Thursday, October 13, 2011

Falling Apart at the Seams

We had a little bit of an incident today with the wagon. Buck and Charlie were giving their usual wagon ride to the residents and practicing for the upcoming spooky Halloween parade. They were a tad antsy, but considering their usual rock solid performance, their antsy-ness was mild. It could be that some of this was related to the low tire on the wagon that expressed itself after the large load of boys climbed aboard, and we went through a series of ruts in the road. Coming down the hill back into campus, however, something went wrong. Something on Buck’s harness snapped. Thankfully, they listened to their driver though the ruckus and stopped, though they had a little trouble slowing the heavy wagon rolling behind them. I helped to unhitch the poor sweaty horses and the boys had fun hauling the wagon back to the barn. We then sadly inspected the torn, weakened, and falling apart set of harnesses.

It’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately. Like I’m falling apart at the seams. The past few months have been pretty rough for me. I’ve been bucked off of a few horses, dealt with what seems to be a permanent pulled muscle in my back, and the rest of my body parts seem to be resisting the compensation that they are having to do. I am tense, stiff, and braced, and I know that my horses notice. I am not sleeping well, have gained weight, and have a tough time keeping my mind on work.

All this I have just been dealing with like it is normal. Well, I’m thirty now, I think sometimes, its just how it is.... When Lucy finally was the one to unseat me I started to take notice. I have been reading a book by Mark Rashid, one of my favorite authors, “Horsemanship Through Life”, which talks about his journey to learning how to take care of what needs taking care of, and going with life instead of bracing against it. As I began to read his story (which was sounding exactly like mine), it all started to make sense.

Harnesses and bodies and minds all need regular attention to ensure that they will continue to work properly. When one thing gets out of whack, it affects all the rest. Setting the one thing right quickly can make things easier. When it’s let go for a long period of time, other parts start needing attention too, and soon the damage can take a lot to fix. Usually by the time we are falling apart at the seams, it almost seems to overwhelming to try to get it back together, and sometimes it takes something snapping to get our attention.

I start physical therapy on Monday (I’ve only had the referral for two months...). I suppose losing weight is also in order, as well as making the time for a regular yoga practice. None of it will be easy. But thank God for horses who manage in situations where everything is falling apart, and help urge us to take notice.

Buck and Charlie pulling their precious load

Sunday, October 2, 2011

All Together Now

As Lucy and I are apt to do, we spent Saturday morning giving a riding lesson to a young girl. Bailey has been riding Lucy for a few weeks now and the two get along very well. This particular day was a very interesting lesson for us all. Not too far into the lesson, Bailey for some reason sat down on a tire and began to cry. It seems she was having a bad day. Well, nothing better for a bad day than a horse, I say, and we get on with the lesson. Bailey continues to work through her tendency to give up easily, and her confidence grows through the lesson, culminating in her pulling from seeming out of nowhere some really nice posting.

It was a sunny day, the lesson went well, Bailey was fun to be around, and I was with horses. But that all did not account for the fact that I left the farm that day with the accomplished feeling like I had learned something. And I felt like Lucy had learned something. I knew what Bailey had learned, but had a really hard time putting my finger on what I had learned, or Lucy for that matter. This feeling was pretty puzzling. Not that I am unused to coming away from my time with horses having learned something, but the trouble is, I was not sure what exactly I had learned.

I felt pretty lucky that day, to have learned whatever I learned, but now that I think I know exactly what it was that I learned, I feel even luckier. My feeling is that I had the rare opportunity to experience something that horses experience all the time, a herd mentality. This term tends to have some negative connotations to people who do not understand horses. However, horses do not think as we do. They are always thinking in terms of the herd, and the relationship.

There are countless times that I have seen how horses think as a herd in a helpful way. Trimming hooves in a herd is one time that I see this often. I will be trimming one horse, and another will be on standby to “help”. One time in particular, I was trimming Ceasar’s hooves, who can at times have a hard time with his balance in the situation. As I was placing his front hoof on the stand, he struggled, and Lucy, who was on standby, moved forward and put her nose in the situation. When Ceasar got himself together, Lucy started licking and chewing.

This past weekend, I went to a clinic and observed a group of individuals learning new things with their horses. I was drawn to watch the horses themselves as the instructor stood in the middle and they all circled around, as though even the horses were listening and committed to learning. At one point, the instructor was working with his horse on accepting the scary tarp. All the other horses were quite alert to the situation. Then, just before the instructor’s horse visibly made a shift in his thinking, one of the observing horses sighed and started licking and chewing.

I have seen horses take the initiative to stop moving to ease their rider’s worry just before their legs begin to tremor. I have had horses tell me about their herdmate’s illness. I have had them come over to the arena to help when the horse I am working with is having trouble. I have seen Lucy in a therapy session act out exactly what the group was talking about when they were discussing their obstacle course. I have told a sick horse in English words to eat his food because I wanted him to live, and he complied.

These things happen all the time with horses, only we tend to not notice them. Horses are committed to the herd, whether it be the one they live with every day, or the one they are with in the moment, or the one we create in our relationship with them. When something good happens, it belongs to the whole herd, when something bad happens it happens to the whole herd. Horses do not think in “I”, they think in “We”.

We can have the same mentality with our horses and with each other, but we tend to create more fights than needed, and think that we need to forward our own needs before others. Humans have the capability to think together on amazing levels that we rarely explore. The key may be to start noticing where we do connect. Those moments where we finish each other’s sentences, have the same ideas, or empathize with each other’s feelings should not be shrugged off. If we believe the herd is important to our well being, it will affect the herd. We will all be in a better place, if we are in it together.