Give up the pattern

Know when you have to give up the pattern to work on the dance.

Emily Kemp

My long term plans for Khaleesi include finishing higher mileage events culminating hopefully in a single-day 100 mile ride. For Wyoming at the moment it includes having a horse that can function as a solid trail partner including transport on the trailer and being ridden safely and confidently.

I can see the steps toward success and am able to make progress to get there, efficiently and without excess wasted time.

Going solo is easiest. I can force myself into training physically — say for a marathon or triathlon (I’ve done both), I could discipline myself even at a young age to put in the practice to eventually get a conservatory education for violin performance and prepare a solo concerto with an orchestra.

However this gets complicated and messy when you have to work with others (humans and horses).

I really don’t like complicated and messy. Complicated and messy is rarely efficient.

In the recent clinic as I was working with Wyoming, Emily said something that sank deep into my heart and hit a truth nerve.

Sometimes you have to give up on the pattern to work on the dance.

This elegantly illustrates the tension between setting a goal and knowing where you want to end up (the pattern) and knowing when to pull your laser-like focus off the goal to the actual moment you are in; change gears to work on a small piece (the dance) that can feel like losing ground or wasting time.

Behind all this is a deeper question of purpose: what really matters in life? What will have lasting and sustaining value in the end? What investments will truly fulfill my soul?

Questions the busy pace of life insists we ignore, but shouldn’t they be addressed each and every day for a life well lived?

Underneath the surface, regardless of completing a 100 mile single day event, or having a wild mare who submits to a domesticated life with me… I want to do it with integrity. I don’t want to break down my horse and finish that ride at any cost in order to do it on an artificially imposed timeline. Especially based on what everyone else seems to or can do. I don’t want to shut down my mustang mare so that she can do the job I have in mind for her even if she’s not confident or mentally-emotionally ready to do it. (And I’m sure someone more adept at the patterns and dances in horse language would have been able to get this done sooner!)

I am finally learning that I don’t want to force those around me through my plan as if the ends justifies the means. The truth is those seemingly all important goals are superficial. Who I am as defined by how I treat the humans and animals around me matters way more to my eternal being and theirs than if I ever ride Khaleesi in a long distance event or ever get Wyoming on a trail ride.

I also see now that meeting goals and being successful solo – in the end will leave me in a lonely place- so busy and focused on getting there I don’t realize it until it’s too late. That is the trap. I’m left on my island of accomplishments with my tevis finish, a successful strings program, and fill in the blanks with any number of good life goals… yet no one to dance with.

If you live your life only for yourself, in the end of your life, you’ll have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.

Andy Stanley

So is the answer not to have goals? To not dream big? To wander around dancing aimlessly and never get anything accomplished?

Definitely not.

Some people are amazing dancers but they need to find a pattern (good goal) because they are dancing around through life with no purpose looking great and getting nowhere. For themselves or for anyone else’s good. (Though at least they usually do less harm to those around them!)

That is where the tension exists. Where things have an elegant balance. Or in my case: messy and complicated and awkward most of the time. All the things I dislike about the process. All the things I’d rather skip through to the end. All the things I’m being called to dance in myself.

You must begin with a dream, a goal, and end point: the pattern in mind.

Wise people, those with abundant and vibrant lives that make the world better, learn when to give up the pattern to work on the dance.

Becoming skilled at this tension is how you arrive at the end point elegantly and in strength instead of exhausted and frustrated (and hopefully with less regrets). You may not get there first, but you’ll be more likely to win best condition so to speak … physically, mentally and emotionally. And there is an abundance and fulfillment that the unwavering laser-like beam toward the pattern (at any cost to your own heart and others) will never bring.

Yet there is a danger if we focus too much on this point because the dance can then become the pattern and the way to laser-like get to the goal and then it isn’t a dance anymore and you are now worse off than ever.

The dance must be about love and service to another or it is only lifeless dance steps toward the end result.

Take the Bill Murray character in the classic movie Groundhog Day. He begins to go through the motions to get the girl- he’s doing all the right things but it becomes a manic dance of desperation instead of an act of service and love. Everyone can feel the difference. Horses especially.

Time to go from theoretical to practical.

Working with Wyoming recently in the arena: let’s do a figure 8 pattern around the two barrels using the draw back up in the middle to change eyes and switch direction. I could imagine it in my mind and began to ask for the circle around the barrel. It became clear that the barrels had been moved slightly closer and this tighter spot had plenty of room for her physically but mentally she felt a squeeze. She did not want to go between the barrels at all.

That isn’t going to mean success for my pattern.

First she needed to be able to go between the barrels. Option 1 is move them farther apart. Option 2 is to work with Wyoming on being ok with the slight squeeze. (Of course I chose option 2.)

I began asking her through the space; she would go but not smoothly or confidently. She would rush the squeeze spot. So I’d ask again. Just keep trying and it will become easy, right? She’ll see it’s fine. Again… again… again… she didn’t grow more confident with each time, instead it was getting worse.

After rushing one more time through the space not comfortably she stopped and looked at me — something in her eye froze me in my tracks and then it hit me like a ton of bricks… I got stuck.

I was running her through the space, checking the box for that segment, in order to get to my figure 8 pattern. But I was seeing distress in my dance partner – this was making her less comfortable not more.

Slow down. Find out why. Talk about it. Throw away the pattern and shape the dance!

After she went through the uncomfortable space I needed to stop and let her think about it. Tell her that was the right answer and she was doing great. Encourage her.

In running her through that squeeze part over and over thinking I was getting her used to it, my message to her was: you should be ok with this, no it’s not good enough yet, you’re doing it wrong. You still haven’t gotten the answer I’m looking for. I will never be satisfied with your efforts.

As her eye held my gaze, it was as if she was asking me what I was doing? What was she supposed to do? I played back the third perspective of the last couple minutes, realizing what I’d unintentionally done, and was horrified at myself.

I know better.

That is how relationships are ruined and it doesn’t have to be intentional. The actions have the same effect regardless of ignorance or intent.

I took a breath, relaxed and changed course. If the only thing we did that day was acclimate Wyoming to the tighter squeeze between the barrels then that was the dance and it would be lovely. We would have done it together and been a stronger team for it.

The figure 8 didn’t matter in particular it was just something to get us talking. The next day it wouldn’t have mattered if I did the figure 8, but it matters a lot if I demoralized my horse and began to disintegrate our positive working relationship.

The conversations, the dancing together are the whole point. If we have better understanding then everything we want to do together will get easier. We can dance with grace. Developing that relationship takes more time early on. Sometimes we step on each other’s toes a little. Sometimes we get off the page a little. Sometimes one of us gets jerked around. Sometimes we misread each other. But we want to come together. It’s time well invested for a solid foundation between two beings.

Slowing down and changing focus to the dance in front of me made all the difference. When I asked her to move through the uncomfortable squeeze then process it on the other side (for as long as she needed), by the second time she was confident and we did get to work on the figure 8 pattern.

If I would have continued the laser-like march toward my pattern I could have forced her to do it, but I would have been frustrated; she would have been tense and our future sessions would be clouded with doubt that I was worthy of her trust. I would begin to see that she dislikes working with me and disintegration begins with things like her becoming harder to catch in the field, her refusing my requests and not wanting to try for me, me having to use more force to get things done… or give up because the process has become heavy, not enjoyable for with of us and eventually if unaddressed can become dangerous if the horse isn’t the type to shut down and comply robot-like until I finish the work and release her back to the field where she is happier.

Away from me.

Has anyone else had a relationship… family, spouse, friend, co-worker that sounds a little like that?

Some might say it’s the same concept as enjoy the journey and though I think that is a good phrase, I suggest they are not the same. I can enjoy the journey as I force my way through to my goals leaving wreckage in my wake. (Sadly I have done this) And there is also something passive about enjoying the journey. Like watching out the train window at the lovely scenery.

Abandoning the pattern takes action, sacrifice, and a willingness to learn to dance. It can feel like a big risk! What if giving up my efficiency and time table means I never arrive at my pattern, my life goal? What if I look ridiculous to everyone around me who are flying by me in the race for the THING as I waste time dancing here at this moment?

What if I waste my life dancing!?

Especially in the horse world I find a fair amount of people think you’re completely wasting time standing around playing with a flag or asking for flexation at a standstill or learning to ground tie (what’s wrong with cross ties?) or sitting on your calm horse at the mounting block instead of riding off to do something. Yeah. To many who don’t have eyes to see below the surface, the dance is entirely a waste of time.

And YES, releasing the pattern and working on the dance partner in front of us takes courage and faith. We cannot reclaim time. What if we don’t get ‘there’ at all? It is a risk. It takes some mental fortitude for someone like me to set my mind on the value of it and stay in the process when my emotional system is screaming at me to run.

I was reminded yesterday of a moment where I took a risk and literally did ask someone to dance with me. It was in a mostly empty restaurant – but a family style place we knew the owners. Still, not a normal thing to do and I knew it was going to be way outside the safe zone. We had finished eating, it was my birthday, and a song I liked came on. It was slow and we had the whole half of the place to ourselves.

As I had guessed the answer was both no and probably a little are you crazy? Since I figured this would be the outcome and yet I felt compelled to try, I wonder now if the whole reason I was so moved to do it anyway had to do with learning this very lesson years later.

I was the one turned down, but I see differently looking back at who lost more from that interaction.

If he had said yes, it would have been a risk he took in love. Not necessarily romantic fond feeling of affection love which he was struggling with at the time (these blow in and out like summer breezes), but the deeper love that sacrifices for those around us. It’s the love that determines who we are, not how we feel. What he would have gained by saying yes and being willing to look a little silly to a couple of strangers (I think) would have been priceless.

What that teaches me as I reflected back on that moment is to watch for the opportunities around me that I am being asked to dance. By my horses, by my dog or cats (dancing with a cat can get weird…) by friends or family, even strangers, and the biggest challenge comes from being asked from the place of my deep love to dance with those who have hurt me or would like to, people I don’t agree with or don’t understand. But the most important point might be that it is the very creator of it all Himself is the one asking. The very one who asks me to dance even when I’ve hurt and rejected him.

He assures us all who will listen that Love is the primary power and worth laying down your entire life for… not the fond feeling love that comes and goes as feelings do, but the relentless fire force of love, stronger than death and the very gates of hell that powers life itself and is dangerous enough to change the world. This love isn’t for cowards. This kind of love we must choose and requires courage, risk and always costs something of us. The cost of which is always unfathomably smaller than what we gain in the end.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.


Of course Jesus called everyone his friends. And He was really good at seeing those who were antagonistic against him with eyes of love. That doesn’t mean I give all of myself to stay engaged with those who hurt me or invite everyone I don’t agree with into my inner circle- but it will mean stopping on my way to a goal-pattern to sacrifice some time, attention, help or encouragement to someone in my path who needs it. And the risk is that sacrifice could even mean giving up the pattern- entirely. Living this way actually must have a cost. Or how would you know love? If it costs us nothing? Usually it means giving up something for the mystery, trusting it will be worthwhile even if we don’t have the whole contract and fine print in advance.

What would I lose by looking across the table to the one who created it all and say: no, not here, I’ll look foolish, or I’m busy and it will waste time or no thanks God of the universe, my plans are pretty awesome- go dance with someone else…

I want to have the courage to say YES! Because I love. J’aime. I will take the risk.

That is what marks a life that changes the world one dance at a time. A life worth living and dying for.

Published by JaimeHope

Violin teacher and endurance rider living in a rural mountain county - one of the least population dense and without a single stoplight.

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