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By Sara Stenson on March 4, 2021
By Sara Stenson on January 29, 2021
LISTENING TO BELONGING
As you know, we have had to put our hands-on learning courses on hold until we can all be safe until the pandemic is under control. Many of you have expressed frustration over the fact that we cannot hold hands-on learning classes at this time due to the overwhelming virus. Believe me when I say that I am just as frustrated and sad as you are about this, I truly mean it. I miss being with a group of enthusiastic horse lovers eager to learn how to make happy horses sharing and learning together.
It is a very sad time, a frightening time, a time of great uncertainty and I believe also a time of great possibilities for a new way of being in our world. Let’s not get lost in the chaos but forge ahead with hope looking to the future. I ask myself what kind of world do I want to live in and how can I be a part of making that new world a possibility? Horses, I always come back to the horses. It is done one small step at a time and now is a great time to take that first step.
Now is a prime opportunity to learn and build the foundations of a new skill. My online course was developed from 45 years of experience in the study our physical forms, what balances us in gravity, and what is the quality of the movement of life that fills us with joy. The last 25 years has been dedicated to helping horse and rider with resistance free and joyful motion. I know what works and I open heartedly wish to share as much of this information with you as I possibly can under the constraints of our current pandemic.
My point is this … Equine Align basic form that you learn online is a life long study. It is more than just basics. I use this form whenever I approach a horse. This work is not about learning one technique after another until you have 100 techniques in your doctor bag because what happens then when a horse comes along and none of your 100 techniques helps? Then you would be at a loss. Techniques can take you only so far in their application but principles of movement are the cornerstone of creativity and effectiveness.
This work is based on principles that shape and morph techniques as you respond to each individual horse. It is about listening deeply and carefully to where and how the horse feels restricted then following your instincts to help the horse make the lasting changes. The skill is in your ability to listen and your ability to relax yourself thereby giving the horse permission to open up and connect with you. This work is not just doing mindless rub a dubs to the horse and hoping for the best outcome. That is blind faith and it never has done anything of any real value for the horse. The deeper you can listen and the more you can let go of your own tension, the more you can hear the horse’s voice come through to guide you. That connection is a profound and effective heart to heart conversation that assists the horse to make lasting changes.
Learning to listen deeply and openly is something that I cannot teach you in a hundred hands on courses. It is a quality you must cultivate within yourself and then express to the horse. Practice the principles of listening closely and relaxing your own body/mind. You can practice this every time you put your hands on a horse as you slowly and attentively listen to what the horse is telling you. You can practice listening a relaxing any moment of the day and you will benefit greatly.
So until we can gather safely (and hopefully soon) there is much you can do, learn, and practice on your own. Let your hands and body feel the routine until it becomes second nature. Trust your knowledge of horses, don’t second guess yourself, and use your intuition with them. Going through the videos once or even twice is just scratching the surface. Dig deeper and practice it on as many horses as you can and keep refining your feel. Soon you will be very skillful and confident that you can do this work with horses.
I am always available for questions and answers, to help guide you along the way and hopefully we will be able to gather safely and enjoy learning together.
Keeping in touch.
By Sara Stenson on July 1, 2017
I brought my horse, Leo, with me to Colorado this year. I needed the company while teaching my six week equine massage class. I enjoy spending evening time with him after a day of teaching. As soon as we arrived at our barn where he would stay in west Loveland, we unloaded Leo and settled him in then we backed our three horse trailer into the slot where the trailers are parked. We put it on the block. It will be there for the duration of my stay.
Often times I will feed Leo his grain by the trailer where I can sit in the shade and share the time with him. A week into our six week stay I noticed a Western Peewee bird fly from the front of my trailer. On closer inspection I discovered the little bird was busy building her nest in the crook of the hitch. I took a closer look at her architectural design and building skills. It is impressive and very functional. Her beautiful little nest of mud, dried grasses, and horse hair sits snugly between two vertical bars above the ball and hitch. I was blessed by her presence but I grew concerned about the hatch and fly timeline – six weeks.
The only way I could see into the nest was with my cell phone camera and I could not help myself. I have a life long love affair with babies of every species … nothing is cuter than nature’s babies. A few days later there were five beautiful little blue speckled eggs arranged neatly in the circular bowl of grasses and hair. How long will it take for them to hatch? I checked every few days with my camera. She would see me come to sit with Leo and I decided I wouldn’t stay to long so that she could get back to her nest. She was nervous when I was around so I made my visits brief. I was counting the days and weeks before I would have to move the trailer for my return trip home to New Mexico.
About a week ago when I took another picture the eggs had hatched and the little naked birds with their yellow lined prominent beaks were snuggled in close together. Now when the momma bird watches me I see bugs and worms dangling from her beak anxious to feed her babes. I keep my visits brief.
I am still counting the days and hope that they fly before I have to hitch to the truck for Leo and I to return home. The last thing I want to do is endanger a precious nest of baby birds. It is a time in our ecological history that all life needs serious protection for their survival and ultimately our own. Every day I watch, every day I hope they grow fast and become ready to fly the nest. Strange, I have become attached to the little feathered family that chirp so sweetly.
Note: They flew a few days before I had to hitch to the truck. All five babies sat on the horse fence near by and watched they home and nest leave the ranch. I have the nest tucked neatly away in my tack room. A reminder of a time spent with birds and horses.
By Sara Stenson on February 9, 2017
I step outside from my work a day, more than once and often it is four or five times a day. I need a horse fix in the middle of work. I walk to my horses with my three dogs in tow so that I can visit with all of them, give them a flake of fresh green hay, and scratch their shoulders for a bit just let them know I love them and to refresh me in knowing they are my anchor in these uncertain times. In fifteen minutes or so, I feel renewed. Early mornings just before sunrise I feed my horses and I see the clouds moving in the sky, the full moon sticking around waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon, and look for other signs of life to reassure me all is well and as it should be. Birds flutter and chirp as the little road runners scurry under a juniper bush looking for cover and I smile feeling alive with them. My first deep breath is the fresh morning air reminding me that I am a living soul in connection with the environment around me. I am content that my life is dedicated to horses, animals, and my New Mexico environment. Many things will change over the next four years and how things will change we can only guess but many things will never change within me. The love of nature, the enjoyment of the fresh morning air, the joy of watching my dogs romp with the horses. My love of all that is equine is written in my soul and cannot be erased or banished. I have a passionate commitment to helping others learn The Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork. I am committed to helping the lives of horses to be happy and healthy, committed to riding my horses well, like a fine art and am committed to sharing the skills and knowledge of horses that has been taught to me by those dedicated equestrians and the horses we all love. Now is a wonderful time to make a commitment to yourself. If you have been wanting to work with horses on a daily basis, if you want to make their lives better and your life’s work more rewarding, it is now. Do not put it off. Now is the time to step into your heart and take a leap into the world of equine massage therapy. With great joy we can help you make that leap.
By Sara Stenson on July 13, 2016
This morning I was reminded of a saying my first massage teacher used to say about bumping into things and leaving bruises or stubbing toes. She would say, “you always get the massage you need!” I used to laugh whenever she would say that. This morning I was out for a ride on my horse that hasn’t been ridden for a few weeks so he was a bit of a dawdler and constantly looking around instead of paying attention to the task at hand. I kept thinking he would warm up and I didn’t push on him too much. We rode into an arroyo and just as we got down into the bottom a raven flew out of the trees, startling my absent minded mount causing him to spin a 180 degrees to the right which left me hanging on to left side half way out of the saddle. My fingers were full of mane and rein. My left inner thigh muscles and right calf muscles were screaming at being forcefully pulled and lengthened. I shifted back into the saddle and worked at relaxing those leg muscles so they wouldn’t cramp up on me. “You always get the massage you need!” my teacher’s voice popped into my head and I had to smile. You see for the past couple of months my left knee has been strained and painful because my inner thigh muscles felt shortened! I have been thoughtfully stretching them and encouraging them to lengthen these last few months and slowly bringing them into alignment. Now, I am hoping that I did get the massage I need and my knee will improve since my inner thigh muscles were stretched almost beyond capacity. Horses are always so willing to help us out!
By Sara Stenson on January 26, 2016
On the first day of class I like to ask my students to study their hands in silence for a few minutes … yes a few minutes, in silence … not to give just a passing glance at them but to see them for what power lies within them. It is easy to think, “yes, my hands, so what?” Too often we take them for granted, poor things. We beat them up during the course of busy lives at least I do anyway, by carelessly shutting a finger in a door, scraping knuckles on hard surfaces, and other such abuses while quickly doing my daily tasks. But, we rarely take the time to look at those beautifully designed intricate tools called hands that are attached neatly at the end of each arm. Our hands are everything to us in all that we do, how we do it, and how we give ourselves in service to the world.
Everyone’s hands have a unique palm, finger, and thumb print. They are one of the gifts from our parents, our heritage. If you look at your hands you will notice they are like your fathers or your mothers. My hands are a nice mixture of both as I can see my mother and father’s hands in mine, and how I express myself with them in the world. As I held my dying mother’s hand, I was in awe of how much our hands were alike and it was a subtle line between where hers ended and mine began. We feed ourselves, we feed each other, we hold our newborn babies, we touch our dying and all these things, at all times with our two hands, we take care of our daily tasks of living. All living beings have hands of some shape or another, all capable of helping each other with those hands and all living beings touch one another for all the same reasons. And I have just scratched the surface. All of this dynamic connection to life lives within us and is expressed through our hands.
With our hands we touch, we hold, we comfort and connect. Consider thisall the knowledge and wisdom of touch and communication was born in your hands and has been passed along to you since the dawn of your humanity. Touching another connects us to our family, touch communicates how we are doing, and touch conveys what we want to say to another being all through the sensory wisdom of our hands. Messages are conveyed with a touch of the hand. Touch helps us reconnect to ourselves when we have lost our way or we need comfort in a time of loss, we touch to share joy and healing. Every living being will touch to comfort another, species to species and from one species to another. All those wonderful photographs and videos about unlikely friends that people share on Facebook is a testimony to that simple act of kinship. This sense is so deep within us that we cannot possibly communicate our innermost selves without the use of our wondrous hands.
I ask my students to look at their hands so that they can begin to understand that they really are the greatest healing tools they could ever possess. We don’t have to buy them or make them and they will never go out of style or be replaced by a new technology. They are very transportable as they go wherever we go so we never have to worry about having the right tools when we get to the horse. We teach students how to remember the power of a healing touch and then how to apply it to the horses that we all wish to help. A simple yet profound healing happens when one hand touches another.
By Sara Stenson on January 13, 2016
The Perfect Ride
Think about the times you just stepped out of the saddle all invigorated and thought, I just had the most perfect ride on my horse today. It was amazing, like the two of us were one! All I had to do was think it and my horse was right there with me. Those rides I call The Perfect Ride.
If you have ridden long enough I would believe you have felt that perfect ride. I live for those moments of great joy with my horse. To me, thats worth all the money spent on my horses for hay, hoof care, vet visits, then we have to have the truck, trailer, a beautiful saddle, several blankets, bridles and did I mention the acreage to keep it all on? Well, you get the idea. We dont spend our lifetime with these wonderful creatures without good reason. We love the communion, the partnership, freedom and spirit of the horse when all the elements come together and the magic just seems to set the stage for the perfect ride and we are dancing together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Grace in motion.
We know this takes spending hours together practicing making the connection of communication with each other and wanting the partnership to be perfect. That is why we seek out good trainers to help us understand horses and the way they think and trainers to help us see where our riding needs improvement. We make sure the saddle fits, the bridle fits, the feet are correct and the nutrition is balanced (along with our checkbook). Then we can rest assured the perfect ride inevitable. Right? Discouragingly not always, sometimes something feels amiss, your horse wont pick up a lead, she is short striding, cant bend properly through the neck or just aint doin right.
Theres help. I am going to add into your budget one more essential ingredient that is of the utmost importance for your horses well being whether you are riding endurance, reining, a dressage, hunter/jumper, or on the trails (the list is a lot longer but again you get the idea). A few sessions with a talented equine massage therapist can often help your partner move with suppleness, ease and greater range of motion in all of the joints then you are back to enjoying your ride. Regardless of your riding discipline, equine massage is essential to keep your horse dancing like a pro.
I am going to assume here that most of you have read at least one article on the benefits of massage therapy for your horse. I would guess some of you have had a massage therapist work on your horse. But this is not just another: good for circulation, good for lymph drainage, good for the digestion article about the benefits of massage because the truth is how would you know all of those things are true? Your horse is not transparent and you cannot possibly see if the circulation did or did not improve. I believe what you really would like to know and dont want to have to guess about is this: Did my horse improve in the way he moves? When asked does he feel willing and able to laterally flex left and right? Can she now pick up that right or left lead with grace and agility where she could not before? Can he lift and step through with that hind leg or stop wearing his toes off the back feet? These are problems that can be addressed by a skillful massage therapist.
Problems in the way your horse moves most times are a result of restrictions caused by trauma to the soft tissues of muscle and fascia. A slip, a fall, pulling back on the halter, wrestling with other horses in the paddock and other such nonsense in which they love to engage all are causes for trauma and anomalies in the way they carry themselves which affect their ability to perform with ease. Injuries seem to heal and you go on but they dont necessarily go away. After a time these old traumas can become chronic restrictions, which create compensation patterns and habits of movement that are asymmetrical, tense and tight throughout the body. Muscle torque inhibits free motion of joints and sometimes behavior problems arise from low-level pain and discomfort. A skillful therapist can assist in solving those restrictive patterns. How freely your horse moves and responds after a massage is a great measure of a really effective equine bodywork session.
As an equine massage and body worker I strive to create efficiency in the horses ability for self-carriage. The structure must line up with itself, each element being in the proper position for peak performance. When the skeletal alignment is correct, there is flexibility and full range of motion of all the joints. Supple muscles pull equally on the bones, have the ability to move with ease, and are not susceptible to being twisted out of position. When the muscles are doing their job correctly they are not burning vital energy or creating pain. Symmetry, suppleness, strength, stamina, rhythm, balance, and relaxation are all results of a bio-mechanically efficient system.
I used to think rehabilitate first, fix what is broken, but I have changed my approach over the years to encouraging equestrians to first think enhance what the horse has, then prevent injury by keeping bio-mechanics in their proper place and when trauma happens, rehabilitate through massage and body work.
I believe it to be another essential ingredient for your horses wellbeing and grace in movement and performance. When all elements are in their place and doing the job they were designed to do your horse will move with ease, comfort, joy, spirit and vitality. Who knows you just might see him kicking up his heels again and offering up to you that Perfect Ride.
Sara Stenson, CEMT owns Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork where she teaches dedicated equestrians equine massage therapy. She can be reached through www.artofequinemassage.com
By Sara Stenson on May 22, 2015
The scent of a horse is holy to an equestrian, a spiritual mantra, and a koan for living. We can go for a few days without that bouquet in our noses but that is pushing our limits. When things get rough we hightail it for the paddocks to replenish our fragrance of horse. It is a warm smell, somewhat of a musty smell like hay in the spring, it is a sweet smell, more radiant than a rose. Bury your face in a horses neck and the whole of that horse enters into your blood stream to permeate your whole body until all the nerve fibers vibrate in its essence. It is a natural sedative and no perfume made comes close to what horse musk awakens inside the human. It stirs the sense of tranquility, that somehow no matter what is wrong the aroma of a horse will make the world seem fresh again. It is a whiff of contentment, a sigh, a breath, a whisper, a kiss of wind that floats you into their soul, down the portal of their eyes to see the truth written there. The world is once again at peace.
By Sara Stenson on May 18, 2015
Enchanted I was by that family of wild horses. On four legs they were swift and agile. Their quick gentle spirits awakened a lounging deep within my soul. Quietly I asked the beautiful golden mare for a favor. She agreed. Straddling her warm curving back I slipped seamlessly into her form. Weaving my fingers through her thick black mane I gave a gentle squeeze asking for a journey into her world. She raced with me breathlessly into the wind forging a mysterious love of freedom born from the seed of my lounging. Our fortuitous encounter bonded horse and human forever.
By Sara Stenson on March 31, 2015
Kafka:Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.