I have these two darling girls that come out for horse lessons. One is very quiet and relaxed. The other is a little more type A… It’s interesting to watch them ride and to see how each of them alternately has success with different things, and struggles with different things. One thing I see with my sweet little type A is that, even though it can look like she’s doing everything right…and technically she pretty much is…sometimes the horse just is not doing right.
She doesn’t get it. She is trying so hard to do everything right. She can’t figure out what she’s doing wrong or why it isn’t working. But it isn’t. She knows it. I know it. The horse certainly knows it. As I watch the two of them, I can see it…that thing that’s wrong. It’s not that she’s doing anything wrong, but it’s something in her attitude and in her focus. Technically, I actually think it begins with her focus and ends up in her attitude.
“Stop. Breathe. You’re getting frustrated.” I tell her. “I can see it. The horse can feel it. The more you get annoyed with him the less he has any interest in pleasing you, because you aren’t being fair with him.” She sheepishly sighs and grins. She knows herself. This isn’t our first time to go through this and she knows I’m right. I know I’m right…not just because I’ve watched her do this before, but because she’s so much like me. Controlling. Authoritative. Easily frustrated with someone or something doesn’t obey. She tries to keep her frustration hidden, but I see it—her rigid body, her jerky hands which are a little harsher than the horse warrants, over correcting in her annoyance. Little, subtle signs to the onlooker which surely are far more obvious to the one who carries her.
“You’ve gotten so focused on doing everything right and accomplishing THIS goal that you’ve forgotten about him in the process. This is a partnership. You can’t get there without him. Forget the task for a minute—just relax and be kind to him. ASSUME that he wants to please you and cooperate with you. He does. Give him the benefit of the doubt and enjoy the process. Enjoy being on his back. Smile. Have fun. He’ll feel that you’re enjoying being on him and he’ll be much more likely to please you. Expect this to work and to be easy. Don’t expect it to be hard. Frankly – he’s mirroring you. He’s giving you back exactly what you’re giving him. You’re grinchy and uptight and frustrated and all his movement are just giving it right back to you. He’s slinging his head and short stepping and up tight and popping up on you…he’s mimicking what you feel like on his back. Just breathe. Forget about your task. Enjoy him.”
Sweet girl—she doesn’t get mad at me, but laughs at herself and takes a deep breath. “You’re right,” she sighs. “Ok.” She did exactly what I asked. She relaxed. Smiled. Slowed down and quit worrying so much about being perfect. She quit focusing on perfection and started focusing on the thing that really mattered, her relationship with the horse. She quit using him for a task and started thinking about how to get along with him and make him feel loved and enjoyed.
Once she reprioritized and put her relationship with the horse before the given riding objective, things changed. As it had been, with the task as her sole focus, they were getting nowhere. Once she changed her focus, it was an instant change. The horse relaxed. He quit fighting her, quit short stepping and slinging his head and popping up in the air in protest. It all stopped, immediately, as soon as she relaxed.
That would have been enough. It would have been enough for me to simply see them stop fighting and being frustrated with each other. If that was all they accomplished, she could have gotten off and gone home and I would say it was successful and some good lessons were learned. But—simultaneous with the negative behavior and frustration stopping, immediately he began to do what she had wanted all along. Mission accomplished. Task achieved. Instantly.
She was beaming. It was so easy. It all happened so seamlessly once she began to care for him and their relationship more than the task.
After our lesson she kept saying what a great day she had had. “Today was really fun!” she gushed, over and over. We have had more exciting riding days than today, but today she learned a few things about herself and about relationships. I think that was the difference. Today was revelationary for her. First off, she realized that the horse was mirroring her, that she was getting back from him exactly what he was getting from her. Second off, she learned that putting perfection and tasks before relationships can be off-putting. Third off, she learned that the horse was quick to want to please her when he felt that she liked and enjoyed being with him.
The day was kind of revelationary for me, too. I do these things wrong all of the time, with horses I’m sure, but more importantly with people.
So often, I get back from others exactly what they get from me…and I don’t even realize it. This works both in the positive and the negative—the unfortunate thing is how often I operate in this principle negatively. I get annoyed that someone was snippy and rude with me, but totally missed the fact that I seemed pushy and rushed in my dealings with them. Honestly, I know I can get so task oriented I forget to take time to slow down, small talk, really see the other person, let them know I care about them more than just the task, more than perfection and end results… They get annoyed with that and push back, not willing to just be used, wanting to be valued. I then get frustrated because they are making me look bad or hindering me from what I need to do… When if I would just slow down and value them first, they would be all the more willing to work with me in the end.
My sweet student told me today that the horses have been teaching her a lot about how controlling she can be and how frustrated she can get, and how even though she thinks no one sees it, how it still comes out in little ways that everyone can feel. “I still get that way, but not as bad as I used to! I’m more aware of it now, and I see how it makes people feel…because I see how it makes the horses feel. They’re really teaching me a lot!” she said.
Me too, sweetie. Me too.
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing. – I Corinthians 13:1-3