What if I told you that most horsemanship and the way we work with horses are based on myths? Myths that are actually incorrect. Myths like we must dominate to be respected, that they are looking to hurt us, that they need to accept feeling force if they are ever going to work well, that we need to always defend ourselves from them, that the pain we inflict is for their own good and our own safety, and that we need to instill a sense of “do this or else…” or else we humans will hurt you, literally, we will pull, whack, smack, hit, strike. Even though we are 1/10th their size, we are the ones that are smarter, more clever, and we know what is best.
This way of thinking about horses isn’t new. We saw it in times of slavery, before women’s rights, even in today’s schools we see this behavior, this way of thinking. These theories stem from an innate part in all of us that thinks it is safer to be the abuser than the abused, hence bullies are born. Whether we learned physical bullying, or the more complex, emotional bullying, we start to think that in order to protect ourselves, we must assert our power of dominance.
It starts with “If you do this or don’t do this, then I will hurt you.” If you don’t give me the love I want, I will leave you. If you don’t take my advice, I will stonewall you. If you don’t let me yell at you, I will break things, call you names, take things you love away from you. If you don’t do what I say, please ME, then I will chase you out, scare you, blame you, judge you. This is dominance, the struggle to show we hold the power and we are willing to hurt others to make sure we get what we want. We are in control. And questioning our authority will never be tolerated.
This way of thinking, many do it either on a subtle or not so subtle level. We do it with our partners, our children, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers we have just met. The way we treat horses has become an acceptable way to express this side of our scared humanity, our shadow that we all carry within us, this desire to have control and not get hurt.
What I would like to say, is that this is wrong.
It isn’t wrong because we are evil, it is wrong because many of us don’t know any better, we never learned a different way, and when we start a relationship based in these rules of control and power, we can’t seem to find our way out very easily because we first must embrace the utter and complete hurt, shame, and betrayal that we have inflicted. So first, we must grieve and apologize, really to ourselves that we believed in these ways for so long and became loyal to them, even after we saw and felt the pain they caused.
So how do we stop this cycle of violence?
Think Rosa, Rosa Parks. Can you imagine how much strength it would take to not move? To hold your ground in what you believe? With others yelling their judgement in your ears, with threats, defining you as a person, telling you it would be easier to do what everyone else is doing.
The easier thing to do is abide, to not question, to follow the lead of others hoping they are taking us somewhere with our good interest in mind - like if Rosa had moved a few seats back instead of holding her seat right where she was. But the harder thing, the stronger thing to do, is to break the cycle. To stand up and ask questions, or sit down firmly in what you believe, knowing you have your best intentions at heart, and hopefully the best intentions for all the other underdogs who have had enough. We have had enough being bossed around, being told who we are and who we are not, being told that we must engage in myths of control, and we will not play into these beliefs any more - not with our friends, our families, our partners, our horses, nor with even ourselves.
This truly is a journey. Some folks will believe their whole lives that force and control are the only ways to achieve anything - whether it be with themselves or others or the horse - and they will take that belief to the grave. Some folks will see this cycle for what it is, a way based in fear and hurt, and they will easily choose the opposite, and some of us will play with these ideas for years, partially controlling, partially empowering, before we have faith that we are strong enough to live from a place of love and trust over living from a place of fear.
**For anyone struggling with being bullied or find yourself being controlled by another, I encourage you to reach out and look for support. Often with support, we can stand up for ourselves and help our families, our work place, our relationships with others or we realize we need to walk away, sometimes emotionally or physically, because the other is choosing to live in that cycle and we can’t tolerate anymore. Either way isn’t easy but it is a step towards harmony, which will be rewarding in the long run and I would be honored to help you navigate that path. -Kaia**
I was running an all day intensive on giving back to our horses with a group of teenage girls. The underlying theme for the day, is that we can’t give what we don’t have in ourselves. If we want to give kindness to our horse, we need to give kindness to ourselves first. Same goes with patience, contact, connection, affection, nurturance. Of course, the same goes for others in our lives, not just our horse. We need to be able to find this harmony in ourselves before we give it outwardly and for that reason, sometimes we make big changes in our internal self and it can take months if not years for others to notice that we have indeed changed.
Back to the group of teenage girls. During the morning, I had the story of the two wolves come to mind as I was listening to the ladies set their intention for the day. The story can be found at http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html and is as follows.
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice... "Let me tell you a story."
"I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It's like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. "
"It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way."
"But...the other wolf... ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing."
"Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather ?"
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."
The theme of the two wolves within us kept coming back up all day. What I realized was that in a day on nourishing our selves, our lives, our community, we had to talk about these two wolves. If we decide to nourish the wolf that is spiteful, that wolf will thrive in us. If we decide to nourish the wolf that is in harmony, that wolf will thrive in us. We can’t talk about nourishment without talking about what to nourish and what “feeds” these wolves. What we decided was that emotion is what these wolves eat. We have the feeling of frustration and it is up to us which wolf we want to feed that energy to. We can sit back and say, “I am so frustrated that this isn’t working out for me! I hate myself. I hate what my life has become. I wish everything was easier and I am so mad at everyone that stands in my way!” or we can sit back with that frustration and say, “I am so frustrated and I really want things to work out. I am passionate about my dreams. I have a vision for myself. I am struggling, and I need support from my community to help me figure out what to do.”
Thinking more about these two wolves at war in us, I realized that one reason folks feed the spiteful wolf, is that one screams out to be fed. It is often the louder of the two wolves, the one that needs to growl, protect, fight, hurt or be hurt. The harmonious one is actually very quiet in us, and only screams out when in need for justice or out of love.
Next time you are sitting with emotion, whether it be anger, sadness, frustration, nervousness, or hurt, notice which wolf you are wanting to feed and if you really want that wolf to thrive inside of yourself. Don’t hate yourself for feeding the spiteful wolf, for that feeds it even more. Instead, work on forgiving yourself, forgive others, give back and be honest with yourself. The more you hide your spiteful wolf, the more it screams to be heard. Acknowledge that voice within yourself, see it clearly, listen to its words, and then stand up to it and make that decision that you will not be feeding that wolf any longer. That is power. That is loving strength.
Jumping horses takes a fair amount of skill. Some beginner riders can walk, trot, canter, and gallop roughly on a horse the first time they ride depending on their balance and fitness. Very few can jump until they have learned how to properly ride a horse, and even then, the adrenaline rush you get soaring over fences is huge. There is a fairly small population of people that can jump and they don’t get a rush, their heart rate stays the same, and they end their ride as if they just took a stroll in the park, calm and collected. I admire those folks and tip my hat to them with gratitude that they exist, and then there is the rest of us… heart pounding, muscles tense, just trying to stay breathing is hard enough let alone focusing on distance and technique. For most riders, technique goes flying out the window when we jump horses and we are just trying to stay on and get from jump to jump in an organized and precise fashion. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to that, when they are being honest, have huge anxiety when they jump, they are just trying to keep in together and convince themselves they are having fun. I hear, “I try not to think about it” or “I just kind of go numb and surrender to the fact that I might die today.”
Jumping horses can most definitely trigger anxiety or panic and I see anxiety attacks on a weekly basis. Riders come up to me, breathing heavy, body shaking, tight upper chest breaths as their arm muscles are still tight from the ride. No wonder horses get tense over jumps! If we are asking horses to connect and pick up on what we are asking them to do, then we are asking them to hold their breath, bottle their tension, and be tight. I can see why they buck or take off regularly let alone be anxious themselves!
But when all is said or done, it is just you, the horse, and the jump. Nothing more.
We can try to tell our adrenaline or anxiety to be quiet, but the reality is if you think you are going to die, and you tell your body that, your body is going to go into fight, flight, or freeze, which none of these states are good for riding in. At the same time, you are not going to improve your anxiety of riding or what challenges you by avoiding it. The work with any obstacle is to focus, feel the anxiety, and not let it get the best of you. The anxiety might start when you see a horse, when you mount the horse, when you canter, or go over a pole, or jump a 3’6” box oxer. Wherever your anxiety starts, start there. Notice it. Breathe into it. Feel how safe or unsafe you feel and don’t lie to your body with what you are able to do. Find that boundary where it feels difficult but safe and hang out there for a while.
Most people have the technique, we can keep a leg on each side of the horse, we can stick with their balance, do a two-point. What we lack is the calmness to see what is truly in front of us - Not a lion, not a death trap, or a never ending cliff, but a jump.
This is true for all issues of anxiety, we convince our bodies that we are going to die when we don’t really see the reality in front of us. This is just a challenge that we can indeed walk away from if we choose. Most of us think we have to do what makes us feel unsafe and dangerous, but we don’t. From most things, we can walk away, but if we do decide to face our “inner lion” of everything that we fear, we need to do it knowing we can, nourishing our bodies to give us bravery, breathe deeply, knowing we can say “no” if we need to. The challenges are opportunities to be more still, more centered in the moments of chaos. When we see that our challenges, our jumps, they just lie in the path we are walking, we don’t need to walk differently, just take it in stride, literally.
I seem to be talking about glasses a lot these days to people. No, not the type we wear when our eyes start to get blurry but the metaphorical kind. The glasses you wear when you just became obsessed with rock climbing and now you see the world through your rock climbing glasses; “Could I climb that wall outside of the super market?!” When we spend time and energy thinking about something, we start to see the world through that lens. If we put attention into our breath, we start to notice when we hold our breath, what that does to our mind, what that does to our body. Becoming aware of ourselves and our lenses in therapy is called “tracking” where you follow your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as you go about your day. What is also interesting is that you start to notice other people through your glasses, like your friends who hold their breath, maybe you even notice when people are starting to get anxious before they even know it!
For every unique person in the world, there is a unique set of glasses. Many of us see the world through the religion we grew up in, the messages our family and mentors told us, the lessons we learned at vulnerable times… and some of us have glasses that make everything an adventure and heartfelt and others have glasses that make us feel hopeless and lost, many of us have both.
My curiosity started around this about a year ago while I was sitting at a horse clinic and I heard some people say, “Wow! Look at this beautiful pair!” Of course I was curious and had to come take a look. In the ring was this gorgeous mare prancing around the arena while the rider was holding on for dear life. As I sat there behind a small crowd of people, listening to them talk about how spectacular this pair was and how in awe they were of the rider, I couldn’t help but blink a few times because I couldn’t see what they were seeing. Through my glasses, I saw a rider with a death grip on the horse’s mouth with a very severe bit where the horse’s head was tucked into her chest. The rider was accidentally spurring the horse every step, making the horse jump out of her skin, which made the rider pull harder on the bit. The horse’s muscles were tight from bracing and her back was sunk, I’m assuming from the rider’s very defensive and nervous seat. What I kept looking at was the horse’s wide eyed fright and the rider’s similar look in her eyes. Neither looked like they were having fun or were relaxed in any point in their body, and yet there was a crowd discussing and commenting on how beautiful the pair was. I went home and wondered what had happened that day. I started to step into the shoes of the audience, they saw a horse of great breeding and movement and a rider that could stay on. That was beautiful to them. What makes me sad is that often the good riders that are totally relaxed and help a horse be totally relaxed go unnoticed. I hear, “Oh that is just a good horse” or “what a simple ride that horse is.”
We don’t give credit to the riders with invisible aids that calm the horses’ down, and help the horse’s find their better potential. We praise the ones that look like they are going through hell and manage to live another day! No wonder kids (and adults) bully and create drama to get attention. We don’t see the ones that are calmly doing their lives and quietly finding their highest potential! We like to look at the accidents on the side of the road, on youTube, in our lives, and we skip looking at the beautiful, clear, soft moments that happen around us.
A horse trainer recently told me that she took a year away from showing horses to work more deeply with her horses on a non-sport horse level. When she returned to showing, she couldn’t believe how much more violent and aggressive the riders had become! Then she realized, the riders had always been this way, now she just saw it more clearly because her glasses had changed.
To me, no matter what glasses you wear, there is going to be both ugly and beauty in how you look at it, and it will look very different from person to person. I think it is more about making a conscious decision to wear the glasses we want to wear and change the lenses when we see fit. Ideally the glasses we wear on the outside, match us on the inside. If we want to see kindness and softness in the world, we become that on the inside as well as look for it on the outside. And if others don’t see your point of view, that is ok. If they want to borrow your glasses to look through at some point, they will. Honor what you see in life and don’t be afraid to try other people’s glasses on as you might see something kinda cool that you have never seen before, and it might change your life.
Over the weekend, I took 6 teens and pre-teens out for an all day trail ride at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I knew that it was most likely going to be a challenging day but what unfolded was both awesome and impressive. I watched as a number of girls started on what I would call the "Hero's Journey." There was a problem that needed to be solved, a muddy stream needing to be crossed, an unruly horse that wants to run off, panic from either the horses or riders as they were tossed into a situation they have never been in. No riders broke down and gave up, but it did bring out tears, heavy emotions, feelings of doubt, insecurity, dis-trust, and betrayal. These horses were not just rented horses from the local rancher, these horses were their horses, younger horses that they knew and most of them had never been out in the open space of these trails before. I think riders had hoped that this journey would be smooth, but there was tests for sure.
What amazed me was that the horses and riders that started out the day with immense challenges that they then had to work through on their own, became closer and closer throughout the day. The riders started to deepen into their horse's movements, connect nervous systems, have a stronger and more subtle communication as they rode in the fields, rocks, trees, and hills. I watched from atop my beloved horse as the girls rode down the mountain in silence, horses and riders seemingly reading one another's minds, and I realized that the ones that had the biggest challenges, and embraced them with courage, they were now more connected than ever. The ones that didn't have those challenges, or backed off from addressing the challenge, they missed something in the process.
This got me thinking about all relationships, the idea of "the healthy fight" between two people, or horses and people. I also started to think about teenagers in general, and how they are trying to learn the "healthy fight" as these fights or challenges actually help us deepen more into who we are, they teach us how to cry as we cling on for dear life to our wild horse, and find the determination to get back on and keep traveling.
The next day, there was a sense of completion from the riders that attended the trail ride. They understood the horse better and had a quiet confidence in themselves. The moral of the story is not to back down from the hardships, the hard days, the hard rides. The fight is not with your horse or the people around you but with the bumpy road you take.
Playfulness and pushiness are two sides of the same coin. When we laugh, tease, move our energy in our bodies and our hearts, we can't help but move emotion as well. Emotion is Movement. When we fear emotion, we fear movement - moving forward, backwards, moving in our circumstances, moving towards forgiveness, or moving out of depression. When we decide to move, we also move others and some people will call that 'rude' or 'pushy' as maybe they didn't want to move themselves. When we call someone rude or pushy for moving us, that is the moment where we need to look inside ourselves and see why we are not wiling to feel what they presented. Sometimes laughter brings up intense sadness, anger, hurt, it brings these intense emotions out because they are intense energy inside of us.
You can really see how connected emotion is to our body's movement when you watch horses. Horses have something that I like to call their "play drive" where they like to show off how silly, playful, and athletic they are. When horses play with other horses, they run, buck, rear, bite, and they also show off what we love about them, their elegance, strength, and precision. When we harness that play drive, that energy can turn into beauty and connection, and when we fight and reject that play drive, that energy can turn into almost an equine version of depression. There is a huge difference between someone riding their horse who has squashed the horse's play drive versus someone who has harnessed it. The first horse looks like they hate their job and everything is forced, while the second horse looks like they are having more fun than anyone else in the world! Allowing the play drive in us, the emotions, pushiness, silliness, can allow deeper connection and more life.
And yes, there is a catch. Just like horses with a big play drive can be very dangerous, so can we if we don't harness that energy. By being playful and having emotions, we can physically, mentally, and emotionally hurt someone on accident or on purpose. It is the parents job to help their 2 year old, or 15 year old, learn how to harness their play, but if the parent never got that from their parents or a mentor, then it is the blind leading the blind. Boundaries are key when learning how to play and move without turning into annoyance or abuse or violence. We will never know where the line is until we have come close to it or even crossed it, and if the boundaries are always moving, we will never learn what is too much. We all crave play, we also know it to be dangerous at times. For those who fear being played with, let play move you, challenge you, bring feeling out in you, and don't be afraid to be clear on what is too much and show up for yourself. Play doesn't work if we don't show up with what we want and what it too much for us right now. The more we play, the more we connect and find beauty in our movement doing so.
What if we lived in a way where we insisted making contact with one another?
Some folks might see this question and they might think “Eutopia!” while others see this and think “Hell.”
Contact is defined as those moments when we connect on a deeper level, when we really see someone for a moment. This can look like eye contact with a stranger at a cafe, an honest moment with our partners or family over dinner, or even that moment during a fight when you see yourself clearly even if just for an instant. Contact, happens with yourself first, when you see the reality of your life, the reality of the consequences of the choices you have made, and sometimes we don’t like what we see. When we make contact with ourselves, we start to be able to see others more vividly, and with more clarity.
When all is said and done, everyone wants contact. We want contact, and we are either scared of what will happen, what we will see in ourselves, or we don’t always have the skillful means to ask for it. Others think these moments just happen and they happen out of our control.
In some ways, these moments do “just happen.” They surprise us at times, and they happen when you least expect them. They happen during that moment in the parking lot, or when you sit down for coffee in the morning, or when you think you are minding your own business and out of nowhere, you see someone or something in your environment that brings you into the moment. We never know when these moments of clarity or deep connection will happen, and part of our skill is not to reject them.
When we step onto the path of deciding to make contact with our lives, with others, we start to chose the path of connection over agenda over and over again. When we chose the path of contact, we end up with deeper connections with everything, and intimacy with the world. We feel more. We feel ourselves, our experience, others’ experiences, others’ needs.
Depending on where we are, we either love this or hate it. To be polite, we walk around not asking others to make contact with us. We ask someone, “How are you?” really wanting to know the truth and we settle for “fine” as they look at the ground holding back tears. We learn to shut down, make jokes, give advice, go up into our heads and talk instead of checking in and staying open to what comes next. We have taught ourselves not to see, not to be hurt, not to feel, so we can live a life where we don’t have to be honest, be real, and be vulnerable.
One thing I often see, is that when someone decides to take the path of contact, often because picking any other path has become too painful, they suddenly feel alone. They see that they live in a society that doesn’t connect, that doesn’t hold their hand open and say “when you are ready, take it.” They feel that and they want to hide behind their armor, put on a fake smile and say, “I’m fine.” We want to protect ourselves from feeling alone, from feeling that raw vulnerability, from maybe feeling at all.
We are finding that making contact helps with drug abuse, helps with anxiety, depression, helps us in relationships, in finding more joy in life, and helps us be more clear on who we are. Yet, to step on this path takes courage, in takes the lion in our hearts to step forth and break through stereotypes that we have made for ourselves and what others have made for us.
Do we have the courage to hold our hand open and wait? Do we have the courage to ask for depth? Do we have the courage to step away from anything that makes us unseen in hopes of being truly seen by others?
Healthy horses insist on congruency and contact. They insist that if you are sad, you show it, angry, frustrated, you show it. They want to see you or they don’t trust that you can be a partner, leader, or herd member. They do this so they can rely on one another to be there when they need you. They do this to be safe, to bond, and to stay regulated as a group. They insist on healthy community because their emotional stability depends on it.
I don’t think we are that different. Many have just given up. We have given up living in a way where we do make contact, where we allow ourselves to be impacted by others’ lack of connection, and one where we don’t insist that others make contact back.
If you do decide to take this path, you are not alone. Others will follow your lead in time because they will see the beauty in it, when they are ready. If you want others to make contact with you, you can not force it. You can only take responsibility for yourself and ask that others be influenced by you. Just like Mary Oliver says in her poem, The Journey, the only life you have is yours.
“…there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.”
You have hit a problem that you think can’t resolve. You are standing, looking at a giant wall, unable to see the other side of it, yet that is where you want to be - on the other side. You might go up, bang your fist against it, push it, kick it, then turn that frustration onto yourself. “What is wrong with me that I can’t get over this wall?!” Your frustration turns quickly into sadness, which sometimes turns into defeat. “I can’t get on the other side” so we sit down and wait or we walk away and try to forget.
There are problems in our lives that we simply can’t see the resolution for, either because we have never seen someone work through a problem like this, or our families have gotten stuck in that same place and we somehow learned in our lives that this big problem will always remain a big problem. We learn to be semi comfortable with these walls in our lives restricting where we go and how we decide to live. And when someone tells us that those walls don’t need to be there, we remember the sense of frustration, the insecurity we felt in ourselves, and now we stand looking at someone who claims that they have been over those walls. A wave of disbelief that they could have actually found a way to do so, envy that they are strong enough and you are not, possibly even a sense of anger that they are explaining what is like on the other side of that wall and it is something you have wanted so badly for your entire life.
This is when there are different paths. You can take the path of believing the person who has overcome their obstacles, checking out their story, becoming curious about their wall and what was on the other side. The other option is to hear those old voices inside your head say, “I can’t get to the other side”, “I am weak”, or “this wall is different, there is no getting over it,” and you believe those words.
Your right, everyone’s big problem is different, every wall is unique in that it is your own wall to address. We can learn from one another on how they approached the issue, how they felt when they were up against what they felt like was the end of their existence, but it is up to you to resolve your own.
Friends can be great at kicking our wall along side us, holding us when we become sad, and cheerleading when we get the strength to face the problem again. But this does’t actually help us get to the other side. We are the ones that need to sit with the wall and come up with a new solution, one that is unique to us and the more advice we get, the further we get from finding our own solution. What we need is someone who can teach us to chew on an issue. Someone who can help us see the other side and create a plan to either dismantle the wall, get over it somehow, or come to terms with it depending on what we decide to do. Ironically, sometimes the people who are really alright with whatever side of the wall we end up are the ones that can help us the most because they allow the space for us to figure out where we want to be and how we can get there. Our goal is to see clearly. What is this wall? More importantly, what is on the other side out of reach? How can we stretch ourselves to find a way over what seems like the impossible?
The journey to face our challenges can be a lonely one, as indeed it is something we need to do in our own way. That doesn’t mean we can’t get help, and that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others by listening to their journey. We get to explore what we think is on the other side of things, what our lives would look like if we overcame our challenges. Would it look the same? Vastly different? Would everything change or just some things? I think in all honesty, many folks are not sure where they want to go. They focus so much on the issue that they can’t see where they are heading.
There is a great metaphor I like when working with horses. Often when we fixate on the problem at hand, the big jump in front of us, the movement we are asking for, we stare at it, analyze it, fixate on it, and the horse has no idea what you are asking for because they are thinking in terms of movement. “Do you want me to ride to the jump or over the jump?” For those that know horses, you know there is a big difference. If we think less about the walls that restrict us and we allow ourselves to be more curious about the journey over them, we can find ourselves in motion to solving our problems. Getting into motion is the hardest part.
When I was around 11 or 12, I was in an equitation class at a horse show. Equitation classes are judged on your riding ability and, in this class, the judge was observing over a dozen riders in the ring. As you can imagine, watching over a dozen good riders ride around the ring for ten minutes can be difficult to score them on their riding ability, so this judge did something different. She had everyone line up and asked us one at a time to, “sit your trot in a straight line to the fence.” At first everyone was able to trot straight to the fence, but them one rider veered to the right so now riders had to make a bend to the right if they wanted to get to the rail. Towards the end, one rider, who was not known for having a great position, trotted her horse straight and stopped behind another horse NOT on the rail. I remember thinking, “she didn’t listen to the directions, what was she thinking doing something different?” The judge awarded her first place and gave us all a speech that has stuck with me over the years.
“Everyone was good, that is why I asked for something to set you all apart. This one rider (who was standing with a big blue ribbon) thought outside from what everyone else did. That took courage and says a lot about her riding abilities.”
Man was I mad. I thought to myself, “if the judge wanted us to be original, why didn’t she just say that!? Why didn’t she emphasize trotting STRAIGHT instead of TO THE RAIL. And why would the rider do something different? She made it all awkward for us!” I think I got third place but I was being a perfectionist and I was learning a lesson.
I now see how impactful that class was on me not only in my riding, but in my life. There is something courageous about doing things differently and either people respond with inspiration or they come with criticism. I find that there is a lot of criticism, the same way I criticized that girl so many years ago. “Why did she make it awkward for us?” At that point, I realized there was no right way to ride, there was my way and either people were going to judge us or not. Some might like the way I do things, and some might not. My point is that if we take the focus off of being perfect and we move from our original self, yes that is courageous, but it also changes the brain from focusing on others’ judgements and helps us focus more on our ability to think outside the box and be creative.
One question I like for either riding students or clients is, “if you lived on a deserted island, would this still bother you?”
This question points to a scary point, that we are in some ways alone. Our opinions, our choices, they are ultimately ours and we can’t keep changing them to make others happy and comfortable. Making others comfortable is not our job, it is theirs. We can listen, experience, and change but we need to “ride” for ourselves and our horse, not for the blue ribbons. The blue ribbons will come if they are meant to come.
Some of my students are around that age of 11 or 12 and they struggle with wanting to be perfect, and I tell them there is no such thing as perfection, and then they talk about engagement and roundness, and distances to their jump and they tell me their job and give an evaluation of how well or not well they are doing at their job. They have a good point, but sometimes I hear that judge’s voice coming from my own, and I say to the girls, “Riding with courage says a lot about your riding ability,” and little light bulbs go off in their heads as they contemplate the meaning of riding perfectly versus riding courageously. Can you imagine what it would be like to ride from our hearts, ride with courage to try new things, to dream about the unknown possibilities, and give up own agendas. Indeed, I wonder what it would be like if we all decided to live our life that way.
Kaia Livingstone is a psychotherapist who runs a private practice outside of Boulder, CO. She specializes in helping horses and humans bond in order to help them relate and connect on a deeper level as well as heal and grow.