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.”

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.

The Fall and the Angel

On December 26, 2019, I needed an adventure and went out to ride my horse, Tru, on the Canyon Creek trail off Hwy 49 towards Downieville, CA. An old stagecoach road, it’s a wide cut into the steep rock slope, with a hawk eye’s view  of the North Fork Yuba River canyon. The light was bright, flickering and splashing with winter shadows. The cool, crisp air was alive and free, soothing to my cooped-up winter self.

We curiously investigated the old mining claims and camps, trotted long out to the creek and then turned back. As we slowed to a walk for narrow section of trail, a fallen tree I clearly did not see poking down the bank, stabbed me in the chest, pushing me out of the saddle. I tumbled backwards into the blackberry brambles. When I could look up, I saw Tru in a full-body leap. His front hooves were on the trail, his heart was even with the edge, and his powerful hindquarters heaved downward against the cliffside as he tried to regain the trail. The cliff was churning out from under him.

I called out “You can do it, Tru!” and then the cliff gave way. He tumbled backward. I watched him free fall and tumble 150 feet down the cliff and disappear into the brush. I sucked in my breath and said to myself “Oh my God, I’ve killed my horse.”

I flew down that cliff calling to him, “Tru, you’re okay. You’re okay. I’m coming, buddy.”

I found him standing. (First, “Thank God.”) His flank was quivering. Blood ran from his nose and a small cut a quarter inch from his eye. (Second, “Thank God.”) He had another small cut on his hip and a potentially serious a gash behind his knee. (“Oh God, please no.”) I spoke to him soothingly, untangled him from his bridle and the brambles from his tail.

“Help,” I yelled as loudly as I could a few times, just in case someone was nearby. Only the rushing water of the Yuba and our breathing.

“I’m getting you out of here, Tru,” I promised. And before dark. It was about 3:30 PM.

But how? I looked up. We were definitely not going back up that embankment. I couldn’t even see the trail from here. Helicopter evacuation? It is done, but I had no cell service for miles. Perhaps we could walk up the river. “I need you to wait here. I’ll be back.” He stood quietly, while PupPup, my McNab-Border Collie, and I went down to the river.

Serpentine green and crystal clear, the river flowed by, but the water was too deep and slick on the rocks. PupPup was bounding about with complete ease over the steep terrain. My eyes followed him up the canyon, and saw a contour.

With three passes, breaking and clearing branches for head space, checking the footing, we made a “path”. There would be several turns. It was deep, wet duff and pretty much hand over foot for me to climb. PupPup’s 40 pounds just flew up and down the slope, but Tru would need to take the big leaps and use the momentum to get his 1,100-pound body up the hill. And I had to have a place to stand clear.

Would he trust me to guide him and not thrash off into another fall?

I asked him to try. He looked, sniffed, looked. He took two big leaps and stood knee deep in wet duff. Now he had to back up a step and make a hard-left turn uphill. I asked him. He looked at it for a while. I asked again, and again. He backed up one step. I turned his head and asked him up the hill. He stood quietly looking, thinking. I kept asking, softly tugging. PupPup barked at him from behind; probably the only time I’ve ever thanked him for barking. And then, Tru heaved up and again to the next juncture.

I climbed up and around to get ahead of him, re-directed his head to see the path, and urged him up twice more. Now we were facing the last leap up to the trail. It would take three full body strides. I had to let him go on his own or I would risk throwing him off balance or reversing his momentum and causing him to fall again. Before we started, I had tied his bridle and reins across the trail, just in case adrenalin fueled him to take off down the trail. I showed him the way up, threw the lead line over his back, and watched.

Tru got to the trail and stood quietly, waiting for me. He was so calm, so courageous. My heart almost burst with gratitude for his trust, and for the clarity and calm we were both experiencing.

We started our ~4 mile walk back to the trailer. Tru walked steadily, evenly. I wouldn’t try trotting, instead said another prayer of gratitude, and one that soundness would be confirmed later.

Now for the next hurdle

On the drive out, I had forgotten my wallet, couldn’t fill up the tank, and it turned out to be a bit further than I had anticipated. When I parked, the range meter on the truck said 23 miles. That was likely not enough fuel to haul uphill out of the canyon. I prayed quite specifically for a person with a can of diesel fuel to come by so we could make it back to the gas station in North San Juan, and cell service range.

We got to Highway 49 and I began flagging down cars. About 5 went by, then a Mercedes diesel van turned around and came back. He didn’t have fuel and couldn’t siphon. He was clean shaven, dressed up for a holiday party, and stood ready to help. He put my husband Rick’s phone number in his phone, called him to save it, and accepted my instructions to ask Rick to get a can of diesel, and drive toward me on 49.

I loaded Tru and we started out, watching the gauge. The truck immediately increased our range to 35 miles—that was encouraging—and it stayed at 35 as we climbed over the first pass. Maybe this trip would be like Hanukkah and our fuel would last longer than it should, I mused.

I saw the Mercedes van coming back toward me and pulled over. He rolled down the window and his son handed me a gallon of diesel fuel. “Your husband isn’t picking up. I bought you a gallon of fuel. Merry Christmas!” Thank you. Wait, what’s your name?  Will Martinelli. Downieville. Fireman.

Tears streamed down my face for the first time. “You sent me an off-duty fireman with a can of fuel!” I said to the smiling face of Paramhansa Yogananda, hanging from my rear view mirror.

My favorite affirmation from this Saint popped into my mind:  “I will go forth in perfect faith in the power of omnipresent good, to bring me exactly what I need, just as I need it.”

The Angel’s gas can.

I put the fuel in the tank and drove on. Our fireman angel kept calling until my family picked up. They met me just as I got service and was calling vets. We fueled up and hauled another hour into the clinic. Dr. Jessica Simpson of Bear River Mobile Veterinary Clinic cleaned Tru’s wounds and confirmed everything to be superficial.

Once home in his stall, he was standing facing away from his water and food, looking uncomfortable and despondent. Healing prayers popped into my head. I grounded, centered, asked to be a channel, and said Yogananda’s prayer for healing:  “Divine Mother, manifest thy healing presence in Tru’s body, mind, and soul,” running my hands over his body and seeing him surrounded in light.

Tru lowered his head 6 inches, exhaled, licked and chewed. He closed his eyes for a moment, and as he opened them again, he turned to me with a gentle, profound look of gratitude. I reached out with a palm full of hay pellets. He nibbled them, and then, gingerly, but soundly, turned himself around to eat and drink.

The Inspiration

The inspiration for Conception Story was the journey to conceive my son. And what a journey it continues to be.

Conceived with the generous gift of an anonymous donor in South Africa, after 8 years of losses and fertility treatments, Luc Tayten (“the Light of Great Joy”) Hunter Bend was born on his due date, May 7, 2010.Luc 12 days old

Eight years of losses, and now eight years of living with this ebullient soul (and a few others), I am ready to share what we learned—and are continuing to learn, along the way. All the “not pregnancy” pee strips, sonograms, injections, surgeries, doctors, statistics, and choice points are still fresh for me, but not with the same emotional charge. Now, with my grief complete, I feel only compassion for anyone walking this path. And a passion to share solutions, to see it all as a gift.

Today, what’s astonishing me is how Luc’s conception story continues to unfold for him. I carried him in my womb for 9 months, nursed him at my breast till he was almost 4 years old, and he claims he’ll co-sleep with me for the rest of his life. I am definitely his REAL mom. And yet he is profoundly aware of his adopted genetics and “donor” mom.

I made Luc a book to tell him his conception story—how loved and wanted he is—and gave it to him as a gift on his second Christmas.

Why so young? For a few reasons…First, the psychological and emotional process for adopted children is well-known. It’s essential that children know their parents relationship with them from the beginning. A surprise can create a break in attachment and complicate their self-image. This is true also for children conceived with any kind of fertility intervention, especially a genetic adoption, like ovum or sperm donation.

Second, I needed to fully process and grieve my own loss of passing on my genetics. I could not delay this grieving. As soon as he was born, people noticed that Luc did not look like me. His olive skin, dark brown-auburn highlighted hair, his rich brown eyes are not from my blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes.

Third, I needed to prepare for his questions. I needed to be able to answer them at his developmental level, be there for him, not just awash in my own memories and emotions about the 8-year-get-pregnant trudge. Making Luc’s conception story was a way for me to grieve, and process all the complications of navigating the fertility treatment system. Otherwise, all this stuff would flood my brain. He would feel my complicated emotions, but not be able to understand what he was feeling from me.

His questions did come, in layers of increasing curiosity and concern from 2 to 8 years old. So far I’ve been able to address each one calmly, at his developmental level. But they are getting tougher as they become more about his identity.Luc with guitar

I have owned this domain name for six years, repaying each year, not quite sure what I would do with it. As Luc’s conception story unfolds for him, and he peels back layers into deeper and deeper territory—belonging, family, race, difference, trust—I know Conception Story needs to come alive.

I am here to share our story of adopting genetics, both the challenges and the grace that come with raising a child who feels all of that deeply. I want to help you have the courage to conceive your child, and to tell their conception story.

Born 13 days after Luc in May of 2010 is Tru, a spectacular Anglo-Shagya Arabian horse. My mare, Giselle (Luc named her “Mama G”), actually played a pivotal role in conceiving Luc. Pregnant together, we walked the Redwood forest trails to stay in shape as we grew our babies. Tru lives up to his full, registered name—“My True Companion”—and like Luc, Tru teaches me about heart and courage, boundaries and love. Plus nutrition.Tru J and Luc

In 2015, our family stepped onto the spiritual path, and moved to Ananda Village, a modern ashram community of yogis living for joy and dharma in the Sierra Foothills of California. I’ve been meditating twice a day for almost 3 years now. Meditation has seriously re-wired me. It’s re-wiring our whole family, as Luc meditates and does yoga in his Living Wisdom School.

The spiritual path has raised my consciousness to the grace flowing through every loss, every joy, every moment of life. It’s time to share the grace…tulips with light streaming