Bodywork that honors the horse's structure and spirit
In Memory of Chaya Stillwater-Lanz
One of our dear graduates, Chaya Stillwater-Lanz, was killed in an auto accident a few days ago. Chaya was a spitfire gal who loved working with horses and did really well by them.
She attended the Equine Natural Movement School six years ago, a great bonus to our school. She was a natural with horses.
I remember Chaya as a shout out to the world, someone who stood up for the downtrodden. She was into dressage, but on her principaled terms, tattoos and all. She was the consummate horsewoman, but refused to make herself fit into any pre-defined system. She was a free spirit, engaged, enthusiastic and she battled fiercely for what she believed in.
After graduation, she and I worked out a plan for her to payoff her remaining school tuition. Awhile later she went back to college and fell behind. Knowing she was extremely low on funds, I offered to let her lag a bit. A few months later she said she’d re-prioritized her finances and put this at the top. I told her it was okay if she only paid a little at a time, but she said it was an ethics thing. A short while later she sent a check for the entire balance. She folded the check into a wild victorious letter filled with poetic heart and soul gratitude for teaching her our work. That was something you knew about Chaya — her blood coursed with integrity and commitment, stuff that changes the world.
She lived without a speck of corruption, a life negotiated on her own terms. How many of us can say that?
Oh, how we will miss her. Bless you, Chaya, and may all of us you’ve left behind be better for the fierce love you shone upon us.
I just pulled up Chaya’s last school paper to re-read it. I felt comfort in setting myself in her thoughts for a bit longer, reading her perceptions about the inclusiveness of the herd, how they cared for each other and even included her in their unity, such good observations of how we can care for each other, one and all. — Jacqueline Freeman
Movement as Expression
I sat one afternoon watching the herd I had been charged with caring for. There were ten horses, one pony, and me all moving on the hill appreciating the sun, the wind, the feel of the grass under our feet. I learned three things that day: that safety is the most important thing to the herd, each horse is responsible for their safety as well as that of the herd, as part of the herd, their safety was in part, my responsibility; that the herd always seeks harmony after discord; that movement is a joyful expression of life. These are all basic lessons for a horsewoman, but it took me hours of quiet observation after years of contemplation to understand the basic dynamic that keeps a herd in contented harmonious order.
Horses remain wild, yet they are domestic. This is part of their allure. The most basic element in a horse’s life is that they are prey animals. They have survived for millennia because of their ability to sense discord in their environment and escape from predators. While observing the herd that afternoon it became clear that each horse was responsible for not only their own behavior and safety, but that of the entire herd.
The horses are turned out in paddocks, some of them individually, others in small groups. The day was lovely, the wind blowing clouds across sky creating dancing shadows across the hillside. The excitement of freedom was almost too much for the horses as they ran and danced across their fields. I watched as they settled into a routine of eating, running, communing with earth.
In their thrill of being able to express themselves physically I saw their control. While running one horse slipped. The two horses in tow instantly maneuvered so as to not break stride while the first horse regained his footing. In that moment the all three horses took responsibility for the herd. The horse who slipped regained his footing in an instant, the same instant that the other two avoided becoming a tangle of limbs. Their dance and instant awareness keeps them safe.
The horses went back to grazing as I continued to watch. Minutes would pass, tails swishing flies, teeth pulling blades of grass, ears pivoting. Then one horse would stop, raise their head, and listen into the forest. A horse in a far away paddock would raise their head in response–as if saying I get the message, the forest is clear. This happened regularly. One horse’s attention would get called by a sound or scent, then send that message of discovery around the herd. This sharing of information happened continuously. Herd members that were almost out of sight would raise their head from grazing, check on each member of the herd, then satisfied with the safety of everyone would continue to enjoy the moment.
I became nervous when a second horse slipped on unsure footing and I made the choice to separate some of the horses. That was when I realized that I, too, was part of the herd. Keeping them safe bodily was also my responsibility. They know this and look to me if there is uncertainty. I help provide their safety and I had never realized that this is not only recognized by the herd, but that they allow me in their wild domesticity to make safe choices for them. What an honor I feel walking next to their coiling bodies.
A moment of discord occurs. Two fillies run along the fence line working the geldings into a lather who in turn concern their neighbors. Horse from distant raise their heads to see what the commotion is all about. Time stands still for those not running. The geldings vie for the fillies’ attention, showing legs and barrels in brave contortions of speed and agility. The fillies seem impressed and show this by running with their tails flagged out behind them. The mares neighboring the geldings perhaps are seeking some their own so they too run, their tails streaming along behind them. The geldings attention turns to the older mares who after their display have returned to grazing. This break in attention from the fillies causes them to return to their grazing. When the geldings have no one’s attention, their muzzles return to the grass.
The horses pastured further away sense the returned calm and lower their heads. This happened in minutes, yet the message was clear. Too much disruption is unnecessary for the herd. The older mares played their part in returning harmony to the afternoon. Each horse has a role to play and they understand this, it is only me the two-legged observer who tries learn from watching that is awakened to their natural dynamic.
In these displays of agility I saw horse take pleasure in their movement. They express their vitality through their flashing limbs and twisting torsos. These dancers play in their fields, showing off their unique abilities. I watch the animals teach each other how to perform.
I see that movement without restriction offers a horse a great range of physical expression. As pure physical creatures horses have no real separation between their mental thoughts and bodies. Their movements mirror their minds in an unfolding expression of joy.
From this I saw that by allowing the horses physical bodies a greater range of motion, I offer their minds a greater range of possibility. Movement is potential for a horse. That potential expression is the core of their beings. They live through their bodies. Healthier bodies live and express more fully. Fully expressing horses are happy horses indeed.