nobody should have to be that scared

               This sentiment, whether I said it out loud or internally, was a big influence in shaping the work I do.  I remember one of the first times I found myself working with someone and being amazed at the level and intensity of fear they were facing.

                I was giving a lesson to someone who shared that she had fear issues.  She owned three or four horses, and ran a boarding business, and wanted to enjoy riding again.  She shared some of her prior experiences with me, and then we lunged her horse together.  Then, the time seemed right, and she said that she was ready to get in the saddle. 

                She had a portable mounting block, so I brought it over to where she stood with her horse.  We got it situated just right, and she slowly and purposefully climbed up the three steps and gingerly got on.  When she settled in the saddle, I led her through some breathing exercises to help her relax.  After she seemed to be comfortable, I turned to move the mounting block. 

                I heard her say, “Don’t leave me”.  Needless to say I stopped what I was doing and looked at her.  That was when my whole being said that nobody should have to be that scared.  I put my hand back on the reins, and gently led her through another body centered focusing exercise to relax her mangled nerves.  When she started breathing again, she asked me to lead her horse for her.  We slowly started walking around the arena, with lots of checks in to see what this brave student was thinking and feeling. 

                After a few times around the arena, she asked me to walk with her, but let go of the reins.  I knew this was a big step, and took things slow and gradual.  Then, she asked me to stay still so that she could circle around me.  Occasionally I would remind her to breathe, and help align her body into a more balanced riding position.  Her smile grew bigger and bigger.

                Although I have witnessed many others take similar bold and courageous steps, this first instance stands out the most vividly.  I think it is because I knew how much it means to people to be able to wear those big smiles, and I decided I would sign up over and over again to watch those smiles (and their confidence!) grow.

which would you prefer?

This past week, I found myself repeating something I say often to my adolescent clients.  What I said was, “Do you want to just try to force the horse to do something, or do you want to learn about horses and how to communicate with them?  It’s up to you, which would you prefer?”

The very first I uttered those words, I had no idea that in the future I would be choosing to say them over and over again.  Instead, I was once again hearing from a particular client that “she knows”.  I heard that from her every time that I told her something about horses.  When I first started working with her, I would offer her reasons and explanations.  Things that I would have loved to have been taught when I was being introduced to the world of horses.  There I was projecting….  Finally, I stopped doing that, and only gave her instruction where safety was an issue.

In all honesty, it wasn’t an eloquent gesture that first time.  It was more of an exasperated statement as I was watching her completely ignore all the signals the horse was giving her and try to force the horse to comply with her agenda. She wanted the horse to walk over ground poles, and he let it be known that he had no interest in doing that.  After I asked her, however, everything changed.

The change was for the better, in my opinion.  This client got quiet for a moment, and then told me that she wanted to learn about horses and how to communicate with them.  She said that she was tired of force, actually, she had enough of it in other areas of her life.  She had a breakthrough, and became a much better listener to both horses and humans.

Not only did I feel that I had stumbled upon a great tool to use for counseling, I found that asking myself that question, or a version of it, helped my own work with horses.  (And, with my daughter, too, if truth be told.)  Usually, what has happened when I need to ask myself the question is I’ve forgotten to be curious.  When I’m starting to get frustrated, it’s always in my best interest to take a small step back and ask questions about “how” and  “why”.  This curiosity usually helps me remember that I’m dealing with another living being, and be more conscientious and compassionate to both my horse and myself. And, that is what I would prefer,