The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Time and Trust

The much-anticipated workshop of November 15 has taken place! At Harmony Ranch in Van Vleck, Texas, I joined Christin Staszesky Harper, her five horses, and seven other students for a day of the Yoga of Equine Wisdom.

There's a lot to unpack from this workshop, and a lot to say, but I won't try to do it all at once. One thing - "Yoga" in this case has the meaning "Union," not a bunch of asanas.

Among the themes which emerged during the course of the day, trust and taking time were two which stood out. The issue of trust was introduced initially in human-to-human exercises, such leading each other and falling (not very far) backwards into a partner's waiting hands. Then as an exploration of horse/human trust, we took turns picking up a horse's foot. Most of the people at the workshop were not experienced with horses, and so this was something which might induce a degree of trepidation or uncertainty, perhaps on both sides. The human had to trust that it was safe to pick up the foot of the horse, and the horse had to feel confidence in the human in order to allow its foot to be picked up.

One horse had already picked up his forefeet a couple of times, and when the next human approached and asked for his foot, he refused. Very calmly and politely, but a refusal nonetheless. Then again, refusal is probably the wrong word. In humanspeak, we think of a refusal as a loud, or least emphatic,  "No!" The horse's No was more like the No of a rock that is just too heavy to lift. Our coach did not try to coach the human in a better or more explicit way to induce the horse to pick up his foot. And the student did not get flustered. The coach eventually questioned the student as to whether she perhaps could find some inner resistance on her part. No, she really couldn't. Then finally, our coach said, "You see - being with horses takes time!" And no sooner were the words out of her mouth than up came the foot.

Coincidence? Hmm.

Thinking back, there were many examples during the day of trust and taking time. And when I went to the barn today, I pondered the many examples I encountered there.

I bring some treats with me to the pasture. George, Rose and Bridget all come up and stand in a semi-circle around me, each waiting politely for their turn to receive a treat. Each one trusts that they will get their share and trusts that the other horses will not steal from them or bite them or drive them away. I trust them not to hurt me. It has taken a long time to reach this point - four years. Chloe still doesn't trust the others and stands in the background. But she trusts that I will throw her a treat and waits expectantly.

George is fearful of the cold; he doesn't trust the future food supply and feels he may starve. When I arrive he stands by the gate, trusting that I will take him out and let him graze. I take the time to stand beside him for an hour while he tries to satisfy his craving for calories.

Clover has carbs!
When it's Bridget's turn to come out of the pasture, I hold her leadrope and stand with her by the gate. George stands there too. It's hard for him to let her leave. At times, George comes between Bridget and me, his chest pressing against the rope. In the past this would have been a dangerous situation which I would have avoided at all costs, otherwise he would end up biting her and driving her away, possibly causing her to run me over in the process. Today, however, Bridget trusts George to control himself. She stands alert, but calm and patient, on the other end of the rope, giving George the time he needs to relinquish the gate. Which eventually he does - he ups and walks definitively away, allowing me plenty of time to open the gate, extract Bridget, and close the gate again.

Bridget, having been well-fed since birth does trust the food supply. While she is very happy to have snack breaks, she's more interested in exploring. Sometimes we run together.

Chloe has been giving me the Look since I arrived. She stands in the background, fixing me pointedly with her eyes and intention. The Look generally means, "Take (or let) me out." When I return Bridget to the field, George decides to stay near the gate, Bridget goes for a drink, and Rose tries to do what she always does when she wants to be in charge of where to go - she tries to gather Chloe up and shoo her ahead. I defend Chloe, who stands close by me, trusting that I will keep Rose away. Finally Rose, slightly huffy, walks off, and Chloe and I walk together to the far gate. Bridget follows us, but I convince her to keep her distance. Still Chloe trusts that I will keep her safe. When we reach the gate, I open it and invite Chloe to exit. She watches and waits for the right moment, then out she goes. When I first began allowing Chloe to say No, it took time - six months - before she trusted me enough to leave the pasture with me. And I trust Chloe to behave appropriately outside the confines of the fence, wearing no tack.

Chloe and I have a little walk, Chloe grazes, I sit down, and Chloe remembers her foot trick. She puts her foot on top of my bended knee and then looks for a treat, but I'm all out. She doesn't mind.

When it's time for me to leave, I realize that I have actually no way of getting Chloe back into the field. She doesn't buy me leading from behind - she knows I don't really mean it. I try taking off my belt and using it as a collar but that's about as much use as trying to move her by blowing at her. In the end, I run back and fetch a halter and leadrope (and apple). As soon as halter and rope are on, Chloe moves off readily, and we run together back to the gate. Rose is waiting, and the two of them stand trustingly side by side while I hand them bites of apple. Bridget comes up in time for the last morsel.

Sometimes Chloe lets me climb on her back. She trusts that I will not insist and will only go ahead with her permission. Today was not one of those days, but last week she allowed me the privilege. For me, that is the biggest leap (scramble!) of trust of all. Usually, I try to get up quickly, uneasy that she might take off or move. Then I realized that on those occasions when she decides it's ok, it really is ok. Last week, when Chloe stood still to let me clamber aboard, I think I managed to let go of my uncertainty and allow myself to take all the time I needed to climb up, allowing myself to feel her trustworthiness.

After Saturday's workshop, I feel I have a clearer mandate to continue waiting and trusting. Trusting not just the horses as individuals, but the whole process of unfolding. As Chloe and I were walking to the gate today, I felt a moment of anxiety - Will she come out? Will I fail? And then I realized that it didn't matter - that if I was serious about trusting the horses and trusting the future, I would accept with equanimity either outcome. There is so much to be grateful for; and so much in my life for which I am grateful was unplanned and unforeseen. Unexpected gifts can be better than the ones we hope for.

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