How are you preparing for Fall this year? For me, it looks like turning within, reading more, and still moments with my feet on the earth. These are the moments I am interested in, yet I often find myself in quite the opposite- frenzied movement and chaos erupting seemingly at disagreeable times. But that is how we learn. How helpful contrast is in making its point. How quickly we learn when there are clear "yes" and "no"'s. And in saying that, look how we resemble our horses we seek to train, and look how we too, need clear messages from our horses if we are not in the habit of listening. So, join me this fall, in listening to the whispers of our horses, as well as the yells! I recently had the absolute pleasure of having a client's horse in for training, Jackson. Jackson is a 15 year old Quarter Horse that came to me for an education in Dressage and Relaxation. I soon learned he was also a Gemini which meant intelligent, changeable, quick moving, and prone to anxiety. He was such a joy to teach because of his intelligence and willingness to please! He never resisted working harder which made him a terrific partner for me! We alternated between moments of utter resistance, confusion and chaos to (in my humble opinion) moments of stunning connection. It was totally fascinating and illuminating to me to connect with Jackson and gave me faith in my abilities to work with nervous (rather than just confused and defiant which I am familiar with) horses. Every conversation (ride) I had with him, he improved, it was very satisfying. When our last ride finally came about I had an "Lets see what Jackson want's to talk about today" attitude that also came along with an overly airy head space that took me off my centre. I'm not blaming the perspective, but just outlining the energy I was in that day. To follow along my training stories with Jackson, Lennon, and Lucy check out my YouTube Channel Erica Flak under Riding Diaries for video and forensic description of my training techniques! Anyways, our last ride contained a moment I have been resenting myself for since it happened- Jackson kicked out. It was easy enough for me to understand in the moment, but it has stuck with me since it happened. It's not the worst thing that can happen, nor is it unusual, especially in the circumstances, but Jackson has never kicked out before. Is it my fault? What did I do wrong? Did I push him too hard? Why would I bother giving anyone advice if I still make mistakes? Everyone that sees this is going to think... etc etc. I have been allowing my fear to gnaw away at me. I wanted to share this because I am committed to sharing my experience in a way I've never seen done before. I am living by the principles I train by- Honesty and Integrity. Moral of the story is we are all scared were doing the wrong thing and we can let that push us into our darkness (fear) or back into the light (honesty). Why did Jackson kick out at me? Prolly cus he wanted to. Prolly cus it was an equal and opposite reaction to my energy. I was spaced out so he's like Erica! Pay Attention! Just like how I trained him- tap on the bum when he's not listening- he returned the favour. Thank you Jackson.
Since losing my beloved dog, Khaleesi, just before Christmas last year (2021), I have felt the love I had and have for her all the more strongly. What a gift it was to have her in my life, and to go to work with her everyday. I always said that if she died, I would die, and it feels as though I did on some level. The part of me that couldn't live without her had to go, couldn't bear the weight of the world without her. The broken part of me, that she helped to strengthen and buoy, finally stopped struggling to keep its head above water, and gracefully, peacefully, sunk to the bottom of my emotional ocean. I still haven't fully digested how something so full of life, so vital and so so perfect could have been taken from me, could no longer be here. I still don't understand how her physical body, that I stroked, adored, and doted on everyday no longer exists. It simply doesn't make sense. I have no room for a world in which she is not with me, in which she is not whole, perfect, and untouched by suffering. And of course, I will never truly be without her, because as I said in the beginning, I continue to feel the love I have for her. That's what she is and always has been, love. Her physical body was just a temporary gift that I was allowed to experience, and what a gift it was. To anyone who has lost their pet or loved one in an accident, I send you my deepest condolences and love. It is one of the hardest lessons I have learned and continue to learn from. All I can hope is that we can learn together; to be more resilient, more present, and continue to be conduits of that pure, unconditional love that pours out when we think of them, and when we cry for them.
So we are planning to open up again for indoor board after a much needed rest. We will only take on clients that are interested in training board (whether that be lessons or training rides from me). We are best suited to people looking for a quiet, clean and private facility. We are currently renovating our paddocks so that we can provide individual turn out for our boarders. We hope to provide the perfect balance between quality and comfort for horse and rider. It is of utmost importance that the barn environment of respect (of self, other, and horse), honesty, and integrity is upheld. Our barn is unique in its intimate size and tranquility, and we hope to share it with people that are looking for a respite from the run of the mill barn environment and culture.
Along those lines... we will be looking for reliable and meticulous barn help to do AM barn chores.
Looking forward to the small community we will build together!
Hello again! It's been a while since I've updated here because I've been dedicated to building my YouTube (Erica Flak) and Instagram (ericadbflak) pages with my spiritual and tarot interests. More and more these interests have been seeping into my horseback riding teachings and trainings as well. The union of these interests has resulted in much more fulfilling work for me- but it wasn't easy. I tried for what felt like a long time to people please and fulfill the roles others wanted me to fulfill but I've found it too draining and now continue to lean towards the direction I am pulled regardless of fears. I am learning to move with faith rather than logic-quite a shift from the mainstream or matrix. As such, we will not be running summer camps or horse shows for the foreseeable future. While we loved to provide these services because of how well received and enjoyed they were- they were not intrinsically life-giving to me, meaning they drained and depleted me. And these are the hints I've learned to listen to rather than suppress in myself. I've learned to face these feelings and to honour them. And what a profound impact that has had! Along the lines of leaving things behind, we also had to let go of our indoor boarders that we were no longer in alignment with for the reasons listed above. There was (and always will be) fear during these transitions, but in letting go, there has been such a powerful and profound shift towards the light. A lightening of burdens, a lightening of spirit, and a joy in creating a new. Without the weight of "have to" there is permission to move towards and manifest your dreams. I feel many of us shy away from this out of fear, or lack of worthiness. It's like we need permission to do so, and if that is the case here is your permission slip! I give you permission to back out, to quit, and to reinvent yourself and what you want to bring into this world. And of course, if you don't want or need the permission slip, you will give it to yourself when you find it too difficult to get out of bed, to complete the checklist, or to respond and engage with life in the way you are expected to. When the weight becomes too heavy, I hope you too learn how to let it go, rather than get stronger or more numb. I hope you learn how to honour your sensitivity just as you honour your horses and your community. I hope you give yourself and those around you permission to live in a way that is deeply nourishing, healing, and true to themselves. I hope we all learn through our work with horses, how the external is a mirror for our internal. How to take accountability for our lives, and to take the leadership role in a compassionate and empowered way. This is the life I am creating for myself and I hope to create for my community as well. So, goodbye summer camp, good bye horse shows, I can't wait to see what we create next <3
For those of you that don't know, I am recovering from a disc injury flare up that kept me in bed for a month (March 2021) and humble for many months before and after the bed rest. I am so glad that I'm reaching the end of that experience and feeling able to move freely in my body again (for the most part). I owe my recovery primarily to my family for their constant support, they comforted me with food, company, humour, and a new stuffed animal! I've never needed a stuffy in my life before, but the depth of my pain and helplessness reduced me to a needy child. It was very healing for me to experience such powerlessness and it was a physical manifestation of my mental state. I hold no resentment for my injury as I see it was unavoidable and deeply transformative for me. I was breaking my own back with the weight of the responsibility and obligation I put upon my own shoulders. I felt I had no little to no freedom (and in the past I was okay with that because I felt it kept me safe). But once I decided I wanted more for myself (more joy, freedom, expansion, fulfilling work), the universe cleared the quickest path for me which just happened to require me to be incapacitated for a bit, so I could rebuild, stronger than ever. Our lives are in constant cycles of death and rebirth, some cycles being more spectacular than others, and I am learning how to have grace through them all. I also recognize (as best as I can) the insane privilege I have to be able to move through the experiences as I have (with complete familial support). The second part of my recovery has been rediscovering hope and passion. While I was in bed, high on pain meds that did take the edge off the pain but still kept me stuck most of the day, I came to realize there was a big part of me that did not want to get out of bed. I felt I didn't have anything to live for at some points. It makes me emotional to even touch those memories again. I have always felt incredibly lucky to live the life I do but I realized that I was treating myself as second (or third, fourth etc) best compared to the people around me/ my obligations. This was a wake up call to look after myself as the most valuable item I own. I only have one body, heart, mind and soul and while I think I was still doing a pretty good job, I was in complete alignment and I couldn't find a way out myself, so the universe had to step in. A big part of finding hope again has been my love for yoga and meditation. Through these daily practices (combined with the freedom of not working) I am learning how to live a happier life filled with joy, rather than numb to my pain and powerless to meet my true needs. So, I am in the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor (I graduate in June a couple days before my birthday!). And I have a fire in my belly to share my love with anyone willing to spend an hour with me! I am planning some outdoor classes and zoom session are already available. I hope to see you all soon, and thank you so much for spending your time here with me today <3
If you'd like a taste of yoga with me, I made a youtube video for you to explore!
But, we may be back in 2022. We're taking this year to make some much needed updates to the barn! Hopefully we will be back bright eyed and bushy tailed!
I'm going to take one common mistake per post since getting your horse in frame is a very complicated and involved process (which is why I am skeptical when someone says their new horse goes into frame so easily!).
1) We ask them to go forward and they: grab bit and go faster, take faster steps without stretching out stride, head up and go faster w tension. All three responses are assuming your horse is obedient to the leg but not stretching into contact. These responses are all due to tension in the horses body.
1) What happens when you lengthen reins while in w/t/c?
2) What happens when slow your horse down or do a half halt?
3) What happens if you try to push your horse forward?
What should ideally happen
1) Rhythm and balance should remain unchanged, neck should follow the bit. Nose should reach down to the ground, ideally not going too far behind vertical and should remain supple to flexion inside and out. Stretch over back and neck should lengthen and deepen.
2) Poll and shoulders should lift up, weight should shift back on to hind legs (flexion in hocks), frame should evenly shorten from nose to tail. Transition should be seamless and smooth due to relaxation in horse.
3)Horse should remain on the bit, power should come from hind leg reaching under further and pushing forward, rhythm shouldn't change drastically. Before a smooth, relaxed, and measured increase in speed, the horses back should lift up more if contact remains consistent.
Riding a horse "in frame" is one of the things I hear horse people say a lot but often it is not the kind of frame that we want our horses to have. My intention for this blog post is to serve as a reminder (or wake up call) for those who want their horses moving in a way that not only looks good, but is healthy for horse and rider. The kind of frame I want every horse of mine (including lesson ponies) to move in, is a soft neck (due to relaxation) and engaged back and hind quarters, I want them stretching their backs and necks and bringing hind leg under. This is a very broad definition because depending on the fitness of the horse and knowledge and strength of the rider, the shortness of the frame will vary drastically-but what remains the same is all of the above, no matter what! Even when you see the upper level dressage riders w their horses polls up above the wither-the horse is still (ideally) stretching to the bit, and as relaxed as possible (within reason). This is what gives their movements fluidity, makes the trot comfortable, and it also keeps them sound longer. If you're not sure if your horse is properly or improperly in "frame" AKA in to the contact, moving over its back, through, stretching to the bit, in the bridle etc... here are some questions for you to think about (consider their head set, body, and demeanour when answering questions).
1) What happens when you lengthen reins while in w/t/c?
2) What happens when slow your horse down or do a half halt?
3) What happens if you try to push your horse forward?
Who knows the correct answers to the above questions? Ie. What SHOULD happen when you do all of these things?
Exercises to help your horse properly move into bridle:
1) Get your horse wonderfully obedient to right and left leg and both legs together
2) Get your horse obedient to body/weight aids and reins for half halts and halts
3) Get your horse soft through poll by gently flexing in and out
Who's brave enough to comment below? I'll post answers in next blog post <3
If you want to be as kind to your body and horse as possible I recommend body work until your spine and muscles are used to being in alignment. Straightness is imperative for both horse and rider but we can't feel our crookedness after a while as it becomes normal to us. Chiropractic and Massage are my favourite for both horse and rider for restoring straightness. These modalities are especially important if you always find yourself sitting on one side of the saddle or your horse can only pick up one lead reliably. If you can't afford these options due to time or money I recommend chiropractic and consistent yoga and riding. If you've done all of the above and still need help, then contact me for a lesson (once covid allows me to teach again!)
Common rider positional errors and yoga poses that can help
1) Rounded shoulders
The obvious potential causes are poor posture and resultant tight muscles through the front of chest and shoulders. The goal is to open the chest (and the heart chakra) by pushing chest forward and bringing shoulders back.
2) Tight hips
Sounds simple but so many muscles are involved in the hip joint, and so many different ways we can be tight. I'll cover the most common ones for riders but I recommend experimenting with your own range of motion and finding which positions are the most comfortable and which are the least. Work on the ones that are difficult (with kindness!).
Self explanatory! Boat pose and Plank
This is a very short list but powerful nonetheless. I recommend (not a doctor) doing yoga DAILY and once already warmed up- after a hot shower or after riding/walk/barn chores.