There is a Proverb that tells us a man makes his plans, but God establishes his steps. It is something I take to heart. There are some events I have a certainty about and regardless what comes my way I know my path is to go over around or through whatever the obstacle is. An example of this is Big South Fork 2021 (read that story here: Speedbumps and Roadblocks) when I went to load up and get on the road and my horse was missing. As I called neighbors and wandered the woods behind the property I was concerned but also fairly calm because I was reasonably certain we were going on that ride, so the horse would have to be found shortly and not be injured. It delayed us a couple hours, but she was found grazing in a nearby cemetery. Apparently the grass is extra sweet there.
There are events I’d like to attend but for whatever reason it’s obvious to me there’s a brick wall and I’m not passing without some kind of damage to myself and others. When I sense those I don’t bother anymore- it’s never worth hitting one’s head against a brick wall.
And then there are the events that I think make sense, they fit into the calendar, and I simply don’t have a strong sense of either way. These I hold loosely. Until I hear a clear “no-go” I keep moving forward. The ride Thanksgiving weekend was one of these. I had hoped maybe this year I would actually get in a late season ride in South Carolina.
Without question I wanted to go to this ride. I had plans to make stops on each end of the trip on the way to visit friends and I was looking forward to those visits. Also my horse is thriving. This season she has grown increasingly powerful- she is mentally engaged, she is willing, there is less brace and new levels of softness and relaxation in her biomechanics; she’s healthy, her diet/nutrition is dialed in and we’ve struck a great combination of work and rest. After seeing what she offered me at Big South Fork in September I was curious to see what she had for me in one more and a less demanding event to finish out the season.
K and I ride alone 80% or more of the time, but recently we’ve enjoyed some lovely company and ridden with various friends at some of the most idyllic places here in the rural mountains. I am grateful those rides were completely without incident as I look back.
Because the very next time I went to use my truck (for a solo HIT run on the Jackson River trail) my truck was clearly not feeling well. Something in the timing and idling was clearly off and the truck would stall. I canceled my solo riding plans for the day and got the truck into my trusted local family owned repair shop only to hear that it was an extensive issue and sorry no, with the holiday, there’s no chance it would be done in time to haul to the ride.
There was a voice of clarity as I sat down taking in the disappointing news. There might have been some creative ways around this but in that instant it became obvious to me.
Can you let go of this ride?
I have learned- it’s the long game. This will be for my good. It’s a promise. Even when it doesn’t feel good at the time.
Not necessarily in avoiding tragedy.
I used to think being blocked out of an event was to save me some horrible disaster – but now I’m inclined to believe it’s more likely something better is on the other side of the exchange.
It reminded me of a saying Mark Langley repeats often in his work with horses:
Can you let go of that thought?
I love this approach and he is so gifted at working with the horse first in their mind. If the horse’s mind and body are separate- not in the same place- you’re going to have trouble. Maybe in a minute, or maybe in a year… but it all stems from a thought.
It’s brilliant really. And ridiculously obvious. As I began going down the trail of thoughts leading to emotions and actions, like every good truth, I see implications of being able to recognize this. Most troubled horses are not present with their human educator/rider. They may be mentally with their friends, they may be mentally back in their home field or barn stall, they may be mentally withdrawn into their own inner world- far away from the reality you are trying to navigate. They have found a safe place in their mind and they go there.
Depending on the level of trauma, discomfort, confusion or fear they can have a wandering thought to a very “hard” thought. Hard thoughts are difficult to dislodge. The art of good horsemanship to Mark is once this disconnect is realized (step one is being aware when the horse’s thoughts and body are disconnected), how to convince the horse to let go of that thought and come to be present in the moment and the work.
Much of natural horsemanship is built around using the horse’s prey drive to bring a bigger worry and fear than the “hard thought” they had fixated on. Most people only have the tool of “move the horse’s feet” using increasing pressure to attempt to get to the brain. This can be effective, but I am considering that it looks even more effective than it really is.
I’m not sure getting a horse responding to flight mode really getting to the brain? Or at least the brain I want engaged? Depending on flight away from pressure is the responding brain — I want the thinking brain, the curious brain, the searching brain. It is true for all beings that we cannot think to the extent we are in fear or our sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
I don’t want a horse always running away from something, but one who is relaxed and searching- moving toward their thoughts.
Mark talks about using a “feel” to guide the horse toward a thought instead of flight away from pressure. And I find myself lately working with horses who are disconnecting in some way saying hey there, can you let go of that thought? Because what I want to do will feel good to you, and no one can really feel good when they are disconnected from the present… so if you’ll let go of that, I’ll give you something better.
It’s an invitation. I’m going to offer connection, confidence, patience, and the ability to act toward a thought. Fighting reality is always stressful. For both humans and horses.
I don’t want to be a human with a hard thought, refusing to let go if the one who is trying to lead this journey is gently reaching out to bring me to a better plan. Can I be led? There is a difference between steadfast and stubborn; between dedicated and stiff-necked. The line is usually hardest to see from the inside!
Since I can only make plans, and God establishes my steps, I’ve learned in recent years to stay flexible. In this case I had been wrestling at every layer to make plans to go visit my family for Christmas and nothing was lining up right. Within about 30 minutes from the news my truck was grounded for now I had tickets sorted out to spend thanksgiving with the entire family, which will mean not traveling over Christmas.
If you’d asked me a week ago would I want to maybe just cancel the ride to do a family Thanksgiving I’d have said honestly no, I don’t want to do that. Yet this is apparently where my steps are going to take me.
In perspective I am also thankful for some things:
- I am thankful the way this ride became clearly blocked was a truck issue instead of a horse injury issue. Both can be expensive- but I’d rather have a healthy and sound horse any day! A vehicle is an inconvinience, a hurt animal is so much more.
- I’m also thankful that the truck was totally fine in order for me to enjoy those lovely rides with friends, then completely not fine when I attempted to leave the yard- it didn’t go bad while hauling my horse somewhere with no cell service. Even more, it didn’t go wrong after I’d gotten to SC leaving me and K stranded in a strange place far from home.
Besides switching gears quickly to plan a family trip, I also switched gears quickly to put K on more generous rest. It was only a couple of weeks, but the sooner she goes into R&R the better for her system. Everything good begins with rest.
My vision for today is that next season will begin sooner than usual and we will aim for some earlier spring events. I hope that 2023 is the year she thrives through a 100 completion. Those are my plans as of now… I have reason to believe these are good plans, but as always I will hold them loosely. And when the one who is handling my own education in the greater scheme of things asks me can you let go of that thought? I hope I have the softness and trust to say ok, where are you leading instead of bracing against with hard thoughts… digging in my hooves in a refusal to shift gears. I hope I have the wisdom to stay connected and present even when things are not as I had hoped.
And greater things are yet to come.