Activators and Enablers of Spirit


Chief Phillip Whiteman Jr of the Cheyenne Nation says that Horses are “Activators and Enablers of Spirit” and that they are “The Creator’s Universal Tool for stirring the Spirit of Mankind”

What if we lived as if it were true? Is it even possible to love them, protect them and honor them until we do so for ourselves? What if they truly are mirrors into who we are reflecting back everything we need to see in order to come into balance in our inner and outer worlds. What if  we lived as though we are connected to them to them in an ancient and sacred bond that has made us and them who we are collectively.

Is it possible for us to stop dumbing them down to our level of perception and except that they have gifts far beyond our wildest imagination, that they are not “dumb animals” but rather “angel helpers” as my Andean friends say. Chief Phillip also says that “they know what you know and they know what you don’t know”.

They are ancient survivors and super sensory masterpieces of evolution and adaptability and can we even put a material value on that?

It is hard to believe but our children and grandchildren very possibly might not get to meet a horse as magnificent as Foxy. His kind and their numbers are so low now that the genetic viability concerns are very very real and present dangers to them. Even with his fused hips he has done more to “activate and enable” spirits on this farm than any church or ceremony or movement I have ever been a part of and he didn’t need a single word to do it with. Just his presence, just in his willingness to show up and stand alongside us.

At Blue Star we are doing our best to make sure we ask these questions and do our best to honor in each and every moment in the very best ways we can. Foxy matters, his kind matters and our lives matter. The natural and universal laws that govern him and all of nature runs through our own humankind too. We are all connected.

In these uncertain times we are now forced to downsize to re-evaluate what we can do for our part, in our community. Like all other non-profits we are seeking creative and unique ways to bring the support the horses need .

At Blue Star we are asking that we continue to do what we can to explore their mysterious and powerful partnership and show some gratitude by helping provide them with what they deserve. A loving space that is theirs to be all that they are and ever have been for humanity, our great “spiritual” allies in finding our way home.

Please Join the Herd today, it is as good a day as any. Join us in providing those that live here with what they need so that they can do what they do for the world.



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Open Letter to Animal Rights Activists against Working Horses by Emma Rickenbach

Emma is a barn manager at Blue Star Equiculture, retirement sanctuary of carriage, logging, plough, police and pack horses from all over the northeast.


Dear Animal Rights activist,

To the ones who sped past our carriage, and screamed at us from doorways in a fit of rage yelling nonsense  “Horses don’t belong in the city asshole!” The sun was shining down brilliant and warm on a beautiful February morning in the city I am learning to drive horses, the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. With shocked smiles on our faces we said “have a nice day!”

You must truly know little which begs me to ask What do you know of your history? Maybe you call yourself “a progressive” Fighting what you believe to be the good fight, there are no good fights.

But lovingly I tell you, that to be progressive is to embrace that from which you came and seek common ground. To restore the ancient bond with some of our closet friends and helpers, the Horses.

Draft breeds are dwindling down with each passing year, of the five draft breeds that came to help build America, three are on the endangered list now. The mighty Shire, the great Clydesdale and the Suffolk Punch and that is because we deem them unimportant, or without use in these “modern” times.

You yell that you want these horses to be off the streets. You say horses belong somewhere running free.  Did you know that average life span of a wild horse is half that of a working horse at the very best.

In that hopeful, uneducated statement of “setting them free” Holds a weight unbearable to hold and too painful to bear if you are a Horse, who is more and more marginalized as we decide they are not fit to live in the world we created with their help.

Of the nine million horses in America, nearly one third of that population are homeless, neglected and at risk for a horrible three day ride to be brutally slaughtered without the compassionate concern for what they are experiencing. They are unable to get the care they deserve and badly need, the partnership, the commitment to their lives and well being.

Stripped of a connection that has been theirs for over six thousand years or more. Our shared history.

They need their purpose..

Just as we so badly need ours.

I have personally learned  from taking care of a retired, disabled and homeless work horses that without purpose they get depressed or become weak and unable to lift their great bodies off the ground when they grow older, not having the structural strength they need and develop doing the job they have been bred to do, pushing loads.

Without purpose or much to do they get depressed or develop neurotic behavior much like we do.

The work horses on our farm remain close to the barn, even with their acres of pastures because they want to be close to humans and that daily life of productive partnership. When the older horses watch the young horses go out to work they watch expectedly that maybe they will be chosen next, some kicking the fence begging to be chosen for a job.

Over one hundred thousand horses are sent to slaughter each year in Canada and Mexico and both destinations are merciless prospects for them as is the trip to those sites with no food or water, crammed in stock trailers not designed for them.

92.3% of them are in good condition, able to live long healthy, productive lives if given a chance.

Did you think or know this?

How can you consciously commit them to life of marginalization and boredom. How can you strip them of their purpose without knowing them at all?

These magnificent spirits wish to continue to work alongside us. They wait for us to wake up and see their strength and courage and ability and allow them to help build a new way of life, a better more connected future.

They are our future. A real sustainable lifestyle could be ours with their help.

So dear animal rights activist,

Please do your research and spend time with these beautiful beings.

Restore the sacred bond

Reconnect to the natural way with spirit and by peace and love.


Your Friend,

Emma Rickenbach

February 22, 2017 Palmer, Ma. Blue Star Equiculture



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On my way to the City of Brotherly Love!

The horse I drove in Philly, Tom, who came to retire here on the farm with a acute lymphedema. We could write a book on the experience of caring for Tom and a lot of the book would be the close relationship I had to him. He was one of my greatest teachers and inspirations for so much of what I do today. Here we are standing in front of the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. Tom left this world in 2010 loved and admired and held closely in countless hearts in the city and on the farm.

I am going back to work in the National Park in Philadelphia. I can hardly believe it, it is a dream come true in many ways. It has now become a reality. The time has come for me to explore ways to take care of myself while  keeping my commitment to the horses here on the farm. I intend on always doing what I can to facilitate a connection to the work horses and here on the farm we accomplish that in an extraordinary way and I am so proud of it all. I will build my new life all around it, with the farm at the center, for the rest of my life, god willing.

Tom and I in a picture found on Lonely Planet. This carriage would later come to be on the farm thanks to a generous donation from Jeff Polep of Polep Distribution. These days we keep it safely undercover in storage until it  can have the repairs and restoration it needs in order to be fully functional for many more years to come. The famous #4 has even been in feature movies!


#4 helping the Blue Star horses and Paul and I  do our  job of bringing Santa and Mrs. Clause to their appt in Chicopee of giving presents to the homeless. This awesome carriage came from 76 Carriage Co. BIG supporters of our work and close friends and colleagues these days.

Driving a carriage in Philadelphia is deeply personal. My years driving in Philadelphia were some of the best of my life and the reasons are simple. For the first time in my life every fiber of my being was joyfully present. I loved going out in different kinds of weather, through all kinds of seasons and holidays, through time and endless founding stories of our how our unique and important democracy came to life and how this great country came to be what it is.

Zoe and Tom in Philly in 2007. My daughter Zoe grew up around the work horses always helping  them in some way. These days she continues to be a big part of our work at Blue Star, the working horses are permanent friends alongside her, she doesn’t want or need to live without them. Zoe is studying massage and permaculture and we are sure she will design a life of independence and goodness and we are sure there will be a work horse  or two or more involved.

While I was working in Philly I felt wrapped up in stories that mattered, that changed the world and shaped who we have become. It is all there in Philadelphia, from the early Swede, Swiss and Dutch settlers (of whom my family was a part of as religiously persecuted Mennonite) to Chief Tamanend of the Lenape Indians to the arrival of William Penn to the secret meetings of our founding fathers at Carpenters Hall.

76 Carriage Co. carriage in front of Independence Hall.
Bud the horse, the reason we created Blue Star, former 76 Carriage Co. Philadelphia carriage horse and master teacher of life. Some of us believe Blue Star is Bud’s dream for his own kind, it sure feels like it! Bud lived out his retirement with us and left the earth in 2012.

I can’t wait to be there again, walking along those streets telling the stories of the lives that came before and buildings that housed it all. All of that history, drama, epic rising and falls, our American story. I wasn’t a patriotic person until I did that job and now I find I am deeply patriotic and proud to be American, proud to be born on this land and proud to be woven into the fabric of who we are, all of us. Who we were with horses throughout time is also recorded there and having a horse as a working partner while traveling through time and history is incomparable. I imagine I will have lots of blogs related to my experiences to come.

My friend Shane recently told me that the boldest thing to do right now in the world is to love yourself, love, love, love…….this is my way of deeply loving myself and for the first time in a long time has given me a new burst of life, something that I am grateful for. There is nothing like remembering where you come from to help direct where you are going.

Bud like so many great equines throughout history inspired a greatness in those of us that knew him. He lives on at Blue Star in the history and in the spirit shared here. We were all lucky to have known him. A former amish youngster bought at an auction who went on to have an epic life in an epic National Park where he worked happily for over a decade. Bud hated retirement, but he adjusted and in doing so taught us that the needs of these working partners are indeed unique and special and worthy of a home of their own.

There is an awesome crew on the farm who all have the drive, commitment and energy to continue to lay the foundation of what is important work to us all. I do not have to be on the farm all the time anymore, there are others that can look after it as I have done for over seven years now, with love and gratitude and openness to face the future with horses at their sides, where they belong.  Alot of what I do these days only requires that I can get on-line and I can do that from virtually anywhere.


Please join us as we venture into this new journey for the farm and those that call it home. The many retired, disabled and homeless work horses. Help us celebrate and include them again into our communities, where they belong.

Join the Herd!


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Frida, it’s not your job.

Working animals who have it in them to “work” will invent jobs all on their own if they are not clearly communicated with and even with the best communication it can take a lot to get the message through to them. Frida has appointed herself as the “enforcer” of rules we have for the horses. We ask the horses to not break, or lean or kick or chew or push the fences all day long. When we get tired of it we just put electric wire up. We do not need Frida to help us with this and we remind her all day long that it is not her job, yet she has made it hers. Last night Jay took a moment to ask her very politely to please stop barking at the horses on the fence. Merlin listened in attentively and maybe it was the way Jay asked or that Merlin witnessed it but Frida has not barked at any horses on the fence for over 24hrs now. Her feelings seem hurt but it is small price to pay for the peace we will all have now…..if it is really so.


Jay carefully explaining just why it is so darn annoying to us humans to keep repeating ourselves over and over about the same things.
Frida tucked her head in his lap and seemed to be profoundly sad that her job wasn’t having the desired effect of making us proud. She has spent a lot of the day today inside, feeling kind of sorry for herself, like German Shephards do when they feel their superiority isn’t acknowledged. Merlin seemed to love the whole encounter and who knows what he got out of it but I bet he likes having a quiet Frida around at dinner time.

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“The most Penetrating of Preachers.”

Arthur and Mario under the tree. A painting from the collaborative work of Suzanne Strempek Shea and Susan Tilton Pecora “A Year at Blue Star” coming this Spring 2017.

I know, you thought I was going to say Horses! Well, obviously they are too, but this blog is about a tree. A tree that lives on our farm and with whom I have personally lived with for nearly eight years now. Throughout my time on this farm, at least once a day, I ponder the great White Pine that lives in the hayfields all alone.

Chyna and Duchess lived out their lives with us on the farm. In 2010 they were fully retired and both crossed over within a year of each other. Chyna lived the longest, until the Fall of 2015.

Early on, when we opened in 2009, we named the tree the Belgian Pine after a pair of Belgian mares, Chyna and Duchess, who would rest under it in our first summer while helping us move compost and soil. One day the owner of the farm, Tommy Roberts, stopped to tell me the story of the tree during his time on the farm. Tommy made a decision when he bought the former dairy farm to keep the giant tree standing for his pair of working horses, so they could rest in the shade if needed. The day he told me he was pulled alongside the road in his farm truck watching the students from Pathfinder Voc  School working, they have worked during the summer every year since in the farm garden. He had a tear in his eye when he explained that he was witnessing a dream of his own, to see young people working under the tree with soil and to have a team of working horses resting under it. “I get it”, I thought, “this farm is special.” What makes it special are too many things to list but overall it could be described as an oasis really. An oasis of natural beauty with a vibe all of its own.

The Tree is a central figure in the story of this farm and no doubt has been standing before the first Scottish family settled here to cultivate the land.  In 1725, King George granted this land to a Scottish family who began a textile mill down the river from the farm, establish the early settlement of what is now known as Three Rivers. Since that time this farm has served to provide countless families and animals sustenance and security.


During that first year we put in two large spiral gardens attached as an infinity symbol, under the tree.  They were meant to be permaculture gardens with a diversity of plants but they mostly became gathering places and habitat for grasses, birds and other woodland creatures, a magnet for all the beneficial helpers a garden would want, still permaculture in a natural habitat kind of way. The spirals are living, breathing beautiful little eco-systems with worlds of their own, but this story is about the grand old tree that lives over them. The tree where the love of my life took his own life nearly two years ago.


Writing about the tree, pondering the tree, standing under the tree or with the tree are all heavy prospects for me. My head spins when I try to articulate it,  it feels like an ancient call in my body, “wake up” “stay awake” “you are needed, you are loved” “don’t even try to get out of it!” Nothing simple for me and many others that have a history on the farm too. We have all been moved by what this work has brought to our lives and much of it not at all what we expected when getting into it. Above all though, it has brought us the great beauty of getting to have a very strong and intimate connection with nature, with the horses and on the land.

Lenny Woodis and Mithra being with the tree in their own way.

The other day Deb took a picture of me driving Mario and Punch under the tree during a snow storm. I love this picture and it triggers powerful emotions and if I had to describe what they feel like they are most like what it feels like to survive, for me anyway, and I have fought for my life many times, I know that feeling well.


This survival story is the most bittersweet for me. Surviving suicide of your beloved in the midst of manifesting your life’s work and purpose intended to bring goodness and sustaining life for horses, humans and mother earth is no easy task for any spirit and mine most definitely did not feel up to the challenge.

Troy Phillips former Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Massachusetts, overseer of sacred sites and full blood Nipmuck, whose ancestors once had their summer encampment here once peacefully along the riverbanks.

After Paul’s death my native friends from every direction came to help steer us through the tragedy for the lands’ sake and the animals’ sakes and for our own sakes too. We heard from the Nipmuck people, the “People of the Pond”, the original peoples of this land and they shared that the tree was a grandfather tree and loves humans, it doesn’t mind standing alone because it doesn’t feel alone with the humans that admire him. They went on to say that tree was scared we would cut it down or that it would be forgotten and left alone. Upon hearing that a brave and wise student of ours from Stockbridge vowed to keep the tree company for the following months in order to give us time to adjust to what had become a new world for us all, with the tree at the center where it always had been. Mithra Kunlatunga spent the whole summer sleeping under the tree. Jon Katz has written wonderful pieces on him.

Mithra wrote to me the other day and proclaimed “I am coming in May, I bought my tickets!” This is great news to us all, really great news and I am sure the tree already knows and is happy too! I never doubt that Nature is way ahead of us in “knowing” important things.

Whether we believe that the trees have feelings or not we would have to acknowledge that our Tree is special. When I heard that the tree was sad I felt worse than I already did and that was pretty bad. Mithra told me to not worry that everyday he would tell the tree how much he loved him and never let him forget even for a minute that we were not going to forget or hurt him ever.

Mark and Iceman, the Belgian work horses that took the place of Chyna and Duchess seen doing one of their countless tours, with Paul and I on the farm in the earlier years.

Thanks to Mithra and time and seasons and friends and healing I can be with the tree and every time I am I feel I am a better version of myself, more what I want to be in the world and less of what doesn’t serve me. Our tree is truly like a loving pastor or spiritual elder holding us powerfully where we are at, unconditionally and lovingly. He radiates a powerful charm and is home to the hawks and eagles and crows that live on the farm too and he is the perfect gateway to our inner worlds upon whose gates the horses bring us and this tree is the place where my beloved left this world.

Mithra and his old friend, the tree. Photo credit: Jon Katz

This is the first of my commitment to write blogs, to finally tell the stories of the farm and the beings that find themselves on it. I have had a very long hiatus from writing and a breakdown in technical equipment, meaning two broken laptops and limited access to the only one we have. I am done with the excuses and I am going to find a way. I want to share the stories of the farm with a real desire now. The stories made here are amazing and miraculous and humbling and grounding and inspiring and sad and ridiculously funny too….and so much more.

Chyna and Duchess and I at Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s World Peace and Prayer Day 2012, the day I met the love of my life, Paul.

I read recently that trees are the world’s oldest living organism, our silent companions, permeating our most enduring tales, inspiring fantastical cosmogonies, teachers of good lessons. Our lushest metaphors and sense making frameworks for knowledge…..Yup all of that  and thank you Maria Popov for saying so in your awesome article “The Secret Life of Trees: The Astonishing Science of What Trees Feel and How They Communicate”

Our stories need to be told and I hope this blog inspires you to tell yours in your own way too. What I have learned above all else in the past years on this farm is that we are each important pieces to a giant whole big tapestry of light and love made up of the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors as well as the love that holds it all together. Like Chief Arvol Looking Horse says “Did you think you were created for anything less than deciding the future of mankind?”

Please join us in our efforts to share some goodness and weave some more stories with our communities retired, disabled and homeless working horses!

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