Back in the Saddle Again….

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To say that this past weekend was busy is an understatement.  So many things were going on, plus it was a holiday weekend. 

The planning for this weekend started in late November of last year.  My goal for buying Christmas gifts for my partner was going to take a different turn.  I was investing in “activity gifts” for both of us…..Cooking classes, massages, and a ‘Romantic Couples Horseback Riding Lesson.’ 

I had to make the reservation a couple of weeks ahead to secure our time and space….only two couples do the lesson at one time.  I was a bit nervous because my partner’s ear surgery was wedged right in the middle of all of this planning.  He was given the ‘all’s clear’ by his doctor with the understanding that he would take it easy and was told there needed to be absolutely no galloping.

I got up early Saturday morning.  I had to go early to do fluids for our friend’s dog.  I got on the road, only to be texted ten minutes into the drive to be told not to come.  I was just a tiny bit perturbed.  I had left Friz asleep in the kennel after his quick meal and potty break.  He looked at me as if I had scolded him as I headed out the door.  After the phone call, I rushed back to try to walk Friz out by the pond.  I harnessed him up and we walked toward the pond.  Everything seemed a bit out of kilter.  The crows were going crazy.  I had never seen them so antsy. 

Friz and I sat down under our old tree friend and I leaned back.  I could not relax…..Friz couldn’t settle down either.  He shuffled and he moved and he shifted and he licked non-stop.  I finally got so unsettled that I scurried back to my feet and quickly ushered him back to the condo.  As we walked away, I saw Black and White Cat coming up in the distance.  I waved quickly and we kept moving. 

I got Friz comfortable with my partner and I hurried to meet our roommate in the living room.  We had planned on going to brunch.  We got in the car and rushed to our destination.  We arrived at the restaurant with not a minute to spare.  We were seated quickly…..right in the middle of a section that had some of the most ill-behaved children I have ever encountered.  As we tried to talk and eat, these children shrieked and screamed and ran around the tables without so much as a ‘No’ from their parents.  We practically swallowed our meal whole just to get away from the chaos.

We thought that as a breather that we would head over to Starbucks.  We figured that we might be able to sit outside, enjoy the weather and relax a bit.  This time we happened to grab the last table…..and of course, it was beside a table where the occupant talked loudly to himself the whole time.  We also got to experience a dog that was there with his owner.  Obviously the dog had not been very well socialized as it barked and yowled at every passerby.  I looked at my roommate and said, “I am ready to leave now.  I need to start getting ready.”  6781100867_0d43e04b3b_z

We left and got home in record time.  I had time to jump in the shower, put on my jeans and boots, hop in the car and head to Adairsville.  Thankfully, our roommate had agreed to feed the dogs and keep them out while we were gone.  We fought the Atlanta holiday traffic on highway 285, highway 85, and highway 75.  We had finally gotten far enough out of the city that things were beginning to settle down.  We went exactly where Google Maps told us to go and ended up lost on a road that did not hold our destination.  It said that we needed to park and walk over hills to get to it. 

I told my partner to stay in the car and I walked down the road to neighboring farms to see if I could get accurate directions.  After stopping at five different farms, I finally came up on a little white haired woman. “You ain’t far from it…..don’t know why you’s way over hyar.  It’s right around that curve up yunder.  You’ll see the sign.”  I texted my partner and told him to drive down and pick me up and we drove around the curve.  Sure enough it was right around that curve ‘up yunder.’  We got out and our instructor was waiting for us on horseback on the other side of the pasture gate.  There was another couple with us.   He told us to come around the gate and follow him to the barn.  Thankfully I had worn my boots and jeans and thought to tell my partner to do the same.

We arrived at the barn and the instructor talked to us about respect for the horse.  He discussed energy with us and told us we needed to release any tension or frustration that we had because he would not allow that type of energy around his horses.  We all separated ourselves and did breathing exercises.  Once we were in the right mind frames, the instructor introduced each of to the horse we would be partnered with.  My partner was paired up with a quarter horse gelding.  He was directed to stand in from of the horse and breathe…In through the nose and out through the mouth.  The instructor called this ‘Equus.’  He was directed to rub the horse all over his body in circular motions with just a small amount of pressure.  This was to increase the human/animal bond.  Then he was shown how to direct the horse without forcing him.   This all clicked very easily for my partner and before long his horse was following him like a puppy.

In turn, the other riders were introduced to their steeds.  I was the last one to meet my mount.  I had turned my back for a second, and as I turned toward the stall, I saw the instructor lead out one the biggest animals I had ever seen.  He told me the horse was a Percheron and his name was Billy.  He was ginormous!!  Then again, this horse had to be able to carry mine and his own weight through the trails.  I had tried to release all of the tension of the day.  I went through all the directives that I was given.  I started to lead Billy.  He wouldn’t budge.  I had already been told that he was extremely gentle…but also stubborn.  He had been aquired through a rescue group and was a remarkable animal.

I walked slowly around him breathing and rubbing in circles.  I took the rope in my hand and proceeded to walk. Nothing.  I wasn’t about to pull.  After all, how effective would that be with a 2100 pound horse?  The instructor came over to me and told me to let the horse help me with my own energy.  With this instruction, I began to rub Billy’s face…breathing deeply as I did.  I whispered out, “Lady Epona…I call on you.  Make mine and this animal’s spirit one.  Renew and refresh our energy.  Calm us and build in us your heart.  Bring us together with you.”  I heard the instructor say calmly, “Will you look at that!  He is asleep.”  Billy slowly opened his eyes and I swear it looked as though he winked at me.

The instructor helped me up on Billy and gave some basic instructions.  Now, I have been on horses before, but it had been so long that I decided to let the instructor treat me as a beginner.  Every gentle request I made of Billy seemed to be second nature to him.  It was as if he could read my mind.  I was third in the line of riders with Billy with my partner and his horse behind.  Billy moved precisely the way he needed to with very little pressure on the reigns.  The only difficulty we had was the part of the trail through the woods.  Billy was so tall that I kept getting smacked in the face with tree branches.  One branch smacked me squarely under the eye and I heard my partner gasp.  I laughed and told him that is what I get for being so heavy….a horse so tall that I am in the higher branches.

As we would go up hills, Billy would pick up speed to get us up the incline.  He never seemed to lose control…..he always knew just how much speed to add without going into a gallop.  As we cleared the trees, we came into an open pasture with a pond nearby.  Each one of us was helped off the horse and they were close beside us.  We were given a mini bottle of wine and allowed to spend time as a couple with both of our horses.  Billy would playfully rub against me and I would do more circles.  My partner’s horse seemed absolutely enamoured with him.  He looked at him the way my partner’s own dog looks lovingly at him.  We laughed and talked about how fascinating these creatures were.  I put my hand on Billy’s forehead and listened as he breathed out.  I could feel the presence of Lady Epona right there in the midst of us.  She was offering her blessings to me, my partner, his horse and Billy.

We climbed back on our horses and made our way back to the barn.  Everyone was helped off their animal and then it was my turn to dismount.  I sat on Billy and the instructor took the rope to lead him.  Billy decided to turn around and head back out of the barn.  I had to direct him back inside.  The instructor said with a chuckle, “Doesn’t look like he’s done with you yet.”  We went to the middle of the barn and I swung my right leg backward and of course couldn’t feel ground.  Even getting off, I was still a good three feet off the ground.  The instructor grabbed me under my arms and helped me down those extra few feet….if I had tried myself, I would have landed with a thud.  As I turned, Billy turned to nuzzle me and I thanked him and Epona for such a wonderful afternoon…..and afternoon wrapped in the arms of the Divine. 

As we walked back to our car, we walked in silence.  We knew that we had experienced something unique.  We knew that we wanted to do this again….soon.  We are already planning dates.

Blessed Be!2013-05-25 17.47.10-1

Epona: Dancing Through the Stables and Riding Toward the Sunrise

epona2Epona: “Divine Horse”; “The Great Mare”; Goddess of horses; Mother Goddess. Fertility, maternity, protectress of horses, horse-breeding, prosperity, dogs, healing springs, crops.

She is a horse goddess with fertility connotations. A popular equestrian goddess closely allied with the Celtic trade in, and domestic use of, horses. Concerned with healing, and with the fertility of domestic animals.  She is arguably the only Celtic goddess to have been worshipped in Rome itself and her popularity was spread throughout the regions of Roman occupation.

Epona is typically with mares and foals, usually riding sidesaddle or merely in association with horses. She also holds cornucopiae sheaves of grain and other fruits suggesting an ancillary role as a vegetation goddess. Epona is also, on occasion, linked with dogs and birds. 
 

Last night, I went line dancing for the first time in eight years.  I have to admit, it stirred some wonderful memories.  As I shuffled and glided across the dancefloor, I was taken back to a time in my life when cares were few and far between. 

Growing up on a farm, you often helped other farmers during the spring and summer.  I have worked pig farms, chicken farms, dairies….but one of my favorite was spent helping a neighboring horse farm.  It was one of the first times I ever got a glimpse of the true magick and power inside of an animal.

I have to confess before I get too far in that I had never really heard of the Goddess Epona until I was introduced to her by a friend this past year.  This friend embodies everything that a goddess to the equine population should….she is beautiful, strong, graceful, and quite a bit of a spitfire.  Her passion for Epona started something ruminating in me.  I had to find out more about her.  I had to know this Goddess who showed herself so evidently in my friends love and passion for horses.

As I studied and meditated, I was often drawn backward in time to my own contact and work with some beautiful animals.  My first contact was with a horse named Coal.  Coal was, of course, jet black.  He was the horse I learned to ride on.  My friend, Nancy, lived on a farm in South Carolina.  I was very young and she was very persistent that I should learn to ride a horse.  Coal seemed to me to be the biggest horse I had ever seen.  She also had a Belgian Shepherd name Beatrice.  For some reason, Beatrice did not like anything about me.  It was her goal to make sure I didn’t make it off that farm alive.

I had finally given in to learning to ride Coal on an overcast Sunday afternoon.  Beatrice was put into the house to keep her away from me.  I was taught the correct posture for riding and how to ‘steer’ Coal.  He was so gentle.  It was like he knew what I wanted and needed before I did.  As we rode, I could hear Beatrice barking wildly in the background.  I was fine as long as that barking stayed in the distance.

We had been riding for about 45 minutes and were working our way around the horse ring when suddenly Coal came to a dead halt.  I had a weird feeling in my gut when I heard Beatrice barking five feet in front of us.  She snarled and growled and I saw my friend’s sister running toward us.  Beatrice had broken a window to get to us.  As scared shitless as I was, I remember hoping that she hadn’t hurt herself leaping through the window. 

Coal never reacted to Beatrice at all.  If she started toward us, he would turn as if to initiate a body block.  He never bothered to try to kick her.  He never got spooked.  I look back and think that I could not have had a better teacher in that first riding session.  It is because of him that I continued to learn.  He became a trusted friend over the years, and as I think back, I can still feel the sadness that I felt the day I watched him ride into the summerlands with Epona guiding him.

I also remember the summers of rodeos and time with the horses.  I know that many people do not like rodeos.  I absolutely love them.  It was on the rodeo circuit that I got to see the true human/equine bond.  Some of those men and women treat their horses better than they treat most other humans.  It was not unusual to walk around and see a cowboy or cowgirl conversing with their horse…and to watch the communication of the horse with the rider.  You haven’t experienced the power of the Goddess until you have looked into the eyes of a horse.  You can see fire and passion, but you can also see strength and peace.  You look at him and you know that he honestly had the strength and power to crush you, but the control to keep himself from doing that.  Wild-Horses-Harvest

This one thought came in an epiphany…..it is in my time with horses that I did learn control…it was in the teaching I received while learning to ride….it wasn’t so much about learning to control the horse…it was about learning to control myself.  Isn’t that the way it is about most things in life.  It isn’t about the situation, but it is about how you handle it.  It is in reigning in a horse that we learn to reign ourself in.  Horses mirror us in so many ways.  That wild part of us longs to go at full tilt.  We push and we push until we are forced by our own body to relax.  The reigns of everyday life move us left and right into decisions and circumstances, but that wild part still lies underneath….that fire.

I have heard the phrase used regarding “breaking a horse.”  Most horse trainers that I know would disagree with this terminology.  It once referred to breaking the horses spirit.  Putting that horse under your control.  It is not about “breaking the spirit” at all, but learning to work with that spirit. It is that same spirit in the animal that excites us.  It is that spirit we long for when we climb on and feel the motion of that magnificent being beneath us.

For Christmas this year, I gave my partner a romantic horseback riding afternoon ending in wine in a pastoral setting.  Just me, him and the horses.  I have longed for and needed that contact with these magnificent creatures.  I can feel Lady Epona stirring that wildness and calm all at the same time.

When stress seems to take over, I go back to a vacation 10 years ago in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I was allowed a very special gift.  I got to watch the wild horses on the island run.  There is nothing quite so spectacular as seeing a creature unburdened by the cares of the world run at full tilt racing the wind.

Lady Epona, help me to leave the cares and stresses of day to day living behind and feel the wind caressing my cheek as I call on your strength.

Blessed Be!Alone-a24173267[2]