The Santa Ana winds gusted through our area last week and put a damper on the trail ride with friends I had been looking forward to. Meanwhile I got schooled in the character arena. It caused me to reflect on patience with horses and humans.
The question I came away with from barn time was:
Why am I more patient with my horse than my husband? How do I routinely have more empathy for animals than people?
Here’s what happened. . .
When I arrived at my barn only one rider was schooling a horse–and she was a trainer. The place normally buzzing with activity was a ghost town. Even though the winds had died down, the threat seemed to have deterred the usual crowd. I decided I would “do the barn cruise” which basically means ride around the property, thus simulating a trail ride.
A fly-masked face poked over the pipe corral stall as Knight acknowledged my arrival. There were random pieces of trash strewn about the stable area, evidence of the morning’s wind. Marveling at the amount of dust settling on top of his darkening winter coat, I curried and brushed, hoof picked and mane combed.
Knight seemed his usual mellow self; apparently the winds didn’t bother him. What bothered me was the air. I felt as though sand grit was drying out my throat. There’s a reason those cowboys in Westerns wore bandanas around their necks, and it wasn’t just for fashion.
After mounting, I steered Knight past the dressage arena, holding the reins at the buckle. His demeanor was steady. We strode down the short side of the big barn, and I wondered whose adorable Australian Shepherd was waiting patiently in the doggie pen.
As we turned down the long side of the barn which we were going to loop around, Knight raised his head and firmly planted his feet when we were about 20 feet away from a worker with a wheel barrow who was chatting with a rider holding her horse in the aisle.
Knight is not a spooker. We once had a helicopter fly over our arena and he didn’t miss a beat, and last year when the Santa Ana winds blustered through, a plastic bag inflated like a balloon and floated over his head and he kept right on trotting. So for him to stop like a statue and ignore my legs’ squeezing, I knew something was up.
I talked reassuringly to him and squeezed again and he backed up a few steps. This was not what I had intended. I prayed he wouldn’t wheel around which would be pretty embarrassing in front of the two conversationalists.
My rusty Spanish provided a window into their talk, “A horse is a man’s best friend,” all the while I was wondering if I should hop off and lead Knight past. Instead I waited a moment longer, and patted his neck and then squeezed him forward again. This time he responded and we marched right past the wheelbarrow and the man, the boarder and her horse. They were so engrossed in conversation that I don’t think they even realized Knight and I had a #awkwardmoment just seconds earlier.
I continued the simulated trail ride looping around the arenas and aisles of pipe corrals, untacked, and groomed my horse. As I drove home reflecting on my barn time, a question popped into my head (God instigating, perhaps?),
“Why are you more patient with horses than people?”
As Knight stood there, stiff and hyper alert taking in the wheelbarrow scene, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was unsure. It never crossed my mind to question his motives or roughly force him through his fear. I just breathed and spoke reassuringly to him. /In a moment, he gained enough confidence to continue forward.
I told him he was a good boy and patted him, and we went on our merry way.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I minimize others’ fears in a way I would never do with a horse.
Like the time a student whined to me, “I don’t want to have a C!” I was annoyed thinking, “Just do the work more carefully and stop rushing and if you have questions or get stuck, ask for help. Don’t get so upset about it; a C’s not the end of the world, kid.”
I wish I could report I said something wise and compassionate to the pre-teen, but I can’t even remember what happened because I was impatient and wanted him to move on so I could get back to “important” teacher duties like responding to staff email and data entry of grades.
Or the instances when my husband seems apprehensive about the changing relational dynamics with his children who are fast-approaching young adulthood, leaving the familiar territory of family trips, Sunday dinners, and a regular rhythm of interaction every week. It’s easier for me to say, “You’re a great dad and they love you and part of growing up is asserting independence and wanting to spend more time with friends. They haven’t forgotten you,” than to just be there with him and walk through the real-ness of the raw emotion.
And there was a time when someone I’ve known for years voiced a concern about some of her neighbors’ activities breeding distrust on the block where she’s lived and enjoyed community for decades. I didn’t say it but thought, “You’re overreacting, I’m sure it can’t possibly be as dark as you think it might be. You’re just overly sensitive.” Instead of a hug or entering into her pain with her, I was critical and dismissive in my mind.
Which leads me back to my ride on the Santa Ana winds day.
I am confident that I am a mostly calm rider, a leader who can be in tune with an animal whose nature it is to react by fight or flight. I can see a wheelbarrow in an unusual place, with people conversing in a aisleway, on a day when the winds had been blustering back and forth, and reassure my horse and let him know he’s okay.
Now if I can just transfer my deliberate patience with horses into the realm of human interaction, I would be a more empathetic teacher, spouse, and friend.
Just like Knight, I need more schooling and practice.
Question: How does your relationship with horses influence your relationships with people or vice versa? Do you have more patience for one or the other? Share your thoughts, comments, observations. 🙂