Sunday, March 10, 2013

The true power of a horse

Horses are great gifts in a life often too full of distractions and disruptions, things that throw up roadblocks to being able to find peace and quiet in my own soul. Besides the instant relaxation that hits me with the first whiff of warm horse, there is what comes next: the teaching, the learning, the quiet realization that you are accepted for who you are and how you treat them, that they will give you back what you give to them without strings, that you will always know where you stand with them because they are incapable of dishonesty.

What are you doing back there? My itch is up here.
It is all of that and more that keeps me coming back to them day after day, what continues to reward me in sometimes small and sometimes huge ways. They remind me of who I really want to be every time I look into a big, brown eye and decide what to do next because if I am in doubt or unsure, they know it. If I am doing something that feels wrong to me, they know it. If I have not gained the trust required to ask them to do the next thing, we cannot move forward together--and together is the only thing that works with a horse.

And being that they are giant fuzzy bio-feedback devices, it is hard to mistake when things go astray.

A horse is a powerful being in and of itself--designed in every fiber of its being to move with grace guiding coiled strength. To ride a horse is to connect with that energy, feel it flow beneath you and--if you are a more gifted rider than I usually am--flow with it. I do not disparage myself out of modesty or because I'm fishing for compliments--it is merely because my goal is to have that feeling on a more regular basis. This may require an amount of letting go I've not yet achieved but would like to. Some days are better than others and some days I manage to surprise myself.

Hello, I love you won't you give me a carrot?
There is the obvious stuff, like body position and balance--those things confuse the horse trying to do what they think you want and offer the opportunity to lazy their way out of something for the horse that does not want to do what they think you want.

This is now a vintage shot -- 2007 -- of Lena and me.
I have a pelvic twist--up and to the right--that means my left seat bone is sometimes not in the saddle when I think it is. Or rather it's not there when I'm not thinking about pushing down into my seat bones evenly. This happens a lot. Some days, Calabar and Lena ignore this. Some days, we are suddenly moving in circles when I'm pretty sure I haven't asked for it. Except my butt has asked for it and they now decide that's what I want. Apparently, my horses want to be chiropractors.

Not sure this is a circle yet, but we are getting there  now
They are also amazingly good at reminding you what is real and important. Just a hint--it is not necessarily returning a text message the second you receive it. Unless you really want to try texting while flying through the air. I'm sure some people can text and ride at the same time, but Calabar has every right to expect my full attention if I'm going to ask him to do trot circles instead of enjoy his pile of hay at dinner time.

But beyond the healthy (in my opinion) side-effect of taking a break from modern technology for an hour or so, there is the grounding that comes from breathing in the smells and basking in the aura of a being who does not care that you were a nerd in high school or that you still bite your fingernails and beat yourself up for this bad habit. Do you treat them with consistency and kindness? Do you represent something positive in their life? They are quick to answer that question--especially when you don't have food in your hand--by coming up to the gate to greet you and pointing happy ears in your direction, by poking their nose into the halter before you even get it unraveled, by not bucking you off when you ask something that doesn't make sense or that does not take them closer to the gate and the aforementioned dinner.

Dixie is the definition of power and grace--and she will indeed demand all your attention. NO. I am not keeping her. I swear. I think.
One of my volunteers said to me today that being around the horses has been so good for her. The simple act of picking up poop is not just good, basic physical exercise, it is an act that has clear and definite objectives that are easily completed. The poop is here, now it is in the cart, now it is in the poop pile and no longer in the stall. There are no office politics involved (or if there are, you are at the wrong barn), there are no delicate dances around sensitive topics. There is poop or there is no poop. (Though in Dixie's case, getting to the no poop side is a challenge worthy of the most meticulous stall cleaner and I'm not that person.)

"Are you sure you got all the poop?"
Really horses are a lot like that in most things. Each horse is different and each horse requires a slightly different approach, but in their world it is fairly black and white. The puzzle comes in figuring out where that line lies with each horse, then knowing how to balance on it and get the results you want while not killing the joy for either of you.

That's right--either of you.

We saw--only once, thankfully--the joy killed in one of our own horses. We allowed someone we thought had experience to ride Lena and assumed she would toss anyone who was too rough with her. We were wrong, dreadfully wrong, and our beautiful, gregarious mare who walks up and sticks her nose in the halter stopped doing that very thing. She walked away from you, into the back corner of her paddock, and shied away from the gate. That led very quickly to that person not riding her again, though not as quickly as we still wish it had been. That person tried to to control Lena without getting her cooperation, without giving her the opportunity to try and learn--even if she got it wrong sometimes--and he shut her down, turned her joy inside out into fear. Thankfully, she has recovered and is now quite happy to come out and play. The damage was not permanent though the lesson (for us, at least) definitely was.

Trail shadows are good shadows
Giving up the illusion of control for the greater joy of harmony and balance is another good trick horses can teach us. I know that my control over Calabar is only as good as the deal we make minute to minute and that is based on what we've built along the way and sometimes a quick refresher course. He does not have time for my ego, nor does he care if he hurts my feelings. This is something we sometimes forget with horses, but even more often with other humans. Our goals and what drives us--sometimes not such good things eating at us--become our focus, regardless of those around us. Horses have very direct ways to remind us we are not paying attention--the ground can be a very hard thing, after all--but humans wrap things up in emotions and what is pushing at them, rather than stepping back and saying, "What could I do to change this situation in a positive way? What is my responsibility?"

Calabar saying he is not comfortable with this particular situation
That is the power of my fuzzy brown mirror, anyway, all versions of it--teak brown, spotty, bay and whatever comes next. They are amazingly quick at letting me know when--though not necessarily how--I've gotten it so incredibly wrong without hitting me with their own baggage. Or maybe it's just that their baggage really doesn't matter much because right now is more important. They certainly don't care about my bad day--unless it affects what we're doing--so why don't we just move on from here? And really, there is only feel and patience and working together NOW to get to the next thing anyway.

Horses offer us the simplest path to ourselves if we are only willing to open up and follow it. They can teach you to listen, to feel, to accept, to learn and how to just be in the moment with yourself. Life is short, even if it's long, and every moment is a chance to make it better.

Dixie says outside is better than inside and thanks for the poop clean-up , too. 


4 comments:

Kate said...

I was thinking about doing a post about horses as a spiritual practice - but you've done it for me!

Suzanne said...

Ahhhh... priceless!

lmel said...

What a lovely post--and so true! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Cindy D. said...

I am new to your blog, but what a day to join in. That was beautifully written, and oh so true.
I try so hard to teach my children that same lesson. In every situation, conflict or whatever...what is my role and how can I make this better.
In fact as I was reading this I was also talking to my son on the phone who was asking my advice. My advice, "own your part, fix what you can about you and the rest will come"
Thank you so much for that lovely post.