It’s not often that you can point to an exact moment where your life changes. Mine did with the words “ you can ride the new horse if you want to.” Punk was a 6 year old OTTB … a leggy redhead that had more issues and quirks than any horse I’ve ever known. She wouldn’t walk into the barn, so I had to back her in then back her into the wash stall. On that first ride, when I asked for the canter, she put her hind foot through the kick board in the indoor then swapped leads every 2 or 3 strides. If you even carried a crop, she became set in concrete and refused to move. Over those first months, as I taught her to trust, she taught me to respect and listen, too. My abilities grew and her glorious spirit started to emerge. And that continued over 27 years.
I learned to massage for her and that grew into a new career path… that was 20 years ago. Massage also deepened our bond. For that I am ever grateful. I speak a lot about destiny when I speak of Punk. We were both what we both needed.
In life, I was her protector and partner. As spirited as she was, she never took a cheap shot. Those times that I found myself on the ground were mostly my fault. And, she would look at me as if she were shaking her head at my incompetence. The last look she gave me was when we said goodbye exactly one year ago today. As the vet was easing her transition, Punk only had eyes for me. Right before she dropped, she gave me a one eyed wink. Our private and mutual “thanks, lady. See you soon. Finish what we started.”
After the shock of her loss, my memories have been a blessing and a joyful one at that.
The few times I showed Punk, her show name was ‘Breathless’. She took my breath away, sometimes physically, always emotionally. It was an absolute privilege to be with this beautiful mare. I will be grateful till my last breath
This was originally written not long after Mia joined the pack. All of my teachers are rescues. All are blessings!
Mia made the Belmont County Animal Rescue League newsletter…their Where Are they Now? edition. But, this is the picture they used….Mia in class. The text with the picture: (in Mia’s own words) My new life began when I was dumped one night at the shelter when it was closed. When the staff came in that morning, they found me wandering around the parking lot. I was less than a year old and very pregnant. I was named Peyton (after one of the shelter staff who fell absolutely in love with me) and everyone got ready for me to give birth. Sadly, my puppies didn’t make it, but I did so that I could be adopted and really get on with living! My new family named me Mia and includes two others from the shelter ( Belle, who you might remember as Holly) and Mr. Chairman (called Frank Sinatra at the shelter). Besides being a family member, I was put to work and even given a title. I am my mom’s “assistant instructor” in her canine massage therapy classes. This is because I allow the students to practice on me. Pretty nice of me, don’t you think? I have become the popular choice among students on exam day!
This is a story from a while back that I thought you may enjoy and that I need to revisit from time to time.
A little girl knocked on my door yesterday. She was selling candy for her dance school. (it was Sarris candy, a local delicacy, so of course she gained easy access to my house, lol) Her Mom stood on the sidewalk and I left the door open for her to see her daughter while I looked through her list. She looked around my Studio and said “I like your horse stuff” I told her that I had a real horse. She popped open the door, very excited and yelled to her Mom “Mom, she has a real horse!” Then she asked me Punk’s name. I told her Pumpkin, but everyone calls her Punk. Opens the door again “Hey Mom, her horse’s name is Pumpkin, but everyone calls her Punk!” Then she asked me what color she was. I told her she was chestnut (look of confusion)…she has red hair. Again, the door flies open “Hey, Mom. Her horse is chestnut and that means she has red hair!” I think we could have kept this up all day. I was so charmed by how excited she was about my horse.
I went to the barn to see Punk this morning. With my schedule and the weather, I hadn’t seen her in nearly a week. The little girl inside of me was yelling “I have a real horse. Her name is Punk and she has red hair!!!” I hope the little girl at my door, and the little one inside of me, keeps being excited over the really awesome stuff.
There are many things in my life that I would rather have not gone through….the difficult choices, the tough times to get where i am. But then, I meet students that are just beginning their journey to their dreams, and I realize that what I have learned may help them along their way. I get to share my experience, good and bad, and it offers them a hand on their path. I can tell them to watch out for that hole, but swim that stream. You’ll get wet but it will cool you off and refresh your spirit. Maybe that is the essence of teaching. Not just to convey the subject matter, but to share the experience of life. Not just the nuts and bolts, but the building of a soul. To wrap up your experience and hand it to another.
I always tell my graduates that they will be stunned by the support they receive from unexpected sources. But, they may also be stunned by the lack of support they may get from those whom they thought were friends.
I had a call from a graduate this evening that experienced the latter. A bit of undermining and doubt sowing was done. I shared that this is usually an indication of a major flaw in that person, not themselves. An issue belongs to the ‘friend’ and not to her.
We must hold fast to our dreams and when we make those dreams a reality, we must still nurture ourselves. A garden doesn’t cease the need for care when it starts to bear fruit. Sometimes that’s when the predators attack the hardest….when they can steal the harvest.
I wrote this after I lost my Dane mix, Hank, and Abner joined the pack.
I’ve had a few folks comment that they thought it was too soon after Hank’s transition for me to get a new pup. Thinking, perhaps, that I was not honoring the loss of that wonderful life. I thought I’d try to explain how that is certainly not the case.
In my entire life, my family only ever owned one ‘purebred’ dog. Prissy was a toy Pom that my brother had gifted to my mother. She was lovely and lived a long, sassy life. Every other dog was a stray or a rescue.
In exchange for safety, sanctuary and love, these dogs were my education, my adventure and my dear friends. Not a day goes by that I don’t send up a thank you to the folks that made it possible for these animals to grace my life. It touches me to my core each time a student or friend tells me how wonderful my dogs are. They are an awesome pack with limitless potential for love and affection. They are the best part of my life.
Hank was light years past ‘special.’ He had issues and I have the scars and ER bills to prove it (Hank, the early days!) More than one friend advised me to euthanize. But, we hung in, Hank and I. I loved him and he needed love. Once it clicked with him, love took over. He loved massage class, he loved meeting people (kids especially) on walks and he loved the puppies that I brought home. Every dog that joined us in the past 14 years has cuddled with Hank or laid on Hank. He loved the babies and became Uncle Hank to every dog that came into the pack. He taught and gave them the love and security that saved his life. He never hurt another dog. You see, it was people that had caused his suffering. I tried to bury that suffering under as much good as I could find. Massage, Reiki, patience and love. I learned it from him and for him and he gave it back in spades.
That is Hank’s legacy. Love, security, patience. And always especially for the babies he so loved. Little Abner just joined us on Friday of last week. He is the only dog in the house that wasn’t welcomed by Hank. But then I remembered: He is being welcomed by Hank because each dog here has felt Hank’s love and guidance, his sanctuary and security. There hasn’t been a single growl or snap directed at Abner. It’s almost too easy. They are paying it forward. There is so much love here for Abner from each dog that felt that loving welcome when they joined Hank’s pack.
Abner is not a replacement for Hank. His welcome into the household does not diminish my grief. That’s a seperate pocket. Little Abner’s homecoming honors the life of that gentle giant that became a one man welcoming committee for misfit dogs, eager students, enthralled children and dear friends. Hank left me a better person.
There will always be love and sanctuary and room for one more in need here. If I ever slip up on that, I may just spend my next life being chased by a peeved giant of a dog who taught me better.
The time I spent with a new client this morning brought the importance of energy front and center.
This was a pretty quirky mare. As soon as I stepped into the stall, she had a wariness about her. Not fear, so much. Just her being watchful of me. I was told that she had a previous owner with some heavy handed training methods. The mare was in a constant state of being corrected….stick to shank without a break.
This presented a bit more of a challenge for our massage session. My first task was to become still, not just physically, but in every way possible. Once I placed my hands on her, I never broke contact. Staying fluid while working muscles this large puts you in an altered state very much like meditation. Increasing pressure could never become what she would perceive as a correction or aggression. That would put her in a defensive state. Getting past the mechanics of massage and discovering our choreography was essential. Combining Reiki with the massage was such a help. It was an awesome experience, but at the same time, exhausting.
She made me remember something that I heard Jimmy Wofford say in a clinic I attended many years ago. He was speaking of training practices. He said “The heaviest burden that a horse will ever carry is the weight of a man’s hand.” Massage and Reiki are the polar opposite of that statement…..no awareness of hand, just focus on healing.
During her post massage walk, she wanted to escalate her energy level dramatically. I chose a cotton lead over her normal shank. We started with little real estate….maybe a 5 meter circle. Loose lead and a soothing voice and the light touch of my hand on her neck when needed. We were finally able to expand to a 20 meter circle for a turn or two. She relaxed into my hand again and we finished our walk with a loose lead and head gently bobbing with each step.
Hopefully for our time together today, this mare felt the touch of a healing hand and the energy of that healing. It was a blessing to me.
During my most recent equine massage class, one of the students remarked that I should have shirts made with my logo prominently displayed. “We could buy them. It would be cool.” I said “Do you know what would be even more cool? Take what you’ve learned, go home and use that knowledge and those skills and start your business. Then have shirts made with your logo. Then send me one. That would be really cool!”
The Japanese word for teacher is sensei. The word literally means one who came before. I tell my staudents that I have been on this path for awhile and now you are joining me. I will show you all I’ve found along the way. A sensei shares knowledge and experience beyond the nuts and bolts of their subject matter. A sensei is a mentor. Rather than wearing my logo on a shirt and celebrating my success, I want my students to celebrate their success. The ultimate joy is watching a student learn and understand, then fan the flames of their enthusiasm as they find their own way to rock! (to quote Mr. Burton Cummings)
One of my favorite scenes in the wonderful film Billy Elliot happens when Billy says goodbye to his teacher before he leaves to study dance in London. He is excited yet terrified to leave home and begin his advanced studies. His teacher tells him to “go out and find life.” She then turns back to her class of beginners. She does what a teacher, a sensei, does. The Sondheim lyric says it well: Guide them then step away.
I want my students to be happy that they chose my program for the education and training they receive. I love that I receive emails and phone calls with updates and stories from my graduates. As a mentor, I’m available to answer questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll help them find it, then I’ll learn more along the way also.
I’m also a Reiki Master. I read once that being a Master is really being more a servant. You are serving your skills to others and then forever extending a hand to help. I like that image.
Master, sensei, teacher….all cut from the same cloth.
The student in the equine class successfully completed her exams and was certified. As she was leaving the barn, exhausted but happy, we shared a hug. She stepped back, pointed at me and said, “I’ll get that shirt to you.”
Thank you. It will be an honor.
When I first began offering equine massage, I didn’t even own a computer. Now, statistics show that 85% of business is done online and here I sit, starting a blog.
The massage industry has changed, also. First off, it’s an industry. The field has expanded. Back then, I was the only equine therapist in the Ohio Valley. Canine massage was in it’s infancy. I remember trying to get a listing in the yellow pages. No sale! They offered me listings under barns and pet shops. I even had one ad consultant tell me “We can’t list you under massage because it’s not like you’re a real therapist.” Now there are multiple ad listings available for animal massage. We are real! Recently, a veterinarian office approached me to discuss offering massage in their clinic by saying, and I quote “no rehab clinic would be complete without massage therapy.” That is progress!
This blog will be about massage and energy work. What it can do for you and your animals. It’s for therapists and those hoping to become therapists. (whether you choose to study with me or elsewhere….it’s all good) It’s also for owners and those that just love a good animal tale. (tail?) I hope to give you some food for thought about the way your animals move and how we can help. It’s about learning, growing, sharing and making our animal’s bodies more comfortable, whether they are competing for ribbons or simply competing for the most comfy spot on the couch.
I’ll also share stories about the wonderful creatures who have crossed my path, and I theirs. It’s about some pretty special people who have helped, inspired and shared their knowledge. Knowledge that I’ll pass on to you. Yin and yang being what it is, maybe even a story or two about some not so caring and sharing folks. There is a saying that if you can’t lead by example at least serve as a warning. It can all be a learning experience and make us better, for ourselves and the animals. Perhaps you have a question that we can explore. If so, I invite you to send it my way.
Many of my graduates began their study of massage because of one animal in their life. What begins with one can foster a desire to help many. Next time, I’ll share a bit about the horse and dog that started me on my journey. Until then, blessings!