During the first two weeks of May, my German friend and erstwhile riding instructor came for a visit to Hilton Head Island from her native Frankfurt.
It was her first time here, so we did a lot of sightseeing. But she was very interested in helping with my riding and I was thrilled to receive the much-needed training!
Cruz and I are like a long-time married couple: we’ve adapted to each other without realizing it. As a result, I’ve got used to his crookedness and he’s learned to cope with mine.
When your horse doesn’t give to the left, the temptation is to bend him even farther left. But that just puts him off balance and makes him move yet more crookedly.
Ingrid had me let go of my stranglehold on the left rein and concentrate on driving Cruz forwards in a straight line. In any case, I should only see his inner eyelash when he’s bent to the left, not his entire neck!
Here’s a link to the video of us cantering between markers to the left – our worse side. You can see his haunches swing out to the right until I improve my leg position.
CLICK ‘WATCH ON FACEBOOK’ IN THE BLACK BOX TO VIEW.
In this video I’m cantering to the right. This used to be my ‘bad’ side, but somehow we’ve switched over!
AGAIN, CLICK ON ‘WATCH ON FACEBOOK’ IN THE BLACK BOX TO SEE THE VIDEO.
In addition to creating forward impulsion, I was to make sure I could always see the top muscle in his arched neck, to denote that he was using himself correctly and enable him to carry me better.
He didn’t have to be ‘reeled in’ to achieve this: I could do it on a longer rein, too, allowing him to stretch into my contact. As a result, she assured me, he would not be so tired nor ache so much from using the wrong muscles.
So I’ve taken a photo of his neck and will get another shot of it in two months’ time. Hopefully the before and after pictures will show a significant increase in his upper neck muscle and a huge decrease in his lower neck muscle. (I’m too embarrassed to let you see the before photo right now!)
If all goes according to plan, I’ll post them both!
Next week my great friend Maggie McGuire, of https://maggiemcguiredressage.com/ is coming to give a clinic next and I hope to post some great photos and videos from that.
Twelve years ago, when the horse barn on our Maryland property was ready and our three horses had moved in, a grey tabby and white cat showed up.
He was friendly and vocal and visited frequently. I began feeding him and that was that. My barn = his barn.
At the time I was reading a book series by Alexander McCall Smith whose heroine’s name is Precious, so that’s what I called him because he was so pretty and I thought he was a girl.
Until I discovered his previous owner. The local cattle farmer, she told me his name was Junior and he was one of a litter of five, but was now fighting with his siblings. He had wandered off to get away from them.
I told her she was welcome to check if I really did have her cat and she agreed to come over.
Praying she wouldn’t want him back, I brought her into the barn. Junior took one look at her and ran off. “Yeah, that’s him. You can keep him.”
I didn’t like the name Junior, and never did improve on Precious, which in all fairness I couldn’t still call him. So he became ‘Barn Cat.’
He was extremely affectionate and extremely feisty. He’d come up to the house every morning and accompany me back to the barn to give him his breakfast, but I never moved fast enough in his opinion. He was always striking out at my legs and catching his claws in my pants.
As soon as he’d eaten, if I made the mistake of sitting down anywhere, he was in my lap like a shot, purring and kneading holes in whatever I was wearing. Many of my riding breeches suffered this treatment.
He trotted behind my horse down to the arena every time I rode, so he could watch us, or run across the sand chasing leaves, or dig a hole in front of me to do his business in. That cat was determined to be a part of everything! My instructor called him her assistant, because he’d curl around her legs while she gave lessons. He also leaped onto the laps of anyone who sat down to observe her teach.
In the winter he slept in our basement, which he could access via a dog flap. I’d feed him at the top of the stairs, then he’d rush to the front door to escort me down to the barn, where he’d demand a second breakfast.
He made me laugh whenever it snowed: I’d watch him hop out of one of my deep boot prints into the other on his way down to the horses.
Barn Cat was a brilliant mouser and many a morning I was greeted by the sight of rodents’ entrails in the aisle. Our dogs knew to keep away from him, for he had no fear and let them know it, and our house cat soon learned to give the semi-feral feline a wide berth if he was in the back yard.
He was about a year old when we first met, and quickly became an integral part of life at the barn. So he was thirteen when we found a buyer for our farm, who agreed to take care of him.
But I noticed he was slowing down and his belly had suddenly grown larger. The vet said he had a tumor.
Had Barn Cat decided he didn’t want new owners? I don’t know. But it was with a heavy heart that I took him back to the vet two days later.
That tumor was growing fast and it was time to do the decent thing. It was hard, for this truly remarkable cat had weaseled his way deep into my heart!
I said my goodbyes while he slowly fell asleep on my lap and have brought his ashes with me to South Carolina, to be with the family he chose.
The positive effect Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaosare having on the youth of today, especially young men, is undeniable. Though a big fan of his, I was still concerned that his views may be at odds with Catholic teaching.
I am currently writing the third book in The Father Michael Trilogy and looking for a realistic way to bring hope to Joe Harper and those who suffer like him with ulcerative colitis or other IBDs.
Joe comes from a Catholic family, so is Dr. Peterson a good spiritual father for him?
Dr. Peterson Attacks Nihilism
Life is difficult and Dr. Peterson doesn’t sugarcoat the fact. His is not a ‘feel-good’ book, which makes a refreshing change.
But he stresses that throwing our hands up in despair is irresponsible and the easy way out. ‘Everything is horrible, there’s nothing I can (want) to do about it, so what is the point of existence? I’ll just feel sorry for myself and make everyone else around me more miserable, too.’
Instead Dr. Peterson urges us to stand up and voluntarily accept ‘the burden of Being’ and ‘the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open.’ ‘There is evil to overcome, suffering to ameliorate, and yourself to better.’ We must make whatever sacrifices are needed in order to ‘generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language.)’
Christ ‘outlines … the proper aim of mankind’ in the Sermon on the Mount. We must ‘aim at the highest good’ which puts us on a heavenward trajectory and ‘makes (us) hopeful.’
The psychologist urges us not to make the world a worse place but a better place. Either we are advancing the world towards Hell or towards Heaven. Which do we want to inhabit?
He points to history, warning us of the extremes to which people will go when they don’t take on the burden for improving life but instead seek scapegoats for their unhappiness. They become bitter, resentful, vengeful and ultimately murderous. He reminds us of the excesses of Hitler, Stalin, and the Communist Party in China and Russia in the 20th Century. Extreme right and extreme left ideologies are equally dangerous.
In Our Lord’s prayer we ask that “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” and Dr. Peterson states clearly, ‘To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.’ This viewpoint does not conflict with Catholicism or Christianity in general.
He tells us to meet suffering head on and be heroes – a great message for the lost young men of today. What a worthy challenge! Be the hero who reduces the suffering of others.
He says that the clinical psychologist has brought to light once more why Scripture matters and is ‘recovering the power of those texts’. They are not dead myths, which prominent atheists would have us believe, otherwise they couldn’t have lasted so long and had such influence.
“Jordan Peterson and Bishop Barron are the two biggest reasons why I’m getting confirmed Catholic tomorrow 😀. God bless you both”
“…I was a cradle catholic and left the church when I was 18….I went to my first confession in 20 years last month and have gone to every service since Ash Wednesday thanks to Dr Peterson’s work. I’ve even picked up the Bible.. it is like a switch has been flipped.”
What a resounding endorsement!
Bishop Barron states that Dr. Peterson believes deeply in the texts of the Bible and is spreading the message that faith in them is a matter of life and death. This is most definitely the Christian viewpoint!
Where Peterson’s Views Diverge from Catholicism
On the topic of whether Dr. Peterson’s views are Christian, Bishop Barron is scrupulously fair. He stresses that the author doesn’t claim to be a Christian theologian nor a Christian – he’s looking at the Bible from a purely psychological viewpoint.
Dr. Peterson is an avid follower of Jung, who said that the first great psychologists were the early Church Fathers. Yet in his video Bishop Barron on the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon the bishop cautions that the psychologist’s ideas verge on Gnosticism – the idea that only a few cognoscenti can know Christianity. Wikipedia describes one of the Gnostic core teachings as ‘To achieve salvation, one needs to get in touch with secret knowledge.’
Bishop Barron’s other concern with Gnostics is that they tend to ‘bracket the historical references in these biblical texts,’ thereby ignoring the reality of events in the Bible. The bishop reminds us that, rather than being philosophical or psychological, ‘Christianity is stubbornly historical.’ It matters that God really did become man, that He really did rise from the dead. Those are historical facts.
Christ is not an archetype, as Dr. Peterson describes Him – He is not a myth. The ‘myth’ of Christ is firmly grounded in history.
Myths are not rooted in a specific time or place: they happened ‘once upon a time’ and ‘in a faraway galaxy.’ Jesus Christ was ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate.’ We know who Pilate was, where he lived and when. The New Testament may contain mythical elements but is also historical: the Church stubbornly insists on that.
Bishop Barron says the problem with liberal theology is that it sees God ‘as the deep background music of life.’ Biblical theology says that God ‘is a Person who acts in history and has purposes and it is the primacy of God’s Grace that breaks into my life and changes me.’
Bishop Barron endorses Dr. Peterson’s book but cautions us against the Gnostic tendencies in it.
Is Dr. Peterson a Christian?
He makes frequent statements that suggest a belief in God. For example, ‘you have a spark of the divine in you, which belongs not to you, but to God.’ Yet when asked in interviews he declines to come down on one side or the other.
About the Resurrection, he says that the literal (historical) and metaphysical (archetypal) sometimes touch – and that is a miracle. He is not excluding the possibility that the Resurrection truly happened. He is simply unsure about its historical truth and needs another three years to go into it.
Bishop Barron has no problem with that. He suggests we look at St. Paul, who after his encounter with the Risen Christ went to Arabia for three years to sort himself out before coming back to preach the Gospel. Dr. Peterson is in good company.
The bishop regards Dr. Peterson as a spiritual father for young men, whom the psychologist says are starving for direction. Spiritual masters who give spiritual instruction are what they need, according to Bishop Barron, who adds that priests would do well to talk in the same manner as the author of the 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
Therefore I feel confident that Dr. Jordan Peterson will be a good influence on Joe. He will encourage the teenager to read the Bible. He will urge him to overcome his suffering by being the hero who takes responsibility for his actions and makes the world a better place.
Using him as a spiritual adviser to Joe is not a bad place to start.
Where do you stand on Dr. Jordan Peterson? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!
In January my son began a new job in Chicago with an accounting firm. Any of you reading this who are CPAs or know one, will be aware that the first three and a half months of each calendar year are CRAZY!
He is working 16 hour days and on Saturdays – and was seriously ill for ten weeks.
All of this meant that he was unable to take care of his dog, Fly. So his father and I kept her at home with us and our two English bulldogs. Every evening I would send him a short video of his Border Collie black Lab mix.
My son and Fly had never been apart for more than a few days, so it was very hard on him to be apart from the girl he rescued four years ago from the local shelter. Since that time he has put in a lot of hours teaching her to be well-behaved, and working with other canines to earn himself a great reputation as a dog trainer.
When Fly met our bulldogs for the first time they immediately fought. In less than 24 hours my son had them all peacefully living together.
The Border Collie mix was such a model of good behavior while she stayed with us that we threatened not to give her back!
But the day came when our son was ready to take her to the Windy City. Reluctantly we put her in the truck and drove to Toledo to meet up with her rightful owner.
When we arrived in the car park of the Toledo hotel, our son wanted Fly let loose a little way off, where she couldn’t see him. He whistled from behind a tree, and she rushed off to meet him! They’d been apart, our son reliably informed us, for a whole 71 days and it was enormously touching to see their joy at seeing each other again.
The three of us and Fly stayed the night at the hotel, then came the time for our son to take his dog back to Chicago and for our return to Maryland. We were so sad to say goodbye to the dog we’d been fostering that our son offered to send us nightly videos of her…!
A few hours later he sent us this photo from his apartment.
The two of them are having a ball, going for long walks in the numerous large parks that surround the apartment building. On Saturday, 17th March, I received this photo:
Here are a couple of photos of Gabriel, aka Little Gabe, after arriving in his new home:
Being welcomed by the daughter of the family who has adopted him.
Checking out his new BFF next door.
Meanwhile, back in my writer’s seat:
I’ve FINALLY finished the outline of “Riding Out the Wreckage” and can now start writing!
The process is somewhat hampered by the fact that my husband and I are in the middle of selling our house in Maryland and moving farther south. He wants Sarasota, Florida, yours truly would like to compromise by finding a house in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
While we duke it out we’ll be staying with my mother-in-law in Sarasota.
Before that my gelding, Cruz Bay will get his first full clip EVER in the whole of his 18 years. It will help him handle the heat once he steps off the truck at his new – and hopefully, temporary – boarding barn nearby.
He leaves for his two day trip, with overnight stay along the way, on Monday, 2nd April. I will fly down the next day to meet him but have to fly back out the next morning to finish getting the house emptied and ready for our closing on Friday, 6th April.
It is going to be very hard to leave my friends of 12 years and I’m not looking forward to it.
Writing “Wreckage” will become my refuge in those dark moments when I feel lost. My next post will probably be written in Florida. I’ll send photos of white egrets, alligators and other exotic fauna!
I leave you with the proforma cover of the last book of The Father Michael Trilogy.
Great news! The 15 hand Quarter Horse gelding we call Little Gabe (because I have another Gabe at home – my friend’s 18 hand Clydesdale Cross) is going to his new home on Sunday, 11th March.
The timing of his adoption is perfect. My house is under contract and we close on 6th April. Gabriel was going to have to go back to the rescue if he didn’t find a new family before then.
This move is very difficult for me, for many reasons that I shan’t go into here. But one of the tough things is that these three horses, who have happily lived together at my home for a long time, will have to go their separate ways.
Cruz is coming with me and Big Gabe’s owner is actively looking for a new barn for him. If you know of a place near Owings, Maryland where a big guy can be on pasture board, please let me know!
I leave you with two final photos of the two Gabes and Cruz Bay, and wish Gabriel all the best as he goes off to his new forever home!
Here Big Gabe and Little Gabe mirror each other in the field as they lay crashed out, while Cruz keeps watch from the ground.
I thought you might like an update on Noah, the skinny Thoroughbred gelding I fostered for a while from Freedom Hill Horse Rescue in Maryland.
If you recall, he was the inspiration for my latest book “Riding Out the Wager” together with Kevin Murphy, the veteran with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) who adopted him. Kevin will be starting an equine therapy program for veterans like himself and Noah will be one of the horses helping heal them.
Kevin was then redeployed to Iraq. It was a nerve-wracking time for his wife and children, as well as difficult for someone who had just beaten his debilitating disorder.
During that time I wrote the book, and Noah was getting used to his new home and pasture buddy, Bijou.
While her husband was overseas, his wife became concerned that the two horses were fighting instead of becoming fast friends. But it turned out that the two of them were just learning to play with each other!
It must have been an absolute age since Noah had fun with another horse or been comfortable enough around one to even start a game. In all likelihood he had never had this opportunity his entire life.
And now he has become a member of the family, as you can see from these photos. 🙂
Father Michael’s brother-in-law has an impossible house guest – Justin, an army veteran suffering from PTSD – and the man is making life miserable for his host family.
But the priest has no practical assistance to offer, until an incident in church gives him an idea. Naturally, his plan involves the ever-reluctant and newly-wed trainer Jack Harper. It will also require the help of Isaac, a very special but damaged horse on his farm.
And a wager.
Meanwhile Father Michael gives a podcast interview to a local atheist hoping to trip him up on Catholic matters. As soon as the podcast is aired, church attendance plummets and the priest is under intense pressure from his bishop to rectify the situation.
Justin is no closer to coming back to the faith and the podcaster is rejoicing in his victory over the Church.
Will God makes good come out of evil for those who love Him, as Father Michael desperately wants to believe?
My character Jack Harper goes swimming with his horse, but I had never done it myself until last weekend.
It had been on my bucket list for several years, but whenever my riding group organized their annual ‘Pony Swim’ I always found a way to avoid joining in. I was simply too scared!
This year I verbally committed to taking Cruz Bay into the river with a mere fourteen or so friends and their horses and if I chickened out this time I was going to look like a real loser! I would have to do it now.
My original intent was to ride in an old saddle which I didn’t mind getting wet. But I longed for the courage to ride bareback like the other riders.
I had never ridden my gelding without a saddle, and didn’t want the day of the Pony Swim to be my first time. Supposing I slid off into the water as soon as he waded in?
So I put a bridle on my horse the evening before, and asked my son to come down with me (a) for moral support and (b) to take photos as proof that I had indeed sat on Cruz Bay bareback regardless of whether I was brave enough to do it the next day.
Of course the wind began to blow hard and the sky to darken as I led my gelding down the hill to the arena. But he was a rock star and didn’t react at all to the unusual feel of my climbing onto his back with no saddle between us.
I nudged him forwards and he behaved impeccably for the whole five minutes I rode him around in walk.
Here is yours truly, rather nervous and riding Cruz Bay in the shorts and water proof shoes that I planned to wear for the next day’s swim.
That night and the next morning I visualized swimming bareback. With the old saddle packed into the trailer as my security blanket, I drove in convoy with three great friends and our horses to the venue, a field by the river.
Once there it was clear that everyone else planned to ride bareback. I was going to look like a total wimp if I didn’t do the same.
We used the tailgate of a friend’s truck as a mounting block and walked our horses the fifty yards or so to the water’s edge.
Cruz’s stable mate, a big Clydesdale named Gabe, marched straight into the water which gave my bay gelding the confidence to join him and paddle about with the others.
I was astounded at how well all our horses behaved. There were tons of jellyfish floating in the water but thankfully they didn’t sting us or our gallant mounts.
Kelli, my friend on the left in the photo, took her horse deeper and deeper into the river until her mare was swimming, while I admired them from a safe distance. She then came back and told me I should try it.
“No,” I said, “this is already way out of my comfort zone!”
But she insisted and I’m so glad she did. We followed her horse out, and suddenly the mare was gliding easily through the water.
She is shorter than Cruz, so we had to walk out a little farther. Then I became aware of a change of motion. The transition was so smooth! I’d expected him to panic when he felt the ground fall away, but instead he quietly began to swim.
On my GoPro film you can hear me saying “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!” over and over again. It was such a fantastic feeling!
Cruz’s ears were pricked forwards the whole time: he was enjoying this as much as I was. And when we turned back towards the shore, he continued swimming even when the water was shallow enough for him to walk.
There was an iffy moment when he lost his footing and spun round. But luckily I stayed on, so now I am rather proud of that video footage. If I’d fallen off it would have been a different story.
To finish, here is a photo of my reaction to the whole experience.
In February my husband’s sweet gelding succumbed to cancer and had to be put down.
We cried for hours: Callow Double Clover aka CD had been with us for 21 years. We’d bought him from a farmer in Ireland when he was 5 years old.
Many people in both the Richmond area and here in Southern Maryland where we currently live remember the gentle soul who helped so many riders gain back their confidence in the saddle.
Not only did we miss our beloved Irish horse, but we were now down to two horses at the farm. If I took mine off the property my friend’s huge Clydesdale would go berserk and jump the gate to follow him – he’d done it once before.
If the Clydesdale were to leave, my gelding Cruz Bay would gallop around and break a leg.
We needed a companion horse.
Lori Harrington, director of Freedom Hill Horse Rescue, had recently taken in four horses from a starvation situation. Their owner had abandoned them in a tiny paddock where there were originally five horses, but one had died the morning the rescue came to take them away.
With not enough to eat, competition for food had been fierce. Gentle Noah was a big loser in this fight: he was picked on by the other horses, kicked and bitten and prevented from eating anything at all.
The Thoroughbred was skin and bone and missing hair everywhere.
This is Noah in his tiny paddock with no grass. His expression tells you that he wasn’t interested in life anymore.
With the great care of the Freedom Hill staff he was already starting to fill out, and within a month of being fostered at my place I was able to take this photo of him:
He was a perfect gentleman, and great company for the massive Clydesdale whenever I needed to take Cruz anywhere. Thanks to him, I was once again free to go on trail rides, lessons and shows.
Not only that, but I loved stroking his head and losing myself in his dark brown eyes. Even after his bad experiences, he was still trusting and forgiving.
Interest in Noah Develops Fast
He has an enlarged left knee from an old racing injury that was never properly tended to, and although not lame, will probably not be a good candidate for riding.
I contacted a veteran in Special Forces, whose name had been given to me by Lyndi Caruso, a whiz in essential oil therapy. Kevin was immediately interested in coming to see Noah. A former PTSD sufferer himself, he wanted to start an equine therapy program for other veterans with the disorder.
After meeting with the Freedom Hill board to discuss his program, he arrived with his psychologist wife to see Noah at my barn.
The horse liked him immediately. Equally important, Kevin instantly liked Noah.
It didn’t matter to him that the horse may be unrideable. He needed a horse that veterans could bond with on the ground. That was the most important function Noah would have if he went into Kevin’s program.
Look Into My Eyes…
Kevin gave me some great insights into what it’s like to have PTSD and how horses help veterans heal from it – horses helped him get over it.
Jokingly I asked him to explain to me how these animals have such amazing healing powers ‘in three words or less.’
He said: “I can tell you in one word: connection.”
It’s hard to understand how that works unless you’ve looked into the luminous eyes of a loving soul like Noah and felt his soft acceptance of who you are.
Fueled by Noah’s gentleness and with Kevin’s assistance, I’ve attempted to convey the seemingly magical power of a horse to heal PTSD in Riding Out the Wager.
I’ll be sharing more about the book closer to its release date in August 2017.