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Karen and Cowboy, Ohio, USA

Gifts Beyond Measure

karencowboyI was forty-seven when I finally fulfilled my childhood dream of owning a horse. Cowboy was a 7-year old gray Mustang. Although he was a mellow guy, I learned quickly that “Green plus green equals black and blue.” I thought I was a competent rider. Afterall, I went on trail rides through Costa Rica with my sister’s horses, no problem.  Why was this so HARD? The heart-broken little girl in me was tearing her braids out, stomping her feet—"This is not how the dream is supposed to go!”

Enter Karen Musson.  My friend had a horse with bolting issues, so we paired up for a session.  I don’t remember the details (but I’m sure Karen does). All I know is that I said, “This is what I want.” 

When she asked if I could help film at clinics, I jumped at the chance to absorb any particle she dropped my way. An advantage being behind the lens is the chance for uninterrupted focus. I learned what to look for—the eyes, the ripples, the diagonals, the braces, the releases.  

Despite the hours of observation and conversation, I was still struggling when it came to my own horse.  I had a few lessons with Karen, which were always insightful, inspirational and motivating. But I was averaging about one lesson every two months or more. After a large chunk of time going it alone, I got myself into an ugly place that I had no clue I was in, to the point where Mr. Easy-Going would actually run away from me. Now I was the little girl in the corner crying, ‘My pony hates me’.

To make matters worse, I had spent several years and lots of money desperately trying to find him relief for horrible skin allergies that began every March and lasted through October. How could he be so ungrateful?

That was the me I didn’t realize I had become. 

Those road trips, our chats over coffee, hanging out at the barn with the herd helped me lay the foundation of trust so necessary for what had to happen next. Karen would sit me down with pen and paper, or talk me through some meditative exercises, asking hard questions. To her credit, she wouldn’t settle for my cognitive answers—they were only the surface.  And I was a professional at closing off my feelings. We dug deeper, trusting there was a root that needed to come to light. Sometimes it would hit days later. Sometimes a dream or a word sparked some new epiphany. I had what some would say a “Coming to Jesus” with my own Ego, and that little 5-year-old girl.  Cowboy did not deserve--and I would no longer allow—the burden of “make it all better” rest on his withers.

It was only after bringing these things into awareness—not to dwell, but to acknowledge and walk on—that the lessons could begin.  We needed a new foundation with the accessible me. How to keep myself present for my horse.  How to recognize and receive what he is offering. In clinics, we talk about  how some horses might feel vulnerable when they “go inside.” I had the human version of it when it came to actually feeling. Cowboy was my barometer. If I shut down, he disconnected. If he shut down, I checked myself. He was so forgiving!

Groundwork revealed more insights: how my vibration or mood comes through the rope and just changing my thinking isn’t enough—I have to truly change how I feel;  how a flash of self-doubt can short-circuit the connection if it doesn’t come into awareness; how some of Cowboy’s moves or habits were not based on “being lazy” or “difficult” but on improper posture or shape.

Conscientious of some bad falls I had, Karen transitioned us smoothly from emergency dismount whenever my anxiety spiked, to pony-club exercises, to bareback lessons on-line at walk, then trot.  We finally had reached a point that had us independently walking around the arena together, as true, trusting partners. Those little particles started to connect within and between us.  We had some beautiful moments where I truly felt love given and received.

But as the Universe would have it, those special moments would be our last together. Cowboy hid his cancer stoically until the last day. Karen was with me at the end.  When we had to let Cowboy go, it was the most perfect, peaceful release one could hope for.

I truly believe that Karen’s coaching and friendship granted this gift beyond measure to Cowboy and I, and I know when the time is right, a new horse will come along, and Karen can teach us to dance.

Karen Tinsley, Ohio, USA