Saddles

More about me – A Wilde Ride

I didn’t mean to become a connection and resiliency expert, but as with most things, necessity is the mother of invention. I needed to be resilient, and so I was. I have led as unlikely a life as any - one that might just make you believe that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

As an awkward too-tall-teen from a small Northern Ontario town, I found myself riding on castle lawns and flying overseas alongside my little crossbred horse O’Reilly, to contest some of the world’s toughest tracks in the ‘Sport of Kings’ - the equestrian sport of 3-Day Eventing. Along the way, I was mentored by Captains, Colonels and Olympic gold medalists; veritable giants from a bygone era; in a sport that was once a test of military might that saw cavalry officers competing against one another between times of war.

Not your usual upbringing, to be sure! How did that happen? Obviously, I was born into a family with generations of wealth behind them, right? While you might think so, that is not my truth.

I come from generations of horsemen and women, from a time when horses were part of daily life on a farm. My father was born in Alberta at the end of the dirty thirties, where the dust bowl of the prairies and the Rocky Mountains meet. He grew up in abject poverty and despair after the loss of his father, an orphaned hard-working cowboy known as ‘Toughie’.  With his dad gone, he found himself in charge of the wellbeing of the animals on their struggling small farm. As an animal lover, he hated to see them suffer when they couldn’t afford to call a vet. He decided education was his way out and worked his way through Veterinary college in Guelph, where he met my mom. As the daughter of a subsistence farmer in Southern Ontario, she had grown up with horses in an area well known as ‘horse country’; surrounded by talented, wealthy people who enjoyed horses for fox hunting and sport. She was brazen and bold; jumping gates and whatever else got in her way; a natural rider without the means to compete, but as solid a horseperson as any Olympian.

Image by Annie Spratt

I grew up with a pony as a babysitter on our back lawn and spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping!) moment on his back or in the barn. As the daughter of a veterinarian, I was called into action on a daily to immobilize his traumatized patients for treatment. It was something I had a knack for – horses were soothed under my touch and became doe-eyed and compliant, as I tended to their wounds and ills.

As the vet’s daughter, I learned that all horses - indeed all lives - were equal. Crossbred ponies, stakes winning race horses, draft horses born to bear the burden of heavy work, and the humans that owned them, were all treated the same. It had a tremendous affect on my outlook. I was exposed to every walk of life and I learned from EVERYONE!

As the vet’s daughter, I also had access to all of the best local ponies and horses you could find. I came out of the Great White North as a total unknown and within a few short years rocketed to the top of the international ranks on my unlikely little Irish horse, O’Reilly. I was having a pretty sweet ride!

Image by Lisa Lyne Blevins

But life has a way of equalising all things. At 25 years old and pregnant, my sweet ride was derailed by the carless blow of a young horse’s hoof, when it connected with the right side of my fiancé’s skull. I saw his brains, all slippery and grey, spill onto the ground before my eyes. By rights, it should have ended him. It was as serious as brain injuries come and the many doctors and surgeons who worked on him gave us little hope for survival. But they didn’t know Mike and I!

 

 

Baffling them all, he lived! Mike, O’Reilly and I worked together over the next eighteen months of gruelling rehabilitation, to get him back to functionality. He lived, yes; but the person I knew died, along with the parts of his brain that had seeped into the earth, on that fateful day in May. Being a part of his surprising rehabilitation and his unlikely return to riding, was the most rewarding thing I could have imagined. We defied ALL of the odds! But what had kept me going, was the thought of having ‘my Mike’ back. When it became apparent that would never happen, I left to start life over again on my parents’ small farm up North, with my young son Zack in tow.

Mike had been my best friend. At times, I didn’t think I would ever be happy again. I struggled, amongst other things, with the guilt of leaving him after all he had been through. But I come from hardy, resilient stock, and as I mentioned earlier, life has a way of equalising all things. The sun shone once again in my life.

Five years later, I had established a coaching business and set my sights on returning to competition. Those instincts honed as the daughter of a vet served me well, as I developed a new specialty – gaining the trust of previously traumatized, highly sensitive horses. As it so often happens, my speciality arose out of necessity: I needed athletic, brave horses to return to the sport I loved and they were most definitely out of my price range! If they were broken, however, they were often free.

I had a gift.  I had ‘the touch’. I had that special brand of magic that my dad always argued a person was either born with, or without. I used that gift to return to the Canadian Team on another unlikely little horse; a diminutive dynamo named Speed Axcel. She was hotter than a jalapeno pepper and could jump things twice her size – a veritable jackrabbit! We had a shot at the World Equestrian Games in 2002, but she was aging and hurting and wanted to be done with it … and I was somebody’s mother. Dragging my child out of school to horse shows across the continent, on a wing and a prayer financially, just didn’t make sense any more and we retired. I married and set off in search of a more ‘sensible’ life raising children.

Turns out ‘sensible’ and I don’t coexist! Or maybe I misunderstood the meaning of the word ... either way, it was a wild ride! A total rodeo that included two bankruptcies, the loss of two properties, the loss of my marriage, the loss of my health, the loss of both breasts to cancer, and the loss of something else, too – that indefinable magic I alluded to before. I found myself on the other side of a chasm, unable to connect with horses (or humans, for that matter!) as I once had.

Here I was on the other side of cancer treatment; which had included a soul-sucking four-month chemotherapy regime and six weeks of out-of-town radiation treatments during the covid 19 lockdown; I was a survivor of the highest degree! I had struggled mightily, but made it my practice to find and share joy on a daily, no matter what!

Image by Markus Spiske

On my mission to find joy I invented an alter ego, ‘The Radiation Fashionista’, and went live on Facebook every day from the change room before my treatments. I spread joy like it was going out of style and discovered something about myself – I can find joy in a shitstorm!

Treatment was over. I was home. I had made it! I was supposed to be happy … but in the weeks following my treatment, dogs barked at me, horses fled my touch and I couldn’t sleep. Something was terribly wrong. This was not my life!

My nervous system was on fire - stuck on five-alarm-fire-bell mode, 24/7 for eight weeks. A boat load of drugs in a combination that would have taken down a stampeding rhino couldn’t help me find sleep or any semblance of peace. Here I was, proposing to teach others a thing or two about resiliency, self-regulation and the joyful art of Horsecraft … and it was all out of my reach! I was ‘failing’ at the very thing that defined me; the one thing I had become convinced I was here to share with the world.

Image by Justin Greene

In the end, I ditched all of the useless medications I was on and learned … gradually … to reclaim my broken nervous system, my identity and my dream. I took a deep dive into the science behind the art of connection, emotional regulation and resilience. Understanding and practicing what I learned, gave me back my life. I am no longer a Muggle in a Magician’s world - I got my magic back with horses!

And that, led me to an epiphany ...

The apparent ‘magic’ between human and horse that eludes so many frustrated adult amateurs, is LEARNABLE! Connecting with them had nothing to do with what I knew about horses – it was a whole other skill set. And if I could bridge the chasm, it meant others could too! It meant that being a good horseperson wasn’t something you were either born with or without. It meant I could teach others how to access the magic and help them connect like the ‘Gods of the Horse World’ do, so effortlessly.

It is a passion project I have, alongside my Dad, to pass on the essential understanding of the equine species and how they need us to be, in order to truly connect with us. We are modern-day relationship counsellors in the magical interspecies marriage between human and horse!

And that is how I have come to specialize in spreading the art and science of Horsecraft, alongside mindset and nervous system regulation skills, with the Heart Math System. Turns out, connection is measurable, quantifiable and practicable with a little gadget and a lot of practice. Who’d a thunk it?

I specialize in facilitating the ‘magic’ behind the horse-human connection and finding joy in hard times.

 

I am currently writing a memoir called, I Can Find Joy in a Shitstorm; an online course for adult-amateur horse lovers called, A Leg Up – The Art and Science of Horsecraft – intended to bridge the chasm left behind when horsemanship was no longer passed down generation-to-generation; a podcast by the same name -  conversations with friends; many of them ‘Gods of the Horse World’; where we’ll get their take on trust, resilience, overcoming fear and finding joy in horses and life; and a Blog called,Take the Lead - Finding Gold Dust in The Shitstorms of Life , that celebrates farm life, resilience, growing through change and the ingredients needed to attain it. There will be stories of gratitude, generosity, and of animals and humans working together to overcome incredible odds.

I also help a small group of local children learn these skills on a farm full of friendly animals, arming them with the tools they need to find joy in these challenging times.

I hope you will join me as I embark on this journey. As always, it promises to be a Wilde ride!