JANE OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF…?
by Jane sparks
SuzAnne Miller has a talent for encouraging people to stretch; to reach outside their comfort zones. You can resist (which she doesn’t take personally!), or you can lean into the growth. When SuzAnne proposed I work with her horses on camera, and also write a monthly blog, I first checked in with my gut. “Yes, this will be fun and good for you” was the answer. Then my mind/ego got involved. “Who do you think you are? You’re not an expert on horse training, writing, etc.” No, I’m not, but that is okay. I know a little about a lot of things: conformation, training, TTouch, Reiki, body language-communication with animals, dressage, and the biomechanics of horse and rider. Most important, I am open to learning and am passionate about developing partnerships with horses and giving them a voice. I will have human partners to support me: Kelli, Laura Faber-Morris, and SuzAnne, among others still to be determined. What a team!
I didn’t grow up with horses and cannot say I am a natural talent. I started riding in my late 20s, even though I had loved horses since early childhood. The opportunities were never present to follow that dream. Once I began riding, I became consumed. My husband bought me my first horse, and soon after I began showing. I tried eventing, but wasn’t brave at jumping, so quickly turned to dressage. Over the years, I got to show at the Kentucky Horse Park; in Germany; and even scored a couple of 10s (both for halts) in dressage tests. I read everything I could about horses, attended numerous clinics, all while continuing to train weekly with my instructor. During that time, my husband decided he wanted to get into racehorses, then into breeding the thoroughbreds. We bought a farm and I quit my insurance job to run the place. I was soon cleaning stalls, feeding, mowing the pastures, stacking hay and straw, and sleeping (sometimes for weeks) in the barn during foaling season.
I learned a lot about conformation as we would buy the broodmares—and sometimes racehorses—at auction. When my last dressage horse had to be retired, a friend of mine invited me to ride with her. The next thing I knew, I was fox-hunting! Since you are up in two-point position most of the time (not sitting on the saddle), I found it much easier on my back, which had been bothering me from both the strenuous farm work and showing. The downside was I came off a few times, which I had never done riding dressage. My back finally got so bad I had to have two surgeries for stenosis. So, in 2008, I resigned myself to the fact I was done with riding…until SuzAnne and the Tennessee Walkers came to the rescue. After about three years away from the saddle, I was back in one, a western one on the back of a gaited horse. Heaven!
The years I had away from horses gave me just enough distance to attain a new perspective on the human/animal connection. I have always been fascinated with psychology, sociology, spirituality, mysticism. Always reading, reading, reading. It was during that time I met my mentor and now dear friend, Lynn Baskfield, who introduced me to Equine Assisted Life Coaching. I already had several levels of training in Life Coaching, which gave me a good basis for working with Lynn. She was wonderful enough to allow me to assist with many workshops and retreats, gaining more and more knowledge about the horse and myself. I came to realize how distorted my relationship with horses was when I was showing, fox-hunting, and running the broodmare farm. I had never liked the sport of horseracing, as I saw too many horses break down. Owners would dispose of them in whatever way they could when the horses were not “earning their keep.” As my heart opened wider and wider, I felt a great sense of shame and regret for my behavior during those earlier years. I have asked for Equus to forgive me and am passionate about honoring the fact that horses are our teachers more than we are theirs.
To that end, I studied Reiki with Anna Twinney of Reach Out to Horses and received my Level I, II, and Master Reiki certification. I followed that up last year with studying under Kathleen Prasaad, who formed the Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA), along with being the author of many books about working with animals (her newest is Heart to Heart with Horses). I am now a certified Animal Reiki Teacher with SARA. I volunteer one day a week at our local shelter, teach Reiki and Animal Reiki (yes, they are different!), and have introduced SuzAnne’s herd to Reiki. SuzAnne cares about the welfare of her horses and I want to support her in whatever way I can.
Building trust is critical to developing a deep connection with horses. So, my first project is going to be Butte. I got to know Butte two years ago when he first came to Dunrovin. He was my partner in a couple of clinics: both groundwork and riding. Butte reminds me of a terrier. He is small, with a grand and opinionated personality. It took a while to reach an understanding with him, as he wanted to continually push the boundaries and get in my space. Those first few sessions, Butte couldn’t stand still. I think he just didn’t see the point. After working with him on our own in long, slow sessions, he and I formed a bond. It is magic when that happens. The riding partnership came fairly easy after that. I have been away from him for a couple of years now, so am looking forward to reestablishing that connection. Stay tuned…
Dunrovin Ranch is grateful to have Jane Sparks involved with us and our horses. She is truly an “animal whisper” who is able to communicate with animals on a very deep level. Her lifelong experiences, her formal and inform horsemanship training, and her study of Reiki give her the ability to understanding their needs and use her energy and spirit to bring them comfort.
Be sure to check our DaysAtDunrovin calendar for Jane’s weekly sessions with the Dunrovin horses.