The woods outside my windows, Began to transition from velvet night, To a new day covered in snow. Muted tones of brown and needle greens contrasted, With the brilliance of the gift of new snow. Going out Mocha signaled her joy. By rolling in the downy covering. Fat flakes covered my shoulders and head, As I slid back the big barn door. Cyra was standing in her stall, Beseeching me with patience, For her morning grain. My love for her poured from my soul, Into her different colored big soft eyes. I slipped her riding halter, Over her big shaggy head. I led her to the mounting block, Already covered in a deep layer of snow. As we made our way down the drive, I saw that the town plow had not been by. Two tracks from a morning commuter, Were all that greeted us on Woodman Road. It would have been a day for horse and sleigh, Cyra’s round tracks would have no companion, Parallel runner tracks was not for this day. With radiant joy Mocha was positively aglow. Silence was our companion until, The sound of two winged beings, Greeted our ears as we walked. A crow caw and the drone of an airplane, Made me wonder at their choice of flight, On this very stormy winter’s day. Turing at the new house perched on the marsh, I headed home with snow now coming into my face. I felt little bursts of cold joy, As each flake landed on my warm skin. Nearing the barn we heard Teddy’s cry. A pleading tone expressed his sadness. We’re almost home Teddy I whispered. With confidence in Cyra’s studded shoes, We picked up a trot to end out this morning, When we got out before the plow.
Cyra’s studded shoes crunched on the ice as we made our way down the barn driveway. Behind us Teddy let out a whinny to express his despair at being left behind. When we reached the marsh, I could just hear the water of Meadow Brook as it flowed under the ice.
The damp air carried the sounds of the turnpike miles to our west. A single crow called off to the east. Mocha ran parallel to us in the fields to our left. I could hear the whisper of her passage over the crusty snow. We passed a house where I could hear the barking of a dog inside, alerting her mistress as to our presence.
I could no longer see Mocha so I called to her. I was between two houses facing each other on opposite sides of the road. My voiced echoed off the houses in my calling Mocha. Far out of sight and out of sight in the clouds a twine engine prop plane passed over us.
We turned around at the new house overlooking the Thurston Wildlife Marsh. I could ducks calling from the still open water of the marsh. One of Cyra’s hooves slipped on hard ice and made a skittering sound until the studs caught on the frozen dirt of the road.
Cyra sneezed startling me out of my moving meditation. Blue jays called from a grove of poplars to our right. I could hear the tires of an approaching car before I could see it coming from the direction of the barn. The sound of a big rig using its air breaks on a road far bigger and busier that the one Cyra, Mocha and I were on.
The rattling sound of the town dump truck and its plow rig came from behind us just as I spotted a school bus coming towards us. The School bus turned into Durham Road. It did not pass us. The town truck slowed down and waited for us to turn in at The Blackburn farm. I saw that Hannah’s car was running and heard her say, “Good morning Michael” as Cyra and I passed her sitting in her car.
As we neared the barn, Teddy let out a plea for our return. I clucked my tongue. Cyra picked up a brisk trot. The sound of her footfalls changed with her upward transition of gait. I dismounted. I scratched her neck as a thank you. I led her into the aisle of the barn.
Her studded shoes made a grinding sound as she walked on the cement floor of the barn. We passed into a stall onto the rubber mats. The sound of her hooves changed again to a muted whisper. I untied her halter. I slipped it off her shaggy head. I gave her one more scratch before she walked out of the barn into the barnyard.
I went down to the barn at approximately 7:00 am. It was not quite day yet but it was also no longer night. As I neared the barn, the heady aroma of large animals came to me in the cold winter air. Mocha was bounding through the new eight inches of snow to keep up with me. Cyra and her barn mate, Teddy, were out in the pasture. They were standing in the small stand of pine trees at the far side of the pasture. I grabbed Cyra’s riding halter and trudged through the new snow to get to them.
I gave Cyra’s shaggy neck a strong scratch before I slipped the rope halter over her nose. I noticed to my dismay that her forelock and leg feathers were full of burrs. Walking back to the barn with her I resolved not to take her out for our New Year’s ride until I had removed the burrs from her hair. When we entered the barn aisle with its concrete floor, Cyra’s studded shoes crunched on the hard surface. Mocha trotted after us, barking at Cyra to let her know she was herding her into the barn.
I pulled apart the burrs with my fingers as Cyra stood patiently, enjoying her hand grooming. I finished off my chore with a mane and tail brush, swept up the aisle and led my friend out of the barn and to the mounting block. I had added last year what I call my Senior Risers to the mounting block. These consist of 4×4’s attached to the bottom of the block. Because Cyra is so short (not technically a horse, she is a draft pony), getting on her is a joy. I always ride her bareback so when standing on the top stair of the block I actually am higher that her back. It makes this old man smile every time I get on her.
Walking down the driveway, I gave her a choice at the end to go either left away from the public road or right towards Intervale Road. She chose right. Mocha danced along side of us on her own adventure. The sky was a brilliant blue with the just rising sun about to clear the trees. The morning sun made the newly fallen snow a blinding white as we crunched down the road. Cyra was alert but a willing participant in our new year’s adventure. When we neared the Blackburn Homestead, she decided to turn in for a visit. No one was out as it was still early. We left our tracks to give them clues as to our visit.
When we returned to Woodman Road and neared the Bolduc’s driveway, Cyra became agitated and attempted to turn to go home. Having a physical “discussion” with a thousand pound plus animal while on her back is an interesting challenge. First comes strength and next comes patience. With considerable force (no bit in her mouth so all pressure is on her nose) I hauled on the reins to head her back in the direction we were originally headed. I asked her to stand. I took several deep breaths. I waited. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, I soothingly asked her to walk on. She had shifted in her mind to accept my agenda and off we set.
With no more complaints from my partner, we made our way past the Thurston Wildlife Marsh and up the rise overlooking the marsh. Cyra continued to show interest in every driveway we passed but did no more “dancing” in the road. When a vehicle approached us, I called “Over” to Mocha and she trotted to our side and sat when asked. In a stand of poplars, we heard blue jays talking to each other. The low dawn sun cast a long shadow of Cyra and me on the white road. I, like Cyra, rode with awareness. My motto in riding is “Loose and Light”. Loose on the reins and light on her back. Combined with an awareness of her body language and the world around us, we did OK.
When we got to the Pierce Farm, we turned into their barn road, turned around and headed home at a trot. Trotting bareback requires one stay as centered as possible. The movement transmitted from a moving thousand pound animal is considerable. With no stirrups to ground the rider, he or she must find a place of balance that is kind to one’s mount and keeps the rider over the horse’s core. The temptation is to clench one’s thighs but this prevents the rider from finding a physical harmony with the horse. It is a workout for both of us but great fun too. I let her choose her transition, coming down into as walk when she was ready. We would walk for a hundred yards or so. I would cluck my tongue and of we would set off at a fast clip. Mocha “Dog Trotted” beside us.
When we got to Durham Road we slowed our pace to a relaxed walk. I closed my eyes. I let the reins go slack. Cyra knew the way home. There would be no more trotting. She was not so anxious to get home that I could trust her not to bolt for the barn (she has never done that). I trusted her to take me home safely. I counted her strides for a while as a sort of moving meditation. I let that go and just relaxed into the movement of Cyra’s body. I felt when she turned into the barn driveway. I opened my eyes. We were home. We had seen in the new year and new decade just as I had hoped. I felt so blessed. Michael Fralich Norumbega Farm
We had gone a slightly different and longer route for our morning outing. We turned right instead of left out of the barn driveway. Cyra’s steel spiked shoes crunched on the frozen dirt of Woodman Road. Up the Cider House Road we went, and then into the pine stand on the corner of Woodman Road and Meadow Lane. Cyra’s shoes now landed on the frozen duff of the forest floor. Mocha’s paw whispered in the light coating of snow on the ground.
Our morning ramble took us along the ridge overlooking the orchard and the now empty hog house. The winter sun was a brighter spot in the otherwise gray sky. Passing the Cider House we entered the woods once again riding to and then over Ben’s Bridge below our parent’s chapel. Cyra’s shoes bit into the wooden deck. A crow called in the distance. A woodpecker hammered out a morning tattoo in search of bugs on a tree we could not see. Mocha drifted in and out of our sight lines as she did her own exploring of Norumbega’s woods.
Snaking our way through the forest, Cyra suddenly stopped. I had not asked her to stop. This was her choice. This rarely happens. I was in no hurry. I did not ask her to walk on. Instead, I stilled myself as well. I watched her as she watched and listened to the woods. I could not see anything or hear anything that would have caught her attention and caused her to stop. She was not nervous. Her winter fuzzy ears moved around as if to catch the sound of something only she could hear. Her big head slowly drifted from side to side, sweeping the view from where she stood. Mocha was nowhere to be seen. Curious, I let her stand until she decided she had had enough of stillness and was ready to end her reverie and move on. I can only guess what she was thinking. I savored our stillness until she decided to resume our walk.
I could not say how long we paused to stand in the quiet woods. In retrospect, I am sure the sense of duration has taken on more than the reality. What I do know is that in choosing to stop, Cyra reminded me of my need to stop and really see the world around be. That she had only done this a handful of times in our nearly twenty years together added importance to her equine communication to me.
We reemerged onto Woodman Road. We walked down to the grassy verge surrounding Talking Brook. As was our pattern, we picked up a canter for the last fifty yards before coming back to a walk to climb the slope of the icy driveway. We always find magic together on our morning rides ( I have ridden twenty mornings in December so far ) but this morning reminded me that there is always new magic to be discovered when one slows down to listen….Micheal Fralich Norumbega Farm
I am sixty-six years old. I have had many jobs in my working life. For all of those jobs there was a commute. On a few occasions I have lived close enough to my job to walk to work. Those were times I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my walks to work were city walks full of the sights sounds and smells associated with city life.
I once lived in Brookline also in Massachusetts and had a job as a landscaper in Newton. I rode my bike to work to that job. For this commute I had to stay very focused on my surroundings as I shared the road with many cars. That wasn’t as pleasant as my walking commute but it was still outside and I still was a part of the world around me. As such I could still see, hear and smell what the world had to offer.
For a time here in Maine where I now live, I commuted to work on my motorcycle. This still allowed me to be a part of the world I was passing through even though I was now traveling at the same speed as the cars around me. On a motorcycle the rider can still smell and hear things that would not be possible to experience while traveling in a car.
Then of course for years I also commuted in a car. In a car the driver is passing through the world and is not as much as a part of that world as one would be on foot, bike or on a motorcycle. Now at the end of my working life, I have a job that involves horses. My mare is an active participant in the work that I do. I now commute to work by horse.
I live in rural Maine in a town of under five thousand people. The town is New Gloucester. All of the roads around our three hundred acres are dirt. I have seven miles of trails on my own land. I work at an equine assisted psychotherapy practice at a farm approximately one mile from where I live. If I am short on time, I can ride on the road and be at work in about twenty minutes, fifteen if I ask my mare, Cyra, to trot and canter part of the way.
When I am efficient in doing my morning chores, I leave between forty-five minutes and an hour for my commute. This allows me to thread my way through the woods and fields between where I live and where I work. This alternate route puts me on a road for only about fifty feet. My favorite back-co
untry commute takes me deep into our woods. I cross a stream, several stone walls, slog through muddy stretches of trail, over a wooden bridge I built with my son and then pick up an old abandoned county road that gives us multiple opportunities to canter if we so choose. The forest looms over us forming a green tunnel through which we pass.
We occasionally see deer on these rides as well as wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and many squirrels and sometimes woodchucks. We have heard coyotes talking to each other off in the distance. We are always serenaded by numerous birds whose homes we are passing through. At the end of our ride, we come out of the woods and pick up a trail that takes us along the edge of a fifty acre hay field that is now lush with soon to be harvested grass and clover. Here we exchange a green canopy of leaves for a blue often cloud studded dome of sky. These rides are rich in sights, smells, sounds and tactile stimulation as we frequently brush by and under branches of trees. I ride Cyra bareback and so am in intimate contact with her body as it moves under me. She has a very full mane and I frequently grab two handfuls of her hair for stability if we are cantering or going over rough terrain or up a hill.
For a lifelong horseman, these rides are a dream come to life. It never gets old being on Cyra deep in the quite peace of the forest. In winter, our work keeps us at the farm after dark. On moonless nights we make our way home either under a dome of stars or on cloudy nights in darkness so black that the road is a barely discernible gray line stretching out in front of us. On nights with a moon we slide into the woods in the gray moonlight. In the woods, the ethereal light is just enough to find our way. In the fields I feel like We are bathing in light so different than that of day that magic always seems close at hand.
I have to close this reflection with praise for my equine partner. We have been a team for over ten years. She trusts me. I trust her. She knows the way to work and often I will drop the reins of the rope riding halter I made for her (no bit in her mouth) and let her take me where she knows we need to go. I sometimes ride with my Native American flute, playing tunes from my heart to the world we are passing through. I know that I can do this and trust that we are OK with her on auto-pilot (who needs a self driving car when one has a self driving horse?).With Cyra I have come to a place in my life that fits me so well that I have to pinch myself at times to know that this is real. I am a very lucky man.
It has been many months since I have sat at my computer to reflect on my life at Norumbega Farm. Much has transpired since I last wrote. It would be futile to attempt to summarize what has transpired since my last entry. The cycle of the seasons marches ever forward whether or not we pause to take note of the passage of time. What I can say that I have done with more discipline than I have mustered for my writing is to daily try to change the way that I view the passage of time.
Over a year ago I was introduced to a teacher of meditation by the name of Andy Pudicomb. A Brit who has studied Tibetan Buddhism for years, Pudicomb took his vows to become a Buddhist monk and resided in Buddhist monastery before coming to the realization that he wanted to share what he had learned with people outside of his world of fellow monks. He moved back to the United Kingdom and created an app for users of smart phones called Headspace.
Through this app subscribers can choose many customized guided meditation “packs” to address areas of struggle in their lives. Examples include but are not limited to: balance, stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem etc. The Headspace subscriber chooses the pack he or she wishes to focus on, chooses the length of the session and then hopefully incorporates the meditation into a daily practice. Andy guides the student through the process also leaving space in each session for silence.
A fair question to ask of me would be how this meditation practice has changed the way I view the passage of time. The answer is both simple and complicated at the same time. The simple answer springs from the root of Andy’s teaching and in fact the root of all meditation practice, mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment to the exclusion of all other moments, past and anticipated. When practiced successfully, the past falls away and the future does not exist. The current moment is all that exists.
The complications arise from the fact that we human beings find it very difficult to “turn off” our thinking brains and truly inhabit only what is currently happening in each precious moment. With Andy’s guidance, I have found a pathway to glimpse the possibility of this amazing ability to truly just be where I am without analyzing how my past has brought me there or where I might be going in the next moment. I do this by focusing on my breath.
We all have to breath to live. Our bodies do this for us. We do not have to think about it. It just happens as an automatic system to keep us alive. Rarely had I taken the time to observe my breath and use it as a tool to combat the spinning of my overactive brain. Now that I have this simple but powerful tool in my possession, I am able to slow down my thoughts, put aside my past, not fret about my next task and just relish what my life is experiencing right now. Time takes on a new meaning when there is only “right now.”
Of course I will never master completely this way of being. I would not choose to if I could. There are times when my past should inform my present. There are times when the future must be planned for. What I do strive for is a way of being in my journey that does give me the ability to truly be present for the magic that happens in every moment of my life if I am but awake to see it.
With Andy’s guidance I can stop time and just be a witness to the wonderful mystery that is my life.
I have been a horseman since I was a teenager. I began my riding at a resort in Virginia called The Greenbriar. I had gone there with my family. I don’t remember much about that first ride other than my horse sneezed when I was in the saddle. It scared me to the point of never wanting to get back on a horse again. Fortunately, that did not happen. I went onto ride in many places during my youth and later as a young man in my twenties. When we were first married and living in Boston I would travel out to Concord to ride out of a barn there. I gained the trust of the barn’s owner and was given permission to fetch an horse and go on my own on the trails in the adjacent countryside. I rode a Belgian mare whose name escapes me now but the memory of our rambles lives on.
We did a spell in Ann Arbor when I went back to college at the University of Michigan. There I leased a horse at a barn in Hell (small town near Ann Arbor, not the legendary Hades). Again my mount’s name escapes me but I do recall that he was prone to spooking at anything white that we came across on our rides. It could be a discarded fridge or even a scrap of paper by the trail but he never failed to think he was about to be eaten by a monster and would launch himself sideways with no warning. I learned to be ever vigilant for all things white.
Fast forward to the present day. I now am the owner of two horses. Cyra, my mare, is a cross between a Clydesdale and a Newfoundland pony. She looks like a miniature Clydesdale but in fact is small enough to be still technically a pony. I also own a gelding by the name of PJ who is 16 hand Tennessee Walker. It is an interesting pairing, the pony and the big rangy gelding but I love them both very much for the very reason that they are so different and provide me with very different riding experiences. Cyra is very steady and slow. PJ is spooky and fast. It is Cyra I am going to write about today.
I work at a barn about a mile from my farm. Both of my horses are involved in the work that I do. I am the co-founder of an equine assisted psychotherapy practice called Healing Through Horses. I ride PJ to work on Tuesdays and Cyra to work on Thursdays. With Cyra’s broad back, short stature and even temperament, I choose to ride her bareback. Sitting on her is like sitting in a warm overstuffed easy chair. PJ is too tall, too bony and too hot for a bareback ride. I ride him in a western roper’s saddle. On Thursdays our sessions go till after dark so our ride home is in the dark. I have equipped myself with the same lights a bike rider would wear, white in front, red in the back. The rides home after dark are always different. There are some nights when there are no stars or moon and perhaps even some fog. Those nights are very interesting as I have to trust Cyra to not be bothered by the sudden appearance of the headlights of oncoming cars and trucks.
Several weeks ago we made our way home not on a dark cloudy night but a night filled with stars and a nearly full moon in a cloudless sky. It was so bright, I turned our lights off. I normally ride home on the roads at night but this night was so bright that I decided to thread my way through the woods and fields to get back to my home barn. Coming out of the driveway at work, feeling the warmth of her body under me, I turned her toward home for a short stretch before disappearing into the moonlit woods. Riding by moonlight is a wonderful experience. The light is so ethereal that it feels as though you have entered into another world, similar to the day world but strangely different as well. Everything is softer with muted shapes and light that tricks the eyes into seeing things that are not there.
We crossed an open field at one point and the snow glowed softly in the moonlight. The apple trees that dotted the field seemed eager to transform themselves into other forms. I half expected to come across sleeping deer under those trees but did not. I grabbed a handful of Cyra’s thick black mane and picked up a trot and then a canter. Cyra’s hooves threw snow into the air in swirls at her feet. She was wearing a string of sleigh bells and the tinkling sound of the bells added additional magic to the already mystical ride. We reentered the woods at a walk, making our way though the dusky pines. We were soon back at the barn, welcomed by the whinny of PJ. I slid off her bare back, gave her thick neck a hug, fed her a treat and led her into the barn. It was a ride I will not soon forget. Michael Fralich firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifteen years ago I came home one afternoon from my teaching job at the Gray New Gloucester Middle School to find a flock of four geese sitting in my barn driveway. I had kept chickens for years but I had never had geese. I had no idea where they came from or what to do about them. Chickens I knew. They lived in a coop in the barnyard. I raised them for eggs. They went into their coop at night and I closed the door. Being an animal lover and knowing that I would learn as I went along with these new additions to the farm, I began to offer them food and water.
They seemed to settle in quite nicely. They didn’t mind the horses and the horses, although curious, didn’t seem to mind them. They were all white and after some research I determined that they were a breed called Pilgrim. While you cannot tell the sex of a goose by external characteristics, behavior is a guide. All of my new geese seemed to be getting along just fine with no one goose standing out as dominant. This led me to believe they were all females with no male or gander.
Word in the neighborhood got out that I now had geese and I was approached by a local family who had a gander that was looking for a home. This gander was a Toulouse which has dark varied plumage. I agreed to take him on knowing that this would likely result in my having more geese at some point down the road. I had a goose house built for them which they studiously ignored, preferring to claim the barnyard as theirs. When winter rolled around, they still ignored their house and would camp in the barnyard in the foulest weather, heads tucked under wings riding out even the worst of storms.
When spring came, they began to lay eggs and it became a tradition for the kids to take an egg to their teacher as a gift. They ultimately hatched out multiple clutches of goslings. Our children were in grade school at the time and were fascinated by the babies and were afraid that if I left them to fend for themselves, even with their parent’s protection, they would be taken by predators. We decided to take them from their parents and keep them protected. The babies then imprinted on our kids and would follow them around the farm like feathered puppies. They would take them for walks down to the brook to give them a chance to swim and then back to the farm and their house. They were a cross between their white moms and dark dad and were a lovely mottled color.
As the years rolled by more geese raised made it to maturity and the flock increased in size to at one point just shy of twenty individuals. When our kids were no longer kids, we let nature manage the flock and there were some years when no babies made it to adults. In the spring when the geese were laying but not sitting yet, I would collect the eggs to have for breakfast. One goose egg made a dandy meal. Our daughter once collected enough eggs to make a platter of hard boiled eggs from them. It was quite impressive as goose eggs are easily four times the size of a chicken egg.
The geese that did survive to adulthood were of course not all females. Ganders were added to the flock which made the flock dynamics interesting to say they least. In the spring the barnyard was a raucous place as ganders fought with other ganders for the right to breed with the females. A dozen geese all honking at each other is a sound not to be forgotten. We had a gander one year who decided that it was his job to either bite me in the butt when I wasn’t looking or to bite the tires of the school bus as it stopped to pick up kids. He met his end under the tire of a truck one sad day.
One of our geese once developed an infected foot, Bumble Foot we discovered was the name of her condition. I made the perhaps foolish decision to treat her and took her to the vet. He gave her a shot of antibiotics and sent us home with ten preloaded syringes to continue her treatment. My sainted wife opted to be the holder of the goose while I was the shooter ( I had to inject her breast with the medicine). She recovered nicely but I don’t think my wife ever did. It was at that point that we learned that geese can live to be thirty years old.
Our present flock numbers twelve. All of the original flock is gone. They roam the property at will adding their voices to the symphony of sounds at the farm. Some have died of old age, some have been taken by predators (fishers will kill a goose, take its head and leave the body untouched). Our current challenge with the geese centers around our two dogs, Mocha and Sadie. They are English Shepherds and are hard wired to herd animals. They have taken to herding the geese off the farm. The geese were taking up residence in the middle of the road much to the sometimes amusement and sometimes chagrin of our neighbors. I built them a pen, moved them back onto the farm and into their pen but the dogs have continued to drive them out (the geese are capable fliers when pushed). As of last week, the geese have taken up residence in the marsh opposite the farm. There is open water there. They are out of the road. The dogs will not go there as it is outside of their Invisible Fence. I am walking to the marsh and throwing them cracked corn each morning. Everyone seems quite happy.
Life at the farm is never boring.
Postscript to my geese journal….. February 3, 2016
Since I completed my entry concerning my geese there have been some new developments that I would like to touch on. When I went down to the marsh last week to scatter some cracked corn for my errant geese I was shocked to discover that six out of the twelve were missing. It seemed unlikely to me that a predator or predators would have taken six adult geese in twenty-four hours. There was no sign of struggle, no blood or scattered feathers that would have indicated an attack had taken place in the marsh. I heaved a sigh, fed the remaining six geese and went on with my day.
The next day when I went down to scatter cracked corn I was dismayed to discover that all of the geese were now gone. Again, no sign of struggle, no blood, no feathers. I could not hear any sounds that would indicate that they had just gone further into the marsh. They were just gone. Twelve healthy, adult geese each weighing approximately fifteen pounds, had simply vanished. I was left to ponder their fate for several days before I saw three of my flock on the road near the barn.
I the intervening days, I have been on the lookout for the remainder of the flock to no avail. I have not heard any sounds that would indicate that the other nine gees were anywhere in the marsh. I have been leaving food in my enclosure with the gate open and have had luck walking them into their new space several times but when I go to the barn to do the morning chores, they are always gone.
I am perplexed about the fate of most of my flock and it is entirely possible that I will never know what happened to them. Stay tuned for updates. I will share any new news as I have it.
It had snowed the night before. It was a light fluffy snow that had had gently settled onto the earth. It filled the crevices and depressions in the forest floor. It left a thick insulating blanket over the landscape.
The grouse had taken refuge in the lee of a familiar poplar and except for the occasional fluffing of her feathers she did not stir all night. She knew that somehow she was not in danger of being trapped by a heavy wet snow. This light airy blanket could completely cover her and she would be fine.
It had been an easy fall with mild temperatures and plenty of food. Her clutch of chicks were grown and gone. She would spend a solitary winter. She would forage and rest until spring. The drumming of the cocks would signal the change and the time for mating.
For now her life was simple. There were no young to protect and feed. There were no males vying for her favor. The absence of these complicating factors added to her already quiet rest.
The snow stopped sometime during the night. The morning dawned bright and clear. With a sudden rush of energy she burst from her bed. The wind picked up crystalline snow scattered by her exit and swirled it into the air. The sun caught the airborne prisms. It was as if there were thousands of diamonds caught in flight.
She flew to an oft-used perch in the same poplar that had sheltered her during the night. With typical animal patience she sat and surveyed her world before hunger motivated her to move.
It mattered not to her that today was Christmas. She knew a less specific calendar. In her own way she was thankful for her good fortune but no more this day than any other. She had three seasons of successful chick rearing behind her. There was plenty of forage. The owls and hawks had let her be. She was fulfilling her purpose in life. She was content.
Last week I laid out the journey that brought me to found Healing Through Horses with my friend and business partner, Sandy Fletcher. This week I would like to continue that narrative. I will attempt to capture what this new phase of my life has meant to me and the people that we serve.
Years ago I realized that I wanted to dedicate my life to serving the needs of others. I did this first through my volunteer work at Maine Audubon, leading nature walks for them. This led me to become certified to be a public school teacher. This morphed into my becoming certified as a therapeutic riding instructor at Riding To The Top in Windham. After eleven years there, Sandy and I founded Healing Through Horses here in New Gloucester.
Healing Through Horses (HTH) differs from Riding To The Top (RTT) in one key way. HTH partners with mental health professionals to offer counseling to people seeking help with their challenges in life. RTT teaches riding to disabled children and adults but offers no mental health services. At HTH I sometimes teach riding to clients if that fits with their treatment goals but not always. Some clients prefer to just learn how to take care of horses. The work at HTH is always done with two providers and the client My therapist partner, Susannah Harnden, works with the client to address their mental health needs. My job is to keep everyone safe as we partner with thousand pound animals that are hard wired to always be on alert as prey animals for danger.
I will begin to reflect on what this works has meant to me with the fact that I love to relate to those I talk to about HTH. I live a mile from where we do our work. My two horses, Cyra and PJ have their own clients in the practice who look forward to seeing them every week. On Tuesdays I ride PJ to work. On Thursdays I ride Cyra to work. Being a life long horse person to be able to not only do this work in partnership with my horses but also to ride them every week, all year round in the day and at night (our Thursday sessions in the winter end at 6:00 when it is fully dark) is a dream come true for me.
At this time of year when the weather is cool and the bugs are gone, I leave my house with plenty of time to be able to wander through my seven miles of trails on our land to make my way to HTH. This never gets old for me. Every time I throw my legs over a horse, it is magic for me. It is such an privilege to be on the back of these magnificent animals. I never take that for granted. That they allow me to be on them and that they are willing to thread their way through Norumbega’s woods through mud, over stone walls and across streams never ceases to amaze me.
When we arrive at HTH, a different kind of magic begins to happen. In the three years we have been in operation, we have gone from Sandy and me partnering with three horses in service to three clients to the present where we have four mental health professionals working with ten equine partners and eighty clients. Not only to we offer mental health counseling we also have a partnership with Avita of Stroudwater, a facility for elders with dementia. Twice a month Avita brings residents to HTH for interaction with Sammy, one of our Quarter-horses, and Cookie, our miniature horse mare. With the addition of the elders we have clients who range in age from six to ninety-six. We also have a small but growing program for veterans struggling with adjustment back to civilian life.
Before I began this work at HTH I had a deep respect for my horses. I knew how they enriched my life. I knew what joy they brought me in all aspects of my journey with them. To be able to fly across an open field on the back of a galloping horse is an experience that I hope I am able to have in my life for years to come. At age sixty-four, it seems nothing short of astounding that I am still able to do that (bareback on my mare Cyra!). Now that I share my equines with others and am witness to what they are able to do in other people’s lives it has deepened my love and respect for them beyond measure.
I will close with a story about just how profound this work can be. We had a client who I will call Mark (not his real name). A vet who suffered from PTSD, depression and anxiety, he came to us heavily medicated, suicidal, house bound and estranged from his two sons. In six weeks with my mare Cyra under Sandy’s and my guidance, he completely turned his life around. He got off his meds, reconnected with his sons, moved to a better place and enrolled in school. When asked how he was able to make such a miraculous transformation in his life, he replied, “It was all because Cyra accepted me as I was and helped me see who I could become.” I feel so blessed to be able to do work that flows from my heart in service to others and in partnership with my equine companions.