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Kelley Whitis

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Horsing Around

Posted: 10/18/2012 8:19 pm

I've just completed a natural horsemanship class and the first thing the instructor told us is that there are three things to know when working with horses:

1 - It's not a question of if you'll get hurt, it's when and how bad.
2 - Your horse will only trust you as much as you trust your horse.
3 - Use passive persistence in the proper position.

The first (and only) horse I ever owned was mine when I was 10 years old. The very first day I rode him I fell off. It hurt like crazy but I couldn't wait to get back in the saddle; to feel connected to the horse, riding carefree and feeling joy. My mom, on the other hand, ran out screaming and lifted me up from the ground to ask if I was okay. Her parental instinct -- to make sure her baby was safe from harm -- kicked into overdrive and we got rid of the horse that week. I cried for days. I wanted my horse back so I could brush him, talk to him and ride him, carefree, through the pasture. But my mom told me I wasn't ready.

During the middle of this horsemanship class I also found myself crying for days -- and it wasn't because I was hurt by a horse. I had been seeing this guy, Cooper, for a few months now. I was open and vulnerable with him and liked him a lot. We lived about an hour away from each other and had opposite schedules. One day he said, "I sure wish you lived closer so we could see more of each other. Why don't you stay with me for a week and let's see how that goes?" I was ecstatic!

After eight years of being single and playing the dating game, I was ready for a boyfriend. Cooper was exactly what I wanted and this was exactly the speed I wanted to go. So that weekend, I packed my bag and my two dogs into my SUV and drove up to his place. The first two days and nights were pure heaven! It was like when I rode a horse for the first time. Carefree, blissful happiness. But by the third day, things had completely changed.

He didn't talk much, wasn't affectionate and he wouldn't even look at me. I asked him if there was anything wrong. He assured me that he "was fine." The fourth and fifth day were exactly the same. After asking him again if there was anything wrong, he told me, "No, I'm good, and if you ask me again I'll still be good." Okay, maybe it's work or financial stuff that's got him down, I thought. So I went on about my merry way and was loving and cheerful, thinking that he would just snap out of whatever funk he was in.

By Saturday when things still hadn't changed, I asked him to please share what's going on because something was clearly bothering him. He then told me that he had backed off and detached from our relationship.

"It feels like you've moved in," he said, without even looking up at me.

"Um, you did ask me to stay with you for a week. What did you expect it to feel like?" I replied.

"I'm just not ready for all of this -- it's way too fast for me." He explained that he was fresh out of a nasty relationship and was really hurt by his previous girlfriend.

My natural defenses went up and I told him the easiest way for it to not feel like I had moved in was for me to leave. I marched inside, packed all my belongings, grabbed my dogs and we left. I cried all the way home. Lesson one: When you fall in love, it's not a question of if you'll get hurt, but when and how bad.

While sitting in this horsemanship class I began analyzing this relationship even further. He was fearful of getting into another relationship because he was afraid of getting hurt again. And out of fear or hurt, I bolted out of there as fast as I could.

Horses are prey animals. They are alert at all times, it's in their DNA. They are so highly-attuned that they can instinctually pick up on whatever it is you're feeling when you work with them. If you are afraid of the horse, they will react with that same fear. It's only when you truly trust your horse that your horse will trust you, and he will do the things you ask of him.

So if Cooper didn't have trust in me and in our relationship, what part of me didn't trust him? I had to look deep on this one, because on the outside I kept saying I was ready for a relationship, but on the inside, or on a subconscious level, I was still holding on to the belief that this would just be like all the past relationships and it would only be a matter of time before it ended. Ah-ha! So it wasn't all about him -- I needed to look at myself here, too. Lesson two: Your partner only trusts you as much as you trust yourself. So clearly, I have some trust issues here that need examining.

Next up: Passive persistence in the proper position. In the horse world, that means when you are working a horse, you cannot act out of aggression. You must be persistent and continue with the correct behavior or maneuver. In other words, you must be patient. It takes time for a horse to understand what it is you're trying to teach him. Patience -- something I don't have a lot of. Being patient is very hard for me. It's frustrating for me when things don't go at the speed I want them. I've never paid much attention to the saying 'good things come to those who wait' and have never been a fan of Diana Ross's song "You Can't Hurry Love," but perhaps I should start. Instead of being so eager to jump into something, it might actually benefit everyone involved if it goes at a smoother pace. After all, you learn to walk before you run, right?

I took this class to learn more about horses and to get better at working with them. But I also learned more about myself during the process. Love is a continual influx of ups and downs. When you love, you're open to being hurt. Just as when you ride a horse, you're bound to get hurt. It's the trust and patience leading up to it all, that make both a much more enjoyable ride.

 

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