I was first placed on a horse when only 3-months old. By the time I was six years old I was riding out alone, supervised only by my horse, bareback in the hills behind our house in Los Altos Hills. Often, I would simply clamber up onto the lead horse and then open the gate so all the horses could join us on our ride through the valleys and peaks of the San Francisco Peninsula. I began teaching when I was fourteen, showing people the practical side of being with horses. I was not much interested in showing. It was too expensive and the people I met while showing were closed off from the experience I was having with my horses. When I tried to be like them, I got angry with my horses and found myself having expectations of myself and the horse that differed from the way we really were. We liked to romp and find food to eat and sleep together. It was a shock to be performing, and so unlike our real life.
I did try organizing and putting on my own shows, inviting local horse owners who were interested to come and compete. I considered any space flat enough and big enough for racing games and a few equitation classes to be viable. My main criterion was it had to be fun! One show was done entirely on a strip of land about ten feet wide and eighty feet long. We just made up games that fit in that space. I pillaged my mother’s silver cupboard for trophies. I always asked, and she always said yes. I gave away platters, salt and pepper shakers, ash trays and anything else that was silver. Our family silver was scattered all over the neighborhood. In retrospect, I can see why I had such a large turnout for my funky little shows.
I grew up with my horses, learning by trial and error until I was eighteen, at which point I decided to follow my heart right into a “genuine career” with horses. I chose dressage and ended up at the Robert O. Mayor Riding Academy in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania in September of 1976. I signed a contract saying I would stay for an entire year and I paid money to insure I would not break the contract. I was shown to what was lovingly called The Slave’s Quarters, which was in the attic of a little cottage below the covered arena.
I took lessons from Mayor, learning what it was like to just be quiet and do what I was told. I learned quickly that I was not to ask questions when I was in a lesson, but to listen and do. I also took lessons from a woman who had been hired on as an instructor at the same time I arrived. Her name was Lynda Lilyestrom. She was about six years older than I and she came from Massachusetts. Her understanding of my devotion to horses and her support of me when I became confused by Mayor’s gruff manner was soothing. Lyn and I became friends, and after just three months with Mayor she and I headed back to her stable in Spencer, MA., where her parents lived and she had several horses.
I ended up working for Lyn for seven more months, being lectured daily on stable management and receiving daily lessons on horseback, as well. I began to show in one-day trials and a few three-day events, but not very successfully. I was able to clinic with the likes of Tad Coffin and Bruce Davidson, though. Just the same, I had never been particularly drawn to jumping, and the solid obstacles presented in combined training were intimidating to me. After seven months, most of them being horrible winter months with temperatures often below zero, I decided to head back to California. I was tired of living in cold weather in an apartment infested with cock roaches. I actually have a picture of my little Honda Civic buried in snow outside my apartment after a blizzard in MAY!!
Once I was back in California, I got hired on as a working student at the Penny Royal Farm in Sunol, east of the San Francisco Bay. I worked for Donna Smith for nine months, competing under her tutelage in combined training and actually doing very well. Then, I was “discovered” by Lyn Preovalis at what was then Kimberwick Farms in Danville. Lyn wanted me to join her barn, take on a full clientele and receive regular lessons from Lilo Fore. Even though the offer was tempting, I turned her down. I was ready to head out on a new path again.
I spent a year teaching at a private boarding school in Northern California and then moved back to the home in which I grew up (which my mother still owns and lives in today) so as to open my own business. In 1978, at the age of 20, I registered the name Full House Farm and spent the next eighteen years growing the business there. During that time I did study with clinicians like Sandy Howard, Tracy Lert, and Barbie Breen-Gurley and continued to compete in dressage for a while. However, I grew tired of the politics. I found myself yearning for the deeper connection with my horses which I had somehow lost along the way.
I began to experiment in my teaching with different approaches of my own design. I wanted to somehow explain to my students that there was a current that ran beneath all the hoopla, a current that was fundamental to every relationship, human to human or human to non-human. I knew this intuitively, but I did not know how to get the message across in any conventional way. There really was no convention for what I was trying to teach. I was beginning to realize I was finding it difficult to be interested in other horse people’s approaches. I had spent a lifetime learning what I knew from the horses and to learn from another human seemed only to serve that separation that I was beginning to notice. There was restlessness in my spirit.
One woman, Kathy Indermill, rose out of the melee and with her counseling I was able to see more clearly where that connection I so longed for lay. Kathy was no horse person, but rather a business consultant who focused upon communication skills and the healthy development of relationship with oneself and thus with others in the work place. I saw the correlation, clear as a bell, between what she was teaching and what I was trying to teach about horses. In Kathy I discovered a mentor, someone who had something to share with me that resonated with the message from the horses.
In 1994, I divorced from a marriage of five years and moved with my two young children (two years and seven years) to Sebastopol, maintaining the business in Los Altos Hills, which by now had about 20 employees and hundreds of students coming through per week. The move was a huge transition for me, a break in my life that caused me to lie still for long moments. I chose to commute every weekend with my two young children, with the remaining days of the week left free to do what I pleased. I had no horses in Sebastopol at first, so took lessons from a local instructor on her horses. Vicki Wall (who is now Vicki Kelley was exceptional in that she did not focus on me and what I should do to the horse to make it do what I wanted. Instead, she saw us as a whole and whatever was resulting in the presentation of the whole was indicative of some breakdown in the communication. This was a relief to me, as I had long since realized that one cannot change physically what is not changed emotionally. Vicki was a step closer to what called to me.
This was a tumultuous time for me and it was a short two years and many rocky moments later that I decided to close my business on the Peninsula, all except for the Summer Horse Camp, which continued to run up through 2005. I gave myself up completely to a new way of being with horses once I closed my business. I learned about a woman, Carolyn Resnick, who communicated with horses without equipment and because she lived only one hour from Sebastopol I was able to receive regular instruction from her.
Carolyn was interested in pursuing dressage with me, which was what I had been doing with Vicki. However, I found myself more and more drawn to the work with horses on the ground. Carolyn would tell me about concepts I could only vaguely grasp at first, but those concepts resonated with me on a very deep level. I was drawn to Carolyn like a moth to the flame and it burned just as badly many a time she and I had a conversation. It rocked me to my core to release the patterns that held me in like bars on a stable door. I was often like the horse in the burning barn who does not want to leave even thought the barn is tumbling down around them. Those patterns were familiar and familiarity looked a lot like safety. However, for reasons only known in the bigger scheme of things, I was compelled to glean what I could from the many long conversations Carolyn so generously offered me. I learned what limitations I had set for myself and I learned that they were fluid. I gathered momentum as I followed the call of a freedom only hazily remembered through a veil of cemented concepts and self-condemnation. Carolyn’s prodding served to wake me up and I burst out of my confines into a playground where the horses had been waiting all along.
Now, thirty-five years later, I find those decades do not matter and that the struggles of human manufacture are of no consequence in the greater field where horses reside. I now offer in the form of workshops, retreats and other programs an awareness of where the pathway lies between the fractured existences most humans call civilized living and the creative pasture in which all the rest of the planet dwells. I don’t suppose I spend all my time there, which does not matter if you think about it. If thirty-five years did not matter, than the minutes or hours or even days that I forget do not matter. The horses are always there when I get there.