One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train
To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.
Far from Perfection
Since the movie came out and I have been working on the book, I am realizing a personal trend that needs some course correcting. The temptation to focus on the positive lures me, as though filling my mind with all that is good, can completely drown out the bad days, the hard moments, and the places where I get everything wrong. I want to set the story straight here, I am a very flawed as a human being!
Being flawed is part of what drives me to be better, and perhaps it is high time I wrote about that more of the time.
We all tend to think our less than stellar moments are something to be covered up and hidden, as if people won’t like us because we screwed up. That is true to a point; no one likes a friend who treats the world with negativity and does nothing to make things right. We all mess up, get it wrong, and then the important part is we do our best to make it right.
I have spent years working on and writing about the peaceful possibilities when working with horses. The building of relationship and the pieces it might take to have a relationship with a horse that is voluntary and cooperative. No force, no bribes, just a shared language where we find a harmony together, where we want to do the same things.
Let me assure you though, on the path of all these methods and patterns of working positively there are many many moments that are not so positive. In those not so positive moments I have to bow my head and consider, how do I make this right?
Perhaps I should admit that to my readers more of the time. It’s not all perfect at my barn.
Tonight, carrying a bucket of grain across the paddock for my skinny older warmblood, everyone crowded around me wanting some. It was raining and dark and I had had a long day and I thought, they SHOULD have more respect for my personal space! Before I had a chance to get out the gate with the bucket, someone jostled me and the bucket fell to the ground spilling all its contents. An anger filled me in that moment and before I knew what was happening I was yelling and waving my arms and throwing the bucket across the paddock. It was embarrassingly inappropriate, and, if my neighbors had been outside – unlikely in the rain and the dark – I am sure I was a spectacle to behold.
The horses scattered a little ways away and watched me, remarkably undisturbed by my temper tantrum – was I going to relent and let them come over to clean the grain up from the ground? I was furious, irrational, and the tantrum continued, “ Everyone out!” With very little grace I chased them all into the far paddock and closed them off so I could clean up all the grain and throw it in the bushes; they would get none of it!!!
A new batch of grain retrieved from the barn, and safely placed in a separate space, I stormed out to the paddock and beckoned my warmblood with a twitch of a finger – yes, I am still furious and not taking to the others. My mustangs of course assumed I meant them and started sauntering over, and I threw another fit, -yelling, jumping up and down – “If I wanted your company, I would have looked at you and I didn’t!” (of course that is confusing, because now I am looking at them, and not in a good way.) “Go away! I am not talking to you!” It wasn’t pretty.
Zohari walked slowly over to me, head low, every movement cautious. I was still too mad to be appropriate, all my moments rough and too fast. I told him to come with me. He has known me for twenty years now and was surprisingly patient and gentle with me about my outburst.
Crying, I sat next to Zohari as he art his grain… I blew it again. All this work I do to have a peaceful existence with my horses and tonight I totally lose my cool. Where did I go wrong?
First it occurs to me, emotions happen. It has to be OK to feel angry or sad or happy or elated… However there is an appropriate space to be kept between our emotions and our actions.
Feeling things is the richness in life and I would never want any less emotion. However, I would like to set my life up so my emotions have space to exist without flooding into everyone else’s experience.
So on a night when it’s raining and dark and I am tired, perhaps I could plan ahead for the frustration I know might be a hair trigger away. I could have walked the long way around to the private paddock with the grain pan, instead of taking the short cut through the herd. I could have picked up a rope or a stick to make it clear I am not to be messed with tonight. I could have just taken a few extra minutes before I went and got the grain, to check in with each member of the herd and establish today’s relationships before I challenged them with temptation.
I am thinking about the lessons I taught to students this week. Perhaps if I had applied the same concepts to my herd at home, everything might have been different tonight.
This week has found me talking a great deal about drive and draw. You see, once we have some draw with our horses, where we can call them to us or walk together or stop or turn or back up TOGETHER, it feels so good we tend to do less and less of the drive that created the draw in the first place.
I walk people through 5 steps with their horses:
First- we follow the horse.
Second- the horse follows us.
Third- the horse touches us.
Fourth- we touch the horse.
Fifth- we mix and interchange the first four steps.
That first step is the most important, and tends to get forgotten as we develop farther into our relationships. You see, if the horse won’t let us follow, we have to use a little bit of drive to motivate some motion for us to follow.
With people I see it all the time; we like the draw so much we drop the drive as soon as possible. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. I would much rather draw the horse to me and do things with them, than push them away and follow. The yin and the yang balance each other though; we need the drive and the follow to balance the draw and be followed.
Here is something I read that might cause us all to think a little: “True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”.
I tell people that true leaders are simply the last one of the group to make a decision. True leaders hand leadership over to the others all the time; however, they always have the last word. By making the last decision before a time of harmony or rest, a true leader gets associated with all things good, and chosen as the leader time and again. True leaders also know how to use some drive to ask someone else to lead for a while.
If I had taken a little more time to practice this with my herd this week, perhaps things would have been different when I asked for space around carrying the grain pan through the paddock. Perhaps I need to practice what I preach and spend more time asking horses to do things for me to follow, instead of always having them follow me.
I did my best to end my evening right. Each horse got a little time in the private paddock with me, and each one got a bite of something yummy – I do share after all – and then I sat in the hay while they all gathered around me nibbling away.
I promised them all I would try to do better at knowing when my emotions are close to boiling over and act in ways that would safeguard our relationship better than I had tonight. I also know, that just isn’t possible all the time, so, I will pour my heart into continuing to develop our bond in ways that give them a sense of safety, even when I fall apart and make a mistake or two.
Here is to owning our mistakes, our bad days, and times when emotions get hot.
Here is to making amends.