Galahad Is Still My Teacher

20170518133641(1)Another stream-of-consciousness post, as I’m working on something that feels new:

“Making” my horse do anything is no longer something I want to do, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So we’ve been studying and trying things out.

Yesterday I went to the barn to work with my Galahad on a lesson from the online course we’re enrolled in.

The assignment was to get him from the pasture and take him for a walk on the lead without pulling on the lead rope. I was in each moment to try to figure out what he was feeling, ask him to come along instead of insisting, etc.

His feet were sore, he said (true enough—he’s recovering from a bad bout of thrush), so he didn’t want to walk on the lane where there are rocks. If we walked on grass, though, all he wanted to do was eat. He wanted to go say hi to all the horses in the turnout runs, which I couldn’t let him do. He didn’t want to go across the bridge over the creek, because ROCKS and SCARY. Mostly, he just wanted to eat grass. Our communication seems pretty clear, but it kind of feels like I now have a grass-eating monster who asks politely—by stopping dead in his tracks and pointing—to eat more grass. He will, if asked quietly and several times, lift his head and follow me for a few steps. That’s a very good thing.

After half an hour or so of grazing, we found the big indoor arena open, so I took him in there and took his halter off. He explored for a little bit with me, but wasn’t too enthusiastic. I tried asking him to move, which he did, but then he went back over to the gate and stood there getting sleepy…. Our session obviously wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to end before he got really shut down, so we left.

I tried really hard not to be disappointed by this, but OMG I am so disappointed.

It’s all my fault, not his. I just can’t seem to drop the agenda. But it just seems like all we ever do together these days is clean his feet, feed him, and walk around while he grazes. There’s nothing else. It’s not like I don’t enjoy his company, but I watch other people ride their horses (which I would never force him to do even if it were safe); I watch the videos of people with horses who happily move around them, pay at least some attention to them, and dance with them. Sheesh. I want Galahad to enjoy something, anything, that we do together that’s not grazing; I want to play with him. Other people do that with their horses…why not us? And Galahad plays with his friends…why not us?

I feel like pretty much of a failure; I shed lots of self-pitying tears over that. I feel bad because I know Galahad knows that I’m not satisfied, and he’s so sensitive that it can’t be any fun for him, either.

There is actually a different way of looking at this—but maybe it’s too dreamy. Dunno.

My horse loves me, I know without a doubt. And he seems to enjoy being with me as long as I don’t ask anything of him. It’s exactly the same when I used to try to ride him: I can sit on him and he’s fine, but as soon as I ask him to do anything, he rebels and bucks.

But here’s the thing: It could actually be that this grazing is more about him wanting to be with me peacefully, without any agenda, without me asking him for anything that he doesn’t want to do or can’t do for whatever reason. It could be that he really is avoiding the pressure of me asking anything of him. Because here’s the thing: He never wants to go back out to be with his horse friends; he always stops me several times on the way back. He has such a good time outside the pasture—and it’s not just about the grass, because he’s just as bad in the dead of winter, and it’s not about treats, because I don’t carry them.

I wonder if what he’s actually thinking, when he blocks me on the way back to the pasture, is something like, “I’m not ready to go back yet, Mom. Can’t we just hang out some more?” and then he offers the thing he likes best in that moment, which is grazing quietly, side by side.

I like that interpretation, and it actually feels accurate…but what do I do with that?

Anyway. Like I said, it’s not him; it’s me. But I’m about ready to give up and just quit trying.

And then, this morning, an insight that was probably obvious to everyone but me: At some level, Galahad and I are replaying my childhood experience with my dad, with me cast in the role of Arthur The Great. Like so many girls, I was desperate for my dad’s love, attention, and approval—and he (narcissistic, perfectionist, domineering) was never satisfied with anything I did. It was a losing battle, though I never knew that. Kids never do.

And like Galahad, I did the best I could to please. A part of me rebelled, like Galahad does, though not outwardly (that was always punished). Galahad’s lucky—and this is what makes him such a great teacher—because he’s incapable of artifice. He is himself, and only himself. If he can’t please me by being himself in the moment, he will just shut down; and thank goodness, at this point in our relationship, he doesn’t get punished for it. He gets to express an opinion.

At least that’s one possible interpretation of what’s going on, and it’s a really useful one for me personally.

So I’m wondering…. What if I work with Galahad but in the knowledge that I am working with myself as well? I mean, do the “repair” work consciously, as a practice, almost? What would that be like? Healing the two of us? Because we’re both survivors of a terrible “parenting” or “training” style. “Obey me or I will hurt you,” and “No matter what you do, it will never be perfect, and therefore it will never be enough for me to accept you.” Seriously. Both of us.

Could I do that? Could I overcome my internalized parenting style enough to do this? What an interesting thought…. But it could take forever! I want to play with my horse NOW! I want him to trust me NOW!

Yeah. And how old are you, Kay? And how many decades has it taken YOU to work through this? What? You haven’t figured it out yet?

Yeah. It’s gonna take a while…. He and I are worth however long it takes…and it will take ME way longer than it will take him, I bet.

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

Another Lesson from Midnight

20160421_134742So much in the world seems to be getting more angry, more violent, and more hate-filled these days. It’s uncomfortable and worrisome. What on earth can a person do to counteract all that? Developing a better, kinder, gentler way of dealing with others would surely be helpful. But how? And while still maintaining one’s own individuality and boundaries?

The horses, through our relationship with them, have some answers for us.

I realized yesterday that I’ve been developing a gentler way of relating to Midnight for some time now—several years, actually. It probably started when I quit riding him, and came on gradually without my noticing; but our way of interacting now is more like friends, not like owner and animal or whatever.

Of course I do get more of a say when there are things that have to be done—grooming (which he’s not too fond of), vet visits, and stuff like that. Or when we’re out for a walk and I actually have to leave, so we need to head back to his house before he’s quite ready. But here’s how it goes at the best of times, like yesterday:

Midders bangs on his stall door to get my attention while I’m hanging out in the pasture across the lane with Galahad and Dancer. Since it’s Galahad’s day off, I have time to take Midnight out for a walk, so we get his halter on and head out the door. He wants to go directly down the road, but I need to stop at the car for a couple of things. I ask, and he’s willing to come over there with me. After all, there are cookies in the back, right?

After a few minutes (and some video) we start off down the lane toward the barns. He has a pattern that he likes to do, but we negotiate a couple of changes, since one of his favorite grazing areas is still muddy. He easily takes the redirection—there are good patches of clover elsewhere, after all.

After ten minutes or so I suggest we head up toward the main barn, and he says, “Sure!” and takes off at a clip. When I say “suggest,” I actually mean this: “Midnight, shall we go over there” (I point to the barn) “and see what’s going on?” No pressure on the lead rope—just words, body language, and intention. He looks where I’m pointing and trundles off in that direction.

He gets to choose the pace and direction of his walk, for the most part, and he has certain places he wants to check out. I just hold the lead rope in order to keep it from dragging. There’s lots of stopping and sniffing and grazing. Once in a while, if he decides to go sniff noses with another horse, I might tell him no and put the slightest pressure on the rope, but generally he’s OK with just the sound of my voice.

One of his must-check spots is the cement area under the grain bins—there’s usually some spilled grain there, and he likes to mop it up. Today, though, it’s pretty moldy-looking because of all the rain recently, so there’s no way I’m going to let him eat it. This results in a little bit of a tussle, but not much. He’s not buying my explanation, but he understands that I’m serious, so he’s willing to leave after only a little pulling. And I do mean a little bit—Midders may be small but he’s mighty, and when he gets stubborn with that head of his, it’s not easy to pull him away. This discussion was still in the range of a few seconds of mild pressure on the lead rope.

Then we headed over to the mares pasture to see “his” girls, who all came over to the fence and grazed along with us for a while. It was getting late, and I had errands to run on the way home, so after a few minutes I suggested (with words and body language, not the lead rope) that we head back home to his place. Surprisingly (to me), he picked his head up at my suggestion and off we went.

Along the way Midnight’s buddy Nick was returning horses to their stalls after turnout. Midders, seeing Nick, insisted on taking a detour to say hi. After a greeting and a little conversation (and a couple more stops for especially nice patches of clover), we headed back down the lane at a good clip. He seemed as happy to go home as he had been to go out in the first place.

This has been our routine for the last few years, and I hadn’t thought much about it. There just isn’t any drama any more with Midnight—we go and have our walk and chat a little bit, then go back home. But something about it caught my attention yesterday, and I realized just how amazing (for me) this lack of drama is, and how different my mindset is when I’m with Midders.

Midnight isn’t in training for anything. I’m not going to ride him, and there aren’t any expectations. When I’m with him, I’m just out to enjoy his company and have a good time together. There’s no agenda; I’m not hoping to get any certain behavior from him. We’re just walking together like the old friends that we are.

No agenda…no drama. Wow…ya think there might be a connection?

THIS is what Paulette Evans at Ribbleton Attunement (whose online courses I’ve been taking lately) is trying to teach us to do! And it’s SO HARD! Yet I’m doing it on my own with Midnight, effortlessly, without thinking about it. HAVE been doing it for a few years now, actually.

Wow….

But it’s a mindset that I clearly do not have with Galahad, and that’s the rub. I DO have expectations of him, and hopes, and desires…. So my challenge is to see what I can do to get to this place of quiet non-expectation with my Best Boy, and see what develops from there.

And also, I’m thinking, with my human friends. The fewer expectations I have with them, the more quiet curiosity and friendship I can develop, the less drama and the more satisfaction. Will that help the world? Dunno…but it should make my life more peaceful.

How interesting….