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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

The Uniqueness of Now

I have been on this incredible teaching tour through Europe for a little over a month now and I have only a few more weeks to go. Nine clinics in seven weeks across six different countries and so many interesting horses and humans to study everywhere I go. I am in my element and I feel like I am being flooded by a sea of new ideas and understanding every day with every new situation I get to be part of.

Then, amidst all this brilliant travel and learning, while in the outstanding beauty of Ireland, I got a cold. One of those “tickle in your throat” that starts and you are sure it will just be momentary, and then the words coming out of your mouth start to break up and rattle and the frightening truth comes up hard in your face. The gift of being able to talk isn’t granted permanently, it can be taken away.

What happens if I lose my voice? I still have four more clinics scheduled, what if I can’t talk and no one can hear what I have to share? What if I have to cancel and let everyone down?

I would love to tell you I handled all this gracefully, but I didn’t. I excused myself early in the evenings and tried to sleep as much as I could, however, I also found myself in the usual trap of shame and guilt. I thought if only I had slept more, had more water to drink, eaten more carefully, exercised more, this would have never happened. If I had been a better person, I would not have been looking down the throat of failure. While all that may have a grain of truth, in those moments of trying to sleep and attempting to find my health again, it wasn’t helpful.

Then I arrived in Portugal and the wave of heat that met me outside the airport doors was like a new lease on life and my stuffy head started to clear.

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As with most things, once we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can see how to get there. What if I treated this as a unique experience? Not something I was afraid would last forever, ruining everything. What if I could be truly curious about what I experienced? I can breathe out of my left side, but not my right… interesting… but when I turn my head something shifts and it changes, I feel like one side of my head is a big as a balloon, while the other feels normal, interesting.

However, it can only be interesting if we start to believe it will not last forever. What if this tightness in my throat was a unique experience? What if today was the last time I got to experience it in my entire life? Would that make it more worthy of study? Instead of worrying that it would keep getting worse until it killed everything good in my life, what if I treated it as the only time I might ever get to experience this phenomenon of being human.

Here is where my personal revelation bridges into my work and something I have been thinking about a great deal over the last couple of weeks. This is where I get to step back into my comfort zone and start talking about horse training again.

I think this fear of something lasting forever and ruining everything is one of our biggest problems in relationships.

Whether it is a horse running and bucking and pacing endlessly because it wants to be somewhere other than with you, or a horse that stands like it is made of stone seemingly oblivious to your company, these sorts of situations seem to bring up the fight in people. I will be honest, they bring up the fight in me as well.

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I find I want to fix it, I want to make it change, I want to do something that makes the horse want to be in a good relationship with the human. I want to sweep in like the knight in shining armor and slay the dragon of bad behavior so horse and human can live happily ever after.

But that isn’t how Freedom Based Training® works, and I have embarked on a different journey here. Not one of knights, princesses and fairy tales, but a journey where we get to be deeply curious about whatever is currently happening. We get to pay attention to it, and respond to it until the inevitability of life happens and things change. I truly believe that paying attention and responding appropriately will nurture any experience into slowly becoming better. We don’t have to fight the bad to win the good, we just need to pay attention and nurture what we like in life.

What if we don’t like anything? What if it seems like there is nothing to nurture? What if it seems like it is only getting worse, not better? In these situations the instinct to fight or to freeze and give up becomes strong.

The solution? Fight needs to gently be nurtured into curiosity. Freeze needs to be gently nurtured into thinking.

How do we do that? Pay attention and count.

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If we see the horse is running then we walk back and forth around them. If the horse is standing without acknowledging our presence then we stand next to them. Regardless of how we need to be around them, we count our breaths. We need to be curious, how many breaths will it take until the next change in the situation?

Be in the present moment with curiosity and thoughtfulness and respond to every subtle change. The more responsive we are to change, the more change we will start to see.

If you have trouble like I do sometimes, wanting to fight for faster change, or wanting to give up and disappear because it feels hopeless to make any effort at all, consider this:

Every experience is unique in some way. This is absolutely the last time you will ever experience this moment. If you don’t pay attention and notice every detail, it will be lost forever. This is your one chance to experience this particular event.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to take the instinct of fight and turn it into play… or curiosity. Take the instinct of flight and turn it into yield where you make room for (and pay attention to) whatever is happening instead of running away from it. Take the instinct of freeze where you give up and disappear in your mind and turn it into the thinking and awareness your mind was designed for.

When you start to reach for the functional side of the stress spectrum you will find life gets better, and as it gets better and you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, then you will know where to go and what to do next.

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To quote Mary Oliver,

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

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One Comment

  1. Well said Elsa – recognize myself in so much of what you say here, especially “Take the instinct of freeze where you give up and disappear in your mind ….”. So easy to do this when feeling overwhelmed and your advice is very good “… turn it into the thinking and awareness your mind was designed for.” Well said …. not always easy to do however! We often become frozen into inaction by fear which is of course the hallmark of ego. Overcoming our ego fears is pretty much why we are here and playfulness in attitude is probably the best antidote.

    Good luck with the remainder of your European tour during which I hope you find yourself breathing easily on both your left side and your right and your voice does not go AWOL!

    Kind Regards
    Gary


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