Back on the road again and finally having time to write here in my blog. I get so focused and busy when I’m home that it just doesn’t seem to happen!
It’s 5:30 AM here in Slovenia at the Kaja & Grom Ranch and it just seems natural to pick up the pen and start sharing our road experiences. Oops, I mean turn on my trusty computer named Spirit and let my fingers fly.
It was hard saying goodbye to Rayne and heading out on a 3-month teaching tour. But I knew she was in good hands when our house sitter from Germany, Dirk Geise, greeted Rayne upon the day of his arrival with a kiss on the top of her snow-white, Westie head. She accepted him immediately as well as his soft-spoken, lovely girlfriend Julia. Dirk met Rayne 4 years ago on his trip to Hawaii with his Mom, Susanne Geise, who is a gynecologist and certified TTouch for You Practitioner. Interesting that Rayne accompanied Dirk and Julia enthusiastically on their early-morning walks on the golf course, something she is not always prone to do with new dog sitters. She can do a lot of sniffing and investigating to see who has passed before. Rayne came to us 11 years ago when she was already 5 months old and learned from the beginning that we would only be home with her 5 months a year. The rest of the time she has dog-loving people who come from Europe or mainland U.S. to spend the time in Hawaiian Paradise. She now thinks that anyone who comes to visit us may be her next sitters. We don’t always find dog/house sitters who can spend 2 or 3 months – the usual length of our teaching tours. This time, for instance, Dirk and Julia will be there for 2 weeks. Then Kim, my assistant who lives in my condo just up the street, will take over for a week and introduce Ingrid Wild and her family to Rayne. Ingrid is a TTEAM/TTouch Practitioner 2 from Germany and this will be her first trip to Hawaii. Ingrid took some of the photos for my book, The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book. Ingrid will be with Rayne for 3 weeks and then hand the gauntlet off to Daniela Zurr and her partner who will stay until Roland returns and then she will be coming to Santa Fe to present at the TTouch CELLebration!
Daniela is a Level III TTouch practitioner for Companion Animals and a TTouch-for-you-Practitioner. She is also a veterinarian working in a holistic veterinary practice and has a degree in behavior medicine with a special interest in the brain, cell communication and the interactions between diseases and behavior problems. Mostly working with dogs and cats, she also practices reptile medicine and uses TTouch on many different species. In addition to animals, Daniela is certified as a TTouch for You Practitioner for humans. Her presentations on cell communication and the interactions between diseases and behavior problems are fascinating, clear and applicable for every dog owner.
Kim Cox Carneal, who has picked up the mantle as my right-hand support for social networking – she advises and inspires me to twitter and keep up my Facebook and manages my blog – drove us to the airport. It is almost 2500 miles just to get to the California coast, so we paused in San Francisco and stayed overnight. We have been working such long hours on the CELLebration that once we hit the hotel room we decided to take some time off and watch a movie until 1:30 AM. It was inspiring and fun and I wish I could remember the name to recommend it but its gone!!
I slept in until 9 a.m. and then headed out of the hotel with my trusty Alpine sticks to walk along the jogging trail that borders the water north of the San Francisco airport. I have been walking with Alpine walking sticks since June and now find walking a totally different experience. I have them instead of normal Nordic walking sticks because that was all that was available at our sports outlet on the island. I don’t know what the difference is because I’ve never had a close look at a Nordic stick but maybe they don’t collapse and fit into a suitcase like mine do. Anyway, it’s amazingly invigorating having that clicking rhythm and movement of my arms. I’ve been doing what I call “dolphin breathing” for many years to oxygenate my body – to activate those little lung balloons called alveoli – and I had a refreshing walk. I’ve lost 16 pounds between June 9 and today and am thrilled beyond words.
I’ve been on one diet or another since I was 12 years old and this was the easiest and the most necessary since I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic after my annual medical checkup. I’m going to write about how I did it another time since I’ve been on many diets nothing has been as easy or felt any better than this way of eating. Perhaps its because of the dire necessity. I am determined to get my body under control and not fall into type II diabetes like a friend of mine did after ignoring the seriousness of the pre-diabetic warning.
We boarded the United Airlines 747 at 2:00 pm and no words can express my gratitude for the upgrades to business class. The new intercontinental airplanes have amazing seats that flatten completely so if you are inclined to sleep, it’s possible. However, they also have standard plugs for computers so I spent most of the 9 hour flight on my computer, with time out when I began to flag, to fit in 2 movies – “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock (one of my all-time favorite actresses) and a movie called something like “the Ghosts of My Girlfriends” – actually enjoyable.
Slovenia 2009 marks my 4th year with Darja and Andrej Znidarsic at Ranch Kaja & Grom!
We landed in Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, at 1:00 pm after a 3-hour layover in Frankfurt. I wish I could find adequate words to describe the beauty of this country. Towering mountains and green forests and fields surround the tiny airport. We drove through many long tunnels through the mountains and passed small herds of sheep and cattle grazing on the slopes above picturesque houses, all with large vegetable and flower gardens, reminiscent of my childhood memories of the garden of my grandmother. Maybe that’s why I love this country so much. It just seems like we drop out of the sky into another era, not so rushed, somehow more organic and heartfelt.
Speaking of heartfelt, that is the feeling I have as I sit in the quiet of the morning when only the roosters are crowing and no one else has stirred. This house is completely made of wood, something we rarely experience and it gives a very different feeling. Pinewood floors, walls and ceilings, much of it lovingly built by Darja and Andrej Znidarsic.
When we drove in there was a large group of children and parents ready for Andrej to give a final riding lesson to show the parents what the kids had learned during the week.
We all headed down to the riding arena, took our places in the grandstand along the side of the arena, and were treated to one of the most inspiring human/animal connections I could imagine. What was so unusual, you must be thinking. The attitude of the horses! Here were 4 school horses who have been working all summer, with a different group of children each week, and yet they looked interested and happy. I don’t ever remember seeing a group of school horses looking happy. It made my heart sing because the horses gave me the impression that they knew they were participating in giving these city kids special gifts that they would remember for countless years to come.
And these horses are no spring chickens. “Enter,” the 18-year-old, 17-hand bay Warmblood gelding is the designated leader of the column. His ears were always up in spite of the fact that he is a little stiff, yet gave me the impression of being pleased to work. The second in line, 25-year-old Lipizzaner Jaddan, trooped along as though his whole aim in life was to give his inexperienced riders confidence. That was the way he looked through three groups of children, each group riding for about 20 minutes. The 15-year-old, shiny black half-Arabian mare, Gaia, was aiming an occasional, half-hearted bite at the rump of Jaddan, while 17-year-old Arabian gelding Pegasus brought up the rear without having to be pushed or held back.
I compare this to the times I’ve watched a column of school horses, in several countries, creating real havoc for inexperienced riders, either hanging back so the rider was desperately banging on the horses ribs with her heels, feeling desperately inadequate, or the opposite, where the horse is too fast and the rider is hanging on the mouth in an attempt not to override the horse ahead. None of this happened here, in spite of the fact that some of the children had only ridden 4 times in their entire lives. How did Andrej manage this? By controlling the horses from the ground with a lounge whip which he used gently only a couple of times to ask Enter to move on a little. I say gently, because his voice is always soothing and encouraging – never demanding – for both horses and riders.
These kids, the majority of them very inexperienced, proudly demonstrated to their parents some of the riding exercises they had learned. With the reins dropped on the horses’ necks, they rode at the posting trot with their arms out to the sides, with arms above their heads, behind their backs, and did the sitting trot – sensibly holding onto the saddle pommel to make this difficult exercise more comfortable for themselves and their horses. When they finished and lined up in the center of the ring each rider first bent forward and hugged their horses around the necks and every one of them was able to demonstrate trust of their horses by standing straight up in the saddle and bowing to the spectators-–a remarkable feat considering so little riding experience. The horses stood stock still for this and then each one good-naturedly accepted a smooch on the neck as their riders said goodby for the last time, before the next group came in to mount.
If you’ve never observed the average school string you cannot imagine how unusual the attitude of the horses was.
More About Ranc Kaya & Grom and the School
Darja and Andrej, sometimes with the support of their children, 20-year-old Manca and 17-year-old Alijaz run the programs. This was the end of nine weeks of summer camp. Each week 15 children between the ages 7 and 18 come to spend 5 nights. Over the past 20 years there have been kids from Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Croatia, some years from France, Germany, Russia and China. Two weeks are reserved especially for older kids, one week for children 7 to 12 years old, and the rest of the weeks are made up of kids of mixed ages. Each year they take a special group of 5 to 7 boys, ages 13 to 18 who come from France with 5 teachers. These are teenagers who are living in a home that is part of a national French organization for youth who have been confined due to criminal activity and one more incident will land them in juvenile jail. The success of the program is due to the fact that if one boy errs his entire group will be incarcerated. Darja and Andre have been working with this French organization annually for the last three years and Darja feels their success is due to the horses and the fact that, instead of seeing the boys as bad, she holds the highest potential for each child.
Besides the summer camp, beginning each year in April children come from the school districts all over Slovenia for half-day, one day and three-day ranch experiences that includes TTouch and TTEAM with the horses, forest skills, interactive games and spending time with the horses, dogs, sheep, chickens, goats and a potbellied pig. They learn to TTouch and communicate with the animals, ride, and connect with the Spirits of the forest, draw, cook, and camp out in the woods that surround the ranch.
I first met Darja at Equitana in Germany 14 years ago and she was completely taken with TTouch and the whole TTEAM method. She has since become a Practitioner 1 for Horses and is working on her companion animal certification. 2000 children a year have been learning TTouch at Ranc Kaja & Grom and last year their ranch was made an official Animal Ambassador and TTEAM and TTouch Center. If anyone wants to work with children I highly recommend spending some weeks interning with Darja who is one of the most innately brilliant teachers I have had the privilege of knowing. To see a collection of photos from the summer go to http//picasaweb.google.si/aljozazo/7net16821809TTEAM1#.