Sunday, August 19, 2018
I spent a couple days riding and camping with a close friend in West Virginia this week. The riding was stunning and the friendships rich.
One of my favorite things about the trip was meeting new friends. An endurance friend connected me with a guide to help us through a new and potentially dangerous territory. Some of the wilderness can be treacherous for a horse if you take a wrong turn – you can end up in some deep swamps, there are sink holes, tricky rock formations and boulders that can be leg breaking and of course some areas are more fun with more stunning views to ride through than others.
Dan was not only a great guide but a very interesting person with an eye always out to learn something from others. Humble, gracious and easy going. We took along a friend of his who had been an endurance rider in Brazil who rode a great little mustang mare, and a woman new to town who works with horses and people to help them improve their tools to connecting.
We were delighted to watch her with a green Arab that she was being asked to take on for some fundamental training. It was clear she was someone we could relate to who was working without force, from energy, and looking to create relationships and when she said you’ve lost everything the minute you get frustrated or mad at a horse we knew we’d found a kindred spirit.
In the 5 hours together (about 20 miles) we talked easily and enjoyed getting to know each other.
It was also a great training ride for Biltmore if I decide to go.
Dan set us up to camp at a barn where there was a huge field for the horses and a pretty spot for the humans overlooking the Cannan Valley floor.
The second day we rode unguided in the ‘safer’ terrain of Cannan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Blackwater State Park. We missed a turn and ended up farther than we intended for a short ride and called Dan to see if he had any advice on the easiest way back to the trailer.
He happened to have a little time right then and we’d dropped into a place accessible by vehicle so he offered to meet us and take one of us to bring back the trailer. It would save time. That was fine for us and would mean getting on the road earlier.
It may have been the 20 minutes I relaxed with the horses that turned out to be my favorite moments of the trip.
After I pulled tack on both horses I sat on the grass and to let the horses graze and walk around dragging their leads. There were no people, no traffic, and plenty of grass. If either started to leave I would redirect them back, worse case one of them would step on a lead and get themselves stopped long enough for me to catch up.
They each took a couple meandering steps and a few bites and within a minute I found myself looking up into two horse muzzles comfortably resting above me.
They weren’t doing anything… just looking down on me as I rested sitting on the ground.
I leaned back, looked up and wondered.
What is this?
I’ve spent lots of time around my horses loose. They usually graze, or walk around, or sniff me, ask for a scratch, I’ve never had them just stand looking down at me… for 20 minutes.
They shifted weight, cocked and uncocked hind feet, sometimes looked a different direction for a moment, but until the trailer rolled up they didn’t move.
As I looked up at them in peaceful contentment, and I reflected over some of the trip’s highlights, a thought resonated with me that reminded me of something Bob Goff says:
I’m with you.
Bob says that real love, it isn’t about doing things so that you can get something in return. Or in his words collect tickets like at an arcade and turn them in for a cheap trinket… or to add up your own good deeds to tip the scales somehow.
The change has to be from within the heart; the thing that creates connection and lasts is the heart that says: I’m with you.
That’s all we three were doing at that moment. Being together.
My mind floated back to earlier that morning as this idea played out in beautiful layers like gossamer threads in the fabric of life.
My friend used to have trailer loading issues with her main horse. Then she got some better tools, did a lot of personal work, more work with her horse, and found she had a reliable loading horse and built a better relationship.
Yet recently she began to see some very small signs that things weren’t quite right. He still would load but not as easily and with some of his old habits returning (like rearing up and avoiding before stepping on). She felt like she’d somehow ‘lost ground’.
That morning he did not willingly immediately load on the trailer and it created worry, fears, pressure and frustration in her and then there’s that nagging voice we all hear that tells us everyone else has it so much more together than I do.
She didn’t want to mess up my day or be the reason we were held up. She didn’t want to imagine that she’s going back to the times she didn’t know if he would load or not. None of us want to feel like a failure and most of all not in front of anyone else to watch.
Her horse is not afraid of the trailer. He wasn’t being disrespectful. He didn’t want to fight her.
He had some concerns. One of which was Khaleesi.
Is she coming?
We both knew we could load him in 30 seconds by answering that question: load the mare first.
He would have walked right on (I’m 100% certain he would have walked right on because he didn’t load right away the afternoon before after the 20 mile ride. Not wanting to take everyone else’s time at the trailhead we loaded Khaleesi first and he practically ran me over eager to get on behind her.)
However getting him to load on the trailer was NOT the thing she wanted to solve. We could trick or manipulate him into doing it but that isn’t a lasting solution.
She was working toward a relationship with him that he could trust in her to the extent that if she asked him to load up he would be confident in her. She would be capable to trust with the details.
Considering what a powerful, sensitive and highly ranked horse he is, this is not an easy job and it takes her constantly being aware of everything – because he is constantly aware of everything. You don’t earn that trust and then float on with it. You re-earn it every interaction. It has to change who you are when you have a horse like that. She has to be that good. 100% of the time.
I think she’d say he’s worth it. ❤️
And from what I know of her- she can be that person, in fact I watch her turn into that person a little more every time I ride with them.
Thankfully there are few of these kind of horses in the world. Most people have a more middle of the pack animal that isn’t quite as demanding.
What I love most is that we all get the horse we need to teach us to grow.
There are the really bad fits that need to be sold or given to a better situation of course, but for most of us, the horses we struggle with are growth opportunities if we start by looking not to the horse to change first, but look in the mirror. Then seek out and get the right tools and education to work on ourselves first.
She knows all this and I encouraged her to spend whatever time she needed that morning to tell her horse not: we’ll be ok if you just get on the damn trailer already…
but simply: I’m paying attention, I see you’re struggling here, and as you sort it out… I’m with you.
That was the other layer. She is a close friend and I cared much more about her opportunity to connect with her horse than anything else that morning.
Love doesn’t demand its own way.
I’d gladly give up doing any ride at all if that’s what was needed. For her to connect with her horse I would trailer 2 hours then spend the day trailer load and go home if that would help her. And I’d love every minute of the process doing life with her because she’s my friend.
She didn’t need to worry about loading her horse AND me getting impatient or frustrated. She didn’t need to wonder what I’d want back from her in trade for my patience. She also knew I’d never judge her journey with this horse- that I knew it was unique to the two of them and not comparable to my own or any other friend’s situation.
No matter what we were doing that day she needed to know: I’m with you.
This is not a trailer loading post. What she did is not the answer to everyones horse that doesn’t want to load. But we learned some interesting things together because I was able to be a different, outside pair of eyes as she worked with him from her limited first person perspective.
It seemed clear he knew what she wanted- and she didn’t need to continue to ask him again. He just wasn’t ready to do it. He would get comfortable part way onto the trailer and most people would ask him to continue on and load up- finish the job- but we observed that even just pointing the direction she wanted (asking again) without any pressure from the rope would send him flying back off completely to restart the process.
She’d lose everything just as he seemed ready to load that last few feet. This happened a couple times and my outside 3rd person perspective was able to see it play out and help her with the information.
I’m no smarter than her, I just had the right viewpoint.
What she was doing wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t what he needed that morning.
He’s a really cool horse- extremely sensitive. This can work for you and against you depending.
I suggested she try something different. Just keep him focused on her inside the trailer- and she could do it with only a click of her tongue (he’s that sensitive). Don’t add any more pressure or ask him again to get on. I was certain he was under no doubt that she wanted him to load. He wasn’t confused. He just wasn’t ready to do it.
She expertly timed relaxing vs. a tongue click the moment he’d look away and get distracted. Very soft, very relaxed he would inch forward closer to her, paw the ground, sniff inside… one level at a time he continued onto the trailer.
I know it was hard sometimes as he was almost there not to ask him to take that last 6 inches and let’s get going. In human terms we’d waited long enough for a horse that is 20 years old and been riding in horse trailers almost all of his life.
Even I had a hard time not wanting to push that back foot the last two inches and close the ramp so he was trapped on.
That would have destroyed all trust immediately!
But she worked out her patience with sweat and blood – it was killing her to be so close but not force or pressure him, get excited that after 30 minutes he was almost there or even think about how close he was until he was ready to close that last gap of his own free will.
Its easy to see with horses. We humans are often making the choices for our horses. We don’t even give them the chance. We don’t let them make a mistake. It takes so much time at first to consult them for every little thing we do with them. It seems easier and faster to just push and pull them around.
What could have been done in 2 minutes with a shortcut (load the mare first) took her 45. (I was prepared to spend hours or all day!) But the end result was beautiful.
He loaded himself onto the trailer for her.
Anyone watching would wondered what was wrong. Most people would have offered help. But watching them was a gift for me of exactly what was right.
Her message to him during that time was not conditional: if you do what I want then I’ll be with you...
That’s manipulation. We humans are so good at it. We manipulate each other, we manipulate animals, we manipulate ourselves and try to manipulate God.
Her message was simply: it’s time to get on the trailer, however you need to do it today… I’m with you.
And Khaleesi and I stood quietly nearby saying: and we’re with you both too.
I look around… and in the mirror and see so much manipulation hidden deceptively in the clothing of generosity and kindness.
I’m a nice/giving/tolerant person… up to a point. But take advantage of me … or disagree with me and watch out.
My friend had a limit in her mind of what was ‘enough’ time for him to sort out getting on. At that point she would ask again [he knows how to do this!!!], add pressure. But her limit was like 35 minutes before he was ready. He needed that time that day and she got a win for their connection by giving it to him instead of demanding that after 10 minutes he was just taking advantage of her and she’d now show him!
It also looks like ticket counting when we want to trade our kindness or being with someone for something for ourselves:
If I spend today working around the house with my husband then I have saved up enough tickets to go riding all day tomorrow with my girlfriends!
I’ve saved enough ‘tickets’ that you should be more thoughtful of my needs…
There’s also the scoreboard we all seem to keep running track of:
I have gone out of my way to help you X times… the least you could do is do Y for me…
The change of heart to simply if I can I will, and because I want to be with you is enough, opens a transformation so much bigger than any act itself. And there is never anything on the other side of the equal sign. I don’t count tickets anymore. Mine or yours.
I think this is how hoses live. They do life being with each other.
I’ve had friendships along the way where if we happened to be going the same direction then it worked, but both of us were really just doing what we each wanted and basically lined up doing the same things. Sometimes it’s a surprise when you thought you had a deep friendship to find that once you did need someone to be with you… they weren’t with you… they were doing what worked for them still. Or the other way around. It happens both directions.
This isn’t necessarily bad. And we can’t do life with too many people this way. I love how Bob Goff suggests you should figure out how many people will fit around your bed so that as you’re dying you have just the right amount of deep relationships that no one is squeezed out and you don’t have too much empty space either. I think he decided its like 10 or 12 people!
But this can work with everyone you interact with in allowing yourself to be with the people you are with through your day.
Can I set myself aside whenever I’m in someones presence to be with them at that moment and really see them not just what I need from them?
There is a magic that happens when you can’t be taken advantage of because you’re actually just giving.
Maybe the most ironic part is realizing that you can’t have this heart change if it’s because you want a horse that will load on the trailer, or your spouse to be kinder to you, or because you want anything.
Because that is the heart of manipulation again.
if you can find this change in your heart then for it to be real, and to matter, it must become a way of being over your lifetime. The deep changes around you come in increments over time as you change and those who you love begin to be loved as you say…
I’m with you.