The Breakthroughs I Made in a Natural Horsemanship Clinic

I stood in the ring holding a lunge whip and Shadow, my lesson horse, by a lunge line. For me, this was new ground, having jumped at the opportunity to participate in an hourlong session at Course Brook Farm with trainer, Beth DiCicco of Wolf Ridge Farm.

My session was scheduled at 3PM, as the fifth participant of six. Just prior to my session Beth demonstrated her genius by lunging a Percheron mix into a trot and canter in the round pen, a mammoth of a horse who had refused to move a foot forward in two years.

The temperature was ungodly; close to 90 degrees and the air hung thick like soup. I was soaked through, hadn’t eaten lunch and when I walked into the ring with Shadow, I became overwrought in nerves, thinking I’ve never done any groundwork before and what was I thinking signing up for this? For life experience has taught me valuable lessons. At 55 that means eschewing situations in which I don’t excel (which in my current repertoire is limited to riding).

I found my voice and laid out the truth to Beth: I was a novice, low in confidence, high in over-analyzing and possessed a startle reflex that doesn’t in any way shape or form align with being in the saddle. My goal for the session I told her? I was to walk away feeling more victorious than discouraged, no matter how little progress we were to make.

We did the groundwork. Lead exercises, leg yields, keeping my horse out of my personal space, moving him backwards, halting, turning on his forehand and hindquarters, use of a flag stick on six different touch points on his body to earn his trust. I felt supported and by everyone there.

Looking on from a COVID-19-friendly distance as Beth teaches me how to move the horse’s forehand without touch.

But the lunging! I was tripping over the lunge line and hitting Shadow with the whip despite him moving right along in a circle. It was the last exercise and I finished the session feeling exhausted and disappointed at my botched attempt at bonding with my horse.

I woke up the following morning in a dark and heavy cloud, feeling blue. I closed my eyes and questioned myself: What is it at the core of that session that is really eating at me?

A voice whispered into my ear. It said, you seek to be one with a horse, not in charge.

It resonated.

I know all you horsey people out there bank on the relationship between horse and rider to be a partnership; but ultimately, the rider is dominant over the horse for a myriad of reasons (e.g. safety, discipline). I get it. The thing is to “dominate” the horse is not in my nature.

When I was making contact with Shadow with the whip by mistake while I lunged him, I kept telling him “Sorry, Shadow.”

This sentiment did not “resonate” with Beth: “Lisa! Don’t apologize!”

See, this is my point. I’m really after some kind of fairy tale version of horse and human interaction. You know, like Black Stallion. This is why my riding lessons don’t go well. My aids are limited to little taps with the crop and subtle kicking after I’ve made “the ask” two times.

I am not an alpha, I am not a leader. Coming from a woman who has rescued a number of fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, lagomorphs, cats and dogs, which could in itself constitute its own rescue, I am…strictly…a nurturer.

My horsewomanship is not only flawed, it’s a gaping abyss.

But wait—what is it that they say about taking the path of least resistance?

Last winter I got so frustrated with my lack of riding skills (aka command over the horse), I put off lessons with Linda, my riding teacher, telling her it was too cold to ride. (Well, twenty degrees is too cold.)

But I’ve since returned to Course Brook, taking trail rides on Shadow because Linda, being the good soul that she is, encouraged me to come back and do something “fun” to feed my “love of horse.” Consider this a reversal of the damage done by Dink Ironsides, my riding teacher in early teens. While I cantered and jumped, I still trotted on the wrong diagonal. He fired me as his student for” riding like a savage.”

Now we’re talking: the Black Stallion thing.

The victory?

I had tried doing the groundwork, pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

The other victory?

Electing to do the trail rides with Linda—that’s the path of least resistance. It’s the Black Stallion thing. See, we’re always learning. Life is a journey filled with good teachers and good lessons. And for now, this path on my journey suits me just fine.

This essay was published in Horse Network, August 20, 2020.

Oh, and incidentally, I came across this meditation by Jess of Rising Higher Meditation. I traveled ‘into the void’ mounted atop a black stallion!

Receive Insight, Clarity & Wisdom. Horse Medicine Powerful Guided Meditation Into The Unknown


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021 and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Third Generation Suffragist Rides for Women’s Equality

This essay was featured in Horse Network, 7/23/2020.

A long rider, according to the Long Rider’s Guild, is someone who has ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey.

Bernice Ende has ridden over 30,000 miles on horseback since 2005, by herself, across the U.S. and Canada. Her longest ride—traveling coast-to-coast and back, dating from 2014–2016—covered an epic 8,000 miles.

I first encountered the “Lady Long Rider” on the page.

As a book lover with a proclivity to read about women who have endeavored and achieved the impossible, I was drawn to her book, Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback. I quickly learned at the root of her long rides pursuit is the sentiment that her freedom to ride was won by the courageous suffragists, who over a hundred years ago, never gave up their fight for equality.

“It is these women, including my maternal grandmother and great aunts,” Bernice says, “who cleared a wide path for me to travel where there was once no path at all.”

In her rides, in her book, and in her countless appearances across the country, Bernice’s mission has been to encourage women to strive for greater participation in leadership.

“Right or left makes no difference to me,” she says. “But women need to go beyond their fears and become more active in political, social and economic areas, standing beside men, not behind, in making world changes.”

Bernice with her Fjords Montana Spirit and Essie Mae. Photo courtesy of Nancy Dodd Photography Studio

Ironically, many assume Bernice longs for a simpler time. Her ability to weather the terrain and elements and live in simplicity off the land with her horses often prompts people to remark: “I bet you wish you lived a hundred years ago” is a common remark.

Bernice’s reply is always the same. “But I wouldn’t have been able to vote!”

RELATED: Read “I Met My Hero at EQUUS Film Festival.“

“President Wilson! How long must women wait for liberty?”

Suffragists began their organized fight for women’s equality in 1848, when they demanded the right to vote during the Seneca Falls Convention.

Sentiment among the male population—post the Civil War (1861–1865)—ranked among President Wilson’s: “Girls aren’t smart enough to vote.” Theologian Lyman Abbott, writing for The Atlantic in 1903, described women who would attempt “man’s function” as “monstrosities of nature.”

That mindset continued for decades. Before World War I (1914–1918), suffragists were claimed to have been instigating a “petticoat coup,” destroying the family unit. In the New York Times in 1913, a reporter wrote, “All the rumpus about female suffrage is made by a very few of our disoriented sisters.”

In the spring of 1917, the President was a “firm believer” in liberty and was quoted as saying, “liberty is the fundamental demand of the human spirit,” but would close his eyes as he was driven past the women protesting for their right to vote outside the White House. He realized these women weren’t going to stand down and could no longer ignore their plea.

Someone ‘clever’ once said women were not allowed pockets in case they carried leaflets to spread sedition. –Susan Owens, Dangerous Curve

The Passage of the 19th Amendment

Since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, women leaders relentlessly protested for the right to the ballot. Even still, it was some 70 years until the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Susan B. Anthony Amendment on May 21, 1919. The U.S. Senate followed suit two weeks later on June 4, 1919.

Photo courtesy of Ben Allan Smith (The Missoulian)

Before it could be added to the Constitution, the 19th Amendment needed to be ratified by 3/4ths of the-then-48 states. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the last state needed. And on August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation declaring the 19th Amendment part of the U.S. Constitution, forever protecting American women’s right to vote.

We’ve Come Far, but …

The quickly approaching centennial of the 19th Amendment’s passage is a cause for celebration and we continue to see women’s progress in playing a transformative role in political arenas. More women than ever before are running for Congress and governorships and serving in the House and in the Senate.

But the feminist movement is still thwarted by many of the same hindrances that complicated the fight for voting rights a hundred years ago. When will we see our first woman president? Our fight for equality continues.

And Bernice remains committed to her role in it.

Before the pandemic, she and her support team began organizing the “Lady Long Rider’s Suffragist Tour” in honor of the centennial. Bernice and her horses were to launch the tour with the 4th of July parade in Choteau, Montana. She would have then ridden to the home of Janette Rankin in Helena, the first woman senator. In Rochester, New York, she had planned to visit the homes of Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The tour was to include a stop at Seneca Falls.

As with many events this year however, the Suffragist Tour has been cancelled due to COVID-19. But her fight for equality and epic travels continues—on the page and the screen. Bernice has started a second book with the working title, “Mothers, Aunts, Suffragettes, and Lady Long Riders.” The documentary by W+E1 Productions about her life will be entered in the EQUUS Film and Arts Fest November 2020 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The road to equality may be long and difficult to navigate. But that’s exactly what the Lady Long Rider does best.

Learn more about Bernice at www.endeofthetrail.com. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback!


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021 and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Who Says You Can’t Get Married at the Barn?

Honored Horse Network picked up my “bit” on getting “hitched” with 2 horses standing in as our witnesses.

On Thanksgiving weekend I sat atop Shadow, one of the two lesson horses I ride, just outside the indoor, wallowing in the delight of being at the barn as I chatted with my riding teacher and a couple of other riders.

Getting married was on my mind. My fiancé and I had been engaged a year and chose January 10th as our wedding date but remained undecided on a venue for the eight-minute-and-seven-second private ceremony.

Our Justice of the Peace had offered to officiate at her home. But I had no attachment to her home. Or to the insides of a church. My attachment, naturally, is was here in the saddle, with my horsey peeps, surrounded by nature and everything-equine. The question came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was asking.

“Linda,” I said to my riding teacher. “Could Dennis and I get married here?”

She didn’t even know we were engaged—I wore riding gloves. Her jaw gaped in surprise. The other riders smiled on.

I said, “You know, here?

Linda recovered her good-natured demeanor in no time. But not before I asked, “With our J.P. and Shadow and Nacho as our two witnesses?”

Linda’s smile was a mile wide. “Let me check with the powers that be,” she replied.

The farm’s owners not only agreed to allowing the ceremony on the property but were thrilled at the prospect.

On a subsequent ride with my two friends, Courtney and Candace, we picked out a spot for the wedding, near the outdoor dressage arena, on the grass before a long sweeping row of cattails that tapered well over ten feet high. It was perfect.

On our wedding day, fourteen years to the day we met, Dennis and I stood before Gayle, our J.P. with Linda and Nacho to Dennis’s side, and Shadow by my own. A video camera was propped on a table, recording.

Gayle began reciting the gathering words of the horsey-themed script:

“Lisa and Dennis, after many years as a committed and loving couple, we gather at Course Brook Farm, in Sherborn, Massachusetts, a very special place where Lisa enjoys riding Shadow and Nacho, guided by her kind, patient and encouraging teacher, Linda Smith. We are grateful to Linda and the Mayo family, owners of Course Brook Farm, for their kindness and generosity.

Our purpose for gathering today is to give a new official status to the life that you share. Your lives already are tied together by a deep personal commitment; your marriage is an affirmation and acknowledgement of all that you are to each other. Marriage gives structure and security to a couple’s love. Marriage is a commitment to life, the best that two persons can find and bring out in each other.”

At this juncture in the speech, Shadow and Nacho began ferociously feeding on the frozen grass. Linda had Nacho by the reins, he was well off to the side and not particularly disruptive. Shadow, on the other hand, kept turning his hindquarters to the camera.

What was that thing that W.C. Fields said? Never work with animals or children on live TV?

No matter. I turned Shadow 180 degrees for the second time and announced, “This is going to be a very fluid and dynamic ceremony.”

There was laughter, a whinny from one of the horses in the paddocks. Gayle resumed her task and asked for our consent to one another and instructed Dennis and I to recite our vows:

“Lisa, before you, life was a chore. With you, life is a joy. I want to share in that joy with you for the rest of my life.”

“Dennis, me without you is like sky without blue. As long as there is sky, I shall be with you.”

Shadow was stepping squarely on my foot. Good thing I was wearing cowboy boots, not high heels. I nudged him off my foot as he continued to power through the grass like a fairway mower.

Linda began the reading, the foreword to Dr. Allan J. Hamilton’s book Lead with Your Heart… Lessons from a Life with Horses.

[As humans, we] insist that space represents a “final frontier.” We look out into the depths of the universe with the same naivete that the conquistadors and The Pioneers demonstrated when they faced unexplored territories. Our first instinct is to try to possess it and tame it, not to truly, simply dwell in it. We want to be “out there” rather than “in here.” We see the challenge and the struggle as existing outside ourselves rather than within.

Horses see things differently. They are large and powerful animals and can at times be intimidating up close, but they are the prototypical prey species. They offer us a practical method to see meaningful alternatives to our own voracious way of life. When we spend the time to see the world through their eyes, we can visualize a path to transform our predatory appetites. They challenge us to undertake the journey of mastering ourselves, rather than everything around us.

Teaching without preaching, horses lead by example and employ the lessons of experience. They epitomize immersive learning at its best. And they challenge us with their formidable size and strength to bring results through collaboration rather than by force. Horses have developed their own compelling models of fairness, forgiveness, and leadership. They have acquired a group identity, a consciousness not as singular beings but as members of a family, a herd. They see themselves not as individuals in the isolated context of “me” but as relatives in a family in the broader framework of “we.” And they derive a powerful and gratifying sense of inclusion from it.

Horses share resources for the benefit of the herd. They are a wise, gentle species that eschews the notion that might defines right. While stallions with their reproductive imperative come and go, the alpha mare endures as herd leader. Because they understand what it means to be hunted, horses have the most profound appreciation for the benefits of peace. They yearn for harmony, kindness, and tranquility; they crave freedom from anxiety, abuse and predation. With their nonviolent attitude, horses are a testament that a partnership based on trust is far more productive than one that relies on dominance.

I thanked Linda for her heartfelt reading. Shadow was eating the grass at my feet in such a way that his body made my own disappear; the camera was only capturing my head, a centaur in the midst of getting hitched. Nacho had stopped eating grass and was pawing the ground with his left foreleg. Was this his sign of consent?

Gayle was moving to the ring exchange. Dennis and I didn’t want wedding bands, this wasn’t our first rodeo, and I neglected to give him my engagement ring before the ceremony. I placed Shadow’s reins between my legs, a gesture that would make any true equestrian cringe, and pulled at the glove on my left hand. Shadow, sensing the loosening of the reins, moseyed after more grass.

My glove fell to the ground. I picked it up, took off my ring and handed it to Dennis. Linda was giggling. Nacho was nodding his head up and down in great big gestures. Gayle was maneuvering away from Shadow’s roving hindquarters.

Time skipped and stymied until I realized Dennis was holding the ring before my finger “Lisa, each time you put on this ring, may it remind us both of the love and joy and commitment we share.”

I regained presence of mind. I smiled to Dennis and thought, yes, this is very nice, thank you.

Gayle pronounced:

“Dennis and Lisa, you have chosen each other from among all others to journey through life together. Today, you shared with one another words of trust and loving commitment, and you consented to marriage. Now it is my privilege to say, by the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but most especially by the power of your own love, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may seal your marriage with a kiss or a neigh!”

After Dennis and I engaged in quick smooch, Linda made the suggestion of a lifetime. “Let’s move the horses to the frozen footing of the dressage arena for picture taking!”

“Good thinking,” I said, laughing and leading Shadow a mere ten feet away to solid ground, where the horses behaved picture-perfect, calm and sweet and even, comical, and we stole away with beautiful snapshots that will forever seal my desire to get married in the presence of horses.


Afterword:

Dennis and I reached out to Dr. Hamilton to tell him we excerpted his introduction to Lead with Your Heart. We were thrilled to receive a note back from him!

Dear Lisa and Dennis:

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful note. I am overjoyed that the book moved you and could be incorporated into your wedding. This is a great honor. My wife (Jane) of forty-five years and I wish you and Dennis a life together filled with joy passion, and purpose.

Best,

Allan J. Hamilton, MD, FACS, FAANS

[our note to Dr. Hamilton}

Dear Dr. Hamilton,

Preparing for our equine-themed wedding last week, we stumbled across Lead with Your Heart and were moved to excerpt a significant piece of your introduction for the reading that gave context to the ceremony. We shared the story, Who Says You Can’t Get Married at the Barn, with Carley at Horse Network, who published it.

We are currently enjoying your book.

Horse Network also published The Breakthrough I Witnessed in the Healing Power of Horses, which I hope you might enjoy.

Thank you for your wonderful contributions!

Yours truly,

Lisa Mae DeMasi & Dennis Ravenelle


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

I Met My Hero at the EQUUS Film Festival

Horse Network picked up this story on December 11, 2019.

On a hectic Monday morning just three days before the EQUUS Film Fest, I received an email from Bernice Ende, author of Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback, informing her followers that she’d be attending the event. I was struck with disappointment. How would I be able to get a plan into place so quickly and put off work deadlines to get there?

Reading about Bernice’s adventures and her gumption to cover thousands upon thousands of miles riding by her lonesome through the wilds and cities in the U.S., Canada and Europe on horseback had made a lasting impression on me. This was a woman I wanted to meet.

My fiancé walked in the room and found me staring into space. “What’s up?” he asked.

“I’m going to meet Bernice,” I answered in a trance. “In Lexington.”

The travel plans came together seamlessly. Within minutes upon arrival to the Kentucky Horse Park, I bumped into Bernice. I was going into the Visitor’s Building; she was heading to the International Horse Museum to meet and greet and sell her books. I was overwhelmed with happiness at meeting this woman who I deeply revere.

Bernice took my hand in hers and we walked over to two mounted policewomen and as we stood there talking to them, EQUUS Film Fest founder Lisa Diersen snapped a photo.

Bernice and me with Mounted Police at Kentucky Horse Park.

Bernice and I became fast friends. She signed my book; we unpacked things for her display; I served as her ambassador when attendees inquired about Lady Long Rider. After a long day at the Fest, we enjoyed a cocktail and fabulous dinner at Malone’s—just her and me—and we talked and talked. About her next ride, about my own memoir, about the universe granting my wish to meet her, about people and horses and dogs we’ve loved.

Why are we drawn to certain people? Do we see a bit of ourselves in their demeanors and ambitions? Is it reverence? Admiration for those who have courage and resilience to overcome real hardship? An incredible feat we wish we could accomplish but cannot?On Sunday afternoon, Diersen discreetly informed us that Bernice would be winning the Fest’s literary contest that evening for Long Lady Rider. Bernice had a flight to catch and would not be attending the awards ceremony. She asked me to accept the award on her behalf! What a thrill!

I immediately began preparing a speech in my head for the crowd, saying how honored I was to meet Bernice in person and the big magic that brought us together. But there would be no time for speeches, no matter how short.

Bernice and I shared one last meal together at Red State Barbeque before catching an Uber to the airport. In between making her laugh, she told me that although she would beginning short rides in March, she had been thinking about laying down roots in New Mexico—where she currently resided in her trailer with her horses. That the cabin she’s loved for years in Montana no longer held appeal for her. And I shared with her that I too was seeking a transformation or breakthrough.

I walked with Bernice into the American Airways terminal, helping her with two suitcases and the padded western saddle in which she long-rides. We embraced and as I walked away, I’d already begun to miss her. Her smile, the way she laughs, the way she became quiet when she talked about the beings that mean the world to her.

When I had returned to my hotel room, I called my fiancé and the excitement of sharing time with Bernice poured out of me like Thunder Snow bolts out of the start gate. And as I paused for a breath of air, my fiancé said to me, “I’m proud of you.”

Me?

“You wanted to meet Bernice, someone you deeply admire, and you made it happen. You followed through and didn’t let anything get in the way.”

“Yeah, but, Dennis,” I said. “It’s Lady Long Rider.”

A hearty thanks to Lisa Diersen and her team for all the hard work in preparing for this year’s EQUUS Film Fest. It was truly a very special event, showcasing the many, many talents of equine filmmakers and writers, people with huge hearts who rescue abused and terribly neglected horses, and organizations facilitating the healing power of horses with veterans, the disabled, elderly and more.


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.