A change for the better!

 

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Yesterday afternoon I spent a wonderful hour in the pasture with Galahad. I told him that I was ready to change my way of being with him. I told him about my intention to be calm and present, without expectations, and to really listen to him. I didn’t know if it would make any difference at all—would I be any different? Would he notice, if I was?

And it was blissful. I really did manage to be in the moment, without an agenda, and with (almost) no expectations. When something did show up in my mind, I was at least aware of it, and was able to let it go. Most of the time, actually, I was just there with him—not even thinking about trying to do anything at all. That so rarely happens.

And Galahad really could feel the difference! He showed his happiness in horsey ways—nuzzling me even though he knew I had no treats on me, leaning gently on me, breathing in my ear, staying close. And “guarding” me—he stayed between me and his friend Dancer most of the time, preferring that I pay attention to him only. That was sweet! The interesting thing was my re-interpretation of things he often does—especially the “leaning” on me. He has done that before, but not often, and  I have always interpreted it as him being “pushy.” Therefore, it was always something I needed to correct strongly. Yesterday, though, I was paying attention to the energy behind it. There wasn’t any pushiness, particularly—he was just being affectionate—and I could respond by leaning back and just thanking him for his love. So different!

After a while—at least 20 minutes, I’d say, and maybe longer, I moved away from him and headed off to see HRH in the mares pasture. She had been grazing in the same spot the whole time, keeping an eye on me. The other mares were elsewhere, but she hadn’t moved.

Just as I got near the fence, Galahad came trotting over to me “yelling” that there was a fly on his neck (there actually was—interesting timing) and would I please kill it for him, which I did. Then he got between me and the fence and gently persuaded me to come back with him. Oh my goodness…. I love that horse so much. It was pretty astounding.

So I stood around with him some more, showing him some choice bits of grass—he always comes right over to see what I’ve found—and just being with him. It was really a magical time. So unusual for me to be in a space where there’s no sense of time, no sense of wanting or needing to be elsewhere or to do something different. Very peaceful.

After a while I did go over to the mares pasture, and this time Galahad let me go. Nevada (still grazing in the same spot) greeted my outstretched hand, but as soon as I dropped it, she scooted off and into the shed, where she got behind the other horses and watched me. She still doesn’t trust me, I guess. I went in and stood near the door of the shed, too, but didn’t do anything but greet her. After a few minutes I just left. Moments later, she came out of the shed and resumed grazing. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that she’s still uncomfortable around me. Disappointing; I can’t help but feel sad about it. But there’s really nothing I can do except continue to just hang around with her, taking her out when I need to but otherwise leaving her alone. Or at least that’s how it feels to me…I’ll continue to play it by ear, by feel.

But my sweet Galahad continues to teach me, thank goodness, and it feels like I’m actually, finally, ready to learn the next step.

 

Trust is a precious thing

20160108131912 (9)It’s been a long-time dream of mine to learn dressage—just the basics, nothing fancy. I’ve had my eye on my mare Nevada, because she’s a natural athlete and has a wonderful way of moving. Now that she’s six, we figured it was time to start her under saddle again.

Originally, she was taught to carry a rider when she was really young—there was an error on her papers from the Rescue Ranch. She took to it quite well, and I actually rode her a couple of times, including out on the trail. She did wonderfully! But when we realized how young she actually was, we gave her a few years off to let her bones mature.

I didn’t anticipate any problems with the re-training, given how well she had done the first time. But I had forgotten one BIG and important rule: Don’t make assumptions.

One of the reasons we hadn’t started her last summer was that for the past two or three years an underlying skin condition had gotten worse. Poor Nevada was just so itchy and miserable, for no reason that we or the vet could discern. We even tried steroids, which helped, but she also gained a couple of hundred pounds, and we decided that it was too great a risk to her health to continue. Once we tapered her off the dose, the itching returned.

This winter, we decided to try freshly ground organic flax seed, and by early this spring, the itching had diminished considerably. These days, she doesn’t scratch any more than any other horse out there.

Unless, that is, she gets nervous. Then, she starts biting at her side and front leg. Once she settles down, she quits scratching.

All this is background to the real “drama.”

Back in February, I made the decision to hire a trainer to bring my little mare back up to speed. This woman has years of experience and is someone I really like and respect. I especially like her firm-but-gentle hand with the horses, and they respond well to her. So again, I didn’t anticipate any difficulty at all.

My first inkling that something was amiss came when I tried to saddle Nevada. We’d gotten the saddle on her a couple of times, and the fit was good. The first few times we put it on, she gave no more trouble than you’d expect from a green horse. But things got worse, not better, once the lessons started. And she’d try to scratch throughout the lesson. We and the trainer thought it was likely just a nervous habit that she could unlearn.

Her very first lesson seemed fine. She responded well to the bitless bridle and moved forward readily. But there was that pesky saddling issue. I noted it in my journal: “I do think it makes her itch a bit; that’s unfortunate, for sure. But I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Key phrase: “I don’t think it’s bad enough to not put a saddle on her.”

Second lesson, and my journal entry doesn’t mention the saddle. I was just so proud of her:

I am so happy and excited, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This really is a childhood dream come true—Nevada and I are going to be able to dance together, to ride together beautifully and enjoy the experience. So wonderful!

I had decided that the fix was to practice with the saddle in between the weekly lessons. Two days later, I tried saddling her again. Nevada was really clear that she didn’t want any part of it. She’d evade and spook and walk away from me (I refused to tie her up and force it on her). It took me half an hour to get the thing on her back. She was clearly NOT enjoying this business at all.

I kept at it:

Yesterday I didn’t try to saddle her—just left the stuff in the arena on the mounting block while we did other things. She said it was too scary to go sniff it—but then when I left the arena to get carrots, I caught her sniffing it when she didn’t know I was watching. She is a drama queen….

“Drama queen”?

It may be that she associates the saddle with itching—which is a nervous habit, for the most part, at this point. She can be persuaded to keep moving through it, but it’s not easy. We can’t catch every instance, and if we try, it makes our interactions kind of jagged and not-fun. Our trainer says it won’t be too hard to get rid of the habit, but I’m not so sure.

Dunno…. But I think that with patience she’ll be just fine about it. I’m just going to keep at it until she gives in. It isn’t, after all, such a big deal that she can’t do it. I watch horses go through the process every time I’m out at the Rescue Ranch, and I know how it works.

Finally, a month into the process, I really started to question:

I’m kind of sad this morning—I think I won’t be able to continue lessons with Nevada under saddle. I question whether I have the right to demand that she do something that so obviously makes her uncomfortable. She is my friend, a sentient being…and if I force this on her, then what’s all that liberty work for? If, in the end, I still force her into service, that it’s all been a sham.

So. We’ll see. Wish I could ask her how she feels about it.

Really? You “can’t ask her how she feels about it”? Could she be any more clear?

And again, the next day:

I had a kind of come-to-Jesus moment yesterday morning—the simmering concerns from the other night coalesced, and I realized that what was really bothering me was that I was well on the way to forcing Nevada to wear that saddle regardless of her feelings…. That was pretty painful. If I’m going to insist that she do something that she really dislikes, then all the liberty work, and the pretty words about how she gets to say no, is meaningless. That was pretty shocking. I was so upset!

So I argued with myself for a while, but finally and tearfully admitted that if Nevada really hates the saddle, I will simply not ride that way. Bareback, if she’s OK with it (and she does know how to tell me yes or no on that one), even though that’s more dangerous for me. But if she truly hates it, no saddle.

Poor Nevada. Since I clearly was NOT listening to her, she started “acting out” in the pasture:

Nevada came over willingly to get her food, but let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to leave the pasture. She wasn’t unpleasant about it, but moved off as soon as I showed her the halter. I let her do her thing.

My response? None. Lesson day came, and when she wouldn’t let me catch her easily, I “walked her down” and made her come out. The lesson that day was memorable:

We did the lesson in the big indoor arena. I had worked with her in there a number of times, but she was still nervous about it—and the trainer came off. Evidently the saddle shifted just a little when she got on, and when she tried to shift it back, Nevada got scared and bucked her off. Gently, or as gently as a horse can buck, and the trainer did a tuck-and-roll dismount, with no harm done. Nevada stopped a few paces away and waited, apologetically. After walking her around for a few minutes, the trainer got back on and continued the lesson. Whew….

And my comment? In my own defense (I don’t really feel like I have much of a defense, actually), this was after consultation with the trainer herself and my partner:

We all decided that the little horse is doing really well, all things considered. It’s just going to take time. I’ll continue to take her in there and walk her, trot her, lunge her, and anything else I can think of to do. She’ll come around, eventually. This is a tough point in our journey—we’re going to feel like it’s just too hard, and that maybe we should just give up, but we need to press on and work through it.

By early May, the trainer had come off once more, and Nevada was not “getting used” to the saddle. I continued to worry, and thought about pulling the plug on the lessons. Left to my own devices, I certainly would have done so. Unfortunately, the others involved still felt like we needed to “not give up on Nevada,” and to “give her another chance.” And there was that long-time dream of mine to learn to ride dressage…. But my journal records that I knew that I was lying to myself:

Nevada is not ready for it, wants no part of it, and I’m pushing past the limits of our “contract.” Not good…and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it. I also realized that the problem I’m having with Nevada is a failure in my leadership. She no longer trusts me to look after her. And damned if I can figure out how to use liberty methods to fix that….

No, Kay, it’s not a failure of leadership. Or actually, it is—but first and foremost, it’s a failure to listen. And no, you cannot use liberty methods to accomplish something that is completely against the basic tenets of liberty work.

Wow…I really didn’t want to see what was going on.

Toward the end of May, I had one wonderful day with her—a day where she regained, for a little while, the softness and trust that I was so sure I had lost for good. On that day, we did real liberty work, and played with obstacles like ground poles that she enjoys working with. It was wonderful—and it really reminded me of what we were missing.

But true to form, I let the lessons go on. The final lesson was memorable indeed:

Well. No more riding lessons for Nevada; she has been expelled from school. She bucked the trainer off again yesterday, and this one was pretty dramatic, apparently: Nevada got spooked by something; she bucked and twisted; the trainer went up, the saddle pad (!) somehow went sideways, the saddle went down, and Nevada careened around the arena for some time with the saddle under her belly and the reins around her legs. OMG. I am so glad I was not there to see it. Bad enough hearing about it. The trainer, thank God, wasn’t badly hurt, and neither was Nevada.

OMG. I should have listened to my horse—she has been trying and trying to tell us that she can’t do this, but all of us thought we knew better. Nope.

OMG.

Anyway, there go my dreams of riding my little mustang and learning dressage. She’ll have to become my liberty horse, I guess. Maybe I can find another horse to ride….

I am a wreck….

That was a month ago. During that month, Nevada steadfastly refused to let herself be caught in the pasture without half an hour of “walking her down.” Mostly, I don’t try; I just bring her food to her in the pasture. Sometimes, though, I need to get her out—for the farrier or the vet—so we go around and around in the blazing sun until she finally tires out or I’m able to bribe her to stand still. It has been heartbreaking.

I would love to just sit with her and share space in the pasture—sharing territory is the best possible way to bring back the bond. It’s mid-summer, though, and it’s been a hot one. The older I get, the less well I handle heat, so sitting out there is not an option.

Trust is so easy to win, initially, but once it’s broken, it’s nearly impossible to win back. Worst of all, I knew better, but wasn’t strong enough to stand up for my horse. I don’t deserve her trust, at this point. It’s been a painful lesson.

Wish I could say it was the first time this kind of thing has happened, or that it will be the last. It happened with Galahad several times when I first got him, but didn’t know enough to call a halt when my then-trainer worked him hard for hours at a time.

But then just two weeks ago, during a session with a client, I was trying to get Galahad to go over a tiny cross-rail jump. At first he was willing—but then he hit the rail on the way over, and the pole moved and he got scared. I asked him to go over it again, and he refused, frightened…but rather than acknowledging his fear and changing the subject, I went straight back to natural horsemanship and tried to make him do it.

Poor Galahad! He was trying in every way to explain to me that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, but that it was a terrible, horse-eating creature that I was asking him to step over. “Please, don’t make me do it! I’m scared!”

He was so clear: He was turning his head away and pointing at the gate to the arena—not trying to run, just pointing to the gate. SO clear…but did I listen? Nope. I was deep into “making him do it” and refused to hear him.

Then suddenly I realized what was happening. Oh my…how embarrassing. At first I tried to blame it on Galahad, and explain to my client that what I was doing was for Galahad’s benefit. But then I realized that NOBODY was fooled. Not me, not my client, and certainly not the horse…. So in the end I just said, “I really screwed up.”  It turned out to be a good learning experience for the client, but oh my goodness….

Fortunately, Galahad and I have worked through a lot of things together, and this was a pretty small and isolated incident. He didn’t hold it against me, other than to be a little standoffish for about five minutes the next day—but after that, no problem. He still hesitates to go over those ground poles, though—and I haven’t even suggested cross-rails.

Sheesh.

I’m hopeful that Nevada and I can work things out, too. Just the last couple of days, she has come over to me when I crawled through the pasture fence—something she had not done for two months, at least—and didn’t run off when I started to put the halter on her. The weather is cooler this week, too, and that means I can spend some time just hanging out with her and her girlfriends in the pasture. No more saddles, no more forcing her to do things just because I want her to. Maybe this time I’ve finally learned my lesson…or at least, maybe the next time I do something stupid, I’ll see it sooner.

Yeah. That’s probably more likely. There’ll just be a shorter time between doing the stupid thing and seeing the stupid thing. Maybe I’m just being too hard on myself, but still….

Sigh.

Just as I finished this blog piece, I got the Horse Conscious newsletter from my friend Mark Mottershead. In it I found this quote—could NOT have been more appropriate:

“When your horse shows resistance to compliance with a request, rather than saying he doesn’t want to do this or that, consider saying he is afraid to do this or that. If you do this your approach to the entire situation will change and will put you on the path to a successful outcome.”

Absolutely spot on.

 

 

Note: There is NOTHING wrong with using natural horsemanship techniques, if a person knows what they’re doing and they remember that the horse is a sentient being who deserves to be treated with an eye to respect and relationship, not simply dominance and fear. However, natural horsemanship is not the paradigm from which I try to work with my horses, and it’s not the “contract” we have together.

 

Meditation with the herd

DozingThe past couple of mornings it’s been lovely and cool—very unusual for Missouri in August. It’s been wonderful being out in the pasture with my horses again!

Yesterday I hung out with Galahad and the herd for the best part of an hour, doing nothing but observing and meditating. It was really interesting, learning how to be very relaxed and in-the-moment while remaining observant and attentive to what’s going on around me—the state the horses enjoy by their very nature.

I needed to do that yesterday: The herd were standing by the west fence of the winter pasture, napping and drooling clover juice. I was against the fence on the south side of Galahad, who was dozing with his chin on the cable. Beside him to my right, nose to flank, was “Degas,” Galahad’s best buddy. On the other side of Galahad, maybe five feet away and facing the fence, was “Hans,” the herd leader. Well beyond Hans to the north was “Chuckie,” former herd leader and forever dominant gelding, cropping grass between snoozes. (More on the relationship between these two geldings in a later post.)

My position was not a particularly safe one. I couldn’t really see either Chuckie or Hans from where I stood. Chuckie in particular is prone to sudden, threatening movements that make the entire herd jump to attention. As soon as I realized this (not being a horse, it took me a few minutes), I moved away from Galahad so that if he spun, I wouldn’t be knocked over and trampled. Still, I needed to keep an eye on Chuckie just in case.

What a lovely state of awareness! The horses are all dozing, and it’s so incredibly peaceful. Cloudy and cool, with a bit of a breeze. Birdsong; horses whinnying; the occasional drift of a conversation from over near the barn. Chuckie moves closer; Hans shifts position slightly. The energy stays low and tranquil, and Hans’s head drops again, drool spilling from his slack lips. Galahad flicks an ear; Degas doesn’t even move. We all drift off again, but awareness remains.

It is blissful. It just … IS.

I came out of this altered state some time later, when my stomach started to growl. A couple of quick videos (knowing I’d be doing this blog post) and I was off to feed Nevada and Midnight and grab a snack for myself. The herd stayed where they were for another half an hour, dozing companionably.

I feel so blessed to be able to share this time with them…and maybe to convey some of it to you, my readers. It’s not often that we humans get to experience this!

Galahad and the White Dog

2014-06-03_17-41-12_601Part One: My Horse

[Note: the first White Dog post is here, on my other blog. This one will make more sense if you read that one first.]

Let’s start with a video made a couple of weeks ago for an online class. The task involved getting my horse to come to me, instead of going immediately to a pile of goodies placed in the center of the arena. When he comes to me, I take him to the goodies and he gets to eat. Galahad knows this game from past classes, and he likes it. He’s so good at it that he doesn’t even LOOK at the pile of treats—he just comes right over to me.

This time, for some reason, I interpreted the exercise differently, and decided it was about keeping the horse away from the pile. I wanted him to stop and wait and still not try to get to the treats. Why did I change the rules? I’m honestly not sure. It seemed clear to me at the time….

So poor Galahad circled me, round and round, very slowly, stopping occasionally to ask if he could come over to me so that I’d take him in for a treat. Every time he’d stop and ask, I’d send him off again. I just stood there, not even looking at him, policing the pile of goodies, keeping him away and refusing to let him come to me when he asked.

After 15 minutes, Galahad did stop. He stood there, looking pretty sullen, and did not attempt to go to the pile. Then, in utter frustration, he threw a very quiet hissy fit. I’ve NEVER seen him behave this way. At the time, I was almost happy that I’d gotten that reaction. Why? Dunno….

Eventually, I decided he’d been good long enough, and I called him over to me and took him to get the treats. He came, but he wasn’t happy with me; he wasn’t enjoying this game at all.

But I was so pleased with the video! I had kept my horse away from the treats and gotten him to stop and stand still! Yay!

On the conference call, my friend the instructor pointed out another way of viewing the situation—from Galahad’s perspective. Oh. Well. That looks quite a bit different. I was pretty shocked at this new viewpoint.

Had I been aware in the moment of the “game,” I would have seen the significance of Galahad’s “hissy fit”: He was NOT having fun doing what was supposed to be a fun exercise. But as usual, I wasn’t in the moment with my horse. Nope. I was in “trainer’s mind,” working to MAKE him stop and stand still. Furthermore, he had to stop without my influence—so I wasn’t even allowing him to get my attention when he asked for it. No wonder he had a fit! He must have been SO confused and frustrated—I had suddenly completely changed the rules of a game he knew well and really enjoyed.

OUCH.

Part Two: The Pain, Again

The last seven weeks have been a nightmare much of the time. The pain in my jaw and tongue returned on the third of March. Why? This time, I know the answer.

In February I started paying attention to the “Law of Attraction,” which in its simplest form just means that “like attracts like.” For years, I’ve known that people, things, and events show up in my life because of what I’ve always called “resonance.” People in our lives are there because there’s something in our experience or in our energy that is similar. We attract those whose life stories reflect our own in some way, or have similar themes. The Law of Attraction.

No problem with this—it’s just the way the world works. But enter Abraham-Hicks (Esther Hicks and the entity who call themselves Abraham), who specialize in large-scale events at which they share their patented inspirational messages on how to create our own reality.

Abraham-Hicks and their version of message has a pretty militant sound to it. Abraham, channeled by Esther Hicks, is a brilliant and inspirational speaker with a kind of take-no-prisoners approach. Control your thoughts; choose the best and highest thought in order to get “into the vortex” and manifest! Feel joy! That’s why you’re here—to experience joy! It’s up to you! The tone sounds just like my dad.

So I started controlling my thoughts, all right. I felt great! I felt joy! I monitored my thoughts at every moment and made sure I was feeling JOY! If anyone could get into the Vortex, I could—because I could monitor my thoughts!

Can you imagine someone hearing, “Be joyful!” and interpreting it as a command, with dire consequences for failure? No? Well, that’s exactly what I did. I drove myself nuts, policing my joy. But really, it’s not so surprising. That’s how I was raised. That’s how Arthur, my father, taught me. My dad was always DOING something, and it had to be perfect. No sitting around for him! Sitting around (and, presumably, experiencing joy) was a sign of sloth. And so we kids learned that we had to be busy. And oh, did I mention perfect, too? Yup. One “B” marring a report card full of “A’s” rated a scolding. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.

So a few days into my “you will feel joy!” episode, I woke up in excruciating pain…again. It has gone on for nearly seven weeks now, and it’s just beginning to let up. A few days into it, I no longer cared about feeling joy. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine joy any more. All I could manage was to survive from one day to another. Once again, I found myself unable to eat, sleep, or talk. Anything creative was completely out of the question.

Part Three: Putting It All Together

Journal entry, April 15th:

Wow. The conference call last night was tough. I was so wrong about that video—I can really see that, now. But it fits a pattern, doesn’t it? It’s Kay-as-Arthur again, the Arthur who’s now living inside my head, the Arthur who taught me what the world was like and how to behave there. Arthur the Perfectionist, Arthur the Drill Sergeant, Arthur the Enforcer.

I still can’t get rid of the image of the White Dog. I’m certain that the dog has something to do with all this….

OMG: just now, a really scary understanding—that innocent, playful pup crushed beneath the wheels of my car; my own playful innocence also crushed. But what does the car represent?

And besides the white dog…. The pain this time began just as I was working—WORKING!— with the Abraham-Hicks stuff. Constantly policing myself, policing my joy, for Pete’s sake!

“Policing my joy”…. That image is the same one that was captured in the video of me and Galahad doing that exercise the other day. It could not be clearer.

There in the video is my poor Galahad responding as I probably did when I was a kid, when nothing I ever did was good enough for Dad…. And I just realized that Dad, if he ever thought about it (and he might not have ever done so until after he crossed over), would have been so sad to realize that the relationship between us wasn’t working the way he wanted; but he had no idea how to do it differently, or even that any different way existed….

The White Dog, crushed under the wheels of my car. My car—my way of moving through life. The dog, that happy innocence, crushed under the wheels of my way of being-in-the-world, which I inherited from Arthur, and he from his mother Anna, and she from (I suspect) a parent or grandparent. The saying in my family is, “There’s one in every generation.”

And me, little Kay, crushed under the weight of my father’s expectations. Wow.

That way of life, the way I was taught by my father, is relentless. “Relentless” is an excellent word for it. It never, EVER relents. There’s no relaxation, no peace, certainly no “let it be, let it unfold.”

After the accident with the dog, my Guides kept saying, “Some things cannot be prevented.” That’s true—on many levels. On this very personal level, it’s clear that with my current mindset, neither I nor Galahad (nor the unfortunate White Dog, for that matter) has any hope of anything changing. But now I can SEE what’s happening, and maybe, just maybe, I can make a change.

So anyway. Joy. Innocence. Trust. Three things that seem to have been lost to me as a child. Three things I want to retain and develop in my horses, and regain for myself. But that can’t be done by coercion, by policing, or by suddenly changing the rules.

I am so grateful for all the events that have helped me see and understand the full significance of the way I’ve always lived my life. If you don’t see something, you can’t change it.

So I’m going to change it…but calmly, quietly, by letting things flow.

Wow. What a funny place this life is, eh?

[Cross-posted on It’s an Alchemical Life.]

Galahad is my teacher

Galahad 1 by Aiming High PhotographyAn interesting late afternoon with the horses. I spent some time with Nevada, who’s just a sweetheart: she hangs out with us, content to just stand around if that’s what we’re doing, or to trot around or do groundwork or (especially) eat grass.

Galahad’s a harder one for me to understand, or so it sometimes seems. But I think it’s just that Galahad has so much to teach me, instead of the other way around. I need to learn from him, instead of beating myself up about it when things don’t go as I plan.

This afternoon I had him in the small indoor arena, supposedly just to hang out (I’m starting a Carolyn Resnick course this month). But I started out by trying to round-pen him in there, which Nevada does easily, probably because she thinks it’s fun. Galahad has been round-penned a lot, and it has NOT been fun, by and large, so he’s not as willing.

After a while I remembered that my original idea had been to just hang out with him. Oh. Yes. Forgot that part.

Galahad kind of wandered around the arena, checking out the “messages” left in the sand by other horses, hanging his head over the fence and watching horses and people outside. He did come over to me a couple of times, checking in. But not often enough to satisfy me, I guess.

He came by when I knelt down and started scratching the sand with my hand—he wanted to see what I was up to. Then he left, which was fine. I went over and sat on the mounting block for a while, and he came over once.

As I write this, I’m noticing that what actually happened was not what I initially remembered. The way I remembered it, he totally ignored me. Um no, it wasn’t like that.

I mean, really! What do I expect from him? Can we say, “unreasonable”?

I started walking around the arena, pretending to pay no attention to him, and he was standing looking out over the gate to the outside. I walked past him and away, with my back to him. Then I heard what I thought were a person’s footsteps, and I swung my head around to see who had dared to disturb our space.

The sound was actually Galahad’s footsteps, following me. But he stopped instantly when I swung around. The message I unintentionally sent, oh so clear in horse language, was “Stay back. Don’t bother me!” The equivalent of swinging my head with my ears pinned.

I was so disappointed with myself! That wasn’t at all what I had in mind! There was no way to take it back, of course. I kept walking, but he didn’t follow any more.

I immediately started beating myself up about it, and I know he felt that disappointment. Nevada can deal with me when I’m like that: she just lets it blow right on past.

But Galahad is the most sensitive soul I’ve ever encountered, and his ego really isn’t all that strong. Galahad isn’t like Nevada. He worries. If I’m disappointed, he worries that he’s done something wrong—he has no idea what, but he expects to be blamed.

That’s another remnant of his unfortunate experiences as a youngster before he was rescued. And even our first trainer, successful though he is, used methods that demand pretty much instant obedience, not thinking about building up the horse’s self-confidence.

And then there’s me: I took to those early training methods so well because they are exactly what my dad would have used. That’s how I was taught: obey instantly, or face the consequences. Dad’s love was conditional on my behaving in a way that he could approve of, and preferably in a way that made him look good. So I get it.

The hard part is realizing how much of that internalized, patriarchal, “Arthur” energy I still have inside me, and how far I still have to go to learn what it’s like to express unconditional love. I would love Galahad no matter what he did, but he has no way of knowing that, and until he does know that, we can’t have the kind of relationship I’m looking for.

So he’s shown me, once again, exactly what I need to learn. And I will learn—but it’s going to take a lot of time and patience. I’m hoping the new course will help me develop better habits and learn to be patient and loving not just with Galahad, but with myself, too.

The real student here is me, not my horse.

[Note: This lovely photograph is by my good friend Aimée at Aiming High Photography.]