Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Much Abridged Version

Labour Day 2009
Spend weekend at the farm wrestling with the decision to abandon city life and move there for the winter, at least until April.

Get around to 'yes' and reach a fine balance between joy and terror.

Just before heading back to town to begin dismantling life get toe broken trying to load a pony onto a trailer.

Go back to town limping and acutely aware of the perils of a life with horses.

Decide to go through with it anyway.

Rest of September 2009

Limp around like an idiot, including during a work function (half the time in fancy shoes, the other half in god-forbid-it Crocs).

Pack up and move out as slowly and gracefully as one can with a busted toe and a half-baked idea.

Go out campaigning for New Stride with ridiculous footwear and relentless vigor. Set back the healing process by pounding foot into the ground, oh well.

Advil and VetWrap hold entire life together. Crocs become BFF's.

Realize the gravity of the situation every time I look at those ugly frickin' shoes.

Get positively clocked by a solidly built little filly and stop feeling pain in foot because it's been usurped by what's going on in the upper body. Does anyone want to go home yet? Does anyone know where home is? Face down in the field and seeing white fire and stars in the midday sun, it takes 20 minutes before I can see properly or breathe right. Welcome to your new life.

Realize the horror of a 40 minute commute in rush hour. Wonder if Advil is considered a mind-altering drug. Weigh the balance between getting busted up on the farm for no money and with no insurance and opt to keep the day job. Change hours to alleviate commuter pain.

Feel loose and strange and still wonder if Advil is a mind-altering drug.

Freak out, a lot.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Fall set in quickly this year, though it came out of a long and lovely Indian summer that almost convinced me there would never be rain or temperatures in single digits. Each and every late August over the past I don't-know-how-many years has prompted me to take stock and make plans. Part of this is probably a hangover from school days (change comes after Labour Day, even still) and part of it is attached to that less tangible nostalgia that perfumes the air the first day I realize I need a sweater - at least in the morning and late in the day- when it becomes a physical reality that it's time to accept change, like it or not.

I'm slightly fascinated by those who welcome and embrace change. I don't do these things easily and I'm amazed that anyone else can just roll with things gracefully, let alone jump up and shout "bring it on!". The odd thing is that whether you resist or embrace it, change is going to happen. Supposedly, it's the one thing that's constant - which makes no sense, like most things that are deeply true.

By now I bet most of you had given up on me. Some of you probably imagined I got hold of myself, grew up and got out of this silly horse business before I got hurt. Others might have figured I got a horse and just cantered off into the sunset happy as a clam. Nope and nope.

What I had been so busy doing up to now was plotting my exit strategy, executing it and choking on the settling dust. I don't do change easily, but I get what needs to be done done.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your Identification Please

Aside from the fact that I just happened to mostly ride Thoroughbreds as a younger person, there's a deeper current in my attraction to these magnificent animals. Something in them resonates within me, perhaps more so even than with other types of horses. This does not detract from my relationships with any of the other breeds - I take each individual as I find them, and horses are definitely individuals, perhaps the most authentic ones one could ever hope to meet.

No, it's something in the eyes. When I look into the eyes of a Thoroughbred a little voice inside me says 'I know you'. I'm not sure who's voice this is, but it isn't mine. Or at least it's not the one that I'm used to hearing.

My favourite song of the past few months is "Run,Run,Run" by Joel Plaskett. I take the liberty of reprinting some lyrics here...

Run,run,run, you must
'Cause if you walk, you rust
You get crushed from a diamond into dirt road dust.

I've had a lot of time in the car to wear a groove in this track and ponder its meaning in my life, in the car, going to try to serve the horses and save my soul.It might even be as dramatic as it sounds, were it not for the fact that I'm a practical philosopher not a wild mystic. It's hard to be either wild nor mystic in an old Honda Civic, stuck in horrendous traffic.

We run, it's what we do. Women especially. I'm from the 'Free to be You and Me' generation, one of the first crops of little people fertilized by the Womens Liberation movement. While I don't think my Mom considered herself a Feminist (any more than she did a Christian), I do know that she was the product of a traditional relationship that was happy and successful based on its high degree of mutual respect and a willingness of the two partners to share the labour however that presented itself. That might have been nontraditional now that I think about it.

By the time I was in grade school it was obvious that women could do just about anything they wanted. Not only could, but should. Oh, but balance this with your womanly duties, dear. And we still have womanly duties. First of these being to do whatever you are doing well. Or maybe that's just me...

Anyway, I'm in the world of business for a good portion of my day. I'm also in a man's world to a very large extent. Every Thursday morning at 6am I walk into the Mens Locker Room, though I am supposed to be there. From the talk around me to the pressure of getting my job done (it's not a store, it's an auction and therefore a competition), there's not much relief. On Thursdays especially, I run.

So, I do my job. I even love my job in some ways. It's downright sporty a lot of the time and I do try to play to the top of my game as often as possible- in everything I do, which I am pretty sure is as much me as anything societal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Off Track

When a horse comes off the track they generally need a come-down period. Not only from their amplified life but from all the little luxuries afforded them in return for their daily grind. It's not an exaggeration to state that racehorses usually live like the pro athletes they are, nor is it a stretch to say that they work incredibly hard to earn their comforts.

These horses have foot-deep shavings in their stalls, endlessly stuffed hay nets, gourmet food (with all the finest supplements), on demand vet attention and a groom to rub them and fuss over them and make sure they are as finely tuned as possible. Indiscretions in manners, social protocols and the like are often overlooked in these animals- as long as they run well they live like the elite they are (or are trying to be). This is much the same as it would be in human athletes really. Think of Iverson in the NBA or the utterly repugnant Michael Vick, who still has a career despite his involvement in criminal activity that could hardly be passed off as an indiscretion. Bad manners are often overlooked in good athletes.

What a strange thing it must be for those high toned runners to come back to a place where "normal horses" dwell. It must seem, at least to some, like a bit of a letdown. Bedding is adequate and clean, but hardly plush. Food is nutritionally correct and appropriate to the level of activity for each horse, but I'm sure the rations seem incredibly skimpy comparatively. Gone are the drugs and the supplements and the rubdowns along with the workouts that make these things necessities and not luxuries. Nobody has a personal groom back at the "normal horse" barn, and you'd better mind your manners too.

Of course, the successful stallions retire from the track to try their luck at breeding, as do the best fillies and mares (the better deal certainly goes to the studs here, I think). Life is not quite as posh perhaps, but if you do your job in the reproduction department and are easy to work around then you're a success as breeding stock goes.

Good owners and breeders also give a special place to their big time babies who can't reproduce. I have, for instance, seen the divine Lord Nelson at home and can tell you that he is every bit a racehorse even in his retirement. This is a reward he richly deserves and one can hardly imagine him trucking around Pony Clubbers for their D levels, even in the far-distant future. It is as a great delight to see Lord Nelson being Lord Nelson in the paddock at home as it was to watch him run (31 starts, 15-9-3,600K in earnings,in case you were curious).

So what would happen if I came off the track, with a so-so record, so-so earnings and no potential as a broodmare? My training is decent, my manners passable and I'm sound-ish in mind and body. But I'm no show horse and I'm certainly a bit mare-ish. I won't give up my cushy bed or ample feed willingly either so finding me a placement in the "real world" could prove challenging. The one thing I do have going for me is the fact that I love to work. That has to be worth something...

Monday, August 31, 2009


A long time ago a good friend of mine, a person who was a bit of a mentor really, cornered me and asked me a lot of hard questions about where I was going with my life, who I thought I was, what I intended to do with my potential and what I was really passionate about. At 21, I didn't have answers that really satisfied either of us and it all turned into a bit of a mess because I didn't know how to react other than by getting defensive.

Still, I learned something that I didn't grasp immediately then but came to understand as the years went by. What I was told by this older and wiser person about life (and about myself) was this: You can say you love all you want, but without commitment you don't really love anything.

True love should put you into a place where you constantly examine and evaluate yourself and your contribution to your beloved. What can I do better? What do I have to give? What does he/she/it need? How can I serve? Am I willing? This can be about anything, from the romantic (a lover, a spouse) to the specific (a goal, a cherished dream), and many things in between.

In some ways, I think negotiating this sort of emotional terrain is easier for people with kids. Having a child sorts things out for people rather tidily, or at least it appears to from where I'm sitting. Sure, you parents probably still have loads of doubt in relation to yourself and your interactions with the kid(s) and all the rest, but you know (or you ought to) that you are absolutely there for them.

In that commitment, in that willingness to serve, you meet yourself and you learn quickly that there isn't so much time left for you and your ego and your half-assed ideas. People, your people - the ones you created - need to be fed and changed and cared for and loved. There's no real philosophy about it, it's just getting shit done with as light a heart as possible.

You can read books, you can go to classes, you can commune with others in a similar situation but, at the end of the day, what you really must do is greater than the sum of any and all of your intellectualizing. It's not that you don't think, it's that what's more important is just doing. Your theories need to wait until your practice is through because somebody is hungry, has a cold, needs a hug, etc.

My joke about having kids is always that I come from a line that no breeder would, in good conscience, pursue and I knew about the same time as my well-meaning friend was giving me the gears about finding and following my passion that I wasn't going to have kids.

An interesting and unexpected off-shoot of my getting back into horses was the dawning of the notion that maybe I still needed to have children, just not the conventional human type. I realized that I craved that same kind of devotion and servitude in my life and that I could offer it most sincerely and honestly to horses.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Face

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's feeling useless. This is why I am a first-class putterer and someone who's always looking for a job. If I see an opening to get involved, to lend a hand, to make something better, I'm generally inclined to take it. I couldn't go to Wynn's and call myself a New Stride volunteer just standing beside Regal and contemplating life so I got into working with the other horses. As I mentioned, my two favourites were Platinum Trick and 'Nash', or 'True Face' to the Jockey Club.

Nash could best be described as a sensitive soul. The first day I brought him into his stall to groom him he presented as 100% adorable. He actually fell asleep as I brushed him and fussed over him. His lower lip went slack and he dripped drool over the stall door, half asleep and immersed in all the attention. It was hard not to hug him, though I didn't want to disturb his reverie.

On paper, Nash should have been a racehorse. In reality, he was just a long, lanky, sweet and maybe slightly neurotic baby with two bowed tendons and a very big heart. Life doesn't always go exactly as planned, but Nash dodged the auction and extinction and found himself a ward of New Stride and a friend of mine.

What do you do when you don't live up to others' expectations of you? I suppose, ideally, you get down into what you expect from yourself - after you've explored the various regions of that thing which is 'I' and mapped out who you are a little.

In the case of Nash, who is a horse and therefore almost always consummately honest while also almost entirely dependent, you don't have so much time for philosophizing. You just be.

What you must do though is trust that you can find a place in the world where you are wholly accepted for what and who you are and ultimately loved for all of it. That, I suppose, is a little bit universal. Don't we all want that really?

Nash is safe and, despite appearances, sound. There is enough beauty in his soul to make up for the blemishes on his body. In the spiritual sense, he is absolutely perfect. Just watch him carry this young girl so carefully and remember that he is only 5 and very green:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


**Speak little of that which is ever invisible.
Let the mind probe into its hidden secrets:
The power of each psychic Centre will come of itself,
And it is spontaneous as the rising sun,
Though the dross of mind and spiritual blinkers
Cause the esoteric powers to remain ever hidden,
When the faculties of awakening and joy
Explode, all that was hidden becomes known. **

The quote above came attached to an email from my beautiful, spiritual friend and sister, Nitya Giri. Something about these words spoke to me in relation to my own journey, so I share them here with you.

Things weren't going well with Regal. They weren't going well with me either,which was about 70% of the problem. If I were able to come to the table without a huge pile of baggage dragged in from the pressures of work and an often frustrating hour commute to get to my 'happy place' I could probably tune in a lot more. Regal Spacific, the poster boy for 'special case', was about to teach me a Master Class in self-examination and humility.

By not being a strong leader, I gave him room for doubt and challenges. By not being centered myself I could provide him no solid center either. Clearly, I was not the person to train this horse. I simply wasn't fit.

All I had to give Regal was my presence in his life, for whatever it was worth, and I was highly committed to that. Even if I drove an hour each way to spend 30 minutes just looking at him in the paddock, I would go. Not because he needed me, but because I needed him.

Horsemanship is such a highly centered activity. It's no surprise that riders develop such a good core, physically and mentally. In addition, there's that ever-present element of self-examination, which is far more esoteric. This is not critiquing how you look or how you did on your last round or test, but really going over what you brought into your every interaction with a horse. That's real horsemanship and really, really good therapy.

It must have been very strange for Regal to suddenly find himself expected to emotionally nanny an adult woman. It's not at all strange that he might have failed to initially demonstrate a knack for this. He was used to being the baby, the orphan, the troubled one, the center of attention; and then along came I - somebody who needed something from him that he didn't understand and wasn't prepared to give.

I remember reading this article on relationships once that discussed disappointment as an opening for a fresh start. If I was going to use that sort of opportunity in my relationship with Regal, it was clear to me that I would need to stop feeling sorry for myself, start being realistic and find a solid place in the center of myself to build on for both of us.

So I went there to see him, almost religiously, and did nothing, asked nothing and expected nothing more than to find myself present in the moment and the company of another who, like me, was in the process of becoming, again.