It's Not About the Horse
Control… fear… anxiety… uncertainty. The horse can sense it even when we have no idea that these emotions exists.
Last week in a weathered corral outside of Tuscan, Arizona nine of us listened to Wyatt, an aging horseman, as he explained how to properly clean a horse’s hooves. This was our task today… to convince Cracker, an unfamiliar 1500 pound animal, to first raise his front leg and then his back one so we could scrape the mud and dirt from the bottom of his hooves.
Sure, I’d ridden horses, but mostly the old, tame ones that willingly obeyed the tug of their leads and slowly proceeded on trails that they knew so well. Today had nothing to do with actual horse back riding. No, this morning centered on persuading a horse to lift its leg. Sounds simple, right?
Wyatt didn’t mince words… he told us what we had to do, giving us specific instructions, not adding unnecessary comments. Then, in groups of two or three, he called us to the center of the ring.
“How are you feeling right now?” he’d ask, prompting people to share their thoughts and fears. After hearing what was on the person’s mind, he would speak directly to him or her, challenging the individual’s belief systems and asking pointed questions to dig deeper. Ultimately, Wyatt’s uncanny observations and intuition served to enlighten each of us on how our thoughts and actions concerning the horse connected to our approaches to daily life. That is when Wyatt transformed from an aging John Wayne to Yoda in a cowboy hat.
A therapist by profession, Wyatt calls you out on your bullshit but then builds you up and helps you find the way. I watched as he masterfully empowered a teenage girl, sharing his own personal struggles as a way to help her see that what she was experiencing was manageable and that she, too, could overcome her pain.
Then it was my turn. Would Wyatt say something that would embarrass me, call me out on my “shit”? Would I cry in front of a group of strangers? And what about the horse? Would Cracker listen to my request?
I learned several valuable lessons this cloudy Saturday morning in a dusty horse corral. I learned that guilt is saying that what we did was bad, but shame is declaring that we are bad. I learned that if what we are doing isn’t working try something new, and if that isn’t the ticket, then ask for help. I learned not to allow shit in my workspace (you can imagine what prompted that), and I learned that you don’t need to appease someone to get them to do what you want. How much of what was happening in this horse pen was actually occurring in my life?
However, the most important message Wyatt shared was that it’s not about the horse… it’s always about us and our “stuff.” I think this also applies to relationships with people. When we have a negative interaction with another, we often take it as a personal offense. “How could he say that to me?” “Why did she ignore me?” “He shouldn’t have done that.” “I can’t believe she didn’t include me.” But what if these individuals are dealing with their own traumas? What if their words and actions have nothing to do with us? Perhaps we are interpreting their behavior incorrectly, imagining that we are the reason for their conduct.
Wyatt’s wisdom encouraged me to continue doing the work, giving me an “atta girl” that I rarely give myself. What he said to me and to the other eight participants provided me just what I (and I believe they) needed to take the next steps in life. And in case you’re wondering, the horse did lift his legs, permitting me to clean his hooves… and in that moment I felt utter joy. Not because I had succeeded in the task at hand, but rather because I approached something with confidence and love and witnessed how these two things can bring about change.
So go find your horse (whatever that be) and learn from it. Look inward and see if what you do with your horse mirrors your approach to life. If it’s working, great! If not, ask yourself what you can do differently in order to achieve your wildest dreams. And if you’re still struggling then you can always seek help.
Horses are amazing creatures filled with grace, power, wisdom and love. There can be a mystical element about them. But we must be present in their presence so that they can teach us, helping us grow, expand and elevate to our highest level.