Friday, February 25, 2011

Self Imposed Limitations

Bucky is not a horse that has self-imposed limitations. He does not think anything will kill him. He does not believe in man-made rules, and much of the time he does not believe in horse-made rules either. He feels that wide open fields are for galloping across, no matter what some farmer may be trying to grow in them. Fences are irrelevant, and numerous stall doors have had irreparable damage done before we gave up on that idea. If he does not want to be bothered, he won’t. If he feels that you need to be bothered, you will.

Though Bucky has never been the most sound or athletic horse, this has never stopped him from spinning on a dime and throwing an infamous double barrel kick at an irritating pasture mate. His elderly stature has not held him back from expending all his energy covering ground in double time in the front of the trail riding group - for the first half of the ride anyway. He doesn’t even let the fact that he does not have the necessary equipment to produce offspring keep him from trying. Life is good, the sun is for sleeping in, hay is delicious, and I am pretty sure that he holds out the hope that if he’s lucky enough, one day he just might get to come live in the house with the people.

Lately, Bucky and I have been missing each other. I keep promising him a trail ride, or at least some hang out time. But I continue to find that it is too cold, or I don’t have time, or that I am tired, or need to ride another horse. As I was getting worried about the distance seeming to grow between us, I became aware of my own self imposed limitations. This dear and constant friend of mine needs and deserves my attention, yet I often allow less important things get in the way of finding the time to just hang out a little. That’s all Bucky really prefers to do. He doesn’t get all caught up in the idea that horses are for riding....

Bucky has taught me many lessons in my life, and this continues to be one of the most persistent. Just BE. He has always given me a sense of confidence and security. Just like a baby’s strong attachment to his mother, from this safe foundation I was able to explore my identity, self-confidence, and emotional fitness. This confidence can help me BE. Unless, of course, I decide to limit myself. We often create limitations for ourselves with things we think we “should” or “must” do or be. We create rules and regulations and stress. We avoid what we love and need to pay the bills or run errands. Or somehow we tell ourselves that we are not good enough, or that we don’t have the right opportunities to follow our dreams.

I have these moments when I am with my horse that often keep me from being in the present. Sometimes they are reliving the moments in the past - our learning experiences, trail rides, and bonding time. Sometimes they are hopes and dreams - the wish to go ride in the mountains, or have him live in my backyard. While I am often living in the past or the future, however, Bucky lives in the moment, and this enables him to do exactly what is necessary at any time, whether it be a wild play with his friends, or a calm strength for me. More often than might seem necessary, it includes biting someone on the rear end. Theses are the things that make him the best therapist I know. What is it that we miss in life because we are limited by our own created things, such as our perception of ourselves, our wistful dreams, our thoughts about how we should comport ourselves, or even our resources?

Perhaps we limit ourselves because we lack confidence. There are so many experiences that we have when we are young that can either cause or hinder our confidence. At that age, however, we do not have the processing skills or coping mechanisms to not make something about us. When we get older we develop these things, but often still act as though we do not have them. Ironically, it is when we are young that we experience the most internal freedom. Self-imposed limitations can be a crutch brought on by fear of failure, or fear of success. Societal norms teach us to live in a box. We then work very hard at creating our box. This works out fine when we are comfortable in our box. But I imagine more often than not we would prefer to be in the pasture.....or the pasture next door.....

Bucky seems to perceive life very simply and with confidence. A stall door is just a flimsy piece of wood. We can figure out ways to squeeze through electric fences. If someone else’s opinion clashes with his, he will simply work it out, or leave. But most importantly he does not get caught up in thoughts and worry. If he wants something, he does what it takes to get it. If it works out, great. If not, on to something new.

I do not believe that this lesson with Bucky suggests that we need to throw all caution to the wind, sell our homes, travel the world, etc. This is an internal lesson about why we tell ourselves what we do. Surely we work to pay for our home because we love our family. But is our work keeping us from our family? We tend to make things harder, more complicated, and more important than they are. If we can perceive life simply and with confidence, like a young child or old horse, we may be less likely to impose limitations that keep us from living the life that we love.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

To Every Season....

I am not sure which is worse, the mud or the ice. Right now, there is both. In the summer, I ride all day long (well, almost). I sit in the pasture and hang out, taking little naps with the horses under the trees. We go places and do things. Fun things. In the fall, I often take advantage of opportunities to do some horsemanship learning, and go on lovely trail rides. In the spring I enjoy the hopes of better weather and plan horsey get-togethers with friends. I dust the mud off my pony and we start getting back in the swing of things.

But in winter.....I trudge through the snow with feed buckets. I have been wondering how this dreadful weather is affecting my relationships with my horses. I feel like I am not spending an appropriate amount of time with them, and certainly not doing much riding or playing. I hunker down in my coveralls and wait for the water trough to fill up, and maybe get in a few mediocre scratches. I’m not DOING much. But through the eye opening in my head to toe winter getup, I am doing a lot of NOTICING.

I generally try to have good observation skills, however my observations typically precede actions, but not before interpretations. Well, when there is the danger of slipping on the ice and falling on your bottom, neither your feet nor your thoughts can move too fast. I have been watching Lucy at feeding time, take her sweet little looks to the boys to get them to share with her. There is so much interaction in these short moments. I am not sure exactly how many different levels of “No, get out of my face!” there are, but Lucy does, and she knows exactly which ones matter. And being aware of that means all the difference between getting to nibble some more food, and getting kicked.

I have also noticed how I have been holding my breath watching this the past few days, knowing that if anybody moved too fast, someone would end up slipping and sliding. But they all stay on their feet (which is more than I can say for myself.) They seem to know exactly how little extra energy it takes to cause a problem in this dangerous muck, and it appears to me that they do not need my warnings of “Careful!”

All it takes to keep yourself or your herd member safe is to notice. Pay attention to the second they start to slip, maybe even think about it before hand. Horses care a lot when we notice. Riley has helped teach me this, because she notices everything. And she notices when you notice. Noticing does not necessarily mean doing anything. It just means, “Hey, we are on the same page here.” It is a sign of friendship, and understanding. It is how we learn about each other.

I am also noticing that the herd is hunkering too. They are not playing too many games in this ice. They are also hiding in their shed with their faces in the hay bale- putting on a few extra pounds (ahem!). And they don’t seem to mind too much that we aren’t going trail riding or working on our lead changes at the moment. I guess we are on the same page. Good to notice.