“If you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll be nothing to no one.”
The sorrel pony stepped into the arena, securely attached to a red, white, and blue rope held by her human partner, Carol. “Daisy” came up to Carol’s hip, which was within reach of the pony’s neck and back, perfect for a quick scratch. Daisy hung close, eyeing the arena walls that blocked the surrounding pastures, including the one from which her herd mate, Joy, was calling with a soft, low whinny.
Carol was returning for another Life Lesson with Horses as we explored her desire to be free of the anxiety around caring for others while abandoning her own dreams and desires in the process.
I stood in the center of the arena as Carol unsnapped the rope from Daisy’s halter and walked to the other end, allowing the pony to check out the new environment. Instantly, the Shetland darted around the open space as if shot from a cannon. She headed toward the gate where she had come in and then found another on the same side of the 100-foot-long arena. Her plaintive cries, sharper and higher pitched than Joy’s, drew Carol’s attention.
“Why is she so amped up?” she asked. Carol had been working with Daisy during her last 3 lessons but had never let her loose in the arena nor seen her so agitated.
“She’s been separated from her buddy and is looking for the exit so they can reunite,” I said. “A horse’s number one priority is safety and she doesn’t feel safe being apart, especially when she can’t see her.”
“Well, what should we do?” she asked, as Daisy flew by, almost running into the rope hanging from Carol’s hand.
I explained to her that it is typical for a horse to first seek out the safety and comfort of her herd mate. With Joy currently unavailable, Daisy would have to find safety with someone closer; maybe the very people she trusted and came in with. I had no sooner finished sharing this with Carol than Daisy stopped, turned, and began walking in our direction, head lowered and blowing out what sounded like a huge sigh of relief, saying “oh, there you are.”
GETTING IN TOUCH
As part of a regular bonding activity, we began grooming the pony, brushes gliding through her soft coat and silky strawberry blond mane. Carol said seeing the relaxed pony licking her lips made her think of her adult daughter, now living across the country. As she described their last visit, she remarked, “I feel guilty about not keeping her safe.”
“What is your relationship with her like?” I asked.
“We’re really close. We talk about her work, her relationship with her new boyfriend and her plans for the future.”
“And what do you contribute to the connection?”
“I’m a good listener and I help her by giving advice. But I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough when I’m not there with her.”
After giving Daisy a good brushing and a scratch just where she likes it, I invited Carol to join me in chairs placed in the corner of the arena. I handed her a crop, sometimes used to get a horse to move when riding, and suggested she use it to keep Daisy at a distance while we talked. Daisy was free to move around the arena and wandered away just as we sat down. I could see that Carol was concerned. “What are you thinking?”
“Daisy’s way down there and I’m wondering why she isn’t with us,” she shared.
“Do you think she feels safe?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Knowing that Carol had witnessed the frantic running and plaintive calls of a worried pony just moments earlier, I had a feeling that Carol did see that Daisy was not concerned about her safety.
“Well, I think she does feel safe,” I said, “because she is walking slowly and lowering her head to check out items in the arena. She occasionally stops to glance over at us and has wandered back here at least once.” At that moment Daisy was nosing around in the bag of brushes as if searching for a tasty treat.
“Are you worried about her? Do you want to reconnect?” “And do you think it’s for you or for her?”
Carol thought about it for a moment. “For me,” she said.
CONNECTION VERSUS CONTROL
I sent her down to the other end of the arena and instructed her to walk the pony back to me without a rope attached. There were only two conditions: she could not touch Daisy, and she couldn’t speak. Carol began pointing and waving the pony in my direction, trying several times to cajole and convince with various pantomimes and gestures, but nothing could get the critter to move.
“Do you think she knows how to move her feet?” I asked playfully.
“Yes, I think she does,” Carol replied with a soft giggle.
“Then go ahead and pick a point on the wall and think about where you want to go. Set an intention. Then when you know where you are going, pick up your energy and start walking.” After hearing my instructions and reacting as if they were intended for her, Daisy lifted her head and began to walk just a few steps behind Carol. They reached the large A on the wall together and stopped. Carol turned and looked at me, “How did that happen?”
HORSES TEACH US TO DO FOR OURSELVES FIRST
Well, it happened because from the moment Carol walked over to join Daisy (or probably the moment she met Daisy), she felt responsible FOR the pony. But why when it was clear that the pony was managing fine on her own? At what point did Carol’s contribution to the connection go from support, encouragement, and temporary help in regaining a sense of safety, to doing everything but picking up the pony’s feet and putting one in front of the other? It was no different with family when she would take charge of their every need, even when they were perfectly capable of doing for themselves.
Horses are responsible for their young until they are old enough to be on their own. They know as mature beings that if they sacrifice their own safety and well-being for one who can already take care of itself, they will suffer the consequences. Doing for others what they already do for themselves is wasted energy that could be used to watch for and run from predators. Their survival depends on conserving this energy.
Carol was doing for Daisy was she could do for herself. That put “the herd” in danger. Then, as Carol focused on her own needs, asked for what she wanted and moved towards her goal, she had no choice but to leave the pony to take care of her own feet. Immediately Daisy felt safe again and was willing to join her “herd mate” on their short walk.
REGAINING YOUR LIFE AND YOUR FREEDOM
What Carol realized was that she wanted to be responsible FOR her daughter (and Daisy), because by taking care of them and controlling the outcome, she believed she would be rewarded with love, appreciation and ultimately connection. Except that the more she took responsibility for her family, the less time and energy she had for herself and instead of appreciating her help and concern, they began to take advantage of and resent her. Carol admitted that the more she felt responsible FOR them, the more she abandoned her own sense of what she wanted and where she wanted to go. She saw that when she did this, she felt lost!
For Carol to “find herself,” she needed to rediscover her ability to be responsible TO the people in her life who were capable of doing for themselves-her husband, her kids, her friends- and DAISY! That meant she had to gain a greater sense of self-worth, believing she deserved love and connection and did not have to earn it. She decided she would practice asking for their help and support occasionally and then remain capable of doing for herself the rest of the time. And she would expect the same of them.
Carol’s new approach to connection with her daughter began by allowing her to share her life without offering any specific advice. Instead, Carol asked questions that helped her daughter think about the choices she had and shared life experiences, careful not to frame it as “the right way to do things.” Carol found that as she encouraged, empowered, and coached her family, they loved and respected her even more. Best of all, she had more time and energy to pursue her own interests and explore her creative side.
And with Daisy, she just had to know where she was going, point and the rest took care of itself.
How can such a simple activity with the horse lead to such profound discoveries and change in beliefs and behaviors? JOIN US at Life Lessons with Horses for a unique experience that allows you to find your own answers and recognize what has meaning for you in life RIGHT NOW!