Tag Archives: horses

More Eyes

My sister in law died not long ago and sometimes I feel her around me, making things happen. That might sound strange to you. But maybe you know what I mean. My dad died 7 years ago, and I feel him too. And why not? It’s not something to be cynical about. If you could contact the people you love after you die, wouldn’t you?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not. Let’s not get stuck there. Let’s receive it and let’s smile and apply the wisdom. I’ve always told my kids that no matter what, I’ll be in their heart. When they were little, they understood, nodding knowingly. Now at 11 and 15 they aren’t so sure. Their brains are in the way.

Today my husband is visiting his sister’s kids. They are going through her things. They found a box of horse tack. I am in need of horse tack. Just yesterday I thought about how expensive it is and how I really don‘t know if I can justify spending money on my hobby, even though it’s my therapy. We have bills to pay.

And then I get this. As my grandmother used to say: there are more eyes watching us than we’ll ever know.

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NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com

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Horses in the Herd

This time of year in Montana, I feel like the world just needs to crack open like an egg with a chick in it that is fully ready to use its beak and its legs and even its wings.  But it seems impossible, like we’ll be encased in this hard shell forever.  Here’s a piece I wrote for the Parelli site which reminds me that, yes, sooner than later, I’ll be on a horse again, but for now…it’s about watching.

Watching the Herd

Watching the Herd

I decided on my 34th birthday that I wanted to get back into horses.  I was paying for my children to have riding lessons.  Why not me?  I’d ridden as a child into my teens.  I missed those amazing creatures.  But I told myself a bunch of stories about why we couldn’t afford it and weighted my peaking passion with questions:  what if I got really hurt?  Was it irresponsible to be riding now that I was a mother?  We’ll tell ourselves almost anything to keep our dreams from coming true.

I decided to tell myself a different story:  I deserved to be happy and horses had been an integral piece of my happiness as a child.  I didn’t have a big agenda.  I didn’t want to compete.  I didn’t need a fancy horse.  I just wanted to re-visit the experience of horses again and to dig around for those lessons; that feeling of connection and freedom and abandon.

I asked around until I found what sounded like the right teacher for me and the right barn.  I figured I’d be on a horse the very first lesson.  We’d go around in circles and she’d tell me when I was posting on the wrong diagonal or cantering on the wrong lead.  She’d tell me when my hands were hard and maybe if I behaved myself, we’d even do a little jumping.

The truth was, I’d never really learned about horses in all those childhood English riding lessons and all those Western dude ranch trips with my family.  I had no idea what I was in for.  And I’ve been in it for ten years now.

Here is something I wrote after one of my first lessons.

I am watching my neighbor’s herd from my bedroom window, surrendered to a late winter head-cold.  I have been told to watch the herd if I am to know horses; but I haven’t really watched a herd, until now.  I want them to gallop.  To fight or nestle into one another.  I want them to roll and nicker.  Not stand like statues in the snow.

I have gotten back into riding after a fifteen year hiatus.  I have a teacher.  But I have not ridden yet.   If you come to my lesson, you will spend a lot of time on the ground, watching horses.  Learning about the herd.  About being prey.  How the eyes of prey animals are on either side of their head so they can see what lion or bear or coyote or person lurks in the field.  About how they need each other—safety in numbers.  How their motives are pure:  to conserve energy.  To survive.

Then my teacher will tell you about that person in the field.  You.  Me.  Us.  About how our eyes are close together.  About how we stalk our kill, how we pounce and cling, take it to the ground and tear at its flesh.  She will tell us that we are not bad for our ways of survival.  Then she will ask us to look at the tree straight ahead; she’ll arc around us, and ask us to speak when we can no longer see her.

“Now,” we say.

“Look at me.  I am behind you.”

We will be dazzled by the span of our peripheral vision.

Then she’ll do the same on the other side and we will lose patience with this exercise because what we really want to do is ride, but she’ll give us this:  “The horses need to know you are looking if they are going to trust you.  They want to trust you.  They want you to be their proven leader.  They let you on their back for a reason.”

But we are not really believers; an animal that big, that unpredictable?  How can it not be a match of wills? We say we are in it to ride.  But something tells us our teacher is not really a believer.  She thinks we want to be afraid.  She thinks we want to isolate our fear to this horse:  stalk it, pounce and cling, tear at its flesh.  She thinks we want to feed on our fear.  She thinks this because she is us.  She is a predator too.  And we love her for knowing our true nature.

She’ll ask us then to look at the tree and at the peripheral her with equal measure.  She won’t give us this little speech:

We look a sort, don’t we?  Eyes on the prize.  Safety in numbers?  That’s our lie.  We are loners in the forest, with our close-together eyes and opposing thumbs, our fire and feeding frenzies.  We will share with our families, yes.  And leave what we don’t want.  But that is not gift.

Two horses will nicker and rise, head-to-head, slashing tails, and we will jump and look at her and she’ll not jump.  She has been watching the herd a long time.  She might tell us whether they are fighting or playing because we are paying her by the hour to know the difference.  To have watched the herd, even though we didn’t know it.

If we are children still, say, under the age of six, she won’t need to tell us any of this.  We’ll see the horses rising on hind legs, entangling hooves, noses to manes and say, “Look.”  We are still prey.

Now, alone with my cold, looking out my window, I blow my nose and adjust the pillows, wanting to use my predator’s pocketbook to pay the horses then; the children.  For having the patience, the guts, the pureness of motive, to watch.  For the soft eyes that see the tree and my teacher with equal measure.  For conserving energy; valuing life force.  For knowing the difference between fight and play but not needing to name it.  For fighting and playing their way to respect and trust.  For not just acting like there is safety in numbers, but by living it.

There is a coyote in the field—rare for daytime.  Each horse looks up from its hay, straight ahead but straight at the coyote and straight at me.  And then they snap into a flurry of ice chunks and hooves, until they are neck-in-neck; a photo-finish in the only race of their lives that matters.  Back to the barn.  Safe.

No predator would be stupid enough to feed on the test and proof of another predator’s fear?  Would it?

http://central.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/2011/02/watching-the-herd-by-laura-a-munson/

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Seasonal Depression No More


This time of year people go a little bit crazy around here. It’s been grey. REALLY grey. For a long time. And we live in a place where just about everyone knows their way around horses or skis or both.
And everyone knows their way around snow.
Some lovely lunatic decided to put them all together. It’s called ski joring. The history of ski joring dates back several hundred years to Scandinavia as a way for people to travel during the harsh and snowy winter months. Towed behind reindeer on long wooden skis, these early travelers found ski joring or “ski driving” a useful and practical mode of
transport and communication.

On February 12, 1928 at the 2nd Olympic Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland competitors held a ski joring demonstration. This style was performed riderless with the skier driving the horse from
behind and racing head to head with the other competitors.

Apparently, that lovely lunatic’s ancestor lives in our town because every year our town dumps itself alongside the Burlington Northern railroad tracks at the base of our ski mountain and watches as the bravest of us jump on horse or skis and motor around an icy gnarly track, skier holding a rope attached to a saddle.

Horses fall, skiers fall, riders fall, and the fans go wild. Half the time I can barely watch.
The train engineer toots his horn, the children drink hot cocoa and cheer from plastic sleds, the parents have a Bloody Mary or a pulled pork sandwich, and we all wake up a bit against the mid-winter sky, dripping in grey.

This is our idea of good clean mid-winter fun. And I have to say, it is one of my favorite days in our small mountain town in Montana (as long as nobody gets hurt!).

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Begging the Bear

I went for the smell of wild roses pulsing in the vanilla of Ponderosas. For the June blues and purples: penstamon, flax, lupine, geranium. I went for the ninety-degree heat and cobalt skies after so many months by the wood stove, wearing a shawl. I went for the view from the ridge, to see what my valley looks like, green. I went to remind my horse that I am his leader in a fence less place. I went for sunburned shoulders.

My horse sees her first. Ups his head, pricks his ears.

“Hello?” she shouts up to me. “Could you wait a moment?”

We wait there on the ridge. You wouldn’t not.

“Say, I was wondering if you might come with me up the trail a bit. Seems like Logan and I can’t ride out here without a bear encounter. Just saw a mama and three cubs. Logan here doesn’t like bears. Doesn’t like the sight of them. Doesn’t like the smell of them. Of course, the whole woods smell like bear this time of year. It’s funny—the bears never used to bother him.”

I take in a clandestine sniff. Smells to me like roses and Ponderosas.

Read the rest here at the Parelli blog

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Wild Horses. Wild Mind.


A few words about fear, wild horses, and a wild mind. Please come say hi over at the Parelli website. yrs. Laura

I used to believe in facing fear head on. That fear was a force built for opposition. That in order to dash it, you had to bust through it. Suffice it to say that I spent many years walking down the dark alleys of the mind and the physical world. Somewhere in there, I realized that just about the best place to face and bust and dash fear was on the page—in the empathetic act of climbing into someone else’s shoes and seeing what life was like outside my own dark alleys. And I dwelled there exclusively for twenty years, cutting my teeth on city mean-ish streets, and then the Rocky Mountains and the reality of grizzly bears and mountain lions. And then I had kids. And then I knew paralytic fear. And then I found horses. …(for more click here.)

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No Agenda– mother daughter inspiration

I’d like to share this blog post I did for the Parelli Natural hosemanship blog today.  It introduces some very special people in my life.  You might recognize the horse woman from my book.  Here she is:  Bobbi Hall.  But first a word about her amazing child, Cedar, who makes Down’s Syndrome look like mystic freedom, and maybe it is.  It is my great pleasure to share about them here.

http://central.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/2010/10/no-agenda-by-laura-munson-for-cedar-vance-and-bobbi-hall/

photo by Kylanne Sandelin

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Form? Function? Does it Matter?

Form? Function? Does it Matter? It makes us stop and take a look.


Cildo Meireles, Thread, 1990-95
48 bales of hay, one 18-carat gold needle, and 58 meters of gold thread
First time on view at MoMA

I saw this sculpture at MOMA a few weeks ago in New York City.  Here’s what is written about it:

“Meireles creates sculptures and installations that tie everyday materials to larger political and philosophical concerns. ‘Thread’ is a modular cube, a form evocative of the geometric rationality of Minimalist art, but it is constructed of a material generally associated with agriculture. At one end of the wire, a single 18-carat gold needle is inserted into the cube, recalling the common expression, “Like finding a needle in the haystack.” The pairing of substances with different monetary values but that here are nearly indistinguishable visually suggests the precariousness of economic relationships, and the minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”

A pile of hay in Montana at a horse ranch.  circa right now.  Artist unknown.  On view most every day for the last 50 years.

Here’s what comes to my heart and mind:
The hay stack at MOMA was ridiculous to me, and as open as I am to receiving art and what it might teach or inspire, I scoffed at “Thread.”  Scoffing is not my usual practice at an art museum.  I am the one who walks around the piece a few times, no matter how “ridiculous,” giving it a chance to touch me.  I once watched a woman sucking her toe in an art installation in Paris for a good fifteen minutes.  There’s always something to learn or feel.  Violent aversion is better any day than scoffing.  Scoffing, yes, is a reaction.  But not one of any elegance.  It feels limited and akin to someone looking at a Pollock and saying, “My three year old can do that.”  “Yes, but your three year old DIDN’T do it,” I like to say. 

I suppose this brings up ye olde form follows function argument.  The very act of taking a tube of toothpaste– the commonplace, and being deliberate enough to put it into a museum, out of context, to inspire some sort of new relationship with that tube of toothpaste, is the kind of stirring-the-pot-of-perspective that art is all about.  But hay?  Good hay?  Do they know what the price of hay is these days?  Do they know how many people are being forced to get rid of their horses because of the price of hay?

I guess that’s what’s happened to the once art history major in me– after 17 years, I am a country girl.  Maybe that’s what I was scoffing at on some level.  I couldn’t “go” with this one.  It seemed wasteful and stupid.  Why not show a film of my farmer friend climbing all over her three story stack of hay, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, solo.  To me this hay sculpture was wasteful, or almost a mockery of farm life. 

All I could think of was this Montana friend, who works so hard to pay for and care for the hay which sustains her horses, standing there looking at this “sculpture,” and no, not scoffing.  But feeling kicked in the face somehow.  Some people don’t have time for this kind of perspective-pot-stirring.  They don’t want to see their livlihood on display; played with; wrapped in gold thread, and not orange baling twine– an example of the “precariousness of economic relationships.” Worse: “The minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”  They know they are within a larger social system– one which doesn’t often offer much help. 

But here I am scoffing on their behalf.  Maybe I’m the problem because I need to report on it.  Truth is, my friend wouldn’t find herself at MOMA.  And most probably, this “scultpure,” wasn’t meant for her.  Hers is a different consciousness.  Her perspective gets stirred by the bald eagles who ride thermals above her while she climbs up this three story stack of hay and ties down tarp in wind storms. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t see hay as form and I don’t want to. I see hay as function.  Hard won.  A lot harder won than toothpaste; I don’t mind trying to see a tube of toothpaste out of context and receiving the lessons therein.  And even calling it art. But when I see my friend up on that hay stack, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, and never complaining about it…when I see her up there, I feel the passion and hardship of farm life.  And yes, my perspective is stirred.  Because when I offer to help, she declines.  She has her system.  I would be in the way.  Maybe then, you could say, that she has her “art.” And it’s not important that it’s witnessed.

Once I got over my initial scoffing that day at MOMA, I walked around the sculpture a few times– reminding myself that it is best to see where we are in our own way, and let go of it. There’s no real power in scoffing unless we’re going to do something about it. And really, this wasn’t one of those times. And finally, this stack of hay, erected there in a museum, was benign.  In fact, I decided that I would have liked it more if it wasn’t wrapped in gold thread and if it was missing its gold needle.  I would have liked it more if it was just the same as what stands tall in my friend’s field, waiting to be eaten, threatening to rot in its place.  Because at least in that form, it would be like an animal in the zoo– sacrificing its freedom to educate those who would otherwise never see it in the wild. 

That’s it!  I thought. The reason for the scoff.  It was clear to me then. Having lived in Montana for 17 years, I realized that I am protective of wild things.  Or just rural things.  They don’t belong in museums and zoos.  The sacrifice I just described is the only justification I can think of.  As a city person in origin, I guess that I have become defensive of the country, as if it needs me to be.  And then, I scoffed at myself. Because we all know that the country does just fine on its own without some woman standing in an art museum in New York City trying to save it from art rape. It’s being raped in all sorts of ways that are way worse “crimes.”

And I wondered in that moment, if that means that I am finally at home here in the rural west.   I don’t think I was looking to find that when I paid my $20 to go to MOMA the other day.

In the end, I sat on a bench, deflated.  People were walking around the stack of hay, looking at it as sculpture.

And then, as it usually does when I take myself too seriously, the funny part came in like a MC with a hook and a hat telling me I’d been on stange too long: I felt a tickle in my nose.  That old familiar tickle that means I’m going to sneeze.  Over and over and uncontrollably so.  You see, I am allergic to hay.  Badly allergic.

And I did.  I sneezed. People avoided me like the member of the Great Unwashed that I was to them then, letting loose into my shirtsleeve.

So in that case, the hay, in whatever form it presented itself, was NOT benign.  In that case it was purely itself, whether it was wrapped in gold thread or not. 

Here are some comments on modern art.  What are some of yours?

“What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism.”
–Octavio Paz

“It is not hard to understand modern art. If it hangs on a wall it’s a painting, and if you can walk around it it’s a sculpture.”
–Tom Stoppard (British Playwright, b.1937)

“Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.”
–John Ciardi

“Most painting in the European tradition was painting the mask. Modern art rejected all that. Our subject matter was the person behind the mask.”
–Robert Motherwell

[Abstract art is] a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.
Al Capp (1909 – 1979)

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
–Jackson Pollock

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End of Summer

Last trail ride, last bouquet, last carrots.



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A Life in Balance


Click here to read my article, “A Life in Balance,” on the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Blog.

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