Now more than ever before, I’ve become committed to riding in softness. This means riding in a way that creates suppleness in the horse, willingness, and athleticism, but most of all, developing in the horse an equal interest in our plans.
What this means is the responsibility is on me to set things up so the horse can succeed, can be supple, and can be interested in what I’m interested in. That means the horse can say no, and I have the responsibility to take stock in why, and either ask again in a different way, or change the question altogether. It means no “making” the horse do anything. This is an enormous commitment, and like any other person, I have moments where I fail at being soft.
It isn’t about being perfect all the time, though. It’s just about noticing, comparing, and asking why something didn’t work and what we can do better, instead of putting the responsibility on the horse to shove them through a movement or action. It’s about learning to flow, and in order to be soft with horses, we must live our lives with the same type of flow.
To ride in softness, we have to commit to a life of softness. I tell my students that they can’t have one posture in their day to day lives, and another one in their one hour a week lesson. What you practice is what you perform, as the saying goes. So if we are really interested in riding and handling horses with softness, we have to look at our day to day handlings. How do you get what you want with your coworkers, boss or employees? Is it through begging, intimidation, pressure, or manipulation? How do you handle yourself when something doesn’t go your way? Do you lash out at others when you are tired, anxious, or upset? Do you communicate clearly with others, or assume they think just like you? You can bet all of these reactions will show up in the saddle at one time or another. Softness in life means evaluating every instance and accepting our responsibility in each moment – not blaming others, but taking what we can control, our reactions, and honing them.
Living in softness, just like riding in softness, does not mean you live without boundaries. If you communicate clearly your boundaries, and your needs are not met, walking away is not only ok but maybe necessary. Being firm without intent to cause harm to another shows respect for them and yourself. Similarly, if a horse does not stay within set boundaries made clear to him, It is perfectly ok to close doors and show him the way again, but this is done without anger or violence, and once the moment is over, moving on.
Just as we take a horse and accept them without judgement, we also should strive to do the same with people. Some horses are flighty, some are quiet, some are sensitive while others are more tolerant. Through riding in softness, we don’t seek to make each horse different, but to present things to the horse as he is in a way he can accept and understand. Again, the responsibility is on us to communicate to the horse, not to change the nature of the horse. We should try to see people in the same light – full acceptance of who they are, with the understanding we can’t change others and their reactions, only ourselves and our reactions.
In this journey, we can’t look at situations as if we have failed or succeeded, but only in terms of growth. The horse never fails when he doesn’t do what we want, he only tells us that we need to change our presentation. In the same way, we don’t fail in our lives, but life does tell us we need to adjust how we react or adjust our presentation.