Category: Animal Connections

Animal Healers – Part I

Animal Healers – Part I

We’ve all experienced the healing power of animals, the velvet equine nose that soothes the heart, that banishes our pain and disappointment; the icy, wet canine nose that encourages us to laugh, to shake off our self-indulgent misery; the licks and slobbers and whinnies and sighs that remind us that we are not alone, that all is well. Our animal companions possess amazing healing power, and they offer this gift freely.

A few months after the passing of my beloved equine partner, Nikos, once the edge of the grief was dulled and I could bear to travel to barns and work with horses again, I was working with a very thin, timid horse who had recently been rescued. His new human caregiver, Erika, was a barefoot trimmer, and this horse had been one of her clients. The people he had formerly lived with were getting a divorce. Neither party would agree to relinquish him to the other, and so the judge—this is a true story—ordered that the horse be put down. Still, neither party would budge. The horse, Mikey, was scheduled to die in several days.

Nikos, the one who brought me to this work, who assisted me in teaching (or, more accurately, I assisted him), had formed strong bonds with a number of my friends and students. Moments after my Nikos passed, he spoke to Erika, who was not with us and did not know he had passed, sternly telling her that she could not let this horse die. He told her to “pick up the phone” and do something about the situation, and she did.

And so here I was, my hands on Mikey for the first time, standing in a sweet, quiet barn with my trimmer and friend. Erika had called me because Mikey was clearly uncomfortable: His muscles were tense rather than supple; his back did not swing when he walked; there was no grace in his movement. I was working with him (using Neuromuscular Retraining and Reiki) to show his nervous system that ease of movement was possible. I had just begun the session and was quietly explaining my approach and goals while introducing Mikey to my touch.

I moved my hands from his withers to his thin, tense neck. Immediately, my hands began to pulse with an intensity I had not experienced before. Then I saw and felt a powerful white light envelope the three of us. My voice became thick and slow; I could barely form words. I could not move. The energy coursed through my body, through my hands.

A minute later, maybe two, the light was gone, my voice returned. I moved my hands from Mikey’s neck and stepped back. Erika and I looked at each other. She spoke first: “Nikos was here.”

“Yes.”

I had hoped that by the end of the session, after about an hour, I would see a change in Mikey’s body, that the muscles would be more supple, that he would walk with more ease. But here, less than 10 minutes into the session, his wretched neck was shapely and full. In fact, the muscles of his entire body had relaxed; he looked as though he had gained a much-needed 50 pounds.

Nikos, who had often assisted me with healings when he was living, had told me that he would continue to assist me from the other side and that he would be able to assist in a more powerful way. But I had not understood what the difference would be. The few moments he had spent with Mikey had done the work of one, more likely two, of my sessions. I was able to proceed with the movement lesson that was only possible because of the work Nikos had done.

I am sharing this story with you, a story that is very special to me, that reminds me of my connection to the sacred, to remind you that the healing is all around us: in the warm, sweet breath; the gentle nudge and sigh; the music of the wild birds; the croak of the frog; the loving spirits of those passed.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in May, 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis

Tough Times

Tough Times

Today I found myself thinking about a tenacious little coyote who wandered into my line of sight a few years ago. I was horse sitting a friend’s herd and was relaxing in the backyard one late summer afternoon with the dogs and a cool drink, facing the back pasture, watching the horses lazily graze.

I became aware of an odd-looking figure working its way slowly, very slowly, across the pasture, moving in a halting way that I couldn’t make sense of. I got up and walked to the edge of the yard to see the creature more clearly. Finally it moved close enough that I could understand what I was looking at: a small coyote carrying a carcass of something as large as herself. She was holding it by the neck, its body stretched between her legs and halfway under her belly. She (I assumed she was a she given her small size) was entirely focused on her task; the fact that her load was impossibly large, impossibly heavy, did not deter her at all. She was radiant with energy—head erect, ears up, tail up—and while her pace was achingly slow, she never stopped to put down her load. She moved with a purpose and dignity that fully captured my heart.

Laughing, I couldn’t help comparing myself to her. If that had been me, lugging a weight as heavy as myself on a hot summer afternoon, you can bet I wouldn’t have been perky and positive. I’d most likely have been cursing a blue streak and lamenting the difficulty of my path.

Maybe I thought of her again today because she offers a lesson. Times are tough. We’re told they may get worse before they get better. The media seem consumed with their pulsing drumbeat of doom. We are told to be anxious, stressed, afraid, told that our futures are uncertain. I prefer the message of that brave coyote, slow but steady, focused on her task, unconcerned about its magnitude, confident in her success, joyfully alive.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This Column originally appeared in From The Horse’s Mouth in April, 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis

One Earth

One Earth

I spent the whole of last week lying in a hospital bed, fighting the unbelievable pain of ulcerative colitis, a disorder I did not know I had and have no intention of keeping, thank you very much. A bit of a jolt to a healer, to be sure. But a challenge I have promised myself to rise to.

A few days after being released, still exhausted and sore, I made my way to the local chain grocery store to try to find something to eat. I was put on a “low-residue” diet, no fiber for a few weeks. As someone accustomed to eating only whole organic foods, no processing, no pesticide or chemical fertilizer, shopping at a traditional store was going to be a challenge. (I didn’t have the strength for the two-and-a-half-hour round-trip drive to Whole Foods.) I spent over half an hour in the store, and came out with about six items. It was a wholly frustrating experience.

I have been an advocate of whole, unadulterated food and sustainable farming for many years. Clean food is not only essential for the health of the individual, it is essential to the health of our earth. When we poison our land and water and air with the hundreds of thousands of chemicals we have created since WWII (yes, hundreds of thousands) in an effort to somehow improve our lives, we in reality cause deep-seated damage.

Autism and brain tumors and all manner of auto-immune disorders are on the rise, as are depression and anxiety—all environmental illnesses. Our elder cats are diabetic, and we accept this as though it is an inevitable consequence of old age, rather than realizing that their food is killing them. Our dogs have allergies and stomach disorders and suffer from anxiety and depression, and again we rarely look at their food.

Our horses are increasingly insulin resistant, overweight, with metabolic problems resulting from overtaxed thyroids trying desperately to preserve normal body function in a swirling cloud of toxins—both from food and water.

Since my attack, I have learned that I may be gluten intolerant, that the allergy causes the body to attack the enzymes in the gluten, inadvertently attacking the body itself. This is not normal. Something is amiss. Gluten is everywhere, it seems. We are all on overload in this processed-food world. The other possibility is that I have been poisoned with heavy metals, such as arsenic, which is prevalent in much water in the Midwest, I have recently learned. It enters your body through your skin as you shower, bonds with your cells. When you have reached a danger point, your immune system kicks in to attack the intruder, but has to attack your cells as well.

I stood in that large, well-lit grocery store, filled with aisles and aisles of so-called “food,” processed into oblivion, filled with artificial coloring and flavoring and preservatives, and I became unbearably sad. “Food,” I said to my companion, “should nourish the body and the spirit. There is nothing to eat here. This store is full of poison.” An overstatement, to be sure. But not by much.

And so I write this today, to urge everyone to be mindful of our sacred earth. If we care for her, she will care for us. She will care for our beloved animal companions and all of the equally beloved creatures of the wild. Maybe part of the lesson of these difficult times is to help us to take a step back, to a time when we were closer to nature, honored and respected her, nurtured her and accepted her healing bounty in return.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

[If you are interested in learning more about environmental illness and its effects on both humans and equines, I urge you to take a look at biochemist Linsey McLean’s Website: www.VitaRoyal.com. Linsey is a brilliant pioneer in this field and has helped many humans and animals restore their health.]

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in March, 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis

Connections of the Heart

Connections of the Heart

My friend Annette has had a very painful year. She lost her husband suddenly a few days before Christmas 2007. He had been ill but responding to treatment when his heart just stopped beating. Several months later, her elderly mother, who had lived with Annette’s family for some years, was taken by a stroke.

Understandably, Annette was sometimes overwhelmed by her new life, by both its emptiness and its clutter. She had lost her childhood sweetheart, her best friend, the father of her children, the love of her life. She had gained added financial responsibilities and had to learn the odd temperaments of large, somewhat alien household objects, such as furnaces and propane tanks. She had lost the woman who birthed and raised her, and had gained the silence of yet another empty chair at the dinner table.

Annette is a kind a loving woman with a huge heart. She gives and gives. If you need her, she is there. No questions. She is most always upbeat and positive, no matter the circumstances, and she was doing her best to retain her positive outlook after her losses. Her teenaged son, still at home, and her grown children all pitched in to help, but she still too often felt she was drowning.

I hadn’t heard from Annette for some time, unanswered phone calls and emails, when I finally got hold of her and learned how overwhelmed she was, too buried in the details of day-to-day living even reach out and ask for help. I asked what I could do. Nothing, was her reply.

In addition to her primary job and several side jobs, Annette also had to, wanted to, find time to give extra care to her three horses. It was her horses that gave her, that continue to give her, a sense of peace and of balance. But when she couldn’t get out to the barn, which is half an hour from her home, she felt she had failed somehow. The joy of their presence was becoming another area of stress in her life. Finances were stretched as well, but she would not consider parting with any of the horses. One mare had been with her for years. The other was a PMU mare Annette had recently adopted from a rescue, only to find a few months later that the mare was pregnant. And then there were three, two mares and the kindest, sweetest little boy you’d ever want to meet.

I offered to care for her horses one day a week. At first she resisted; it was too much. But it wasn’t too much. I reminded her that if she didn’t reach out for help, she risked being crushed under the weight of her grief. You cannot continually spin amid the daily pile-up of tasks. You have to take time to catch your breath, to be silent, to listen.

Annette’s horses live like mine do, in as natural a state as possible, outside. One afternoon, a few months after I’d begun caring for them, I met Annette at the barn to work with the horses, to get them, especially the baby, used to being fed in stalls rather than outside in the round pen. Winter had arrived, and I was looking for an alternative to caring for them in the whipping wind.

While I was there, Annette asked me to look at her rescued mare, Nakota. She said Nakota had been moving stiffly, oddly, and seemed uncomfortable. I did not have time for a full session that day, but I did spend a little time watching her move, and I did place my hands on her.

Nakota had always been stand-offish with me. I would scrtich the withers of the other two horses as they ate, but she would move away from my touch. But this afternoon, she moved closer to me as I touched her, embraced me with her neck. When she did this, when she made this connection, which clearly was not only of the body but of the heart, all became quiet. It was as though the three of us—Annette, Nakota, and I—had been transported to another place, a bubble lined in velvet. Soft, gentle, quiet.

That evening, I called Annette to set up an appointment with Nakota. Annette spoke about what had happened at the barn in a voice almost hushed with wonder. It was as though, she said, Nakota knew that we were going to help her. This was a mare who had seen too much in her four short years, starvation and two pregnancies. She was not unkind but had no real use for humans. Today, though, something had shifted.

Annette asked me when my next Reiki class was taking place. After talking about doing so a number of times over the years, Annette, whose heart was fully opened by Nakota’s love and gratitude, committed to taking the class. She was ready, she said. And she was excited.

A few weeks later, I called to check on Annette. Christmas was coming, and I knew the grief would surface as the first anniversary of her husband’s death drew near. We talked, and she cried. She was doing well; she was making a Christmas for her family; everyone was in good health. There was much to be thankful for. But her heart was sometimes heavy, and there were days when she had to consciously determine how to put one foot in front of the other and go forward.

As I spoke with Annette, my little white dog, Elika, joined me on the bed, stretched out beside me and sighed. I said her name. Annette said, I had forgotten, but your saying Elika’s name has made me remember. Early that morning, she said, when the sky was still dark, she had awakened. When she opened her eyes, she saw Elika’s face, just inches from her own. Annette was not dreaming; she was wide awake. Elika was there. How is that possible? she wanted to know.

Elika is a Reiki dog, I reminded her. She assists with my classes and with many of my healing sessions. No doubt, I said, she sensed your aching heart and came to give you comfort. How did you feel after her visit? I asked. Much better, she said.

Later, I thought about the sequence of events, how the healing came to be. Annette had set it in motion by accepting help. She had then offered assistance to Nakota, who had opened her own heart and expressed her gratitude. This opened Annette’s heart even further, and caused her to commit to something she had wanted to do for some time, learn more about Reiki healing. Her heart now opened still further, she was able to see and accept the gift of healing that Elika offered her.

I felt blessed to have been allowed a role in this healing. I saw again that we are all one. And the more fully we open our hearts, the more we are able to receive.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in February 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis

Animal Connections

Animal Connections

Goodbye, Leroy*

On August 5, I found this message in my inbox:

Leroy passed away sometime this morning.   He was his usual self this morning at 7:30 morning hay time, eager for his breakfast.

When I went back out at 9:30 for grain and mid-morning hay, he was gone.  There was no sign of a struggle, it looks like he was gone before he hit the ground, likely dozing in the sun, or meandering to the next hay pile.

Happy trails, Leroy.  I’ll miss you, my sweet old man.

Michelle

I first wrote about Leroy last July (“What I’m Learning from Leroy”). Leroy was a gorgeous old man, who had been rescued from a feed lot by Michelle Ives, who lives in Connecticut. Leroy had had a tough life as an Amish work horse; when Michelle brought him home, he was grossly underweight, sullen and depressed, and unwilling to interact with humans.

I was privileged to have been able to work with Leroy several times (across distance). After just one session (combining Reiki and Neuromuscular Retraining), he came out of his depression, began to eat with gusto, and allowed Michelle to touch him.

Last July, I wrote:

So what am I learning from Leroy?

Leroy is showing me the exquisite power of letting go. His body had been abused, his spirit battered. He was awash in pain and fear. He was in yet another unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people who, if experience was a guide, were not to be trusted. His spirit was locked inside a dark and lonely place.

Yet Leroy has chosen to heal. From the very first, he accepted the Reiki, trusted it, allowed his heart to open, and simply allowed the fear and pain and abuse and horror of his life to flow out. The transformation was immediate. He held no grudge; he let go of the darkness and embraced the light.

While Leroy had told me he was very happy in his new home and intended to stay there a long while, that was not to be (although horses and humans have a very different sense of time). He was in his new home for just under a year.

I spoke with Leroy last night, a week after his passing. I’d wanted to speak with him sooner, but couldn’t compose myself to do it; whenever I thought of him, the tears started. I never met this wonderful creature in person, but he has firmly established himself in my heart.

I told him that we all missed him. He said, “My heart gave out. It just stopped beating.” I asked him if this was a surprise. He said, “Not really. I didn’t know it would happen today [he said today although he had passed a week earlier], but I knew it would happen soon. I wasn’t strong enough for another winter.”

Then he told me how much he loved Michelle: “She was the sweetest soul I’ve ever known. She cared for me as though she had known me my whole life, and here I was a broken down old man. She gave me respect. Always. Treated me with dignity. It was hard for me to bond with her the way she would have liked. I had never done that before. I wasn’t sure what to do. But it wasn’t for lack of loving her. I hope she understands that. It is just who I was.”

We spoke a bit longer about his life before Michelle. He pointed out the bright spots in a hard life: “sunshine and sweet breezes and the touch of children.” He also mentioned another woman who had taken him in once. “But she had to give me up again,” he said. “That was very hard for her.”

Leroy spoke with grace and dignity. The power of his presence made the room quiet and sweet.

“Thank her for her love and care,” he said. “Tell her that it mattered a great deal.” He added, “There are many others.”

But you were one of a kind, sweet Leroy. Thank you for all you have taught us. Peace to you, my friend.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

Articles


“What I’m Learning from Leroy”

“Good-Bye, Leroy”

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*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in September 2008.

© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis

Reiki Dog

Reiki Dog

When Elika came into my life eight years ago, I received the message that I should take her in because she was going to be a partner in my healing work. I did not want a yappy little white dog, but I listened to what I was told and, in less than a week of our living together, fell completely in love with her. (She is no longer yappy, by the way.) She has assisted me with all of my Reiki classes for the past eight years, and her insistence on a life full of both adventure and kindness has brought light and joy into my life. My little American Eskimo is my Reiki dog.

But even Reiki dogs need Reiki from time to time.

Several weeks ago, Elika came up lame. When she would stand up after lying down for awhile, she would lightly limp on her right front. At first, she would walk out of it in a few minutes and seemed fine. After a few days, though, she wasn’t walking out of it as quickly and seemed to be limping more heavily. I suspected this might be the result of an old injury.

When Elika was three, my 16-hand thoroughbred, Nikos, stepped on her. It was a horrible accident. Elika was tied on a 10-foot line to the outside of the barn door. Nikos was a good 20 yards away from her in the front yard, grazing, while I was doing some minor yard chores. At one point, Nikos lost sight of me, and headed towards the barn to find me. I watched in slow motion-too far away to stop it-as Elika ran across the open doorway while Nikos approached the barn, watched as his feet got tangled in her lead, watched as his giant foot scraped down the length of her leg and landed on her foot.

I, of course, rushed her to the vet, who took X-rays and explained that she had a severe dislocation in the area that on a human is the wrist. He said that because of the severity of the injury, she might never heal completely and that she might not be able to run without pain. Because the area was too swollen to put a hard cast on, he was going to give Elika a large, puffy, soft cast instead, longer than her leg so that she could not place weight on it.

While he was in back casting Elika’s leg, I was on my cell phone calling everyone I knew who was at least Level II Reiki. (In Level II, you learn to send Reiki healing across distance.) It was the middle of the afternoon, so I was only able to reach two people, but the three of us sent Reiki healing to Elika for the next 20 minutes or so. I could not accept that this bundle of wild joy would never run again.

When the vet placed my knocked-out little dog in my arms, he said to come back in three days for a hard cast, and we’d take it from there.

For the next three days, I channeled Reiki to Elika three or four times a day, my hands placed on the gigantic pillow of a cast.

When we returned to the vet’s office, he took Elika into the back to replace the soft cast with a hard one, but returned after a short time, looking puzzled. “She doesn’t need the cast,” he said. The dislocation had closed up; the leg was normal. I explained that I and others had used Reiki to assist Elika in healing. I asked him if he would like to know more about this. He did not.

He cautioned that it would take several months for Elika to heal and that she still might be lame at the end of that time. He also cautioned that the joint might eventually become arthritic. He advised that I keep her on a leash for two weeks so that she didn’t stress the joint with running.

I followed his directions. I also continued with the Reiki. After two weeks, I let Elika off the leash. She took off running with wild abandon. Not one bad step. I called the vet to share the fabulous news. I asked again if he would like to hear about Reiki. His response was, “Some dogs just heal faster than others.” I took that to be a No.

When Elika began limping several weeks ago, when the pain seemed to be intensifying, I wondered if the arthritis the vet had warned about had begun to set in. But had it been the left or the right foot that Nikos had stepped on? Because Elika had healed so completely, I couldn’t remember what foot had been affected. After digging through my files to no avail, I called the vet who had treated her (not my regular vet) and learned that the dislocation had been to the left front foot. The one bothering her now was the right front.

So, off to our regular vet we went. X-rays revealed an old fracture to the left front (although the vet later said it might have just been a shadow) with a little ball of calcium in the joint of one toe. Arthritis. The vet took an X-ray of the other foot for comparison, the one Nikos had stepped on. It was perfect.

Now what? Elika’s movement was being compromised. I ordered pharmaceutical grade glucosamine to help with joint lubrication. I purchased a homeopathic remedy that I know from experience dissolves calcium deposits. But the glucosamine takes weeks to begin working, and the homeopathic could take many months. In the meantime, Elika was in pain (although she never complained), and there was no way I was going to give her the anti-inflammatory the vet sent me home with-with possible side effects including vomiting and diarrhea.

Over the years, I’ve had outstanding success using Reiki to reduce pain and inflammation, and it certainly had helped with her first injury, but this time Elika would have none of it. She’d pull her foot away when I tried to work with it, casting me annoying looks. Of course, I could have sent the Reiki across distance, but instead I called a wonderful healer, one of my Reiki Master students, who eagerly agreed to work with Elika.

She asked to work with Elika three days in a row. After the first session, I didn’t notice any change. After the second session, Elika’s limp was much more pronounced. I urged my student not to worry about this, reminding her that healing can sometimes be painful. After the third session, Elika was back where she’d started before the first session. But the very next day, day four, she was her normal, active self, no longer moving with caution, once again running with wild abandon. This was several weeks ago. Since this time, she has not taken a single bad step.

I called my vet and left a message on her voicemail, telling her that I had not used the meds and that after three Reiki sessions, Elika was completely sound. I said, “I’m telling you this because I know you have an open mind.” I invited her to call me if she wanted to learn more about Reiki. So far, I haven’t heard from her.

This wild bundle of white fur, my Reiki dog, both giver and receiver of this powerful healing, has helped me to teach so many students. I continue to believe that one day soon, more and more veterinarians will be among them.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in January 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis

Celebrating the Light

Celebrating the Light

This week, I lost a dear friend. Kinsale Star. An Irish Thoroughbred, she came to this country on an airplane when she was only one year old. I met her years later, when she was 10 and I had the pleasure of caring for her and the rest of her herd: her daughter, Tara; Willie and her son, Fuersti; the stallion, Arby. I had moved to the country from Chicago because I could no longer contain my love for horses. The drive to and from the city to visit my beloved horse, Nikos, took an insane amount of time, and on the two days a week I wasn’t with him, my heart felt oddly empty. And so I moved to Woodstock, IL, to care for Kinsale and the others for a year while the two humans who completed this family were out of the country. Nikos was nearby. The year stretched into two, then three; Arby went back to his original person, and my Nikos joined the herd. But long before that time, I had formed a special bond with the beautiful Kinsale.

The horses lived naturally, outside, with access to the barn. They rarely chose to come in, preferring the open air, except in intense heat or icy rain. One morning, after a particularly heavy overnight snowstorm, I found the horses standing in the sun. I invited them to come into the barn for breakfast, and as I headed in, I heard a clink, clink, clink behind me. I turned to see what the noise was. Kinsale had six-inch icicles hanging off her thick winter coat, sternum to belly. Clink, clink, clink.

One November, it rained for days. Cold, driving rain. I went out to the barn in the early evening to check on them and found Fuersti and Tara in stalls, Willie standing just inside the barn door, and poor Kinsale standing in the rain, unable to come in. My sweet Kinsale. I gave Willie a piece of my mind, moved her away, and led Kinsale inside. She sighed with gratitude and began munching hay.

When I returned later that night to spread their late-night hay, I saw two heads poking out of stalls: Fuersti and Tara. I saw Willie standing just inside the barn door. No Kinsale. It was still pouring, and biting cold. Bundling up, I prepared to head out into the downpour to find Kinsale, all the while yelling at poor Willie that she was a mean old mare, that she was breaking my heart, that she simply had to treat Kinsale with more kindness. I was beside myself, imagining that sweet girl shivering in the rain. Willie just stared at me as though I had lost my mind. “Really,” I hollered. “I’m serious. This is ridiculous, Willie.”

At the height of my tantrum, Kinsale slowly poked her sleepy head out of a stall, as if to say, “Is there a problem here?” I laughed, apologized to Willie, wondering if Kinsale hadn’t enjoyed my fierce display of loyalty.

Because Fuersti liked to sample everyone else’s food, I fed the horses in closed stalls. When everyone was finished eating, I would open the doors, and they would go back outside. Kinsale, though, would linger. She liked a bit of quiet time. Most mornings, I would join her in her stall. I would breathe into her nose, and she would breathe into mine. We stood there in this silent communion for minutes, until I turned away. I think she would have stood there forever with me. Her sweet breath.

Sometimes late at night, before Nikos joined the herd, after I had spread their hay in the paddock, Kinsale would follow me back into the barn. She would come in quietly. I knew she wanted a treat, an apple wafer, and so I grabbed a few and fed them to her over the gate that separated the horse’s section of the barn from the rest of the barn. She would munch contentedly. She would talk to me. I would tell her to be very quiet so that the others wouldn’t hear. Sometimes her daughter, Tara, would wander in, also quietly, also wanting a treat. Then I would go to the other side of the gate, stroke and scratch Kinsale. She would groom Tara, who would in turn gently groom me. We three mares, standing in a quiet barn, our sacred circle.

Then Fuersti, who was only three and quite the clown, would come charging in. “What are we doing?” He would frantically ask. “Grooming???” And he’d try to stand in our circle, but would bite instead of nuzzle and would demand a treat, and laughing, I would tell the girls our quiet time was over.

Change is the nature of life. The couple who owned the property decided to divorce. I was asked to place the horses. I had already purchased Fuersti, to be a companion to my Nikos when we moved on. But then my beloved Nikos died. The herd kept me from dying, too. Kinsale’s sweet breath. I adopted Tara because I was afraid an injury to her back would make her unadoptable. I wanted to keep them all, but could not. A friend in Washington agreed to take Kinsale. I knew she would give my Kinsale the best of care. While I cried for weeks after I put her on the trailer, I nursed the silent hope that, one day, I would be able to bring my sweet Kinsale back home.

But Kinsale got sick. And over the course of several years, she rallied and failed and rallied and failed, and finally on Monday November 3, my dear, sweet friend Kinsale was put to rest.

I know that she will be with me always. She has told me so. She has told me she will assist me with my healing work, as Nikos does. This brings me a certain peace. But the pain is fresh.

Still, while the loss feels dark, when the wound makes me achy and restless, I know—in this season of celebration, where the days once again become longer, where we celebrate with smiles and the light of thousands of open hearts—that all is well.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in December 2008.

© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis

Learning to Move Again

Learning to Move Again

Murphy, a Chow-Shepherd mix, a big bear of a dog, was found by the side of the expressway about eight years ago by a dear friend of mine. Murphy had a number of physical problems that my friend tended to, but while she noticed that he “was a little off” in his hind end, she didn’t feel it was anything serious and so didn’t address it at that time.

But this year, this old boy started falling going up the stairs. Then he started dragging his hind legs after long walks. Normally a very active dog, he stopped running altogether. He stopped wagging his beautiful curved tail, started carrying it down by his legs instead of proudly over his back.

Murphy had other issues as well—his sight and hearing weren’t as sharp as they had been, and he suffered a seizure. My friend spared no expense in caring for him, taking him to specialists, getting a diagnosis, following up with treatment. But no one seemed to be able to help Murphy with his hind end problem. The attitude seemed to be that this was just something that happens when big dogs get old.

After searching out options, my friend decided to try hydrotherapy. The theory was that swimming would help Murphy strengthen his back and hind end muscles, which would allow him to move more easily on dry land. I explained that movement is good, but if the movement isn’t correct, it can’t help the condition. In other words, exercising a body that is out of balance will not help put it into balance. My friend wanted to try it anyway. Murphy had three hydrotherapy sessions with a well-known and well-respected veterinarian; the sessions also included light therapy. His condition worsened.

When I saw Murphy a few weeks later—my friend had come to visit—he was not the active, happy dog I remembered. He seemed very old, very sad. My friend said she was not going to continue with the hydrotherapy and asked if I would work with Murphy, doing a series of neuro-muscular retraining sessions across distance. I agreed. But before she and Murphy left, I “played” with his body for about ten minutes. I showed him each foot, each toe, so he could feel a stronger base underneath him. I took his sternum in gentle circles. I put a tiny bit of pressure up through each seat bone. I sent gentle pressure up through his tail and along his spine. In short, I showed him the big bones of his body, his support system, and showed him how to use his feet.

When Murphy stood up, his tail was up over his back and wagging. His eyes were bright. We went outside for what was to be a quiet little walk, but he charged around, running in happy circles. I’ve continued working with Murphy (across distance) and he continues to be able to move with relative ease. If he runs too hard, he may be sore the next day, and he can’t take the very long walks he used to take, but his quality of life has greatly improved.

While the results often make it seem so, neuro-muscular retraining is not magic. It is soundly based on the principles of the Feldenkrais Method® of movement re-education for humans. The sessions are referred to as lessons, and the goal of each lesson is to teach the body to move with efficiency, grace, and power.

I know this work from the inside as well. I suffer from a mild case of scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which used to often result in painful muscle contractions on the side of the curvature. My body was trying to protect itself from harm, but the contractions could last for months and were intensely painful. My body just didn’t know how to let go and rebalance. I tried many therapies, but nothing had a lasting effect.

I learned about The Feldenkrais Method® while training with a Feldenkrais practitioner who had developed a method for animals. (I trained for two years, and have been in practice for twelve). Because I came to this work after my inefficient movement patterns were solidly established, it took a bit of time to overcome them, but now I move with much more balance and ease, and rarely experience pain.

But a few weeks ago, I took a wicked fall from my mare. I landed on my right hip, but the terrific impact shot through my entire pelvic region. My pubic bone took such a hit, I was virtually unable to walk for days. I had to waddle like a duck—tipping sideways onto one leg, then the other. I could only extend a leg a few inches in front of me at a time.

I knew that walking like this was going to put unusual stress on other areas of my body, and that I would most likely need help rebalancing. Sure enough, after about a week of my duck walking, my left glute (the large muscle in the middle of each of the cheeks of your bottom) hardened into a cement-like block. I could poke it, pound on it, and not feel a thing. But its constant state of contraction made walking extremely difficult, even now that my pubic bone wasn’t nearly as painful. And the right side of my neck felt as though it had hot nails driven through it; the pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced.

I had a variety of treatment options, of course, but my experience with Feldenkrais indicated this was the best way to go. I did not want my body manually adjusted or pressure put on the sore areas. Some friends suggested I just needed to move around more, that exercise would help. But I know that exercising a body that was in a state of contraction would not help. I wanted my body to be reminded how to move more efficiently so that it would release the painfully contracted muscle and rebalance itself.

And this is exactly what a little over an hour with a Feldenkrais practitioner accomplished.

Some years ago, when I came back to horses as an adult, I rode in a large commercial barn with at least a dozen school horses. Often, the horses would begin the lessons “off,” and the instructors would tell their students to just make the horse “work through it.” The problem with this approach, although I didn’t know it at the time, was that the body most likely wasn’t solving the problem but was merely compensating for it, stressing other parts of the body. Do this repeatedly over time, and the body will break down.

All movement is not created equal. To be useful, to be healthful, to be a thing of beauty and grace, movement has to come from a position of balance, where each part of the body moves in fluid cooperation with every other part. Ignoring discomfort or pain—either in our own bodies or those of our animal companions—is not the answer. Moving through the pain is not the answer either. The best approach, in my opinion, is to address the cause of the imbalance, to teach the body to move freely again. And the sooner you are able do this, the better.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in October 2008.

© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis

Goodbye, Leroy

Goodbye, Leroy

On August 5, I found this message in my inbox:

Leroy passed away sometime this morning.   He was his usual self this morning at 7:30 morning hay time, eager for his breakfast.

When I went back out at 9:30 for grain and mid-morning hay, he was gone.  There was no sign of a struggle, it looks like he was gone before he hit the ground, likely dozing in the sun, or meandering to the next hay pile.

Happy trails, Leroy.  I’ll miss you, my sweet old man.

Michelle

I first wrote about Leroy last July (“What I’m Learning from Leroy”). Leroy was a gorgeous old man, who had been rescued from a feed lot by Michelle Ives, who lives in Connecticut. Leroy had had a tough life as an Amish work horse; when Michelle brought him home, he was grossly underweight, sullen and depressed, and unwilling to interact with humans.

I was privileged to have been able to work with Leroy several times (across distance). After just one session (combining Reiki and Neuromuscular Retraining), he came out of his depression, began to eat with gusto, and allowed Michelle to touch him.

Last July, I wrote:

So what am I learning from Leroy?

Leroy is showing me the exquisite power of letting go. His body had been abused, his spirit battered. He was awash in pain and fear. He was in yet another unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people who, if experience was a guide, were not to be trusted. His spirit was locked inside a dark and lonely place.

Yet Leroy has chosen to heal. From the very first, he accepted the Reiki, trusted it, allowed his heart to open, and simply allowed the fear and pain and abuse and horror of his life to flow out. The transformation was immediate. He held no grudge; he let go of the darkness and embraced the light.

While Leroy had told me he was very happy in his new home and intended to stay there a long while, that was not to be (although horses and humans have a very different sense of time). He was in his new home for just under a year.

I spoke with Leroy last night, a week after his passing. I’d wanted to speak with him sooner, but couldn’t compose myself to do it; whenever I thought of him, the tears started. I never met this wonderful creature in person, but he has firmly established himself in my heart.

I told him that we all missed him. He said, “My heart gave out. It just stopped beating.” I asked him if this was a surprise. He said, “Not really. I didn’t know it would happen today [he said today although he had passed a week earlier], but I knew it would happen soon. I wasn’t strong enough for another winter.”

Then he told me how much he loved Michelle: “She was the sweetest soul I’ve ever known. She cared for me as though she had known me my whole life, and here I was a broken down old man. She gave me respect. Always. Treated me with dignity. It was hard for me to bond with her the way she would have liked. I had never done that before. I wasn’t sure what to do. But it wasn’t for lack of loving her. I hope she understands that. It is just who I was.”

We spoke a bit longer about his life before Michelle. He pointed out the bright spots in a hard life: “sunshine and sweet breezes and the touch of children.” He also mentioned another woman who had taken him in once. “But she had to give me up again,” he said. “That was very hard for her.”

Leroy spoke with grace and dignity. The power of his presence made the room quiet and sweet.

“Thank her for her love and care,” he said. “Tell her that it mattered a great deal.” He added, “There are many others.”

But you were one of a kind, sweet Leroy. Thank you for all you have taught us. Peace to you, my friend.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in September 2008.

© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis

Think Positive! Your Horses Will Thank You

Think Positive! Your Horses Will Thank You

One of the five principles of Reiki is, “Just for today, I will let go of worry.” I’ve learned that worry is a thief. It steals time, sleep, health, creativity. It makes us blind to the joy and abundance around us. Because thoughts are like magnets, when we worry, we invite into our lives the very things we are worried about.

The anecdote to worrying is to think positive thoughts, to be grateful for all that you have, to trust (in other words to know) that all is well. We cannot control every aspect of our lives, but we can control our response to circumstances and events. If we refuse to worry, we will soon have nothing to worry about.

What does this have to do with our horses? Our state of mind has a powerful impact on their state of mind. It has an impact on all of the creatures in our care, but horses are so incredibly sensitive, so attuned to their surroundings, that I believe that the impact of our worry is even more debilitating for them.

A client of mine recently emailed because she was worried about her gelding. He’d been diagnosed with a suspensory injury several months prior, and while he was much better, he still was not completely himself. She was most concerned about his mood. He seemed depressed, distant.

In my session with him, before I could ask him how he was feeling, he said, “I have so much to tell you! I’m ready to be a serious riding horse.”

“Serious”? I asked.

“I mean real riding,” he said. “I want to cover more ground.”

“OK,” I said. “But you still have an injured leg right? You’re still in pain, right?”

He didn’t respond. It was as though this thought had not occurred to him. He said nothing further during the session, in which I channeled Reiki and worked with his body. My sense was that he was extremely bored, which I told my client.

Several days later, I got a lengthy message from my client. Here is a portion of it:

“Thursday morning I was in his stall and asking him what he needs. I told him he knows my heart and knows I’m trying to do my best to get him well. I’m trying to listen; I’m here; what do you need?

“So on the way home last night I was thinking . . . it popped in my head from your notes that when you asked him about his injury and whether he still had pain, he didn’t respond.

You got the feeling that it never occurred to him. Then, I realized that it has been my own fear of hurting him more and my worry and negative vibes when it comes to him that may be getting in the way of his healing. I decided I was no longer going to treat him as though he was injured and in pain, not that we were going to go all out, but my attitude and thinking were going to be different.

“When I got home, I went straight to the barn, told him we were gonna ride tonight and asked if that’s what he needed. I put his boots on and saddled him up. I hand walked him down the fence line and back. He seemed to be walking pretty good, so I mounted up and we started to walk.

“The first pass down it seemed to be a little hard for him. I kept talking to him and telling him that he said he wanted to be a serious riding horse and this was going to help him. We would take it easy but if he was wanting to really ride, we were going to have to walk and get some exercise.”

Long story short, they had a wonderful ride, complete with lots of praise and a bit of Reiki. And they had two more wonderful rides that weekend, one with my client on his back, one with a neighborhood child on his back. Very slow, easy rides (but with some trotting and ground poles); very happy horse. Positive thinking had turned the situation around.

A few weeks later, I visited a large, commercial barn and spoke to about a dozen horses. The first horse I spoke to was a four-year-old gelding. His human had told me that she had lost her mare about six months prior. She tried not to, but couldn’t help crying when she said it. Clearly, she was still grieving. She’d bought this little boy a few months prior and was having trouble with him. He was hard to handle, sometimes even bucking. She loved him on the ground, but although she was working with an excellent trainer, she was fearful of riding him. She was worried that she was not the right person for him, that she had bought the wrong horse.

The horses were in their stalls because of rain. This little man kept repeating that he needed to be outside more, that he needed to run and play with his buddies, that he was bored, that he wanted to go out, that he wanted to play, that he WANTED TO GO OUT. Because he was so fixated on turnout (and who can blame him?) and because his human was the person who had set up my visit, I checked back in with him a few days later (with his human companion’s permission).

His first words were these: “Her grief gets in the way. She doesn’t know how to have fun.” When I told him that his human was fearful of his behavior, he said, “Well, I don’t know what to say. I’m just being me. I don’t mean any harm. I just want to play. I stand around too much. This isn’t good for me. And then she is afraid. I think it’s sadness more than fear.”

A bit later in the session, I asked, “Do you have a sense of why you are with Lilly [not her real name]?

He said, “Maybe to help her get her laughter back? But she would need to play by my rules, no worrying, lots of playing.”

I passed this message on to Lilly, in the hopes that she can lift her heart, stop worrying, start playing with this gorgeous boy.

About the same time, I began working with a four-year-old Percheron cross who had been a PMU foal. His human companion wrote: “I don’t even know where to begin . . . He has been with me a little over two years now; he still has huge trust issues. When he came to me he was skin and bones, very malnourished and I think depressed, unhalter broken and basically unhandled at all except for being fed and occasionally wormed . . . I’m worried about my boy . . . I am really hoping you will be able to help us . . . I talk to Buddy all the time, try to explain things to him and I know he listens but we are still at an impasse. I have people telling me all the time how dangerous he is. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t know how to get through to him.”

In a subsequent email, she added that Buddy does not like to be touched anywhere and absolutely refuses to allow her to touch his legs or feet. She said she was also worried that Buddy doesn’t like the barn owner, that this is causing him stress. The client was so worried about him she said she had not gotten a decent night’s sleep in months.

But when I spoke with Buddy, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m a very lucky boy. I’m in a home where someone loves me deeply, cares for me.” When I asked him about the barn owner, he didn’t respond; to him, it was a non-issue. His only complaint was that he was confined in a stall too much. He asked to be able to live out in the open (as he had done in the past).

I worked with his body, which was holding tension, showed him how to let someone pick up his feet, and channeled Reiki to him. [This was all done across distance.] It became clear to me as I worked that his problems with being touched stemmed in great part from his human’s worried attitude, her negative energy, which he was absorbing like a giant sponge.

After a few sessions, Buddy began to relax. His human companion began to relax, too. She emailed me a few days ago to say Buddy is calmer around her now, is allowing her to touch his legs, and that she talks to him about the property she is looking for so that he can be outside as much as he likes. She breathes more deeply around him, enjoys his presence. All is well.

I think sometimes we drive our horses crazy. I think if we learned to breathe deeply, gave thanks for the abundance in our lives—which includes our gorgeous horses—praised and patted and played, a lot of our problems would simply melt away.

Until next month . . .

Be well,

Pam

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in August 2008.

© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis