Horsey Therapist

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ohio with Leslie Desmond and friends

It really was a time with friends! Old friends and new friends. Human friends and of course, horsey friends. The four legged type of horsey friends. I want to be clear because I often refer to my horse-loving friends as horsey friends. I suppose I could just call the four legged ones "horse friends."

OK, I was butterflies-in-the-belly nervous before going into the arena the first day. Those butterflies come active when I get carrying some expectation that I'm going to be judged and fail. When I don't really know with confidence what I'm supposed to do. Moments of self consciousness, which is different from self awareness. Excitement with worry, anticipation with fear. Uncertainty.

Oh my -- UNCERTAINTY! Butterflies and uncertainty! This is what horses feelwhen they are uncertain. Oh my heavens. I'm having a little epiphany as I write!

Harry Whitney talks a lot about how disturbing it is to a horse to feel uncertain. Better to feel certain when someone is being rough than to feel uncertain even when the handling is softer. Uncertainty is about not knowing what is expected and not knowing what the outcome will be. The close-to-the-horizon outcome, not even talking about the next-year or ten-years-from-now outcome. Oh my. My oh my. This has really gotten my mental wheels spinning.

We can develop empathy as adults. I am a living example of that. I won't say I had no empathy as a child, in fact I think I had a lot but without any support for that, no adults acknowledging and valuing that, it went dormant. And now it grows again thanks to my intense desire to have better relationships with horses and humans.

So empathy and uncertainty... Here I am intending to write about my time in Ohio, and bingo, stumble upon some deeper understanding of uncertainty, which then increases my empathy for horses. Phew.

So, do horses get butterflies in their bellies? I am certain they do!

I trust I'll write more about that later, but now I want to return my focus to Ohio.

Leslie offered us so much trust and respect, it was easy to be in the flow there. By 'in the flow' I refer to the space I was in while handling horses -- attentive, responsive, considerate, empathic, patient, just with that horse and nothing else in mind. There were a few times of amazing synchronicity. An example from the first day in the arena: I was with a little quarter horse who had let me know the day before that he's not fond of anyone touching his mouth or muzzle. That prior day he had accepted being bridled but wasn't really comfortable with any preliminary touching I tried in my attempt to see if he was ready for the bit.

That day in the arena this horse, in my opinion, felt good enough with me to say "no" to the bit. I listened and changed my plan. I had thought I would do a little ground work then bridle up and ride (he was already saddled). Not just yet, he says. So I spent about the entire time doing some approach and retreat, some asking and listening, around his head and mouth, interchanged with lots of other stuff -- touching legs, lifting feet, leading off while I was at his hip, lowering head. At one point I was tuned into this dear horse and listening to Leslie at the same time. She was simultaneously approaching bridling the horse she was handling and inadvertently offered some new ideas for me to try. I was very grateful for those moments when, even though she wasn't focussed on what I was doing, her demonstration provided direct help for handling my horse.

Now this getting ready for bridling experience felt good, until the next day when another student/colleague/assistant was handling this same quarter horse and appeared to have no trouble bridling him. As I wondered why so easy for her and so hard for me, I did question if her expectation, her certainty was clearer than mine. As I asked the horse if he was ready for the bit, did that question mark enable the "no"? If I had been clear that "I'm going to bridle you" or "you are going to take the bit", would it have happened? Was there value in what I did? Did what I did one day set it up so it was easier the next day for the other person to bridle him? Would it have been just as easy for her to bridle him that very day he refused/avoided taking the bit with me? In other words, was it my presentation that created the "no"?

Aside from the comraderie and laughter during meals and back at the hotel, most of the best moments were in the barn interacting with the horses' owners. I voiced my appreciation to them numerous times for letting us handle their horses. I wasn't sure it was something I'd have done myself! Their trust and openness with us grew in huge ways day by day. We had time to talk, time to demonstrate, time to ask questions and answer questions. The five of us students/colleagues/assistants each have something special to offer, offer to the horses and offer to the humans. Those horse owners could choose who to learn from and that could vary as they wanted. We had not only horse owners, but mothers and daughters of horse owners there, ready to help with the horses (feed, muck, groom, tack) and showing a growing interest in learning from us.

I do like teaching. Especially teaching an interested student. These folks fit the bill just fine!

We all took turns at the information booth as well. Talking about the books, CDs, and DVDs available for sale, talking about Horsemanship Through Feel, listening to some amazing stories -- these were special moments -- of how folks were touched by watching Leslie's demos. Most had heard of her and/or read True Horsemanship Through Feel, but few had seen her in person before.

It was an honor to be part of that weekend. It boosted my confidence, to have survived the public exposure and to have thrived through the interactions with horses and their owners. Thank you, Leslie, for offering me this horsemanship opportunity.

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