Seas of Manifestation

I could swim before I could walk. Some of my earliest memories are with my dad in a pool, showing me how to blow bubbles. A few years later, I would be moving fluidly and weightlessly, picturing myself with a whale’s tail propelling me forward. My love for the water has always been deep, but as time passed I became less inclined to leave the grounding earth and submerge. This appreciation for land took on a whole new meaning with a terrifying yet enlightening experience…

Aquila and I got married August 21st 2010. What a wedding it was! I was floating the whole night, enjoying the incredible music, dancing and feasting. Thanks to the generous gifts of friends and family, we were able to leave our cushy Canadian lives, and take three months to travel on a “honeymoon”. Carpe Diem!

We chose to go to India – a land of duality and contradiction; immense beauty and tragedy in the same breath. The social rules we are familiar with in the West do not apply in the East, yet despite the ocean of language and cultural barriers the human connection persists.

We travelled from the North to the South, from Sikkim to Kerala. Worlds apart in the same country: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, all balanced precariously together on a fine line.

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Exploring a Gompa in Sikkim.

Soaking up the love from the open and caring communities where we stayed, and learning what we could through our western eyes, it became ever more clear: no matter how differently we behave or look, beating hearts can always relate.

Many parts of our trip were far from glamorous with intense physical, emotional and spiritual demands, so it seemed necessary to have at least one restful day at the beach. Relieved of our heavy backpacks we stretched out and enjoyed the welcome break of sunbathing. The sea seemed to be calling to me and it felt like the perfect time to leave land and go for a swim. We made our way into the warm salt water.

As if on cue, waves started coming to shore. Small ones at first, fun to jump into and feel the flow of the ocean. Suddenly, a much larger wave crashed over my head, dragging me down into the undercurrent, spinning me like top. It took all my strength to keep my neck from snapping backwards and the moment I felt the pressure give I fought like hell to get to the surface. I burst out of the water for one massive inhale of sweet oxygen, opened my eyes and saw another wave wrapping around me.

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The ocean giving me some tough love.

Again, I was sucked under, fighting for my life, for my neck muscles to protect my spine. My lungs burned and my mind raced. Finally, the moment came where I frantically found my way to the top and scrambled out of the water back onto land.

Once again, a taste of life’s fragility inspired Aquila and I to sit down and decide where we truly wanted our lives to take us. With a neck covered in tiger balm, we discussed our dreams over dinner.

On a napkin, we drew a farm.

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The farm of our dreams…

What’s your dream? I’d love to know, leave me a comment.

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Climbing Horseshoe Mountain

The first shoe I ever pulled off a horse took 45 minutes. My arms, hands, back and legs were screaming at me why are you doing this??? Beads of perspiration dripped into my eyes as my fingers gave their best death grip on tools that felt awkward and heavier with each passing second. Still, the shoe would not budge.

My farrier mentor, Rodd, read a magazine, occasionally asked if I wanted help, but otherwise left me alone. Grateful for his lack of pressure, and bewildered how he could have removed the other shoe in less than a minute , I was determined. This was my first test of many to come, and the instant the shoe came away from that patient old chestnut’s hoof, I beamed with pride and exhaustion.

Every day of my apprenticeship I was climbing a steep mountain. My physical, mental, and emotional limits were pushed to the brink. Each hoof I worked on felt like a whole new world of learning, and I would be sweating out of nerves before even touching a leg. I was terrified of hurting one of these noble beasts that had become so dear to me, and I knew that could easily happen with one swipe of my knife in the wrong place. There was also tremendous pressure from the human clients who hated the idea of a newbie working on their horses.

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My hands and forearms were cut daily from my tools slipping, and burns dotted me like freckles from bits of red hot metal flying up while working at the forge. My shins seemed to be constantly in the way as the horse would jerk a leg back off the stand and collide with mine.  My entire body had a constant ache as I forced it to readjust to a strange bent over position, wrestling with a creature ten times my size and strength, all the while attempting to do precise work with less than a millimetre margin of error.

Somehow, with great persistence, sheer stubbornness, and a drive to learn, I managed to stick with it. I had a great mentor who was patient and encouraging, forgiving and open minded clients, and some wonderful horses who put up with me. I can truly say I love my job. There is nothing more rewarding to me than knowing I am making a positive contribution to the well-being of these magnificent creatures.

Pulling a shoe now takes me about 30 seconds, and each time I give thanks to the years of torture it took to get me here.

How has life inspired you to persevere? Leave me a comment!

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Become A What?

The first time I heard the word farrier, I thought it had something to do with taxidermy. No, I was told, it is the person who cares for the horses hooves. The horses need regular trimming and sometimes shoeing, and the farrier travels around to different barns to provide this service.

My highly opinionated project horse, Contessa, did not like the farrier. Contessa did not like many things, including doing as she was told. For the farrier to do his job, she “had” to pick up her feet and stand quietly, but this never happened. It looked more like a rodeo with the farrier trying to get out of the way of her kicking, biting, jumping around, slamming her feet down, and being generally miserable. The first time I watched her get trimmed, I had to remind myself to breathe as my gut clenched each time a blow was narrowly escaped.

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Her “I would rather not” face.

This seemed like a great goal for me to work on with Contessa: keep the farrier alive on trim day!

Considering I had no experience manoeuvring around the legs of these thousand pound creatures, and I had trouble simply leading this spicy filly, my goal was much more challenging than I imagined. Contessa, knowing my limitations, would get my heart racing each time I tried to lift a foot. We would engage in a dance of determination, with a powerful kick threatening each move. She took great pride in leading this dance, and it felt as though she was laughing each time I retreated. I was angry. I was afraid. I was defeated.

Eventually, I gave up. I decided I was teaching her more bad habits than good, so I changed my focus. I tried to make each interaction we had positive for both of us, and the only way I could succeed was by choosing small activities where I felt confident. Little by little, I found my own footing with a wider range of work on the ground. She began to enjoy my company as a respected companion instead of a play thing.

Every six weeks I held Contessa for her trim, and each time she showed improvement. Despite the fact I wasn’t the one picking up her feet, I felt my heart expand as I watched her begin to behave and let go of the fight.

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Seeing the light after a storm.

Working with Contessa this way always gave me a great excuse to get out of weeding the garden or mucking stalls since I had to hold her for the farrier, Rodd.  He and I got to know each other through these interactions, and I would often pester him with questions about hooves.

Seeing how much Contessa had changed and recognising my interest in his work, one day Rodd offered to mentor me. I laughed him off, thinking I was not destined for farriery! I didn’t even know this job existed less than two years ago, never mind become one…

I was still chuckling to myself as he drove away, then stopped dead in my tracks as I realised a farrier is exactly what I needed to become.

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Have you had a surprising moment of inspiration? Would love to know, leave me a comment.

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A Diva Named Contessa

What is in a name? A LOT!

Contessa was proof of that. A two year old dark bay filly with attitude coming out of every pore – she was a handful.

Contessa was born on the farm a couple of years before Aquila and I arrived as WWOOFers. From the moment she entered the world, she seemed to fully embody the hierarchy associated with her name. She intimidated many humans, and persisted with all the horses until they gave into her will.

Each morning and afternoon we would lead the horses in and out of the barn so they could have their time in the fields. This was my favourite part of the day as it gave me a chance to test myself with the horses in action. Would I be a good leader today, or would they be leading me?

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What will the day bring? What will I bring to the day?

One morning, I decided to take Contessa outside since she was the only horse left in the barn. Unaware of her history, I approached her innocently and confidently, and she, unaware of my lack of horse experience, went along with me out to her paddock.

As I was locking the gate the owner of the farm rushed over, concerned for my safety. Not only was I surprised by her worry, I actually felt an affinity for Contessa. Seeing all had gone well with our first encounter and appreciating my persistence in spending time with the horses, the owner offered I work with the filly as a project horse. I was delighted.

I tried to incorporate a short activity for the two of us nearly every day. She tested my character constantly, and let me get away with nothing. Simply leading Contessa could take all of my emotional and physical strength!

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One of our challenging moments…

To some, this may seem like a terrible idea – a feisty young horse paired with a green human. Truthfully, it was fairly risky, but looking back I am beyond grateful I was given the opportunity. I am quite sure she taught me more than I taught her, but the regular interaction and connection with a human helped her become a much more willing partner.
Contessa was my first horse, even though I didn’t “own” her. She will always be part of me, and she is the reason I was offered a farrier apprenticeship.

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Appreciating a peaceful exchange with the Diva herself.

Do you know anyone with a revealing name? I would love to know, leave me a comment!

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I’m Addicted to Horses

 

There are plans, and then there is life.

Initially, Aquila and I were to stay at our WWOOF location for two weeks. Nearly two years later, we were still there.

The farm owners were looking for long term apprentices and we were happy to fill those roles. Despite my family believing I had joined a cult, I felt free. I was making decisions for myself, learning what I wanted even if I had no idea where it was taking me.

Over time, we lived with nearly 150 people from all over the world; like us, they wanted to experience Canadian small farming. I loved learning about everyone’s different cultures through sometimes thick accents and exuberant body language. We became a family for a short time. What a diverse, revolving-door family it was.

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Every spare moment I had I spent at the barn. It felt like the horses were also teaching me about equine culture through a silent language of their own. Whether I was leading them out to their paddocks, helping with night feed, or simply standing by their side, I struggled to understand them and loved every minute.

Whether it was learning to live in human or horse community, the lessons received often coincided. Everything I practised with horses was completely applicable to people. Both species can require enormous amounts of patience, while simultaneously offering support and growth.

 

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Horse time during my WWOOF apprenticeship.

Two full planting seasons had passed as WWOOFers for room and board, and Aquila and I started feeling the need to find paid work. Once we decided it was time to move on, I began to feel panic. I could not imagine my life without horses. An occasional horse visit would not suffice; I was thoroughly addicted and needed my dose every day.

Unexpectedly, a solution was offered: I would become a farrier.

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Sense Knocked Into Me

Friday the 13th was the beginning of my new life. It was June of 2008 when my boyfriend Aquila and I left Montreal to go WWOOFing across Canada.

Our first chosen farm destination captivated me with its description of horses, vegetable gardens, and maple syrup, but the promise of equines guided my soul. Nestled in magnificent cottage country near Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka regions of Ontario, my first steps on the farm were a waking dream.

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The horses were exactly how I imagined: majestic, intelligent, athletic, beautiful and inspiring. I, on the other hand, was not at all how I imagined: I was afraid. They were so BIG! I felt slow, unsteady, unsure of myself, and very vulnerable.

There were 24 horses at the farm when Aquila and I arrived, each with their own personalities, gifts, and challenges.  I appreciated their gifts from afar, but I was very challenged up close. My heart was connected, but my body and mind betrayed me. I tried not to let it show, but the horses were never fooled; they knew exactly how I felt and treated me accordingly. In their pecking order, I was not a dominant, a leader, or even a friend. I was a fly, an annoying fly, trying to coax them into following me.

This became most apparent one day trying to lead a particularly pushy horse outside. Ace spotted something in the distance and decided to rear. I managed to keep hold of the lead line and avoid his hooves as they slammed down in his display of power. I felt quite proud! I can handle you, I said to myself. Just as the thought left my mind, Ace showed me the truth. He bolted, dislocating my shoulder in the process, and knocked me to the ground.

At that moment, I had two choices. Stand up, hobble away, blame Ace for being badly behaved, and carry my fear of horses perhaps forever. I chose option two. Stand up, pop my shoulder back into place, look inward, and keep learning.

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Talented photographer unknown.

What was your big turning point? I would love to know, leave me a comment.

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Seeing My Way Out

 

A shocking change of perspective was the key to unlocking my mind. Once I believed life was really mine to live, there was no going back.

My best friend, Aquila – now my husband – asked me to travel with him and I said YES. We had no idea where we were going, but we knew we were leaving the city where we felt suffocated. Leave school. Leave expectations. Leave unhappiness.

My understanding, free-spirited mother told us about WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, where you volunteer in exchange for room and board. It sounded like the perfect opportunity for us to experience country life without being bound by a program with rigid timelines. Instead, we could choose from a variety of WWOOF host farms, and make our own arrangements as we travelled  throughout Canada.

We signed up to get the list of hosts with their sometimes wild and hilarious descriptions. One in particular jumped off the page, and we knew that would be our first destination. Horses, vegetable gardens, and maple syrup were all enticing features, but I could only envision horses. I could feel, and hear their hoof beats beckoning.

Romantic notions of being surrounded by their energy fuelled each day I had to wait before following my horse heart. They gave me wisdom when Aquila broke his hand just before we were supposed to leave. They gave me strength when life told me to wait, to care for my mum with breast cancer and support her during treatment.

When the day did come to finally leave the concrete jungle, horses gave me courage to step up onto that bus and journey into the unknown.

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To my future.

What fuels you? I would love to know, leave a comment!

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Woke Up With a Bang

How did I change? How did I go from a city dwelling honor roll student to dropping out, moving to the country, and living a life enthralled with horses?

My life’s alarm clock went off  September 13th, 2006. I was studying Social Services at Dawson College in Montreal, listening to presentations that uncharacteristically went over time into our lunch hour. This literally saved my life. A school shooting was in progress as we were leaving our classroom heading to the Atrium where the ricochet of shots were blowing holes in the walls and people. My classmates and I were sent back to hide under the desks in a dark room for the next 45 minutes until we were escorted out of the building by police.

I am grateful for this experience. Grateful we were part of the lucky ones to be physically unharmed. Grateful my friends and family were also able to walk away, and not be rushed to the hospital or sitting in a morgue. Most of all, I am grateful for the lesson this day gave me: life is short, live it.

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Sunrise on my farm. 

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