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Stefanie Travers. The Art of Horses.

Girl Warrior Stories| Views: 2152

Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, equestrian and fine artist, Stefanie Travers, who has lived her life by her personal mantra, To Thine own Self be True. Farrier, trainer, teacher and ardent Philosopher of the Horse, she has been exploring the deep soul connection we feel to these remarkable creatures since she could walk. Always shy and reserved, it was through the horses that Stefanie discovered the joy of sharing and co-inspiring as a teacher, particularly the exploration of the Big 3: Feel, Timing and Balance. She has a passion and reverence for the Old Californio Style of horsemanship, the slow, soft, balanced way of developing a horse into a powerful and assured partner, and an art unto itself. Whether it is a well-trimmed hoof sporting a handmade horseshoe, developing a fine bridle horse, teaching a horsemanship clinic, evocative painting or sculpting the next bronze matters not…it’s all art for her. Currently, Stefanie lives with IV, her palomino Quarter Horse Bridle Horse mare and Dunede the up and coming Palomino Lusitano filly, and her Great Dane, Rose in Merritt B.C.

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

Well hmmm, let’s see… I suppose it would be my absolutely firm belief that we ALL can do anything we darn well want and watch us do it. I grew up having two deep loves in life; horses and art and it seems my entire life has been about the journey to live these truths wholeheartedly. To gain courage (nothing more than wanting something more than the fear and doubt surrounding it) and belief in myself enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other, going in the vague general direction of my heart, adjusting course when the answer was…yeah, NO, being willing to be terrified in the deep end of the pool and risking it all, being ok with looking stupid, learning on the fly, facing deep fears of shyness and being ‘seen’ because I HAD to show up and do those things in the moment. It just truly was non-negotiable in my twenty’s to not to follow my yearnings. I think life has given me the opportunity to learn how to stand on my own two feet, to be self-made in my choices and feeling the terror of no net beneath me…and of course, the accompanying rush of adrenaline both good and not so good. My life mantra is “To Thine own Self be True” mixed with a solid dose of “ You gain the strength of that which you overcome.”

When did you first feel the soul connection with horses and how did that affect your life?

My soul connection to horses is something that I’ve always felt; it was always there, even before my family had land for horses. I began riding at 5, and finally got my very own pony at 7 and they have been a constant in my life since then. They were an escape from turmoil, a safe haven that offered no judgement, no agendas, and instinctively at that young age I realized that they were my teachers and great metaphors for understanding myself. Virtually every decision in my life was directly or indirectly related to horses. Choosing to feed, house, care for and ride an over a thousand-pound animal or animals (it appears tough to have just one) necessitates a pretty strong conviction to do so and also directs the course of one’s life. I could be having the worst day on the planet and climb upon the back of my horse and gallop and it would all fall away. Their smell, whilst buried deep in a mane blowing back over you, muscles carrying you as upon wings, the thunder of their hooves pounding, or the clip-clop and silent conversations held at dusk midsummer, dust and sweat and leather and joy all mingle to create a euphoria that never fades. Why…oh I’ve wondered over the years and really feel it must be many lives lived this way that just feels like home. I see this resonance in so very many people, even if horses are not a part of their lives…there is this wonder attached to them, a fascination, awe, and respect that a creature of such magnitude would allow us to be with them. 

Tell us about the Western Dream and why you’re so drawn to that particular style.

I was born and raised on Vancouver Island, and yet sagebrush, pine trees, rolling hills and rocks were in every fiber of my being since birth. We’d get on the ferry and head north through the Fraser Canyon and I’d be transported into some sort of other realm and never want to return. I began riding English, and jumping then finally earned enough money to buy my first western horse and saddle at 13 and never looked back. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it must be tied into the iconic image of independence, freedom, vastness, aloneness, yearning, adventure, exploration and fierceness that somehow is all rolled up into the ‘Western Dream.’ I feel it holds such a draw and mystique for millions of people for those reasons and it’s all tied back into following your dreams, following the call of the unknown, undiscovered and yet to be explored.

What have horses taught you about yourself? About life?

Let’s see. Oh, everything! I think so many girls are born with this deep, inexplicable connection and draw to horses, and I wonder about our joint species shared histories as our human history has literally been carried over the millennial by these creatures. Our battles, our never-ending expansion across the globe, our need to explore, find food and new territories full of glory and tragedy and no other animal has been so closely woven into our tapestry of society and through it all the horse remains a fascinating paradox of wild and free, yet malleable into domestication, fiercely strong yet infinitely gentle, brave as a lion yet timid and flighty, soft velvet encasing slick, hard muscles. I think in so many ways they mirror our own female experience of this world, our adaptability, our ability to sacrifice and yet indomitable will to survive and be free.

Horses have taught me, required of me, to be intensely committed to my dreams. I was not raised with the support to ‘earn a living’ with horses…I was told they make a great hobby, but no one can actually earn a living with them. I was managing retail in my twenty’s and decided that it was now or never and committed to Farrier as a profession. Now, back in 1998 or so, it was still an enormously male dominated trade full of centuries of bulky blacksmiths to back it up and I was told it was blasphemy to have a girl as a Farrier. So naturally with that sort of challenge, I graduated at the top of the class and began developing my shoeing career. This alone taught me those fun entrepreneurial skills, determination in the face of dismay and doubt, sorting through vast fears of shyness and inadequacy. It may have been a jaundiced perception, but through virtually every step of my careers in predominately male genres shoeing/training/teaching clinics, I have had to exceed the men around me to be perceived at an even status and this has been both tremendously annoying and yet…so good for me. I’d often lament how nice it would be to have a ‘wife’ to do PR, book, answer communications, do the books, get groceries and clean the house! Horses have taught me courage, they have taught me how to relate to people, how to come out of my shell and be seen, they have taught me how to become more present, more still, more aware. They have taught me about the essence of the Tao “active not doing, ” They “allow”, more sensitivity, about boundaries and self-protection. They have taught me that everything in life is good and we are all trying the best we can and to listen.

You have a passion and reverence for the Old Californio Style of Horsemanship. Why does it touch you so deeply?

My passion for this centuries-old style of riding in harmony and deep connection to one’s horse, whilst still preforming a job all day in rough country really resonates with me on a number of levels. The horse and its nature are respected in the equation and nothing is rushed, short-cutted or rough, taking approximately 7 years to have a horse ‘trained’. Cattle are handled in an equally respectful manner and nothing like what is seen in modern rodeos. Great care and pride is taken in having no stress put on the cattle as they are handled and even roped, most of it is done at a walk. It’s art and harmony with one’s animals, the land, elements and self. The gear used is crafted by incredible artisans as well and is made to fit the horse through a step by transitory step of ever refined aids and fine communication that is allowed by this natural material in fine plaited rawhide, mane hair ropes, saddles painstakingly built by hand, jewelry like silver accents. Horses and humans alike are taken through a process of refining their sensitivity to one another and the level of communication is remarkable. I often say by the time a horse is ‘straight up in the bridle’ you are having conversations about quantum physics with your horse and a person observing would be hard pressed to see any aids being given to the horse, and they are at one with each another. It has such a reverence for the horse, and all the hard work and time put in, and the beautiful, handmade tack with its heavy silver ornamentation that pays homage to all that has been put in on the journey to this level of horse and human relationship.

In addition to your love of horses, you’re an amazing artist, yet that part of you took a backseat for a number of years. What inspired you to get ‘back in the saddle’ and begin creating art again? 

Ha! Well, as I mentioned, I was ‘gifted’ with two loves in life that are often are poo-pooed as not viable income earning potentials…horses and art. But the art/painting/sculpting thing is weird, as I’d ever done much of it since failing art in high school…I just KNEW I loved it and it was one of my ‘things’. So then, because one of the biggest things horses have taught me was that I was, it seemed over the years, apparently capable of making my most cherished dreams come true and (perish the thought) create an actual viable income with simple dogged determination, unrelenting faith (oh, ok…there were TONS of agonized tears, hungry days and savage doubt), persistence and just daring too, I toyed with the idea I could perhaps explore maybe just a wee bit of art. And…well, that’s really all it took for my artistic side to come stomping up from the basement and say NOW! You will create NOW! So I hired a life coach to install accountability and encouragement, signed up for a weekend private painting lessons with a girlfriend and began to see where this aspect of myself wants to go with all of this.

How did you kick-start your creative juices after your hiatus?

Interesting question! I never felt a lack of creative juices, but they had been channeled into the development, learning, promotion and sustaining of my varied horse business. For me the tough…I mean TOUGH part was eking out the time (read: involves commitment mixed with desperation) from earning a living/keeping commitments/staying busy/etc. Everyone faces these challenges of earning income versus perusing heart goals and being a single self-employed female, it was unrelenting…no workie, no eatie. And of course, it was an odd conundrum as I was already doing and living my dream and loved my life yet I began to feel stirrings of yearning again. The complexity of establishing myself as an equine professional kept me happily entertained and freaked out on the raggedy edge of growth for years…until, gradually it became easier, less challenging, habitual (ahhhhg!) and I felt my growth curve declining. I friend said to me one day, “Sometimes the biggest block to a great life is a good life.” And I felt that WHAMO in my bones. And still I was tied to my self-identity as a Horsewoman/Farrier and all that meant to me even though I’d been doing commissions for clients and weaning myself off that whole life, the friendly ole Universe likes to help out when we aren’t REALLY paying attention and sent me a nice, big ‘accident’ to shove me off the cliff. And, of course, as it turns out that these two loves weave together beautifully and I do not need to lose all of one for another, just refine them and dare to believe that really can have all I hope for.

What do we need to know “for sure” about following our passions?

Dare to believe them. Dare to believe that that thing that is singing your siren song, that irresistible call is indeed going to pull you over the cliff. The cliff is an inevitable obstacle on the path to living and following your passions. Yes, it’s terrifying. Yes, it is indeed dangerous. Yes, you could die. But…WAIT we all die anyway! And really…better to die pursing out lives flat-out, adrenaline flowing, eyes tearing with the velocity of challenges met and overcome then the guaranteed slow death of the soul in fear, false safety, withering slowly away as our dreams implode and eat us up because of ‘what ifs’. I think THAT is selling our soul. The Universe never gives us a wish without also giving us the power to make it come true, but it is up to us to accept that gift, embrace it, chase it, fumble and fall, learn and grow, look stupid and foolish, but…be true. The rest of us need YOUR gift. We all owe it to one another to express what we are here to do. It’s what your deepest, most cherished, dare-to-believe, hidden away heart’s desire is.

What obstacles have you overcome and walls have you broken down?

For me, it was that culturally and familial belief systems, which then became mine, of that deep doubt in the validity of my horse and art abilities and talents that has been the single defining element of my life. After I’d failed art in high school and was told neither interest could EVER sustain an income AND top it all off, I’d end up hating them too, was enough to stop me in my tracks for almost a decade. So to take on a male dominated career such as horseshoeing and succeed, to shift into a colt starter and problem horse specialist in a remote location with no phone, internet or human being for 5 k’s, to establish a human teaching program with horsemanship clinics and public speaking, to take on young apprentices yearning for similar things and to finally begin painting and sculpting and selling my art, all without the aid of a life partner, being completely independent (don’t ask why THAT is…I’ve no idea) has been a most fascinating journey of truth to self. When I was hurt on a remote ranch shoeing this fall and sustained significant, and yes, life-altering injuries I realized right away it happened for a reason. It was a heads-up that things need to be changed and shaken up. That there was something I wasn’t paying attention too. Life likes to do this to us…you know, be all helpful and stuff.

What would you tell your younger Girl Warrior? 

That I love her. That she’s incredible and unbelievably unique and kick-ass. Then I’d leave her alone…it’s a fantastic journey, this life of ours…all of it…the “good, the Bad, the Ugly”. I’ve always loved the metaphor blacksmithing provides with the iron in the fire. It gets heated to red, then hammered on the anvil, then back in the fire and out…multiple times, over and over and this is what forms and creates tempering, strength, resilience and great beauty without which the steel would lack sorely and be dull, weak and easy to damage.

What advice would you give to the next generation of Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?

Be still. Listen to your heart, not your noggin. Your head needs to learn how to believe what its heart says, needs to listen and then support the heart, be creative, determined and channel its energy into that…not arguing with the heart. We need them both, but working together towards the same goal. Then write it down. Then go get it. Be creative and bold in your thinking. Be unrelenting in your quest for following that thing that draws you. DO NOT DOUBT YOUR DREAM. Ask the very people you admire the most for help. Get ok with being embarrassed or feeling dumb, that will come and go in waves and matters less as you get older/wiser. This is a biggie…Do it yourself. Don’t expect someone to pave the way, make it happen, support you. It’s cool if it’s there, but never let it stop you if it’s not. Ask questions. Be unafraid to fail (Tip: you never really fail…it’s all designed to help you get clear.)

Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s)?

Sheila Varian. Sheila was a woman who created a legacy in the horse world and just did exactly what she set out to do. She won a highly prestigious show back in the Sixties (the snaffle bit Futurity) on a breed that never competed in that event (Arab) and on a mare to boot. She kicked the boy’s butts and did it with grace, style and authority. She then created a dynasty in the Arab world that completely changed that breed and always remembered her vaquero Old Californio roots, and did everything with style, great care for folks around her and dignity. I actually got to meet her and shake her hand before she passed away. Incredible, incredible Girl Warrior.

What’s next and where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Whew! F U N! Play! And paint! And Ride! And share! And disappear into the back of beyond and spend time with myself and animals again. I know I am about to begin another new chapter and that excites and scares me. I feel a huge need to simplify and downsize, like a lot of us. For now, I’ve let go of a dream of land ownership and am embracing even greater freedom and will give this Art Thing its head, let it run free and hold on tight, see where we go. There are a few dreams tugging at me, such as a Fairy Tale I’d written years ago needing attention and paintings to bring to life, and I am deeply enamored with Utah/Arizona/New Mexico lands with the topography, history and art…and horses. It doesn’t get much sweeter then that for me.

If a Western movie were made of your life, what would it be called

“Into the Great Wide Open”

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