I am sitting here, ready to make the big announcement. But I hesitate. Procrastinate. Stare out of the window at the horses playing down by the lake. Tinker with the wording one more time. What’s going on here?
This is the moment I have been heading towards for years. A lifetime. This is the place I envisioned. Where I could let my horses live as horses should, roaming the hills in a herd. Where I could live with my herd in harmony and freedom. Where I could watch them, learn what it is they really need to thrive in domesticity, and then provide it.
The intention has always been to share this space with others who love horses, nature, peace, self-reflection. So they can come and learn from me, the horses and nature, in a relaxing environment that refreshes the soul. So they can return to their lives with fresh eyes and a smiling heart.
It could have been Australia, New Mexico, India, Israel, Wales. But somehow we find ourselves in Portugal. And it’s perfect. The climate, the terrain, the people, the space, I love it all. The rocky hills and cork oak forests keep my horses fed, sheltered and fit. Our slopes are covered with lavender, cistus, helichrysum and other aromatics. What more could an animal loving aromatherapist want? Absolutely nothing.
So here we are. Full of gratitude. Ready and waiting. All I have to do now is press the “Publish” button. Maybe a pause is natural, even a touch of nerves …..but then, if you are reading this I guess I took the jump.
If you want to help me celebrate and spread the word, head over to our Facebook page and play “How many horses?”. You may even win yourself a free weekend with us.
Exploring horse is on the move! After two years as the guests of the Woodleys, in Central Portugal, we have found a home of our own in the fabulous Alentejo region (warmer, drier). It has been six intensive months of searching, but we have finally agreed a price and are now in the contract signing phase.
Monte Nossa Senhora, our new home (love that name, full of the power of the sacred feminine) is 30 hectares (75 acres) of typical Alentejo wildness. The place is a natural horse keeper’s paradise.
The hills are covered with cork oak forests; the valleys have some lush, fertile areas, olive and fruit trees. The south facing slopes are dry and stony with many aromatic herbs, lavender, thyme, cistus and hot weather grasses. The horses will get lots of movement to keep their feet strong, and a varied diet of native grasses and shrubs. Hopefully they will love it as much as I do, although I have a slight suspicion that if you ask them they will say the lovely green field they are living in now will suit them nicely thank you!
For the humans there is nothing. No electricity, no habitable dwellings, no running water! Pioneer time. We are going to spend the first months in caravans and yurts, playing at being nomads. I want to live right beside the horses as we get them settled and re-build the herd (I only have three of the previous herd with me). It also gives us time to suss out the best location for houses, shelters and picadeiros before we commit ourselves to building.
For now we are staying with friends, and the horses are in a “proper” field eating grass, acclimatising themselves to the smaller group. That won’t last long (the small group) as I already have my eye on a 3 year old filly, who is looking for a home via ARC Horse Welfare in the Algarve. I have also spotted a lusitano mare who does all the fancy dressage stuff, yet lives outside in a herd. She’s rather classy (and expensive!), but every herd needs a wise grey mare don’t they? And then there is sweet Amal, Zena’s arab gelding, who will join us sooner or later. I have to decide whether to grow the herd before we move, or if it will be easier for everyone if we wait.
We will ride the horses to the new place, about 50 kilometres away. I hate trailering, and have been looking for an excuse to go for a good long ride. Plus I think it will help the horses to locate themselves in their new home, reducing the stress in the first few days. I’m not sure how they will take to being returned to the “wild” after their cushy few months here, but it will be interesting to watch.
I will be blogging again now, keeping you informed of the changing dynamics of the herd, how I introduce new horses, and how essential oils and herbs help to ease us through the transition. We are not sure if the herd will be ready to run any workshops this summer (but watch this space!); on the other hand, if you don’t mind sleeping in a tent and know how to wield a hammer (or shovel, or…) you could be welcome to stop by for a visit.
We’ve been doing a lot of horse-herding recently. The grass is almost finished on our slopes and the new hay isn’t in yet, the result of a colder/wetter year than is usual in these parts – our weather is dictated by the Atlantic, which is suffering from melting polar caps, as I’m sure you all know – so, in time honoured tradition, we take the herd to look for greener pastures.
The property on which we live is under repair. The pine and eucalyptus trees were cut before we got here, but the place is still littered with stumps and branches. We cleared one slope just barely in time to seed some oats as green feed (for the soil not the horses!) and the horses are kept out of there. Most of the time they roam around the steep hills, foraging between the timber debris for native grasses, heather, gorse, and whatever else is edible (have you ever watched a horse eat gorse tips, or thistles? Know how they do it? Carefully!).
We have varied this diet with occasional access to the grassier areas around the human living areas when we want to control growth (we use them to strim in other words). We also have a few flat areas alongside waterways which were cleared of bramble and bracken, then seeded with a grass mix of 10 traditional grasses. They are not really established yet so the horses are only allowed on to do a little trimming to help strengthen and thicken the growth. Anyway, horses used to a wide variety of plants become quickly bored on plain old grass it seems. Now all those areas are used up and we can’t count on further growth till September sometime (as far as we understand from the locals, it’s all new to us, we don’t really know the growing cycles yet, or the times of fat and lean ).
So to keep the horses healthy and happy, physically and mentally, we turn to horse-herding. One behind the other we set off in search of fodder. The horses know the routine now and quickly fall in to their allotted places (allotted by them not us) and follow us keenly. And likewise we listen to them, moving at their pace, heeding their suggestions.
One day we find bunch grasses under the Eucalyptus plantations, which is a favourite, or we cross the river to an overgrown patch of land full of herbs and grasses, or today, we find ourselves under a stand of pines that is due to have it’s under-storey cleared on Monday, but now is rich with long-stalked grasses, cow parsley and other delicious tidbits. Jessie is topping all the thistles.
I sit and watch over them, sharing the pleasure of the breeze in the pines, the fresh, green smells, and the peacock-blue dragonfly resting on the ferns. When they’ve munched their way through this lot they’ll let me know and we’ll move on, walking calmly in a line, connected by the invisible string of energy that holds us together. Time and place dissolve in this walking, I feel the nomadic spirit, ancient and immediate, and nature’s rhythm pulsing in us all.
I invite you to share for a moment in my horse watching meditation in this short video clip: Nothing ever happens what is just is!
This week we are busy getting ready for the first Exploring Horse camp in Portugal. Tents scrubbed and re-kitted, menus planned, paths cleared, we are a-bustle. Even the horses do their bit when there’s a good patch of grass that needs mowing. It’s exciting.
Throughout the activity I am in an introspective mode (partly the outcome of an injured knee, wherein lies another story!). I am not thinking, or planning – my plan is always the same, to flow with what is.
I am burrowing into myself, allowing pictures, thoughts, memories to float by as reminders of subjects we might touch on in the workshop. Then I let them go and we will see what happens. You could say I am trying to clarify what it is I am hoping to share over the next week.
In this introspective mode, my partner and I have been talking. One of the subjects that has come up is the way horses respond to me, and why. It’s not something that is easy for me to see, “Nayana’s special touch with horses”. To me it is ordinary, the way things are, and my belief is that anyone can have that touch if they want it. It’s what I’m trying to teach all these years.
Prasado and I met on horseback, and a horse (MY horse!) caused me to fly from California to New Mexico for a weekend visit that has never ended. So, horses have always been a theme in our life. But his brain has never been eaten by the horse bug (his term) in the same way mine has.
He was a cowboy, the fun of horses was the unity felt when working with them, he didn’t really ‘get’ my constant fascination with their inner workings, although he has always been part of our various horse-caring set-ups. Anyway,…. he has been watching me and my horse craziness for over 30 years and often noted the attraction horses had to hang out with me, but thought it was something unique to me.
Now, after 8 months of living with the horses as a constant presence, ruled by their rhythms and needs, listening to them and learning their language more fully, he has the touch too! He is calling it trust, they trust him, which is one way of putting it. But why? Because we are an integral part of the physical and energetic function of the herd. Our neural networks are familiar to each other. Our flow is their flow. We are attuned.
I can tune-in very quickly to any herd anywhere I go, because ultimately we’re all one herd and I’ve had a lot of practice. But it’s easier in the beginning to attune yourself to one horse, or one herd. That’s what we invite you to do here, experience that feeling of harmonious flow that I am calling attunement, which is the key to good horsemanship.
So what is the key to attunement?
In me, for whatever reason – nature, nurture, being dropped in a pile of horse poo as a baby! – this ability to tune-in developed with no effort at an early age. I have spent my life nurturing and expanding and understanding this ability.
I have also been committed to helping others develop ‘the touch’ themselves, inventing games and exercises based on my own life experience. And I have trained horses to train people to have the ‘touch’ on three continents.
All the time I have been growing and learning, leaving behind what no longer worked for me, absorbing that which did. At this moment in time, as I review this journey, I see that the only constant, unchanging element has been LOVE.
It was this love, this heart expanding attraction, that led me to horses as a toddler. It is this love that has always caused me to look out for the horse’s best interest, and has driven me to learn what horses truly need in order to be healthy and happy. Because I love horses, they have been an integral part of learning about myself, which has led me to be able to know myself better, recognize my own self-interest and put it aside, or align it with that of the horse.
I could get into a whole discussion about ‘What is love’ here, but let me just clarify. When I say ‘love’, I don’t mean a pink hearts and roses sort of love that carries you away, or the sort of love that wants the other to fulfil your emotional needs. I mean lovingness, that truly sees the other without demands or projection. Love that is simply happy in the other’s existence.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t attracted to a person who loves them unconditionally and cares for them as best they can. I say as best they can, because my idea of what constitutes best care and how I work with horses has changed over the years, yet horses have always responded to me the same way.
Whether training Western or English, no matter what the tack or the method, the horses I work with end up happy, confident, and connected. So the conclusion I draw is that the intention, the feeling of lovingness, is what horses respond to.
It’s not important to them whether the love comes from a kid feeding a pony stale bread in a muddy field in Wales, a cowgirl with a string of horses in a dusty Oregon corral, or a holistic health specialist with 50 acres of Portuguese hillside at her disposal.
So, what does it take to develop that magic touch, to attune yourself to horses so they are attracted to you and you are accepted into the herd without hesitation? So that whatever you choose to ‘do’ with a horse is based on mutual enjoyment? Three simple things:
LOVE, AWARENESS, UNDERSTANDING.
It’s not much, but it’s everything. And here, in this beautiful natural environment, with a herd of empowered horses, is the perfect place to supercharge your lovingness and nourish your soul. Horse lovers welcome any time, contact me for more info.
There are not many days in a year with weather as perfect as this. It’s Spring (always a good thing in my book), birds sing. The sun is warm enough for me to sit in the shade on a mossy rock (curiously dry moss here in Portugal), the breeze is coolish. Behind me the water tumbles down its gully with a perfect harmony of tonalities that soothe and uplift, lively but not rambunctious. In front of me the horses are lost in an orgy of greens, as they ‘mow’ around the tents. Bliss.
When it was raining and cold I had to coax the horses out of the shelter some days to go walk with me and stretch their legs, “Horses are supposed to move,” I said, “it’s good for you.” “So?” they replied, looking at this foolish human who doesn’t understand about conservation of energy and seasonal cycles. I, observing one herd, in one season, started to reformulate some of my long held beliefs and build new theories, thought maybe horses were perfectly happy to stand around all day and munch on hay. In which case why did we go through so much pain and expense to provide them this lovely natural environment? But formulating a theory on such limited data is never a good idea.
Spring came and the rhythm of our days has changed. The horses are restless to leave the home compound where we have been keeping them at night. Ellie’s face peers through my window demanding I open the gates at dawn. So I do. They go round their “trackless track” twice in a day instead of going out and back on the same route, following their noses up and down the hills, up and down the hills. They volunteer to come play with me in the picadero or go for a ride. And they insist I open the gate to the green stuff, the delicious cold-weather grasses and herbs on our side of the fence. So here we are.
In all my long years and varied lives, I have never lived in such close intimacy with a herd of horses on a daily basis, although I have cared for small and large herds on three continents. I have been a slave to the feeding routine, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn (or before) so they wouldn’t have to wonder for a second if food was coming. I have slept in the tack room waiting for mares to give birth, waking at every shifting foot and heavy breath – and still managing to miss the moment. I have spent nights in tents in the wilderness, listening to the horses munching; or wolves howling under a full moon, turning all of us electric with awareness. I have clumped out on dark nights, through raging gales on Exmoor, to beg my horses to come into the barn and get shelter. And many an evening I have sat watching the sun set over English hills and shared a beer with my horse. It’s not like I have been a distant stranger to them.
But it’s never been like this before.
Here, our lives overlap and intertwine minute to minute and I live in surrender to their rhythms. Our days are not organised for the convenience of humans. We have no schedules, no goals to achieve, no training to be done, no owners expectations to satisfy; just a herd of horses, boundless love, and an openness to learning. Every day, as we try to provide the best living space possible for the horses, our communications become more subtle, clear and direct and we figure out our common language. We humans learn to trust the intuitive, non-verbal nature of the conversation; the horses know that we are listening, so express more clearly what they need, or would like.
But I don’t want this to sound like some New Age, spiritual thing. It’s not. It is very down to earth, grounded in the simplicity of being. Horse-ness. Which can be Human-ness if we pay attention. When we sit at the stable block at the end of the day, all chores done, and the horses choose to hang out with us, even though their hay is waiting for them, it is a simple pleasure. And that’s what it’s all about.
It’s five months today since the horses and I arrived here in Portugal, exhausted, dislocated – and relieved. At least I was relieved. The horses simply shook themselves off, snorted, and checked out the local grass as they came off the truck. Then we set out on the one kilometre walk that would complete our journey (the truck could go no further down the dirt road).
The journey begins
Three days earlier six horses and myself had set out from Israel on an epic journey. Six unsophisticated, backwoods horses who had never been on a horse lorry before, let alone a plane, and me, their over-protective, natural horse-keeping, essential oil wielding chaperone. I chose to travel with the horses to ease their journey in any way I could, to protect them from being treated like just another pallet of cargo; and to share this experience with them, a sort of penance for what we were putting them through.
The transport business doesn’t see living beings, just objects in transit – as anyone who has flown on a low-cost airline will agree. To me each horse is a special individual whose needs and comforts must be considered. Explain that to the man on the forklift as he screeches and crashes and jerks along with my frightened horses in a container… I think he got the point in the end, or maybe he was just terrified by the mad-eyed woman yelling at him!
We flew from Tel Aviv to Brussels on a Monday evening. In Brussels we were met the horse transporter – and my horse from England. Three days previously the transport guys had whisked him out of the grassy, Cotswold field, where he had lived a quiet life of semi-retirement for the last five years, loaded on a horse transporter for the 3rd time in his life, and ‘poof’, his old life was gone. The only uplifting moment for me on the whole journey was when I called his name from outside the lorry (I wasn’t allowed on) and saw his ears rotating keenly, trying to find my voice. I hadn’t seen him for over a year.
I had chosen this transport company, despite them being the most expensive, because they had promised we could decide on arrival in Brussels if my Israeli horses were fit to travel further, or if it would be better to rest close to the airport and continue the next day. Sucker! It immediately became clear that the well-being of the animals was less important than the well-being of the owner’s bank balance. After a useless, tearful tantrum outside the customs terminal we loaded up my tired and accepting horses, so brave and trusting, and set off into the night. Me and my friend Zena, who had also met us in Brussels, in a rental car.
We drove till mid afternoon, overnighting somewhere in rural France, set off before dawn, drove through the day, overnighted in rural Spain, started out again at 4 a.m., and arrived at the quinta by mid-morning. As I said, exhausted and dislocated, despite the cheerful reception from the rest of the crew (my partner Prasado, and Bill, Gali and Yulie, who own the quinta and four of the horses), who had arrived the day before.
Still, we had arrived. The hardest thing I had ever done was already starting to fade away into memory, like childbirth, as I walked beside my beloved horse and led the herd down the dusty track towards their new life.
At the top of the hill, just as we passed the boundary to the quinta, we paused and surveyed the view, my first view of our new home: the Serra da Estrela mountains to our left; tree dotted hills sinking and rising around us; the track before us heading on down the hill between aromatic pine, eucalyptus, lavender, cistus and rosemary – an aromatherapists shopping cart. A deep breath, an inner smile, we are home.
But that was just the beginning…..
Where are we today?
Five months later, I sit here on the hilltop as the herd munches happily all around me and it is good. The horses are relaxed, healthy, well-fed, the herd dynamic is ‘right’, no-one lives in fear. But gosh, it’s been a journey to get here. For me it has been fascinating, stressful, joyous and educational as I watch this group of horses, each one with his/her own history (and baggage), form a coherent herd living an ‘as natural’ lifestyle – with a little help from the human herd.
The horses have adapted to their new environment, we humans have figured out how to provide them with enough food and shelter, nursed them through maggot attacks and lameness, slowly allowed them to roam more freely over the sort of landscape that most people would consider unsuitable for horses. And we are thriving. So many stories, so many lessons, I will share them with you in other blogs, alongside our continuing adventure. But in honour of the 5 monthiversary here are:
Five heartfelt memories!
1. Going down to the belly of the cargo plane, where the horses stood 3 to a crate, stacks of boxes piled all around, whickering at me as I step in to check how they are. Such a contrast, their quiet kindness against the harsh metal and hellish noise.
2. The horses have shown such trust throughout this whole process, from the days of preparing for the journey, through those 4 long days on the road, and the times of uncertainty, as we tried to provide the feed and shelter they needed in a land we knew nothing of. The trust has never wavered, only grown as we continue to Explore Horse and expand our horizons.
3. The way O-sensei, the English horse, picked up with Prasado and I as if we had never been apart, even after 5 years of not living together. We were his herd in those first hard days when the other horses chased him and refused all his polite and gentle overtures, he would have moved into our tent if the deck would have held him!
4. Those first days of freedom, when we cautiously opened the fences and I escorted the horses around the property to see how they handled the steep hillsides, strewn with deadfall and forestry litter, such pleasure to explore their new world together.
5. Today, not quite a memory yet, but a significant moment, they all stand in the shelter munching hay, having chosen to rush home from the oak valley when the rain started to pour, and I know I have listened to them as faithfully as I can and am providing the best of both worlds, domestic comforts and natural needs and the freedom to choose what they prefer.
So, here at Quinta Regadas do Seco life is good and I would love to share our beautiful space with you. I invite anyone who would like to learn about horses in a natural environment to come to one of our workshops. You will learn about natural horse care, how you can be your horse’s most trusted friend and refine your horsemanship skills on many levels. For more details on workshops and what you will learn go to the Exploring Horse Camp page here, or for dates and to reserve your place go to the Essential Animals website, or leave a comment here and I will answer any questions you have
The herd today, calm and connected, eating together at the top of the hill