This extended edition of the Epona News features personal reflections from Epona founder Linda Kohanov.
The last two months have been filled with tremendous joy, loss, elation, exhaustion, inspiration, fear, gratefulness, innovation, and mystery. Needless to say, the entire staff has had plenty of opportunity to practice the emotional agility skills that are central to the Epona Approach.
Through it all, I could always count on Rasa and her son Indigo Moon to provide some much needed solace. Indigo, who will celebrate his second birthday in September, already looks and sounds so much like his mother it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart from a distance. In the midst of nonstop workshops, I try to set aside an hour each evening simply to BE with them, as they have an uncanny ability to center and support me no matter what’s going on, infusing me with inspiration and insight. Quite often this means we’re wandering around in the dark through the mesquite forest at the edge of the canyon, yet oddly enough I’ve gone so much deeper into the wisdom of the horse as a result. Over the past six months, I’ve expanded my post-sunset interactions to include other members of our extended herd, even finding that certain training challenges are more easily solved at night!
Equine Mystery School
In The Nature of Horses, Stephen Budiansky makes a strong case for the idea that our equine companions are actually nocturnal animals who’ve become more amenable to daytime exploits through their association with humans. Something certainly shifts in the herd at night, something profound and nearly indescribable. The horses are more confident, more in sync, more vivid somehow. I feel as if I’ve been initiated into an equine mystery school, one that can be explained less efficiently than it can be experienced. The herd seems increasingly intent on sharing this perspective with others—or maybe it’s just that I can finally conceive of how to create a workshop around this theme. In any case, the first Keeper of the Mysteries: Equine Archetypes of Initiation and Transformation, an advanced retreat, will take place July 15 to 20, during the week leading up to the full moon.
With more staff and participants staying on site, I’m not the only person who’s been “called out” at all hours of the night. One of our apprentices, New Zealand-based Brent Bowyer, has also been learning ranch management and horse care as one of our barn assistant/interns this year. A few weeks before I announced this event, he took me aside and told me he had something important to discuss.
“The horses are different at night,” he said in a soft, almost conspiratorial tone of voice. “There are no words….” But as best he could, he proceeded to tell me of visions and insights he had in the wake of these encounters and asked if I would be open to helping him in creating a brief nighttime ceremony with the horses for his apprenticeship class. I was intrigued by the synchronicity as I had not yet shared my own nighttime revelations with the staff.
Well, that pretty much cinched the deal for me. You’d think after writing a book like The Tao of Equus, I wouldn’t be so shy about revealing some of the more cryptic yet life changing insights the horses have imparted. But I’m always cautious about sharing what is closest to my heart, what most deeply invigorates my soul—namely the more mysterious, transformational aspects of the horse-human relationship—especially now that I’ve learned so many practical applications for equine-facilitated work in leadership and personal development contexts.
Certainly not for everyone, Keeper of the Mysteries will present insights regarding initiation, transformation, enhanced dreaming and intuitive techniques, and engagement with mythical/archetypal forms of intelligence. I will also be formally sharing some unexpected yet fascinating yogic breathing techniques the horses taught me. One, called “heart-breathing,” introduced to me by our black Percheron Kairos, has a powerful and surprisingly predictable effect on creating a deeper connection between horse and human. Some shamanic and energetic healing techniques will also be shared, and a significant amount of work with the horses will be done at night, under the light of the moon. For this reason, the workshop will only be held in July as nights at the Epona Center are much cooler at 5,000 feet than anyone ever expects from an Arizona-based ranch.
I’m very excited about this workshop as we already have an amazing group of Epona Approved Instructors, artists, experienced mindfulness practitioners, and people who are interested in accessing a deeper connection to horses. There are three spaces left. If you would like to join us for this maiden voyage into otherworlds of experience, please email me a brief letter of interest at firstname.lastname@example.org. All participants must have attended a minimum two-day workshop or 16 hours of private lessons/intensives with an Epona Approved Instructor to be familiar with the Emotional Message Chart, the Nine Skills for Authentic Community Building, the Body Scan, and some reflective work with horses. Make sure you include some mention of your past Epona experience as well as your name, mailing address (as you will be receiving the Way of the Horse as a text for this course), telephone number and best times to call. You may also contact the booking office for more information at 520-455-5908 or email@example.com (If you don’t receive a reply within three days, please email again or call as sometimes we don’t receive emails people have sent.)
My now firmly ingrained habit of cavorting with the horses at night certainly paid off during the weeks leading up to the birth of our new foals. While Comet’s colt Orion grew by leaps and bounds in the wake of his April 13th birth, we began the nightly watch of our other pregnant mare, Panther, who was due to have her first child—with first-time father Spirit—the following month.
After Comet’s first experience losing her three-day-old foal Mystique in 2006, it was such a pleasant surprise that she managed to have a handsome, healthy, long-legged colt on her own. (See It’s a Colt!) Orion is so big compared to his brothers and sister that at two months, he looks closer to six. His personality is a paradoxical combination of sweetness mixed with incredible power and a bit of a sardonic streak. One minute he’s polite, considerate, and unusually well centered for a foal. The next he’s pushing all possible boundaries. Needless to say, he keeps us all on our toes!
During a late-April check up, however, ranch manager Shelley Rosenberg and veterinarian Christine Staten saw some indications that Panther might not have such an easy time with her foal, putting the entire ranch on alert. Mares consistently give birth within 20 to 30 minutes of breaking water. You literally have to be ready to jump into the foaling corral if there’s a problem. Since most foals arrive sometime between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., that meant we were trading overnight shifts—in the midst of our busiest workshop season yet.
A Reluctant Goodbye
At the same time, we were awaiting news of another transition. Our great friend and Epona Advanced Instructor Charlie McGuire was preparing to leave this world, and the sadness was overwhelming at times. Epona Apprenticeship Program co-founder Kathleen Ingram was able to travel to the Buffalo Woman Ranch in Colorado to offer support to Charlie and her longtime companion Robbie Nelson, also an Epona Approved Instructor. While Charlie’s courageous battle with cancer was coming to an end, Kathleen reported many luminous moments and much deep wisdom that Charlie was able to share during her most challenging times. In our brief yet treasured phone conversations, Charlie was optimistic, loving and upbeat, which took tremendous energy out of her in those last weeks I’m told.
As founder of the American Holistic Nursing Association, Charlie brought many people to a deeper understanding of true healing. She was also one of my greatest personal mentors. I met her the morning after Rasa’s son Spirit arrived unexpectedly in 2002. She and Robbie were among those volunteers who took care of the tiny premature foal who wasn’t expected to live through his first week. To watch Spirit gently groom his own mare six years later, to stay up many nights waiting for his first foal to be born, was especially poignant knowing that Charlie was leaving. Her faith in Epona nourished me during my most trying times. When I felt discouraged, betrayed, and exhausted by the challenges of managing this international organization, she offered valuable, hard-won advice and encouragement from her experience starting the American Holistic Nurses Association, which truly was no picnic for her at times either. And she quite simply believed in the Epona vision so strongly that her confidence and dedication were infectious.
Once in a blue moon, we get to meet a special being who nourishes our souls and inspires us, offering unconditional support. When our beloved horse Noche passed away, Charlie left a workshop with well-known author Angeles Arrien to attend his funeral. “Noche was one of the most evolved teachers I’ve ever known,” she told me. “How could I miss his memorial?” Four years later, rubbing Panther’s massive belly, staring at the Big Dipper blazing above her foaling corral, I was trying to figure out some way to make that trip up to Colorado to see Charlie one last time. After all, she was one of the most evolved teachers I had ever known, a true medicine woman. Charlie’s and Robbie’s innate understanding of and enthusiasm for the intuitive/shamanic aspects of the horse-human relationship are, to a significant extent, responsible for encouraging me to create an advanced initiatory workshop like Keeper of the Mysteries. Ironic that she joined the ancestors shortly before its debut.
Charlie passed away on May 15 with a waxing moon rising in Scorpio—and a blue moon at that. I will miss her warmth and strength, her Texas drawl, her sometimes bone chilling power and honesty, her endless compassion, courage and creativity. A part of me still expects to be able to call her up anytime and chat. A part of me can still hear her resonant voice as clear as day, urging all of us on, supporting us in following our dreams, embracing the deeper mysteries of life, making life on planet earth better for all beings.
Charlie, always the trailblazer, you are the first Epona instructor to ride a spirit horse into the Great Mystery. Say hello to Noche for me. And if you ever feel inclined to visit me in that fertile landscape of dreams hovering between the worlds, I’d love to hear about your latest, greatest adventure. Namaste my teacher, my dear friend. And happy trails…until we meet again….
Heart of the Night
On the darkest night of May, that single 24-hour period when the waning moon has disappeared from the early morning sky and the luminous new crescent moon is still a good day away, Panther blessed us with the first filly born to Epona’s black horse herd. Granddaughter of Rasa and Merlin, daughter of Spirit, niece of colts Indigo Moon and Orion, little Artemis Arielle arrived shortly after 4 a.m. on Memorial Day: Monday, May 26th. All those long nights that our extended staff, and several members of the Epona community, camped out next to the foaling corral paid off as Panther did indeed need significant help, not only during the birth, but in the following days.
Luckily, our most experienced horse midwife, Shelley Rosenberg, insisted on taking that particular shift. She called me the moment the water broke, and by the time I could throw on some clothes and head to the barn, she had already pulled a tiny, wet, four-legged being into the world, literally saving her life. Mother Panther had lost all will to push, and the foal was in serious danger of suffocating at the edge of the womb.
I was absolutely stunned by her markings. The coal black foal had a heart-shaped blaze in the center of her forehead with a single line leading down to her left nostril, instantly reminding me of the “heart-breathing” technique that Kairos had taught me several months earlier, one that I had just started using openly in workshops!
At that moment, however, we were all a bit confused. A number of instructors, staff, and workshop participants, including Shelley and me, had vivid dreams that Panther was carrying a filly. Yet in those first moments following the birth, Shelley had mistakenly determined the foal was a colt. As the first vague tendrils of lavender light emerged from the darkness before dawn, however, Shelley suddenly shouted with delight and ran over to me with open arms (quite a statement considering how rarely Shelley likes to be hugged). “It’s a girl!” she said as we embraced and proceeded to jump up and down like little kids. “Finally, a filly!”
Panther truly had no idea what to make of the little critter. She licked her firstborn in wonder one minute, then squealed in obvious pain when her child tried to nurse. As the delicate, yet agile, almost gravity-defying filly reveled in leaping and racing around the corral within hours of her birth, Panther would get extremely, almost dangerously excited, rearing up and cantering with all the power and panache of an Andalusian stallion. Initially confused, even miffed, at the intensity of parenthood, she quickly became a highly protective mother. Panther followed her feisty child around with such immense concentration and dedication that she could barely stand still long enough to take a much needed drink. This proved, over that first sunny, extremely dry spring day, to have serious repercussions.
With all available moisture suddenly diverted to her udders, Panther was beginning to colic by late afternoon. A visit from the vet wasn’t quite enough to get her system going, and by day two, four bags of intravenous fluids were needed to get her back on track. Special thanks to the staff members who came to her aid in the heat of the day. (See end credits.)
And, quite surprisingly, I must thank little Artemis herself for helping her mother. On Panther’s most difficult day, when her human caretakers were in the corral administering IV fluids, Artemis stood quietly by her mother’s side the entire time, demonstrating an innate understanding that this older, more experienced mare needed to stay quiet. Only after the IV was removed did Artemis resume racing around—wiping out in the straw, learning to gauge her speed and avoid obstacles under the watchful eye of her increasingly amused and contented mother.
I insisted on sleeping under the stars next to mother and daughter that night, wanting to make sure that Panther was eating, drinking and nursing more normally. It was a glorious evening. The wind blew softly through the cottonwoods and the air smelled of rose and honeysuckle blossoms. So prominent in the sky when Comet was close to giving birth a month earlier, the constellation Orion was no longer visible. Instead I was comforted by the unusually vivid spectacle of the Dig Dipper poised right above the foaling corral.
When I did manage to drift off to sleep, however, my dreams were uncanny, lucid, and anything but restful. So much was going on with the black horse clan. All the horses were moving around to accommodate these new family members. Merlin escaped and ran over to see Comet and Orion, then tried to figure out how to entice Rasa away from Indigo. Spirit was desperate to get to his mare and filly. These visions were so realistic, so loyal to the actual layout of the property, my only hint that I was dreaming came in the form of a huge cinnamon-colored bear that was watching all this action from a front-row seat: He was standing on his back legs, resting his heavy paws on the fence where Comet and Orion currently live, the pasture located directly behind my house. I woke up with a start, and then began to laugh, thinking that bear sure was a strange, out-of-place image. After all, we have black bears in Arizona, not reddish ones. Besides, the last bear we saw roaming the property came in September two years ago, the week after Indigo was born. And he most certainly was seduced out of the canyon by the smell of ripening apple trees at that time of year.
The image was so startling I figured it must be symbolic—of what I couldn’t remember. Surely I would need to look up the bear in my animal medicine book, I thought to myself, as I checked on Panther and Artemis, and drifted back into a light but slightly more restful sleep. The next two days, however, were so full that bear medicine was the last thing on mind. Until, that is, I checked on all the horses shortly before midnight on Thursday, and practically ran right into a living, breathing, cinnamon-colored bear! We screamed simultaneously as my flashlight hit his eyes—me in a high shrill voice; the bear in a low, yet still frantic, growling rumble. Luckily for me, the creature leaped sideways, into a huge tree, where he, or she, left massive claw marks to confirm just how big, fast, and agile an Arizona bear can be. (I’ve since read that black bears come in shades of brown or cinnamon, so at least I wasn’t dealing with an errant grizzly.)
The bear had literally been wandering through the ranch house garden, past my bedroom door, under the adobe archway, and out toward the exact same pasture I had seen in my dream two nights earlier—as I was heading back from the black horse pastures toward the archway, expecting to slip through the garden door to my own bedroom for a good night’s rest. Needless to say, I took a different route. And sleep was the last thing on my mind.
Though all logic suggested that the startled bear would head back down the canyon, I thought it best to stay in the foaling corral. I didn’t think the bear would harm the horses, but I wanted to make sure that Panther and Artemis weren’t spooked by his unexpected presence. Lying down in the hay next to mother and daughter, I managed to drift off to sleep. I awoke to the sound of snorting. Panther and Artemis were poised at the far edge of the corral, staring at the nearby conference center residence where workshop participants were staying. The bear was looking in the back door windows, as if he were trying to figure out how to sneak inside and potentially create his own version of the Three Bears fairytale by sleeping in one of our beds. I made some noise, whereupon he slowly ambled past us toward the spring-fed pond and was quickly engulfed by darkness. The massive creature seemed so comfortable, so downright familiar with his surroundings that it occurred to me he had visited the ranch under the cover of night many times before, that he may very well have been milling around the black horse pastures the night he showed up in my dream. While I fully intended to call the Forest Service for advice the next day, I also figured it prudent to understand his symbolic significance. Hopefully, Bear, in the archetypal sense, would no longer feel the need to manifest physically, at least at the ranch.
Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small is one of my favorite books on animal medicine. Still, I was more than a little unnerved, then excited, by the synchronicities in his text on the bear. He observed that this powerful symbol has stirred imagination so much that even a constellation was named for it—Ursa Major, the Great Bear: “Seven stars of this constellation are probably the most easily recognized in the northern hemisphere. These seven stars form The Big Dipper, and they have links to the seven great rays of the Divine.
“The bear has lunar symbology as well, giving it ties to the subconscious and even the unconscious mind.” Andrews then proceeds to tell us that the bear is an animal associated with the goddess Artemis/Diana, the goddess of the moon. At that point you could have knocked me over with a feather. Surely I must have read of this mythological association somewhere before, but being more of a horse medicine aficionado, the information just didn’t stick. Well it was sticking now that I had claw marks in the tree outside my house. Did Artemis send the bear to bless the birth of her namesake? And since the creature seemed unduly comfortable wandering through the rose garden right past my bedroom window, did she have a message for me in this as well?
Once again, I didn’t have much time to think about the implications. And so, as if to encourage me to reflect a bit more sincerely on what this animal might mean at a personal level, the cinnamon bear returned, in broad daylight, the following week as members of our tenth apprenticeship class were holding their graduation workshop. We were breaking for lunch, walking from the covered arena toward the Epona Cantina, when one of the participants said, rather casually, “Oh is that your bear?”
“Where?” I asked.
“Over there,” he said pointing toward my house, “walking between those two flag poles.” And a good half dozen people watched as the giant teddy calmly, casually, ambled up the main sidewalk, climbed the stairs to the front door, and looked in the living room window. If that wasn’t enough, he purposefully backed down the stairs and walked straight over to the windows of my office, lifted his huge front paws onto the sill and stared into my writing sanctuary. Then he walked all the way through the walled garden, past my husband Steve’s office, around the other side to our bedroom, out the archway, past the tree he had marked so efficiently, right past Rasa and Indigo’s corral. The herd seemed barely affected by his presence, as if they knew him well.
And so it was back to Ted Andrew’s essay: “The tree is a powerful and ancient symbol,” he writes at one point, “just like the bear. It is a natural antenna, linking the Heavens and the Earth….but in general, (the tree) represents knowledge. It is a symbol of fertility, of things that grow. As the bear teaches you to go in and awaken the potentials inherent, the tree serves as a reminder that we must bring what we awaken out into the world and apply it—make our marks with it.”
In a subsequent discussion, Epona instructor Anna Carnathan, who is well versed in archetypal matters, emphasized that the bear is a significant shamanic as well as healing symbol. She reminded me that the goddess Artemis also protects humans and animals during pregnancy and childbirth, and that both Panther and little Artemis Arielle may have benefited from the bear’s presence during those first tenuous days.
And finally, I had to laugh out loud when our new barn assistant Rachel Wright arrived this same week with her striking Malamute/wolf dog named Makwa, which means Bear in the Native American language Oneida.
All in all, the synchronicities between Artemis, the bear, and the Big Dipper still hovering over the black horse pastures inspire much wonder and appreciation for the magic of life: the intelligent, downright coordinated efforts of the Great Mystery to communicate with us through dreams, myths, symbols, and living, breathing members of all species. And so, my treasured readers and Epona pioneers, I make a pledge to continue to share my encounters with both worlds, and diligently support your own forays into these mysteries, as we learn new ways of experiencing, documenting, and communicating the profound wisdom that arises when we have the nerve and vision to treat all of nature and its creatures as the truly profound and blessed teachers they are.
Your Insights and Stories Appreciated!
If any of you have insights into the symbolic significance of the bear and/or the goddess Artemis, the constellations Orion and Ursa Major, or any profound experiences interacting with horses at night, we’d love to hear from you, as this newsletter may very well turn into a book chapter at some point. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And once again, if you don’t at least receive a brief confirmation and thank you that we received your email within a week of sending it, please send it again.
The wonderful photos presented here also came my way synchronistically as two professional photographers came to Epona the week I was writing this newsletter. I met Lori Faith Merritt, who runs a highly successful horse photography business based in Tucson, years ago at one of my first book signings for The Tao of Equus. Shehas been a fan of my husband Steve Roach’s music for years, having met him at a music conference in 1989. She’s also a friend of Tony Stromberg, who did the cover photograph for Riding Between the Worlds. (Tony has since released his own book Spirit Horses, with another book coming our way sometime this fall!)
Lori Faith and I reconnected last fall when she came to the Epona Center Open Ranch. Not really having the time or the budget to take advantage of her services, I put her business card in a safe place for some vague future encounter. This past week, when I was writing this letter about our new black horse family members, she was hired, out of the blue, by a Netherlands-based magazine to take some photos for an upcoming article. During the single spare hour I managed to find in an unusually tight schedule, she captured a number of beautiful images. Special thanks to Lori Faith for corralling a reluctant subject (me, not the horses) into taking some precious, timely photos. I highly recommend checking out her website: www.PhotographyByFaith.com. The article will appear in the October issue of Bit Magazine.
Kim Mancuso, whose engaging photos are featured, works for NBC. After attending an Epona workshop with Carol Roush this winter, she surprised us by creating a glorious electronic photo essay of the Epona herd. We were so impressed that we asked her to come back and take a few more shots to create a more expanded version that included our new foals as well as some shots of people interacting with the horses: a 15-minute DVD photo essay “Epona Life,” set to Steve’s music, which we are also planning to post on YouTube in the near future. We’ll keep you posted!
I’d also like to thank the other people who contributed photos to this newsletter: Kathleen Ingram and Sandra Wallin for photos of Charlie McGuire, and Sue Smades for the photo of Artemis helping to take care of her mother Panther. And special thanks to Xena Carpenter for helping us find additional mare sitters Moriah Heun, Maureen Luikart, Cheryl McChesney during the pregnancy.
Deep appreciation goes to our phenomenal extended staff for their assistance at all hours of the day and night during our spring pregnancies/births: ranch manager Shelley Rosenberg, assistant ranch manager Cathy Huddleston, ranch assistant Sue Smades, interns/assistants Brent Bowyer, Lauren Curtis, and Nate Youngblood, office manager Victoria Bol, and Epona Instructors Carol Roush, Nancy Coyne, ML Gould and Lori Ulloa all lended their support at various times. I’d also like to thank the Professional and Life Coach Training class, and my co-facilitator Lisa Murell, for being so flexible with the workshop schedule that week, letting me spend time with Panther and her baby during those tenuous first days.