FHHA Blog

February 2016 Blog:


"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new."

                                                  Socrates

Our last post was in June 2015, nearly a year ago.  At that time, an opportunity for change occurred in the form of two horses needing rescue and two teens needing care.  Our program Greenbroke Healers had been a twinkle in my eye for sometime.  Thanks to our Board and our incredible private donors we were able to offer our first Greenbroke Healers program starting in July 2015.  We held a graduation celebration at the end of August with an incredible horse handling demonstration by our teens, neither of whom had any previous horse experience.  We were thrilled to have Heather Sprague here photographing the event.  She shows her work each 2nd Saturday at the Cabot Museum in DHS and has a special show “Meditations” scheduled for March 30 - April 24 at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.   Our Board of Directors came to graduation and reported that they were moved by the work.  Family and friends stayed for strawberry shortcake and creamsicle cupcakes.  We then cleaned up and sat under the stars feeling deeply blessed by the entire process.  There were many mornings when we were here playing with horses in 100 degree heat when we were not so in touch with our blessings!

We continue to offer Greenbroke Healers — now with the support of our private donors and grant support from The Grace Helen Spearman Charitable Foundation, Petco Foundation, and the Walmart Community Foundation.  We are meeting with Morongo Basin Sexual Assault Services (MBSAS) to see if we can help the teens they serve.  We have also been contacted by a Seattle based nonprofit called Focus on Cancer that raises funds to help kids who have completed treatment find their way back to daily life.  These opportunities bless us again and again.  

So who has changed here?  We have in that our hopes and dreams continue to unfold in incredible ways.  We continue to learn a great deal from our participants.  The kids have learned so many lessons from the horses -- including their importance in each other's and the horses' lives.  Our rescues Sabia and Cayenne are getting trained by the teens using natural horsemanship.  In a gentle but firm way, they are learning how to be partners though they have come from backgrounds that either treated them like pets or like chattel, both systems lacking  dignity and respect.  The defiance, depression, and lack of connection is being transformed in humans and equines alike.  

Our focus is on wholeness for all species here.  Becoming wholly human often means walking through the depth of the painful story, keeping ones eye on the goal of transformation.  Many times the teens have had to decide whether to continue growing or give up.  Many times we as a Board and as service providers have had to decide whether to continue working toward our goals which seemed impossible or to throw in the towel.  Becoming wholly equine often has meant overcoming trauma at the hands of human beings -- abuse, neglect or even being spoiled by too much food or too few boundaries.  Our efforts to give the horses as natural an environment as possible coupled with having the teens work with them in their own horse language allows them to remember what it means to be a horse in the best sense and in partnership with human beings.  

We will be bringing a one year old foal into the program in March.  She has no training -- hasn't even had a halter on.  And hopefully several new "fillies" from MBSAS.  We will continue to hold faith and belief in the power of transformation as we keep our eyes and hearts trained on wholeness.  

                                                                                        Gail Hromadko


Last summer two horses were donated to our teen program, Greenbroke Healers.  After weeks of searching websites and rescues, these two wonderful mares almost dropped into our laps at the last minute!

The first, Cayenne, a 4 year old mustang, had been orphaned as a foal.  She was at an equine rescue with a large number of horses and could not receive the attention and care that she needed.  A neighbor saw her, brought her home, bottle fed her and raised her into a very sweet, trusting young filly. She had been showered with love and attention, but had few, if any, boundaries.  Without her mother to teach her the way of the horse and discipline her in a horse way, she placed herself in charge of her humans — much like teenagers without boundaries, who place themselves in charge of their families!  When we began to ask things of her and let her know that the world has rules, she became a bit defiant and bossy.  

The second mare we received, Sabia, has quite a different background.  She had been rescued from a situation of neglect, and based on what she “told” us, also one of abuse.  She did not like humans at all and her body language let us know that she was always ready to take on a defensive position.  

Big changes for 2 horses and 2 girls were in the wind.  At first the horses didn’t think much of this idea. Cayenne felt she was in charge and wanted to keep it that way. Sabia was fearful and mistrusting and wanted to be left alone.  

Learning the language of the horse can seem to be a daunting task when you have never been around them before.  How does one develop language with a being that does not talk?  The first lesson begin…there are many ways to communicate.  In the horse world communication comes with body position, facial expression, movement or lack of it, ear position, tail position……and much more.

The girls learned much of this so well and so quickly that Cayenne had soon forged a special relationship with her human partner that was friendly and respectful.  Sabia placed an amazing amount of trust in her human partner and was soon doing, and enjoying most things asked of her, especially if asked in a gentle, intuitive way.  In short, the girls were taught the horse games and when the horses realized that the humans knew the games, their relationships blossomed without force, bribery, lying, hitting or yelling.  This is simple effective communication at a fundamental level.  Horses never lie, so they demand that we be truthful as well if we are to be successful with them.  When handled fairly, honestly and clearly, they are kind, gentle and willing partners.  They are capable of causing us to be the same way if we choose to be with them and keep them.  The change in the human begins to be automatic, barely noticeable, if you spend enough time with them.  It then flows into our other relationships.  I have been told I am more horse like than woman like.  I take that as the best compliment going and strive to be more horse like in all my endeavors.  I believe this is a change that is wonderful and special for any of us two leggeds!


                                                                      Jennifer Williams                                                                       

                                                                                                       




June 2015 Blog Post:

“….Where did June go?"

                              Gail Hromadko


May 2015 Blog Post:

“...It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” 

                                                                                        Mahatma Gandhi


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I recently had the privilege of attending a "whole horsemanship" clinic sponsored by Five Hearts Healing Arts and taught by Jennie Housley of Horseman’s Haven Ranch, Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.  There were a variety of skill levels and ages represented in the horse lover attendees, from age 10 to 66 years.  We had the great privilege of watching several separate herds of horses come together in one arena.  As they were set free in this open one-acre space, their natural communication emerged in discovering and establishing their hierarchy, their friends, and their challengers.  The power of nonverbal exchange is remarkable in these animals as it is in most animals (with the possible exception of the human being).  With a small tip of the head or tilt of an ear, they give a message to a new friend to slow down, stay away, come in to eat, or pause.  One mare who seems to be the lesser member in a small two member herd at home, found her power and asserted her desire to make friends with a member from another herd.  A gelding who appears in his regular herd to be the low man on the totem pole, shone as a just and confident leader among the larger group.  A remarkable event occurred when five of the ten horses were in one arena playing.  A clever horse from another arena located 1/4 mile away or so unlatched the gate.  Five thundering herd mates came running full charge toward the arena to be a part of things.  While the human group reacted with fear instead of confidence, it was a remarkable experience to see this group of unrelated horses bond together toward the mission of finding their herd mates.   Much of the learning was about how to join with horses in the language they use.  Their language is largely physical and energetic.  There is a "feel" in those who are skilled in this horse play. As we learn and utilize the horse language in play, the horses and the humans change.  Both species become sensitive, more affected by nuance, energy exchange -- "feel."  Yet both are also awakened and alert.  As a human being, I experienced a deeper connection with my heart, my intuition, and my tenderness — also my strength, my leadership, and my effectiveness.  This is the language that playing with horses teaches.  This is just part of what they offer us in play and in equine facilitated psychotherapy and learning.  The most remarkable aspect for me is that this silent learning is lasting.  While I may not learn every physical movement right away (it takes practice to train a body), the awakening of the soul resonates for a long time.  

If you are silent, you will hear the still small voice inside urging you to try something new, reach out to someone, heal yourself.  This nonverbal guide is so powerful because it pushes us out of the left brain linear way of being into the intuitive, instinctive way.  If you are “stuck” or feeling “dull”, come and join us in the way of the horse.  The healing herd offers us a powerfully effective connection to our highest self.  

Here is hoping to meet you soon — Gail Hromadko


Thoughts from Jennifer Williams:

May, for me, always marked the beginning of the Triple Crown.  How life has changed.  That has been a good many years ago.  I don’t even know who is running anymore.  It does cause me to look back at a time when I was around many unhappy horses.  Walking down the shed row made me sad over the fact that so many were suffering from boredom and vices as a result.  They were being held prisoner for crimes they never committed.  

I look at the horses I know today, and how they get to be horses.  What a difference it makes in their attitudes and behavior.  They get to be in their small herds, move around together, groom each other, sleep, eat and be ridden and handled in the natural way.

Reba and Windy, my two equine friends and I, recently participated in the horsemanship clinic at Five Hearts Healing Arts.  It was exquisite to see the separate herds mingle, resolve their differences and set up the hierarchy, all in a fairly short time, without malice or grudge.  Flattened ears, a bit of charging around and things were pretty much worked out.  If only we humans could be that smart!

Watching all of this unfold was a reminder to me of the many things these animals have to teach us about:  Getting along, honesty, being consistent, being gentle but firm when necessary, say what you mean and mean what you say, no need to rush, share, ego is pretty much useless; it goes on and on.  Their gifts to us are endless and given freely, without condition.  Most importantly, they do not allow us to lie.  That is not a part of their being.  Not something they are capable of.  This makes them excellent friends!  They tell us the truth about ourselves.  Always.  They help us become better human beings.  I see over and over how they reach people, simply by how they live themselves.  It is good for us all.  I believe they will reach us when nothing else can, opening hearts, subtly reaching into lost souls.  The opportunity to see once again, how they interact, resolve conflict and make friends, continues to reaffirm how it is they have the power to heal us.

 


April 2015 Blog Post:

"Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

                                                                                                                                                                  - Phaedrus


In my exploration of this concept, I have come to believe that when things are baffling, annoying, frightening, and difficult, faith maybe growing.  True faith acknowledges that regardless of how things seem, there is an underlying reality which goes to the good.  

I recently went to an equine therapy conference in Utah.  The state is phenomenally beautiful and rich in natural wonders. Utah caters to outdoors people, wilderness junkies, those who need "outfitters" to get where they are going.   I was able to hike in Bryce Canyon, Kodak Canyon, and Antelope Island.  Yet my road trip from wonder to wonder was punctuated relentlessly by identical steeples on churches bearing the title "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," a group who has a mysterious, perhaps even mythical belief system which is highly exclusive.  And yet a great number of followers must be benefitting else how could these many churches exist?

In my pre-trip research I had learned that a herd of wild horses resides and flourishes at the foot of the Onaqui Mountains.  I found directions to the BLM land where they live and set out with my companion to discover them.  As we approached the area, we first saw another steeple connected to another said church sitting alone in the canyon.  No other enterprise existed in the area.  No grocery store.  No gas station.  Nothing.  As we continued we came upon high chain link fence covered with barbed wired ringlets at the top and signs that said "Use of excessive force authorized."  A military installation on the Dugway stands in frightening contrast to the spiritual respite represented by the church and the wild freedom represented by the mustangs.  Yet without that installation and others like them, we may not feel the freedom to roam, and hike and worship.  Things are not always what they seem.

At the opening ceremony of the equine therapy conference the MC said "We will now stand and say the pledge of allegiance."  I had just met a wonderful equine specialist named Kate, a British woman relocated to Bermuda doing powerful equine therapy work there.  I stood feeling awkward that Kate was not invited to pledge allegiance to her country.  The second keynote speaker was a Dutch woman, Brenda now from South Africa who explained to us Unbutu -- because you exist, I exist.  She was not invited to pledge allegiance to her country either.  I was deeply challenged as I attended several workshops on military culture realizing that this subculture in the U.S. is greatly misunderstood and deeply troubled. The platitude we offer "Thank you for your service" is often a confounding wish for active duty troups and veterans.  Thank you for putting yourself in harms way in a war like no other in which you may be facing a child with bombs attached to their body in a heated desire to kill you.  Thank you for the traumatic brain injury, PTSD, extremely high suicide and sexual assault rate because no one outside the military really can imagine what you have been through.  "Thank you" in this case marks our separateness.  It's all we have with which to reach out.  Whether you support the current occupation or not, the soldiers come home to a place to which they can no longer relate because of the indoctrination necessary for them to be effective at their jobs.  So we say thank you for being a person whom I no longer understand because you live in a subculture which is so inductive that I cannot understand it unless you teach me or I enlist.  And we are both proud Americans.  Things are not always what they seem.

So here's where the faith part comes in I guess.  Can we as equine people find a way to invite the dialogue?  Can we make a space that says "I may not fully understand you and your experience, but I want to and I want you to understand mine."  This is where the horses come in.  They accept themselves fully and encounter the other with pure presence.  No judgment.  Pure healing.  

In my quest near the Onaqui Mountains I did find a small bachelor band of wild mustangs -- just two stallions.  In an hours' time I had the privilege of dancing with the lesser in the herd.  We both approached and stopped, changing body position, shortening the distance as we got to know each other.  He was using all that he and all horses have in getting to know their environment -- all the things that heal us:  their sensitivity to sound, smell, vision, and energy — to determine who and what I was, friend or foe.  I was able to admire his beauty and strength from about 15 feet away.  He was a gorgeous Bay.  The other member of the herd, a Gray, stood his ground and grazed, not at all reactive to the dance going on around him.  Clearly the higher in the herd hierarchy, he was protected by his confident underling.  I thought the Gray an unattractive fellow as I stared for an hour at his butt.  He continued to place it toward me no matter what direction I approached.  I worked with it.  I gave him mine back, then faced him dancing and stopping.  He tolerated me coming toward him.  "Not a very handsome fellow", I continued in my judgment.  Then at a point of deep silence and stillness he turned to face me. 

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His gorgeous three foot long mane and gentle powerful energy felt strongly feminine, though he was a stallion.  His beauty was so overwhelming and the experience was such a privilege that when he revealed his face I wept.  I wept in gratitude for being alive to experience this, wept in awe of these magnificent creatures, wept that my work in equine therapy had brought me to this incredible place of contrasts and dilemmas that keep me awake and in awe.  I don't know the answer to any of the conundrums explained above.  What I know is that faith is the tool that helps us discover that things are not always what they seem but are always somehow what they are supposed to be, often in magnitudes far greater than life without faith would provide.  

                                                                             In peace, Gail Hromadko


THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM

  by Jennifer Williams


That is a phrase that certainly applies to our equine companions. It is a common misconception that because they are big, they surely must be brave.  Their size alone is what intimidates people and it should.  They can knock us down with one small gentle unintentional nudge.  They don’t realize that our skin is not as tough as their hide, that our weight is not that of another horse they might push around, that a tiny nudge on their part, can send us flying and wouldn’t even move another horse.  Things are not what they seem on both sides!  I have helped humans that got into trouble with their horses because they thought the horse should know these things.

In my experience I have often been called upon to deal with “mean” or “dangerous” horses.  My reputation, at one point, was almost completely built on this type of horse.  This is the way the owner saw them.  Their behavior caused the owner to do things to the horse that made the behavior escalate even more.  As the owner’s fear grew, so did the horse’s fear and misunderstanding.

In the first few moments of my observation of these "terrible" horses, it was easy to see that these animals were actually on the defensive.  The owner was moving, talking and treating the horse in a way that caused the horse to actually fear for his life.  There is not a gray area for horses.  They don’t think about getting hurt.  They protect themselves from being killed.  Horses are never born mean.  They are made that way by the people that handle them.  In these cases, on both sides, the aggression was based in fear.  Things are not what they seem.  The human and horse were both scared to death, however, a casual observer might think a huge battle between courageous, determined rivals was taking place.  

As a prey animal, the horse may perceive something as simple as reaching up and adjusting our hat as an attack.  Many people label the horse as stupid because of such a reaction.  They are angered by what they assume to be a ridiculous reaction.  What the human does in response to the perceived “stupidity” of the horse is where the trouble begins and then escalates.  I have seen it literally hundreds of times.

I can recall the way I felt about horses at a very young age.  I looked at them as kind-hearted, gentle souls.  I think because I expected them to be that way, they were.  They could feel how I felt about them and I was also the same way. The beloved story, Black Beauty was partly responsible for that.  It wasn’t until I started taking “lessons” that I got into trouble with horses.  The mindset in the 1960’s was almost universal with regards to the horse.  You must be the boss, whatever it takes.  I can’t think of any “trainer” I knew who did not have a tack room full of what seemed to me to be devices from middle-ages and they loved using them.  Lip chains, twitches, whips of every size and length, the infamous running W, nosebands of every configuration designed to adjust as tight as possible, bits of every tortuous design known to man, martingales, draw reins, tie downs.  The list could go on and on.  “Oh, he won’t do this?  Put this on him and see how he likes it!”  

Because of the “lessons” I was receiving from the “trainer”, there was a brief period of my own where I used such things because at age 12, I was convinced by the human adult with years of experience that it was required in order to be the boss.  Boss, after all, was the position needed to be successful with these idiotic animals.  “You want to win ribbons don’t you?”  “Not if I have to do this,” I was thinking to myself.  But I followed the trainer’s direction.  After all, she was the grown-up.  She must know.  Things are not what they seem.  My gut was telling me this.  I didn’t start listening to it until I watched one horse get killed over human anger and ignorance, and another tortured so badly it took him months to begin to become a horse again.

A lot has happened in fifty years for our horses.  Thanks to a few who knew how things really were, not just how they seemed.  The word was getting out.  Things are becoming more and more as they should be for our friends.  I spread the word every chance I get — take the time it takes to learn and do with love, patience and respect.  The results will amaze you.  There is a vast difference between good clear leadership and dictatorship.  

The respected horseman, Chris Irwin once said, and my quote is probably not exact, but the best I can recall, “You may as well saddle and ride a deer.  Your horse is no different.”  He had already been through most of how things seemed and took the time to learn how things really are.  A good lesson for all aspects of our lives.  Our equine partners have so much to teach us.  All we have to do is listen.


March 2015 Blog Post:


When March blows its horn, your barn will be filled with hay and corn.


If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.


                                             Old weather adages


This month we are thinking about that which "comes in like a lion" and may "go out like a lamb."  Jennifer has a story about Ocean and the transformation he underwent simply from being understood.  I will share some thoughts on the chemically dependent client, who may storm on the outside because the inside is so full of fear, loss, trauma, grief, regret, disappointment, shame and guilt.  The common belief is that chemically dependent people or addicts are generally a sensitive, kind and intelligent lot.  Their sensitivity is legendary.  Often in sobriety the slightest insensitivity can create a resentment.  And resentment often leads to relapse.  Relapse creates damage to the brain which is already harmed by chemical use.  And the addict's ability to manage the slights of life is even more compromised with every drink, pill or fix.  


Sometimes we will meet an addict at Five Hearts Healing Arts who comes for an equine process but has not yet had an experience of trust, care, protection and help in life.  They are mistrustful, willful, purposefully stubborn, defiant, act intellectually superior, and are definitely skeptics.   They come in like a lion and a hungry lion at that.  While this attitude can effect the whole group, we feel it is important to invite the hungry lion to lounge awhile.  Let them come with their attitude.  Invite them to dismiss us, to not participate, in fact support their skepticism because it is after all a reasonable part of trust building to doubt,  Sometimes they refuse to participate in exercises leading up to the horse work.  Often they pretend to "observe" the horses on the first opportunity but just go back and smoke.  Somehow they manage to stay with the group at least as we move from space to space on the property.  And somehow they manage to sort out which horse they would not really like to have an experience with.  Often they say "I dont need a halter or rope" as though they can manage the experience and prove they need no one and no protection or help.  And then, they meet their equine therapist.  The horses take these wounded individuals and somehow make them move around, pet, caress, touch, walk, even pose with them.  One memorable moment occurred as the horse subtly moved a young skeptic around the arena finally arriving in front of the group as though the horse was presenting the skeptic for proper introduction to us all.  "Here is John.  He is a great fellow, just a bit shy, in need of being seen, loved and accepted."  And when this feedback was given, John reported that while he doesnt trust easily, he wondered if he could go back in with the horse again.  With that second contact, the ice was broken and the feelings were softened and John had one experience of being connected to a  being who didn't care about his past acts, his addiction, his criminal record, his sexual conquests, his mother, his father or anyone else except John -- in a completely encompassing-the-moment, nonjudgmental connection.    It turns out these wounded skeptics are most often lambs in lion's clothing.  And somehow the horses know how to strip off the costume and get to the center of things.  For this we are all grateful.  


So now to Jennifer’s “lion.”

We all know what this means from a weather perspective, but what could it mean for you?  This old saying holds several meanings and markers for me.  March is when the horses start to shed their winter coats and I love it when they are slick and shiny once again.  It also brings to mind new foals and new life springing forth in nature everywhere.  The adage itself reminds me of many horses I have spent time with.  One in particular comes to mind.  Ocean Sun.  He was a thoroughbred of tremendous heart.  He possessed what is called the look of eagles; a fierce determination showing in the eye of all truly great horses.  

The first time I saw him was during a race that I was riding in.  A fellow jockey was on Ocean Sun and I was on a horse that I figured would run third at best.  As I passed them going into the backstretch, Ocean looked like he was completely unconcerned, out for a gallop, not really trying at all.  Another rider came up on the outside of him and cut over towards the rail too soon, clipping heels.  I saw Ocean stumble and thought he had gone down.  The next thing I knew he was passing us like a freight train and the look in his eye as he went by I could not forget.  There were 3 horses in front of me and he passed them like they were standing still.  He won the race by 5 lengths.  It was as though he said, “Knock ME down?  That’s what you think!  Just watch THIS!”  The horse dominated my thoughts for a year.  I could not stop thinking of what I saw in his face that day.  It looked like pure fury.  I knew I had to have him.

Rules of Racing do not allow jockeys to own race horses, so it was an unrealistic desire, yet he was constantly in and out of my head.  After the accident that ultimately ended my riding career it became possible to own him.  I had another thoroughbred that I had had for several years and was going to train as a jumper.  This was before I left for the track and began traveling.  He was a grandson of Nasrullah.  He had never raced.  I knew Ocean Sun’s owner and thought this horse’s bloodlines might interest him.  They did.  I traded him plus some cash for Ocean Sun.

When I went to the farm to make the exchange I was stunned.  Ocean had stitches from his poll halfway down his face with a plastic drain tube at the bottom of the sutures.  I was informed that the help was so afraid of him they wouldn’t enter the stall without a weapon of some sort, usually a pitchfork.  He was far too dangerous.  I was informed that his injury had occurred when he got hit in the head with a shovel for attacking the groom.  I was mortified.  The man I was buying him from was nearly panic stricken at the thought of me taking the horse out and loading him.  We were drawing a crowd.  When I see horses treated badly the lion comes out in me.

I demanded that everyone leave.  I certainly did not need a small mob waiting to see what they thought was to be the upcoming battle.  They would have died of boredom anyway.

I stood at the door for some time before unlatching it.  I stepped in backwards, holding the door partially closed and kept my back to him, head down.  He was in the far corner ready and watching.  After some time I heard him turn and slowly approach.  Then I heard the breathing and felt him investigating me.  When he was satisfied I stepped outside.  I returned with the halter and repeated the exercise.  I was able to halter him without incident.  He stepped up into the trailer and we were on our way.  How disappointing for everyone standing at the end of the shed row.  This is the same horse I mention in my first blog that everyone said I was spoiling.    

In 3 years I never had a single negative incident with this horse.  When he was racing he was indeed the lion. When a horse is going to run, their hay is withheld that morning.  When Ocean didn’t get his hay I could see him mentally getting himself ready.  The lion mentality would start to build, the softness would leave his eye and the look of eagles would start to appear.  During the day I kept his stall door open with a single chain across.  He would stand calmly at that chain staring towards the track as though plotting his strategy.

I immediately discovered that he hated to be led to post by a pony horse.  I asked the stewards for, and received, special permission for him to go to the gate just him and his rider.  He wasted too much energy biting and fighting the other horse.  He went into the gates angry and would run a poor race.

Then I noticed if his rider so much as cocked his stick Ocean would stop racing.   Again I approached the stewards for permission for his rider to not carry a whip.  It took some arguing to get that one.  The whip is considered part of the jockey’s required equipment.  They said I could have the rider put the stick in the back of his pants.  Not good enough.  I wanted Ocean to know that is wasn’t there at all.  I obtained that one by arguing that I would be giving everyone else a tremendous advantage.  The only horse that couldn’t be whipped in to going faster would be mine.  It would be silly not to give me that one.  My competitors had everything to gain so why would they protest.  In fact they would think I was a fool…….which they did.  At first. 

I had figured out that Ocean knew exactly how he needed to run a race and knew what the purpose of it was.  He would always be dead last.  He looked like he was just out there fooling around.  The entire pack would be in front of him.  Then about the middle of the backstretch you would see his ears plaster down on his head and he would start shifting gears.  From that point on all you had to do was hang on.  If he was whipped when he was already giving everything he needed to give he got so angry he would simply “start backing up” as they say in racing.  Fortunately my rider believed in him and had the patience to just let it unfold.  

With the pony horse and the whip now out of the way he was a completely different horse.  The first time he ran under both of those conditions together it was remarkable.  His odds were 40:1.  He came out on the track like a lamb with a lion’s heart.  He knew why he was there.  And for the first time it was on his terms.  When the warm up started he floated by the stands in an easy lope with his head up and turned, looking right at the crowd.  “How do you like me now?”  He seemed to be asking.  He was showing off!  My heart was soaring.  I can still see him and will never forget it.  It was burned into my mind’s eye by the sheer beauty of it all.  He was in perfect physical condition.  His muscles working underneath his rich chestnut coat causing it to shimmer and gleam like a mirror as he slowly and gracefully cantered past. I didn’t even care if he won.  It was enough to have my eyes feasting on the sight of him the way he was that day.  Proud and confident.  His magnificent movement effortless and breathtaking.  By the time he was in the starting gate his odds had dropped to 4:1.  I was up there watching the board change like mad.  It was incredible.  I had never seen odds drop so fast.  From that point on he was unbeatable….and always the favorite.  The riders called him Arizona’s Secretariat.  They all wanted to ride him.  He looked like Big Red and had the same style of racing.  Of course he wasn’t running the same fractions-not even close, but he was winning and Man how the crowd loved him.  

How I loved him.    I respected his great heart, who he was and how he needed to be to maintain his greatness.  

Thoroughbred papers carry with them the horses racing records.  Ocean Sun’s first race as a two year old was at Churchill Downs and he won it.  Then it shows that he didn’t race again for almost 2 years.  He had big knotty knees when I got him so I always assumed he chipped them during that first race and then was laid off.  I camped under those front legs keeping them cool, massaging them.  He took care of those knees as well.  He never ran harder than necessary to win and if he was asked to run harder than that with a whip, he quit.  He didn’t trust enough to just have his rider carry it.  It had to be gone.  When it was, he was free to focus on his race.  He was very tired of the human weaponry that he had experienced. 

Even with this old injury he still had the heart of a truly great horse, and he never lost the look of eagles.  What a career he might have had without that injury.  He had inherited greatness on a grand scale.  But because we race horses much too young in this country that was taken from him.  Instead he wound up on a dirt track in Arizona with a young girl they said was foolish enough to give “that damn horse anything he wanted.”  Maybe.  To me it was giving him whatever he needed to be who he was.  I can only hope I set some folks to thinking about how to treat a horse.  

I have often wondered over the years about the trainer who said to me in disgust, “You let that crazy son of a gun run all over you.”  I didn’t agree with that of course.  He was referring to the fact that I just used a lead rope and Ocean followed me after his ritualistic rearing, prancing and hugging which always came first.  Everyone else used lip chains and constantly jerked on them, sometimes drawing blood.  I simply stated, “If he has to run over me to outrun the rest of you then I guess I’ll keep on letting him do it.”  The man never spoke to me again.  Nor did he ever outrun us. 





 February 2015 Blog Post:


"It's not who you are or where you've been.  It's where you're going that counts."


Cal Farley from Farley Boys Ranch

As the year takes hold and we adjust to the daily routine after the holidays, it seems important to remember our "resolutions" which I hope are really your dreams and aspirations.  We can wear these "resolutions" with such a heaviness.  It's like shackling some chain-male on our jackets and attempting to move.  This "in between time" is a good time to remember the continual advancing of light in the first six months of the year.  The light continues to lengthen to remind us that hope and time for action is increasing.  

We at FHHAF are steadily working toward developing a funding base that will allow our dreams of touching the lives of veterans and at risk youth and at risk horses to manifest.  Our hearts are full of the knowledge that good will come, but that, as in the horse world, there may be mountain ranges to cross until we find the stream.  Linda Kohanov in her new book "The Power of the Herd:  A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation" reminds us that the horse is a unique being in its natural bent to expand its horizons.  "As nomadic, nonpredatory beings, horses radiate immense trust in the universe.  Intelligent and highly adaptable, they embody strength, freedom, spirit, gentleness, beauty, authenticity, loyalty, and grace, fully immersing themselves in the moment and always ready to explore new opportunities and ever wider vistas of experience."

Let this be you this month.  Let yourself awaken to a new day with curiosity instead of dread, with wonder instead of boredom, with hope instead of despair.  Let yourself find the strength of the moment as the deep quiet of shortened days passes and the light twittering of Spring nourishes your soul and your life.  The horses are out in the desert seeking the little sprigs of green that are coming up under the Cholla and Ironwood.  They approach each task with this openness.  They move with the confidence that they will find exactly what they want or perhaps they will adapt to wanting exactly what they have. 

I had a terrible year in 2014...really 2013 too.  My father passed away of lung cancer after a 10 month battle.  My father in law passed away in 2014 of skin cancer after a seven month battle.  My good girl, Nell, dog of a lifetime succumbed to kidney failure passing quietly to the other side with her family by her side.  It was a period of great grief, not only of these precious beings, but grief at encountering the unmetabolised material of the families that had done their best but with limited skills and experience to truly understand and embrace one another.  The horses have been a saving grace.  With their instinctual and intuitive presence they live only in the moment.  They have no judgment of feelings.  Emotion is just another factor in their spectrum of information gathering.  They are themselves -- sometimes crabby, feeling unwell, exuberant in the cold wind, or quiet as they take a sun bath in a safe spot with peers surrounding them.  And what is now, surely changes.  With the increased light, the softness of the breeze, and the color in the desert, hope has found me when I thought it never would.  I still have days of irritability or exhaustion, but I feel the increase of energy, hope, and inspiration.  I wish you all these increases.   And welcome you to come and participate if healing is calling out to you.  Or if you are moved, to help us help those who can not otherwise afford to participate.  See the Foundation tab on this website for information on how to donate.

Our equine specialist, Jennifer Williams, shares vignettes below of her deep connection to a mare and her filly, a filly who is now a valued healing mare in our herd.  Her healing work started the day she was born I think as she stared into Jennifer's eyes.  Jennifer completely imprinted Reba within the first hours of her birth -- letting her experience with safety and love all that she might experience throughout her lifetime, from having her halter path trimmed to being touched all over.  These are some moments we would like to share.


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 This is Reba McEntrotter trying the world on for size.  She is about 4 weeks old here and already fiercely independent.  Her dam, Teal Eye, finally gave up trying to keep her by her side and just let her go while keeping a watchful eye.  Reba is a born leader of great strength and determination.  In the wrong hands she would have no doubt had her spirit crushed or turned into a fighter.  I would tend to go with the latter!  At her current age of 20 she is a calm, intelligent, gentle, sweet, unflappable girl.  We have a very special friendship.  We can go anywhere together.

 This was such a beautiful and special time with my 2 girls.  Teal Eye had been such a troubled horse when I got her.  Having Reba seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.  The 3 of us would hang out together and because I had imprinted Reba her trust in me was complete and unconditional.  Teal would observe my interactions with her daughter without intervention.  Her curiosity about our relationship and her observations of us seemed to allow Teal’s confidence to grow -- maybe faster than it might have.  If she felt Reba was being threatened by something else she could be very brave, but her fear of humans was always at the forefront.  No wonder; her body carried many physical scars of the abuse she had suffered.  I would guess that she had been a spirited leader like her daughter.  Her 8 previous owners may have tried to torture it out of her. The scars she carried were recognizable to me from many device and gimmicks I had seen “trainers”use.  They had healed, but the emotional scars could only heal so far.  She carried them all to some degree until her death.  She is at peace and we will always miss her. 


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It must have been time to go back to the stall for the “special stuff”.  To this day Reba must stick her head out between the bars.   Even with a small space, if she thinks her head will fit, she will work to peek out between the bars.  Here is where that lifelong habit must have begun. I never turned them out unless I was close by.  Sometimes Reba would lay down and roll and wind up half in and half out.  She would remain calmly lying on her side until she saw me coming and then raise her head and look at me as if to say, “I could use a little help here, Grandmare.”  I would grab both front legs and she would allow me pull her back in without struggle and then get up.  She would always acknowledge the help with a light touch of her nose on my cheek.  I cannot say enough about foal imprinting!  


First Post January 5, 2015:


2014 was quite a year for us at Five Hearts Healing Arts (FHHA).  With the monumental task of applying for nonprofit status for the Five Hearts Healing Arts Foundation (FHHAF) from both California and the Federal government, it seemed as though little else could get accomplished.  Yet somehow we continued to provide equine facilitated psychotherapy for groups and individuals who have deepened in their healing with the help of our equine companions.  We have also partnered with Bella Monte Recovery Center so that their participants in early recovery from chemical dependency can take advantage of the healing work with the horse team.  Financial donations have slowly started coming in and we awarded special FHHA t-shirts and mugs to all donors.  We managed to put in new horse fencing and expand our solar array.  So FHHA remains as sustainable as we can make it.  One day we would love to drill a well so that we can be completely “green.”  Perhaps in 2015?!

We are thrilled to have been awarded our nonprofit status in December 2014 and are now officially a 501c3!  With little or no overhead (our office space is donated and our Board of Directors volunteer their time — thank you Paul Zak and Martin Willans) whatever funds we receive go directly to our programs.  We are so grateful for the Board’s ongoing guidance and expect 2015 to be a great year for all of us.  

We are actively seeking funding for our new program “Greenbroke Healers,” which matches at risk youth with at risk horses and helps heal everyone involved.  If you would like to help, please contact me at (760) 323-2524 or send a fully tax deductible donation to Five Hearts Healing Arts Foundation, 1750 E. Arenas, Suite 24, Palm Springs, CA  92262 (our administrative office).  

Finally, we celebrate the addition of Jennifer Williams, horse handler extraordinaire.  Her story appears below.  Please enjoy!  Or better yet, sign up for a workshop and come meet us.  We would love to share the wonderful healing herd with you!


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photo by Elena Ray

In the summer of 1961 Jennifer was peeking over the top of a ditch that bordered a private thoroughbred farm and training track.  Two boys were on the stretch working colts whose breathing sounded like locomotives approaching.  As they came around that first turn and flew past her, the thrill of being at eye level with those powerful legs was something indescribable.  As a horse crazy young girl, this was the stuff of fantastic dreams.  

Before summer’s end she had worked a deal to walk hots, bathe and groom them, clean stalls and other jobs that came about in exchange for riding lessons.  By age 13 she was working the horses on the training track, riding the 2 year olds ready for sale and showing jumpers.  This was the beginning of a lifelong journey that led in many different directions and disciplines.  

By 1975 she was operating a 30 horse boarding and training facility in Yuma, Arizona.  From there she moved on to become a professional jockey.  In 1979 a bad spill with horrific injury kept her off the horses for almost a year during which time she took out a trainer’s license.  During one season she was the only trainer on the circuit to win 4 consecutive races with the same horse, raising him in class and distance each race.  The further he went the better he liked it and the better he ran. Fellow trainers admonished her, saying she was spoiling the horse by allowing him to be on a long loose lead rope prancing and rearing in a circle around her while being led.  She refused to use a lip chain or chain over the nose for restraint.  In her mind she was simply respecting the fact that he felt that good and caring for his mind by letting him move the way he needed to.  The two shared a grand affection for each other.

She returned to riding in late 1980, but due to the severity of her back injury, was never able to again attain the level of physical strength and endurance necessary.  It was timely. It was becoming clear that the race track was not an environment conducive to the way Jennifer felt horses should be able to live with humans.  She left racing, showing, and all competitive endeavors after tiring of fighting the mindset of the human element and the treatment of the animals.  Money and personal “gain” was not important to her.  The way her horses felt and the way they felt about her was tantamount.  

In 1985 she decided to follow her instincts, and began to focus on the horses mind.  This, she had figured out, was the key, but little information was available.  Acute observation became her tool.   

In 1990 she purchased a mare that was so mentally and emotionally damaged from brutal treatment she knew she needed more knowledge than she possessed to help this horse.  Her search led her to Pat Parelli, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman and other clinicians sharing their natural horsemanship skills and finally found what she had been looking for.  A way to be with horses that used what was important to them as a means to communicate.  

After years of ridicule for attempting to understand and respect the horse instead of exploiting him, she finally found likeminded people and has been a student of the horse ever since.  Her passion is playing with young and/or troubled horses.  

The wreck, and other subsequent injuries that ultimately ended her jockey career all those years ago has finally taken its toll and riding the last few years has become much too painful.  Joining Five Hearts with her horses allows her to continue to interact in a meaningful way with these brilliant animals and the humans who need the horses to help them heal.

“Thank you, Gail and Five Hearts for this bold and special opportunity.   I am so honored to be a part of this and to be able to provide my girls as part of your healing herd.”  

“Both mares are registered Missouri Foxtrotters. Reba is the daughter of the troubled mare mentioned previously who led me down this magical path. Reba is now almost 20 years old and we share a very special bond. Windy is a mare I started as a 3 year old for her former owner who gave her to me about a year ago as a companion horse for Reba.  Windy is now 25.  The 3 of us old girls will hopefully contribute a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom that can only come with being just that...3 old girls.”

Jennifer lives locally with Jerry, has a 43 year old daughter, Heather, 2 dogs, and 2 horses.



 © G. Hromadko 2012