Monthly Archives: May 2014



Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

I’m pretty sure that each of us taking part in the Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS has either taken a ride in the STARS helicopter or know someone who has. We all feel the ripple effects when someone is transported via the Air Rescue System, whether through being directly involved in the accident or seeing the red helicopter fly through the sky.

One of our riders, Deb Dombowsky, experienced the ride first-hand last summer when riding in the mountains west of Calgary.  She shares her story…

“It was a beautiful morning in the mountains in my favourite camping spot, Little Elbow Equestrian campsite. The sun was just breaking over the mountains with the promise of a warm day. I saddled up my young horse, Secret, for what I thought was going to be a quiet, short ride down to the river.

We set out just behind the campsite and I was pondering where I would take my brother when he got up there later in the morning. It was maybe a half hour into the ride when we came around a bend in the trail and were met with a black bear.

ABC Race for STARS

ABC Race for STARS

My horse stopped hard and the bear took off into the bush with my dog in pursuit. It happened so fast, when my horse jammed on the brakes I clinched my legs and unfortunately stuck her pretty hard with my spurs.  And then we were off to the races so to speak!

Next thing I know I’m out of the saddle, onto her neck, and then sailing through the air and right into a tree. I lay there on the side of the trail trying to breathe.  When I hit the tree I collapsed my lung and broke 10 ribs (5-11 were flail), broke my collar bone, and fractured my scapula in three places.

At some point I knew I needed to get out to the road if I was to get any help, so off I crawled.  I was very lucky to have a young man come along and he went to the camp attendants to get help.  Jim and his wife were with me right up until I was transported by STARS.  They kept my dog and horse safe until they could be brought back home. I am forever grateful for their help.

I heard the helicopter landing right there on the road and I thought, ‘how many times have I heard and seen STARS in the sky and never dreamed I would be in it one day.’ The crew was so fast and efficient, I truly believed them when they said, ‘you are going to be okay.’  As we made our way to Foothills hospital the voice that came through my headset kept reassuring me and walked me through all they were doing for me.

As I write this I need to include that it was barely a year ago that I watched STARS take my grandson, Tyson Hirbnak. We were camping in the backcountry in Dutch Creek and had a propane explosion which badly injured my grandson and my husband.  You can read about Ty’s story in the January 2014 STARS calendar. You can watch a STARS video featuring Ty here:

STARS has made a huge imprint in the lives of our family. Now when I hear and see STARS in the sky I have a flood of emotions, but mostly a deep gratitude in my heart for them and all they do.

Thank you STARS.

Deb resides in Calgary Alberta.


Emotional Health and your horse

We all have our own stories of a horse we have just loved and had great times with.

Then there are the stories of horses whose relationships have been challenging.

Some horses are easy to love and others seem to put us in a mindset of negativity.  How can we deal with this?

Lets start with the challenging horse.  It’s always a good idea to seek the assistance of a good professional trainer with this type of horse. This is a tough journey for most and a great support system where you can build on success is essential.DSC00439
In training horses and people over the years I have come to understand relational dynamics to a deeper degree.

The challenger horse is the type that requires clarity with consistency at all times. Emotional health, thought and space are the first things I would look at. Lets focus on emotional health.

The person who has the challenger requires an emotional strength of calmness, stillness and clear direction in space. Just think, if you are in the presence of an individual who is highly stressed you would most likely begin to feel stressed just being with them. You are taking on their negative energy; this is the same with horses. When you are with a highly stressed horse it is critical that you are calm and still emotionally. This is the first place to start. This will take practice and does not come naturally to most of us.

Start in the field or the round pen. It is crucial that you have no agenda. Breathing deeply, bring yourself to be in a moment of calm. You will begin to notice changes in your horse. His head will relax, he will take some deep breaths. This is a good time to leave your horse for a moment. Return again in a calm emotional state. Breathe deeply again letting the stress leave your body and mind. Repeating this will establish some consistency and begin a new basis of how your horse will see and respond to you. Apply your new mindset while you are leading your horse, grooming and make this the new standard.

Now for the easy to love horse. This horse also requires clarity and consistency. The difference is that if we do not attend to the easy to love horse’s needs through emotional health, thought and space they just fill in the gaps for us. This is no big deal to them since this horse is OK with taking care of us. These are the types of horses that will carry a beginner through their first creek crossing, jump a poorly approached jump with ease and let little girls braid their hair for hours.

This does not mean the easy to love horse will not teach us anything. Actually they will! Becoming emotionally calm and still with this horse and then tuning into their thoughts will be welcomed. For instance, when grooming are they asking for an itchy spot to be rubbed? Is this horse lifting a leg, swishing its tail or getting fidgety when being brushed? You may have touched on a pain issue.

Pay attention to the small signals this horse gives you and they will offer more of themselves to you.

The small things are critically important to all horses, we just need to listen.

What’s Making My Horse Sore?

Some of the most common questions I get asked as an equine therapist are, “Why is my horse sore there?” or “Why is he out there?”

At times the answer is relatively simple. For example if the horse has a pre-existing injury, some of the issues are most likely from compensating. If the saddle fits poorly, it’s an easy link to back soreness. If the horse pulls back regularly, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he will have a few things going on in the neck. If someone witnessed the horse falling and can explain the details of the fall, it can be pretty easy to relate which issues have resulted from the fall, although sometimes it takes a couple minutes playing anatomical connect-the-dots.

So while initiating incidents do happen, what about the rest of the time? Is it possible that the horse took a spill on the ice or in the mud during turn out? Yep. Got banged up playing with another horse? Sure. Threw it’s back out while rolling? Probably not.

In my opinion it is one of the most common misconceptions of horse owners that the horse must have done something to itself, but we forget about all of the things that we do with or to our horses that may have negative side effects. Things like running, bucking, and rolling are natural to a horse; carrying a saddle and riders weight is not. The unnatural things are much more likely to cause problems than the natural things.

IMG_6948 (2)One of my favourite statements comes from Dr. Kerry Ridgway when he is speaking about a straight horse. He says that straightness happens when we are creating a situation where every step is in accordance with gravity.

He then goes on to speak about how issues arise when movement is not in accordance with gravity. For the purpose of this piece I don’t want to get into the discussion of straightness (even though it is obviously a huge factor) because I find that the concept of moving in accordance of gravity has a grand magnitude of its own.

Picture for a minute giving a small child a piggy back ride for an hour. If that child leans off to one side for the entire time, it is going to affect your center of gravity and there are going to be a few things that change in both your balance and your movement. First of all, even though the child is small, you are going to have to brace certain muscles groups to keep from falling over. Due to the fact that these muscles are not normally active in this way during your normal day to day activities, they are going to get fatigued and sore. If they get really sore this may affect your posture and movement long after you are done with the piggy back ride. Secondly, the shift in your center of gravity and the engagement of different of muscles is going to affect the way that you land on the ground every single step. Say for instance the child is leaning over to the left. You will most likely take a shorter stride on the left and land heavier on your left foot. So instead of the effect of the extra load being shared equally between both legs, the structures of the left leg are going to be affected more so. If you only did the piggy back ride once, you may or may not have some residual soft tissue soreness and life would carry on. If you did this daily for a long period of time, your body would become conditioned in imbalance, and the chances of you having some sort of injury or developing arthritis on that left leg would increase.


In this photo, my right shoulder is dropped and my horse’s right shoulder is also dropped. In order to not fall, he needs to brace himself, so he is not bending as well as I would like and therefore I’m pulling on the right rein. I wonder what would happen if I was sitting squarely?

Envision now a typical ride on your own horse. What percentage of that ride would you say that you feel that you are in perfect balance with your horse? Even if you are a pretty good rider there are still going to moments when you are out of sync.

27. Showing Pronated Pelvis

An example of pelvic imbalance of a mare I once owned. This type of imbalance can happen for people too!

The next step is to have a look in the mirror. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Put your hands on the top of your hips, are they level? Are your shoulders level? Do either your shoulders or your hips sit more forward on one side? Thinking about your day to day life, are your right or left handed? Can you see any visual differences in the muscling of your arms? Which leg do you normally put into your pants first? Tomorrow, see how it feels if you try the other leg first.  If you were to do a stretching routine are there areas of your body that are more flexible on one side? How might these things affect your horse? The point is that none of us are perfectly symmetrical in our own bodies, so how can we sit on our horses, who are also not perfectly symmetrical and expect them to be straight and balanced,  and move in accordance with gravity each and every step?

This is just one factor in your horses life. How many other factors can you think of that might affect your horses body in any way? Saddle fit, hoof balance, dental imbalances, how he stands when he eats, mental anxiety, are just a few more off the top of my head. My point in all of this is not to make anyone feel bad, but rather to provoke some thought about the different factors in your horses life. Being aware of the existence of these factors allows owners to take responsibility for the things that may be influencing their horse in a less than positive way. If you found that you have some imbalances in your own body, maybe you yourself would benefit from some body work. Maybe you could do some exercises to help strengthen certain areas or equalize the range of motion from one side to the other. Even awareness of your imbalances during your ride can help you make some adjustments.

Chances are we will never be able to create the perfect world for our equine partners, but we can certainly work towards the ideal.

Cavalia’s Odysseo opens in Calgary

The poetry flowing from this grand adventure shines a light on a more humane world where human and horse may live in harmony. For just a few hours, the spectator sets off to discover new horizons, the limits of his imagination, and gets to experience a waking dream in a world where beauty, serenity and hope reign.

– Cavalia Press Release


Nomads – Credits: Pascal Ratth??

No one in Alberta would argue that we have  just been through a long and tedious winter. Hence many of us have not been able to put as much time into our equine pursuits. Shows like Cavalia however, are great for re-igniting our passion, inspiration and excitement for horses as we launch into spring. Here is the opportunity to see a stunning demonstration of accomplishments with horses, in a unique and artistic way.

Reviews of Odysseo typically include the words dreamlike, breathtaking, thrilling, poetic, enchanting and magical. You don’t want to miss this show.

On April 24th, we joined a full house of 2000 for the premiere of Cavalias Odysseo.

Odysseo follows in the grand hoofprints of the original Cavalia in theatrical style. If you were fortunate enough to attend Cavalia when it came through Calgary in 2012, you will be familiar with the complex stage production, the stunning horses and incredible acrobatic performances.

Odesseo builds on the original production with an unbelievable stage. The 1626 square meter performance area includes a three storey hill built on a base of 10,000 tons of rock, so yes, you can actually see horses galloping into the sunset!  The landscape takes the audience through beautiful world scenery from Easter Island to the Sahara, to Mongolia. With lighting and technical effects, the ground can appear to be sand, grass, rock – just about any surface imaginable, including water. Real water that is, using an underground water system and 300,000 liters of water to almost instantly create a lake.


Odysseo Finale | Credits: Lynne Glazer

Think your home entertainment system is awesome ? To complement the stage production, the Odysseo background is composed of 3D high definition graphics, using 18 simultaneous projectors on an immense cyclorama the size of three IMAX screens. Married with the technical complexity of the stage setup, this is unarguably a revolutionary show.

You’ll be witness to some daring feats of acrobatic prowess, and displays of liberty horsemanship the likes of which you have never seen. Not to give anything away, but just try to imagine a liberty act with 32 horses in perfect harmony…

The Odysseo show has 70 horses of 11 different breeds, the most prominent being Lusitanos, Arabians and Quarter Horses. Truly an international production, the horses are from Spain, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Germany, The United States and Canada, including 2 Canadian horses. There are no mares in the production which makes sense given that there are over 20 stallions.

This show capitalizes on something that no other show does: the horse simply being a horse. Oh yes, these horses are superbly trained, and the connection with their handlers particularly in the liberty work is both obvious and impressive.  But many of the scenes feature horses playing with each other. One particularly moving scene begins with the stage full of horses all lying down with their riders relaxing beside or on them.  I spoke with one of the trainers who mentioned that no show is ever alike.  The horses are spirited, energetic, and are allowed to have fun and express themselves.  For example, in a scene where many horses were on stage, one of the equine performers decided he was going to do his own thing, generating laughter from the audience. What I appreciate is that the handlers simply smile and work with what the horses give them. This dynamic is also the reason the show features live music.

The equine performers are truly the heart and soul of this show. Cavalias philosophy on horses follows.

We are committed to nurturing them and prioritizing their comfort and well-being. The Cavalia approach is based on training methods designed to ensure the horses enjoy training with us and performing on stage. Trainers pay close attention to the horses to ensure that every request is adapted and respectful of what they are ready to offer. Our philosophy is rooted in patience, trust and deep-seated respect. This genuine sense of caring and authenticity is inevitably what resonates with our audiences.


Grand Cavalia | Credits: Fran??ois Bergeron

As a strong advocate of horsemanship, I can honestly say that after viewing several shows, meeting the performers and trainers, and particularly visiting with the horses, that there is no hint of exaggeration in that statement. This is an amazing display of horsemanship, riding, and what can be accomplished with the human-horse connection.

But lets not forget the 2 legged part of this production!

The 49 exceptionally talented artists in the show hail from around the world. Acrobats, aerialists, riders, dancers and musicians. With over 600 Odysseo performances under their belts, these performers make the seemingly impossible look easy. You will not be able to watch this show without considering a membership at the gym.

As we watched these incredibly nimble people literally flying about the stage, I wondered how they keep coming up with new ideas for aerial performances. The fact that all the manoeuvres are beautifully intertwined with story themes, stage settings, music and artistic presentation speaks volumes about the creative minds behind this production.

But you have to see it for yourself.

For a preview of the show, great pictures and more information, visit??