Hi Everyone that follows this blog, just wanted to let you know we have moved. You will now find us at our fancy new site, where I am committed to writing on a regular basis 🙂 Check it out, and if you want be informed of new blogs or other goodies, sign up to the newsletter over there. Hope to see you soon, Nayana
I always enjoy Dorothy’s blogs. This one is particularly close to home. This is one of the prime motives here at Over the Edge Farm, to find out how horses choose to interact with humans when they are “Free Agents”. One thing is for sure, the more I relinquish control, the more they choose to be with me. It is only our fear that inhibits the connection.
“The capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life is the essence of humanness”, Albert Bandura, 2001.
Have you ever had a splinter in your finger? A horrible little pinprick, just underneath the skin. You worry at it, you suck your finger, you try to grasp it between your nails, but nothing shifts it and it seems to affect everything you do. In the end, there’s nothing for it, you have to get it out using a needle.
Now, that’s where things get interesting. The splinter under the skin, or the bit of grit in the eye – they’re under your skin, they’re in your eye. But you are starting to get the feeling that you’re going to have to ask someone else to get them out for you. You don’t often put the feelings into words, but what’s there to the fore is that nobody…
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Dorothy Heffernan always has something interesting to say. And I whole heartedly agree that isolation is punishment and detrimental to the well-being of any social animal.
“We can understand the sadness of isolated older people in the middle of busy towns and cities. It’s time we applied a little of that empathy to the situation of horses kept alone. “
“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
― Honoré de Balzac>
Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor who spent more than four years alone on an island off the coast of Argentina in the early years of the 18th century. He was the real life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. He wasn’t shipwrecked – he chose to leave his ship and shipmates because he felt the ship was unsafe. I wonder did this make any difference to how he felt during the four years he spent alone on the island? Writers tend to say that humans love solitude and seek it out, but hate loneliness and work hard to avoid it. Solitude means wanting the space to think or work but knowing that if we need someone to laugh with us, cry with us or listen to us, they can found. Being lonely is when we find ourselves in a…
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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.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see Sufi 100% sound and tearing across the hills.
Just 3 mornings ago I was faced with something I have been secretly dreading. A horse limping up the hill for breakfast!
I could see Sufi’s head bobbing as she came through the tall shrubs. My stomach sank. But I’m an optimist: it was just a glimpse, maybe I was mistaken? As she cleared the cistus thicket there was no more doubt. The unstoppable Sufi was very lame. It didnt look sore enough to be a break, but could well be a tendon.
I watched her hobble towards me, hoping it was only an abcess. I know how to deal with them. I met her half way up the hill. Her right front leg was definitely hot and puffy over the tendon area.
My poor little Fire element princess. At just one year old, this is her first encounter with pain, and she is not taking it well. She is used to flying across the hills with total confidence in her body. She does not know what to make of this limitation and looks shocked, chastened, confused.
So, here I stand face to face with the moment I’ve dreaded.
What am I going to do now?
Can I trust my gut and keep following nature’s route? Or is this the moment I will fold to the pressure and fear. The internal pressure of a mind conditioned to believe in western medical science, vets and doctors (we all are, even those of us who reject it). The fear of taking full responsibility for my actions, without some outside authority (an expert) to guide me.
I sometimes wish I could play it safe and go the ‘conventional’ route. But no, this is another moment when I will have to step over the edge. Think it through step by step, never knowing if the decision is right or wrong until we see the result.
Conventional veterinary medicine says, “Cold hose, anti-inflammatories, box rest.”
OK, I can handle cold hose, and I have natural anti-inflammatories which can take the edge off the pain. I wouldn’t want to mask the pain completely, it reminds her to limit her movement to safe parameters. But box rest?
Even if I had a box, I don’t think it’s the right solution. Horses need movement for proper function of circulation. Circulation is crucial for healing soft tissue. And the stress of confinement and separation would create a very unhealing environment. So box rest is out of the question.
On the other hand, I am pretty sure tendons should not be overstrained when damaged. So I probably need to restrict movement. But in the wild they would have to move. Or would the herd slow down, self-limit, protect their youngster? Her mother Shanti is the lead mare, she can influence movement if she wants to, can’t she? So, should I just trust in nature, the herd?
But the idea here at Over the Edge Farm is “Nature Plus”. The best of both worlds. I’m not going to let wolves eat her, or see her suffer unnecessarily. So, I have to find a way to I keep her and the rest of the herd happy and comfortable, and help Sufi heal.
Luckily for me (Thank you universe!), on closer inspection Sufi has an abrasion on the injured leg. About 10cm of hair is scraped off, but the skin is not broken This makes it probable that the injury is from impact; maybe she caught her leg in something. It’s less likely to be caused by a mis-step or other faulty locomotion.
Therefore, I reason, it is bruised and swollen from the outside in. And while the tendon sheath feels ‘thick’ I don’t think anything is strained or sprained. This gives me more leeway in her care as I won’t have to restrict her movement so much.
So, what am I thinking now?
I clarify my goal:
Roaming freely on 30 hectares of rough land is too much for her (I’m not 100% sure of this, but am not prepared to risk my baby to find out)
I need to restrict her movement to an area that is less challenging but still provides stimulation.
I want all herd members to have access to each other to reduce stress for all.
What am I going to do?
First of all, the easy bit. An area where I have a little bit of knowledge at least.
I offer her essential oils and herbs to reduce the swelling and ease the pain. I then make a clay plaster, adding the essential oils she selects, and apply directly to the injured area. After this she lies down. This turned into a lovely quiet healing circle as we were all drawn into the relaxation of two resting ponies.
Sufi seemed brighter after this. So I bandaged her leg for extra support and released her and her mum to join the other horses, who had drifted off down the steep slope into the back valley. I am curious to see if Sufi will self-limit her movement.
Shanti was ready to join the herd, calling and going down the hill. Sufi was reluctant to move too far or fast, limping pitifully. But it was obvious the imperative of the herd would force her to move if we didn’t intervene. So we decided to fence off the grassy slope close to camp. An area of about .5 hectare (approximately 1 acre).
Meanwhile I put a halter on Shanti and take them both to eat grass in the ‘human corral’, where they don’t usually have access. Sufi forgot about her leg as she tucked into the green grass. Shanti was compeletely unconcerned about the other horses, until her stomach was full. Then she started calling. The others replied, but did not appear. So much for the herd sticking close to the lead mare.
Once the fence was ready, I turned Shanti and Sufi out. Shanti motored off looking for a way to join the herd. Sufi hobbled behind her slowly. Shanti stands at the furthest corner of the paddock, calling out, definitely disturbed by her confinement. I settle her with some hay and Sufi soon lies down and sleeps again. Sometime later the rest of the herd came up to join them and they all have an afternoon snooze.
Then it’s time to decide what to do for the night. Leave them all in the smaller enclosure? Leave a couple more horses with Shanti? If so which ones? Let Sufi out and trust in the self-limiting nature of her pain?
Observation leads to action
As we stand and watch, the horses starting to move now, we wait for our next action to become clear. Because that’s what this process is. Once the goal has been clarified, it is not a movement of mental energies ‘thinking’, but a quiet receptivity. Watchfulness. It is watching the movement of energy, seeing the pattern unfold and going with it. Despite the fear, anxiety, “not knowing”.
Arya stays close to Shanti as the others start to leave. She is Sufi’s big sister in every way that counts and so I leave her in with them. Hoping this will reduce Shanti’s stress. We put hay along the outside of the fence to encourage the rest of the herd to hang around too. They don’t. They drift off to eat grass, then around the corner to last night’s left over hay.
The “Left behinds” are disturbed, slightly stressed. So am I. What if I’ve got it all wrong?
The night is quiet. No whinnies of distress. Sufi rests a lot, sleeping peacefully on the soft, grassy bank. And in the morning? She’s barely limping! I can’t quite believe it, but the heat is gone. She takes only a small amount of meadowsweet, the pain relieving herb.
Stick or Twist?
So what do I do now? Keep on resting her as it’s working so well? Or let her out to roam the rough lands because today she’s probably up to it?
We have the morning breakfast gathering and it becomes clear: Confinement is not an option. Shanti is adamant. All her body language and energetic intention pushes me to release her. And it would take a stronger woman than I to stand against such clarity. I take another deep breath and let go.
And it is lovely to see that the herd’s movement does adjust to accomodate her. They are slower, they walk the flatter routes. There is always one mature mare at her side. Rohan is not allowed to play with her. At evening time I lead them slowly to homebase to ensure they don’t come haring down the slopes in their usual fashion. We are all mellow.
Still, Sufi’s leg is slightly more puffy than in the morning, and she is obviously tired. I am hoping she hasn’t over done it. I give her another dose of homeopathic arnica, slather on the clay mixture, and go to bed wondering whether I shouldnt have closed her in overnight. Especially when heavy rain on the caravan roof wakes me in the darkest hours.
In the morning the rain has stopped and the horses are not in sight. When they don’t appear for breakfast I go look for them, with slightly somber thoughts hovering next to my eternal question mark. I find them at the top of the property, grazing in the spring sunshine. Behind them, a long view over the hills to Spain.
Sufi’s leg looks fabulous: slim, totally weight bearing. She is nonchalant. I watch her graze, moving along one slow step at a time, thinking what perfect exercise it is for a sore leg. Then she starts playing with Rohan, racing around and rearing up as foals do. I catch my breath, but she really is 100% sound.
3 days! That’s all it took. I reflect on what a perfect machine it is, this body, and how, in the right environment, it can heal itself so well. And I am grateful to have been one small part of this healing process, a humble servant of Horse.
P.S. Sufi’s Selected Aromatics
I bet you would like to know what ‘medicine’ we used? So here it is.
Herbs she selected:
Meadowsweet, natural aspirin. Day 1 she ate about a cup full, day 2 about1/2 a cup and day 3 she had no interest
Devil’s claw, analgesic 5 pieces of sliced root soaked in hot water for 15 minutes. She ate all the slices and drank some of the water.
Milk thistle seed, to support Liver, which is necessary in any traumatic injury, especially if tendons are involved. Day 1 and 2 she took about 1/4 cup.
Rosehips, for the vitamin c, immune support and anti-inflammatory support day one she took a couple of tablespoons.
Day 2 she also took 2 tablespoons of echinacea root for immune support.
Essential oils and hydrosols
Plai (zingiber cassumunar), also known as Thai ginger. This is a cooling anti-inflammatory, analgesic and one of my “go to” oils for any musculo-skeletal damage.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) anti-inflammatory, releases physical and emotional trauma, seals wounds
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) anti inflammatory, calming
She selected Plai and chamomile.
Witch Hazel hydrosol (NO added alchocol) She wanted to drink it and I washed her leg with it to clean the wound, reduce inflammation and bruising.
I made a leg plaster to reduce inflammation and aid circulation using
1/2 cup green clay
2 tablespoons bentonite clay
1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
1 tablespoon calendula oil
20 drops of plai essential oil
10 drops of chamomile essential oil
Witch hazel hydrosol, enough to make a mobile paste to spread on the leg with a spatula.
She also ate a little of this blend.
Once the ‘plaster’ absorbed/dried I bandaged the leg (don’t bandage on top of clay), applying Traumagon first. She also licked a little traumagon.
In the evening of day 1, I removed the bandage and re-applied clay.
Morning of day 2 she selected Traumagon over clay.
Evening of day 2 she selected clay.
Day 3 she didn’t want anything applied.
Before we released her she also had a dose of homeopathic arnica twice on day 1 and in the evening of day 2.
Nick Hill is who I call when I need guidance with the horses feet. He will be here at Over the Edge sometime this year (dates not confirmed) for a workshop that will include feet, food and fun (for horses!).
by Linda Chamberlain
I want you to meet a trained farrier – one that says he will never shoe again because of the harm it causes. He turned his back on the trade because separating the horse from the ground was the beginning of a destructive process. He became a barefoot trimmer because he was forever fighting against nature, causing the hoof to distort and break from constant renailing. With all our wisdom and technology, there had to be a better way…
His name is Nick Hill and he has a list of changes needed for the domestic horse that is shopping-list long. If anyone can make a few of these demands happen it is this quietly, committed man who travels the world educating owners about a new way of caring for the species.
There is more to looking after a horse’s hoof than the style or frequency of its…
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Men plan, God Laughs!
If I recall, the last thing I wrote on this blog was, “From now on I’ll be blogging regularly”. Do I hear the gods laugh?
I’m afraid I grossly underestimated the time and energy required to build a home from scratch. And I mean scratch: no water, no electricity, no habitable dwelling for man or beast.
It’s been a time of intensity. Body, mind, emotions stretched waaaay out of their comfort zone. Luckily, that’s what I call fun!
From vision to reality
It’s been a year of creativity and growth. We went from the barest necessities – water, shelter, basic amenities – to beautiful, functional buildings, which form the first permanent camp (human headquarters).
Our herd has grown from 4 horses to 10, and watching the herd building has been a fascinating process. Slowly we have expanded the horse territory. Now they have the whole 30 hectares to roam. I spend a lot of time watching where they go, what they eat, how they use the land, as I study how best to care for them and the land.
Peaks and troughs
I love this land, and the adventure we are on. The insecurity and the not-knowing make me alive. My senses are finely tuned, my mind open. But, at times, I have felt overwhelmed with what we have set under way here. Waking in the middle of the night, fears and anxieties spin around the mind.
There is so much to learn. So many things that need to be done. Every time we come to a peak, where we could maybe rest for a moment, along comes another wave. All I can do in these moments is breathe, open my arms wide and surrender myself again. Feel my feet firmly on the ground, right here, right now, and take one more step over the edge.
New Home, Same Obsessions…
So here we are, on this rain-blessed day in February. A new home, a new herd, a new-look blog, and a new name. But the same obsessions. The same never-ending interest in the whys and hows of horses, horse care and the nature of horses, humans, life. The continuing exploration of how we can give horses what they need within the constraints of domestication.
I have learnt so much in the last 10 months. Or perhaps better to say unlearned! I don’t know where to start sharing. So I decided a short pictorial review would be fun before we get down to “serious” business. Because this time I mean it, I will be blogging regularly now, sharing all the herd teaches me. Because this is my way to kneel and kiss the ground.
“…… let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi
The Illustrated History of Over The Edge Farm.
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.
One of my small obsessions is watching my horses eat. I love the way they pick and choose so carefully and precisely, how their nose and whiskers work together to sort through a dense mat of green stuff. Negev is an absolute master, a gourmand, who takes a little of this, a little of that till he has 4 or 5 different tastes in his mouth at the same time. And just as you think he’s done, he goes back for a little bit more of one plant before he chews it all up, eyes half closed. When I think of horses who are confined to single species grazing, or fed only and forever on hay, I shudder.
Personally, I think the two most important factors in horse health are movement and variety of diet. Enough movement is essential for the musculo-skeletal system, including the feet, varied diet keeps the motor running at optimum to fuel the movement. With enough variety in the diet a horse can balance his nutritional needs, which vary from day to day, or week to week, and many of those niggly little problems of itching, or nervousness, or runny eyes will clear up. Not to mention the not-so-niggly problems, such as laminitis and metabolic syndrome.
I am lucky -or determined, I didn’t get here overnight!- as I am now living in an environment where it is easy to provide my horses with a wide variety of forage, on a selection of different terrains (different terrain means different mineral content and trace elements). And when I say ‘provide’ I don’t mean they get room service, they have to move a lot to find their food.
This property starts in moist, cool river bottoms with Atlantic vegetation, then strolls up the rocky hillside through oaks, pines, and mediterranean scrub with rough grasses: ideal. However, when I lived in less perfect conditions I used to provide variety by taking horses out to graze on the hedgerows of England or equivalent (depending on the country!. Or I offered herbs and essential oils to provide the secondary metabolites necessary for self-medication, and clays and minerals to provide their non-vegetable needs. If your horse is confined you can add herbs and barks to a feeding ball to keep them entertained and healthy.
I have hours of video of horses eating (did I mention obsessed?), I’ll spare you that. Here is a small clip I put together for my aromatics students, just to illustrate the point.
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.