EMOTIONS RUN HIGH IN SENIOR NIGHT VICTORY OVER BONNIES

Gigi:

I enjoy VCU basketball with my family. For my husband & I, VCU games are our “date nights” whether we’re at a game or watching an away game on TV. My mom is a huge fan, too. I will never forget how we surprised her with a game of H.O.R.S.E with Brandon Rozzell one year for her birthday. I’ll also never forget the class of 2014: Rob & Juvonte. Mom & I were in Houston for the Final Four game in 2011 & have loved & appreciated these two so much over their careers.

Originally posted on AROUND THE HORNS:

Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

Seniors Juvonte Reddic (middle) and Rob Brandenberg (right) combined for 31 points Saturday in their final home games.

RICHMOND, Va. – Most VCU fans know Juvonte Reddic as an oft stone-faced giant. Outward expressions of emotion have been rare, although not unheard of in recent years.

But Saturday’s 86-67 Senior Night win over St. Bonaventure was bursting at the seams with emotion. Finally, as victory was assured, Coach Shaka Smart pulled Reddic and fellow senior Rob Brandenberg from the game with a little more than a minute to go, a thunderous ovation from 7,700 showered the players on their way to the bench. Finally, Reddic let go.

“Once coach took me out for the last time, that’s when it really hit me. As soon I sat down on the end of the bench I started crying, just tears of joy,” said Reddic.

Reddic finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds…

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♥♥ Smart Apps for Kids Likes Chancey App ♥♥

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Thanks Smart Apps for Kids for a great review of the Chancey app!
“Bottom line: Friendship, sparkling hooves, a Viking helmet and gobs of information about popular horse breeds will make any little reading filly (or colt) happy while playing this app.”
Read the full review:
http://www.smartappsforkids.com/2013/10/chancey-of-the-maury-river-review.html

The Chancey of the Maury River app from Dogtown Pursuits with Three Hats Media is now available on iTunes for iPad. Coming soon to Kindle, Nook, & Kobo.

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1867: A Nod to Horses

Brotherhood

Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick

Brotherhood
by A.B. Westrick
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
Viking, 2013
978-0-670-01439-2

It’s been my pleasure to know A.B. Westrick for several years. We’ve worked together in school-based and community settings on many projects related to reading and writing. She is a stickler for details and likes to get things right.

Her middle-grade debut novel, Brotherhood, is a precise and compelling story about a community undergoing rapid-fire change. Set in Richmond, Virginia, just two years after the end of the Civil War, Brotherhood authentically depicts a boy’s struggle to change his heart and his ways.

It’s a dangerous venture to lead a double life, as the main character, Shad Weaver quickly finds out.  He runs with the KKK at night and secretly takes reading lessons from a young black teacher by day. Shad sees and participates in things that he shouldn’t. A burden of shame and secrecy binds Shad up with fear and confusion.  Yet, Shad does realize all that is at stake. People’s lives are in danger and only Shad can help, but he will have to speak the truth.

One of the aspects of this book that most interested me is how the author uses horses to reveal emotions, surface memories, and increase tension in the storyline.  Who has horses and who doesn’t? How the memory of the family horse evokes the presence of Daddy. How the sound of horse hooves approaching the house conveys friend or foe to the main character.

So, I invited the fabulous A.B. Westrick to share something of how horses figure into Brotherhood!

A.B. Westrick

Debut author, A.B. Westrick

Author A.B. Westrick on Brotherhood

When Gigi asked me to write a guest-post for this blog, I hesitated because I don’t know a lot about horses. The first time I rode one, I trembled. She was such a big animal. And so strong. And I was scared. I hadn’t been around horses much. The instructor told me and the other newbies, “Don’t let your horse feel your fear!” But how were we supposed to fake it? The horses could tell we were novices, and I’m pretty sure they were laughing at us. Or rolling their enormous brown eyes. No matter how much the instructor taught us about getting our horses to do what we wanted them to do, I gotta tell you—on that particular day, my horse did exactly what she wanted.
“Don’t let her linger in the clover. Keep her moving,” shouted the instructor. And the way I remember it, when I urged my horse forward, she seemed almost to… smile. Maybe even shrug. Then she swallowed and took another bite.
I was a teenager then, and my thigh muscles were super sore the next day. Now I’m an author, and in my debut novel Brotherhood, my protagonist pines for the day he’ll save enough to get himself a horse. I set the story in 1867 Richmond, Virginia. Fourteen year-old Shad recalls the day he watched Daddy ride off on Mindy-girl to join the Confederate Army. Shad “watched him wave good-bye, waving his whole arm against a white-cloud sky, brushing so hard that for a moment Shad believed he’d brush the war away.” But the war rages on, and Daddy and Mindy-girl never make it home.
The sheriff in Brotherhood manages to acquire a horse after the war, and at first, when I imagined what he and his horse might have looked like, I pictured mounted police officers. But that wasn’t the right picture. Today’s equestrians ride beautiful, well-fed, well-groomed animals, nothing like the scruffy horse my scruffy sheriff might have ridden.
Back in the 1800s, not owning a horse meant walking a lot. A whole lot. These days in the United States, we take cars for granted and ride horses for love. On some farms, horses still plow the fields and their droppings enrich the soil, but most farmers have replaced them with machines and processed fertilizer. You can write a contemporary novel and never mention a horse, but it’s pretty hard to write historical fiction without a nod to these amazing animals.
So it’s with gratitude to Gigi that I find myself thinking a lot about the horses in my book. Not only do they help characters get where they need to go, but owning one says something about a person’s place in the world. When Shad longs for enough money to get himself a horse, what he really wants is for Daddy to look down on him from heaven and smile.
I loved reading Chancey of the Maury River, and as I write this post just before the release of Macadoo of the Maury River, I look forward to reading that one, too. There’s so much to love about a horse! The title of this blog says it all. Thank you, Gigi, for inviting me to contribute!
A.B.Westrick

Conversations with the Silent by Katie Cerminara

I met Katie Cerminara through her work with Canine Adventure. We needed someone to care for Biscuit over a string of upcoming out-of-town engagements. And, Bub and I were both working so much that we thought Biscuit might like to get out of the house and onto the trail for some adventure walks.

When Katie showed up that first day to meet Biscuit wearing jodhpurs to go trail walking, I pretty much fell in love with her on sight. And, Biscuit, did, too. Though not because of Katie’s outfit and passion for horses, but because she has a true heart for animals.

As Katie and I have gotten to know each other, we’ve often shared stories about riding and horses. Many a morning the names Albert and Sassy have crossed our lips and made us both laugh and tear up in those few minutes at the door when Biscuit is coming or going with her good friend, Katie.

Enough from me. Katie recently shared this essay with me that she wrote about her horse Sassy. I was so moved by Katie’s writing that I begged her to let me share it on my blog.   – Gigi

Katie and Sassy

Katie and Sassy

I just sat there. I could barely move, the heat stifling any attempt to be productive.  Instead I remained immobile in the grass, allowing my eyes to move languidly over the scene before them.  The dust and heat spoke among themselves rising to greet the arid breeze and falling with disappointment as it paid them no mind. Their conversation was enthralling and for a moment I forgot I was in the valley.  Surrounded by the softly sleeping giants, my eyes searched and for the first time that day strained to see the Blue Ridge in the distance.  Those blue mountains that I used to see every day.  Those blue mountains that I grew to hate.  Those blue mountains that I now love, because she loves them.  In a few hours, when the heat ran off and the crickets rushed in, I’d see the mountains again; she’d see them too.

Slowly I pulled myself from my position in grass. It crunched beneath my feet as I padded across yard, echoing the cracking sound in my hip.  Years of arthritis quickly reduced the young joint to limited mobility, no matter how diligently I tried to out run the ailment.  It spread throughout my body just as quickly as the wild fire that scarred the neighbor’s wheat field. She had arthritis too, though she never complained.  Forever the stoic creature; never a whimper or a sigh as the pain surged through her joints.

~~~

 As I made my way to the house my mind raced.  How long had it been since I last saw her? Would she recognize me? Would she be mad that I hadn’t been around as much? Would I recognize her? Just as my mind began to carry me away, the summer thunder voiced its’ opinion.  It rumbled softly in the distance as the clouds rolled off of the mountain, telling me I’d have to wait for my questions to be answered. The storm quieted my worries, but opened my memories, to the crossroad in our relationship. I blankly stared into the thick sheets of rain thinking of how quickly time slips away into the past. Three years ago I thought I had lost her forever, while she exhibited just how stalwart she could be. A benign tumor quickly developed, inside her stomach wall entangling itself in the intestine.  It restricted all bowl movement and forced waste to secrete through the porous intestine tissue; she was septic as the doctors later described it.

I have never seen any creature so close to death, but in the crisp October evening air I saw her fire like soul diminish to a feeble spark.   I knew before I found her that something was wrong, I could not see her as I reached the barn. This is wrong, where is she?  I found her in the stall, laying with her back to me. Wrong again, she never lies down.  As I rushed to her side, I caught a glimpse of the most quietly terrifying sight I have ever come across. Her slack jaw dangled a few inches from the dusty ground, as flared nostrils sucked gasps of air into her heaving lungs, rocking her body with hideously unnatural movement. Her eyes rolled in their half lidded sockets, as she swung her large head in my direction, ears flopping at the sudden jerk.   A horse that lies is a dead horse. I must get her to stand. I pulled her legs, three roan and one white, into position and then placed the halter gently around her head.  I would only have one chance at this, she knew it too and I could see the uncertainty plainly written across her features. On the count of three I pulled the halter forward as she pulled in the opposite direction.  She made it into a sitting position, pausing to let her catch her breath.  Breathing still a laborious task.  Then it happened, she started to slide back to the ground as she nickered an apology. NO! I would not accept it and willed the 900-pound animal to stand, pushing with all my strength, strength that she did not have, on to her four legs. I feared colic, the flipping of the stomach is a death warrant for animals of her size, but expected much worse as I awaited the arrival of the vet.

~~~

               My eyes scanned the field, I knew she would be out there; it was just a question of where.  The explosive, though brief storm saturated the ground and expanded the creek over its boarders. The muddy waters slid around the oxbows with unnatural agility and grace.  I knew it was unlikely she would be across this serpent like obstruction, she was always wary of crossing water she could not see through.  There, in the most remote part of the field I caught a glimpse of her. Those strawberry colored tresses softly waved in the refreshing evening breeze, blazing against the lush pasture.  They always managed to stay the same length, an obvious nod to her Native American lineage.   She is one of the oldest breeds found in North America, and her particular blood can be traced all the way to the remote grasslands of northwestern Idaho, only a small portion of the once vast territory of the Nez Perce.  These Native Americans managed relations with other tribes as well as white settlers across the rugged land and are perhaps most noted for their tenacious defense against American troops in 1877.

These qualities did not miss their mounts in addition to being among the heartiest of breeds; the Appaloosa is renown for its intelligence and athletic ability.  She did not miss out on these traits, perhaps she even exemplifies them too well.  Prior to meeting her, she managed to develop a reputation that stretched from the lowland of Alabama to the mountains of Virginia.  She was a nightmare to train and a punishment to ride. Her red coat made it easy to discover her whereabouts, but also served as a warning to the poison that could be found within.

I started, without a word, along the path.  She knew I was there, and it would be her choice to acknowledge me.  She was listening, that much I could tell, but she gave no other sign. I knew she had heard me; she had the best hearing even in her old age.  Eventually, she turned to face me, wild eyed and acting as though she had no idea I was so close to her. I stopped. She turned away from me, a silent gesture that pulled me forward exposing her benign mood.  As I approached I said her name and she turned again, however, this time she began to walk forward.  Outwardly I smiled, it was now I knew she remembered me.  I asked her how she had been lately.  Those almond shaped, mahogany brown eyes sardonically cast their gaze in my direction, answering my question and driving the point home with a flip of the head.  She held true to the old horseman’s warning, With almond eyes, expect trouble and I couldn’t help but inwardly agree with whatever cowboy had the misfortune of creating that tale.  She had always been the one tell me what for, never the other way as most prefer.

 The evening sun bounced off her mane creating sparks of red and yellow flying across the air, mimicking campfires that were sure to spring up all across these low hills. I stayed with her sitting in the tall grass as she grazed around in the abundant clover.  She seemed at ease.

As the sun melted behind the oldest mountains in the United States throwing vivid ropes of color across the sky, I swung my leg over her in one swift movement.

The combination created a crescendo of energy as the molten star agreed to play our game. She knew what to do; we had years of practice and as the thought barely formed in my consciousness she bolted. Get it! Her hooves beat against the soft ground challenging Nature’s earlier thunder.  I grabbed her coarse mane, entangling it through my fingers and stretched low across her neck as my arms pumped in perfect rhythm to her own furious movement.  My legs remained firmly planted behind her muscular shoulders anchoring me to the wild strength. The once refreshing cool air stung my eyes while my hair whipped and snapped furiously in all directions.

And then, just as the crescendo exploded, it stopped.

Everything stopped.

The sun had won again, slipping behind the tin roof of that ancient barn before we had managed to cross into the shadow.

I dismounted thoroughly unaffected by our loss, there would always be tomorrow. She did not seem concerned with anything other than the darkness of the barn, her eyes played tricks on her in low light.  Her ears prickled trying to decipher the sounds behind the darkness and her body tensed, clearly deciding between flight and fight.  Her flight instinct consumed her for a brief second as she jolted back into the fading dusk. Moving aside I reached back with my palm exposed and waited. Once I felt her whiskers against my fingers I continued into the shadows, she also continued boldly.  She hardly exposed her insecurities and I knew it hurt her to accept my help, yet it spoke volumes to how we had grown to need one another.

~~~

 I missed her more than my own family these days and constantly tried to figure how to move her away with me, but she was happiest here: in fields that could swallow her whole. I often dreamed of running out west with her.  We would find a cattle ranch in Wyoming or Colorado, or maybe even return to her ancestral lands, we would spend the days in big sky country where we had a chance to out run the sun.  Early morning rides would not smell of honeysuckle and sweet dew, but instead of dusty hay and old leather. Our work would no longer be to jump the cleanest courses or gait the quietest to prejudice judges that disapprove of loudly colored show horses.  Instead our days would be filled with getting long and low on cattle, checking fence lines, and galloping over thousands of lonely acres.  But this was only a dream of mine with the bitter sting of knowing that it could happen, though when it did it would not be with her.  My need for this paradise to become my reality would not blind me to her age.  Her health meant more than my own and I would not knowingly put her at risk, and yet she would still have a hand in my Wild West movie. She would help me break my next partner, and it would be her protégé.  Until then she would have to settle for day trips trekking through the blue mountains.

~~~

               She was much more receptive to me in the morning than she had the pervious night. She was always like that. I tacked her and before the heat took a firm hold of the morning we moved through the hay field, heading east to the mountains and the George Washington National Forrest. It took the morning to hike to main trail through the dense second growth wood. She wore bells, around her ankles to alert fellow hikers, in addition to less than benign creatures of our whereabouts.   When we approached the large bolder spray-painted and slewn with tags ranging from I Love Yous to Never Forgets by Appalachian Trail hikers we took a sharp left, continuing at a sure-footed pace over the rough ground.  I relaxed in my position; she knew where to go and was in her element gracefully straddling the domestic and wild worlds.

Finally we reached a clearing and our destination for the day.  The wildflowers beckoned gently from between the tall yellow weeds. Invisible drafts across the bluff created wave-like movement through the pasture.  The sun warmly cast its’ ray just for the two of us that day, appearing to forget our continual competition. I stopped her just on the edge of the thicket in the cool shadows and removed her tack beneath a sizeable maple. She looked at me when I was finished and I knew she was longing to be with wild flowers and mountain grass.  As I sank to the ground, resting my back on the tree I told her to go for it.

She moved through the knee-high brush with ease, grabbing mouthfuls of the sweetly smelling blossoms. Her molted red coat blended with the hay colored vegetation and as the night before the sun danced around her.  Instead choosing to highlight her goldens and ambers.  It amazed me how nature could color an animal so vividly and proudly, but man could still manage to find something to hate that was out of her control.  I stood and she neighed in protest, I paid her no mind, and continued to search the blanket I stowed somewhere on her tack.  Eventually I found it and threw it across the ground, just beneath the maple, she whorled around at the flash of color and movement.  I mumbled a horribly spiteful apology to one of her most annoying, though somewhat endearing qualities. I stretched across the blanket and watched the clouds pass, occasionally putting a name to a shape.  From our mountaintop they looked tangible and friendly, not the cold and distant warnings seen from the valley below.

She stayed close and kept an ear in my direction as I began to doze, listening.

Protecting.

Copyright Katie Cerminara. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

See Ya on the Trail!

Macadoo of the Maury River

Macadoo of the Maury River

This week, I’m hitting the trail to share with readers my love of horses and a new horse story, Macadoo of the Maury River, the second in the Horses of the Maury River series from Candlewick Press, set in my beautiful home state of Virginia.

The series features six horses:

  • Chancey, an Appaloosa (see his story: Chancey of the Maury River, book one)
  • Macadoo, a Belgian Draft (just out this August)
  • Dante, an off-track Thoroughbred (writing Dante NOW)
  • Gwen, a Hanoverian
  • Napoleon, a demon Shetland pony and
  • Shasta Daisy, a Welsh Mountain pony

The books are set in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the fictional Maury River Stables, operated by Mrs. Isbell Maiden. While each horse will take a different journey to arrive at Mrs. Maiden’s riding school, they have one thing in common. The Maury River Stables gives each of them a second chance.

I love writing these books in no small part because all of my characters are inspired by real horses who I know or have known: Albert, Beau, Jake, Keepsake, Dart, Latte, Misty, Firecracker, July Johnson, Tina, TC, Pie, Mia, and Kurt. Lately, Miss Angel is helping me out, too!

And my horse adventures keep it exciting: learning to play polo, vaulting, volunteering with a therapeutic program, jumping over stuff, EVEN GETTING STUCK IN QUICK SAND!

So! Hope to see you out and about. Come tell me about your horse adventures:

  • Thursday, September, 12, 2013, 10:30 a.m., Politics & Prose, Washington DC
  • Thursday, September 19, 2013, 4:00 p.m., BBGB, 3100 Kensington Avenue, Richmond VA
  • Saturday, September 21, 2013, SIBA Trade Show, New Orleans LA
  • Saturday, October 12, 2013, TBA, Southern Festival of Books, Nashville TN
  • Thursday, October 17, 2013, 6 p.m., TEEN ’13, Richmond Public Library, 101 E. Main Street, Richmond VA
  • Friday, October 18, 2013, 9:00 a.m., James River Writers Master Class, Richmond VA
  • Saturday, October 26, 2013, ALL DAY, SCBWI Mid-Atlantic, Dulles VA
  • Thursday, November 14, 2013, 7:00 p.m., Loudon County Public Library, Gum Spring Branch, Aldie VA

Never Give Up

Judith & Latte

Judith & Latte

Sometimes I lay off blogging because I feel like I don’t have enough time to get my words right. The thought of doing what I’m doing now…just going commando in the post window freaks me out. Even just this second, I almost backed up to take out those … because I read a post elsewhere about how annoying and lazy it is to use …

So, yeah. I’m trying to be brave and nekked.

Originally, and probably still for a lot or maybe even most bloggers, I think blogging was like that. Just an organic recording of thoughts, impressions, and ideas. But, I’ve never blogged like that without at least the safety net of enough time to re-order, revise, and re-think. So here we go. Yah, boy!

Sometimes people ask me: What’s with the horses?

Heck, I don’t know. What’s with the baseball? What’s with the cats? What’s with the craft beer and hard cider?

What’s with the ________. Pick a noun. Fill in the blank with one or more of the things that bring you joy, inner peace, and ease.

I love them. Horses are my daughter. My daughter and me.

A million reasons why.

This summer our horse Albert passed away, as blog readers of mine are undoubtedly weary of hearing. In the last five years of his life, nobody rode him much. But, horses, for me have never been all about riding.

And, our friendship, mine and Albert’s, was like a Vidalia onion. Many sweet layers. We liked to visit. Talk. Read together. Share peppermints and baby carrots and Honeycrisp apples. Split the occasional nutrigrain bar. Oh, we tried to like celery, Albert and I. Mostly, we liked to stand around breathing and looking at trees and listening to birds, watching butterflies. Remembering things we did and people we’d met and places we’d been together.

Here’s something I don’t write or talk about much: I’ve been estranged from my biological father for most of my life. We’re episodically connected. Sometimes, we’re all good and, sometimes, we’re ghosts.

The first time I ever rode a horse, I was five years old and living in Boulder, Colorado in 1969. I showed up for the event wearing a mini-dress and patent leather Mary Janes.

My dad and me. Boulder, CO. 1969. A blurry photo of my first ride.

My dad and me. Boulder, CO. 1969. A blurry photo of my first ride.

My father was already at the ranch and had tacked up this big draft horse. I didn’t have very much fun because my little legs were getting chaffed, a consequence of the mini-dress. That my mother let me wear. But, I remember that I wanted to dress up because it was a pretty special thing, getting to ride a horse.

That year I dressed outlandishly a lot. I remember also wearing my pjs to school…a really cute lime green and pink with white polka dot two-pieced number. Bell bottom pants and a sort of peasant top that exposed my midriff. Not practical pjs. I felt like a gypsy wearing them. A gypsy with a pixie haircut.

When we met Albert, my daughter was eight. Her dad and I were going through a divorce. My dad and I were at the beginning of an episode of connecting that would last a few years.

My father also has a love of horses. He helped me buy Albert for Judith. And, he was happy, thrilled to do it. It’s a weird thing to love someone deeply and yet to also be separated from them.

Horses are my daughter. Horses are my father. My family. Me.

See, this post started out with the title ‘Never Give Up’. And, there’s that photo up top with Judith and Latte riding like champs to the jump.

Never Give Up is what I write when I sign copies of my historical novel, Come August, Come Freedom.

Never give up is something that I learn from horses. That’s what I was going to write about. How sometimes, I feel like giving up on lots of stuff because stuff is hard.

Making money to pay bills and help provide for my family is hard. Feeling confident, for me, is hard. Not worrying so much is hard. Maintaining a weight that makes me feel attractive is hard and impossible, really, because, I guess it’s really not about a number but about something inside of me. Sometimes, believing that I deserve the amazing life that I have is hard. Sometimes, being always more or less estranged from my father is hard. And, thinking of not being estranged is very hard, too.

If I hadn’t committed to going without the safety net on this post, I’d take out that whole entire last paragraph because it’s just too…weird and true.

Writing books is really hard!

In fact, right now this very second, I feel like giving up on the one I’m currently writing because sometimes I don’t think I can get the book in my head and in my heart to match the one that’s coming out on paper. I KNOW I can’t or at least not until I have lived longer. Long enough to get better at it. Long enough to think some more and understand something new.

There are some writers who are, like, geniuses. These: Edward P. Jones, Edwidge Danticat, Jacqueline Woodson, Susann Cokal, M.T. Anderson, Maggie Stiefvater, Silas House, Allan Wolf.

Ok. So, here’s another point that I’m tempted to back up the blog and take out that part about the writing geniuses because, really, there are a lot more writing geniuses than those awesome ones that just popped into my head. Plus, I’ve left out the dead ones. But, I’m going to press ahead in this experiment of writing commando on my blog.

Never give up. Yeah, that’s where I started.

Recently, I went out to the barn where Judith rides and observed her in a jumping lesson. I was surprised to hear her trainer yelling, “Don’t give up. You always give up. You have to make a decision and ride to the jump. Don’t just give up.”

I talked to Judith about that later because I wanted to hear if she could feel when she was giving up. She explained to me that each obstacle on a course presents a question and the rider has to decide how to answer. And, she said, that riding with this trainer is helping her see how sometimes she was avoiding the question and leaving it up to her horse to answer for the both of them.

Angel

My pony, Angel

So, okay, also this summer I bought the wonderpony, Angel. In fact, I just made my last payment so she is my pony! Because the only thing that fills the sinkhole of Albert being gone is Angel being here. Really truly.

When our old girl, Blackberry died, we got Biscuit straight away.

And, believe me, if I could’ve bought myself a new grammy in 2007, Ida done it in a heart beat. I’d have danced with the devil all night long for a new grammy. And, come back for more. But. It don’t work that way with grammies. Just with horses and dogs.

My grammy and me at Monticello.

My grammy and me at Monticello.

Anyway, last week, I watched a young rider taking a lesson on Angel. I could tell that she had certainly ridden before, and that she likes riding. Yet, when she approached the jump, she up and quit. Left the decision up to Angel. She dropped her reins and let her legs go slack.

Every time the young rider failed to face the question, every time she gave up, Angel would slow down and evade the question, too.

For sure, Angel took care of her new charge. She didn’t duck or swerve or knock the student off balance. She just slowed down and avoided the little vertical. Because her partner was giving up, Angel wouldn’t take on the burden of the answering the question solo.

That’s where I was trying to get to this morning. That I’m in this peculiar mindset of seeing all these questions, these obstacles in front of me and it seems hard. But, being with horses helps me try harder.

I’m not a jumper like Judith is. Still, I get it. This idea of answering the questions with decisiveness and with your partner.

One of the first times I took Angel on the trail, we came upon a felled cedar blocking our way. We faced a question: jump it or look for a way around?

The thing is. With Angel I do feel confident.

That day on the trail, we didn’t hesitate. We saw the tree and decided, together, that we were going. We picked up the canter and sailed over the obstacle. Question answered. Together.

Never give up.

A Place of Knowing Within

Stretching

Stretching

When our horse, Albert, passed away in May, my sister, Leigh, offered words and images that helped me move into, with, and through my grief. In her health care practice, hospice volunteer work, and honoring ministry for people and pets, there’s a common thread of accompanying people through transitions. In particular, she’s devoted to nurturing the bond between people and animals. She is also an artist. Her photography and artwork reflect these themes, too. The photos of Albert in this post were taken by my sister over the course of his life with in our family.

*****

Gigi Amateau:  Thank you so much for being there after Albert died. I’d like to ask you some questions about the nature of human-animal friendships and also about your ministry. When in your life did you first recognize your love for animals?

Leigh Meriweather: As a child, I had an innate love for animals, I think all children do. I actually think all adults do, too. Some are just distracted. I remember loving the salamanders in the forest and being worried about the birds not getting enough food when it snowed. For whatever reason, animals were always my source of comfort and connection to love. The highlight of my day now is what connection in nature I experience…whether it is helping a moth get outside who was in Mattie’s water dish, sitting beside some lizards while we catch some rays or helping a person with healing or connection with their pet.

Gigi: How did you come to know that your life’s work would be in helping people stay connected with their beloved animals even beyond death?

Leigh: I think it began with my own exploration of this and wanting to share it. I have truly come to understand that animals can be a loving and wonderful part of not only your life, but your soul’s development. I knew, within me, it filled (and continues to fill) a need and I could see that there were others who were searching for the same. One of my guides reflected that there is a hole in humanity regarding death. Perhaps with this work, I can help some of that, too.

Standing together

Standing together

Gigi There’s something unseen but so essential that animals bring to the human experience. Think about how often horses and dogs and other animals are used in therapy. I’m probably a serious latecomer to this idea, but I really believe that animals are as essential to human life as air and water. Writing it down just now, it seems so obvious. Like saying, “I’ve realized the sky is blue.” But for me, this has been a gradual journey to realize how essential it is for me to connect with animals every day – birds, frogs, butterflies, dogs, cats, horses. What is it that animals bring to the human spirit or mind or body?

Leigh: I think, on a basic level, animals bring us back to our connection to nature, as us part of it. How wonderful is that? And with this comes our connection to so much more. As a culture we have strayed so far from that concept. We, as humans, think of ourselves as higher and separate from nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are part of nature. We are always connected, whether we are aware of it or not. So, when we have a moment, it is delightful but almost doesn’t seem real. And when it happens, it touches a deep place of knowing within us. We start to feel it. We start to crave it. We start to understand that this is part of who we truly are. We are here to be friends and stewards…caretakers…to those around whether plants, animals, insects. When we feel this connection, we want more of it. It is gently reminding us. We all really want to remember and know our true connection. It feels good. It feels good to make friends, to be connected to remember and tap into this source of connection not only to nature but an inner source.

Gigi: What I appreciated so much after Albert’s death is that you took my friendship with him seriously, as well as the mushrooming grief that just took over in the days immediately following his passing. You helped me open my mind to the idea that through reflection and meditation and honoring, I could stay related to Albert. I just hadn’t thought of it that way. Funny, because I do believe in life after death and that death brings us to a new road, but I was feeling very much like Albert’s death was the end of our friendship. And, that thought was unbearable. But, maybe it’s just going to become a different friendship? How is that possible, if neither he nor I can physically get to where the other is?

Leigh: It is possible because you can get to a place which is beyond the physical. It will be somewhat different because he is not here in the physical and you cannot interact in that realm. That is the hardest part for us since that is where most of our focus is. But, while it is true that he is not here with you in the physical…are you saying that your relationship with him, while he was here, only existed in the physical? That this was the only way you interacted with him, in the physical realm? No, of course not. The relationship you had with him was actually mostly beyond that already, in the heart-soul connection realm…through talks and chats and love and affection and sharing and laughter and joy and challenges and triumphs and questions and answers and sharing and love and affection…etc. Since we are, luckily, much more than our physical bodies and are only in them for a short while, ‘we’ exist beyond them. It takes some stretching…it takes some courage…but yes, when we reach…and allow…and engage, then the relationship can expand. It gives a great opportunity is to develop the relationship beyond the physical, open up, allow and receive a deeper experience of the love and relationship you two share.

Walking

Walking

Gigi: From your experience of helping people through such transitions, can you share one or two examples of how to continue to stay connected, and perhaps, even grow in friendship after death?

Leigh: I think one of the most important elements is to keep the beloved in your heart and allow space for them to communicate. Understand that the heart has its own language. Use your heart to convey the energy of the message you want to give. You just do this by feeling the message when you state it to them inwardly with your heart. Then, what is really hard for us humans, is allowing time and space for a reply. Keep in mind that the message will not (usually) be physically audible as we are used to. So, we have to rely deeper on feeling it or sometimes it comes as just knowing it. Some get images or symbols or thoughts. A good litmus test for what we are getting is to notice how we feel about the message or ‘checking in’ with our heart about it. We are often so worried about what others would think or sharing it and being judged. But, guess what? You don’t have to. It can be a beautiful, private message that you just know and are happy for and which settles your soul. The point is to keep them in your heart, send them love and messages and allow space for them to share back. Be open to receiving messages in different ways. Make time for it.  

Gigi: Also, after Albert died I was filled with deep regret. Even though I had the privilege of spending twelve years of my life with him and being present with him through many, many times of joy and hardship, in the end I wished I had done more and been better. Is that common for people to feel regret after the loss of an animal?

Leigh: Yes, it is very common. It is what humans do. Part of it is just our innate predisposition to feeling guilty and bad about ourselves. Part of it is that, in their death/physical absence, we realize a greater value.  We can take this in many different directions.

Gigi: Do you have any help for working through regret?

Leigh: It is a tough one and a place where we often get stuck indefinitely or for long periods of time. I think there are several different things we can do here. We can allow for this to be learning experience of things we would do differently next time. But to truly transition through regret, deeper work is needed. We need to see the good in what we are experiencing and we need to see the ways we can still accomplish what we want. For the first part, you are feeling regret because you wish you would have done more. Let’s break it down. More what? At this basis of this regret, is the desire to have alleviated pain, provided comfort, shared joy and love, etc. How beautiful is that? See that the fundamental desire is of good here. Give yourself love for having the desire to have wanted/wanting to do this. We can fully embrace the value we received from the relationship. We can also send love to it. This is one of my favorites and the next step in transitioning through regret. We can do this globally and specifically. If we understand that love transcends time and space, we can relive the moment, if we have regrets about a specific event. Except in this time, envision and experience your heart’s desire with the event. Play it out how you would have liked or want to experience in the actions and feelings. Doing this in a dedicated meditation is very powerful. It can neutralize the effects and let you feel things differently. It also engages, sends love and does the same for the beloved involved. You can actually do this with any event which still tugs at your heart. It elevates it to a higher level.

Becoming family

Becoming family

Gigi: One of my favorite writers, Eudora Welty, once wrote, “A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.” I’m so grateful that you photographed Albert many times over the course of his life. Collecting some of these images all in one place has proven remarkably therapeutic for me.  Likewise, I find myself wanting to tell stories about Albert. How can photographs and storytelling help in recovering from grief?

Leigh: I love photographs. I love them so much. I really feel they can be a source of connection to what was in that moment.  We can get there other ways, but so much of our experience is visual. The visual of loving experience (and loved one) can be a heart-opener to staying connected to them and our experience. Storytelling, through expression and sharing, is another way. It is a beautiful way to continue to experience the relationship. What you have done well is noticing these desires and following through on them. I was just writing a chapter about listening to what the heart needs in healing grief. It is also what the spirit or soul wants as it is coming through the heart. Sometimes, just following what the heart needs helps heal grief. Sometimes, in the process we get an understanding which is important for us. Sometimes it leads us to the next step. It also can just be an expression of love, which is always healing.

Gigi: This year, I’ve been reading and re-reading Zen Mind Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses by Allan J. Hamilton. I think you’d like this book. The author writes about breath, energy awareness, and honoring the nature of the horse standing before you. Here’s a passage:

“Truly archetypal horse cultures appreciated the horse precisely for his enhanced awareness. Mongols, Bedouins, and Native Americans all treated horses like relatives and brought their most valued ones right inside their dwellings. A prized warhorse was zealously guarded. An enemy would have to display great courage and skill to snake into the heart of his opponent’s enclave and steal such a horse. Acquiring a man’s warhorse was equivalent to stealing his power, his very soul.”

I take two thoughts from this paragraph. 1. It’s really interesting to think about the idea of a warhorse (or a wardog!), if I sidepass the literal meaning. When I replace ‘war’ with ‘life’, the image emerges of a companion who willingly and courageously accompanies me into the glorious and grisly encounters that are life. Maybe, a lifehorse or a lifedog? 2. The idea of an entwinement of souls with our beloved animals is resonant and expresses what I think the term ‘pet’ lacks…not pet but part of me.

Leigh: I just wrote recently about my understanding that my pets have taught me the true meaning of partnership. Meaning, they have been with me through many wars and battles and defeats. Animals, more than any, have not only shown me the greatest love, but have assisted in my soul’s development.  I think if we just open up to this idea a little, we would see could engage more with them, and nature to helps us. Nature and animals are always willing to assist us help us develop if we just listen and open up to them.

Playing

Playing

Gigi: An important focus of your ministry is the idea of honoring ceremonies for beloved animals after death. What is an honoring ceremony?

Leigh: Yes, I actually hold honoring ceremonies for both people and pets. Honoring ceremonies are a dedicated time to express love, honor and thanks to one who had great value in your life. I deeply believe that it is spiritually important to show honor and thanks in meaningful way. Plus, it just plain feels good to say thanks. It helps us as it fills a deeper emotional and spiritual of expressing honor and giving something back. It also helps the one be honored as it sends them love and elevates them. It is a gift to them. Honoring ceremonies can also be a bridge to connecting deeper with our beloved.

Gigi: How is that different from a funeral or memorial?

Leigh: An honoring ceremony fits a different need at a different time than a funeral. A funeral is usually held close to the time of death, helps with primary closure and serves a way of helping with the heavy emotions which accompany death. But grief does not end there. And often is more difficult, the deeper and more meaningful the relationship. We go through a long process of figuring out how to manage this change in our life. As time passes, we often still feel a deep lacking. There is something missing. We want to do something, to give them something. We want to have a way to show how much value they had/have to us.  An additional ceremony of honoring at this later time can do this. An honoring ceremony happens when it feels right. This could be weeks, months or even years after a death. It can also pave the way for the love to link to stronger reconnection and relationship.

Gigi: Thank you, again, so much for your support through Albert’s passing. And, thank you, too, for appearing on my blog. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you but that people ask you frequently that you’d like to share?

Leigh: My pleasure, it is an honor to know you, Albert and be a part of helping in this process. As far as other questions, what I see a lot (and have experienced a lot) is that state of feeling stuck…just being in a place where you do not know what to do or how to get out of where you are. And what I would say to people is to keep looking and reaching for the answer. It will come. And, when you don’t know what else to do, take a deep breath and think of that which you love. This helps get us to a more relaxed place and helps us to be in a better emotional space. It will also align you with where you need to be. The other thing you can do is to start to imagine what it would feel like to be completely healed. Even just the idea of this can be tremendously healing. But, if we can just spend even a few minutes a day in this space, more and more of it will come.

Gigi: Where can people learn more about your work?

Leigh: www.PetHonoring.com and www.SpiritHonoring.com Thank you for this opportunity. Thanks to those out there for their love of animals and engaging in expanding their heart. Blessings to you and your work.

Smiling

Smiling