“Being afraid of horses I was very reticent to meet the herd…after many hours of talking with Jo I went to the paddocks, hoping the ponies wouldn’t notice me. Being only 5 ft. they all seemed so large, but I found them gentle and encouraging. I have had many stress free hours in their presence and they have cured my fear of horses and made me less anxious in life. ” Patricia. January 2020
“Winnie” Winstone’s Journey
Spring 1989-November 20th.2018
In the early hours of April 5th.1989 I woke from a distressing dream to a deafening blast , which ricocheted across the front wall of our house. I lay in bed, frozen ,my heart pounding so hard, it knocked audibly in my chest like a drumbeat.
Someone screamed, my mother and my body fled from the room, along the dark corridor, down the staircase, around the corner. My legs stopped working, like wading into treacle…my younger brother had taken his own life.
Later it started snowing.
Our world shifted on its axis, torn into shreds, turned upside down, it seemed to lose its floor, it was shattered, smashed into a million shards and thrown up into space, floating aimlessly, struggling to find our own way back to the light, to feel the familiar earth back under our feet.
The following months drifted in a haze, an emotional roller coaster, held hostage in my mind by a plague of accelerating thoughts or plunging into deep troughs of lethargy. Images and sounds appeared randomly, replaying themselves in mid vision, while real life played out in the background.
One November morning that autumn, making my way across the yard to Jason, my coloured cob, a yard mate mentioned two 5 month old Welsh colts had been left in a stable next to his. Peering over the door, two faces peered back, a terrified grey and a self-assured black colt. My gaze was drawn back to the grey, entranced by his terror and his tiny frame, fluffy, white with thin legs like sticks, vulnerable.
That was the moment where my heartstrings entwined with his, no planning or mulling it over, no question of leaving him to a future of doubt and uncertainty. I bought him the following day and so for us began the gradual thaw, the return to life on earth.
Not long afterwards someone reclaimed their stable and Winnie ( I named him this because he did …a lot) was shut in with Jason. Fortunately he bonded immediately with the little chap, mothered him, played with him and protected him from the other horses out in the field by cantering up and down, carving out a boundary line in the dirt, between the herd and Winnie. They shared their small corner stable, hay and feed, dozed together and groomed each other. Jason could wiggle the bolt loose on their stable door with his muzzle. One night he opened the door and they pottered around the yard, feasting on a bag of hard feed in the corridor (much to the disgruntled owners irritation). Luckily I found them early in the morning, stuffed and sleepy, but otherwise ok.
Winnie grew in strength and confidence with daily handling and even changed colour from grey to dapple and back to grey ( with even a tinge of pink in between ).
The land became over grazed, so we moved to a cattle farm in the village where the land was cared for and the farmer had built roomy stables. At that time it was the tradition to train young ponies for riding, so we set off into the paddock with a guide book in one hand and Winnie on a lunge rope in the other. Just a few minutes each day, until he responded to my voice. In later years, even after a decade without lunging, he remembered the sequence without prompting.
Eventually I backed him in his stable, as he accepted the increasing pressure of my weight against him. I slowly lowered myself onto his back, expecting an eruption, but he stood calmly without flinching. Each day we moved a step forward as he tolerated me finding my way, asking him to respond to gentle pressure from my hands and legs to turn left, right, stop and back up. Gradually he understood until we talked in this way and then moved on to tackling trotting poles and over small jumps.
The farm was situated beside bridleways, which had breaks along the hedgerows out into open fields. In the spring and summer we ventured out with my blue roan Cocker spaniel, Bailey. As cantering entered my mind, Winnie would fly across the fields, the rapid pulse of his hooves pounding over the grassland, mirroring the exhilaration in my heart, in that moment free of grief and anxiety.
We learned to negotiate the farm gate, backing up alongside, while I opened the catch and he waited patiently once we were through, while I pulled it shut.
He always remained highly sensitive towards loud noises and destructive energy. A few stables along from ours, a stroppy woman unnerved him, as she barged past him one day, while he was tied up outside our stable, reacting with such force that he snapped his lead rope in desperation to escape from her and galloped off down the bridleways. One path led to a main road leading out of the village, so I ran behind the trail of dust, fearing the worst. He was lucky, as a friend of mine happened to be at the gate entrance to a neighbouring farm on the roadside and she took him in until I caught up.
My nephews and niece learned to ride on Winnie and once he spooked while Sophie sat on his back listening to instructions. He fled down to the end of the paddock with Sophie still in the saddle, ashen, her little fingers locked rigid around the reins, shaken but not stirred.
After an arson attack on the neighbouring farm, where a youngster and veteran perished in a locked barn, we moved to a private field off a bridle path, not far from my childhood home. The event shaped my decision to enable my ponies to live out and take care of themselves in my absence and eventually to build an open barn at my site.
Jason, in true cob style, walked obliviously through the electric fencing with his winter rug on to crop the longer grass, so Winnie followed. The land owner was irritated with their antics and pushed Winnie’s nose onto the electric fence to teach him a lesson, so with that we moved to Manor Farm, a dairy farm, next door to my childhood home.
I persuaded my mother to admit Winnie and Jason into her garden one summer. She had a beautiful mature willow Tree with pale green foliage spilling down to the lawn like a maxi skirt. Jason, with his arthritic knees, took a liking to the leaves, for the pain relief and ate them until he’d eaten up to as far as he could stretch, so the maxi became a mini skirt !
Jason was very elderly by now and no amount of attempts to help him gain weight worked, so with a heavy heart he was put to sleep in the autumn of 1999.
Zorro came to join us that year, a showy, dark dapple grey Welsh pony. Neither he nor Winnie liked each other, but gradually grew to tolerate each others foibles, becoming like an old couple during their 19 years together.
During this time foot and mouth prevented us from using the roadways, so we moved between the farm and home, walking up the shallow stream on the property boundary from the farmyard and into the garden.
Winnie continued to accept little children on his back from my infant class, only tipping two off. A group of mums were having an animated conversation, while their children took turns to sit on Winnie. One mother flapped her arms in the air, oblivious of Winnie’s fear. He reared up and her daughter slithered off his back onto the grass, tearful, but unharmed. Another time two children had a ride to Prinknash bird park for a farewell treat.
A peacock sprang up at the fence line as we rode past and squawked, flicking up a wonderful display of shimmering blue and green feathers. Winnie reared up, but the little boy clung on pale and bewildered.
Another blow swept in with the loss of my older brother drowning abroad on a family holiday in 2001. My mother teetered on the edge of madness with both her sons gone, so the privilege of keeping Winnie and Zorro in paradise came to an end when she remarried aged 78.
I moved to Stroud with no vacant field nearby so Winnie and Zorro had a couple of years in Hyde with an Arab mare. Zorro’s cribbing made us unpopular so we walked down the hill to Chalford and stayed on a steep bank below the Stroud railway line. It was hard to omit visions of trains toppling of the railway and down the bank, so we moved after a few months and had a few seasons at Painswick squash club stables. I hated the separation, having them so far away from me after the joy of waking in the mornings to see them cropping the grass in the garden, so I started to look for my own land. Fortunately the field at the end of my road became available to rent. Winnie, never a fan of horseboxes refused to load, until after half an hour of trying the driver and a yard hand lifted him into the box out of desperation, much to everyone’s amusement.
The new field stretched out along a steep hill with a ramshackle home made shed and fresh water flowing from a spring on the far end of the field boundary. Winnie had begun to shed his teeth and weight, but he was well, very happy and able to keep his place in my growing herd, so I refused the vet’s advice to remove his back teeth or euthanise. By now there were a range of feeds to help him keep his weight at a healthy level, he stopped taking little passengers on board and started to wear warmer rugs for cold and wet seasons.
In the autumn of 2013 an opportunity came along, to buy a piece of grassland with a corpse and a derelict stone shelter and my herd arrived at their current home.
Winnie’s had a happy life here with Zorro and the mares, growing slower and more relaxed,enjoying dozing in the sunshine,plodding around behind me as I poo picked and calling me when his feeds were due. He welcomed visitors,bearing gifts of ripe bananas, mints and treacle treats. He was still inclined and capable of seeing off a new herd member twice his size and forgetting his absence of teeth.
In November there was a sudden drop in temperature causing the herd to become animated and I felt all was well as he joined in catering and bucking around the field.
On November 19th Winnie refused his last feed of the day. Occasionally this happened and his appetite would return. I noticed a flock of wood pigeons flying up out of the wood, through the tree tops ,splotches of grey spreading up into the sky. The following day he was lying down and refusing food, so the vet came out straight away. Her eyes watered as she checked his heart rate- not okay – double the normal rate indicating of a larger issue underlying it and his gut action was not right. The main vet came in to give his opinion and gave Winnie light sedation and morphine. He said it would be kinder at his age to let him go if his condition didn’t improve. Winnie rallied for a while, getting up and nibbling grass until the drugs wore off and he lay down again.
The end was very quick and painless for him and after the vet left I lay down with him and howled. For the living there comes the unbearable moment of life crossing over to death, caught up in its vice, no longer In the present. All the decades of our close bond and adventures closed away into the past. Journeys end.
The next day it snowed.
Zorro felt the loss of his old friend, in his own way; the absence of Winnie and the routine disrupted. He suffered a severe bout of colic two weeks later which he thankfully pulled through. I feel deeply grateful that he has reintegrated happily with the mares, even taking turns to take the lead.
A flock of birds flew up out of the wood just after Winnie passed and reminded me of this anonymous poem ( possibly written by Navajo Indian priests) that has brought me comfort through past losses.
Do not stand by my grave and weep;
I am not there I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunshine on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the mornings hush
I am the swift uplifting rush of birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Blog and photos by Jo Equineearth.co.uk
A blog written by Jo Fitzjohn, a foster carer, equine therapist and spiritualist, who came on our pilot Woodland Retreat in August 2018:
“Little did I realise the Magical Encounters that where awaiting me as I left home eager for the much needed break/respite. With only 24 hrs to recharge, I thought it was a bit of a tall order for sure. I reminded myself however, that I would be sleeping under the canopy of the trees and stars. Suspended in a cosy little hammock in the arms of the incredible nurturing Mother Earth. It was something I often had dreamt of as a child, listening to nothing more than the rustle of the leaves and hooting of owls in the distance.
As the dark of night drew in and the camp fire had died down, I could feel myself being revitalised by the beautiful calming natural spiritual energies that were present in the ancient woodland. Entranced by their magic in that very moment, I was experiencing the true gifts of their silent voices. Time slowed, to enable me to access the space of such beautiful beings in such peace and tranquillity. A wonderful moment in time that will stay logged in my heart and memory for me to call on when ever required.
I then felt drawn to the horses in the paddock beyond so I came back to myself and quietly made my way over to them as they rested calm in the moonlight. Standing before me was a beautiful grey gelding, his energetic presence I instantly recognised to be that of the unicorn energies. I was moved to tears whilst looking up into the moon and stars, feeling my trust in the universe expand as the loving reassuring vibes of spirit that had gathered close around me, drew nearer still. Again I stood lost in the silence of the moment, connected by the unconditional love that lay between hearts, opening myself up to any messages of support and guidance that my mind, body and soul had been longing for! Enlightenment and wisdom entered my thoughts instantly. I smiled up at the moon knowing that I was far from alone, my thoughts and fears were always being heard by my soul family on the other side. In that incredible moment, time did indeed stand still and we were there for each other and time didn’t exist, only our love. I felt held and safe, full of loving light and gratitude for everything that had been shared . All was well.
The loving healing I had received in buckets full since my arrival at this incredibly enchanting nurturing loving place would continue to hold all in its light, it was eternal. I was blown away by the true depth of the feelings that the loving energies had bought to the surface for me. Again I had to wipe the tears as they fell, releasing, cleansing and soothing my soul as they went; lifting my spirit to new heights. The recharge I had prayed for.
Huge Gratitude and love to all at Equine Earth, I will be back again next year for more amazing spiritual encounters.”
Image: George Equine EARTH
In a recent ecological survey by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust explains how the flora are useful to various species of birds, mammals and insects, some of which are endangered. Sanctuary Wood is home to many different forms of wildlife, but this blog is about the trees and shrubs. They have been fundamental in the therapy work we do here and people have often asked why they feel better after spending time with the trees.
If you have ever read the book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, you will perhaps have more of an appreciation that trees, shrubs and plants are in a social network together. If the woods have grown naturally, trees are in multi generational clusters living together, communicating, protecting, supporting and even sharing nutrients who are sick and struggling. The Woodland Trust have recently confirmed that Sanctuary Wood has ‘Ancient Woodland Status‘ which explains the energy felt when standing in the wood. You are standing with a family who love and care for each other and have done for eons. Some people have even opted to spend the night sleeping amongst the trees on our retreats and have had some profound dreams or visions which will be shared on blogs by them in due course.
Colin Kingshot, a floracologist based in Devon, reports hearing the symphony that the plant kingdom produces however on a subconscious level, we all hear it and we are drawn to it naturally to help us stay healthy. That’s why some of us go for walks in the woods when thinking is to be done. Mature trees give off a deep base note which is helpful for grounding. The music changes when bluebells awaken and not many of us can resist a walk amongst the bluebells which is very uplifting. Those that work holistically know the benefits of the plant kingdom and even those that choose only the scientifically proven medicine route know that pharmaceuticals are derived from the plant kingdom. Plants are healing and they have a lot to teach us.
Here are the trees and scrubs of Sanctuary wood:
“Ash: Strength grows from deep roots”
Ash is native to the UK and can live up to 400 years and reach 35m in height. The canopy supports ground conditions for herbs such as dog violet, wild garlic and dog’s mercury to grow, all of which have been identified at Sanctuary Woods. In Mythology, Ash was used to ward off evil spirits. The wood was thought to have medicinal and mystical properties. Ash was known as ‘the tree of life’.
“Beech: Cross the threshold that is challenging you”
Beech is native to the UK and can live up to 1000 years and reach 40m in height. The canopy provides a lot of shade and a dense carpet of fallen leaves, only hardy shade tolerant plants can survive under Beech. Traditionally known as the Queen of the Woods, it was said that no harm would come to a traveller sleeping beneath its branches.
“Blackthorn: Magic is everywhere”
Blackthorn is native to the UK and can live for up to 100 years and reach 6 -7 metres. It is commonly used as a hedging plant, and they are here at Equine Earth. The sloe fruit are used to make wine, preserves and flavour gin. The wood is used to make walking sticks, and traditionally Irish shillelaghs and it also has an association with witchcraft. Blackthorn is known as magical wood, and the wizards choice of staff. When Blackthorn and Hawthorn are found growing together the land is said to be very magical.
Bramble can grow up to 2 metres in height and grow almost anywhere; originally used as barbed wire for boundaries by Ancient Britons. Perhaps our brambles’ ancestors once used them to partition the boundary around the old Roman Villa Lilyhorn located nearby .The blackberry fruit ripens at the end of July and even today blackberry pickers can be spotted collecting and eating the purple fruit. Our ponies love them!
“Elder: From sacrifice comes restoration”
Trees can grow to around fifteen metres and live for up to sixty years. It often grows in woods, hedgerows, on waste ground, and near rabbit warrens and badger sets where the seeds are dispersed after the fruit are eaten by mammals. The flowers are used to make wine, cordial or tea and the fruit used for wines, preserves and in pies with blackberries. The elder has strong associations with witchcraft and transformation in Britain. Collected elder on St John’s Eve (day before midsummer) can protect the twelfth night celebrations, with the proviso that in return for the elder’s strength there must be an exchange, something given up or sacrificed. To sleep beneath the elder tree is to wake in the other-world some say, whilst others claim on midsummer’s eve if you stand underneath it, you will see a faery troop pass by.
Native to the UK, can grow up to twenty metres and live 350 years. The bark is light brown and flaky and with age becomes cork-like. The sap, as with all maples can be made into a syrup. In some parts of Europe, keeping maple branches above the doorway prevented bats from entering the house. Some herbalists recommend the leaves and bark to strengthen the liver.
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) (non-native)
“Gooseberry: The ancestors walked the way before you”
Originating in Finland, the ‘hino red’ variety is easy to grow and is a very hardy plant now well established in Britain. In Germany, it was planted around cowsheds to fend off witches or faeries. The gooseberry has a long association with birthing, helping to bring in the heritage of ancestors to the new born infant.
“Hawthorn: Challenge opens the way before us”
Native to the UK, also known as the ‘May Tree’ due to when it flowers and is linked historically with traditional May day or Beltain celebrations. Mature trees reach up to fifteen metres in height but are commonly used in hedging. Once pollinated, the hermaphrodite flowers turn into deep red berries called ‘haws’ containing antioxidants favoured by migrating birds and small mammals, whilst people like to make jellies, wines and ketchup with them. Hawthorns were often planted by wellheads or springs, linking them to the wisdom of ancestors which deep running water is often associated with. It is still the custom in certain parts to tie scraps of cloth called ‘clooties’ to symbolise wishes on the branches in the hopes they will be granted.
“Hazel: Seek wisdom in the depths”
Trees can grow up to twelve metres and live up to eighty years, rising to several hundred if coppiced. Hazel is so bendy in the Spring it can be bended into knots without breaking. Interestingly, bees find it hard to collect a decent load of pollen as the grains are not sticky and often grains repel each other; therefore wind pollination is essential. Hazel is found in UK, Europe, north Africa and Western Asia. The hazel supports many creatures, the most famous being the dormouse who eats the nuts ready for hibernation and in the spring they eat the caterpillars attracted to new hazel leaves. Hazel is associated with magic, the wood protects against evil spirits and is used for water divining. The old English carried the nuts as charms to ward off rheumatism. For the Celts, Hazel is deeply connected with wisdom and in Irish mythology are associated with the fae folk, where if two are close together and by water, it is said to be the gateway to the faery kingdom.
“Holly: Energy fuels every action”
An evergreen shrub with very distinctive leaves, a mature trees can reach fifteen metres and can live for three hundred years. It is native to the UK, Europe, north Africa and Western Asia. Holly burns hottest and it symbolises taking action but being mindful of how. fiercest of all woods. Holly is associated with midwinter and the Green Man, known as the Holly King who takes over from the Oak King in midsummer. The leaves and berries have been traditionally used to decorate homes and front doors in winter; the Holly tree is also seen as a fertility symbol and a strong charm against witches, goblins and the devil.
Ivy “Strength comes from accepting support”
Ivy is an evergreen climber, which can grow up to thirty metres. It is often associated with suffocating other trees, however it has its own root system and is does not damage trees. Ivy stops growing before the top of a healthy tree crown, only in individual cases does it make it difficult to assess the health of a tree hidden beneath it if the crown has been compromised. Ivy actually plays a pivotal role of providing wildlife with food and shelter in autumn and winter months. Traditionally along with Holly, sprigs were brought into the home in winter for protection. It was thought that Ivy represented the moon, whilst Holly represented the sun.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) (non-native)
Native to Europe, it is thought this tree was introduced to the UK either by the Romans or during the Tudor era depending on historical source, and by the 1800s it was considered a naturalised species. Trees can grow thirty five metres in height and live four hundred years. Although limited folk lore exists on this species, in Wales the wood is traditionally used to make ‘love spoons’.
Sometimes known as Old Man’s Beard, this plant gets both its names due to its beautiful feathery seed heads adorning the hedgerows in the greyer winter months. This scrub is native to southern England but is now found elsewhere in the UK. Because it is highly competitive with other plants,it is often viewed as an invasive weed where it has spread outside of its native origins. The plant is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in remedies for skin irritations and stress.
Native to the UK, mature trees can grow up to fifteen metres high. Very rare in the wild so there is not much mythology or symbolism associated with this tree. The fruits of the tree are scarlet berries, known as chess apples in the north-west of England and only edible when nearly rotten.
Native to the UK and Europe, in fact the only elm truly native to the UK. The tree can reach thirty metres in height. The tree is associated with melancholy and death because the tree used to drop its branches without warning. Elm was also the preferred choice for coffins. The wood was also used for water pipes before metal was widely available. Like all Elms, this tree is highly susceptible to Dutch Elm disease brought into the UK in the 1960s.