How do I not wear my Tevis buckle?

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As I’ve felt into the post-Tevis attempt, seen friends wearing their Tevis buckle with well-earned pride, I have felt it’s empty spot on my belly, and wondered “How do I not wear my Tevis buckle?”

Staring at my navel and not Tevis buckle spot

We prepare so much for these big challenge adventures. I only imagine myself finishing under the lights, elated and exhausted. I don’t prepare myself for failure, so the inner adventure of Tevis continues post-pull-ride.

Riders tell their stories on Facebook. It’s fun, and useful, to read their blow by blow. Riders who pull “Rider Option” make that clear right up front. “I didn’t get pulled. My horse was fine. I chose to pull out.” On each of these kinds of ride stories, readers comment enthusiastically and supportively, and share them. But the response to the stories of those of us who “got pulled” surprised me as noticeably quiet.  For me, lots of supportive comments, but mostly from non-riding friends.

What is the silence about? I have searched my gut.

I’ve heard from a few “Congratulations on even getting to the starting line of Tevis.” Or “I got pulled on my first 3 attempts at Tevis.” And “There’s always next year.” They are being supportive, with a little hesitation, probably because they are not sure how I am handling my failure. Fair enough. It’s always good to be considerate of people’s tender spots and to protect yourself. But there is something else under withheld comments that my gut has clenched over…

Shame.

“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.”

Brene Brown

“Did I/she take good care of her/his/my horse? Did I/she over-ride my/her horse? Did I/she properly condition and train her horse for Tevis?” “That horse is too big for endurance.” “Am I inevitably hurting my horse, because he is larger than average, by trying to do endurance with him at a competitive level?”

I asked myself these questions, rather pointedly, on the inside, and recognized that warm-shame feeling sloshing around. I thought I was picking it up from the outside, or projecting it outside, too. I defended against it, looking for an external cause of Tru’s dehydration—empty troughs at Robie Park—and then watched closely with Dr. Fielding to see the color of Tru’s first pee. We looked at each other and said “Not that dark. He didn’t tie up after all.” Muscles stayed relaxed. Just dehydration-induced colic. “Whew! I’m not a bad rider,” rippled through me.

Earning Our Compassion

Tevis and my journey with Tru is not the only part of my life where I am grappling with shame and guilt. It’s not even the biggest one. It’s just the one life-changing journey that is all mine. The one where my vulnerability does not involve revealing anyone else’s journey. I say this because it’s true for all of us:  we all have something inside that’s moving us, stuff we’re not talking about, for one reason or another.

“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially:  secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

Brene Brown

And all deserve empathy and compassion, up front, without an explanation. Too often, our culture has us telling our stories to “earn” our friends’ compassion, or requiring people to tell us about it, in order to give them our empathy.

But that’s not really compassion, is it? It’s passing the muster of our own judgement.

We don’t owe each other stories to “earn” compassion. We all deserve the space, respect, support to ride our own rides quietly, and publicly, and to make our own mistakes and learn from them. We all deserve to be loved—with our face in the dirt—and get a hand up.

The Silent Epidemic of Shame

Shame is debilitating. “She is / I am a bad rider, hopelessly inept…She is / I am a bad mother; can’t believe she/I lets her horse/her kid act like that…” Shame is the feeling under the strangely quiet, no comment response. Shame leads to defensiveness, to holding back from our dreams and potential, to bravado that can result in repeated mistakes. Unfortunately, shame, squelched potential, and bravado are rampant in our human consciousness these days…note Putin’s war in Ukraine, the divisiveness in our political discord, bullying on social media, in workplaces, drug and alcohol addiction.

Social worker Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. calls shame the “silent epidemic,” in her bestselling 2007 book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

“We desperately don’t want to experience shame, and we’re not willing to talk about it. Yet the only way to resolve shame is to talk about it. Maybe we’re afraid of topics like love and shame. Most of us like safety, certainty, and clarity. Shame and love are grounded in vulnerability and tenderness.”

Brene Brown

Guilt…Response-Agility

Shaking off the shame left me with guilt-laced questions. If it’s not me (through my horse, my child, my work performance, my monkey mind in meditation, my dog) that is hopelessly flawed, and rather my actions and habits that need adjustment, well that gives me response-agility…questions that can lead to new actions, new habits, new joy on the journey.

No matter how many troughs were out and how much water was in them, I take full responsibility for my horse. He was dehydrated at vet-in, and I was caught off guard. Now I know that even though his parameters came up to indicate hydration within an hour, deep hydration into the tissues takes at least 48 hours. We simply did not have time to re-hydrate for the start. Tevis requires relentless attention to detail from pre-start to finish. Hard as that call would have been, we needed to rider-option pull before the start.

“Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviors…Guilt is holding an action or behavior up against our ethics, values, and beliefs….Shame is focusing on who we are rather than what we’ve done. The danger in telling ourselves that we are bad, a cheat, and no good, is that eventually we start to believe it and own it.”

Linda Kohanov, Power of the Herd

As I bit down on the guilt-laced questions about how Tru and I have been training, I began to see the next level solutions.

We don’t have any other endurance riders to train with, to play leap-frog to induce the competitive energy and the emotionality that we need to manage. How can I improve Tru’s response to my aids, in a competitive situation? How can we both be less emotional? For days, I pondered these questions.

The dressage training we’ve done with Clay Wright and Micaela Love (side pass, turn on the forehand, turn on the hind, one rein stops, circles, leg yields, shoulder-in, walk-trot-canter transitions, forward on an inhale, stop on an exhale) have been perfectly useful. So have the meditations from my Kriya Yoga practice, and the heart breathing and liberty connections I’ve learned with Linda Kohanav. I have seen every bit of these practices improve how we start rides, and even how we started Tevis. It was actually better than I had feared (and waaayyy better than many stories I’ve heard).

What You Focus on Gets Bigger

As I was saddling up for our first post-Tevis ride, Tru was whinnying back and forth with the other horses in the pasture, and it struck me. He is emotional right now. He gets emotional, opinionated and surgy at many junctures on our home trails. I can work with that!

On our way out, when we passed the barn, I set my gaze and body to turn past the barn, and had to add my leg and pick up the reins. In our practice we succeeded in rating a big walk and a slow trot on a loose rein, and exhale to stop. I focused on breathing, relaxing, using other aids before picking up the reins. On the way back, after training, he kept on walking past the barn with just my light calf added in response to his ear-cocked question. Big improvement in just 90 minutes. On our second training, we rated a second, faster trot. On our third, we focused on down-shifting medium trot to slow trot, to walk to halt, on an exhale and half-halt.

It came so fast with Tru. Such a smart, willing, talented horse…so My True Companion. Like he said to me in the pasture post-Tevis “When you get it, in your body, I’ll be there.” I realised we had been doing 90% of the right stuff.

This was another layer of two life-lessons: (1) what you focus on gets bigger; and (2) clear boundaries without emotion. Same for kids, dogs, people. A friend called me on PupPup’s bad habit of circling the horses when he doesn’t have his ball job, “You are making it worse by not being consistent.” Yes, I was. The shock collar I thought I should use was just a way to provide an emotional underscore, but still miss the point. Don’t get mad. Get clear. Be consistent. Inhale, exhale, focus on what is good.

As a personal emotional message, the related feeling of guilt helps us recognize when we’re overstepping boundaries, manipulating, hurting or neglecting others, helping us “course correct” and learn from our mistakes.”

Linda Kohanov, Power of the Herd

At Redwood Ride, Tru was still emotional, but he checked back with me. He relaxed and contained his forward energy into the gaits I set, on my inhales, exhales and a loose-r rein. He walked big all the way out the dyke, horses passing him. He walked up the hill. He kept an even, medium trot when we got out on our own. He still followed too close. More work to do, but darn, it feels so good to see the big positive, to make progress, and to embrace the value, of the space at my belly, where my Tevis buckle is not, yet.

“If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means “First Attempt In Learning”; End is not the end, in fact E.N.D. means “Effort Never Dies.” If you get No as an answer, remember N.O. means “Next Opportunity.”

Abdul Kalam

Humble, Sad, Inspired

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Tevis Rider #127 reflecting…Our first Tevis attempt was exactly what we did not want it to be, and we loved it anyway! We are humbled, tempered, profoundly sad, and inspired!

My heart hurts for the rider and her horse that died painfully in the canyon. Imagining her remembering sends me into tears, and I pray for Divine light and love to surround and uplift her. The astrology for the day said “Be bold, yes! But be careful. Tragic accidents are likely to occur.” And so they did. The cost was too high. It’s hard for me to reconcile, how we do this epic and beautiful thing without that cost again.

For our story, we went up Thursday afternoon to hydrate and ride the start, as we normally do. Tru has a good routine of walking the troughs, drinking from each one. My Tru knows how to tank up. Horses often want to smell and try his part of the trough, as if to say “Why do you like that so much?” There was no water in the troughs Thursday night and Friday morning. He had his buckets in his pen, but didn’t drink much from them, I reflect now.

When we vetted in about noon, Dr. Jamie Kerr pinched his skin and said “Look at that. Pulse 60, Gut sounds C.” Oh crap…Tru has never vetted in, or out for that matter, with those calls. The swallow lecture began “How many swallows to a gallon?” It’s a good one and I’m not arguing, but how…

He drank 64 swallows, ate a bucket of mash in the shade, and an hour or so later, Dr. Mike Witt, with Jamie watching, re-checked him:  40 BPM, all A’s. “Perfect gut sounds; I can hear them at his heart.” Whew, but still…Dr. Mike asked what is different? I told him too much alfalfa? No usual trough walks. “That’s it!” he said. We walked the troughs in the dark Friday, and put two buckets of water in his pen.

Now the start…we gave up our Pen 1 ticket to avoid that rush of big energy, but I was warned that it still happens, and it did. We walked to the back of Pen 2 and exhaled to stop, then walked quietly to the front of Pen 2 and exhaled to stand. The surge with my big boy was all I could do to ride and guide him safely through. We were behind a horse in string of horses, who was not bothered by him behind her. Staying there was probably our only prayer.

Tru drank 18 swallows in Soda Springs creek, 20 at Lyon Ridge, at every opportunity. He ate grass along the trail. He peed very light yellow. He drank 80 swallows at Red Star. He pulsed down to 56 in a few minutes, though it took two pulsers to get a correct reading. I felt him not right. Too calm, not eating. I offered him mash, pushed an apple into his mouth and he spit it out. I offered him carrots and LMF Gold. We mostly walked to Robinson Flat, and I ran the last leg. He drank another 8-12 swallows, ate a bit more grass and peed a dark yellow, just like another horse coming through. He had sweated out that 4 gallons he drank, and more.

Our crew was waiting, ready with ice water sponges. We walked the congratulating gauntlet of crews, friends smiling and waving, to another 8 swallows and then to the pulser. “He’s so low. 56.” So good, Tru and I had agreed he would pulse down to 56 all day. But I knew he wasn’t right, and his heart rate was 62 for Dr. Mike Witt. We took some time to try some things, but as I listened to him, the quiet behind his flanks scared me, and his heart rate was increasing, mucus membranes tacky.

Me kissing Tru in his muzzle for the tube in his tummy

To the treatment vet we went and parked in the shade, under the fluid bags. He pulsed at 52, as soon as we got there, but he also buckled. “Let’s do this quickly, please.” He was dehydrated, and compacted. He could not regain that deep hydration in such a short time to ride out the way he does.

8 bags of fluids, 4 stomach evacuations, a few shots of stuff, some walks, and he was trying to eat my pizza through the muzzle by 8 PM, greeting all the horses to the barn. I was able to leave him and rest 12 hours after we walked into Robinson Flat.

I’m so grateful for…

  • Spreading my mother’s ashes into the blanket of wildflowers in Granite Chief Wilderness.
  • Our crew, Team TRU Joy, who knew not what they were getting into, but gave such uplifting energy, schlepped all the stuff, on time, up the mountain, took care of my family, and stayed with us until Tru turned the corner. They said “Next year!” before I did.
  • My husband, Rick, for knowing where that thing is that I can’t see in front of my face.
  • The volunteers who sponged Tru carefully, who checked pulses, who set up, carried, and handled so many details to put on this Tevis.
  • The control vets, who were informative, firm and caring, especially Dr. Mike Witt, who came down to treatment and “congratulated me” for taking good care of my horse.
  • The treatment vet team, for being thorough, for re-checking when I asked and staying open to dialogue, especially Dr. Langdon Fielding, for his kind attention to detail on loading, making sure Tru’s tummy was empty and the tube open, pointing down, so “his stomach doesn’t explode in the trailer.” Oh, yes! Thank you very much.
  • The fairgrounds vet team for noticing and commenting on how much Tru responded to his “family”. For accepting me being with him, negotiating his care, till he was eating voraciously, drinking deeply and pooping consistently.
  • The Cup Committee members sheparding the show, the Head Volunteers who worked round the clock.
  • All the riders and crew who also work hard to make this thing called The Tevis Cup an extraordinary journey of heart, mind, body and soul.
  • For the friends, like Jenny Gomes, who came and hugged me, and Joyce Sousa, who came by and gave her own brand of realistic encouragement. “If you’re gonna ride, you’re gonna have these days.” She is an endurance legend who has set a high bar in the Redwood Empire Endurance Riders club that started me.
  • The thrill of flying with My True Companion over Cougar Rock!
  • Tru wanting me to just be with him in the pasture the next day.

We have come a long way, but we have emotional work to do with this big hearted boy. We’re looking for the right coach, and continuing our 1,000 mile journey to this 100.

Alas, Tevis was not the only life changing adventure afoot in my life with my smart, sweet, handsome boys. I returned home to my family sick with mild cases of COVID, and me too now. Climbing my next mountain…

My True Companion on Sunday, July 18, 2022 ready to go home.

The Cougar Rock of My Heart

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Our first attempt at Tevis 48 hours behind us, I walked out to the pasture in the hot, dry morning sun of the Sierra Foothills in drought July. I felt the palpable peace of Ananda Village, and the many prayers of friends, holding us gently.

Tru was grazing off in the distance, while his mama Giselle stood dosing and swatting flies at the water trough. She gratefully lowered her head for her fly mask. I gave her a kiss (best smelling horse muzzle I’ve ever known). “Your baby gave his all, and that’s quite a lot, Mama G.”

My Tru Companion summiting Cougar Rock Tevis 2022

I stepped through the dust toward Tru, looking routinely for signs of wellness or distress. Tru whinnied deep and handsome and languidly walked to me, not concerned for anything but his morning belly rub and fly mask. I smiled at memories of his sweet-pitched foal whinny and his urgent teenager whinny. I put my naked ear to his flank and listened to the rumbling world of his gut sounds, feeling a thrilled relief at hearing the gurgling party within.

Not wanting to ask anything of him today, I kissed him and inhaled his warm, herbal scent of sweat and pasture grasses, before starting back up the slope for the barn. The dry grass crackled behind me with his footfalls. He followed me and stopped touching his belly to my breast. He curved his neck round to reach me gently with his muzzle. “Be here with me a little while, my friend.” I draped my arm over his back, and my tears started rolling.

“Thank you so much. You tried so hard. I’m so proud of you….We have to figure out the start….I know now, it’s something inside of me, not just training you.”

“You want to win. That’s what’s inside you, and I want to give it to you,” Tru said, so simply, and nibbled some grass, staying close to me. I’m just a rider, trying, learning, very few competitive miles. I feel small to the 11,000, 27,000 miler riders, afraid of the ego impulses, of what winning requires…searching to define a winning way for us, curious to find out what it makes of me, reaching for the courage to step up to the task of Tevis and of this Tru-ly powerful horse. I called him into this body, for this purpose, for this journey together. How do I live up to him?

I stand humbled by the first try turning out exactly the way I did not want it to. The lack of water in the troughs at Robie Park Thursday night and Friday morning took away his opportunity to do his routine of drinking at every trough in camp. I’m so used to him taking good care of himself that his dehydration Friday caught me completely off-guard. The 60 BPM, slow skin tenting, C’s on gut sounds shocked me. He drank and ate mash and re-checked at 40 BPM and A gut sounds. He drank at least 122 swallows by the time we arrived at Robinson Flat. He ate grass along the way. He pulsed down to 56 at each stop within minutes, just as we agreed. We simply did not have time to recover the deep hydration he needed to ride out his way.

On the start, I sought advice, I trained. No advice was really right for us. None of our strategies for other ride starts apply to Tevis. Mostly, I got sympathy. Seems that most people just don’t know how to solve this one. They either have a “steady-Eddy” or the fight and ride it out horse; both train the best they can, and give it a shot.

At the awards banquet, a good rider told me she is not sure she wants to ride like that again, in the top 10, over the Granite Chief, watching rocks fly, horses misstep and recover as they slide again 6 inches into the deep, fine dust of the treacherous trail, asking her horse to slow down, fighting with him as he gets emotional to catch up. Sounds familiar. The horse who died trotted out of Robinson Flat with The Tevis Cup winner. Only the winner mentioned the loss, the cost through the microphone.

“All feeling, all character, all thought, all life, exist for us only in so far as it can be reflected upon…Stand still where you are, stand alone, isolate your life, and forthwith you are nothing. Enter into relationships…look upon yourself and be looked upon from without, and then indeed you are a somebody, a self with a consistency and a vitality, a being with a genuine life.”

G.W.F. Hegel

Probably the best advice I got came too late for this try…from a rider whose horse stood stabled next to Tru in Barn C. As she waited for her husband to literally come and pick her up, she generously chatted with me: “Try to stay toward the back. In training, don’t let him get up on the butts of other horses, and don’t let horses get up on him. It’s worked so far.” That strategy probably would have been our only chance, given the hydration deficit, but it’s not what we had practiced. Holding back takes energy, maybe more than moving out. The canyons after we pulled, at 120 degrees, would have been more dangerous still. She finished in the last half hour, with a 6 year old whom she had never let go out ahead. “Now, maybe he is ready to go out in front.” Maybe we should not have started at all.

Admittedly, I do not know how to achieve that. In our meditations the weeks before, I could feel the promising possibility of a calm start together. In our dressage lessons, we found lightness, suppleness and power. At the start, he stopped on my exhale at the back if Pen 2. He walked quietly, weaving carefully among the horses and stopped on my exhale again at the front of Pen 2. I had given up the Pen 1 ticket to avoid its big energy rush, but was warned and it happened…

Once the trail was open, horses and mules surged forward, and Tru found a way through on the left. “Sorry,” I called out. “It’s okay,” I heard back. I had to ride with as straight a back as I could, sliding the bit across his mouth, quick jerks up, guide and ride our way through, as safely as possible. We stayed in our lane. We slowed. We surged. With the trail open in front of him, he shied 4-6 feet back and forth across it, emotional to be scouting out front. We felt exhilarated, embarrassed, forgiving, worried, grateful, honored, chastised, everything.

Within a minute or two we were up into the Pen 1 horses. Guide and ride this freight train forward to a spot where we found one horse/rider at the end of a string who was not bothered by us up on her butt. We probably should have stayed there. But we passed with another rider who we thought might be smart about the trail, to relieve the pressure, not wanting to be a problem for others. Slow a bit, give trail, rush to catch up, pass to relieve. Repeat. It was what we could do, this time.

Tru is A LOT of horse—energy, heart, talent, drive. “Managing him” is not enough, not even “it,” perhaps. I was not clear inside on how to ride the horse I have, the emotions we both have in this heady moment. We are still on the journey of a 1,000 miles to this 100.

“You can’t die for this, Tru. Not worth it!”

The worst nightmare flashed through my mind—the stories from riders hearing the horse die in the canyon, one of three horses that went off the trail this year. I can’t write what I heard, in deference to the rider who must be in such agony now. I winced at my own memories of Tru clenching his belly in pain, stomping, pointing at his side. “Mama, it hurts right there. Help me.” I pushed my fear’s drama away, and said to him again “We have to figure this out.”

“We will. I trust you.” He nibbled some choice blades of grass near him, barely taking steps, staying with me, as I held him, my arms around his vast, sleek shoulders, his whither jutting above me—the Cougar Rock of my heart. I cried into his freckled white coat, once star dappled dark grey, astonished, humbled, grateful that my Shagya war horse would still want to be with me more, after all that.

“I don’t want to give up winning,” he said. “I can do this. We can do this. It’s not just my potential we’re living into. It’s yours too. Go figure it out. I’ll be ready when you know it in your body.”

“For now, let’s just go back to grazing, together.”

Team TRU Joy

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Despite all our hoof care failing by mid-April and trotting out 3-legged lame, when I asked him, Tru always gave me an enthusiastic “YES!” to Tevis.

Last December, there were a bunch of little problems that I hadn’t figured out, so I thought we could not make it to Tevis in 2022. “It takes 1,000 miles to figure out a horse for a 100 mile ride,” Jennifer Neihaus told me. Another friendly coach said to me “You can’t do it if you don’t prepare for it.” So I continued with my ride plans and seeking solutions to each issue. I changed a bunch of things in my own body—standing, sitting, walking, running, yoga, Pilates. I tested electrolytes. We changed shoeing several times—thicker shoes, rim pads, barium on the hind toes, Sneakers—each time Tru moving out well, but then showing up lame after the ride. In mid-March, at the Duck rides, he went 125 miles over three days, and really hit a steady stride, gears of 7-16 MPH. We changed to the Total Saddle Fit girth and that was the solution to a bunch of little issues that I had no idea were girth related. Even though a rock imbedded in the sole of his right front and I pulled him from the third day, I was really pleased with his performance. Tevis looked possible.

In mid-April, we switched to Sneakers and tested them over 2-days, 110 miles at Huasna. This would be our decision point, so we planned to stop by Los Caballos Equine sports medicine to have Dr. Muller evaluate with him for Tevis 2022. On the body check, he said he came through quite well, but he was 3-legged lame at the trot, again, in Sneakers.

“We’re going backwards,” I said as I looked at the x-rays. They showed less sole depth and about the same size hoof capsule than when we started this journey two years ago. “I’m very concerned,” said Doc Noel. “He needs to grow hoof to handle the concussion…maybe there are rides you could do in the Fall.”

Spinning this one round and round as we drove home, I sorted the options of what was trying to happen. Tru and Tevis are not the only life-changing journeys I’m on right now; maybe I need to re-focus. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life; did Huasna without even thinking about Ibuprophen; I could catch ride. Good learning experience. But, no, this is about partnership with Tru. I want to do my first Tevis ride on My True Companion. We could ride Fireworks and Tahoe Rim Ride; that would be epic and keep our conditioning going. Boots, hmm, I wonder if we could get some miracle hoof growth?

We met Jacob Cukjati and his horse Dark Sun, last summer in Idaho riding across Top of the World on Tru’s first official AERC 50-mile ride. Of course, we live just a couple miles from each other. Jacob came over the next morning. He glued Easy Care shoes on his fronts and Fury boots on the back. He said, “I think he’ll be fine. You’ve given him a good base of conditioning. Let him rest, get him fat.” My plan was to do dressage lessons with Micaela of Love Horsemanship and steep walks, only one more 50 mile ride. Tru kept telling me Yes, so I said “Let’s ride our plan and see you grow those hooves.”

Over the next couple weeks, several friends sent healing prayers for miracle hoof growth. We took videos and sent them to Doc Noel. “Still a little off on the left circle, but much better than expected!” Another 2 weeks later, with full boots, trotting on hard gravel, “Yep, he’s sound.”

New Springs

Montana de Oro is a gorgeous ride! We intentionally went out slow, then got lost and could not make up those 2 hours to complete, buu-ut 12 miles of deep sand and trying to make time up those steep hills was excellent conditioning. He was sound in the boots! My friend Keziah Jeanne took this picture of the most beautiful horse cloud as it appeared above our camp, which inspired the horse image. It’s an image I’ve been turning over in my mind for a year or so now. Fun to see it take shape!

I had already pulled out of the Tevis Education Ride, but my husband encouraged me to take that next step. A week later, Tru had new springs in his hind end, the best recoveries ever, and was sound in those Fury boots on the Tevis trail.

As we hand-walked into the first canyon, Tru reminded me that we have been riding steep, technical trails alone for many miles. Heck, we have even fallen off one and lived to tell the tale. So that karmic box was checked. No do-over, thank you! Then there’s my mom. She passed before she could live so many dreams. I have friends whose bodies are so sick they can’t ride, and friends who are trying to out-ride their bodies. Loved ones who are losing their memories. Don’t wait; do it while you can is the push inside of me.

I don’t defy our excellent vet readily, but Doc Noel texted back: “Seems like HE is encouraging you to do Tevis. Very cool. And beautiful. Good on ya both.” Team TRU Joy was born.

Tru at the bottom of the first canyon, looking up at the trail saying “Let’s do this Tevis trail!”

The Start

138 fresh horses riding out with the sunrise, single-file down a dusty trail. “We do not get to be in front, Tru.” The start is the only part that worried me. He was hot at the Ed ride, showing me we needed more preparation. Dressage lessons were helping, but I was still nervous.

Last year I began studying with Linda Kohanov, who wrote The Tao of Equus, Riding Between the Worlds, Power of the Herd, The Five Roles of a Master Herder. In her workshop “Beyond Words:  The Art and Science of Sentient Communication,” I learned several simple, yet profound techniques that made my intuitive communication with Tru, and all the horses in our barn, more fluid, fun and functional. That’s how I could “hear” Tru. Practicing the heart breathing and body scan were opening up a whole new level.

As I am preparing to join Linda’s Eponaquest Apprenticeship this fall, I asked another Eponaquest coach about how to prepare for the start of Tevis. She listened to all we had done and said, “Sounds like you’re already doing it,” and added some thoughts from Mark Rashid on “Be the Post.” Then she said, “Since you’re a meditator, how ‘bout meditate with Tru.” I recalled Becky Hart’s advice from the Ed Ride, “Visualize yourself, riding deep in the saddle, sitting straight up, relaxed…”

Quote from a friend, Sudarshan

The next morning I meditated long, and visualized with Tru riding just the way we want to go out, until I could feel completely relaxed and strong in my body, connected with him and riding out relaxed and joyful, in a long line of horse and rider teams, excited to start this epic trail.

The next day, as we walked into the dressage arena, Micaela commented “I really like how he walked in so relaxed and right into frame, no warm up.” Later in the lesson, she said “Last week he was “through” 50% of the lesson, this time 75%.” And the following week, he was moving through his body 90% of the time. All from the meditation, and the changes that cascaded through my body to his.

We had a chance to ride with 3 others on the trail, fast ride, triggering for us both. A great training opportunity it seemed, at first. But as I tuned into Tru, “We don’t need more external trigger training now. Do more on the inside, Mom.” It’s always been that when I can feel it—the aligned position, gait, flexion, pace—in my body, then Tru offers his body exactly the way I’m asking.

The Crew God Gave Us

“You need a crew…Who will crew for you?…Do you have a crew?” I thought I would need several crews:  a crew for my son, a prayer crew, a trail crew. My dearest friend, Leslie Marshall volunteered right away to take on Luc crew. Having his “Bybee” visit would be a treat for him, while I disappeared. That freed up Rick to be the trailer hauler. Lots of people offered to pray for us.

As soon as she heard about Tevis, my barn mate, Gita of Herd Spirit, volunteered. Paalaka had been encouraging us through the hoof growth trial, and recruited our dear friend Sushanti, who is scared of horses (she’ll just help me). My friend, Jeff, who built the trails we ride at Ananda Village, was game. Then Yogesh popped into my head, so I invited him. One person with horse experience, no endurance experience, much less Tevis, but all fit people with uplifting energy.

Huh, that’s so kind of them, I thought. As Tru and I walked along to see the last miles of the Tevis trail we would ride in the dark, tears welled in my eyes and I was overcome with gratitude, humility, and the little thought “Why would anyone want to do this for us?” As I received the kindness of their offering, part of me was healed. “We have the crew God gave us. We can train them. They are the perfect crew for us!”

Gita Matlock, Rick Bend, Kalidas, Yogesh, Jeff Parrish, Paalaka and Sushanti, flanked by Tru and me

My friend Jenny Gomes, who we met at Cache Creek last year and who has completed Tevis a few times, talked me through a framework for crewing. Yes, I can organize this! My list-making-executive-function self was off to the races, full-tilt boogie!

Riding for All to Win

As our world today moans in pain, cries out for justice, muffles into silence and prays for upliftment from old thinking, I feel the privilege of having a horse and riding. Time, money and access that most people just don’t have. To ride a horse I drew into this world, raised and trained, and now as full partners in The Tevis Cup, on the historic Western States Trail, 100 miles in one day, from Tahoe to Auburn—a dream since I first heard about it—is a rare and grand privilege.

It’s an energy-intensive adventure on every level. Guilt sometimes seeps into my mind as riding and preparations compete for my attention to my family, my business, my community, my spiritual practice.

“Why would you want to do that?!” people have asked me with incredulity. The dirt, sweat, pain, not a glamor sport…

As I reach for the answer, the inner journey to Tevis becomes paramount. To raise my energy—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual—to meet the challenge of the trail, with joy, good humor, and care for my crew, for my fellow riders and horses, for the volunteers, vets and officials—and for the nature around us—that is the goal, and the challenge, for all of life today!

Rising to the challenge trains me “To stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds”. To finish with a horse fit to continue, with friendships made and deepened, with memories to cherish, that will be the win for me. And not small, for it has been a long road to this goal, a lot of soul-searching honesty, many hours meditating, and praying, many moments following the flow in faith to the next solution.

“You must train yourself to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

Paramhansa Yogananda

We must uplift the whole world with our good energy. Bless us all, good humans! Let’s live up to the beauty, love and bounty Divine Mother has given us. May every foot fall lightly on the trail of Tevis, and the trail of life.

Say Yes to Life

Fast forward to Death Valley Encounter 2020-21. Since before Tru was conceived, I wanted to do this ride. He was 10 now, and the insulated boots I bought specifically cold desert riding were worn out now. I took Tru back to Dr. Noel for a check on what was really a superficial irritation.

Dr. Noel said “He is one of the healthiest horeses in my practice. Ride!” That gave me confidence. After another saddle adjustment and pad change, I took Tru down to Death Valley with the question:  “Do you want to do endurance?”

As we walked out in the rich orange light of the desert sunrise, Tru looked around at the other horses starting the ride, and said “Yes!” He powered to the front of the line, passing every horse he could smell.

I welcome everything that comes to me as an opportunity for further growth.

Swami Kriyananda, Affirmations for Self-Healing

Tru trotted out in the biggest, boldest stride I have ever ridden. I was moderating his speed as best I could, but he had a statement to make. He relaxed at the walk and drank from every trough as well. Only when I insisted on a short break to pee, and gave him my apple, did he acquiesce to another horse passing.

He won that 23-mile test ride with an hour or so to spare, walked back to the trailer, and ate his favorite PB&J sandwiches, along with about a 100 pounds of hay on that trip.

We met Susannah Jones at DVE. As we passed her that morning, she called out “That’s a Tevis horse!” From your lips to God’s ear, my friend…our dream is alive again.

So often I had wondered if this was a dream I had to give up and what joy would replace it. It’s a material plane goal for sure, but our journey to attain it requires a higher consciousness than just hard work and competitive impulses. My teacher, Swami Kryananda, speaks in this video to a great truth I have tested on this journey. “Say Yes to life”…be open to the flow of grace…whatever comes in life.

Shirlawhirl’s Heartfelt Freedom

Last year, March 6, 2021, my mother passed away (Shirley R. Sesna obituary and Kudo Board). I signed the certification of her trust on my 56th birthday. I didn’t expect her to go. Nor did I expect her to take away what she did:  any habitual excuse for not living into my highest potential.

Picture of Shirley in feather beaded mask.
Shirlawhirl at the Oregon Country Fair

The contradiction

My mother had an adventurous heart and the soul of an artist, dancing and laughing with color. She made an eclectic assortment of friends around the world.

My mother also lived in a box of many self-imposed restrictions, old hurts, insecurities and negative memory tracts. Her Box-of-the-Past-Hurts did not contain her, I admit, but I ran into it’s walls a lot. I was one of the people to whom her Box was most evident, and the contradiction with her playful persona was hard for me to reconcile.

Shirlawhirl could regale people with stories of travel through Indonesia and Fiji with a backpack, dance to live music (the Blues preferably), flit through the Oregon Country Fair in flamboyant costumes, and render the sweetest Teddy Bear Contest Judge for the Corvallis da Vinci Days GRAAND Kinetic Challenge.

Shirley could also make the best contractor cringe with dread, just because she was already so scared, and convinced, that they would take advantage of her. She wore life heavy when she talked to me, when she wasn’t dancing.

The first garage
The plastic dolls who helped us laugh on the many trips to the dumpster

I inherited many beautiful and valuable things from her, lovely memories of adventures in nature, Christmas and lands far away, as well as The Box. It was represented literally by two garages and a basement full of boxes. She printed, reviewed and saved every stock transaction and disclosure statement. Yes, she did. She saved the leftover rice wall paper from the master bedroom she shared with my father in the house they built together; and she saved the papers of the divorce and property lawsuits of 1979 with which their marriage ended. She saved her letters and journals from high school and from travel to cool places. She saved hundreds of satin ribbons won in horse shows, rodeos and parades, mine and hers. She saved incomplete creative projects (perhaps that’s what the plastic dolls were for).

She saved news paper clippings documenting family history, and several key items, like paintings by family artists, the violin that my great-great-great-great grandfather, Dr. Ring, played for he and his brother’s passage on the steamer ship from Norway when they were 14 and 11. Antique guns given to her grandfather, Paul Hunter, who was President Teddy Roosevelt’s personal orderly, appointed a Post Master, and helped to found Save the Redwoods League. A Hupa Indian baby basket given to our great aunt, who was a nurse and served the tribal community in the 1950’s. Handmade dolls carried across the new world in a covered wagon. A photograph of the family sitting on a giant whale bone across the front of the cabin in Camp Weott (a Native tribe in Humboldt County, CA) on the Eel River, before it was washed away by the 1965 flood.

I located all this really cool family history, and culled out the rest, so that I can someday soon create a legacy display of the family.

Much of the stuff was sweet to see. Some of it was incomplete and unsettled, an odd combination of mouldy guilt and anger with a big swirl of joyful nostalgia. Wow, she had moved these boxes with her across two states, two marriages/divorces, and at least seven houses. 

I often felt smothered by the weight of the past she carried, and what she wanted from me. I spent a lot of my life running away from this feeling of being overwhelmed by her history, needs and opinions. I fought with her to breathe my own way through life. This fight restricted my relationship with her, and most of my relationships, actually. It’s been hard for me to trust that intimacy wouldn’t suffocate me. I always wanted her to truly let it go of the past. She always wanted to hold onto everything, to be respected for all she had survived.

“Memory was given to us to keep alive only life’s good experiences and lessons. Get rid of wrong thoughts by avoiding recalling them….To remember bad experiences and dwell upon them is an abuse of God’s gift of memory.”

Paramhansa Yogananda

Really, she seemed afraid that if she lost those representative bits of the past, she, herself, would be lost, and not matter…to me. That was the weight. She really needed to matter to me, and I really did not care…about that stuff. I could not carry the weight of her Box. I cared about her. It took stubborn determination to care for her. Caring for her made me stronger. 

In the hospital, suspicious and cantankerous with the nurses and doctors, she said to me, “I’m not angry.” Incredulous as always, she really could not hear herself or feel the energy she was putting out at people. “I’m just protecting myself.”

So much in common

Strangely, I had just received a neuropsychological diagnosis for my son. “Non-Verbal Learning Disorder” (NVLD or NLD) puts him on a spectrum of “neuro-diverse”. There are common symptoms with high functioning Autism, and Aspberger’s Syndrome, but it’s not. No one I know has ever heard of it. Columbia University is studying NVLD to define it, put it in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Luc having fun with his Grandma ShiShi

Shirley had a successful life in many ways, but the inside scoop I saw was anxiety, relationship challenges, and an extreme effort to manage her life. Luc passes as a typical tween, but I’m living the tumult of his neuro-diversity every day. I feel the same emotional pressure and dis-regulation from Luc that I felt from my mother my whole life. It was an emotional disaster for me to be with both my son and my mother/his grandmother at the same time. They both pulled on me the same way, competed with each other for my energy (probably to co-regulate them, I’m discovering). So many everyday expectations of joyful times with mother and son/grandson just rarely worked out that way.

In the hospital, trying to support her, and to understand, it struck me that Shirley and Luc had similar brains, and that however I am reacting to them is a lifetime karma (learning) for me to unpack. We weren’t able to have a full conversation (we were only able to have maybe 6 conversations of a few minutes), but hearing about the learning disability diagnosis for Luc was significant for her. “Luc and I have a lot in common,” she mumbled to herself as she fell back into a sleep state.

Souls on a journey

“Just protecting myself…” Ah-ha, I understood something, finally, without judgment. What I experienced as suspicion, anger and control was her habit of self-protection. A lifetime habit. But the habit was not her, not him, not us.

I switched to address her soul. “Mom, none of that matters now. Only love matters.” She softened.

I’d been reminding her of this truth for several months now as we walked through the lung cancer treatments. Hanging out in her doctor’s Zoom waiting room, she would try again to talk things through. I knew the conversation would be unresolvable, would just cause her pain. So I explained “On my spiritual path, the past is gone. I love you, Mom. That’s all there is. I love you. Let’s enjoy the time we have together.” That was a turning point, a stake in the ground deeper than I expected.

Ogden and Mom

Now I added, knowing all treatments were ineffective, “They’re all waiting for you, Mom. Your mom, Ruth, Ted, Rodger, Sabrina, Pablo, Ogden…” I named all her family and pets who had passed before her. She smiled so beautifully and looked up. “Really?” she asked, but I could tell she felt, maybe even saw a ray of light. “Yes, Mom, they are all waiting for you.” She laid back, smiling, and rested peacefully that day.

Ruth Hunter Sesna and Shirley Ruth Sesna

Her habit took over again and we went a few rounds in the hospital, but I knew now she was just a soul on a journey, like all of us.

She had done the best she could do in this life: as a girl who had lost her best friend in a tragic accident falling off the back of a horse; as a career woman with significant learning disabilities (self-diagnosed and medicated) and two Master’s degrees; as a person who had been betrayed by people she loved and trusted; as a single woman in a rapidly changing world, who had re-built a life she enjoyed; as an adventurous, creative person, whom many had loved; as the daughter of pioneers who was proud of her family’s history; and as a mother who had loved her only daughter, as best she could.

Shirley and Jacqueline at waterfall in the background
Shirley Ruth Sesna and Jacqueline Ruth Debets on our hike to Silver Falls

I promised to give her life a respectful ending. She asked me to take over. I signed the papers. But she was a fighter all her life. Her habit fought me, to keep her on intravenous antibiotics that were not holding back the aggressive MRSA bug eating her body. Her soul was ready for hospice, ready to be free. I promised to serve her soul, not her habits.

“The secret of love is respect; for while feelings fluctuate, respect can remain a constant. Listen respectfully…Preserve a certain dignity in your relationship: that dignity which gives others freedom to be themselves.”

Swami Kriyananda, Secrets of Love

I am profoundly grateful to have lived loving her wholly, to have seen her, to only feel love for her now…To have realized on the path of life that we are all souls on a journey, doing the best we can, and loving each other is all that matters. It’s all that God wants us to do, all we truly can do. Love is the energy that makes that journey together, matter. 

Beyond the Box

After she passed peacefully, I opened the first garage. With the help of friends, I cleared out, disposed of, and burned most of that old stuff. Deeply and delightfully, I feel I am helping her to lighten her load (and my own), to complete that karmic habit of carrying all the past hurts and sad memories around. Let your soul fly free, Mom. In our next life together, we will play, dance, and ride like the wind.

Her passing also blessed me with her friends. We shared the experience of her as “very particular,” but their experience was much bigger and sweeter. They enjoyed her stories, playing with her, working with her. She supported each of these people to believe in their dreams, to enjoy life, to work hard for success. They credited her with inspiring them to achieve their goals in higher education and to live their dreams of entrepreneurship (like the red cedar altar that now adorns the meditation room in ShiShi’s Cottage for guests to enjoy).

As I’ve opened up her Box and leaned into loving her, my own boxes have dissipated. Since high school, we wanted to raft the white water rivers of Idaho together (she cancelled for a house fire, COVID and then passed before we got there). She wanted to see Tru and I cross the Tevis’ finish line. She planned, and delayed three times, a trip to Bhutan. The Happiness Country. Well, that’s a family habit–delaying the joyful experiences–that I’m shedding, and spreading with her ashes…on the Salmon River, along the endurance trails to a 100 miles over the Sierra Nevada. With gratitude, Mom! I can see her smiling and feel her heart warming in mine.

Dreams I’ve carried on my back burner, inspirations I’ve labelled as “unrealistic,” are emerging. A wise adviser once warned me that every time I shut the door on these dreams, it is “a little death.” I didn’t know how to open my heart then, but I’ve been meditating, immersed in the open-hearted community of Ananda Village, on the ancient path of Kriya Yoga for almost 7 years now. Most recently, I began studying with Linda Kohanov. I’m seeing a subtle, powerful effectiveness applying her heart-breathing with my horses, and with Luc. Something is gestating inside me, heart-felt dreams, a melding to birth something new and transformative, a gift to the world. Thank you, Mom. Welcome 2022.

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.”

Rumi

P.S. After writing this, I listened to a beautiful astrological reading of 2022 energies by Keshava, and found my heartfelt intentions are well aligned with the energies coming our way this year!

The Trust Dividend

About two months before the Fall, Tru and I were working in the round pen to effectually start over. Tru was moving head high and hollowed out, which I guessed to be the muscle memory of all those physical plane pains. I invited natural horsemanship coach, Ezra Morrow, for a consult.

After two hours of watching us, Tru zooming around in circles, Ezra said “He doesn’t trust you.”

Ouch! That was hard to hear. I’ve had Tru since conception. His full name is “My True Companion.”

But there was definitely something there to break through. Ezra instructed me to keep him moving, add energy with turns, until he relaxes. He warned me that I may need to stand there for hours. Ezra left saying “He will show you that he trusts you when he comes into the round and puts his nose on the ground.”

I reflected on comments from Tru’s original trainer, Clay Wright, who worked with him for six months. It took a lot of patience and persistence to break through with Tru, and with his sire, SW Daniel. Clay was still helping Tru relax his carriage when I picked him up.

Clay Wright with My True Companion at 3 years old.

For two months, we worked together as Ezra instructed. A couple times I left him in there, after some progress, and people would call me worried about my sweaty horse zooming around in circles. Eventually, Tru walked, trotted and cantered in a relaxed frame at liberty. At the working trot, he was still tense, feaful, but we had made progress when we hauled to the Canyon Creek trail and fell arse over tea kettle into the river canyon.

Then we had to heal, so it was about a month later, when we went back to the round pen. Tru walked in and put his nose on the ground. He trotted, nose on the ground. I was stunned. His energy was completely different. Ezra’ direction and memories of all the parts of the magical mystery tour that I could not fit together before, came rushing back.

As admitted, I would ask anyone what was going on with my horse. I spoke with two animal communicators, who really could not come up with anything, though one described doing remote bodywork on his back, pulling out old stuff from his sire. Then, I was talking to Marcy Calhoun. Marcy is a psychic who receives past life information. She knows nothing about horses and is not a “pet psychic or animal communicator.” But when I was in a session, I asked her about Tru, and she told me what she saw.

Marcy described Tru and I as warriors, like a general and war horse in the cavalry charging across Europe on a great campaign. “Tru was stabbed in the back with a big sword. He did not see it coming and did not know what happened. It was incredibly painful. You could not save him, and he died a painful death on the battlefield.”

Tru’s breed, the Shagya-Arabian, was developed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire cavalry in the 1700’s. When she told me this story, I was fascinated, but really did not know what to do with such information.

Two years later, when Dr. Noel showed me the x-ray of Tru’s back at L2/L3 (the physical plane of Our Magical Mystery Tour), I remembered what Marcy had said. It was the exact same location. Right under my tush, just where a horse would be stabbed in the back by a sword. I could see now that the animal communicators who had asked Tru what was causing his back pain, got no information from him, because, as Marcy said, Tru did not know what happened to him.

Huh. I looked at Tru, looking at me, ears pricked forward, body still and relaxed, ready for whatever I would ask next. Trusting me. This time, I had healed him (or at least been a channel for his healing). This time, we made it through the pain together. Total Trust Dividend.

Your trials do not come to punish you, but to awaken you.

Paramhansa Yogananda

Since then, we’ve completed three endurance rides in total partnership. He is both a powerhouse competitor and a level-headed calming force for other horses. It’s been a total joy to feel our dreams coming true.

P.S. Maybe you don’t want to pay someone to tell you your horse doesn’t trust you ;-), but Ezra was really helpful to Tru and I at several points along our journey. Our “trust dividend” came in no small part through doing as he coached. Ezra moved to San Luis Obispo, but still coaches virtually in the Sierras. He and my friend Gita have launched Herd Spirit, equine-assisted spiritual healing. With the four horses of Herd Spirit, Gita guides sessions for people at Ananda Village. Their first Live Your Gift retreat is almost full this May!

Our Magical Mystery Tour

For over five years, Tru and I rode on a magical mystery tour of blossoming back pain. I tried at least five saddles, four vets, acupuncture, chiropractic, bodywork, essential oils, flower essences, injections, ultrasound, barefoot to shoes, and three psychics. Ya, okay, whatever you’re thinking: I was searching for solutions, and literally, would ask anyone.

Every time I would think that I had it figured out, I would do a limited distance ride of some kind, and ask Tru how he felt:  sore. After pulling him from the second day of Wild West in 2017, I had a flexion test done about 12 days later, and he was sore. That vet recommended injecting his hocks, and let me know that Tru could probably not do endurance or dressage.

I was open to other disciplines, but that just could not be right. At 7 years old, with an excellent genetic profile for a sport horse—two imported Shagya-Arabian grandfathers who were eventing champions and completed Tevis with no history of early onset arthritis—I could not give up so soon. I had his hocks x-rayed:  totally clean.

Tru eating at a fun ride.

Two years later, after many saddle fittings, that persistent blossoming back pain, and a slip on icy mats in the winter that strained his sacroilliac joint (and failed treatment of that), I met Dr. Noel S. du Celliee Muller of Los Caballos Equine Practice, while volunteering for Tevis. Dr. Noel’s kindness and intelligence at the Deadwood vet check got my attention; his focus on performance horse soundness and extensive international training and ISELP certification in equine locomotive pathology got me to make an appointment the next week.

Dr. Noel spent over three hours with us, examining Tru with acupuncture, ultrasound and at the walk and trot on grass and concrete. The sacroilliac joint strain was obvious. For the persistent, blossoming back pain, x-rays showed two spinus processes bones were rubbing on each other, L2 and L3. He treated him with ultrasound-guided injections into the SI joint and L2/L3, plus acupuncture. I continued therapeutic ultrasound at home.

I asked about the L2/L3: Was that how he was born? What’s the prognosis? Are those bones going to move? They are right under the saddle, and that concerned me that Tru would always have pain there.

Dr. Noel said, “It’s how he was born. You have to manage it. There are no perfect bodies. If there is a perfect horse, it’s not a good horse. You have a good horse. Take it slow. Focus on performance, not on palpation. In 9 months, you’ll have your strong horse again.”

We also started shoeing him. Dr. Noel proved to me that Tru’s hooves needed to be much bigger to handle the concussion of his body on the trail. I had given it a good run, and learned a lot, but barefoot just was not going to work for this horse. I let go of my beloved Arabian Saddle Company Rubicon and got a Specialized Eurolight Saddle that needed three major adjustments to dial in for my sensitive horse (Thank you, Susan Hartje at Saddles that Fit!). I also changed to a Coolback pad, which made a huge difference.

“If there is a perfect horse, it’s not a good horse. You have a good horse. Focus on performance.”

Dr. Noel du Celliee Muller, DVM, ISELP

Believe me, that is a summary of our tour. It’s the tour of the physical plane. I hope it’s useful to people who are stumped, and watching their dreams slip by with time, as I was. Now, there are many levels on which we can be ill at ease—emotional, psychological and spiritual. Our magical mystery tour followed these paths too, if you’re willing to go there with me.

Never Really Riding Alone

Ever notice that our lessons repeat themselves, until they are big enough, painful enough for us to make a change? Something happens–the flick of an eye–we dismiss it, and Divine Mother says “Oh, you missed that message in a snowflake floating by, let me make it easier for you to see…” Before you know it, the warning has become a snow ball. I would like to think I’m paying attention long before the snowball hits my face or I find myself in an avalanche.

So when some of you said that I should not have been riding alone, or on that particular trail, the day that Tru fell, I had to try these ideas on for size, as my grandfather Ted would say. What I love about horses, riding out alone, how I prepare to be safe, as well as the deeper meaning for me of The Fall and the Angel, is both practical and spiritual.

Over the years, I’ve read articles in Equus, and other places that say “Never ride alone.” I’ve wondered how an entire sport of endurance riders track thousands of miles alone safely. I can see how this rule is safer for lots of people and situations:  new riders, young riders, riders on young horses, older riders. When you come off of your horse, having someone else there can be helpful, for sure.

We must anticipate what could happen with horses, and set ourselves up to be safe, because snowflakes can turn into an avalanche very quickly with horses. But riding with others will not, in itself, prevent an accident. In fact, more horses is inherently more complicated, and prone to accident.

“If you think your hairdo is more important than your brain, you are probably right.”

Words of wisdom from the wall of an endurance horse barn

For the record, this was my first accident riding alone in thousands of hours and miles of trail riding since I was 7 years old, before cell phones, before pagers, really before helmets.

The Challenging Trails We Love

That Canyon Creek trail is mostly flat and wide enough for a truck to pass, not at all challenging or technical. That specific section was an old slide. It was narrower than most of the trail (and about 8 inches narrower now from Tru’s churning hooves), but wider than the Pacific Crest trail.

Honestly, I just did not see the tree that had slid further down after we passed under it on the way out. I did learn to stay vigilant of changing trail obstacles. That same week, a friend of mine fell down a set of stairs that she has walked down a thousand times. She hit her head so hard she had a concussion. Some times we fall. Embrace your karma. That’s not a reason to stop walking, or riding.

The Tevis Cup! It’s been a long and humbling journey so far on our way fulfilling our dream to ride the 100 mile Western States Trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Truckee to Auburn, in one day.

The Tevis trail is mostly single track often with steep cliffs off the sides, lots of horses, 100+ degree temps during the day, and letting your horse lead the way through the dark. I’ve had people ask me aghast why I would want to do that?! I chuckle. It’s definitely not a glamour sport.

We love the rush of going up big mountains and technical trails, like Cougar Rock, but more importantly we love the learning that it takes to ride safe. Really, we’re just getting started. In the pics, you’ll see on the left Oman, one of Tru’s imported Shagya Arabian grand fathers. Oman and Dante both won international stallion tests and eventing championships. Oman completed Tevis multiple times. On the right is Omega, an Oman son. His owner and rider, Karen Bish, has SW Daniel, who is Tru’s sire. Oman and Omega both completed Tevis on their first attempts.

It will require training–our bodies, our minds, our spirits–and opening up to mentorship from riders, vets, horses–and changing to discern and follow the guidance that comes through them. Mostly it’s me that has to open and change. Tru is there as soon as I am. (Thankfully, the gifts of dressage trainer Clay Wright, Dr. Noel du Celliee Muller of Los Caballos Equine Practice and Susannah Jones, 2019 AERC National Champion, have already arrived to guide us!) The supreme challenge of this event–and who we will become in rising to it–is the draw, the purpose and the joy.

Merging

Riding out alone with my horse, down a new trail is the penultimate pleasure for me. Immersed in the beauty and peace of nature, my horse and I merge, our hearts and minds in constant communication, partners in navigating and witnessing our adventure in the wilderness. I am profoundly alive, and in love, on these rides.

Enjoying the trails out of Hope Valley, South of Lake Tahoe.

Would you really ask me to give that up? I’ve spent too much of my life demurring to the practical. At 55, it’s actually, time for more adventure in spirit and nature, not less.

Preparing for the Risk

Riding is a risk. Riding alone is a risk. Risks we prepare for…on the ground, in the round pen, on the trail…building trust, understanding and respect for my horse’s power, and fears, and standing firmly and compassionately in my role as leader. Three things I always do to be safe:

  • I always look for my mistake. I reflect to understand, but I never blame my horse.
  • I always wear a helmet.
  • I always meditate before I ride, no matter how early I have to wake up.

Meditation helps me stay calm and open to hear the intuitive wisdom and warnings. As many spiritual teachers have said, prayer is asking God, meditation is listening. The Divine will does not impose. We have to be open to it. Regular meditation makes me more receptive to Divine guidance.

Channel for God

For me, my horse is a channel for God to open me up and play with me. Coming out of our fall essentially uninjured was not just lucky. We were blessed with grace. We experienced a miracle.

The purpose of this event in my spiritual life, and in my horsemanship, was to open my consciousness, to make me more receptive to grace and to learning. Tru and I will ride alone many more times–and by Thy grace, we will complete Tevis–but we will not need to tumble down another cliff to know that we are never really riding alone. Divine love is showering and protecting us, inviting us to dance with snowflakes every moment.

“Self-realization is the knowing—in body, mind, and soul—that we are one with the omnipresence of God…All we have to do is improve our knowing.”

Paramhansa Yogananda
My True Companion dancing with snowflakes 21 days after The Fall and the Angel.

Opening to A Miracle

When I got home that night after Tru’s fall (The Fall and the Angel), I found some blackberry thorns in my palm and prickles on my thighs where they had penetrated my riding tights. That’s it.

How could this be? 150 feet, he fell and only superficial cuts and scrapes?

Two days later, I took my family out there, and we walked the trail to the site of the fall. I had to see it. This is a video of the spot where we fell.

Tru scrambled about 6-8 feet down the trail from where I came off, and over a log, before he free fell and tumbled in the air, landing ~150 feet below in the trees. All in all, that was the best place to fall. On the tree log would not have been a soft landing.

Luck, guidance, protection? I found myself wondering.

I posted about the fall on Facebook. Several friends commented that our guardian angel was looking out for us. Many more commented on how scary this was, and how very lucky we were.

The more I felt into it, luck just didn’t feel right. It feels diminishing somehow. I find it more frightening to be subject to the randomness of luck. Plus, I’m a yogi. I believe in the long and intricate trail of karma. As I returned to the scene, I was not filled with fear, regret or confusion.I felt uplifted. And not just from adrenalin.

A miracle, a karmic moment, guided by a higher power…when I think of this event as a miracle of protection and guidance, my heart expands. I am filled with love, gratitude, and humility to see such care and attention given to my little life. I keep that gallon gas can full in my trailer, reminding me to be practical, but also, to open myself to guidance.

As Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Healing Prayers

As I tended to the gash behind Tru’s right knee, the vets warned me of adverse conditions like proud flesh growing around a wound in such a high motion area.

There was actually barely any swelling or even heat. The vets cooed over how well this cut healed. After 9 days wrapped, we left the wound open to heal, applying Entederm and Manuka Honey alternately after cleaning. He also received Class IV laser treatments and an acupuncture treatment.

I did one thing the vets did not prescribe:  Healing prayers, through me and Ananda Village. Every time I offered Tru healing prayers, he stood still, without a halter, as I channeled energy to him. He licked, chewed, and slowly blinked his eyes…a horse release, and an expression of gratitude.

Even though my mind wants to diminish this experience, I know that horses don’t think about what they feel. They just feel it, and reflect it back to us, like the mirror of a crystal clear pool.

One day, I talked to Tru about the fall, saying to him that we were held, guided and loved by great Spirits, seeing Yogananda in my mind.

He turned his head and looked at me, “I know.”

“Oh?! You knew that? Just waiting on me, were you?”

“Yes.”

Tru grateful in his first pasture turnout after the fall.