Fix Yourself First
Be aware of your power to influence your animals’ behavior – for better or worse. I used to tell my students: Every time you handle your horse, you are training.. where he stands when you open the gate, how he passes through the gate, grooming, tacking up, and riding. A related important suggestion is: If you are not feeling 100%, and not at your personal best, don’t handle your horse. Why? They pick up on everything. Everything. Sure, we might feel better after being with them, but how are they at the end of our time together? Confused? Tired? Ready to be left alone for awhile?
If you are not at your best, then sit down and hang out. Figure out what your problem is and take care of it. Do your flower essences. Are you worried about bills? Mimulus is excellent for known fears. Are you fighting with your family? Figure out your part in it by taking some Clematis essence to expose your part in the misunderstanding. Don’t daydream through a difficulty. Depression is rampant these days with all the bad news in the world. Mustard is for lingering depression that keeps coming back day after day. Dandelion is for depression that seems to have settled into your bones, exhausting you, depleting your innate courage. Aconite is an answer for sudden bad news.What I am really saying here is don’t worry about your animals until you fix yourself - before you inflict damage on them. If there is existing emotional or mental damage in the animal from previous experiences or events beyond our control, then use essences to address the damage. It does not matter how long ago the experience happened. One Australian Shepherd, Daisy, witnessed - from her apartment window - the Twin Towers coming down on 9-11 in New York City. She was alone. Her guardian had to walk home 2 miles amid debris and chaos arriving late in the afternoon to a traumatized dog. Ever since that day, Daisy reacted to loud noises, thunderstorms, and traffic by going to the window, staring outside and trembling. Her guardian gave her Sweetgrass essence for welcoming change, Gorse for re-newed hope, Yarrow for environment and homeopathic Aconitum 30x for shock. Daisy stopped her fear-based shaking, switched her focus to her guardian, and had no more trembling episodes.
Mirrors and Escalators
Did you ever notice that when you are having a bad day, so is your horse? It’s not a coincidence. It is a mirror. They reflect our frustrations and impatience. A veteran horsewoman once advised: “If your horse is not understanding what you are asking of him, stop and put him up for the night.” This went against everything I knew about “never give in or they will be spoiled”. But she has been proven right dozens of times. I once was schooling a 3-year-old Paint mare who was not understanding my request for a side pass. I got off her, pushed her, got on, used heel, rein, and scratched her shoulder so she would move away from the pressure. NOTHING. Actually the harder I tried, the worse the whole thing became. I remembered what the older trainer told me and stopped. Reluctantly, I dismounted, gave the mare a reward and ended the lesson for the day. In that reward was Impatiens essence for patience, Mimulus if any fear arose during the session, and most important, Chestnut Bud.
Dr. Edward Bach wrote in The Twelve Healers about Chestnut Bud essence: “For those who do not take full advantage of observation and experience, and who take a longer time than others to learn the lessons of daily life.” (The Twelve Healers published in 1931 by CW Daniels Co. Ltd., London. Re-printed in 1977 by Keats Pub., Inc New Canaan, CT under the name “The Bach Flower Remedies” quote from page 97.)
The next day, she was excited to work. I thought it was because I had quit the previous lesson early but after her warm-up, she took one awkward step without being asked, so I corrected her. But she did it again. Lo and behold, I gave her a loose rein and she started sidepassing. She stepped to the side with ease, grace and balance. I asked her to sidepass in the opposite direction and she performed with the same grace and balance, nothing I could have achieved in weeks of pushing myself on her. The day before, she was confused, which created frustration for us both, escalating negative emotions and behavior and thus heading us straight for anger. Chestnut Bud is my favorite for these situations.
I recently visited a place where I thought negative emotions would be running rampant, our local therapeutic riding center. I expected negativity because of the emotional burden and stress of families living with a disabled or challenged person. To my surprise, every single person, rider, sibling, caregiver, instructor, volunteer, and every horse appeared content and happy while caring for each other. Emotional transfer at its best.
In this day and age of bad news and focus on all things negative, the afternoon spent watching miracles rejuvenated my faith in mankind. It was an incredible shout-out for the horses and the part they play in these children’s therapy. In 90 minutes, I saw 2 young people who were never expected to walk, talk, or sit up. Both were not only able to talk, walk and sit up – they rode horses! How can hope have a limit? Positive emotions transferred from the horses and environment to the riders and their families = priceless.
Neutralize Emotional Disturbances in Companion Animals
Think about every horse you’ve had or who’s had you. Your top two complaints probably boiled down to phrases like: I can’t catch him. He is aloof. He doesn’t hang out with me when he is at liberty. Or from the too-close side of life: He didn’t mean to step on my foot. It was an accident. He head-rubs me because he likes me.
If you look closely at the behavior and its rewards for the equine, “too far” and “too close” appear to be opposite sides of the same coin. And for all intents and purposes, they are. But the same exact essences will help these seemingly different behaviors.
Too Far - Aloof
This is probably the most disturbing to me personally. I want to be friends with my horses, whether I am with them one hour a week or am living with them. Plus a herd animal, in its perfect condition, is not separate from the others. So I go poking around, trying to discover the reason for this odd behavior. I take inventory, asking questions and ruling out physical ailments and injuries. Are they depressed? Out of sorts? Got their feelings hurt? Did anything in the herd change recently? New additions? Did someone leave? Change of status in the herd?
Bonding with a human is not the most natural act for an equine even though we have been crawling on their backs for thousands of years. In my eyes, bonding is different from dependence (for food, water, shelter) and is different from human imprinting at birth. Historically, my experience has been that imprinted horses have little emotional interaction with no respect for others’ space – human or equine. These horses tend to be pushy and/or leaners (lean on the hooftrimmer or lean on you). Is it that they don’t know how to be friends? Lack socialization from mother and herd? Whatever the cause, flower essence therapy will establish balance in these personality extremes.
The bonding I am talking about is much more about trust - simple things like not stepping on my foot EVER, not knocking me down EVER, getting me home safely EVERY TIME. These simple requests have been hard won at times on difficult, aloof horses. Those personalities seem to not be in the “here and now” and, sorry to say, that does make them dangerous. They “wake up” and over-react.
Too Close - Pushy
Bossy, domineering, insecure, and afraid - equally distressing for the caregivers, riders, and handlers - are all on the other side of the coin. In the majority of my experience, aggression is fear-based. And fearful horses are dangerous in their attempts to flee or protect themselves, and may overreact to what they fear.
Change Can Happen
Bullies and victims actually benefit from the same flower essences, because the essences restore emotional balance. Somewhere in the middle of theses extremes is where a horse wants to be - a mentally, physically, and emotionally balanced member of the herd. Flower essences help him get there, and stay there. Even in the balanced horse, on any given day, change can happen, for better or for worse, in the blink of an eye. Maybe the wind blows the tarp off the hay, the farrier arrives in a bad mood, or there is an unavoidable change in the feeding schedule. Address such changes using the same essences used for chronic problems.
Stop giving excuses for potentially dangerous behaviors, and don’t create such bad habits in the first place. Head rubbing, for example, I call hit-and-run. It is not a sign of friendship as most would have us believe. This is no way to communicate friendship.
Case in point: I had a client with a QH/TB named Max who would go out of his way to rub his head on his human, John, who was 6’3” and 240 pounds. Max would actually pick John up off the ground and move him around. The next day, little me showed up with 2 flakes of hay in my arms. I got tossed around with the force he’d used on John. Inappropriate; bad manners; reinforced negative behavior because John considered head rubbing ‘bonding’. Truth of the matter is John was being pushed around by Max and Max treated all humans the same, until flower essence therapy showed Max that ‘pushy’ isn’t necessary and John showed Max that ‘pushy’ is not desired. John got it too – in his water! We can use the same remedies for bullies and victims alike because flower essence therapy neutralizes emotional disturbances.
Here are the solutions for getting and keeping horses focused in the “here and now” whether working at liberty, riding, trailering or standing calmly for a practitioner.
Pine flower essence helps in becoming aware of your surroundings in a grounded, calm, accepting manner, rooted” where you are - not in a stubborn, rigid way but more about growing strong where you are planted. Dried needles are actually best. I discovered this when the stickiness got in the way of creating an essence one afternoon. Also when making Pine essential oil, dried needles are used instead of fresh. How convenient for the planet! One more thing about using Pine flower essence - observe the conscious contact the animals have with the earth after you use this essence. The stance is different. The cadence is different. This is a fun essence to observe and watch in action as the animal connects intentionally with each hoof.
Clematis flower essence is for that drifty, far-away quality. Clematis is a beautiful wispy flower of soft colors. Clematis not only helps with focus but to also take an active role in one’s life, not being a helpless bystander without capacity to make decisions. Clematis is for those in need of stimulation, enthusiasm, and purposeful living.
Cherry Plum flower essence is appropriate if they give no warning before ill behavior, act impulsively without thought of self-preservation, or do something other than fight, flight or freeze, or do all of the aforementioned all at the same time! Some do not posture, nor hesitate, nor set themselves in a stance to protect themselves in the next erratic behavior; they have no control over their behavior. Cherry plum is for composure. In A Practical Guide to Vibrational Medicine by Richard Gerber, MD, Gerber writes: “Also for those who take unnecessary risks or act rashly, without thought for possible harm they might bring to themselves.”
So when is a behavior too much?
When it exceeds acceptable interactive behavior or becomes a potential danger to others. ‘Good manners at all times’ is one acceptable guideline - no more pushing anyone around, no head rubbing because neither are acceptable. If they start with this behavior after getting their tack off, grab a cloth and clean their faces! Feel free to put a few drops of Pine, Clematis, or Cherry Plum essence on it. Being one step ahead will ensure you don’t get stepped on!
Intelligent disobedience is a term trainers use when animals do not follow known commands in light of the fact that this command is not the right course of action in this situation. For example, the companion dog for a sight impaired person is asked to cross the street when there is a car ready to turn into their path. The person hears the chirp from the light signal that it is safe to walk but the dog knows better.
I have totally given my horse his head and “quit riding” on more than one occasion including once when up to my stirrups in quick mud in Arizona, trouble jumping over 5’ fences in New York, on the same trail as a Mountain Lion in California, sliding down shale hillsides in Arizona, and countless times in-between where the horse found safety for both of us. When I say I quit riding that does not mean I dismounted but, that is sage advice in certain situations. What I mean is I quit interfering with the horse by relaxing my legs, hands, and voice, while relying on his balance, his decisions to get us to safety.
Here is a good place to remind ourselves why we use flower essences: to improve and prevent problematic behavior, attitudes, emotions, and patterns of learning because they go to the root cause of mental and emotional problems, not suppressing or masking the problematic behaviors to resurface later, as in later on down the trail.
What weighs 13,230 pounds, is 80,000 years old, and covers 107 acres?
Answer: One Aspen Tree in Utah.
This particular tree called “Pando” appears to be a grove of 40,000 individual Aspen trees. In reality, it is one tree as every single trunk shares the exact same DNA stemming from one root system; thus making it one living organism. Not sure this is relevant to this article, but wanted to share this amazing demonstration from a tree that claims to be the oldest and largest living organism on the planet and we can use any leaf from any Aspen as an essence! All beings owe their existence to trees since without their ability to eliminate carbon dioxide and release oxygen – none of us would exist. Tree essences are about encouraging teamwork and co-operation resulting in predictable behaviors between partners.
Aspen tree leaves, when used as a flower essence, are wonderful for fears where there is actually a trembling or physical response – just like the trembling of the Aspen leaf. This can be subtle and undetectable while other times appearing to paralyze the horse. This is called the freeze response of fight, flight, or freeze. When this fear strikes it is a form of shock and most often, their behavior cannot be trusted when they emerge from this “unconscious” state.
Trembling Aspen leaves indicate change in weather and give advance warning of approaching winds stirring up in an area. Composure and gentle acceptance of change is one benefit of using Aspen essence. Head tossing, lip slapping, and tail twitching usually are indicators of worse behaviors to follow and can be remedied with Aspen as well by addressing the root cause of these “twitchy” behaviors. Use for fears and nervous behaviors even when you are not exactly sure what the triggers are that will set off quaking behavior. Does not have to be evident in actual trembling as horses will often internalize fears. This repression can lead to exhaustion as their energy is spent in covering up what is really troublesome.
Back at home, use Aspen for those in need of deep rest. A time off for the truly exhausted personality always on high alert. This is a remedy I like to give and then leave them alone for deep, safe rest and relaxation. Good for lay-ups who have hyper-vigilant personalities to calm at a deep inner-level and restore emotional balance.
What I like about Birch is that the trees are hardy, highly adaptable, and found in groups, often isolated and independent, not relying upon large numbers to survive. This is the essence I would choose for the horse that appears to be reactive in a crowd. Use Birch essence for the one who does not think independently or listen to you at crucial times but goes with the crowd on every decision. This is a dangerous horse as he has given up self-reliance, independent thinking, and concern for your welfare automatically defaulting to herd flight mentality. Use this essence when you need your horse to pay attention to you and your requests. Co-operative connection with your horse is attainable using Birch.
Oak essence is used by personalities who drive themselves to exhaustion and ill health by an exaggerated drive to work hard, to be the leader – no matter what the personal cost. Oak is for the strong personality that can be a little bossy or pushy in trying to get his own way. This is not all negative as Oak personalities are true leaders and often do know what is best in a given situation. But we need to be able to “rein them in” in case they do not have all the facts to make a sound decision. The goal of using flower essences is to prevent possible mis-behaviors and remedy existing bad habits. Resisting the impulse to mis-behave – in this case, to always take the lead - makes for a safe, predictable, consistent ride.
Apple essence is my clear choice for the horse that needs a fresh image. Overcoming past mistakes and starting anew. I recommend using Apple tree essence because it is more accessible and has a longer blooming period than Crab Apple. Also, in my experience, Apple has a broader application in helping different personalities overcome difficulties. Apple encourages a fresh self-image resulting in greater self-acceptance and self-confidence.
As an essence, apple offers great potential to mature and grow into best version of self. Developing through responsible actions and reactions befitting the demands of their situation. Trustworthy – nothing more important than when you are hours away from home and “stumble upon” a difficult situation.
Use for recovery from negative experiences to eliminate the mental fear of possibly repeating the experience in the future. In the way arnica flower essence clears mental memories of a negative experience; apple essence cleanses doubt and untrustworthy, negative memories from the core of the heart.
Precautions and Prevention
Best advice I can offer after 55 years of loving horses: Know your horse. Know his limits. When part of a group, know the other horses and riders and their limits - don’t be part of someone else’s training session without your permission as this can be potentially dangerous.
Make sure your horse is listening to you and behaving as a partner before you set off on your ride. Sometimes, you may want to turn them out to run, buck, and roll before you get in the saddle. Some prefer to longe or work at liberty using this time to establish a positive relationship. And after your ride, moving at liberty, rolling, massage, hydrotherapy and using flower essences are good tools to prevent soreness and help prevent uncomfortable physical residuals on the next ride. I believe that warming up is equally as important as the cool down period for all exercise.
Spoiled – No Way, You Say
Jealous or Zealous?
While doing research for a client, I discovered the word jealous comes from the Latin word for zealous. This new fact made me take a look at what I had always observed to be “jealous” behavior, defined as: resentfully envious. Are jealous animals simply zealous (filled with eagerness/interest)? Or are they insecure? Spoiled? Trying to teach us a lesson? Or just plain crazy? (I’m kidding.)
Animals With(out) Human Emotions
Animals arrive in our lives without a written history explaining possible quirks, phobias, and negative behaviors. With limited vocabulary to explain confusing or complicated behaviors, we offer excuses for their excessive personality traits. Diagnosing emotional problems in animals has its limitations since we are restricted to imposing our vocabulary on them. The fancy word for this is anthropomorphism, defined as: attributing of human characteristics to gods, objects, animals, etc. In this vein, we tend to assign our limitations to the animals, emotional limitations including jealousy, pettiness, anger, possessiveness, etc.
Bo, the young Quarter Horse, loved me. He would look forward to my visits and the routine. My friend had several horses and we always followed the same order as to when, how, and where we worked them. Bo was always first out of his paddock because he was the youngest and had the least patience. Routinely, the first thing I would do after arriving is grab his halter and hang my shirt on its hook. One day, I arrived and their retired police horse needed attention first, which changed our and Bo’s routine. Following my routine, I hung my shirt on top of his halter.
We got the old horse comfortable and returned to get Bo out of his stall. His halter was there but my shirt was missing. Bo was always “at the ready” by the gate but, now he was outside in the corner of his turn-out. I’m not sure what I noticed first: the odd look on his face, or my muddy shirt in three pieces at his feet. He had thrashed, ripped and stomped on my shirt. The look on his face was half remorse and half triumph, as he knew he got his point across to us - Don’t change the ordered routine, because it changes status.
Flower Essences to the Rescue
Star of Bethlehem flower essence is the absolute best for us and our animals since this essence is intended for shock, hurt feelings, confusion, and emotional experiences like getting bit, stepped on, or clawed – depending on your animal of choice. As I have previously written, it was the only single remedy that I took to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One bottle went with a fellow volunteer to the hospital with a life-threatening spider bite returning for his second surgery. He asked me for it because he had witnessed the help it gave to hundreds of cats and dogs arriving daily from the floodwaters of New Orleans.
Star of Bethlehem is excellent for do-overs. The best example is when you need to apologize or back up the clock and re-address an incident. It’s incredibly helpful for times when you do not know what happened but the animal is “off”, a technical term for “don’t have a clue as to what is wrong.” It does not matter how long ago the incident happened; essences will help. If the transgression is recent, use essences more often, beginning with possibly every 10-15 minutes for the first hour and hourly for the next few hours until you see calm return to the animal. For chronic behavior or older incidents, use four times daily for a longer period of time, maybe a few weeks.
Blending Star of Bethlehem with Angel’s Trumpet (used for self-empowerment) allows the animal the capacity to use discernment, judge a situation, and react appropriately. One owner said: “It gave him a pause button.”
Tiger Lily essence can be used in cases where there is loss of status, insecurity, or difficulty believing in oneself. This essence provides a sophisticated focus encouraging learning and understanding while giving the animal a moment to change confusion, fear, or worry into mental and emotional confidence.
Indulged or Spoiled?
Whom should we pay attention to first? Whom should we feed first? The fastest and strongest, is my (safest) answer. Some believe the only answer is to give in to the negative behavior and its consequences, like smoothing riffs in the barnyard, calming nerves at feeding time, granting leniency, and giving excuses for crazy behavior when company arrives. I know people who rearrange furniture, schedules, and even vacation plans to suit their animals’ idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.
I know there are fancier words than “pushy pigs” for dominant behavior but everyone can relate to the one cat that fights, growls and hogs the food. Or the horse pushing a shoulder into you or butting you with his head. And the dog who loves to play but always wants to be over the top of the other dog or stealing toys, and if reprimanded, usually wanders away with disinterest.
Normally, essences encourage better behavior within minutes or at most, after a few days of use. Severely damaged animals or chronic issues require more time but my experience is that permanent behavior improvement can be attained within one month. Blending essences of Red Clover to gently restore emotional balance, Gorse for hope, Sweet Pea for delicacy, patience, and kindness, and Mustard for lingering depression, in this case due to loss of family security, works wonders.
Plain Crazy? Maybe Not
Cats not letting someone into the inner-circle looks petty and cruel to us but it can also be that the new animal is sick, possibly with a transmissible disease threatening the entire “family” and the meanies are, in reality, protecting everyone by shunning this cat. Maybe we will never know the cause for the aggressive, negative behaviors but that does not mean we can’t help them overcome their troubles and become contented, emotionally balanced individuals. If after giving flower essences a thorough try the animals still do not ‘accept and get along’, don’t push it - just accept this and remember that these animals’ innate intelligence has allowed them to survive upwards of 50 million years. If there is a reason or need for these behaviors in such circumstances, the essences won’t override them (you can’t fool Mother Nature).
Blending essences of Sweet Pea for kindness, Gorse for hope, and Mustard for lingering depression has worked wonders on many animals suffering from insecure dominance. Perseverance is necessary since we are changing an ingrained mental pattern not merely a bad habit. My experience is that flower essences will permanently improve behavior within one week of using a remedy. Then use if issues arise or you want to further improve behavior or advance training. In cases of mental damage from poor breeding practices and lack of proper socialization as youngsters resulting in negative behavior, it could take longer to temper the personality.
Even though I have been blending essences for 35 years, I still marvel at the powerful effectiveness and simplicity of it all. Here we are using plants in a form that is no fancier than a cup of tea but able to drastically improve lives. This time of year we can indulge our passion for flowers and create our own essences. Find your favorite (non-poisonous) flower, or weed in the case of Red Clover and Dandelion, place a few flower tops in a glass of water, set it in the sun for 20 minutes, and sip throughout the day. Not fancy. Simply powerful.
Another True Story about Bo’s Love
A few weeks after Bo destroyed my shirt and taught me to stick with our routine; he again proved his love of his owner, “J”. I was riding the old horse and “J” was riding Bo. This was a thrill for all because Bo was still so green and no one was sure his brakes would work in an emergency. We were in an open field and the wind started to pick up. And so did Bo’s spirits. I asked “J” to switch horses with me. She hesitated. My concern about Bo’s agitation grew to anger.
I said: “Give me the reins, now.”
Standing there facing his shoulder with one leg bent at the knee angled out at 90 degrees, she said: “Mumble, mumble, please.”
I said: “Now.”
Waving her one foot behind her in the air, she said: “Leg up, please.”
I said: “I want you to get away from Bo.”
Again: “Leg up, please.”
I certainly did not want her to get back on him. I wanted her to get away from this youngster before his behavior became reactive to my approaching horse, changing weather, and this greenhorn rider sucked up to his side. Then she slightly turned her head in my direction and said:
“I need a leg up. My bra is caught on the saddle.”
Then I saw her boots were dangling in the air, inches from the ground. Her bra was wrapped tight around the saddle horn holding her up in mid-air. Bo stood while my horse and I approached and I lifted her bent knee up just enough to free herself and slide to the ground.
Bo was a perfect gentleman the entire time. He truly loved her. Imagine if it would have been me hung up like that? I could have ended up like my shirt …with a matching bra.