fires, humans, horses


Fires are raging in Southern California.  I cannot imagine the terror for humans and animals. I have been particularly moved by the stories of people trying to save horses, and images of horses being led out of fire zones.  Everyone is, I am sure, doing their best in the face of this disaster.

Here are a few tips for those who are rescuing horses, or caring for horses who have been evacuated.

  • To the best of your ability, stay calm.  Horses are prey animals, and they are reading your nervous system like the professional decoders of human emotion that they are.  When leading a horse, move as smoothly and calmly as possible.  Yanking on the lead line,  scolding the horse, or moving roughly only adds to the distress of the horse and ultimately makes your job more difficult.
  • If you are feeling agitated take a few minutes before approaching the horse to breathe and settle your own body. Feel your feet on the ground, the breath moving through your body.
  • Move slowly and mindfully around the horse.  If they have been evacuated in haste, or trailer loaded quickly and with any difficulty, they are on high alert for the next scary thing.  Use the slow, steady quality of your movements to reassure them that they are safe.
  • Once the horse is in a place of safety, and has water and feed, take a few minutes to stand and breathe quietly with the horse, speaking soothingly in a soft, friendly voice.  Let this shared breathing meditation help to quiet and settle your body and mind too.
  • If the horse is comfortable with being touched, softly rest your hands on the horse’s neck, or use some soft strokes (TTouch) down the mane of the horse, or slow strokes along the ears.  Use your touch to support the feeling of just being, rather than doing.
  • Feel the reciprocal quality of your touches.  Remember that as you touch, you are being touched, and are, in fact, soothing each other.

For more ways of making mindful connection with your horse, check out my book:  Our Horses, Ourselves: Discovering the Common Body from Trafalgar Square Books.






the witness

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I am on Martha’s Vineyard, entering the waters of moving presence with my autistic godson Jacob, and his parents. Today his mother JoAnn and I entered our work through the discipline of Authentic Movement. First Jacob and JoAnn are the movers, I am witness.  Then Jacob and I are movers as JoAnn witnesses.  The receptive embodied presence of the witness is the deep lake in which the movement is reflected and held.

Entering one’s own movement in the presence of Jacob is something like dancing with a horse.  Eyes need to be open, because he is unpredictable, riding the rough, twisting currents or his own movement.  But there are steep differences. Jacob is not choosing, he is being chosen by his movements.  There are moments of deliberate attention, but then those dissolve back into the mystery of his patterns. He is both porous and impenetrable. Sometimes we are dancing together, other times rapt in our individual experiencing. I have experienced this alone togetherness in a paddock with a horse.

In 2002, Janet Adler wrote:

As many of us know, autistic children have a tremendous capacity to concentrate. They can do one movement indefinitely. What is the force in these children that draws them, continues to sustain them, into repeating certain movements over and over?

Needing to find the children, to find myself in their presence, I chose to concentrate into the very stuff of each gesture by actually entering the precious detail of their bodies moving, trying to move exactly as they did. In doing so I had the privilege of learning their silent language. I found them in a merged state with their own movement- because of an absence of an inner witness
 fervently focused on their idiosyncratic movement patterns. These children taught me about movement patterns. Could their prayer have been: “See me, and then I can see myself?” And so, slowly, accompanied by an outer, moving, open-eyed witness, they began, just began, to see themselves. In such moments of grace, an inner witness was born, barely born- tiny beginnings, enormous moments in my life. It was here that an opportunity for a dialogic relationship between us emerged.

I have been entering the precious detail of Jacob’s movement for 16 years.  Today, in the cold winter sun, surrounded by the bare trees, the soft thin grass, the lengthening shadows, I am still a student, still moving, still listening, moving and waiting to be moved.

the poem, the dance

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This is how I want to make dances.  This is how I want to teach.  This is how I want to be.

Thank you Mary Oliver!




I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves.  I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash.  I want to write with quiet hands.  I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daises and everlasting and the
ordinary grass.  I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise.  I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable.  I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.

~ Mary Oliver ~







touching Mamacita


This is Mamacita, the formerly feral mama cat who now lives in my studio.

In my book (just released!!!) Our Horses, Ourselves: Discovering the Common Body, I devote a chapter to the nuances of touch.  Besides TTouch (developed by Linda Tellington-Jones), I explore how understanding the developmental stages of touch can help us to become more intentional and mindful with our touch, whether with humans, horses, cats, dogs, or your morning tea.

Those stages are, in order, yield, push, reach, grasp and pull.  They are the usual sequence in which infant movement develops in relationship to the world and what she wants to be close to, or bring close.

For the first six years of knowing Mamacita, I could not touch her.  She was very fearful, but also curiously connected.  We fed her, built an outdoor shelter for her, and then one winter, she decided that coming into the house might be a good idea.  That was probably year seven.

I spent a lot of time sitting and breathing and making myself less scary.  Touches developed.  Slowly, with frequent setbacks.

Today, Mamacita’s favorite human is one that is lying on the floor so that she can do her verson of Contact Improvisation.  I can lift her, carry her, roll with her, tumble with her.

This morning, I experienced a revelation.  Mamacita, I realized, was doing ALL OF THOSE TOUCH STAGES AT ONCE WITH DIFFERENT PARTS OF HER BODY!!! Her back yielded into my legs, her nose and head pushed at mine, her paws reached, grasped (claws) as she pulled herself toward me.

I love what I learn daily from my creature companions.  I love the wordlessness, the openness and the fullness of it.  I love feeling the reciprocity – the being touched as I touch.

What are you touching? How are you touching?