Thursday, February 24, 2011
More Thoughts on Letting Go
If you haven't followed this link already from Kate's blog, please do. I think you'll be happy you took the time. The blog is called Equine Insanity. The post is about how horses come into our lives to teach us lessons. These lessons can only be truly learned when we enter into a relationship that is more important than just riding.
Her story so much reminded me of my horse, Cowboy. He was the most fearful horse when I got him, and I always thought he was doing it on purpose. As if he had an actual plan to make my life hard.
But I loved him like CRAZY, and I was determined to stick with him no matter what. Why would I want to stick with a horse who had an actual "plan" against me? Probably, on some level, I knew he didn't. There were far more moments of tenderness between us than contention. He was as drawn to me as I to him. In me he saw a forever person. In him, I saw many of the answers I was seeking.
Cowboy really has taught me most of what I know about horses. I've shuffled through one philosophy after another to reach out to him and form that relationship we both wanted. Because I didn't feel safe with him, I first gravitated toward the "alpha role". It was the easiest thing to grab onto at the time and it did move us from unsafe to safe--and safe, with horses, is a very good place to be. That "alpha" stance probably got me 70 percent of the way with Cowboy because it increased my confidence in him and his in me. It made me feel like I didn't have anything, physically, to fear anymore. It was the only way, at the time, I could really wrap my brain around the idea of boundaries and how to enforce them. Boundaries, are a good thing.
I think back and ask myself if I could have learned this "passive leader" role before going through the alpha role, and I don't know the answer. I don't know if I had enough hands-on information about horses to trust them enough to make it work. Living with them, day in and day out, has helped me with that, but I still have a long, long way to go. I have a goal--a vision of sorts--and each day working with my horses seems to confirm it and build toward it, but it's not 100 percent natural for me yet because of my lack of confidence.
With each new horse, you almost have to learn it all over again. After all, Beautiful's not Cowboy. Can I trust her in the same way?
Let me quote the Crazy 8 ball, All signs point to yes.
It appears that, after a relationship is formed and your horse knows you understand it is a partnership, that you're going to listen to them as much they listen to you and respect what they're saying, their fears diminish. When their fears diminish, our confidence can increase.
This is why it's so good to let go of old stories.
1.) Because maybe, just maybe, 90 percent of what our horses "did wrong" was due to us. Just maybe, a few years down the road, we're going to look back and think--oh my, that wasn't Cowboy's fault, that was MY fault!
2.) We have to give them space to react and not confine them. In my mind: the idea of flight, or the possibility of flight, is more powerful to a horse's internal management system than actually fleeing. A horse must first know there is an exit in order to decide not to take it. Remember when I wrote about how I was afraid of Cowboy jumping streams and logs, so I held him back? Then, I took jumping lessons, went out on the trail last year and gave him his head and he never jumped! When he knew he could, he didn't. How can we give them this space if our bodies are always anticipating the worst?
My friend who trains horses can sit anything. She was born in a saddle. When she test rode Cowboy for me eight years ago, he didn't do the things he was going to eventually do with me. Why? I can only attribute it to her confidence as a rider and her natural tendency to let a horse "out"--let them make "mistakes"--let them move under her. She's not a bit fearful, so she doesn't anticipate problems. I've found anticipation creates problems, rather than prevents them.
If I was expecting Beautiful to turn and run out of the trailer, what would I do different? I'd probably hold her lead rope tight and "confine" her. But what a joke that would be. Little old me is going to "confine" a thousand pound horse? Don't think so. It had to be her choice. All I could do was encourage and lead her and help her feel safe. If I had been holding on tight to her lead rope, what would that have been communicating to her? Probably, that she did, indeed, have something to fear.
If I'm expecting Cowboy to jump and I don't want him to, what would I do to stop him? Instinctively, I'd probably pull back on his reins. Ha! What a joke. He's either going to back up and go nowhere or jump anyway, the bit is only a tool for communication, it's not a true barrier that stops a horse.
So, what's another way I could do it? I could use the bit as a communication tool, signal my desire for him to walk over the log, and give him the opportunity to walk over it. If he doesn't, I can turn him around and ask again, and again, and again until I get a walk, and then proceed. Maybe you all can think of other ways to do it.
I think all of us would like to do the minimum amount to get the maximum relationship with our horses, and there is so much we can learn from each other as we work toward this mutual goal. It's like we're all making maps of a new and wonderful territory and then sharing what we've seen. That's why I so enjoy going to all your horse blogs and reading your stories with your horses and the insights learned from them. We all have the same destination--a journey to the heart of our horse.
Katariina has this quote on her blog, Equine Insanity:
If you have come to help me...you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Quote by Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland, 1970s
The pictures above were the calm before last night's storm. We got 12" of snow and it's still coming. So, I'm homebound, reading all of your wonderful stories and thinking about spring!
Happy last of the winter trails, everyone!