officially… according to Webster:
- easy to mold; not hard or firm to the touch
- having a pleasing quality involving a subtlety
unofficially… the urban dictionary:
- A person who is loving, kind and pure.
- a state of internal sensitivity
- example: If someone is soft, they make you safe. You light up when you see them. They are never mean, and you trust them.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit. I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Where to begin…
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
The horses were far afield when I pulled in to the property, but by the time I got to the fence they had come in close.
I observed as I walked to the field: The girls were more active than usual. On yellow alert.
Could be the cool weather. Could be the light but gusty wind. Could be an animal around the pond they were tuned into (the ducks and geese were squawking more than usual). Could be scent of bear or coyote in the air (although most of our bears are hibernating now). Could be nothing.
It didn’t matter anyway. It just was.
Observe and stay soft.
I waited inside the fence as the three mares sorted out their deal. Wyoming as usual came up first to greet me. Sometimes I interact with her sometimes I don’t. Today I gave her head a rub.
Both mares insist the new mare Molly stay behind and if she begins to approach too soon (she knows my presence is likely to mean food and she IS a food hound) Khaleesi will give her the look. That’s usually enough, but if that doesn’t work Khaleesi will then give Wyoming (her second in command) the signal and Wyoming will pin her ears and chase her back.
One thing I’ve observed since adding a third horse to the herd- the lead mare (Khaleesi) WILL run and chase but she prefers to delegate the work down the chain. Wyoming is more likely to do the running around and Khaleesi is more likely to walk – in no particular hurry. If she has to run after you to discipline it’s likely you’ll be sorry… Don’t MAKE me come over there!
I walked up to Khaleesi who was standing still nearby but not yet settled. I gave her neck a rub then reached over her neck with my arm to put on the rope halter. She backed up slowly. I allowed her to walk out of the halter. I ALWAYS allow her to walk out of the halter once, I USUALLY allow her to walk out of it twice. I NEVER allow her to walk out of it three times.
I can’t remember the last time she tried to walk out of the halter a third time, and it’s rare she does it twice. The occasional times she does it once I’m never sorry I allowed her. She has always had a good reason.
This time I watched her back away from me and turn toward the other two mares- alert. Ears perked. The geese on the pond all fled at once in a huge noise and the quiet was interrupted and the horses startled and began to run. They bolted Khaleesi pushing them from behind making them keep running until they were half way across the big field as I watched. I stood quietly and pondered:
Well I’m glad not to be holding on to the rope attached to her right now.
Geese panic all the time. The horses are used to that. This doesn’t spook them.
What made the horses run so far?
Will I have to go get them?
I suppose I’ll wait and see what happens.
In less than a minute the herd turned and with Khaleesi in the lead they came walking calmly back as I leaned against a fencepost and waited for them.
Khlaeesi came to stand a few feet from me turning occasionally with pinned ears to remind the other two to wait back this time.
I greeted her again and took a step toward her.
She stood her ground as I approached but pulled her head slightly away.
How soft can I be?
What is it girl?
She was ready to leave again if I came in any closer.
What is it?
I relaxed and didn’t continue toward her.
I waited. I slowed down more. (not my pace, not my body, I slowed down my mind)
I softened every joint, my breathing, and my heart.
I took a chance and stepped off toward the gate instead of toward her.
She took a step toward the gate in step with me.
I continued to walk toward the gate with her at my shoulder.
All the way to the gate latch at the exit- with her at my shoulder.
I can’t let you out. We aren’t ready. You’ll choose the grass or the boys (instincts) instead of me.
Ok. Go ahead; put on the halter.
We walked into the barn completely connected.
Every day is different.
Last week Khaleesi walked the herd in from far afield while my friend and I waited and chatted casually at the gate. She came most of the way and sent in her personal assistant (Wyoming) to let us know she needed another minute but would be with us shortly.
I acknowledged Wyoming but didn’t touch her today. Khaleesi watched the interaction then turned and walked away as I watched and explained to my friend: she needs a drink before she comes in. When she’s done she’ll come over and put her head in the halter.
Which is exactly what happened.
We walked into the barn together.
That is where it all begins.
You don’t have to force a soft horse. A soft horse is with you. A soft horse is responsive and sensitive. A soft horse isn’t in fear, isn’t fighting you, isn’t worried, isn’t hurting. A soft horse is a willing horse, at peace, available. A soft horse seems to read your mind.
Many people want a soft horse. Some people even go as far as to seek finding or making one. You can make a horse light to aids. You can make a horse more sensitive to cues. However in my observation and experience, you can’t make a soft horse. The horse must become soft willingly or it isn’t truly soft. And this cannot happen unless you willingly learn to be a soft human.
The thing about soft: if you want it, you have to go first.
So what is soft?
It can be easy to confuse soft with weak. But I consider it more like meek. Though they rhyme they are not the same, meek is having great strength but putting it under submission. I suppose to one who doesn’t understand they might look similar. Meek when it comes to horses says I care about you enough to not force my own way. I will wait for you. I will consider you. I won’t do this without you even though I can. Meek doesn’t say: do whatever you want to. It says: I have a direction we need to go together with me as the leader, but I will do what it takes to bring you with me willingly one step at a time.
I want my horse to trust me.
To earn the trust I have to be trustworthy 100% of the time. I spent a few years back (during my self-house-cleaning days which will make more sense later) being trustworthy most of the time- at least that’s how I saw it. She saw it as not being trustworthy. Funny thing about mares, they don’t see what you want them to see, they see what is. You just can’t get away with much.
I always had a good reason for breaking her trust. In fact that’s not what I would have called it at the time- I would have called it “knowing better what my horse needs than she does”. But it was actually knowing what I needed and how to get it done regardless of if she understood or accepted the process. That was how she saw it, and it was the truth.
Funny how ignorance and self-centered thinking work. Easy to spot in everyone around me, virtually impossible to see in myself… yet only then can the journey can begin. I wanted to work on my horse. I wanted my horse to be light, responsive, connected, soft. But the whole time the call was to work on me. I had to go first.
Looking back, I think God planted this tiny seed in my heart to give me a yearning for this thing that I didn’t even know what it was. Once in a while I’d see fleeting glimpses of it around me. Teasing me. Reflecting now, I think soft is the beginning of it.
A few years ago I wanted whatever it was bad enough to begin dig into myself and search the dark corners with my little flashlight- the things everyone else can see but I have blinders to. The things I have reasons, perfectly good explanations and excuses for. I thought I wanted to clean those things out years ago but I found myself powerless to do it alone, and that’s what I wanted. Oh the pride.
I can do it myself! (opposite of meek…)
I did my best but it really meant shoving stuff back farther into dark musty corners so maybe less people on the outside could see or smell it. It helped, but it wasn’t enough. At some point I realized that God was hanging outside the door peeking in- asking if I needed help with any of that?
So (he peeks in the crack in the front door)… hello in there.
I startled- had he been there long? Um… hi…
[I’d better get this place cleaned up before he comes any closer… wait. That’s what I had been trying to do but it really wasn’t working.]
what are you going to do with that box?
I don’t know, stick it back in a basement closet and hope no one finds it…
Well… if you give it to me I’ll take it to the dump.
What if I need something out of it someday?
Are you sure?
Yes. I’m sure. It’s garbage.
You don’t want to see what’s in here… if I give it to you you’ll smell it… it’s gross…
I know what’s in there already. I can get rid of it.
Are you sure?
Yes. I’m sure. Give me the box.
I started with one box at a time. I was worried at first that he would judge and condemn me for all the yucky trash that had accumulated over the years. All of it had looked good at first but eventually it rotted and stank and it was somehow so hard to actually get rid of. Deep down I knew that if I’d have listened to him in the first place I wouldn’t have all this junk…. since it was MY junk I thought I had to get ride of it before HE came around.
It was in part all this junk that kept me from truly being soft. I hadn’t understood that at the time. I was wrong about HIM too, he knew about all the junk and was really patient in helping me sort through it. He is really soft, and never went faster than I could keep up. He has been a fantastic example of how to learn soft.
In fact, I realized that God is invaluable when it comes to showing you where the gross stinky boxes are, but more important He actually carries them off where before I was mostly just papering over them in a nice floral pattern or finding a deeper basement closet for the really obnoxious ones… and NO ONE is allowed in the basement so I thought I was ok with them down there.
When I realized how easy it was once I trusted him and let him take them away, I brought them up and handed them over- the really big obvious ones, eventually I got brave enough to ask him to help me find the more subtle ones… sometimes they look harmless in the dim light of the closet- some even had a pretty shiny paper on the outside- but when he comes in the lights come on and what looked ok turns out to be complete junk in the light.
Oh yeah.. that one can go too.
In order to make the process go faster He sends people into my life that show me what to look for. Ironically this process works because they bring their own stinky stuff as they spend time- sometimes a short passing visit and sometimes lifelong loved ones who stop by often. When I see something that looks suspect I have learned to immediately forget about them and go find my own box that looks like the one I noticed they had. Sometimes its big, sometimes its teeny and hard to find, but I can almost always find something similar in my own house to take out. I can’t get rid of anyone else’s trash just like they can’t get rid of mine, but I can hand mine over to the one who my soul loves.
He’s never too busy running the universe to help me clean house.
He seems to think this trash removal game is great fun. I’ve come to realize it isn’t that painful, I don’t miss any of the trash. I am even thankful now for the people HE brings by to show me where to dig deeper. The more rooms get really cleaned up the more parts he can move into and he’s great company- and the bigger and more spacious and comfortable the place becomes to live and breathe- and I find others enjoy spending time there more now too.
Even more exciting- my horses notice. They are SO SENSITIVE to the slightest odor no matter what closet it’s buried in.
The more I consider it, it is clear the seed he planted to drive me to want this thing with my horses became the crack in the door that made me desperate enough to allow him in. [Well that and an almost destroyed marriage that really got my attention…] People and horses are not the same, but some truths overlap in both worlds. When I consider the plans to weave together dreams, people, animals, trails, information, books, time, place, etc etc etc makes me in awe and wonder.
How can anyone think it’s a random cosmic force?
That is hard for me to imagine after what I’ve seen. Although I have lovely sweet friends who assure me that I’ve really done SO much work, I should be pleased with how the house is coming along… They have a hard time seeing the difference between the garbage reorganization I did before and the actually cleaned house that came after.
It’s my house though- I know the difference. I am careful to keep the P R I D E closet open to the light and ready for inspection. It is the easiest one for me to start accumulating junk trinkets in. Now though I have help noticing more quickly when I’ve picked up something useless and left it on the counter where it’s likely to rot.
What on earth am I talking about?
What does this process of allowing God to help me clean house have to do with being soft with my horse?
I’ve learned that it’s impossible to be soft and protective of the garbage in our deep lives as we humans try to keep it hidden from everyone else’s sight.
Horses are so sensitive to this.
Humans often lie first to themselves. Humans lie to each other to varying degrees of success, but humans cannot lie to their horse.
Ego. Pride. Vanity. Fear. Performance. Ignorance. Insecurity. Self Righousness. Arrogance. Anger. Approval seeking. Name your favorite…
I think the first step is the lie to ourselves I don’t really have any of those lurking… I’m a good person… besides… I have REASONS for my behaviors…
Some of us go to the next step of beginning to realize there might just be a few of those yucky boxes in the corner so we start small like putting a pretty lace top and maybe a flower vase… if anyone comes by they’ll just notice the flowers… aren’t they pretty! And if the smell is a little strong we hit the basement and try to get them buried where no one will go… and we don’t let people in those rooms of our life- even loved ones and close friends.
It’s only in recognizing this in myself that I begin to see it around me. Truly the plank in my own eye is really more important than the speck in my neighbors! And I have learned that I’m basically helpless at doing anything about the plank on my own anymore. I need surgery!
You know how I understand vanity so well? selfishness? Pride? Ego? (Just to name a few…): Personal experience.
Harder people have a lot more hiding places they must protect. I have begun to seek out hard places in my heart and now began to notice when I come up against hardness in others too. I only understood it when I began to understand my own heart.
Having begun to find soft I can’t imagine going back to hard. It’s a risk. People will see what is really there… yet… it’s what most humans really want deep down. To be truly known, and truly loved. Many people are loved- but it’s incomplete because they believe they are loved for the facade of the front entryway they’ve constructed that they allow everyone to see, but not for the basement no one is allowed to go.
Not everyone will love me or need to, but I’d rather be known for who I am (a work in progress), able to be honest (and soft) about my shortcomings allowing light into dark places and not loved or even liked by some… then be loved by many and feeling like I have to keep that wall of protection up lest someone get to know the real me including the boxes in the basement.
[ok yes… of course not everyone in my path needs to tour the whole house – of course there are different relationships in life and I assume that is understood by everyone.]
When it comes to God you get to choose. He won’t push the door in and you can keep him at an acquaintance, a stranger, or a best friend- He already knows and already loves and he’s always soft, at the the front door. He brought lattees and is waiting to see if you could use a little help with cleaning up the place so you can have better parties…. Let him in… he has a great sense of humor!
One of the closets in my own identity mudroom had a box labeled: success with horses as seen by others. Inside the box were old papers about how horses should behave, what that looks like to other people and how they will think I am successful or not. There were essays on how fast can I load a horse on a trailer… how to win races and ribbons… how to get more mileage and higher classes… how to make my horse stand still… how to bombproof my horse… faster higher and bigger. But after the light came in making it easier to see into the box, I sifted through it realizing that most of the papers in there were things that made me look good to other people but actually were hard on my horse- who I really cared more about. So I gave that box to God to dispose of appropriately.
I remember he smiled when I gave him the last few papers from that box – including how to bring your horse in from the field faster than anyone else and aren’t you riding that mustang yet… He gave a little laugh and asked:
Did you really think those were important?
I put a new box in its place labeled: building a relationship that will last with my horse. And that one has outlines on how to slow down, how to notice the small things that mean a lot to her, how to hear the equine silent language with more clarity, how to find out what my horse thinks about everything (even when I don’t really think I want to know!), how to support her when she needs it, how to be a leader that inspires a horse to come along, how to learn as much as possible from her and the one I try to keep at the top because it gets buried quickly: how to stay humble so I can learn faster.
It’s a large box and is barely starting to accumulate information. But at least it’s useful information now. And no matter what happens, when I go to spend time with my horse I have new articles to add to the box. Sometimes it’s how to improve, sometimes it’s what NOT to do in the future. It is because of the house cleaning process that now I can relax to slow down, to observe and to find soft with my horse. Because I don’t care how long it takes to get something done as long as I get it done in a way she feels comfortable and can stay soft.
SHE knows that God took the boxes labeled ego, impatience, frustration, expectations, performance… and others. Doesn’t mean I’m perfect, but it means those things don’t have a home and if they sneak in they can’t stay long- someone in my world always shows up to be the perfect mirror if they do!
She can tell the difference in me, and now she can be soft because she doesn’t have to protect herself from my… ego, impatience, frustration, expectations etc etc.
One day recently I brought Khaleesi in soft from the field. Tied and groomed her and she stayed soft through every part of tacking her up.
She was soft as I mounted and took the short trail through the woods at a comfortable connected walk and in a rare occasion she didn’t change an eyelash as we turned the corner toward returning to the barn. This ride she was with me every moment never in a hurry, always present and responsive to every thought.
I dismounted in front of the barn and she stood square and began to yawn and drop her head in thought. I didn’t want to disturb her so I untacked her standing ground tied right there. She yawned and thought and processed and stood completely still for a long time. Eventually I sat on the grass and watched her. Then I went into the barn to sweep up. I still didn’t want to disturb her. When I came back out she had finally moved over to eat some grass and I picked up the line and took her back the field- still soft.
Ive had some beautiful soft moments and they’ve grown over time, but this was the first day that everything stayed completely soft start to finish. It was a good day and we will build together on it. As I seek more soft in me and find it reflected in her… and maybe those around me as well.