I knew when I brought home Ireland (now Khaleesi) as a barely handled 4 year old that I didn’t want a horse that complied with what I wanted or needed out of fear or force. I wanted a willing horse who would choose to be my partner. I didn’t want a trained horse, I wanted something deeper than training.
I don’t want my horse to get trained because training is absolutely finite.
In this journey I came to realize that to have the connection I wanted I didn’t need to become a horse whisperer, I needed to learn how to listen. The only way to deeper relationship is good communication, and this is impossible without listening. Probably the biggest challenge of this process that many people give up too soon is learning the language of the horse so you can become a horse listener.
There are good trainers out there training horses to know how to do what you need them to do. Trainers who can deliver a push button horse and show you how it works. The horse is an incredibly intelligent creature and can learn how to do this. As long as you stick to the manual you will do fine. The horse is also generous as a creature and will try to fill in for a human and get things done in the least stressful way possible. If you get stuck, adding enough pressure will usually result in getting somewhere even if it’s not elegant.
I’ve come to accept that in the horse world there are situations where this is acceptable and even preferable. But it’s hard for me to understand why anyone who realized there is more available would choose to stop there.
Imagine a marriage where there are acceptable topics and if you will agree to stick to those pleasantries over coffee in the morning then it will be fine… just don’t go off script.
Well. Actually I can imagine that.
I refuse to stay on the surface of a well trained horse. I want to be able to have that deeper relationship where she is safe to communicate to me even the things I don’t want to hear, and I will listen and try my best to respond in… love.
I don’t mean love as in I’m having a good day and feel good. I mean the kind of love that balances with truth and protects yet exposes and never quits. The love that puts my horse first above my timeline and above my goals for the day or the year. The love that will continue to examine myself and what’s revealed in me as I grow deeper with my horse.
Recently Khaleesi was fussing over being groomed sometimes I descend into ‘get it done’ mode so we can move to the real plan for the day… riding. She was getting nippy and pinning her ears. Instead of correcting her and telling her NO, QUIT THAT or worse putting her in cross ties, I slowed down and asked her.
What is it? What are you saying?
I gently rubbed her neck and stopped brushing. I looked at her and she calmed. Her eyes got softer. I began to brush more slowly and talked to her while I brushed. I watched her reaction. I gently worked some dirt patches out with intention and not just a quick groom to get onto the next thing. She lowered her head and completely changed.
This is one example of how my horse teaches me to pay attention and gives me an opportunity to honor her thoughts and feelings. She has both. In this case she felt like she was being hurriedly brushed at. She was being treated like an object to get cleaned. When I changed my approach she changed.
Not all horses are this way. My mustang mare loves the brushing and the rougher the better, it feels good and scratches all her itchy parts. The point of my story isn’t to change how you groom, but to consider in every step how your horse sees you and your approach.
Your relationship with each horse is unique. Just like your relationship to each child is unique or with your parents— unique to each of them.
If you want a deeper connection with your horse you must be willing to really listen. The biggest roadblock here is our assumptions that we know what they think or feel. What you do to your horse, it is likely you do with people too.
In this journey I observed something else: time, even a lifetime, spent around horses does not equal correct understanding of horse language. And I’ve met people around horses fewer years who have a better grasp on horse communication than some who have spent a lifetime.
What helps understanding is letting go of assumptions and taking the time to imagine every interaction is a conversation. When you begin to do this it can feel like talking to a 5-year old. You have to slow down and try to understand what they are asking. Sometimes the words aren’t quite what you’d expect and need some mental translation, sometimes it’s an odd question to bother with at the moment, sometimes you do have to say can we talk about that another time? This process in fullness is way more time consuming than most goal driven horse people have the interest for.
But if you consistently ignore the child and their concerns or ideas and never take the time to honestly listen, you will shut them down and they will learn you don’t want to know what they think or feel. Similarly if you don’t really listen and assume you know what they are asking you will never really get to know the real ‘them’.
The push button horse, how I am using the illustration, has been trained not to ask questions. They are trained to respond to a cue and do the thing in a timely fashion without questions about the thing. This horse has learned that humans do not want conversation they want results. One way you can recognize this horse the response is basically the same no matter who the horse is with. There is not much uniqueness in relationship to different humans. It is a learned response. Training.
I’ve sadly seen these horses called ‘good’ horses while horses that have more questions are considered ‘bad’ horses. Horses are really simply horses. I enjoy curious horses, horses that have a lot to say or ask, playful horses, horses that demand more from me and insist I grow and learn… even horses that respond in fear or disrespect are still just horses and especially in true dangerous disrespect- they have been led there by a human.
Push button horse is much more efficient at getting to your goals.
I also have goals, but that’s not why I have horses. If my horse seems to be unfit for my riding goals either by choice or limitation, I am finding a new goal, not a new horse. And I have been and continue to be faced with this question from time to time.
Someone else can train a horse, but if I am committed to listening it means I will have to learn and grow. Thankfully it’s a beautiful journey of getting to know my horse as she allows me in one layer at a time.
This is a vital point. Many horses I see are already well past shut down and not engaged in this process. Many horses learn not to share their thoughts or feeling or questions with a human because they are punished or corrected for it. This is often part of the training process. This is a way for humans to feel safe.
** it doesn’t necessarily mean the human IS safe, we like feeling safe or in control— often of much we are not**
Having a true push button horse usually means they don’t go off script either. They are trained not to.
I have seen that these horses can be drawn out. It takes time and it takes a human who is willing to do the drawing and engage in the questions even though it will slow down the pace of the day. It takes a willingness for the human to hear even if the new layers aren’t pretty at first. It takes a willingness to feel vulnerable and balance that with being a leader which is also vital in the process.
Listening to my horse- like listening to a 5-year old- doesn’t mean I take every idea and run with it. It means I honor the conversation even if I steer it in a new direction. I still must be the leader of the partnership.
Going off script and learning the process to communicate and connect can be scary. We do like predictability and stability, illusion of control. Deeper doesn’t feel safe, for us or the horse, at first. The truth can be sometimes that no, I don’t really want to know what you think about this. If we go there what I assume is all fine could unravel… in human and horse relationships. At least for me at times in both.
Listening to my horse, or other humans I am invested in, takes courage. We don’t always want to hear what they have to say.
It also reminds me of how God insists on working with us. Humans want a list of rules. We actually prefer the training method for ourselves too. Religion- especially religious systems- gives us traditions and regulations: give me the buttons God and I promise to do my best to push the right ones… if I do, you will then do your part and life will work out for me. I will be safe.
We also want a push button God.
But in the words of C.S. Lewis:
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
God doesn’t want us to learn to push the buttons or be trained. He wants more from us: real relationship. He wants the heart. He wants to listen to us even though he knows everything already, and he wants us to learn to hear his voice too. (We become the child now with all the time consuming questions) Sure, God gives us some basic rules and guidelines but around 90% of our day doesn’t fall into those. If you are trying to decide what to do in the course of a day and it including killing someone, that’s a no go. Try again. Most of our decisions are more nuanced.
People complain about the ‘inconsistency’ of the Bible when often it is the struggle in how God is looking for us to walk with him in partnership not pushing the buttons. He wants to go off script into the wild layers of deep connection. It doesn’t feel safe. That’s why it takes trust and building faith. Small steps at first.
Same with the horses. Maybe don’t start today cantering bitless and bridleless in the big field and expect elegant dancing. Maybe begin with a conversation in the field before you halter? Maybe ask: hey, how are you feeling today? Before you put on the halter.
I am excited to share some new video content through green to 100. In the recent survey most responded they wanted to improve the relationship with their horse yet didn’t believe they had the time needed to do this effectively.
No matter how good our relationships are with horses there are more layers to enjoy. I believe anyone who has the desire to deepen the connection with their horse can do this with some simple mindsets in their current horse program with no additional time necessary.
These videos may seem simple but attention to detail in every step of working with our horses shows them we are present and willing to focus and connect. This is so important in relationship building.
I hope you enjoy this first video and please share this blog with anyone else who would be interested in a short series on deeper connection through every day routines.
I know it’s true only thing we can count on is change itself. And the winds of change are stirring in many places from my viewshed. It adds to the quieting that Fall already brings, beautiful in its descend toward winter and the cycle of death and rebirth that is the most jarring for me — both in and out of Winter’s sleep. It seems fitting that the changes would come now somehow.
Two years ago in November MollyMare the Morgan came to live in my herd along with her human who is a like minded horsewoman and close friend of mine. At the time I wondered about the loss that change would bring: giving up my solo, quiet and autonomous barn life by introducing another horse and human into the mix. Today as they have both officially left the herd to move 5 hours south the loss of their presence is palpable and I can’t imagine how the place will be without them.
I recently listened to a ‘Wild at Heart’ podcast where John and Blaine Eldridge talked about how we humans always perceive change initially as loss. It is true, I see a loss of a herdmate, loss of a barn buddy, loss of a riding companion, and loss of a helper who was a wonderful support system or extra hands or someone to keep the herd alive when I was out of town… loss of laughter, loss of conversation and someone to bounce off training questions or equine health snafus… it is not an illusion: there is loss.
However change always brings with it opportunity as well. I know in this case our friendship is a deep heart bond and will last through the move. It is not the loss of a friend. We will still laugh and pick each other’s brains but now through phone calls and texts. The fact that she moved south already has my interest pricked at doing some winter training in her area and some road trips might do us good. I have heard the word expansion echoing in my soul since the news came and there is a knowing that this change isn’t all bad and loss forever. It’s hard to know yet what the new opportunities will be.
I have challenged myself to hold the two competing feelings in the same heart and not to wallow in sadness because I know good things and joy will come- yet the knowledge that there will be positive facets to this change doesn’t release me from facing the sense of loss and allow the honest mourning nonetheless.
It reminded me of how Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus even though he knew there would be triumph and even an immediate miraculous raising of the man from the dead. I think he wept for the loss he felt when death takes temporarily away from our immediate world, and he also wept for his friends and the loss they suffered. Even if we know joy comes in the morning, we still can honestly weep in the darkness. And I find it comforting to know that Jesus weeps with us too.
I am grateful that Iva – a young woman who used to occasionally come along and crew for me with Khaleesi when she was a violin student is back in the local area in part due to Covid and she has been coming once a week to ride with me. She is also likeminded to the approach I have with my horses and they like and trust her too.
Also I ran into- actually it was the other way around– a mountain biker in the spring while exploring some trails he helps to maintain. In our time together we enjoy a shared love of the trails but also of horses. He doesn’t have much experience but loves the horses and also comes out at least once a week to the barn to learn about horsemanship and riding and it’s become one of the days we spend together each week.
I spent a fair amount of time helping Molly mare and her human gain confidence and tools as she hadn’t had her own horse in many years. The lovely Morgan was quite a project both mentally and physically and I enjoyed helping the two along with whatever knowledge I could impart.
I am really excited to learn this move has gone smoothly for them, and the deep foundational work they did on their relationship means this transition has not been overly stressful on either of them. Molly is secure in her owners care and seems to really know this.
Now besides my two wonderful riding companions I wonder if this place left open in their absence may find some filling helping others as well. I do hope so as sharing what I’ve picked up deepening my own horse-human relationships is a passion that burns brighter than most others for me. I will be keeping my eyes open for what that may look like as well.
Meanwhile as I consider developing long term some content that could be of use to a wider audience, I have a survey to ask what your frustrations, challenges, fears, hopes and dreams with horses are. Please click the link and take the very short survey but even more helpful is to share it with any horse people you know. I’d like to know how GreenTo100 can help readers with real video examples of relationship building over topics we all work with in our horseworld.
The survey is short, takes a minute or so and has 5 questions that ask what your goals are and what your challenges are or where you’d most like to improve. There’s no catch or collection of personal information it’s only to see what people would find most helpful as a starting point. It would mean a lot for me to see feedback from my readers!
Maybe it’s only my experience, but an active life with horses seems impossible without a wandering success curve. Possibly if you have a couple pasture pets that don’t have much work to do except to eat and poop it’s not so striking, but try to use a horse in a discipline of any serious sort and my guess is you are going to have some trouble moving ‘forward’ so to speak from time to time.
Many “Green” readers know I have been struggling finding sustained soundness with Khaleesi for a coupe of years now. Finally I may have found some answers and she has come right at the trot for some trial rides and I’ve been cautiously optimistic that maybe she is finally strong and sound.
On a parallel page, Wyoming the mustang has also been on a slow road over the past few years to carrying a rider confidently. She came green broke needing some miles and experience, but after some rodeo antics, planting her feet and a habit of laying down on the trail when she decided she was finished trying to do the job she was hired for, I went back to the drawing board and her education was on pause until I had the toolbox for her.
That toolbox has been slow in coming together but this year it appears my skills have fallen into place and Wyoming has gotten under saddle and out on the trails. I’ve been able to ride her with confidence and she has been doing great in the woods.
How wonderful and encouraging: two horses I have struggled to keep moving forward for different reasons both gaining forward momentum.
Then this week:
First a perfectly sound and healthy Khaleesi goes to a trim and shoe change and ends up unsound and mysteriously lame.
The next day I took Wyoming for a solo trail ride (our fourth) and contended with the worst refusal/feet planting I’ve had since bringing her back to work. We got so stuck I dismounted and decided moving forward on foot was a better decision than world war 4 with her; because in war nobody wins.
I wasn’t afraid, and I tried everything I knew to drive her forward. She would back, she would turn, she would bite at my stirrup, she would kick up her hind leg toward me in the saddle, she would buck, but she would NOT walk forward one more step. I wasn’t willing to turn around but I also wasn’t willing to take us down in a ball of flames.
It felt like a week of failure
The setbacks came on the heels of such great promise made it all the more disappointing. Nothing is as dangerous it seems as daring to hope.
These are the times- if any- I feel like giving up. It’s not so easy to get rid of a horse on the same afternoon you are ready to quit which is probably a good thing. It’s literally harder to quit than to just keep feeding them.
Forget getting to a 100 mile ride. I feel stalled out at the barn. Why am I locked in a stall? God am I on the totally wrong track? Should I sell them and move to Haiti and teach violin to children in poverty? What am I doing so wrong?
Thankfully I suppose though it didn’t feel so at the time, some of the things I’ve gone through in recent years have shown me that even when everything appears desperate and hopeless, it isn’t. The darkness is most cold and bleak before the dawn. No great story is a straight line to victory. I’ve seen God take the things that in that moment I was sure meant my life could never be good again, and turn them around into something unimaginably beautiful.
You just have to keep walking the trail in front of you.
So I looked at the chaos and the setbacks around me and knew if it isn’t good, it’s not the end. So this cannot be where I should stop. And probably it will require some patience before any turn around is apparent. But this one thing I know:
God is good even when everything else isn’t.
It’s been about 2 weeks now as it’s been difficult to find the time to write, but with some help from good horse friends I came to the conclusion that it was a pasture switch from about 6 weeks ago that could be the culprit of the hoof problems.
My usual field had been eaten down and was descending into a weedy mess this summer so I moved the mares to work on the field. Unfortunately this meant they went from a field they had to do a lot of foraging for the good grass (but were not malnourished!) to a lush pasture. Because it isn’t my normal field for them and was somewhat temporary it wasn’t set up well which meant for them to get water and to have enough dry field to get out of the low area of swamp (bad for hooves) they also had way too much pasture to access. This made for unlimited lush grass and over time it seems this began to bring on early inflammation of laminitis signs in the hoof- probably for both of them.
Though the nutrition balancing I had done and the composite shoes had gone far to bringing Khaleesi back into soundness, the grasses worked against us and I think it was the farrier visit that revealed it because he trimmed just enough hoof to expose the sensitive inner and inflamed laminae closer to the surface. Also the nails going into the inflamed region though not through the laminae (she wasn’t sensitive to any single nail) but the pressure of all the nails compounded the sensitivity.
I brought her into a stall, then a paddock, and then once the other horses ate down a small runway field she moved out with them on mostly hay. Within a couple days she came sound again and was her happy self.
I took her on a couple trial walks and then a short but mostly trotting ride where she was comfortable and sound the entire time. For the moment she appears to be strong and a few pounds lighter which I knew she needed as well.
This also emphasizes the fact that this horse needs more careful pasture management. She had put on some weight but wasn’t getting fat pockets yet or a hard neck etc. the vet and my trainer friend said don’t worry too much she will drop them when she’s back in more work and winter is coming. She was not dangerously obese. But the grasses and the time of year and the lighter work load as I spent more time with the mustang came together to create a perfect storm of inflammation that I want to avoid in the future. It could be a bigger key to my lameness struggles over the last couple years as well.
As for Wyoming, the solo ride was tough for us but we did finish well. It is possible she also was struggling barefoot with inflammation and sensitivity carrying a rider similar to Khaleesi.
She is also on limited grass and more hay for now and next ride I brought a friend on Khaleesi to help. There was a discussion about the ride as we crossed the road that looked like backing up and small bucks in the highway. I wondered if a logging truck might be coming soon and it wasn’t the easiest way to begin but I decided it was unlikely I had served my entire purpose out on this earth and I don’t think this was the way I would be taken out so stay in the moment. So I kept breathing and got it done without panic. Thank God no traffic came during that few minutes in the road.
Once I convinced her that up the trail was her only option and the rest of the ride was uneventful and she was calm and willing.
I haven’t taken her out solo again yet but I will. It is ok for the moment that I’ve had companions to help build more willingness and confidence. The potential inflammation in her feet may explain why she has begun to question going out. Hopefully as this reversed she will be more comfortable and willing.
Either way two weeks later my set backs don’t seem so bad, and there is a dawn over the horizon. I’m glad I didn’t sell them and give up. The best stories come with some struggle and challenge, the path to the end is rarely so straight and clear.
Last week was a milestone for Wyoming and me. Her first solo ride. I had gone to the barn with that plan in mind, however when I arrived I had my doubts if it would be the right day.
Well it wasn’t upon arrival. Everything seemed fine at that point. In fact my horses were already at the red gate waiting for me to bring a meal or take them into the barn. Otherwise all was calm. Perfect in fact.
I prepared the food, grabbed Wyoming’s green halter and as I walked out of the barn I saw the farm manager jump hurriedly on his tractor and begin raking the cut grass in the adjoining field at full speed with great force of energy. He must have a busy day planned...
As he zoomed past the fenceline my mare herd stood expectantly they reared and danced and then fled at full speed across the pasture through to the next field and as far away as they could go to the storage barn in the far corner.
I walked all the way to retrieve the crazy panting herd and hoped they wouldn’t lose their minds again and I wouldn’t lose the lead rope to a fleeing wild mustang walking back to the gate and toward the tractor wildly raking hay at top speed.
This began a morning where I knew it was time to throw out the pattern and work on the dance. To me this meant being mindfully present in each small step aware that I must be ready to make any one step where we lost connection the place we spent time reconnecting in the dance together.
Thankfully with me leading the herd, we walked calmly to the gate. I fed the two staying behind and led Wyoming through the gate- into the hay field with the tractor – and walked along the fenceline as the hay raking continued. I was pleased that Wyoming was connected with me and trusted me to walk safely through. She even stopped to get a drink at the water well as I stood guard.
She was with me.
If she could stay mentally present with me we would have a successful morning together. She would have confidence and security. If she was pulled into fear from her environment we would struggle to get anywhere and she would be anxious and stressed.
Stay with me girl.
I was glad we made it into the barn but the distractions weren’t over yet. There was someone working on the property doing maintenance. This meant ladders, air compressors, drills, hammering, strange noises and things out of place to a sensitive wild mare. Nothing escapes her notice. So while she ate and I assembled tack she would pop up eyes wide at the strange sounds. What I noticed is each time she got worried, instead of looking out the windows at the herd outside, she angled herself toward wherever I was.
I was her security.
I got her tacked up and put the bit in without fuss and then heard the truck alarm going crazy outside. (Apparently the keys had gotten locked in!) and there we were in the barn with her neck like a giraffe and her eyes wide, but standing still next to me still as connected as possible with the crazy commotion going on outside the barn.
I am here with you, I have this all under control, nothing is going to hurt you here. You may not understand what is going on, but I do. Trust me, and I trust you. I know you can do this if you stay with me.
I decided to begin with walking around the yard with the flag to get a sense of what I would be facing in the saddle before putting myself in that position. I was ready to spend all the time I needed on the ground and not riding at all if it was too much for her.
The truck keys released now vehicle driving around the circle moving tools, going to retrieve a leaf blower for the roof (that will add to the fun!!) and the tractor still raking hay frantically to our right.
One step at a time.
She was aware of everything but she walked exactly at my side. Near the tools and work area I spent extra time changing directions, she had to tune in to stay with me and when she delayed out of distraction I’d catch her with the flag on the hip to bring her back. After a few minutes of this she was tuned into me more than the environment and I stopped to talk to someone working while expecting her to stand still where I asked.
She did. She was with me completely now.
It was time to get on and ride out the farm gates onto the trail for the first time alone. Leaving the safety of the herd, and at that point maybe the craziness would work in my favor, heading for the peace of the woods.
I mounted easily and with some loose steering maneuvered toward the exit and she eventually got into a nice line and away we went!
In the past my greatest challenge with her was that she would plant her feet. As if a wall in front of us any pressure to go forward would end up in the only direction available to her at that place… up! Crow hopping and then squirting out backwards in a great show of refusal. Regardless of if it was ‘NO’ or ‘I CAN’T’ we were stuck.
Would I see that here as I tried to take her alone?
I did not. Twice she asked if we could turn around and I calmly answered with ‘forward and direction out’ and she complied. We had a lovely enjoyable ride. I trotted out a fair amount and then asked for a relaxed walk back in and everything went beautifully.
Back at the barn miraculously everything was calm. The tractor was still and the farm manager had gone off to another place, the maintenance working had moved inside, and a peace descended around us.
I got off my horse, loosed the saddle and without a lead rope she walked at my shoulder into the barn to untack. Totally with me still. At the field she stayed close after I released her and stood at the gate until I had to leave. Wanting to stay with me, and I with her.
As I walked away, I considered how God asks the same from me when environmental distractions come. If I stay with him I am safe and no matter what craziness is going on around me, I will be ok.
I have to make the mental choice to stay focused on God as my safety and protection. I have to believe he has all the circumstances around me under control. I have to follow close to him wherever he leads. And if I tune out the fearful things around me I can have the confidence even in the stormy times.
Emily Kemp returned for another clinic last week and once again an inspiring week of growing deeper with friends and horses.
The takeaway with the most impact this time for me was:
Will you meet me here?
Behind this question is the idea you have to give what you want to get. I believe that is true in life:
Do you want better friendships? Be a better friend. Do you want compassion when you struggle? Be a more compassionate person. Do you want a fruitful life? Sow into the lives of others. Do you want to see your dreams come true? Invest in helping others achieve their dreams. Do you want more financial prosperity? Give generously from what you DO have. Could you use some grace and mercy? Be a more forgiving person.
In working with horses I want trust and softness among other things. Thus I must be willing to lead and invite. Trust and softness can never be forced.
Over years I have observed riders who insist their horses trust them but they do not trust their horses. I find the more I trust my horses, the more confident they become and they are more willing trust me. This takes some sensitivity, knowledge and risk.
Will you meet me here means that I offer trust and see if the horse will accept the offer and be trustworthy. This has challenged the idea for me that trust must be earned. There is an element of earning trust, but also an element of making a decision to trust or one cannot begin to earn or grow in trust. Trust requires a risk to begin the process. This is where discernment is important. It would be foolish to offer to trust my horse with something I am certain they are not ready to carry yet. But it isn’t much trust if I offer to trust something so unquestionable it takes no risk at all.
For example: If I had a 13 year old son I may decide to trust him to ride his bike to his friends home and come back before dark. I would likely be foolish to give him the car keys. However if he has been riding to his friends house and returning on time for 3 years now that isn’t much of a risk. If we will continue to grow I may send him to the grocery store with some money and a small list- now I am asking him to carry more responsibility. That trust continues to deepen.
With my horse I find opportunities to say: I trust you as often as possible. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and that shows me where the edge is and where to keep working together. The more things I trust her with the more I find she also trusts me. She will meet me there.
Some examples offhand with my horse are: I don’t use cross ties (in fact I don’t tie her or ground tie whenever I can); I allow her to load and unload herself from the trailer without micromanaging her body; I ask her to maintain my chosen tempo and gait instead of using my body/seat/legs to keep her moving; I ask her to pick me up and stand quietly as I mount never allowing anyone else to help ‘hold my horse’… there are countless situations we can offer trust to our horses and give them the opportunity to meet us or show us an opportunity to grow together.
What do I not yet trust? I always bring my lead mare from the field to the barn in a halter- the couple of times I have not I learned a hard lesson in wasted time as she finds both the ungrazed grasses and the boys in another field way more interesting than anything I have to offer at the moment. She is not easy to retrieve when something more powerful draws her. On the other hand, my mustang mare is a middle of the pack horse more inclined to follow and she can be trusted to follow us to the barn without a halter or lead.
It is valuable to have trust in relationships. This doesn’t mean you are never let down or disappointed, but that is ok. It is better to extend trust and be let down from time to time and have to work through it than to live trying to control and force to never to have to be disappointed. For me, as a choice, trust is a better way to live. The more I extend trust, the more others around me including my horse can meet me there.
I want my horse light in my hands. Someday I want to think and it comes to be. For now I want to barely vibrate a lead rope and see my smallest intention play out in my horse’s legs with willing impulsion. Unfortunately most of us get stuck at the equivalent of yelling back and forth at each other to get things done.
I must offer softness first. This will only be effective if I remember every time to begin with the lightest touch and ask my horse: will you meet me here?
Sometimes the answer is I can’t or I am not ready or I can’t hear you or I don’t understand or simply no, I won’t, and I can get stuck in the loud voice or yelling mode. I forget to begin with the gentle whisper every time.
When I do remember to be absolutely soft with the slightest twitch of a finger on the lead rope or barely a feel on my rein and the horse responds in willing movement – meets me there– it is breathtaking.
Once you get a taste of it you’d rather do that than eat. You couldn’t get enough of it, you’d hunger for it the rest of your life.
Yes. It is that good.
You can only get there by offering that lightness first and what I learned this week is even my soft feel, the one I work with varying results on remembering – it isn’t soft enough. And in the videos this was clear to me. It sure felt soft but I saw that it wasn’t even close to Emily’s soft… barely touching the line soft. When the 1200 pound mustang mare hustles to back up on a touch that you can barely see it is like ballet in its elegance.
In my human relationships it’s a reminder to me to always invite first with softness and give someone (even someone who hasn’t ever responded softly in the past) to meet me there. What do we lose by risking that soft feel? So much less than we stand to gain.
I am certain God wants us to rise to that level. Along my journey with him I used to ask him to yell at me because I know I am hard of hearing. And while he will do that for a time- what he wants is to use the still small voice, the whisper.
Think about the whisper… it is easier on the one speaking than yelling, but more importantly it brings intimacy, you must lean in close to speak softly, we rarely would whisper to a stranger or acquaintance- we whisper to those closest to us, beloved. And it’s hard to be critical and hard in a whisper, there is softness inherent. And a risk we may not be heard.
Know when you have to give up the pattern to work on the dance.
My long term plans for Khaleesi include finishing higher mileage events culminating hopefully in a single-day 100 mile ride. For Wyoming at the moment it includes having a horse that can function as a solid trail partner including transport on the trailer and being ridden safely and confidently.
I can see the steps toward success and am able to make progress to get there, efficiently and without excess wasted time.
Going solo is easiest. I can force myself into training physically — say for a marathon or triathlon (I’ve done both), I could discipline myself even at a young age to put in the practice to eventually get a conservatory education for violin performance and prepare a solo concerto with an orchestra.
However this gets complicated and messy when you have to work with others (humans and horses).
I really don’t like complicated and messy. Complicated and messy is rarely efficient.
In the recent clinic as I was working with Wyoming, Emily said something that sank deep into my heart and hit a truth nerve.
Sometimes you have to give up on the pattern to work on the dance.
This elegantly illustrates the tension between setting a goal and knowing where you want to end up (the pattern) and knowing when to pull your laser-like focus off the goal to the actual moment you are in; change gears to work on a small piece (the dance) that can feel like losing ground or wasting time.
Behind all this is a deeper question of purpose: what really matters in life? What will have lasting and sustaining value in the end? What investments will truly fulfill my soul?
Questions the busy pace of life insists we ignore, but shouldn’t they be addressed each and every day for a life well lived?
Underneath the surface, regardless of completing a 100 mile single day event, or having a wild mare who submits to a domesticated life with me… I want to do it with integrity. I don’t want to break down my horse and finish that ride at any cost in order to do it on an artificially imposed timeline. Especially based on what everyone else seems to or can do. I don’t want to shut down my mustang mare so that she can do the job I have in mind for her even if she’s not confident or mentally-emotionally ready to do it. (And I’m sure someone more adept at the patterns and dances in horse language would have been able to get this done sooner!)
I am finally learning that I don’t want to force those around me through my plan as if the ends justifies the means. The truth is those seemingly all important goals are superficial. Who I am as defined by how I treat the humans and animals around me matters way more to my eternal being and theirs than if I ever ride Khaleesi in a long distance event or ever get Wyoming on a trail ride.
I also see now that meeting goals and being successful solo – in the end will leave me in a lonely place- so busy and focused on getting there I don’t realize it until it’s too late. That is the trap. I’m left on my island of accomplishments with my tevis finish, a successful strings program, and fill in the blanks with any number of good life goals… yet no one to dance with.
If you live your life only for yourself, in the end of your life, you’ll have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.
So is the answer not to have goals? To not dream big? To wander around dancing aimlessly and never get anything accomplished?
Some people are amazing dancers but they need to find a pattern (good goal) because they are dancing around through life with no purpose looking great and getting nowhere. For themselves or for anyone else’s good. (Though at least they usually do less harm to those around them!)
That is where the tension exists. Where things have an elegant balance. Or in my case: messy and complicated and awkward most of the time. All the things I dislike about the process. All the things I’d rather skip through to the end. All the things I’m being called to dance in myself.
You must begin with a dream, a goal, and end point: the pattern in mind.
Wise people, those with abundant and vibrant lives that make the world better, learn when to give up the pattern to work on the dance.
Becoming skilled at this tension is how you arrive at the end point elegantly and in strength instead of exhausted and frustrated (and hopefully with less regrets).You may not get there first, but you’ll be more likely to win best condition so to speak … physically, mentally and emotionally. And there is an abundance and fulfillment that the unwavering laser-like beam toward the pattern (at any cost to your own heart and others) will never bring.
Yet there is a danger if we focus too much on this point because the dance can then become the pattern and the way to laser-like get to the goal and then it isn’t a dance anymore and you are now worse off than ever.
The dance must be about love and service to another or it is only lifeless dance steps toward the end result.
Take the Bill Murray character in the classic movie Groundhog Day. He begins to go through the motions to get the girl- he’s doing all the right things but it becomes a manic dance of desperation instead of an act of service and love. Everyone can feel the difference. Horses especially.
Time to go from theoretical to practical.
Working with Wyoming recently in the arena: let’s do a figure 8 pattern around the two barrels using the draw back up in the middle to change eyes and switch direction. I could imagine it in my mind and began to ask for the circle around the barrel. It became clear that the barrels had been moved slightly closer and this tighter spot had plenty of room for her physically but mentally she felt a squeeze. She did not want to go between the barrels at all.
That isn’t going to mean success for my pattern.
First she needed to be able to go between the barrels. Option 1 is move them farther apart. Option 2 is to work with Wyoming on being ok with the slight squeeze. (Of course I chose option 2.)
I began asking her through the space; she would go but not smoothly or confidently. She would rush the squeeze spot. So I’d ask again. Just keep trying and it will become easy, right? She’ll see it’s fine. Again… again… again… she didn’t grow more confident with each time, instead it was getting worse.
After rushing one more time through the space not comfortably she stopped and looked at me — something in her eye froze me in my tracks and then it hit me like a ton of bricks… I got stuck.
I was running her through the space, checking the box for that segment, in order to get to my figure 8 pattern. But I was seeing distress in my dance partner – this was making her less comfortable not more.
Slow down. Find out why. Talk about it. Throw away the pattern and shape the dance!
After she went through the uncomfortable space I needed to stop and let her think about it. Tell her that was the right answer and she was doing great. Encourage her.
In running her through that squeeze part over and over thinking I was getting her used to it, my message to her was: you should be ok with this, no it’s not good enough yet, you’re doing it wrong. You still haven’t gotten the answer I’m looking for. I will never be satisfied with your efforts.
As her eye held my gaze, it was as if she was asking me what I was doing? What was she supposed to do? I played back the third perspective of the last couple minutes, realizing what I’d unintentionally done, and was horrified at myself.
I know better.
That is how relationships are ruined and it doesn’t have to be intentional. The actions have the same effect regardless of ignorance or intent.
I took a breath, relaxed and changed course. If the only thing we did that day was acclimate Wyoming to the tighter squeeze between the barrels then that was the dance and it would be lovely. We would have done it together and been a stronger team for it.
The figure 8 didn’t matter in particular it was just something to get us talking. The next day it wouldn’t have mattered if I did the figure 8, but it matters a lot if I demoralized my horse and began to disintegrate our positive working relationship.
The conversations, the dancing together are the whole point. If we have better understanding then everything we want to do together will get easier. We can dance with grace. Developing that relationship takes more time early on. Sometimes we step on each other’s toes a little. Sometimes we get off the page a little. Sometimes one of us gets jerked around. Sometimes we misread each other. But we want to come together. It’s time well invested for a solid foundation between two beings.
Slowing down and changing focus to the dance in front of me made all the difference. When I asked her to move through the uncomfortable squeeze then process it on the other side (for as long as she needed), by the second time she was confident and we did get to work on the figure 8 pattern.
If I would have continued the laser-like march toward my pattern I could have forced her to do it, but I would have been frustrated; she would have been tense and our future sessions would be clouded with doubt that I was worthy of her trust. I would begin to see that she dislikes working with me and disintegration begins with things like her becoming harder to catch in the field, her refusing my requests and not wanting to try for me, me having to use more force to get things done… or give up because the process has become heavy, not enjoyable for with of us and eventually if unaddressed can become dangerous if the horse isn’t the type to shut down and comply robot-like until I finish the work and release her back to the field where she is happier.
Away from me.
Has anyone else had a relationship… family, spouse, friend, co-worker that sounds a little like that?
Some might say it’s the same concept as enjoy the journey and though I think that is a good phrase, I suggest they are not the same. I can enjoy the journey as I force my way through to my goals leaving wreckage in my wake. (Sadly I have done this) And there is also something passive about enjoying the journey. Like watching out the train window at the lovely scenery.
Abandoning the pattern takes action, sacrifice, and a willingness to learn to dance. It can feel like a big risk! What if giving up my efficiency and time table means I never arrive at my pattern, my life goal? What if I look ridiculous to everyone around me who are flying by me in the race for the THING as I waste time dancing here at this moment?
What if I waste my life dancing!?
Especially in the horse world I find a fair amount of people think you’re completely wasting time standing around playing with a flagor asking for flexation at a standstill or learning to ground tie (what’s wrong with cross ties?) or sitting on your calm horse at the mounting block instead of riding off to do something. Yeah. To many who don’t have eyes to see below the surface, the dance is entirely a waste of time.
And YES, releasing the pattern and working on the dance partner in front of us takes courage and faith. We cannot reclaim time. What if we don’t get ‘there’ at all? It is a risk. It takes some mental fortitude for someone like me to set my mind on the value of it and stay in the process when my emotional system is screaming at me to run.
I was reminded yesterday of a moment where I took a risk and literally did ask someone to dance with me. It was in a mostly empty restaurant – but a family style place we knew the owners. Still, not a normal thing to do and I knew it was going to be way outside the safe zone. We had finished eating, it was my birthday, and a song I liked came on. It was slow and we had the whole half of the place to ourselves.
As I had guessed the answer was both no and probably a little are you crazy? Since I figured this would be the outcome and yet I felt compelled to try, I wonder now if the whole reason I was so moved to do it anyway had to do with learning this very lesson years later.
I was the one turned down, but I see differently looking back at who lost more from that interaction.
If he had said yes, it would have been a risk he took in love. Not necessarily romantic fond feeling of affection love which he was struggling with at the time (these blow in and out like summer breezes), but the deeper love that sacrifices for those around us. It’s the love that determines who we are, not how we feel. What he would have gained by saying yes and being willing to look a little silly to a couple of strangers (I think) would have been priceless.
What that teaches me as I reflected back on that moment is to watch for the opportunities around me that I am being asked to dance. By my horses, by my dog or cats (dancing with a cat can get weird…) by friends or family, even strangers, and the biggest challenge comes from being asked from the place of my deep love to dance with those who have hurt me or would like to, people I don’t agree with or don’t understand. But the most important point might be that it is the very creator of it all Himself is the one asking. The very one who asks me to dance even when I’ve hurt and rejected him.
He assures us all who will listen that Love is the primary power and worth laying down your entire life for… not the fond feeling love that comes and goes as feelings do, but the relentless fire force of love, stronger than death and the very gates of hell that powers life itself and is dangerous enough to change the world. This love isn’t for cowards. This kind of love we must choose and requires courage, risk and always costs something of us. The cost of which is always unfathomably smaller than what we gain in the end.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Of course Jesus called everyone his friends. And He was really good at seeing those who were antagonistic against him with eyes of love. That doesn’t mean I give all of myself to stay engaged with those who hurt me or invite everyone I don’t agree with into my inner circle- but it will mean stopping on my way to a goal-pattern to sacrifice some time, attention, help or encouragement to someone in my path who needs it. And the risk is that sacrifice could even mean giving up the pattern- entirely. Living this way actually must have a cost. Or how would you know love? If it costs us nothing? Usually it means giving up something for the mystery, trusting it will be worthwhile even if we don’t have the whole contract and fine print in advance.
What would I lose by looking across the table to the one who created it all and say: no, not here, I’ll look foolish, or I’m busy and it will waste time or no thanks God of the universe, my plans are pretty awesome- go dance with someone else…
I want to have the courage to say YES! Because I love. J’aime. I will take the risk.
That is what marks a life that changes the world one dance at a time. A life worth living and dying for.
I have been considering the systems of horses and humans for a few years now and how they work when healthy and what happens when they malfunction. I worked with a mentor a couple of years back who helped me see that humans and horses do function on systems and this can be observed and understood.
The physical system is the one we have the easiest access to and seems pretty straightforward. Too often we start and stay here with horses and sometimes we get lucky and things basically work. Sometimes our incomplete emphasis on the physical causes train wrecks.
The mental system is incredibly important and often overlooked. People sometimes move into this place when they realize the need to find root causes and it is often consider training. Good training, what I’ve heard called education of the horse, will go to the mental system- poor training only considers the physical system which generally results in force.
The emotional system I find the most elusive and also the one the human might can cause the most trouble without awareness. In my search to better understand how this system works I’ve delved into how it relates to the human world. Humans have a more complex emotional system and being a human I have some experience sorting through emotional health as well as imbalance and trauma of my own.
Animals tend to have a more simple emotional world. If left alone they are usually emotionally balanced. In a healthy horse herd there is a leader (generally a smart mare) that takes care of logistics like where the best grazing and water is, when the safest time to drink, sleep and eat, there are follower herdmates knowing and sometimes testing their hierarchy order, and a stallion that protects the herd from predators or other roving stallions. Pretty simple life and everyone knows where they fit and what is expected.
When humans get involved we do things that create confusion to the simply ordered life horses are born into. Our horsecare can be confusing and stressful to a horse- being confined in stalls, separated from the social structure of a herd, inadequate or absent leadership (horse and human) ends up leaving the middle of the pack personality horses feeling insecure, and the dominant ones like they must take over at all costs to save everyone… and then there is the human training process and the human emotional systems themselves that create problems for the otherwise balanced creatures.
Finding the most natural way to keep horses as possible in our domesticated lives is key to starting with an emotionally balanced creature. Herdmates, access time grazing and fresh water, the ability to move about freely in the open air all are a good place to start. If a horse is kept in solitary confinement, has to go long hours without forage or doesn’t have a good herd leadership hierarchy you will be starting from imbalance before you add your own emotional system questions into the mix.
Most horse people accept now that the physicalsystem of the human affects the horse. If we ride them out of balance we create that imbalance in their body. If we have a stiff side or injury or bad habit we will create blocks of movement and trouble and often over time if unaddressed leading to injury for them as well.
In the mentalsystem if we do not stay on our mental toes 100% of the time – depending on the horses level of intelligence and leadership nature- they will take over the mental system and they certainly can begin to train YOU instead of the other way around. They can be so subtle and sophisticated about it so the human doesn’t even realize this is going on.
I believe the problems that leak into the emotionalsystem however can be the most difficult to recognize and reverse and can put humans in the most danger as well.
When healthy and balanced in all three systems, a horse-human team enjoys working together, trusts the other to give their best and stays connected and thoughtful. They communicate clearly and honestly. Mistakes are quickly forgiven andforgotten; stability and connection is apparent. The emotions are things like joy, happy, confident, excited, peace, satisfaction, amusement… and even sadness, frustration, nervous, confused can be balanced emotions when based on reality. We should be sad at the loss of an old beloved herdmate, it’s ok to feel disappointment when we miss the mark or a fun adventure is canceled, a big event will bring some nervous energy, frustration is real at times (though must be handled properly) and I’ve been confused more than once by what my horse is trying to communicate to me.
Honesty within the emotionalsystem is vital
First with ourselves and then with those around us including our equine partners. It is unhelpful to pretend one is not afraid, nervous or frustrated. The horses are a million times more sensitive to us and don’t understand the concept of dishonesty so they sense a disconnect that makes them uncomfortable and distrusting. Unfortunately this is the case even when the human doesn’t understand their emotional system and doesn’t realize they are being dishonest. Being out of touch with your emotions can be deeply problematic to your horse as well as your friends and family.
The malfunctioning of the emotional system creates bigger problems. This is when our feelings of fear, anger, mad, annoyed, anxious, vengeful, offended, hatred, jealous and the like take over our actions. We are headed to dangerous territory.
Disclaimer: There are real honest moments for fear (coming upon a grizzly bear or mountain lion on a trail ride) and things (like injustice and suffering of innocents) that we should be angry about, however even in these cases we still must use our heads- the mental system– to safely navigate through the danger or anger.
When we move to acting out of fear, anger, vengeance etc we lose our ability to function in a healthy thoughtful way. We damage the relationships around us. We lose trust and connection.
Most horse people know that fear is one of our worst enemies with horses. If we operate out of fear horses sense it and they either join and begin acting out of fear themselves or they deem us untrustworthy because we are afraid when nothing is truly dangerous.
When we work with a horse in anger we cannot connect and communicate openly, we blame and fight instead of work together. We assume their responses aren’t giving their best and we punish them. (This is true for human relationships too; the horse-human relationship is simpler to examine because horses have more honest responses than other humans with their own emotional system imbalances). When trust is broken the protective layers must be built in, horses (andhumans) will avoid, shut down, or sometimes fight back to protect themselves.
When horses fight back humans are in the most danger. Sometimes this is obvious as in biting or striking but often it’s more subtle in bucking, rearing, or throwing the rider from the saddle at an ‘opportune’ moment. Horses have the ability to spook and keep their rider in the sweet spot- balanced safely through the evasive protective maneuver, or they can twist just a few inches and toss a human into a tree, jump or rail. That doesn’t mean a human is always well enough balanced and athletic to stay on or a loose girth/cinch can’t mean a fall. But I’ve ridden a fair amount of honest spooks and I’ve certainly been intentionally dumped (deservedly). There’s a difference.
Dishonesty will get us no where. When your spouse asks what’s wrong and you say “NOTHING!!” You aren’t fooling anyone. Pretending you don’t have fear also doesn’t fool your horse. This builds layers of distrust. Don’t lie. Not to yourself. Not to your horse. Not to your husband. And not to God. He knows.
Unfortunately people (myself included) have learned in the short term we can get away with avoiding the malfunction. Shutting it down, pretending it’s not there, ‘don’t go there’, run away, distract… or get a tool of force (bully) that hides the root issue… It seems harmless at first- but you become a prisoner to the thing you try to hide. And gradually that little corner you try to keep in a box and avoid grows and spreads until you have few places you can exist honestly anymore.
Facing the malfunction is step one. And you may need time to work through the process. It IS acceptable to tell your husband: I’m not sure why I’m so angry right now can I get back to you when I have had some time to think it over? And if you have too little emotional reserves and find yourself angry with your horse- it is wise to quit for the day and regroup before you cause lasting relationship damage with a critical frustrated session.
Fear is probably the number one killer of healthy relationships. Fear of injury, fear of loss, fear of not having what it takes, all of these are self defeating and bring about the very thing they try to ward off. Facing fear (and other malfunctioning emotions) honestly is vital in the healing and rebalancing of the system.
The only antidote to malfunction in the emotional system i have found is TRUTH. When we apply TRUTH the system begins to reboot. Sometimes it takes many applications and time – this is a good reason to do this quickly and often before wrong feelings can take deep root. The farther off course the emotional system gets the longer the road back to balance and health.
The biggest hinderance and a subject too big to cover here is that many people today have lost hold of TRUTH. It’s become relative in our culture. We all get to pick what’s true for us. Our feelings rule and become truth which is completely backwards/upside down and will build a life on a foundation of shifting sand. TRUTH hasn’t actually become relative any more than not believing in gravity makes us able to not be subject to it. But it’s left our culture at a loss for facing emotional system malfunction which has created deep problems in relationships and brokenness all around us.
Instead of TRUTH being applied many have inserted ‘self-talk’ … you remember: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me!
If that’s true then you’re good to go. But you may not be good enough (yet), you may not be very smart, and if you’ve been behaving like an angry arrogant jerk then probably people and your horse don’t like you. No self talk – based on what you hope to be true but isn’t -will ever heal your broken emotional system.
Maybe you don’t know all you need today- maybe the truth is that you are learning and improving and trying your best. Maybe you have have hurt relationships from being critical, nagging, responding in fear and insecurity- the truth is you can begin new patterns and honestly make the effort to emotional health and balance. Give those around you (your horse) time to trust the new direction.
Staying present can help with fear: am I OK RIGHT NOW? This is also TRUTH. Stay tuned to what IS not what you think could be in your nightmares. Very often our fears are based on a past experience or a future imagination. Do not allow a past experience to claim your present. Do not allow an imagined future to destroy your success working with a horse or human that hasn’t actually harmed you. Work with what IS happening and talk about the situation at hand- with the horse or person you are working with. It is unfair to punish someone for your imagined potential injury. It is ok to be aware of past patterns but deal with them honestly and allow the space for the present reality.
Anger and frustration usually come from putting goals ahead of relationship. Feeling like there isn’t enough time to do things slowly, step by step and allowing for the process. Humans are usually the slave of Chronos the god of never enough time, running out of time, and time is money.
Being clear and demanding of our horses and those we work with is a good thing, we should have high expectations of performance! That is an honor- we love working for someone who believes in us. However being critical and nitpicky is counterproductive and makes humans and horses feel like they can never please and why bother trying.
TRUTH has helped heal a lot of brokenness in my emotional system and I still continually work on it when a malfunction occurs. I have the good fortune of learning that I’ve been created on purpose for a purpose. That God loves me, has a plan for my life and even when I face obstacles and setbacks they will be used for my own good. He has set a time for these things and no matter how I fight I won’t get there before it’s time, and I can’t screw up so badly that I miss the time either as long as I stay sensitive best I’m able to how he leads me.
For me this is where the composite horseshoe meets the road. Do I believe it or not? Is it just a nice story that makes me feel better or is it the TRUTH of the universe. I don’t have a faith based on fairy tales and nice ideas. Actually it’s been built on blood, sweat and many tears — taking small steps and seeing real transformation and applying concepts and watching what happens. My brain is way too scientific and logical to buy into fairy tales. I need results. And each step gives me the confidence to take another one. That is what faith is- a building of a life one tested step at a time gives way to more confidence as the stones stack up into a firm foundation. A life built on a rock that is solid, balanced and healthy over time.
This enables me to walk in freedom and it allows those around me (equine and human) to be free from my fears and imbalances. I want my horse to choose to partner with me in freedom. I want the people around me to be able to be honest with me and want to work with me as well. I want freedom, stability, peace and joy. It enables me to (on a good day) give up trying to manipulate and control everything and everyone — playing God.
It is counterproductive to assume everyone else around me must create an environment where I’m never challenged and am always comfortable with. If I want an environment of freedom around me then I must go first!
Below I’ll share some of my favorite truths that have helped to bring my malfunctioning emotional system back into alignment with what I know.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
“For we are his workmanship, creates for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans of good things and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…” Ecclesiastes 3:11
I like to imagine a horse knows her name and will tell you if you ask. Khaleesi was born on March 17 and named Shamrock temporarily until she was renamed Ireland. I knew when she came to live with me however, that she had a real name and would reveal it when she was ready and trusted me. As a nod to her breeding family I run her through AERC records (the only place besides my vet bills she is official) as Ireland’s Khaleesi.
So it was an odd thought recently when I said offhand to Brandea: I think the name of my next horse will be Kairos.
Kairos is timeliness, appropriateness, decorum, symmetry, balance—awareness of the circumstances that open moments of opportunity. Kairos is finding serendipity.
In Greek, both kairos and chronos literally mean “time,” but not in the same sense. In Greek, kairos represents a kind of “qualitative” time, as in “the right time”; chronos represents a different kind of “quantitative” time, as in, “How much time will it take” and “Will we have enough time?”
Kairos means inhabiting the perfect moment.
All horses in their normal and most healthy state live in Kairos. There are few animals that come as naturally adept at symmetry, balance, awareness, decorum, and especially timelessness as a horse. Things take the time they take for a horse, and the phrase “slow is fast” is a deep truth with them.
Humans (look around) almost all live under Chronos. Humans constantly feel like they are losing time or running out of time, have to make the most of their time, are afraid of wasting their time, and even coined the phrase time is money. I imagine horses find we are strange creatures as we try to drag them from the spacious world of kairos they could share with us toward the slave master of Chronos.
Jesus talks about kairos as an appointed time. Being the creator and sustainer of the universe he has a lot of spinning balls to keep up with and not one is ever out of place. Every second he has the constantly moving puzzle of all things weaving perfectly together.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Every time I struggle against the appointed time I exhaust myself. Everything is beautiful in its own time: when I slow down and believe this, then all things become a dance: elegance, balance, awareness, decorum…
Horses try to teach us this dance and most often we shut them down to say: ain’t nobody got time for that.
I want to dance. I found this post from five years ago; that fire in my heart not to have a well trained horse but one who wanted to dance with me. I have come so far and yet am still clumsy and slow. I suppose having eternity in my heart is the only way not to be discouraged at the time it takes to learn to exist in kairos. And to dance.
As in anything that requires faith sometimes I doubt. Just look around at the Chronos people. They seem to have so much more success on the surface. I was pondering this on a recent ride. And considering my friend Brandea helped me sort out my mini-faith crisis.
I’ve written about Brandea’s mare Molly. Among the plethora of issues in every system (mental, emotional and physical) were a roadrunner neck (creating an inverted topline, over developed shoulders and no sense of a hind end) and the potential to run away through the bit. The flip side: she’s fast. She’s been run through some endurance rides and one of her previous owners remarked how much fun it is to ride a horse with so much go!
Most people grab a bigger bit and a tie down and win some races. It would take way too much TIME to fix those things and why when you can find a tool that will force it into place for you? Chronos says life is short, this horse will probably finish top 10 at least for a season or two. (… before her body breaks down)
Brandea is the only person I’ve been close enough to watch with these issues that has committed to the Kairos way. She has been willing to live the process, find the real issues and spend each day in the dance. It has taken 18 months to finally get to the bottoms of these issues (building one layer of healing and connection upon another) and I marveled at the patience and setting aside her own hopes and dreams and goals to dance with this horse. She told me she has been tempted to get a bigger bit- especially when early on she felt she could be run away with at any moment. Most riders won’t dance through that. They feel unsafe, and with some reason. Yet when we enter into the horse’s world and put them at that level of importance something magic happens- we become important to them. This becomes the most safe place to be, but it does take some faith over fear to get there.
I watched in the past week from our clinic and Brandea’s follow up work as she learned what she needed to do to effectively shut the front door to the imaginary rectangle we have learned to ride in. The mare’s energy had been a mile away and she followed it full speed ahead. First the mare had to build body balance and strength because she was so out of balance. If she slowed down she might feel unstable like a bike going too slow. Brandea has to learn better riding skills (even though she had a pretty solid taught foundation) and Molly had to build muscle, she had to learn to trust a human would ask her to dance… without these things and more in place this energy conversation was pointless.
In the beautiful Kairos I watched Brandea learn how to lead the dance and have the conversation to shut that front door. Molly began to stay with Brandea at various speeds. They began to have moments of lightness in the dance. A lovely way of moving and the beginning of self carriage her head and neck experimenting the feel of a lower way of going that allowed those top line muscles that were so hard gained to do their work. This is all new to the little Cinderella horse. She didn’t even realize she could dance anymore.
Speaking of the beauty of Kairos, Brandea spent one of her 60 minute clinic lessons holding the bit in front of Molly’s lips for 35 minutes as we all watched the ‘paint dry’ and more than one person (including me) had to wonder is this a waste oftime?
She was paying good money to learn from Emily and standing around waiting to see if Molly would voluntarily pick up the bit when she would accept it normally with a finger in the cheek like most people do and get on with the important riding techniques.
Could Brandea have done this on her own some other time? Yes. However having the support of us and Emily to assure her: you are on track, we are with you and want to see what happens really did help Brandea make the commitment when she may have doubted after 10 minutes… after 20 minutes… 30?? how long have you held a bit for a horse to decide if she wants to pick it up? 35 minutes is past the point most of us (me included) would assume this is not working.
What is wrong with offering the bit and using a finger to encourage the horse to open and accept it especially if it isn’t a fight? Nothing is wrong with that. This is a more advanced conversation. It is asking the horse for more self carriage in a mental and possibly emotional way – she was being given the honor of a choice, and the Kairos gift from her human of time- very valuable time.
We all gasped with astonishment when after 35 minutes of standing still with her eyes vacant and brain ‘gone’ processing… she opened her teeth and took the bit on her own.
The connection between them Brandea assures me shifted that day to a deeper place that made all the riding and work on the front door problems the rest of the week entirely moreeffective. The investment in that time paid off in ways she will reap for years. (And Molly sometimes picks up the bit before Brandea is even situated with the headstall and reins if she’s not careful now!)
No wonder so few people stick around this small group. Why bother? Why spend so much time and effort when a finger in the cheek, a tie down and bigger bit probably to most would seem to be the more expedient answer? Do we just enjoy wasting time?
Brace. Everything we do under Chronos (which uses some kind of imposed force or pushes into a realm the horse isn’t adequately prepared for) not slowing down to do things the right way in the appointed process and time – creates a brace in horses. Mentally, emotionally and physically. Brace and tension take years off the healthy working lifetime of a horse physically or makes them seem dangerous mentally or emotionally.
As I was considering all this, often frustrated at the tension between the Kairos I want to commit to and my own timeline as a goal-oriented driven-to-succeed Chronos human. I was on a new trail I’d heard was beautiful if not somewhat “wilderness” like. I desperately wanted to add some mileage and increase the fitness of my mare that has been in so much patient rebuilding. So much dancing and groundwork and walking straight to build self carriage and the right muscles to work in strength… what is the point of it all if I never get to use it! Will we ever get back to a ride? Not if I can’t get some miles in.
I do want the dance of Kairos however I have no idea what possessed me on this day, but before loading up for the trail I took the time to enjoy Khaleesi and groom her more than usual even braiding her mane and tail until I felt she was fit for the warrior princess title she claims.
I have time for YOU. You matter to me. You are mine and I treasure you.
I knew the ride could potentially be about 20 miles which should be around 5 hours even at a fairly slow pace and I had the entire afternoon. But if things were slower than anticipated there is an exit half way through to cut back on the dirt road so I had options. I wanted to see this trail and was told first do it alone to see if it was appropriate for anyone else on horseback. Wilderness-like…..
How bad could it be?
It turned out to be the most challenging day I’ve had in a long time. The initial climb was about 2500 feet in just a couple miles on a very hot day. Then some lovely grassy roads I enjoyed but not for long as it descended into the valley below the single track trail cut through a low forest that gave no option for getting around the downed trees between rocks, grapevines and other downed trees which meant sawing us out about 4 times with other detours that I could manage.
I put over an hour in – on foot – clearing trail. It seemed like every time I thought it was safe to get back on the horse I was hopping down to find a way through another obstacle. Then we hit the bottom as I’d been told: the trail follows a wash or creek bed. Here it’s a technical couple of miles that included many chances to slip on large mossy rocks sitting at angles or a washed out deep spot, ravines to navigate both to cross and to ride alongside, narrow trail with steep drop offs and rocks to maneuver while not falling to injury or death- and a few bonus trees here to find a way around or through.
I was tired of fighting the trail. I saw the potential for my 20 mile ride ebbing away with each new obstacle.
Face it: you are never riding 100 miles.
Why cant you just do things the way everyone around you does? You aren’t going to ever make it to this goal this way. You’ll be lucky to get through 50. This path isn’t worth it. What’s the point if you never succeed anyway?
Then the other voice that interrupted.
Not so for you.
That phrase I begin to hear whispered more often. I know who is reminding me that I am not called to follow the crowd no matter how tempting.
Something in me wanted to prove that this dance is worth it, that there is great value in working with a horse that truly puts the horse first. That it brings something greater and does actually work!
Prove to who?
After taking a wrong turn that landed me in an Alice in wonderland of rabbit trails- when I found my way again I finally gave up and accepted that today Kairos says you will average 2mph if you survive at all. I began to simply enjoy the ride with my dance partner and hope to make it home by sunrise. And just then Khaleesi refused to go under a high downed tree I thought I could probably duck under. I paused and assessed the situation noting that she was indeed correct – and I got off the horse once more watching my saddle barely clear the tree.
Thank you. I am truly grateful for such a mare.
As we finally came to the dirt road that had the 4 mile shortcut back to the trailer it was around 7:30pm and the light was changing. But not just dusk. Storm colored. And rumblings had begun.
The lightning storm we rode through full canter at this point was just a bonus test. Now Kairos be damned I am dodging lightning and soaking wet in a pelting downpour and I don’t even care anymore if my horse has the soundness or energy – run or die was all I gave her as the dance choices.
Was this punishment or a test?
I drove the hour back to the barn in silence. I’d like to say reflection or processing but it was more like shellshocked. It seemed to me everything went badly.
If it was a test I failed my own standards. I yelled at my horse in impatience while sawing logs as she got restless, I cursed and almost cried at the biggest log that only fell part way until I made a second cut, I ran her past good sense in the lightning (Lord she’ll probably be lame the whole summer now was my life actually in danger. Probably not) and when she asked a simple question about loading up instead of answering calmly like a good dance leader: did you notice I asked you to load up now? I went immediately to: get on now or die.
Fail. And 16 miles isn’t bad. But over 6 hours it felt like it got me nowhere toward some better fitness. We will never cross a finish line again.
Later that night I recounted the story to a good friend who has ridden the trail on a mountain bike- ironically in a lightning storm too. He asked about some specific difficult to navigate places. Places a misplaced step on narrow trail could mean falling a ways to the beautiful waterfalls below… He listened as I explained that thankfully my horse is connected into me so precisely that I was able to place her feet exactly where I asked so she bend around that rock safely…
And as I thought through what I saw as epic failure he said to me: well I’m proud of you. That was a tough day and you faced a lot of hard things but you finished the ride. That is how you grow. When things are easy you don’t really grow.
Deep in my heart I knew he spoke truth. The next morning I realized that I didn’t cross a finish line but what I wanted was to see that all these things aren’t a waste of time but they do matter. And in Gods wisdom and in the beauty of Kairos, when I looked back I realized that not many people I know would have navigated the difficulties with such precision as we were able to.
How many times it was vital to not falling down a ravine or hanging up in a grapevine around an obstacle I had to ask for her feet to go exactly one at a time where they needed to be. That I was able to stop her on a dime when I came up to a washed out drop-off and reroute around it before falling headlong into it. She bent around that rock on the narrow trail like a ballerina and saved me from being crushed under the too low tree when my brain was too tired to catch it. She stood mostly quiet without being tied for an hour accumulated of sawing work.
We did it together and it was a dance. Even the crazy canter to the trailer where she gave me all she had and more.
Prove to who?To myself.
Maybe we will finish a 100 someday and maybe we won’t. Maybe for the first time what I see as the greatest value in my heart is truly shifting to what I saw in my mind those years ago and I won’t put the finish line ahead of the dance- or get as frustrated living in the Kairos in the meanwhile. I certainly don’t want to do it before our appointed time because even if we are able to- it won’t be beautiful.
And the most telling moment came the next day when I walked the field: she came to me. She nickered and lowered her head into the halter. She still chose me even after all that struggle.