.


‘Barb, what are you doing?!’

‘Practicing my energy work’.

Once again, I am <splut> in a world I don’t understand.


  1. Replies
    1. Nope! It was SENSE work, which is the equine version of Feldenkrais developed by Mary Debono. More as soos as I can!