Category Archives: Retreat Horses

Posts about our horses: their ups and downs, their adventures, their antics, their visitors, their new friends, their fans, their work and how they also pay-it-forward

Leo’s first ever Equine-assisted Psychotherapy session

Some of you may remember: Leo is the horse we rescued a couple of years ago, who on arrival here was little more than a bag of bones. Leo has been with us for three years now. He has made tremendous progress.

I thought the time was right to see if Leo, so traumatised and abused himself in the past, would be interested in helping our workshop participants resolve trauma they experienced previously. You can read more about Leo’s past here. So I asked my Belgian friend Kat if she would be interested in doing an equine-assisted psychotherapy session with Leo. Kat, herself a healer, and Leo, were both a bit nervous in the beginning. Kat is not familiar with horses and Leo has never worked with anyone else but me. Leo was a STAR, and so was Kat, working together to find common ground, both nervous, but both eager to find a way of communicating and helping each other. It was pure magic. It has taken me near three years to get Leo this point, to rebuild his trust in people, so much so that he would actually be willing to help them with their own problems. 

Here is Kat’s take on the experience:

Just follow your heart, Margaretha said…

I’m used to following my heart, when I work with adults, with children – when I teach, when I coach and when I heal. The only thing is that I’m a bit (read a whole lot) scared of horses. When you’re afraid, following your heart is not that easy.

The week before, Margaretha told me that she wanted to introduce me to Leo, so that I can work with him the following week. I tried to give him a carrot. As I reached out to him, he shied away and fled as if I was going to hit him with an axe. Equally sacred, I took a huge jump backwards.

With the assistance of Margaretha, whom I trust, and more importantly who Leo trusts, I managed to get him to eat a few carrots out of my hand, which Margaretha had to hold!

I could only imagine that during the following week, Margaretha had a good many nights of doubting, about her idea of me working with Leo. After almost three years of patience in trying to win his confidence and showing to Leo that people can be trusted, you do not want a nervous person to undo all of your achievements in a split second.

I, on the other hand, was prepared for the worst. In my mind’s eye and in my dreams, I saw a horse jumping and shying away from me. Anxiety is an emotion and mostly a product of our minds, so I decided to just be and breathe and see what happened. The worst thing that could happen is Leo jumping all over me.

The day we planned me working with Leo, I felt a bit nervous, so I grounded myself and did my full walking heart meditation. Without expectations and without a plan I entered the school.

Just follow your heart…. and so I did, I opened my heart for this wonderful being, let down and hurt by people. I just tried to establish a loving connection, kept my energy low, my movements very slow and calm.  I kept my distance and tried to make Leo curious. What happened I will remember the rest of my life. The pictures speak for themselves. I am so honoured to have attended this healing experience for Leo and for myself.

Thankfulness, Love and Joy. The power of the Hearth is the greatest Power in the World!

Thanks, Leo, thank you, Margaretha
Kat

I posted Kat and Leo’s adventure on my Facebook page and was completely overwhelmed by the encouraging response. You can read the comments here – the post is available for public viewing. I also recently wrote a blog post focusing on what Leo taught me about the pros and cons of mindfulness.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter at the top right of this page.

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Bestie Beasties

There is something to be said for internet friendships, and more specifically, Facebook friendships. Friends whom I have never met and probably never will, friends from other cultures who live thousands of kilometres away have enriched my life in more ways than I could possibly count. The internet has made it possible to stay in contact with these virtual friends of mine on a daily basis – friendships that would, in the past, before the internet, have been very difficult to nurture.

The internet has also made it possible for me these people and I feel immensely privileged to share their lives, their joys, their sorrows, they wisdom, their experience and their adventures. Henry David Thoreau said something that makes a lot of sense to me. He said, “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

I can now even talk to and admire pictures of those of my friends who live within driving distance of us. The only things I miss are the hugs. For that reason, I have chosen to feature my most huggable friends in this post, my horses. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

There is one thing I miss though. Not eye contact or facial expressions, when I miss those, we can always Skype. I miss the physical contact. The hugs, especially. For that reason, I have chosen to feature my most huggable friends in this post, my horses. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

Luckily, some of my most huggable friends live on the same 8 hectares that we do. I only have to walk out the front door and whistle, and hey presto, 800 kilogrammes of huggable friendliness strolls up to the paddock gate.  Meet them below and if you are interested in exchanging a hug or two with these gentle giants, join us for an equine-guided workshop here in the south of France. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is “friends.”

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If you prefer words to pictures, you can read more about friendship here: If you need a friend…

If you would like to follow our adventures, please subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter at the top right of this page.

If Wishes were Horses…

…then beggars would ride. This ancient English proverb, dating from the 16th century, suggests that if wishing could make things happen, then even the most destitute people would have everything they wanted. I get this. I know wishing is a waste of time, but still…I wish with all my heart and with every fibre of my being that my stallion Beau was still alive.

I miss him so much.

He is still the one and only.

He died on the 11 of April 2014, at the grand old age of 22, from colic. Beau was the inspiration, no, the foundation, the raison d’etre, of my book:

Below I am riding him with his two sets of reins in one hand, my right hand, as my left wrist is broken, fully confident that he will take care of me no matter what happens.

“Wishes are held to be ominous; according to which belief the order of the world is so arranged that if you have an impious objection to a squint, your offspring is more likely to be born with one; also, that if you happen to desire a squint, you would not get it. This desponding view of probability the hopeful entirely reject, taking their wishes as good and sufficient security for all kinds of fulfilment.”
― George Eliot

Post in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish

Grateful for what we have

If wishes were horses!

I wish we had a whirlpool/jacuzzi/spa tub at our retreat. It would have been wonderful to lie back into hot, swirling bubbles at the end of a busy day of walking meditation, writing meditation and working meditation sessions. Especially if we also did an equine-assisted experiential learning session. Instead, all we have is a 2 acre/1 Ha spring fed lake and a pond surrounded by mint, wild thyme and whispering reeds. Yes, I know I can sit on a sun lounger on the deck by the lake with a tall, cool drink (some of the ice-cold water from the mountain springs that feeds our lake will be pure bliss in the summer heat) and watch the sun set over the water. Or I could join the otters for a late afternoon swim in the lake. Or I could swing in a hammock over the water and watch the horses come down to the water for a drink. Or I could sit by the pond with my feet in the mint-scented water…

I also wish we had a sauna. Lots of retreat resorts have saunas. I would like one of the infra-red ones that warm up instantly. Just imagine all that blissful heat at the touch of a button. Yes, I know that we live in the south of France, where in the summer the temp goes up to 35° in the shade and where even in the winter we rarely have cause for complaint. I know I spent most of my days here trying to get out of the sun and into the shade. I know our guests love the endless, sunny, warm summer days. I know they love getting up early in the morning to see the sunrise while it is already warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt . I know they love the long, balmy summer evenings when the temperature stays in the mid-twenties until sunset at 10 o’clock at night…it is just the thought of having a sauna on site – such luxury!

I think our retreat could do with a live-in yoga instructor . I am seriously into yoga – I find it very relaxing (especially afterwards). I have come across hundreds (literally) of yoga retreats on the web. It would be great to have a yoga teacher here for our guests. Instead, we have to put up with nothing but miles of off-road footpaths through ancient woods, lush orchards, past quiet lakes, along manicured vineyards and flowered meadows for relaxing walks. I DO enjoy going for a long walk, maybe coming upon deer peacefully grazing in a lush green field, or a woodpecker building a 5* condo in an old oak tree in the woods or watching the swallows catching their dinner on the surface of a dark pond. I suppose I do enjoy doing some stretches on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere facing the rising sun, but a private yoga teacher, just for our retreat guests, would really make my day!

A detox diet regime might be a good idea too. I also saw loads of detox retreats on the web. I have hosted detox retreats in the past – my detox retreat was called the « Red Wine Retreat » (go figure) and was based on Prof Roger Corder’s research about the health benefits of red wine, specifically the famous Madiran wine of our region. The problem is, here in Gascony, we are surrounded and overwhelmed by nature’s bounty in every shape and form : fresh, home-grown fruit and vegetables, nuts from our neighbours’ trees, organic home-raised meat, fish from our own lake and free range poultry and eggs, some of the most delicious and excellent wines in all of France…a starvation diet here would be unthinkable. So we decided to feed our guests’ bodies as richly as we feed their minds. Gascony is, after all, a region famous for its extravagant gastronomy and exceptional wine

Silence might be beneficial too. I have also read about silent retreats on-line. Silent retreats are very popular. I can understand why people would refrain from talking during a retreat, in fact, we have a « no-talking » period to give our guests an idea of how this works, but we have no hope of creating total silence here, deep in the heart of a very active countryside. Sounds of nature keep shattering that so longed for silence: birdsong bursting our eardrums from sunrise to sunset, horses neighing and cantering up and down their paddocks, people joking and laughing while working in the vineyards surrounding us…it is only at night that silence reigns here profoundly and unperturbed.

Another thing I would appreciate would be a professionally designed and constructed meditation room. We have to make do with the deck by the lake – admittedly it is large, stretches out into the lake so that it feels as if you are sitting on water. There is a lot to be said for meditating outside, but when it rains we have to use the horses’ barn. It is true that the barn is very useful for equine-guided meditation, especially since we have installed sturdy tables for our guests to sit on when the horses join them for a meditation session, but I so admire the meditation rooms at huge retreats resorts in exotic locations! I suppose, for the time being, we will have to make do with our meditation labyrinth, our meditation station path on the island in the lake and the large number of secluded spots we have created for private meditation…

A small army of therapists to help us look after our guests would come in useful. All we have is a retired medical doctor (admittedly with many years of experience and a few decent qualifications), a wine expert (with a WSET diploma) and six supersmart horses. It does help that most of the horses also have many years of experience helping guests through equine-assisted experiential learning – (Belle de la Babinière has been on the job for nearly 10 years now) and that each of the horses bring their own individual characters and experiences to each session – some of our horses have suffered trauma eerily similar to the trauma our guests may have suffered in the past.. Aurileo d’Alegria, our cocky little Lusitano, was severely abused and on his way to the abattoir when we found out about his plight.

Sometimes I wish we were more isolated – like a lonely monastery on a mountain top – far from any interference from modern life. We are secluded, in our own little valley, on the edge of a typical south-of-France village, but we are not isolated. I suppose this does have the benefit that we are easy to reach. We are within less than 2 hours’ drive from 4 international airports: Bordeaux, Toulouse, Pau and Tarbes/Lourdes – our guests often spend a day on arrival or departure at the world famous Lourdes pilgrim site. I suppose it is also useful to have access to all mod con’s even though we are steadily working towards self-sufficiency and to be close to local weekly fresh food markets, as part of the aim of our retreat is to introduce our guests to the lifestyle that allows people of this region to live long, fit and healthy lives.

Huge bedrooms with every luxury imaginable would be interesting. We do not have bedrooms the size of aeroplane hangers. We have cosy bedrooms, with exposed, 200+-year-old oak beams supporting the ceiling, more oak beams in the half-timbered walls and terracotta tiles/oak floor boards. Each of our bedrooms is individually decorated, along the «Romantic French Country Style » (you can find out more about this style of interior decorating on my Pinterest board with the same name). Our guest accommodation is in a separate farmworker’s cottage, with its own kitchen (for that midnight cup of redbush tea), and its own sitting and dining room with an ancient open fireplace that now sports a cast-iron wood-burner. It also has a dainty little porch where our guests can sit and eat their breakfast looking out over the horse paddocks. No large and luxurious bedrooms, I am afraid, but the cottage does have free wifi.

Another thing on my wish list is a top-of-the-range, fully-fitted kitchen with every modern appliance/gadget ever invented. At the moment all our meals are cooked in a 200+-year-old farmhouse kitchen with a humongous bread oven; we often have an open fire going in the bread oven. It is true that we have spent many happy hours there, some in the company of our guests, cooking together, laughing and sampling a variety of wines (while pretending we are choosing the right wine to complement a specific dish). It is also true that our kitchen, in its current shape, is the inviting and welcoming hub of the house and that many a guest and I have shared and solved problems while sitting at the table shelling peas or skinning potatoes.

 I think, in retrospect, that I am quite perfectly happy and deeply grateful for what we already have – our retreat guests certainly appreciate what we have to offer them: “Ah, that brought a smile to my face:-) I think about you and your fur family SO often – your farm is my go-to daydreaming place. I smile just thinking about the space, the lake, all my horse friends (who thought I’d ever say that!) and the cats walking through the paddocks.” Claire-Marie M.

 CLICK HERE to find out more about our Personal Empowerment Workshops

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”  Seneca

Comparing Meditation Retreats

Grateful to be home again!

It’s Sunday morning and time to share a cup of coffee – or tea, if you prefer, I can brew you up a tisane in no time or maybe you would like some of the Rooibos (Redbush) tea I bought back from holiday. More about redbush tea below.

After more than 12 months of renovating house, land and lake, and an autumn season of Mindfulness Meditation Retreats with Horses, we finally found time to go on holiday. We needed a complete break and we also needed to see neglected friends and family, so we were away for several weeks. When I came home on Thursday, I was very grateful to discover that: 

  1. No-one had killed anyone else

  2. No-one has gotten anyone else pregnant

  3. No-one has pigged out and gained loads of weight

  4. No-one got ill requiring expensive medical care

  5. No-one has absconded or been kidnapped

  6. No one has driven the people who looked after them round the bend

  7. No-one has torn their winter wardrobe to shreds

  8. No-one has injured themselves (accidently or on purpose) that would require lots of time off work

  9. No-one gave birth (yet)

  10. No-one has had a friend over to stay (permanently)

Everyone looked healthy and happy to see me. There were some complaints about the quality and quantity of food served in my absence, there was a lot of talk about the recent storms, rain and prevailing muddy conditions, one or two mentioned how nice it was not to have to work while I was away (lazy slobs) and there was a lot of good-humoured reporting of Leo’s exasperating antics.

Got to love ’em, bless their feathered fetlocks.

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Only 38 days until spring and the start of our mindfulness meditation retreat with horses season, time to get this lot back into work, methinks.

Talking about the retreats, redbush tea is one of our retreat guests’ favorite drinks (only the water from out springs is more popular). Guests can brew a pot 24/7 in the guest wing’s kitchen and in the summer there is often a jug of iced redbush tea in the fridge so that guests can benefit from the tea’s various qualities. Possible health benefits of Red RooibosTea include (more studies are needed to confirm these):

Redbush tea contains polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimutagenic properties. Polyphenols are antioxidants that act as destructors of free radicals, the detrimental byproducts of cell metabolism that can cause illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

Redbush tea is caffeine-free, which means people who suffer from insomnia and crave a hot drink at bedtime can drink it without fear of caffeine causing them to lie awake the whole night long.

Redbush tea is believed to relieve stress, anxiety and hypertensive conditions. Hypertension can lead to dangerous diseases like heart attacks and strokes.

Redbush tea is rich in calcium, manganese and fluoride – minerals that can assist in maintaining bone structure and strong teeth. These minerals can reduce one’s chances of developing conditions like osteoporosis. Manganese stimulates the enzymes that build and repair bone. Fluoride is related to dental health and is often found in mouthwashes and toothpaste.

Quercetin, another powerful antioxidant found in redbush tea, has been linked to the prevention of a wide variety of heart conditions. It is believed to be anti-inflammatory and to reduce blood pressure by destroying free radicals. It promotes an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and inhibits the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) that block blood vessels (atherosclerosis) causing heart attacks and strokes. Quercetin and bioflavonoids may also help to prevent hemorrhaging.

Anecdotally, redbush tea can be used to soothe children suffering from colic(stomach pain). The exact mechanism by which it soothes colic is unknown.

Aspalathin, a rare antioxidant found in redbush tea, may help to balance blood sugar levels, improve insulin resistance, increase the glucose absorption by muscles and boost the insulin secretion from the pancreas, helping to prevent type II Diabetes.

The alpha hydroxy acid and zinc in redbush tea can reduce the signs of wrinkles and other premature aging symptoms.

As there is no oxalic acid in redbush tea, it does not cause or worsens kidney stones.

Redbush tea contains antispasmodic agents that can ease severe stomach cramps and abdominal pains.

Redbush tea is also used to alleviate allergies like eczema, hayfever and allergy-related bronchitis.

I love iced redbush tea with lemon; I don’t know how many gallons I drank while on holiday. If you would like to try some, you can place an order here: The Redbush Tea Company: 80 Original Redbush Teabags

This post is part of the MJP Gratitude Challenge and the Ten Things of Thankful Challenge (#10Thankful). If you click on either of these links, you will find several more similar posts to read and you may even decide to add one yourself.

#weekendcoffeeshare

 

This post is also part of the #Weekend Coffee Share collection of blog posts, hosted by Diana of Parttime Monster.com.