Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Pause In Between

Siete and I are going to move on to a new exercise as part of the Waterhole Rituals. I am supposed to place five small piles of hay in a circle that is 20 feet in diameter. After Siete begins eating at one pile of hay, I will ask her to move on to the next one, the intention being that I will be able to eventually direct her calmly and easily to go around the circle from pile to pile at my request. It is the beginning of what Carolyn Resnick calls “leading from behind”.

I feel like my horse and I are both ready to try it, but I’ve been stuck for the last couple of days unable to move forward. My mind is full of “what if’s”, and I worry that I will do the wrong thing and give Siete the wrong message. I am going to need to respond spontaneously and confidently to what ever my horse offers me. I keep reminding myself of what I learned from one of my friends last year. Don’t think of what happens as a mistake, just learn from it and do the next thing you think you need to do. It should be a process for both me and Siete, without any right or wrong or blame or guilt.
My hesitation reminded me of an article that I read recently called “Open Stillness”, written by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. She talks about rock climbing in Colorado and reaching a place suspended on the rock where she can’t see any possibilities for moving up or down:

“Hanging off a rock is an exaggerated experience of facing the unknown. It is exhilarating, scary, and completely vibrant. When we can’t find a foothold, the mind falls into an open stillness— the same brief pause we encounter in any situation where we lose our familiar reference points. If we have the wherewithal to relax, we find our way. If we don’t, we sometimes panic. When reactive mind responds to situations where we lose our reference points, our body tightens, our breath shortens, our vision narrows.

After a while, muscle strain stirs our sensibilities: “I can’t stay like this forever!” We don’t have the luxury of avoidance, so we start to work with our mind and slowly it softens. Now, this is the fascinating part: as everything softens, all kinds of new patterns and shapes begin to emerge from the rock. We see places to balance we didn’t see before. We’re not doomed after all! As we soften and open, we access a special intelligence, unimpeded by habitual, reactive mind.”

It reminded me of an experience I had in college where I was climbing up a steep hill and got stuck exactly as she describes, afraid and unable to move in either direction. In that instance, I started laughing so hard at myself that I began crying, and eventually, one of my friends crawled below me and pushed my bottom and my feet until I could move to the next foothold. This time, the only friends I have out here in the pasture are my two horses. I’ve decided to include Silk in this exercise since I trust her and I think she might be able to help me find my balance with her daughter. In the end, though, it’s up to me to be the leader here.

I’m going to allow myself to be peaceful now in this pause before I begin climbing again and take some time to reflect on what I’m afraid might happen and why I would feel that way. Since Siete was born, I’ve always worried that I will do something that would ruin her and cause her to distrust humans. And despite my good intentions and best efforts, we’ve had some tough times with thoughtless, ego-driven trainers, vets and farriers. I know that what we are doing together now will heal us and lead to a mutual trust. It will take as long as it will take, no predicting when it will happen. So for right now, I’m not going to get impatient or annoyed with myself or even call it “being stuck”. I’d rather see it as a time to gather my “windhorse energy”, as the Buddhists call it. Siete has no agenda, and I have to be careful to listen to her and not try to create or force one of my own. I know I will be able to feel when we are ready to move forward from hay pile to hay pile.


Anonymous said...

With your attitude and approach and sensitivity, I think it's unlikely you can do something harmful to the horse or your relationship - you might do something that startles or surprises, but that's OK, the horse won't hold it against you. It's important to feel free to make some mistakes and to just try things out. Good luck!

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Kate, you're right - Siete won't hold it against me. I need to let go of all the things that have happened in the past with two egotistical trainers who screwed things up with my horse. I also need to not anticipate that Siete will challenge me -- but if she does, it doesn't need to become a battle that one of us has to win. I think a lot of this comes from being raised by a mother who is a perfectionist and didn't like it when I made mistakes. Like Paul Simon once sang, "Maybe I think too much...."

Lori Skoog said...

I agree with what Paul Simon is possible to overthink something. How high can I make you jump does not cut it. We seem to have this amazing respect for people who are Doctors, Vets, Profs. TRAINERS etc...but ya know???? they don't have all the answers. I will not let anyone do something to my animals that I do not totally approve of. If they try and will not listen to my thoughts on it, I'm outa there. It sounds to me like you are trying to build a very positive relationship with your pressure, just respect and understanding....good communication.
Sounds like a fine approach to me.

poniesathome said...

I have done this exercise with my very dominant little cob. He has absolutely not held it against me, although at first he had quite a bit of attitude doing it. They key for me was to keep my energy very chilled and not get fussed with all his antics. Now he just moves on with no fuss. As Carolyn says, horses understand this, they do it to each other. Now I don't know what your trainers did to your lovely Siete, but I am sure they were not using any ritual that a horse might use.


detroit dog said...

There really needs to be a "Like" button for your posts.

billie said...

Looking forward to hearing how this goes! As long as you are open as you do it, I'm sure Siete will take it in the spirit with which you're offering the exercise - a communication and a being together in a slightly new way.

deejbrown said...

A wise horse trainer once told me, "You will make mistakes. Count on it. Learn from it and move on."
It works with horses and with life.