Failure?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I recently had coffee with a friend who also studies the Simple Equine Teaching (SET) method where we commiserated briefly on how we sometimes feel like failures with our horses.

She had a few stories of horses questioning her leadership that sounded to me like she worked through pretty nicely. I think I won the horsemanship fail game with some pretty ugly rope burn blisters still healing on my right hand.

Then there’s the times she won’t stand still while I groom and saddle her… when she walks away from me in the pasture… when she tries to communicate with me so desperately and I have no idea what it is she nips in to the air to see if that makes it more obvious- like someone speaking to you in a foreign language LOUD and S-L-O-W-L-Y in hopes it might help.

I had already gone through some introspection wondering if I would ever get this system really working for me and it’s been a couple of years now.

The rope burns were from an unusual trailer loading where Khaleesi – who generally gets on the trailer without fuss – not only refused to get on for an hour but then loaded and pulled an emergency exit before I could secure her. I grabbed the rope to keep her from fleeing completely (which would have been an entirely new layer of problem to fix). That hurt.

After the rope burn I went for gloves, tying K to the trailer to wait for me. When I returned she walked on like nothing had happened as she often had before and stood calmly while I secured her.

Not enough time to ride I left her resting on the trailer a few minutes while I did a couple barn chores then backed her off calmly returned her to the field.

What happened?

In retrospect there were a handful of things I missed in the moment being in the situation and not removed as I can be looking back. I now see the mistakes I made that made it worse. I also can see the things I did right that meant when I revisited loading two days later the process wasn’t broken after all and in a brand new day she walked on with gentle invitation on a loose rope.

Still, there was a time when I knew so much less and things seemed to be a whole lot easier.

Ignorance can be bliss. However as another friend says: once you see, you cannot unsee.

It may be simple equine teaching but in fairness I was warned it wouldn’t be easy.

Though many methods talk about training humans and helping horses – this system is actually based on that principal than any other I’ve looked into. It’s required of me a higher level of understanding, discipline and control of myself body, heart and mind.

I can understand how many people take a glance, or even try to get started then decide it’s too hard, too invasive, too much to expect and walk away.

On the flip side, submitting myself to this process has also changed other facets in my life from teaching music to relating to my colleagues, family, husband, even strangers.

I’m not sure why the feelings of ineptitude have been stronger lately. I’ve considered it could be a product of having a deeper understanding where now I can see more of what’s really going on, or maybe as I get better my horse demands more of me.

I also think there is something in many women horse owners (myself included) that we want to love and be loved by our horses and then interpret behaviors through that lens. This is a hang up to ever truly understanding them. It’s like hearing what you want to hear instead of what’s being actually said. Love to humans (in my observation) most often means “you make me feel good“.

I’ve been noticing where I find this tendency in myself and I continue to work on the shift to truly loving my horse in the way that means: I am devoted to understanding you and what you need without the lens of what I wish it meant for my own needs.

Hm. Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to love my husband too.

This is a harder path though. To choose to do not what feels good… not to do what’s expected, but what is higher. Not what everyone would agree is justifiable behavior, but what Love requires- even when it isn’t fair to me. Even when it won’t be understood. When it won’t be noticed. When it won’t be appreciated. When it’s painful. When it costs me something and the other nothing. When I’m responsible for only 2% of the problem and I can say: that means I am the problem.

I’m beginning to see that until I realize I am the problem I will always be stuck in the cycle of where I’ve been- and then my past DOES determine my future. The limits I put on how much I’m willing to give, bend or take on directly limits where I get to go from here.

[To be clear. This applies to things I’m committed to or have an obligation to. Things I’ve already involved myself in… this does not mean I never say no, or decide a relationship is one I need to walk away from, or not to rescue or buy a horse… take on expansion in my work etc. Those are also choices I take responsibility for that control my future ability to commit 100% of myself to what I do invest in. In fact it makes me much more aware of what I commit to because I will give everything and need to be quite discerning where I put that force to use.]

Taking responsibility- even when I’m only 1% ‘wrong’ means I now have the power to transform.

Radical. Unbalanced. Wild. Crazy. Yep.

For me, I don’t want to dig around in the sand forever, I plan to walk on water someday. And that means crossing over into a place that is uncomfortable and costs something.In fact I heard last week a saying that you’re not really walking in love unless it costs you something.

About the horses….

I’m trying to learn what they need. Then work on practicing it. I want a best friend, she needs a leader who is a good boss to work for. She is my friend and buddy- but anytime I allow the friendship to grow bigger than our working relationship I confuse things and lose ground on the solid relationship I’m building.

Each horse is an equine with equine language and needs… yet they are all different and need to be related to in their individual way. Their  past influences their reaction in the present yet each moment is new and you can’t allow the past to dictate how you proceed into the future. You cannot pretend with a horse- they know you from underneath your skin yet if you’re not completely confident yet in your knowledge you must fake it till you make it. Always observe and listen to what your horse is telling you- your safety depends on it… but you cannot allow a horse to convince you to change your mind. Stay direct, be as firm as you have to be yet always as light and gentle as possible.

Just like life – until you live this out, until you practice it and fail falling to one side or the other of the razor’s edge you must walk, these things seem like contradictions. They aren’t. They are all true.

Sometimes the closer I think I get to what I really want the more acutely I feel the failures. Failures are also vital in learning how to move forward- it is necessary to learn to feel convicted without feeling condemned. So often we get this wrong. I see people spiral into self-pity quicksand with all the bad choices or wrong paths they’ve taken “I’m just so hard on myself” – it’s a waste of time and energy. However it is important to see where you’ve gone wrong, what the results were and make a real decision to stop that pattern. You may fail again. Then notice, and stop. Conviction lets you realize you made a bad choice, a mistake, a miscalculation… and you failed your horse, your friend, your family… if you slip into condemning yourself you are stuck and worthless. If you look forward and don’t allow it to define you EVERY TIME you begin to move forward and grow and then you become useful. Every moment spent on self-pity for the wrong decisions is wasted and makes the problem worse, not better.

A few days after coffee with my friend I had a real test. I met two friends for a trail ride (for the first time in a while I wasn’t riding solo). One friend was riding a horse she’d never ridden before and that is always an unknown. My expectations were higher than usual for myself and I honestly didn’t believe they would be met that day. I planned to do my best and see what still needs fixing.

I wanted my horse to focus on me completely and not connect to the other horses on the ride.

EVERY THING I DID that day was in mind of connecting with my horse from trailer loading, unloading, groundwork before even walking over where my friends had just gotten on their horses. I continued to expect her to focus on me and not the equines- I kept a good distance from them at all times to not encourage her to to connect with them and not to encourage them getting to know each other.

This is not a social visit for my horse- these other horses are not “her friends”. She had a job.  I rode most of the ride in the back and demanded (from K) at least a horse length between us and the two ahead the entire ride (being in the back gave me more control of my environment).

Once when we took the lead another horse rode too close on K and it was obvious to me her attention was now split between me and the horse that was in her zone- so I politely moved aside and took up my place in the rear again. I was not worried she would kick the horse– I did not allow the situation to continue to that level. I cannot control someone else’s horse, but I can put us in a place where my horse has a better window which puts me in control and being a good boss who protects my horse’s space so she doesn’t have to.

It is not unreasonable that she requires a zone of space around her on the trail, I think it’s ignorant of us (myself being guilty of this for years) to allow them to ride in such close proximity especially tail to nose considering we are also supposed to be in control of them and make decisions for their movement.

When we stopped as a group my horse never took a step without checking in with me and I allowed the other two to get a small lead before moving. That was a great indicator of how much she was connected to me and not the group and I was pleased. Same with a change to trot or canter- she didn’t change until I did. I’ve never had her attention to such a complete degree on a group ride before.

After a challenging week feeling like I wasn’t finding the razor’s edge very well, this was hands down the best ride I’ve had. Three hours with friends on the trail leisurely with my horse completely focused on me was more gratifying than finishing my first 55 at the Biltmore.

The next evening I rode just before dusk and returned home after dark. She was very very good that ride as well and my favorite moment was crossing the lit up bridge over the Jackson River in the dark.

I heard the words of Joyce Meyer in my mind…

Keep doing what is right and eventually you WILL get a right result. There is a lot of sowing seed, pulling weeds, and tending to the soil before the harvest.

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