A couple of days ago, a new boarder at our barn asked how we got started working with horses in this new way and I really had to think back about how it did begin.
As with any change it started with questioning the way things have always been done. I covered some of this in the last blog on the evolution of horsemanship. Once you release the old, then you have to give yourself permission to see things in a new way and from there be open to what shows up.
How many of you have read ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Cuelho? Fun read and from it a phrase has entered our language that we use any time big change is needed. It is ‘Sell the sheep’. Before the shepherd boy could go on his life altering mystical journey he had to step out of what was comfortable and sell his sheep. That first step is never an easy step. Why leave comfortable for the unknown….for the fear and uncertainty. We do it because it is our soulful journey. There is a calling from beyond.
It think it started for me a few years back when I was reading a Jane Smiley’s book that introduced the idea of horse personality typing. The writing of my book ‘Is Your Horse a Rock Star?’ came out of that and this analyzing of horses opened the door to a new way to look at the horse. Due to the book we were out teaching clinics and workshops and doing demos, so it enabled us to sit in a lot of riding arena’s and witness loose horses. We were doing this to figure out their personality but in the process I could not help but notice the varied expressions that went beyond personality. Some horses were truly awake and aware and others appeared to be slogging along in a fog. Their eyes began to show us a bigger story.
We became aware of all the emotions. Anger, boredom, worry, sadness, pain, happiness, joy! We were doing weekend workshops designed to help people learn how to work with their horse from their personality perspective. This understanding of the personality was what started the deeper listening. What I began to see was a difference in the horses’ eyes from the beginning of the weekend to the end. They started to open up and become engaged once we really started to reach out and want to know who they were. The bolder types of course showed this sooner than the shy timid types. How well the owner could honour and respect the horse was also important. The more the riders were aware and willing to change old patterns of behaviour the greater the change within the horse.
Horse owners were seeking a new way to be with their horses. But why were we here and what were we
seeking now that we had let go of our competitive world of ‘bigger, faster, better’? What I was seeking was a real relationship, a chance to get to truly know another, a chance to share a journey, a chance to change, perhaps myself.
Listening seemed to be the key. How do we listen to our horses? We were used to listening to them physically. We knew if they were lame or sick or sore. We knew how to feed them, and blanket them and exercise them. But did we know how to listen to them from an emotional place. We knew the negative emotions and what happened when those got out of hand. Our training had all been about getting control of those negative emotions. We had learned to equate well behaved with emotional control. But was emotional control emotional expression? No. We wanted to know who they truly were. Were they happy? Would our horses choose to be with us? Would they voluntarily leave their herd and enter our world?
We did not know any of these answers. But we had sold the sheep (our old ways) and were heading off seeking a new way. Could I quit trying to control their behaviour and instead see who they really were and accept where that might take me? Now what does this listening look like?
I am aware. I have chosen to change, now what is the next step. Starting to sound like a 12 step program isn’t it…might not be so far off. We have been a bit addicted to our control. There is some step in there about turning your life over to god whatever that means to you. Hmmm. Let’s not go there.
So to begin we need to find common ground. I decide that the one place I am not too annoying with my horses is out in their field. I will ask if I can be with the herd if I behave myself. They are suspicious. What am I up to? What have I done with the halter and the agenda? They come up to see if I have a treat. -No. ‘Good then, see you later’. I have been snubbed. As a matter of fact
Each day I set a time of 20 minutes that I will spend with the herd doing whatever they are doing. Note: not the farting and pooing part. About day 3 or 4 they have let their guard down and are now just thinking I am odd but harmless. No problem, others have thought that before. I go out to the herd and they are all snoozing. They allow me to come in very close and I lie down with them and a few of them lie down as well. I feel honoured. I love the deep breathing and I am soon travelling off with them into a land of pure awareness even while sleeping.
The herd had accepted me in a small way and so I know the journey had begun. I had stepped onto the first rock. The crossing of the stream is our life journey and we desperately want to be told exactly how to get to the other side but all that ever is presented is the next rock. How shaky or stable the rock will be, we do not know until we take that step. We may be told how to get to the other side, but it is invariably someone else’s journey and we get there only to find disappointment or dissatisfaction. We can also chose to sit in comfort on a rock for awhile but we finally realize we are just watching life flowing by and not really participating in what it has to offer. If we sit too long, we become stagnant like still water. If we resist and refuse to move, grow, change, sometimes a current will come by and sweep us off our high ground. Luckily this action was not required, I had willingly taken my first step without needing to know where the horse journey would take me.