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.

Opening Your Heart: Slow Down for the Christmas Spirit to Bloom

J horses.jpgThis last couple weeks has been crazy. And I have not been graceful about it. I haven’t felt productive either, even though I’ve checked a bunch of things off my list.

Writing has been one daily activity that I’ve repeatedly put off. I haven’t felt the space for it, and yet my internal pressure to express rises. Reading about a research study on what we can do to act compassionately is giving me a clue to my own reaction to Christmas pressures.

Turns out, when we rush, we close our hearts. Christmas is the time of the year that we are meant to intentionally practice compassion. And yet, there is so much to do around the holidays, that we tend to get rushed. Turns out that being in a hurry actually crushes the Christmas spirit.

In a study of seminary students, designed to understand how compassion becomes action, the students were asked to prepare a sermon on which they would be evaluated. Half were given a random section of the bible to study, and the other half were given the parable of the Good Samaritan to study.

Each student was then sent one-by-one across campus, on a path that led them by a man moaning in pain on the ground. Who stopped to help this stranger in need? Not the ones who studied the Good Samaritan.

The key factor in taking compassionate action was how rushed the divinity students felt. The more rushed they felt, the less likely they were to stop and offer help to the stranger in need.

When we are rushing through our days, pushing to get the next thing done on our list, we literally tend to ignore people around us, and their needs.

Here are a few ways I’m choosing to slow down and let the Christmas spirit blossom–I offer these as gifts for your heart.

  • Affirm gratitude in the giving: “I give thanks to the Giver behind each gift and to the one Giver behind all that I give and receive.” While I’m are writing cards, shopping or wrapping or mailing or distributing gifts, I’m praying for the people to whom I’m giving that they may receive these blessings fully. As I’m opening cards and gifts, I’m also praying to receive and give thanks to the One Giver behind all our efforts.
  • Practicing forgiveness. I’m praying for anyone with whom I feel in conflict or a sense of unrest. Forgiving myself, too!
  • We’re having both a “spiritual Christmas” and a “social Christmas” to keep things balanced. I meditated for 8 hours with my community earlier this month. Tomorrow, I’ll support my husband Rick to meditate with the community.
  • On Sunday we’re going to a Christmas service, on Christmas Eve, we’ll enjoy a Christmas play together.
  • I’m stopping even for a moment, looking into another’s eyes, smiling and saying Merry Christmas, just to serve that person in front of me.
  • On Christmas morning, very early, before anything else happens, I’m going to meditate deeply and let the Christ Consciousness be born in the cradle of my heart.

Even simplifying can seem overwhelming in itself, so here’s just two essential attitudes that will kindle the Christmas spirit.

  • I’m saying “Yes!” with all my heart, to all I have before me. Try it…you will feel a new Christmas energy rush in to help you give and receive everything with calm joy!
  • Always remember who you really are: a loving, giving person, doing your best to be kind to everyone and under all circumstances! Merry Christmas blessings to all!

~ From 12 Ways to Spiritualize Your Christmas, written in collaboration with Savitri Simpson, and originally published in Elephant Journal.