Sunday, April 25, 2010

All the Moving Parts

I had the lovliest time playing with my Lucy this weekend. Generally, we have a good time together. Things have been going quite well. Most often we even have a great time, but I often struggle to come home feeling elated. And that's my issue, not Lucy's, because she's an angel! This sense of dissatisfaction bothers me. Why can't I be flying on cloud nine about all the cool stuff we have accomplished? I feel like such a.... well, such a poophead. I don't think there's any other word.

Allow me to first tell you about this lovely angel (bear with me whilst I brag....). Lucy is a gorgeous paint mare- the kind you would see on Native American posters running with the wind in her hair. I call her my wild Indian pony. She is as sweet as can be but still has plenty of sass. She always delivers it with grace, though, no matter what it is. Through the something like a year and a half that we have been together, she has been the perfect partner: always willing; she has stepped up to everything I have ever asked her to do, which has been quite a lot. Though Lucy was originally named (Loosey) for her rather loose lips, her name has become quite fitting, meaning, "bringer of light". I want to be just like her when I grow up.....

Lucy and I have recently been working on some Finesse, that is, refining our communication and developing more precise movements. In refining our communication, I am looking for softness and willingness. In developing more precise movements, I am looking for clear communication to a particular body part or combination of body parts. The definition of communication that I like to use is, "two or more individuals sharing and understanding an idea." The thing that I have discovered about communication is that, if it is in fact shared and understood, it brings clarity. And clarity brings confidence. I have seen Lucy go from a very unconfident learner to a horse who is now, not only confident in any surrounding, but also has begun to manipulate her surroundings (her herd) to her pleasure! The clarity that I have had with Lucy has caused me to be a more confident rider. And what I have learned today is that more precision in our communication has caused us both to be more confident in our relationship.

One of the things that horseman Pat Parelli teaches is that you have to be particular without being critical. It is one of those things that I truly struggle with. It's not terribly hard for me to remain calm and not get frustrated anymore when things don't go right. What is hard is usually rejoicing in the good. This is why I come away from my rides with Lucy feeling a little down because she took two steps after I asked her to stop, even though we were riding bareback and bridleless. It is also why I can feel grumpy for days on end and not know why, even though my life is perfectly fine. Or why I will stress about all the "things I have to do" instead of just getting them done; the list is never as long as I make it out to be. I allow a negative thought about one thing to then speak to me about everything else.

While riding Lucy this weekend, I recognized that being particular can actually help you with not being critical. As I worked with communicating with Lucy to move forward two steps, then back two steps, then to the left two steps, then the right....I realized that this particular communication was bringing clarity. And that clarity brought confidence! We then worked on opening and closing a gate, something that definitely requires precision. I had to be particular. We had to have clear communication, or it would have been a whole big problem. There's a lot of moving parts in that equation: people parts, horse parts, gate parts....

This practice in being particular is the reason that I am happy today. Today, Lucy and I were riding in the pasture a bit, and playing at liberty (no ropes), and things didn't go perfectly... This gave me the opportunity to take the thing that didn't work, and focus on it until there was clarity. And I could visibly see that the confidence in our relationship caused us both to hang in there until it worked out! Best of all, I was able to leave feeling happy, and able to truly feel that a bump in the road is just something to work on. And something to work on is a good thing.

There are so many moving parts in our lives: work, home, school, friends, hobbies -- just to generalize. If there is a problem in one area, it may or may not be because there is a problem in another. But you can bet that if you don't fix the problem, it will creep through each area of your life until you can't even fix it because you don't know where it came from. Our brains are like that. One negative thought will permeate things it has no business in. Unless we can clarify with our brain what exactly it is talking about! Once we know where that negative (or positive) thought came from, things can be put into perspective. We have to learn to be particular with ourselves to avoid being critical, and keep tabs on all our moving parts.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Natural Power of Focus

One of the principles of natural horsemanship is that there are mutual responsibilities for horses and humans in a partnership. One of these responsibilities for the human is "Use the Natural Power of Focus"(Parelli Natural Horsemanship). Of course this is the ONE thing that I forgot while giving a horsemanship lesson a few weeks ago. And why did I forget this one? Well clearly because I wasn't using it.

A few days ago, I was riding Riley, a big draft horse cross who just happens to also be the smartest horse I've ever known, as well as strong and fast. I've only ridden her a few times, and she's probably only had a handful of rides in her life in addition to that. Needless to say, the first few rides, I did not expect much, and she delivered just that- diving for grass every three steps (mind you, there is no rein-wrestling a 1400 pound horse with a neck as wide as her girth!). I did my best to match her persistence, and eventually we got somewhere. Unfortunately, now I expected something. So this fateful day, as I was riding Riley for the third time, she was diving for grass about every thirty steps, but since Riley is so smart, she was doing it with a strategy- to get me frustrated! As I was feeling the heat creep up my neck and the discouragement sink into my belly, out of the corner of my eye appears Bucky, with just the wisdom that I needed. I'm sure some of you understand the intuitive communication that can happen between you and someone you've been with for over 15 years, and when Bucky said what he had to say, I knew he was right. Riley was trying to get me to lose my focus, and it was working. It wasn't about grass. It was about whether I was a good enough leader to keep my focus when things got distracting. hmmmmm......

So this set me on the quest- what is the natural power of focus? Focus is not simply fixing your eyes on a goal and nothing else. I've done that before- and ended up on a pile of snow about half a mile away from where I'd intended after an unscheduled brisk gallop through the field. Focus is not being all consumed with something to the point that you don't pay attention to anything else. How many people lose their families because all they do is work? It's not helpful to have a one track mind in life. A person who uses focus is someone who knows what their goal is, certainly, but I think more than that. I think focus is more of a driving vision. A goal is something specific that you hope to achieve. Vision can be defined as "unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight". Someone with a driving vison knows what has to be done, and what it will take to get there. He understands that there will be difficulties, and knows how to deal with them. But there is something more important behind the goal that he never forgets. It's a principle. A good relationship, building trust, being the best you can be, creating a better world. These are visions. My focus that day with Riley could have been simply a goal, and it was to a certain extent- " lets go over to that barrel." But a mere focus on the goal would not help if my vision was not bigger than that- "I will be good enough to be your leader". As it may be for you , I'm sure, my job can be frustrating for me sometimes. Sometimes I feel like there are so many challenges thrown in the way of doing what I have to do, that I lose motivation, energy, and focus. But if I can maintain my vision- to help my clients-I will have a sense of focus that will then give me direction.

The second thing in developing focus, after knowing your vision, is creating a plan. The third thing is sticking to it. I was giving a horsemanship lesson to a young man who was having trouble getting his horse to go where he wanted her to go. We created a plan together to follow the rail. Then came the hard part - sticking to the plan. I gave him the homework for the week to go home and find something he needs help with, create a plan, and stick to it. His mom loved the idea and said that it is exactly where he was having trouble. I am excited to see how it works out for him. In the meantime, I have to make my own plan and stick to it! A plan can be specific and detailed, or it can be a simple idea. "I'm going to keep trying until i get it right!" Creating a plan and sticking to it gives you confidence. There is a safety net in knowing exactly what to do. When my horse doesnt go where I ask, I simply ask again. It keeps me from getting frustrated, angry, and losing focus.

While listening to a podcast from 5* Parelli Professional David Lichman, he reminded me that Focus develops Feel. How much better could I serve my horses, my clients, my family and friends, if I used feel? If I paid attention to when to push, and when to back off. If I was constantly present in the moment to give them what they needed? My conclusion is that to develop focus and feel, I need to keep present in my mind my vision. If the vision present in my mind is to love my husband, be a good leader for my horse, or create something big in my life, then the plan will follow that, and the feel will be there.

The natural power of focus is that it develops unity. If I am going a certain direction, you can align with me and we can enjoy a united path. If I am not sure where I am going, then chances are we will never be going the same direction. And who doesn't want unity? Who doesn't want to be able to ride their horse bareback and bridleless off into the sunset, or have whole, healthy, loving relationships? I do.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Equine Education

Everything I need to know in life, I learned from my horse. Of course, there are some things he has been trying to pound into my brain for years that I have been resisting. Both my horse and I are therapists by trade. I work in a residential treatment facility for adolescents, and my horse, "Bucky" (as well as several others you will hear of) is often my equine partner in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. He is much better at it than I am.

EAP (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy), also known as Equine Assisted Growth and Learning, is an experiential model of treatment which involves using a treatment team that includes horses (in their natural state, with all their opinions, wisdom, and communications), an equine specialist, and a mental health professional. For more information on this model visit

As I do this work, I expect my clients to learn something about themselves from their interactions with the horses, and apply it to their lives. However, the longer I work in this field, the more I realize that change is not as easy as it sounds: it's hard to be willing to see something about yourself that doesn't look so pretty. Thankfully, horses can make that process a bit easier. But, even with their help, it can be a nearly impossible task for the fainthearted to take what they have learned, and actually do something about it.

What I hope this blog will help me do is to give me a purpose and intention to take what I learn from my horses, and apply it to my everyday life and relationships, to constantly push me to that next level. Hey, sometimes you need a push. Hah! I just realized that maybe that's the reason why my horse has been pushing me so much lately!