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LIFE BETWEEN THE EARS

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Seeing The World With

ife

B E T W E E N the ears

Contributors to the “Life Between The Ears” social media accounts transport us to the world’s most interesting and beautiful places —all viewed from the saddle. By Molly Sorge Photos By Barbara Lowell

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eeing The World Barbara Lowell’s viewed many parts of the United States, including the Grand Canyon, through Arabian mare Sera’s ears.

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LIFE BETWEEN THE EARS

Reggie and Sera take a break by the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, watching the mules that carry tourists down the Bright Angel Trail.

Sera specializes in narrow cliff trails like the famous Bright Angel Trail, the route from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River at the bottom. It’s one of Barbara Lowell’s favorite rides. “When you look out in the morning over the edge of the Grand Canyon, it gives you goosebumps,” she says. “You do kind of think, ‘I am crazy for doing this!’ It probably provides me with more anxiety than any other trail I’ve ever done, but I can’t stop myself. I still want to do it again and again.”

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For Barbara Lowell, “life between the ears” isn’t just a hashtag—it’s a lifestyle. “It makes my heart feel full,” she says. “I

just feel so free more than anything else. It’s the best-case scenario out of everything in life, all at the same time. You have a pretty view, a nice horse, and it’s quiet and peaceful. I just love everything about it.” Lowell grabs every opportunity to load

After starting out from the Mosquito Flats Trailhead in the Inyo National Forest (Calif.) in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Barbara Lowell and Manny trek through the Little Lakes Valley and its chain of lakes carved by glaciers.

her horses in the trailer and set out from her San Diego home to explore the country. On horseback, she’s traversed trails in the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Bryce Canyon

(Washington) and many more. Her husband, Titus Lowell, is frequently by

sometimes spending a few weeks riding and camping in national parks.

National Park (Utah), Zion National Park

her side on these trips, but since he serves

(Utah), Yosemite National Park (California),

as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, Barbara

on a Facebook page, “The Wonderful

Goat Rocks Wilderness (Washington), the

also rides by herself when he’s deployed.

Journeys of Sera the horse and her friends.”

Sierra National Forest (California), Grand

“I’m certainly not shy about riding alone,

Many of their adventures are documented

Barbara started the page after posting

Staircase-Escalante Monument (Utah),

and I have that wanderlust disease like you

to her personal Facebook account an

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah), North

wouldn’t believe,” she says.

astonishing video taken from the saddle

Cascades National Park (Washington),

Barbara works as a farrier, which gives

as her beloved Arabian mare SA Saraphim,

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California),

her a flexible schedule. And whenever Titus

or “Sera,” navigated a narrow, rocky path

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

has leave, they embark on long adventures,

called the Kendall Katwalk along the side

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Titus Lowell and Reggie pose in the Nautilus Rock, a famous sandstone formation near the White House Trailhead in Kanab, Utah. C H RO N O F H O R S E .CO M | MAY/JUN E 2018

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LIFE BETWEEN THE EARS of a mountain on the Pacific Crest Trail near Snoqualmie Pass. The video got tens of thousands of views, and Barbara found herself overrun with friend requests, so she started the @SerasJourney community as a place to share her adventures with fans. Recently someone commented on one of her Facebook posts full of amazing photos: “You need to write a horse trail and travel book!” Lowell replied jokingly with the prospective title, “Time And Money So Well Wasted.”

SERA STARTED IT ALL Sera, 22, is Barbara’s eager companion for most of her rides. The bay Arabian came to Barbara as a giveaway 5-year-old in 2001. “She was the most rank, nasty mare I’ve ever met in my life,” says Barbara. “She wasn’t mean; she was just really difficult. I think I had the trailer hooked up and was

Barbara Lowell on Reggie in one of the uniquely formed sandstone slot canyons at Willis Creek Canyon.

crying twice because I wanted to take her back. But she just turned the page one day. I worked with her for six months and made no progress, and one day I went out there, and we’ve been best friends ever since. There wasn’t any one event that sparked it—maybe she had a good dream that night. Who knows?” Barbara and Sera did Arabian shows, dabbled in team penning, and they competed in endurance and competitive trail rides, but they’re happiest out on the trails. “She’s very smart and very in-tune to everything. And she takes care of me,” Barbara says. “She trusts me to take care of her, and she watches out for me. It’s a very good relationship. She’s not an easy mare, but she’s a very good mare. “She’s very special to me. If bombproof exists, this is the horse that is it,” she adds. “We’ve had some of the most astounding things happen, and she just doesn’t care.” Barbara recalls one ride in Swaddle Valley, Washington, where she and Sera were on a trail high in the mountain when two F-18 jets

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Sera looks out over Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, which houses the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, pillars of rock left standing due to erosion.


On the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail, there’s a suspension bridge to cross over the Colorado River. “You enter a tunnel first, a very narrow tunnel that’s long and dark,” says Barbara Lowell. “And then you come out of the tunnel, and you’re about 500 feet above the river. And all of a sudden, you’re in bright light, and the bridge is there. You go over it, and it moves, and it goes forever. It’s absolutely mind-blowing. When I came out of the tunnel, I clenched up, and that was another moment when Sera was like, ‘Come on!’ She never missed a beat; she was just like, ‘Hold on, here we go. This is normal.’ ”

flew right overhead. “All of a sudden I saw the dirt move, almost like a rock slide under her feet, and the ground rumbled. They were level with us, going about 500 miles an hour. Boom, boom. They were so close— within a few hundred feet of us,” she says. “After they passed, I was just shaking,” Barbara continues. “Sera just looked back at me with her hip cocked, just totally disgusted, like, ‘Wow, you’re really stupid.’ It was like nothing happened for her. That’s the kind of horse she is; she just doesn’t care at all.” Sera’s forte is narrow, steep trails on the side of mountains. “If it’s the Grand Canyon, you ride Sera. If it’s Thunder Mountain, you ride Sera,” says Barbara. “If Sera’s on a narrow trail, she’ll almost single-foot it. She’ll condense herself and walk one hoof at a time in a straight line.” In July, Barbara made the difficult decision to have veterinarians remove Sera’s right eye after a misdiagnosis of a fungal infection led to a melting ulceration. But Sera was back on the trails by September, and Barbara says she doesn’t see any sign that the loss affected the mare at all.

A SPARK Manny, a bay gelding, and Reggie, a gray gelding, are the other two Arabians that live with the Lowells and Sera on their 9-acre San Diego property. Barbara and Titus choose which horses to take depending on the demands of the trails and the horses’ talents. Sometimes they’ll bring the third horse and pony it. “They love it. They love it,” Barbara says. “When we go to load them, there’s almost a fight at the trailer of who gets to get on. There’s like a spark to them, especially in Sera and Reggie. Reggie really lights up on the trail; he is so happy out there. He was such a miserable horse when we got him. He was so neurotic. And now he’s so bold, and he wants to be in front and explore.”

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LIFE BETWEEN THE EARS The couple spends a lot of time conditioning in the state forest near their home, but Barbara also makes sure to put a good base of training on the horses. “Our horses are really broke,” she says. “We’ll work them in the arena and work on getting them to listen to us and bond with us. They know that if they’re afraid, they can go to us, and we’ll take care of them. They have a strong survival instinct, and they take good care of themselves and you. You just have to be calm and non-reactive with them. Like if they’re on a cliff, and they lose a leg slipping off the trail, they can’t over-react. Or if they get caught in some branches or something, you need a horse that will sit there and let you take care of it or pull themselves out slowly without panicking.” Barbara has plenty of knowledge to draw from when she’s training the horses. She grew up taking dressage and hunter/jumper lessons and showing locally. Her parents emigrated from Poland to the United States as political refugees escaping communism in 1991 when Barbara was 8. Starting in 1994, Barbara began to travel back to Poland to visit family for a month or two, and she rode during those trips. Washington was Barbara’s home in her youth and early adulthood, and she embraced the outdoor lifestyle. “I used to go camping every chance I got,” she says. Trail riding was a fun break for her and Sera between shows. Eventually Titus, who wasn’t a rider before he met Barbara, joined them and bought Reggie. “Then we just went nuts,” she says. “We’ll probably go on at least 10 camping trips a year, some of them small, some of them big.”

“It is pretty amazing. It was one of those places that was just pretty weird,” says Barbara Lowell of riding over the Ross Lake Dam in North Cascades National Park in Washington. “You ride across thinking, ‘Am I really doing this?’ That was the only option to get from point A to point B, so we did. It’s actually a very beautiful ride going way into the back country.”

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Sera looks out over Upper Cathedral Lake in California’s Yosemite National Park.


military assignment. While there, Barbara focused on endurance and competitive trail rides. But when they moved California in 2015, they dove head first into trail riding adventures, taking advantage of all the national parks and forests on the West Coast. It’s not the life Barbara envisioned for herself, but she wouldn’t change a thing. “I went to school to be a vet, and I got a bachelor’s in chemistry and biology for pre-vet,” Barbara says. “And then my life kind of took over. I ended up teaching riding lessons because that’s what I enjoyed, and I bounced around a bit. My life is not anything like it was supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to be married; I was never supposed to move out of Washington state. I had all these rules, and everything has fallen apart, but it’s wonderful.”

Sharing Life

Rick Dahms Photo

In 2014, she married Titus, and they spent a year in North Carolina thanks to his

BETWEEN THE EARS

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ince 2008, Life Between The Ears founder Kristine Dahms has posted stunning photos shot by riders in all corners of the world with one hand on the reins and the other on the shutter. Dahms mines photos with the hashtag #lifebetweentheears, contacts the original poster of the image, then features the photo, complete with educational details about the place that’s portrayed. Life Between The Ears photos appear on a LBTE Facebook page, an Instagram feed, a dedicated website (lifebetweentheears.com), a Twitter feed and a Pinterest page (all under @lifebetweentheears account names). Dahms—who lives in Vashon, Washington, with her Welsh Cob, mini horse, pygmy goats, two dogs and two cats—rides dressage and takes quite a few photos herself on the picturesque Vashon-Maury Island. Dahms has taken some of the Life Between The Ears images from cyberspace to print, creating three lines of greeting cards with selected photos from her social media pages. A portion of the proceeds from the card sales goes to the Equine Land Conservation Resource (elcr.org). Cards are available at lifebetweentheears.com/retail.

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Chronicle of The Horse | Untacked | May Jun 2018  

Life Between The Ears on-going feature department in Untacked magazine.

Chronicle of The Horse | Untacked | May Jun 2018  

Life Between The Ears on-going feature department in Untacked magazine.

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