“Just a Trail Ride”

“I don’t want much, I just want to groom once in a while and go for an easy trail ride here and there”-

This is a statement folks often make, which makes perfect sense from a human point of view. It doesn’t require much time, effort or skill gaining, and the expectation appears low- for the horse to just stand quietly, or happily trod along down the trail.

From a riders perspective, grooming requires relaxing and enjoying brushing their horse. Trail riding usually involves relaxing and leaving the horse mostly alone to enjoy the outdoors and company.

From a horses point of view, however, this is not so easy a task. To ”just be brushed,” the horse has to have enough confidence to leave the herd, the skills to lead well to the barn, the ability to stand tied quietly for a length of time in isolation away from friends, to stay focused enough to stand despite the distractions and movement around them in the barn.
That’s a lot!

To “just trail ride,” the horse has to have the afore mentioned skills, plus load in a trailer, ride in the trailer and unload (those are all separate skills), leave friends quietly and ride calmly past all kinds of input and stimulus- they have to know what rider input to tune into (legs and reins), and which to shut out (rustling around to get a granola bar out of saddle bags, yammering to friends). They have to manage terrain with balance, leave or join other horses, or ride past other people, dogs, bikes, etc. They often have little guidance from a rider who’s expectations and attention to the horse is low (who is relaxing and enjoying company or scenery, not giving attentive communications to the horse).

That’s a TALL order for a horse, and quite a drastic difference in expectation between horse and rider in terms of education, attention and workload.

Think from the horses point of view. Don’t skimp on the education, the awareness, and don’t leave your horse to their own devices for “simple tasks.” A horse is a horse, and not a human- and they see our world very differently. It’s on us to prepare and guide them.

Beware of fangirling

I love my teachers. I think they’re the best in the business, and I’m hooked on their every word. I think they hung the moon and stars, and I take every opportunity to soak up their wisdom.

But they are not infallible, and treating their word as gospel without critical thinking, because I’m excited about them, is dangerous.

When we get excited about a teacher, we start to love the ”brand” and community and badge over the information. It’s easy to do- we all have done or currently do it. It’s human nature. Take a brief look at the pitfalls people get into with religion and politics, and see how that can be applied anywhere in life.

The problem with fangirling is we overlook fault, and rationalize away anything potentially harmful. We rally into little camps and rush to defend the honor of a teacher before thinking how it might apply to us. We lose the ability to think for ourselves and begin following blindly, proudly displaying our merchandise and gear and forgetting the purpose of the work. Even good information blindly applied can be damaging, so don’t shut off your eyes and ears.

It doesn’t mean your teacher is not wonderful- but don’t forget to think, don’t forget your teacher is a human being, with their own problems in life and their own pitfalls. They are capable of bias; of wanting to be admired and seeking approval, they are prone to getting their feelings hurt like anyone else. They do not belong on a pedastal.

Some horsemanship teachers have higher celebrity status than others, some are more skilled, some are more helpful than others. It’s great to get excited about someone with information that could change your life for the better. But they, and I, and any of us, are simply human beings, experimenting, making mistakes, and learning, in the public eye. We, they, and I, are not perfect, and should never be treated as such.

The Story

Let horses move past their “story”

When you’re in the thick of it, the story is real. The behaviors can be explained by a past, near or far. Some of it may be valid, some may be our interpretation, some may be best guesses. Either way, here we are.

But horses have a strong desire to be balanced. If given half a chance, most of them, I’ve found, adapt. Some need a little more help, some have a missing ingredient that helps them complete the recipe of wellness. But usually, people are in the way.

I’ve been that person too. It’s easy. You tell the story over and over – “she was traumatized.” “You won’t be able to catch her, she hates men.” “She doesn’t trailer.” “She had an accident while tying so she doesn’t tie.” These things may have been true at one time, but without adapting our awareness to the current moment day by day, moment by moment, we so often keep the horses progress stifled.

I can’t tell you how many troubled horses I’ve had that I tip toed around, told the public to watch out, and one day discovered them calmly standing. Before my very eyes they had turned into another horse, and I was so busy talking about them I hadn’t noticed who they were now.

There Is Risk

If at the end they hate your guts but you got to pass on help to a greater reach of horses, it was worth it

If they copy you and take credit but the work helps horses, it was worth it

If they didn’t get it and left for something flashier, but the horse got to feel better for a little while, it was worth it

If they think you’re crazy but you know you reached the horse, it was worth it

There is risk in putting yourself out there. There’s risk others won’t like you, they’ll steal from you and cheapen the work, they’ll misunderstand it, they’ll judge you,

But

There is also the risk you make an impact, great or small, on those hungry for help

Life is a risk. The only risk intolerable is regret that you didn’t give it a shot.

Failure

Fear of failure-

It grips all of us at some point or another, to different degrees. For many, it can be crippling.

Many of my students say to me that they are petrified of screwing up, to which I am known to say, “relax, you will.”

Failure is inevitable, and is not possible to avoid entirely. We can reduce the risk, but at some point we all will fail.

Being criticized, Injuries, getting fired, training mistakes big and small – they are all on the table the minute you roll out of bed. It’s a wild world out there, and risk is inherent. Sometimes the damage can be repaired, sometimes not.

Failure offers us many opportunities to learn on a deeper level. Babies learn to crawl by getting so damn frustrated they can’t take it anymore, and make the first wobbly moves toward the item that’s caught their eye. But they fall often. Every master out there has failed endlessly to get to their level of deep knowledge. We don’t live in a nice, cooperative world- we live in a world designed to push us for our growth, and this means, we will fall.

All failure can point us deeper to the center- there is something to be learned in every moment: patience, flexibility, forgiveness of ourselves and others, surrendering control.

It’s not a matter of if, but when, you fail. So what’s your relationship to failure? If you can make peace with it, the irony is it’s frequency can be greatly reduced, because you will be more open. And when it can’t be avoided, or if you missed something, at the very least, you will handle it with more grace. 

Failure is not the end, it is simply input.

So relax, nothing is under control-

Spelling

I have a low tolerance for the correction of spelling and grammar- I’ll tell you why.

I don’t know how to write myself.
All through school I did poorly: I struggled to remember things, struggled to sit still and pay attention (it didn’t help that the subject matter was excruciatingly boring and offensive to my senses), struggled especially with math, and I struggled learning grammar rules and spelling. No child dreams of dissecting sentences instead of hunting for bugs, but some seemed able to put up with the work, and I wasn’t.

I barely passed high school. I got bad grades on most of my essays and was a pain in nearly every teachers backside. Teachers called me lazy and unmotivated nearly every day, until I eventually learned to just give up putting effort out, since it wasn’t worth it. I walked out of high school with a diploma thanks to several hard earned D’s, and a little doing what needed to be done to get out of my prison.

I didn’t learn how to write at school. It wasn’t until I gave up trying to write correctly, that I started writing things others enjoyed. I stopped worrying about the format, anticipating the way editors would butcher it, my spelling and grammar, and just let it flow.

My writing is not writing, but just my thoughts pulled onto paper, and if I had to stop to organize them as “good writing,” they would flit away, like a bird when you get too close.

I believe everyone’s brain is wired differently. I’ve got a thing with numbers and directions and spelling-
Sometimes my autocorrect can’t even help me cause the word I’ve spelled isn’t close enough to reality to help me out.

Its been that way for 33 years, my brain, and I’ve stopped fighting it. After having the school system drill into my self esteem for my young life, I’ve stopped believing that scholarly ability is the only way to be smart. This brain and I have got to get along.

On any given article I write, you can probably find ten spelling errors and twenty grammatical errors.

Everyone is different, and sure, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, maybe an objective “good and bad.” But if the writing stirs you, I hope you can find a way to see the beauty in the message for what it is- maybe not just in regards to spelling, but those around you with much to offer, packaged in a way you may have been programmed not to see.

Corrections

When is it worth it to correct somebody? Or maybe, when is it appropriate to get stern with someone? This is a question I ask myself often.

The first thing I remember, and I remember it often, is the corrections from those I admire. I remember how it felt, I remember what I was trying to do and where I was coming from. I remember how it felt immediately- the sting, defensiveness, maybe anger. And I think often about how that information organized itself over time into wisdom once the hurt settled, like brown water that clears up after a churning rain.

I don’t take the task of correcting someone lightly, because I know its effect. I know it carries a double edge, with one risk being to push the person away in hurt, and the other to draw them closer to the truth and to growth.

So firstly, before correcting someone, I ask myself where it is coming from, within me. Am I doing this for the right reason? Is it for them, or to make me feel better, bigger, to retaliate? This is a question that can give us pause, and stops me from correcting many, often.

Then I ask, Is the correction necessary for my own well-being or of those near to me? There is a line that repels others, where once drawn, the opinion of the other is no longer my concern. There is a moat to my castle, and you cannot enter without the right password.

And for those close, I ask, is this person worth the risk to me? Is correcting a dear student, behaving out of turn through frustration or ignorance, worthy of such a heavy blow to the ego? Is it worth risking their pain, their distance, even their anger at me, to ensure their path toward success? Are they ready to hear it? Can I speak it direct to the source, like a needle to the vein, bypassing the weak flesh? Or, risk the needle bending and creating disruption, upset, disturbance in the skin?

Our energy is precious, and finite. Much of it is wasted correcting others to wave a flag of superiority, an act of concealing our small and feeble self worth. But what if our corrections of others were calculated, with a mind toward investment? What will this correction do for me, for them, for the future? These are important questions to ask ourselves, and answer truthfully.

Photo by Melinda Yelvington

Cost, Complaints and Priorities

Cost- an interesting, an emotionally charged topic

Nearly everywhere, people with means and without are complaining about cost.

In some areas, it’s cultural. It’s almost a societal politeness to pretend you don’t have means when you do, as a way of seeming small and unassuming.

For some people, it’s almost a form of entertainment. For example, I love complaining about the price and gas and groceries, because it gives me something to connect to almost every person I meet about- we all hate the rising costs.

But, I’ve met people who are living down to the bone who don’t complain about the cost of what brings them true value, and folks who are on their third cruise of the year who complain about the cost of everything – folks who will ask for a discount on their horse training because their kitchen needs remodeling.

What is the difference between these kinds of people? Is it a lifestyle? A mindset? Situational? It’s interesting to think about.

When it comes down to what I value- education for one – I’m happy to shell out whatever the cost is. I wouldn’t bat an eye if my teacher told me the new rate of a lesson was $2000 (hyperbole that will surely stir people in the comment section) because the information is priceless to me. But I have sworn off my favorite brand of yogurt after a price increase of $4.50 to $6 a container- priorities! Yogurt is not mine, education is.

I will endlessly be shelling out dough for my education because it is vital to my well-being, because my teachers mean the world to me and I don’t want them struggling to pay for their gas or groceries, because I find it rude to complain about the cost of something so valuable.

Because everywhere folks are begging for good teachers, wishing there were more out there like so and so person – but what if so and so person is struggling to keep the lights on, because of complaints of cost? What if so and so can’t keep the mortgage paid because someone is remodeling their kitchen?

This is a very expensive industry. The overhead for most in the equine industry is astronomical and quickly almost doubling. Your favorite teachers will be priced out in no time, without your support.

What Is Empowerment?

When you have a Wicked Case of the Butthurts

They say expectation is the mother of resentment. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t at some points gone into a learning situation expecting a tip or validation, only to be met with constructive criticism, or hearing that my basics needed renovating.

It hurts. It sucks. But, what are you gonna do about it?

There’s quite a bit of discussion around the delivery of criticism. Some folks are of the mind that it must be delivered perfectly, by the right person, in the right tone, with the wind coming only from the north and certainly not when mercury is in retrograde…

Some folks believe anything non validating is “hating,” and refuse to hear it. They share inspirational quotes about empowerment and straightening your crown and such.

Personally, I believe empowerment is the ability to take anything offered and make it work for you. This means I don’t believe the tone has to be perfect, or that the motivation of the criticism has to even be good. I don’t believe the teacher has to say it nicely, and I don’t believe it has to be perfectly timed. I’m here for one thing and one thjng only: to grow. And that means I am going to take anything thrown at me and use it to build.

That’s not to say I don’t get butthurt. I certainly do. And as a teacher myself, I won’t be hurling criticism at my students, and I will do my best to give the Ole Compliment Sandwich. I try to have good intentions for my students when delivering the not so fun input.

And this is certainly not to say you have to be around people who only criticize, or don’t do you any good. Everyone gets to decide who to let into their weird little world, and who doesn’t get to play with their toys. It’s good for the soul sometimes to fire people.

But I, perhaps arrogantly, believe the world is mine and nothing so silly as poorly worded criticism can stop me. And that’s how I see empowerment: learning from every situation, regardless of how rough the edges are. I don’t have time to wait for the perfect teacher to say the perfect words of encouragement on a perfect day: I can’t be stopped because I don’t want to be. And I wish this for you too.

The Learner

A rider dedicated to learning and the horse moves as if their soul is on fire. They can’t afford to wait for perfect conditions to begin: perfect weather, perfect teacher, perfect community. They take everything and make it productive. Every bad weather day teaches them how to adjust. A bad teacher gives them the inner steel to move forward, and teaches them how to break information down more simply through poor example. Lack of community strengthens the learners resolve through daily practice alone, and teaches them the art of running their own race.

To a learner, everything in life is a lesson. They are not stopped by a few blips, and hone the art of using their own failure as the greatest staircase in the temple of learning toward their inevitable success.