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 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!


  1. I like that, a journey to the heart of your horse. It's a way of finding the way to your own heart at the same time, don't you think?

  2. Another great post - linking again. I think the concept of giving the horse the space to move, and not constraining, is a very powerful one.

  3. I am letting go in a different way--letting go of all the good times we had when my horse, Cruiser, was young and allowing him to be old. It is a tough road to travel, but it is all about acceptance.

    Bhuddists say we should let go of our attachments, and that is what the old stories are--attachments. Attachments cause suffering. We need to be in the moment.

    Easier said than done, but it is a good goal.

  4. Joanne--absolutely! I think that's the draw to horses. When you're in harmony with them there is a certain peace you feel in the saddle that is priceless.

  5. Kate, I do, too, but it's a weak area for me. I so wish I had my friend's confidence to do that, but for me it's still an ongoing process. At least I know where I want to be.

  6. Judi--that's an interesting way to look at it. You've got me thinking now. And, I agree it's easier said than done. It's a day by day, moment by moment process. When it does all come together, though, what a great feeling.

  7. Excellent post! I spend a lot less time worrying about what my horses are going to do, because I've learned that so far I have been able to ride out whatever issues arise. I've been on a bucking horse, I've been on a rearing horse, I've been on a horse running backwards downhill, I've been on a horse falling off a cliff... The interesting thing is that as soon as I do nothing, the horses stop and think and correct the problem. Sometimes I as the rider have to get out of the way to let the horse make decisions.

  8. That's an excellent observation, NuzMuz--and you triggered my cliff memory! In my early days with Cowboy, we rode along cliffs a lot, and he was ALWAYS leaning in toward them and walking the edge. One day, I was riding with another friend who was very experienced and she was behind me--I said, Look at my horse, he actually wants to fall off the cliff!!! She said, do you know why? I'm like, why? She said, Because you're leaning away from the cliff so much your body is throwing his off balance, so he's overcorrecting to the exact side you're trying to keep him away from. I had no idea, but my body was actually leaning sharply away from the cliff!!! She had me raise my hand in the air to correct my posture, and voila--he came back to the middle. I've got to add that to my things never to do list. I had forgotten it. Good for you surviving all those things!!!

  9. I think the confidence comes with time. I'm much more confident now after working with a number of very different horses and having to find my way to leadership with them. I think experience makes you feel like a leader. I knew what to do before but didn't have the confidence - and the horses(s) could tell. It's hard to bluff with a horse. It's a journey...

  10. Annette--That's a good point. I do believe that broad confidence comes from riding lots of different horses in different situations. My friend in the story is a colt starter--and she's been doing it for about 20 years or more--so she's had the variety of experiences and, like NuzMuz said, the confidence to know she can survive the bucks, rears, jigs and missteps. I have confidence with Cowboy, Red and Shadow--but I'm building it with my green fillies--Cia and Beautiful. This will be last time ever starting green horses again. I've done it two times before this--so I've got my baby fix. From here on out I'm going to grow with the ones I have and, if by some freak occurance, years down the road, I have a need to find another--I'm doing it just like Kate did. I'm going to find a Pie!!! I mean, I love this experience of raising babies--gentling a Mustang--but I don't have a need to do it over and over again.

  11. You have a really nice way with words and expressing ideas. We, too, started with the alpha style, but both of our first Mustangs said, "No way!" It was actually Kitty Lauman, at an auction here in CO, who helped us 'see the light' of the 'least resistance' way of handling the wild ones. What a difference; it was like night and day. I love to watch her handle her horses; you can see the love there, but they don't walk all over her, either. That led us to a winter of reading Mark Rashid's books, and many others, but we always returned to Mark's.

    We are working on 8 in. of new snow and still coming, so enjoy this time.

  12. I think confidence is the key to everything with a horse. If you have that, you can build anything with them. And I think confidence is very much affected by what's happened in the past. It's one thing to say you're going to let go of that stuff and another to actually do it.

    Sounds to me like you have great problem solving skills and the way I see it, that means if you decide to, you can problem solve about anything having to do with your horse. If that is the case, then why wouldn't you have confidence that you can find your way to the other side of anything that might happen? That's what I think confidence is really about with a horse.

    I have no expectations that my horse can't or shouldn't do x, y or z. In fact I'm open to those possibilities and anything else the horse might find as a response to stimuli. I do not look for what he might do, I wait for what he does do. I allow my horse to decide and do whatever then I respond believing I will find a solution to get us both safely through whatever arises.

    I figured your snow had arrived by now. We got a lot here as well. It's too icy underneath it for horses to go out, so I am inside messing on my computer too.

  13. Juanita--How interesting--I also got my ideas from Kitty Lauman when working with Beautiful in the early days of adoption. I got my hands on her series, From Wild to Willing. It was the most amazing thing I ever saw. I haven't seen her in person, but would love to. I think Mustangs, more than any other horse, teach us this principle of boundaries, yes, safety, yes, but how little can we do to get it and, in turn, get them to relax and become willing partners. Thanks for bringing that up and reminding me. Anyone--Mustang owner or not--would love her videos. I'm still Mark Rashid's books and I agree, they're very good. I'm hoping to get over and see him when he comes through this spring.

  14. Mikael--sounds like you have a good philosophy for dealing with your horses and you don't have issues with trying to overly control or box them in--confidence is the key.

    I should probably have more than I do considering I've never been hurt by a horse, but I attribute that to never doing anything we're not ready for, riding with friends who are like myself, and raising good horses I have relationships with. If I were to go out and ride other people's horses, it could be a completely different story. With Beautiful's saddle training, you're right, I need to put more faith in my ability and her ability to problem solve.

  15. I believe in order to become a better horseman - you invariably become a better human. You have to dig deep, and deal with what you find out about yourself, like it or not. Then you'll move forward with your horse.

    And being in the moment seems to resolve most issues. Sounds simple and isn't. Well, it is for the horses - just not for us :)

  16. Great read! Got me to thinking about some things I'd lost sight of with my Spirit. He is so much more sensitive than Bo, so in essence, he is probably more aware of me, my intentions, etc in the first place. Reading your post it was one of those "Ah ha, oh yeah!" moments.

  17. Leslie--I know what you mean about some being more sensitive than others--I have seven different horse personalities out in my barn.

  18. I hate when this happens! No, not really -- it's just that something has been leading me deeper and deeper in my relationships with my horses (and myself), and just in the last couple of weeks there have been lots of "pokers" poking me to search, go deeper -- when part of me just wants to believe that the status quo is okay, that all is okay where it is -- which is sort of a paradox, because you have to be okay with where you are before you can go deeper -- clear as mud?

    Linda, that quote at the top, I've read this recently and I can't place where - it possibly could even been in the book Riding Between the Worlds that I borrowed from you (which is one of the "pokers"). The book itself is so deep I almost have to shake myself back into the real world of daily chores when I put it down. I identify with way too much in there to ignore all of it, and, like I said, part of me wants to disbelieve it - that there is so much more unraveling that I could do to be "authentic."

    Then I went to Katariina's website, and again, another "poker," more thought-provoking stuff there and a deep spirit - one that I could see and identify with on many levels. I especially identified with the story where she advised someone that it was okay not to ride -- Imagine that -- feeding and caring for these expensive animals and surrendering the worldly thought that we MUST ride them. This has been in my subconscious for as long as I've owned Indy (my troubled Arabian that rears), but still I had given in to the nagging notion that I MUST find a way to make him into a riding horse. Could it be possible that Indy has other gifts to give other than carrying me around?

    This is getting long, so I'll quit - but man - what a strange couple of weeks I've had!

  19. Wow, Laura! You were really drawn to that book at coffee. I've been wondering how you like it. I got her other book, Way of the Horse, and the cards that go with it. So, maybe this week, if we all get together for coffee, I'll pull a card for anyone who wants one. She makes it clear they are not Tarot cards--but just insights that help you go deeper into your relationship with your horses. Although, I do believe strongly in fate--a spiritual force--because my two cards were PERFECT for me.

    I know what you mean about liking the status quo, too. I was really enjoying the status quo these last few years. I was thinking I'd reached my plateau and was happy there...until Beautiful's training started in earnest, and now I'm out of my comfort zone again. Actually, I'm happy to be out of my comfort zone. Really happy.

    I love the idea of not having to ride your horse, too. I have a couple horses--Jasmine and Red--who I see as non-utilitarian. Cowboy may join them sooner, rather than later. I told my husband the other day, if we have to nerve Cowboy at some point and he's no longer rideable, I don't care. I love my relationship with that horse, and I want every last day I can have with him--riding or not. The memory of the times we rode together will just make it all that much sweeter. And if I end up with all non-rideable horses someday, so be it, but I'm hoping that doesn't happen.

    Looking forward to talking to you in person!

  20. Another great post with wonderful insights. It's taken me lots of time and experience with horses to gain my confidence which in return gained their trust and confidence in me. There are so many lessons in life we can share with each other and our horses.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.