Heart of flesh

sôft

officially… according to Webster:

  1. easy to mold; not hard or firm to the touch
  2. having a pleasing quality involving a subtlety

unofficially… the urban dictionary:

  1. A person who is loving, kind and pure.
  2. a state of internal sensitivity
  3. 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.

Ezekiel 36:26

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.

Wait.

Breathe.

Soft.

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.

She softened.

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.

Soft.

All the way to the gate latch at the exit- with her at my shoulder.

I paused.

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.

I did.

We walked into the barn completely connected.

Soft.


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.

Soft.


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?

You won’t.

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.

Ok then.

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.

REGROWTH

Happy New Year!

A friend recently told me her family always has a single word to define the year ahead. As I pondered this concept I was working through the meaning of a recent dream. I journaled through the dream and the word came to me clear as the dawn of a new day of a new year.

Regrowth

In the dream Khaleesi lost her entire right hoof wall. It sloughed clean off in one piece. I’d known it was coming as it had gotten bacteria or an infection and though I might have applied some antibiotic this ended up being better for the long term. Neither of us were particularly concerned in the dream. She laid down in front of me so I could wrap it. The first though I had in the dream was this will equal one year. A hoof takes a year to grow.

One year of regrowth.

There was more to the dream than this, lots of interesting details. Here are a couple of the main ideas:

I was able to see the bone structure with the hoof wall gone. It was in good sound shape and that pleased me to know. The underlying foundation is solid.

It is outer wall: external-physical. I had a different dream a while back where her right leg was being tended to by a man and he was removing large glass shards from her leg: internal-mental/emotional connection. That dream was only a couple months ago. There was a healing or a removal of the internal issues with our relationship.

I have spent a couple years learning about the mental aspects of connecting with horses and though I haven’t learned everything, I have learned a lot about horses in the past couple years. The relationship between K and I has become very strong.

This year it’s time to begin the physical.

If anyone keeps up with the sister blog I wrote about the saddle issues I’ve been working on this winter.

Saddle Update Blog

It boggles my mind to consider that I finished several 50 miles rides and the last one finished in fantastic time for us – with physical issues that had my mare compromised the point my bodyworker told me:

your horse is in pain an you have to do something about it now.

Actually it shouldn’t surprise me.

If a horse is thriving mentally and emotionally she will do everything she can to physically to perform for her rider– even in much compromise. And in fairness — I knew something f wasn’t right I just couldn’t sort it out. It would have been simpler if her ‘back’ was sore. But the issue being in her scapula and shoulders was harder for me to find on my own.

Everything in its time.

Now is the time to address the physical. Now I have more information as to how to solve the physical issues and begin to address her balance and my riding.

Speaking of timing: I’ve been seeking a natural balance dentist for over a year. It’s tough to get people out to our rural zone but after over a year of reaching out and finding dead ends, next week I finally have someone coming from the Spencer Laflure school coming to do teeth. I’d like to see how it goes to have someone really balancing the mouth and teeth with eye to the whole horse balance. It will be almost 2 years since her last dental visit!

[If you’re curious about Natural Balance here is their info]

WHAT IS NEUROMUSCULAR HORSE DENTISTRY?

Once again the time is right!

Another puzzle piece is a book that was recently recommended to me by a friend I just reconnected with. The book considers equine biomechanics in light of their natural physical system, saddle fit and human workload, conformation, hoof trimming and handling. Interestingly… turns out it was edited by one of the founders of Balance Saddle.

There is great down to earth information here about how to see horses in a way that reveals how they are using their bodies. As well she includes some easy ideas to begin allowing the horse to rebalance physically to use their body efficiently. I HIGHLY recommend it.

In a few sessions of beginning to walk and trot in the new saddle set up its been fascinating to feel and see (video) what’s going on with her physically and how I can help or hinder her to move efficiently.

What a process… One day we trot 6 miles on a local trail; I experiment and learn some things.  I look at some images and see how my horse is INDEED unbalanced onto her front end.

Next I visit a friend’s massive arena and do more experimenting especially with stirrup length.

Some things went beautifully- specifically her tempo was graceful where in the past she would often rush at the trot making it hard to work on balance. I found that though shorter stirrups were less comfortable for me that in video it showed that Khaleesi had better soft movement with them. Some really nice work.

Then I go into the smaller arena on property and feel like a complete failure. Hoping to work a short session before the rain I can do a lovely walk but every time I ask for a trot her head would bob down, she’d land heavy on the front and I had zero steering. What was wrong? What a waste of time…

But… when I took home the video footage and watched it on my TV screen, especially in slow motion I saw somethings that gave me hope!

Occasionally there were brief seconds of her carrying herself light and lifted in her back. What I saw in watching from the third perspective was what I’d begun to consider in the saddle that morning- she was asking me for help.

She now is trying to get rebalanced and she is going to need help to lift her front and I can’t give it to her in a halter. I can see her beginning to round in her back and sometimes her hind is coming under, but it’s incomplete.

She needs support from a bit to lift in the front! I feel it and I see it in the video footage!

This is exciting for me because she wasn’t a fan of the bit in the past and I’d given up on using it for a while because we had no purpose behind it. I don’t need the bit for control and I wasn’t doing anything with it for her physical balance. I didn’t want to forcefully create contrived collection through aids.

Not to mention I haven’t had her teeth done in almost two years and I’m not sure what her mouth balance is like- so for the season riding in a halter was what made sense.

There is a time for all things.

I am really excited to learn new things and to have her begin to work efficiently. I believe that this will change the game for she and me.

I’m not sure how the process will go once I begin to work with her but as her movement becomes balanced and efficient the miles will be more quality than quantity and I would expect it will mean less wearing her down over lots of miles but building her up and riding smarter instead of harder… and just maybe heading from the turtle position up to a solid middle of the pack horse!

Time will tell.

Ever After…

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Somewhere deep inside us, we humans have basic ideals that can’t be explained by genetics or evolution or experience of the world around us. Yet somehow we share the understanding though what we do with the ideas is varied.

Perfect.

We all inherently know that we aren’t perfect and it’s something unattainable on this imperfect earth. We sense there is a standard to strive for yet will never achieve this side of eternity. Somehow we know this without being taught.

Related to this, is the ideal of Happily Ever After. Though we know it’s unrealistic, we still have this deep yearning for the time when all things are right and we don’t have to struggle anymore but to only enjoy the arrival.

Consider the great love stories: two people perfectly suited for each other meet, “fall” in love, then have to overcome obstacles to be together. Finally ‘love wins’ and prince charming and lovely maiden have a wedding. End of story. Drop curtains… roll credits…

Happily Ever After.

Person finds perfect horse, horse understands human perfectly and the two run their event as one connected being winning best of whatever the thing is; then ride bareback with no bridle into the sunset mane and tail flying in the gentle breeze together in perfect harmony…

Happily Ever After.

Most don’t openly admit to this fairy tale thinking yet if you talk to anyone long enough and listen carefully, we all hold this ideal to some degree at some subterranean level.

There are two branches to this happily ever after concept but they come from the same root:

  1. if you find the right fit everything will work out with minimal struggle.
  1. true love conquers all.

With every good fundamentally misleading ideal- there is partial truth yet the honest truth is not in either.

Certainly one will have more success in any relationship if the partner is chosen wisely (horse or human) yet we often do not see clearly until it is too late what attributes we should have been considering.

Also, true love does conquer all however true love has little to do with the fond feelings and chemistry – the thing one falls into — at all. Far fewer of us get excited about living the choices true sacrificial love calls. The stuff you’ll need when the going gets tough.

To quote a marriage therapist who heard a very difficult story full of hurt and betrayal. As he sought a way to begin helping the couple — the only question he could think of at the moment was: Well what did you think “for worse” was going to look like?

After the credits roll and the curtain falls is where the work begins. This can be happily ever after but only if you come to understand that the joy is in the building and the growth that comes in the unexpected and uncomfortable along the way.

That whole thing about the journey vs the destination. Not only in learning from the journey, or realizing the journey is the point… but finding your joy in it.

Many of us find it difficult to actually make the switch to a relationship or other becoming more important than the individual. Looking at statistics and the world around me it seems obvious that a great many people (and growing with our cultural trends) are willing to put the relationship or the other first so long as that mostly serves their needs… (ponder that a moment if it doesn’t strike you as ironic).

There are various often compounding reasons things take a wrong turn and a failing cycle sets in. Language barriers (we can both speak English yet not really communicate!), misunderstandings, baggage that makes us fearful or overly sensitive, unshared expectations, and usually any or all of these pair with a deep self centeredness that’s almost impossible to shake without serious painful dedication.

I speak from personal experience. But regardless of the people who’ve contended they are truly selfless and these people often say this is their biggest downfall…. I’ve yet to find anyone immune to this.

Often the people who seem to always be off doing good deeds or are ‘always giving selflessly’ have a buried selfish need they are either fulfilling to feel good about themselves, to earn ‘credit’ with god or humans, to manipulate people in subtle ways … I wonder if they are even aware of completely…

I remember once hearing someone frustrated that their selflessness had gone too long unnoticed proclaim: you should know by now I’m always thinking of everyone else first!!!

It seems realizing that self centeredness is likely the biggest demon we face and recognizing that it’s almost impossible to iradicate is a big step toward real heart change. Even mother Teresa was quoted as saying she herself was selfish and greedy…

Byron Katie challenges us to consider starting with a selfless cup of coffee… when she noticed even bringing her husband a cup of coffee meant she had hoped he would thank her and appreciate her.

Tim Keller calls it being mercenary in our friendships. (I love this)

With horses it shows up when the horse begins to refuse or is unable to continue moving (or moving fast enough) toward our human goals. This can come from the horse not being able to understand what we are asking, gets tired of being forced, or is physically limited or in pain.

Relationship failure then comes from giving up and has two ways it presents:

  1. Give up and find a better partner who will fulfill your needs.
  2. Stay and be resigned to the disappointment that you’ll never have happily ever after.

It is easier to resign oneself to a disappointment (sell the horse and quit altogether, or have the horse that “just does that” like… “he’s great in the saddle but watch out on the ground” or “when you get on be ready- he’ll take off right away” or “she’s great in the ring but so spooky out on the trail- we never hack out anymore”) and in marriages we’ve all seen the “unhappy couple” who has given up stays together but lives separate lives, they make deals a lot (you can do that if I can do this) or complain and nag at each other or maybe worse don’t talk at all… Giving up means not having to try, grow, hope and be vulnerable to failure.

The other option is trade out. Many people have the horse merry-go-round farm where they buy a horse, find after the excitement of choosing the perfect horse dies down and the day to day grind comes it doesn’t do what they want or how they want; they figure it was a bad choice and look for a better one. There’s always something wrong with the horse (or the girl/boy friend or husband-wife… affairs, separations, divorces) These people rarely seem to imagine something could be lacking in themselves. It is much easier to give up and keep looking for perfect in the other.

Disclaimer: I do think there are a few examples where a fit is just so easy it doesn’t take much effort and everyone is happy. Not only is this uncommon, I don’t believe it’s ideal. A real bond is tested in difficulty- if you never have to set your own goal or desire aside for another… is that really a strong relationship or simply a convenient one? Similarly, a true horseman is never made with an easy horse. Not everyone agrees with me.

The answer that truly does lead to happily ever after is the narrow road in between.

This is the great unknown- love is a long and narrow road… (Matt Maher)

The great horse-rider connection that seems magical… the couple that still laughs, cries and grows together into old age… they didn’t just fall into that. There is a way that challenges me to put my partner’s needs ahead of my own.

Hold on though. There is a glitch here that many get hung up on.

The inability to see what the partner needs, or to see that as valuable. Most of us are interested in personal growth- but the kind that makes us more into the person we would want (The challenge is to do the work it takes to figure out what your HORSE needs — or your spouse needs.) For many horse people we already know what we know and don’t seem to connect that it hasn’t actually served us optimally in the past- then we can’t learn.

If it were easy to become the person our horse or partner needs it wouldn’t require this kind of growth and sacrifice. In human relationships we find a lot of reasons why they aren’t deserving of the kind of grace, patience, forgiveness, humility, or whatever they need and it seems unfair to give when you’re not “getting what you need”. It is hard to keep working toward being that person to someone completely underserving because they haven’t done the same for you and may never.

There are also difficult situations where a human is engaged in destructive behavior and putting them first means making hard choices- but the difference is in the heart. True love makes the hard decision not just to “protect yourself”- but in understanding that allowing them to abuse me actually is allowing them to continue to damage themselves. The difficult decisions on how to handle destructive situations may have a different edge when viewed this way.

I’ve seen the magic when someone truly commits to this kind of true love beyond what is reasonable. And over time finds their heart is changed by grace, and eventually stops living in the “when will I get my due” and begins to enjoy the process of the change in them. The difficult moments become opportunities for more love and growth and learning.

It seems to me that only when the process has changed a person so much that they come to this…. That something begins to change in the other as well.

Most people give up before that. Because even in their kind deeds they are still in manipulating the other to be what they want or get what they want mode. The heart has not changed. And this is something we can sense in those around us and they can sense in us.

Especially with horses.

Humans have goals- whether to ride 100 miles, earn a ribbon in the next class, or to trail ride safely with your friends. Horses sense when you are only interested in training them to meet your goal. Most humans don’t give horses enough credit to even try to hide this.

I’ve found (maybe it’s because I work mostly with mares) that if you begin to have a heart change where the horse herself truly becomes what is valued and you begin to become what the horse needs consistently over time – they begin to trust and work with you and respond.

Horses need leadership, direction and clarity, so putting the horse first doesn’t mean doing everything the horse wants and how she wants to do it. It’s a journey of learning the tension between good leadership and learning what your horse needs to be successful and then adjusting yourself (growth) to becoming that leader.

Successful relationships and lives consist of observing what works and doesn’t, taking responsibility for adjusting yourself in solving the problems, and lots of patience in the process. It’s messy, risky, dangerous and fulfilling when done with a true heart.

Happily ever after comes when you begin enjoying where you are right now– not waiting to until perfection or success is achieved- in yourself or others.

Life always shows us that once you sort out the current challenge another will pop up like the whack-a-mole game.

Happily Ever After comes from learning to love the skies you’re under in the words of Mumford & Sons. To realize that the process through grace of the change in yourself can be beautiful and drawing you closer to the perfect person you can’t quite attain but still makes you more like real love than you were the day before.

May you find happily ever after today and this upcoming year as we ponder the gift of love that Christmas brought 2000 years ago… in a small town barn … where a donkey carried a young pregnant mother…

… bringing mankind’s hope of perfect love, an example of how we might love each other and someday the final happily ever after we crave.

Respect or Robot?

I was sent an interesting blog recently regarding learned helplessness in horses. I recommend it as food for thought and if you read it (including the two embedded links) you may find this post easier to track.

Learned Helplesness Blog

I was pondering in recent weeks how occasionally I’ve heard horse people talk about a horse so easy going anyone can ride him in just a halter… anyone can get out on the trail… he doesn’t take a bad step… easy to catch… bombproof… etc. and I thought about my own mare.

Well, I ride her in a halter… at endurance rides where there are lots of distractions and high energy… I can reliably bring her in from the field. I can do anything I need to do with her in confidence that even if it takes a moment to sort out, once she knows what I’m asking, and once she realizes I’m not going to give up, if she can do it– it will get done.

Photo credit: Dr Birks at the Fort Valley 50 start

Yet she’s not that horse mentioned above… the horse that anyone can catch and ride. I rarely allow anyone else to handle her at all and never let anyone else ride her. Actually on a couple occasions someone has tried to approach or catch her in the field… and considering they were horse professionals it was frustrating when they had absolutely no success:

She’s just a one person horse… she has no respect or fear of humans… she’s untrained…. she only likes women….

I’m certain there are people other than me who could approach and bring her in.

Would I put another rider on her in a halter to zip around for a ride?

No way.

I have no idea what would happen. It would completely depend on the rider. There are less than a handful I’d even consider. And I would be even less likely to allow a rider to use a metal bit at all. I am not certain our relationship would recover.

I have had my share of eye rolls… of people who think I’m in left field… and that my horse is badly behaved. Honestly at times she is.

What I have noticed is a pervasive sense of horse-folk seeing success with a horse equating with this thing they call respect. Which appears defined by most of them as a kind of immediate questionless obedience to every command.

More curious to me is that as I observe this in action over time… if I were to suggest that’s what they are aiming toward many of them would say of course it’s not….

I don’t want a robot! I want a free intelligent animal to partner with me… in exactly the way I ask every time without hesitation.

Oh right sorry. I misunderstood.

The other concept I notice is that safety becomes the buzz word.

You can’t let them do that it’s unsafe.

Well yeah. Actually being around horses at all is dangerous. Once you get on one that’s definitely dangerous. Who ever says otherwise has left all logic behind.

Of course we try to mitigate danger in as many ways as possible but being around horse people I’ve noticed that once you suggest something is dangerous it’s like going nuclear. Argument over.

I have often observed that dangerous to one horse person is often a calculated risk to another – and to a third it’s just a daily routine. (Crossing a road, riding bitless, jumping a fence, trail riding alone in the wilderness, not using cross ties… almost anything can fit this).

One of my favorite photos [Hughes Photography] of Tracie Falcone going over Cougar Rock in the Tevis Cup in a Balance Saddle and neck string. I’m sure she hits a few of the dangerous categories here!!

I started my journey into that vague thing I believed was possible with an I started basically feral 4-yr old mare and had never started a horse before. I’m about as unqualified as they come when you’re looking at horse trainer credentials.

Some people were sure that was dangerous.

They may have had a point; but I knew I had to try to find the thing I was seeking. And I had to look for it on my own.

It’s not for everyone but it was the path in front of me and it seemed incredibly obvious. Best of all it’s a very long journey and I will never arrive because there’s always more to learn and room for growth. That’s what a true relationship is- and as you deepen it, both parties also change as they connect. Which gives you more complexity and more to explore together.

What an adventure!

But for all of this connection in 4 years of digging up soil where I see something I like around me- I am far from perfect and we are so far from perfect.


Sometimes she loads immediately onto the trailer. Sometimes she takes 30 seconds to ask a question… sometimes 5 minutes. It varies.


Sometimes she comes to the gate and puts her head in the halter. Sometimes I have to walk over to her a few feet. Sometimes I have to walk out and encourage them to come in and they do without lead ropes. Sometimes I have to all the way to the far corner and bring her in while she pauses every 10 feet. Sometimes she walks away and she and the mustang go running around me in protest. It varies.


Sometimes we ride in complete sync like she reads my mind. Sometimes I have to work a little harder to keep her attention. Sometimes I have to use a tool to remind her I’m still there. Sometimes she insists on turning around or not going my way. It varies.

Ack! The first time K saw a ride photographer… now great friend Becky Pearman. First LD ride: Iron Mountain 2015.

Beginning to ride with neck rope- no halter or bridle.


Since it seems to be a widespread belief that a horse that basically does whatever you ask when you ask it is the measure of success – my slow left field methods are probably suspect.

Yet I still do my best to avoid using brute force to get my way- while still patiently (some days more patiently than others) asking until I do… all the while continuing to ask

…what is force? And does it sometimes have a place in the process? And are there real safety issues that I’m not paying enough attention to? Am I as some have suggested reckless and dangerous? How much of her opinion do I really want? How much of a say can she have in the process without her becoming the leader? How much can I tell her to get over it and just comply before I’m just like those who think they want a partner but really want a robot?

The Learned Helplessness blog tied in with these questions and thoughts I’ve had because I realized my horses are completely awake. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what I was seeking and why I looked for a young horse not yet started, because I’d been seeing various levels of what the writer calls learned helplessness and I didn’t really know what I wanted – but I knew it wasn’t that.

A term many people throw around is respect and conversely disrespect. But to quote the Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya:

I am pretty certain my horse respects me more often than not. She communicates with me and works together with me – she still asks me questions. [In other words respect does not equal immediate robot obedience to me] Though sometimes she actually does whatever I ask basically when I ask to, she may suggest she doesn’t want to comply for various reasons, and she may try to tell my why she cannot fulfill a request (pain, location, confusion, even in rare cases fear).

The better our communication gets, and the more I act like a leader she can trust which is a whole year of blogs… the better this process gets. The sooner she does what I’m asking or can explain to me why I might want to re-think a questionable or dangerous request.

I reflect back and see many cases where a horse trying to communicate confusion or fear has been called disrespectful.

That is likely to follow though: if you misunderstand the horse and/or ignore its attempts to communicate very long you are likely to earn disrespect soon enough. Then the fight that ensues is likely to take you to shut down… robot… or in the case of that problem horse so and so had to get ride of… fight.

Photo of Khaleesi on the first day of muzzleloader season 2018. The neighbors were shooting repeatedly (sighting? Target?) and she was for the most part not with me that day. She had deep concerns for the herds on the property and did not like being ‘tied up’ having to work with me while what she perceived as potential danger was so near. I made the choice to work with what I had that day and stayed flexible with my plans. I have never seen her so anxious. And no: it was not being read from me. I was not worried. But that did little to help her that day. I did some work with her but significantly different from the plan I’d laid out in advance.

There are arguments for the safety of the ‘respectful’ robot horse. The one who will go where you point when you point without question.

I’ve also seen some wrecks come from those horses. I’ve personally watched a rider repeatedly berate a horse and punish it for checking terrain and taking time on a new trail going over natural obstacles – then later on the same ride end up on the ground because the horse finally learned to stop checking in and ended up having to maneuver an obstacle the rider wasn’t ready for an couldn’t stay on through.

Remember the saying about “if your friends all jump off the bridge are you going to follow?” Well yeah. That’s the extreme case of the robot horse. A horse that is going to do whatever the rider asks without question or hesitation. And once in a while… the human might be wrong.

I want my horse to tell me if she knows or senses something I haven’t noticed or sensed. Horses are extremely aware of their environments. Much more than I am still though I constantly work on this actually. She senses the bear cubs, the turkey gang, often knows where the hole is… check the muck puddle… pause before crashing over the downed tree.

I’ve had my mare ‘save’ me from tripping through a rock ditch that was hard to see one day leading her in from a part of the field I didn’t often venture. It had washed out in some hard rain a while back and was overgrown with tall grasses. She kept planting her feet until I adjusted course. It was unusual behavior so instead of forcing her on I tried to slow down and sort out why she might be stalling. As we got closer I saw the ditch and thanked her for letting me know. We walked in with no trouble after that.

SHEEP! Sometimes I have to work her through a concern she has that is not really a danger.

A horse that is awake and communicating might have more to say than most riders want to deal with. They are after all a prey animal and have learned to be better safe than sorry over many genetic generations.

It also takes a long time (for me at least) to get even basically proficient in their subtle language.

I’ve been wrong many times, what I assumed she was saying is not always what she is in fact trying to say. You sort this out by trial and error… which brings me to the the fact that she often doesn’t make me look good to the causal observer- who is often impressed by immediate obedience.

Recently I had a horse-woman friend over and showed her some of the things Khaleesi and I had been working on. Backing into a stall… some groundwork ‘dancing’… and riding her bareback with a neckrope in the yard. It was a good day. She was so with me.

Impressed my friend said: wow!! That is so beautiful!! I bet when you go to your endurance rides everyone is just blown away.

After a good laugh I assured her … first most people are focused on their own horses and what they need to do… second this kind of thing isn’t exactly flashy… and third… she’s not always this focused- ride camp has lots of energy and distraction. So.

It varies.

Then there’s the whole self carriage thing…. but that’s an entirely separate post.

Go ahead… explain…

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I believe there are reasons for the struggles and shaping I go through. They are good for me in the long run, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally throw a tantrum.

Sometimes I have the energy to take the annoyance or difficulty in stride and sometimes I wish God would work on the other people around me instead…

Can’t you work on him/her for a while right now so my life is easier!?

Silence.

I’m tired. Can we do this some other time or never?

Silence.

Ouch that hurts! Why do I have to go through this?!

Silence.

Why?

Silence.


Then I went to the barn to check on Khaleesi’s painful scabby scratches on the right hind. I wasn’t able to do much the previous two days due to cold rain leaving fields completely mud soaked. No chance of drying the infected spots out which is necessary for them to heal.

It’s been a losing battle with this wet 2018. Just when I get a window of headway the mud and rain return creating new hot painful scabs.

First I used the hose to wash the mud off her legs and feet. She tolerated it.

But when I began as carefully as I could to dry and just assess the bad foot with my eyes she avoided, sidestepped and even air kicked at me.

Stop! That hurts! Leave it alone!!! GO AWAY!!

I know it hurts but I need to help you.

In order to truly help her I had to dry the area I’d just cleaned, run the mini clipper over it to remove as much hair as possible, then spray an aloe-antibacterial gel that cleans and cools the area (slightly easing the pain), then add some skin cream to soften the scabs so I might be able to remove some of them to allow them to heal – and a protective zinc oxide to help them feel better and protect them as they heal.

She was highly and visibly against this process and I understood. It hurt. The low level irritating pain is easier to deal with than the excruciating pain involved in true healing.

We know as humans that if we put up with the bad pain in an effort to heal we will then be well and not eventually to lose use of a leg and possibly die if you’re a horse who gets taken down by a predator.

So here I am in the barn knowing I absolutely have to get the scratches treated. With her consent or not in this case.

So I picked up the one thing that gets that mare’s attention beyond any other mental or physical distraction.

The flag.

And the next time I went to spray the cooling gel and she danced away I flapped the flag and she understood I was now not negotiating. And I had her undivided attention.


I want to pause to explain a couple things here:

First– I have worked to build a solid relationship of trust with this mare over years. Most times she will go along with me even if she’s unsure because I’ve built that foundation. I cannot say I would take this same course of action with Wyoming the mustang. She is learning to trust me but the foundation isn’t solid enough yet.

Second– I did wave that flag toward her and I meant business. But I was not emotionally upset with her. I didn’t act out of anger but love. While the flag gets waved either way- the intent behind it was to help her. It does matter. If I’d have been frustrated, angry and out of control this would not have worked out the same way.


She is sensitive already and the flag is BIG language for her.

It brought her back to me and though she still moved it was much less… no air kicking. I didn’t get everything done to the level I wanted but I got done what I needed.

And though she didn’t like it, she was able to relax and process when we finished and we walked to the field connected and the relationship not broken- in fact probably stronger for it.


There was a moment however in the barn while I watched her struggle and stood back a moment to allow her to calm that tears began to puddle in the corner of my eyes.

I was thinking of something I’d heard earlier that morning.

Tim Keller described watching – years ago on a farm in Europe- sheep got dipped for parasite control that saved their lives. The process was terrifying to them. As a soft hearted human, Tim explained, we want to explain to the sheep that it’s for their own good.

We want to explain.

So… suggested Tim…

Go ahead and explain.

😶

😚

Exactly.

Sometimes you’re the windshield

… sometimes you’re the bug….

Friday, September 7, 2018

This song has been wafting through from my teenage years from Mary Chapin Carpenter of late.

I am preparing for the Biltmore 50 on September 20. It’s the AERC national championship ride and I was just informed Khaleesi and I qualify for it!

I’ve been amping up my physical training: more miles, some speed, and some big workout climbs. Also mental and communication and down time together too.

I’ve sat in the field after evening feedings just being around without asking anything except companionship, I’ve brought both horses into the barn more and worked together on everything from trimming feet (especially on Wy), to tacking while getting advice from K on what’s working and what isn’t, and enlisted K’s help on some very relaxed and productive trailer loading with Wyoming.

Done some easy rides to pony Wy along… Family time.

I’ve spent some time in my little arena under video surveillance to see if I can improve my riding and our communication with some 3rd perspective help.

Through all that I’ve had moments of great triumph … and not so great as well.

It has been a reminder that no matter if I’m in the glorious heights of floating along at the perfect trot and feeling completely balanced and in sync with my 4-legs underneath me… to bailing as my trusty steed goes running up the bank in terror of a slow moving tractor…

I can always be truly joyful to realize that I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have horses, to be able to communicate with them and grow with them, to have a horse life with all its ups and downs.

I would trade any of it.

Well… maybe except…


That day last weekend clearing my main trails close to home which with a rainy year are severely overgrown only to stop for the first big briar mass– clipping away while Khaleesi behind me learns she’s standing on a ground bee nest.

🤯

Four stings for me and I’m sure more for her by the time I realized why she was acting like such a lunatic behind me. When I started getting stung the answer maniacally appeared.

Bees!!! Why didn’t you say so? Run!!

Flip side- even on the tight grown-in laurel tunnels both running for our lives she never trampled me, and when it was too hard to navigate at a full run and I let her gallop off ahead of me she waited once cleared of the bees for me to catch up and walk on home together. One more day I want glad to be riding in a halter and not a bit!


Yes, the above mentioned bail out on the embankment did happen while waiting to cross the road and letting a very slow but very large and very noisy front loader tractor pass by.

I thought I could convince her to stand firm. No. It was too much, she had to move her feet. I’m still kicking myself that I reacted so badly in that moment.

She could have run up the embankment to escape and been fine. I could have ridden her up there. But I was determined to hold her- and thus when she went, I was behind her and on that steep incline the only thing I was left with was re-balancing myself on her halter (thank god I didn’t have a bit that day).

The only thing I clearly remember was an instant where I saw her head clearly and realized I was PULLING!!!!!

[NO PULLING EVER!!! I KNOW BETTER]

I immediately let go and bailed seeing her feet cross my eyes as I landed next to her and hoping she had the balance not to fall or slip down onto me but knowing that she would do everything she could not to hurt me.

I rolled down a few feet and stood up to see her standing at the top of the hill now calm and waiting for me to get up and go to her.

The flip side– I had a real reminder of what I need to do in an emergency…. if she has to move her feet and we’re not going over a cliff or into barbed wire (which usually she’s smart enough to avoid anyway) you get ready to ride!

And even better I had only a small scratch on my hand and no injuries – I wasn’t even sore in the following days.


And there’s yesterday…. I had the whole day, alone, and a plan for 20 miles or so on some amazing trails I’d been wanting to connect! I planned to start at the other end and find a new route for a group ride soon.

What could go wrong?

The obvious trail was apparently not obvious and I went wrong right in the first half mile. I ended up doing some steep ups and downs, went through two backyards before realizing I’d circled right back around and my best bet was returning through the town for a whopping 6 miles in almost 2 hours.

The flip side: I think I made some people’s day riding up and down the sidewalks as cars slowed to take pictures out the window- we stopped where I dropped out from someone’s yard at this point obviously lost to chat (and apologize to the neighborhood for trespassing) with some local folks from the holler and they were tickled and took pictures of Khaleesi… a little girl came out to see and pet a ‘real horsey’ back in the neighborhood and in using the town back roads we went both over and under the main freeway with lots of foreign noises, lawn mowers, barking dogs behind fences, car traffic, bikes, tarps … all kinds of things.

(One is the yards we passed through trying to get un-lost… this was better than most of the no trespassing signs we passed!)

This time I was ready to ride at the moments I felt her tense to the unusual obstacles. Funny thing- when I gave her permission to move her feet, and decided to go with her- watching for a safe escape zone should we need it and I could at least help guide the flight…. she never needed to run.

🤔… could it be that slow moving tractor episode was preparing me to cut through town the following week? I’ll let you decided that one.

No matter what it was great training for Biltmore where some trails and roads are shared with bikes, joggers, strollers, seguays and even maintenance vehicles or lawn mowers and tractors.

And now I know where not to go- and upon better map inspection I think I can do it right the next time.

(I did load up and drive to another nearby trailhead for some more miles but still not the day I’d planned)


My saddle fit and shimming seems to be working well. It’s a funny combo but it leaves even sweat patterns and she has been pretty chill about the tacking process.

Her better breakover toe trim has been a winner as the slightly sore spots on her lower back that were coming and going (that the body worker was certain were not saddle related but the breakover inhibiting her free movement) – they seem to be staying gone. And her feet continue to look better each week.

However I’ve been encouraging her heels to grow and basically leaving them alone unless I had to even them a bit. This week I’ve begun to see the first signs of rubbing from the boots in the couple years I’ve used them- which tells me it may be time to pull those heels back a little now that the toes are coming into place.

It’s probably been 2-3 months since I’ve touched her heels so I did that after the ride yesterday. With a couple days rest we’ll try again and see how it helps.

Everything affects something- I love learning how the system functions and how I can help it hum along at its best given circumstances.

And my riding has been part of that too- I saw some things in the video from the arena that helped me adjust myself in a way to really opened up a freer trot and felt great for both of us and finally I could switch diagonals and felt completely the same on either instead of one being stronger or easier. That was a glorious moment.

I wish I could say it’s constant. It still comes and goes but I’m finding it more often each ride.

On and on and on we go through our lives and the unknown…

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’m with you.

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.

Gotcha!!

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!

Or…

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.