I hated horses.
At first, horses meant little to me. They were in westerns and looked nice standing in fields. That was pretty much it.
I was fine with that, but my wife had always wanted horses. So, horses galloped into our lives. If anyone in your immediate family ever had a horse, you know what I mean. Horses are a lifestyle, not a hobby.
Shoveling mounds of horse dung and hanging around the barn to reduce expenses became a big part of my life. But I hated the horses.
They rarely did what I wanted — they ran away when I went out to the field to get them and would not go where I wanted them to go. Really, they were 1,200-pound, four-legged, lethal, kicking machines with the reasoning of a toddler and the indifference of a cat.
The Magic Touch
That was why I thought I had witnessed a miracle when someone demonstrated Parelli natural horsemanship techniques. The guy looked at one side of the horse and it moved over. Then he looked at the other and the horse moved back.
My first thought was: What kind of sorcery is this? Next I thought that he had basically brought us a trick pony.
Then somebody from my wife’s riding club brought out a rearing, snorting brat of a horse that I recognized from the barn, and the trainer had that hellbeast calmly complying with tasks in front of our very eyes. That included getting on a trailer and that horse usually had to be medicated to go near anything with wheels on it.
This was the Parelli method of natural horsemanship. You have seen a variant of natural horsemanship if you have seen the movie “The Horse Whisperer.” I used to make fun of the title by whispering to a horse, “Hey horse — what the hell is wrong with you?”
I came to understand what natural horsemanship actually meant. And that understanding improved my relationship with others and myself. For example, the Parelli method teaches the difference in leading and yanking. If you pull fast on a rope, whatever is on the other side is going to tense up.
But if you stand away, give the horse some space and pull slowly on the rope, that horse is likely to follow along. Then turn around, walk out front like you know where you are going and don’t look back. Why? Because otherwise the horse is likely to think, “Why are you looking at me? Don’t you know where you’re going? We’re doomed!”
I learned such things as how just the slow pressure of a knuckle into the side of the horse can direct it to move over.
But more than that, I saw that horses were looking at me, trying to connect with what I wanted to do. I appreciated that although they were huge beasts capable, and sometimes pretty willing, to stomp the life out of a human, they were vulnerable prey animals who just wanted to feel safe and loved.
The Inner Horse
It is easy to see how that projects onto any relationship with people. Things go a lot better with guidance rather than commands.
But it also goes for our relationship with ourselves. When we fail our New Year’s resolution, or any other commitment, what is our internal monologue? Probably something like, “Of course I failed. Why did I ever think I was going to go to the gym every day? I will never be one of those people.”
The gym membership, new sneakers and workout gear felt pretty good but what didn’t work out was going to the gym for an hour every day.
Well, that was one big yank, from coach potato to gym rat in one shot. Your body becomes the horse telling your brain, “You can think you are going wherever you want but I am staying right here with my face down in the Cheesy Poofs.”
Bob Davies’ article in the InBalance section, “Failed Your New Year’s Resolution?” offers a guide to breaking down ambitious goals into manageable bites. Davies starts with an exercise about workout goals that helps people understand that they cannot just magically begin to be a whole new person at the stroke of midnight Jan. 1.
One of the methods in the Parelli system helps get a horse on a trailer, one of the most aggravating parts of having a horse. The horse has to be introduced and acclimated to the trailer, by slowing getting closer and closer to it and trying first a hoof, then a shoulder and eventually getting on altogether.
It takes care and patience, just like you do.
I grew to love horses but I was always uncomfortable with the notion of penning and riding them. I am happy leaving them to the fields and westerns.
Learning the Parelli method helped my relationship with myself and others. Nevertheless, my wife and I would eventually divorce. Hey, some ponies you just have to let run.