“Learning to love yourself does not mean you love others less. Instead, it frees you to love them more!”
950 POUNDS OF FEAR
Wave, my beautiful Polish Arab gelding, tied to the ring safely inside the stall, would not stand still. All afternoon, the horses had been going in and out of the barn, some participating in a group event in the arena and others waiting their turn in a stall. Separated from his favorite buddy, Wave’s sense of safety had been threatened and he moved side to side to get a better view out the door.
I was going to have to go in the stall and become Wave’s anchor, his port in a storm. But how could I do that without getting hurt myself? A horse shifting quickly in a 12 x 12 space frantic to get off the rope and run outside to his herd mate is a lot of energy to contain. In the past I might have raised my voice and waved my hands at him yelling ‘knock it off’ or ‘QUIT’ but 33 years with horses has taught me that meeting fear with aggression or a show of force is a recipe for disaster. No, this time I was going to have to enter the stall with a different kind of strength.
STRENGTH OF THE HEART
Instead of projecting fear, I had to show him how much I cared about my own safety and well-being. I had to demonstrate confidence, security and stability letting him know he could calm down and join me safely in the stall instead of turning his attention and out of control energy outside where the herd was standing.
I took a deep breath, focused on staying in the moment and spoke softly to him as I greeted him with a hand to his nose and a stroke of his neck. He looked at me for a second and then the pacing and shuffling side to side resumed. I realized his need to move was the key to help him shift from reacting in survival mode to thinking about where he was and who was with him. I took him off the ring and asked him to walk in circles calmly to the right. Slowly I could see the recognition in his eyes as he looked at me walking beside him! He took a breath, licked his lips, and lowered his head with an “Oh, thank god, where have you been?”
I could accept Wave’s reaction to the fear of being left behind because I recognized it in myself. Sometimes I wish someone would come in my “stall” and allow me to work out my fears with calm and serenity, instead of keeping them in and pretending they don’t exist as a way to please others or by discharging them in an unhealthy way with active or passive aggression.
Wave is always being himself, not hiding his feelings or dismissing his need to feel safe. I am learning to be that individual, separate but worthy of love and connection-okay with being scared, making mistakes, disagreeing with someone, and sharing my feelings honestly with people who deserve to hear them. I can appreciate who I am and what I have done as part of a unique opportunity I’ve been given to learn from the lessons that life (and the horse) has given me and to offer my talents in service to others. That day, as part of a daily practice, I shared with Wave my newfound skill of creating a sense of calm and peace within myself.
I have not always been so kind. Afraid of my own feelings run amuck, I used to get pretty harsh with Wave, threatening him if he didn’t stop moving. That need to control my emotions can still be my undoing, but I’m learning to forgive myself when I fall back on old habits learned as a child to protect me from things I didn’t understand or couldn’t control. I get to hit the reset button and try again, recognizing I am doing the best I can.
With Wave darting around, it was important for me to let him know that I was part of his experience and would be sharing MY need for safety by limiting his dangerous movements and gaining his attention so we could have a “conversation” where we both felt seen and heard. I needed to set boundaries. By being willing to step up and be responsible for who I am, what I feel and what I need, I could survive Wave’s little meltdown and avoid either of us feeling the need to defend ourselves.
TRUE LOVE CONQUERS ALL
I entered the stall with the intention of making life better for Wave and me. I wanted to spend time with him, enjoy his energy and enthusiasm, play with him through rhythm and movement. I love our time together and it starts with loving and taking care of myself. Wave would not feel safe or choose to join me in our afternoon of fun if I were a liability to him, just another reason to worry and run for help. I made it easier for him to relax, participate in the activities and thrive in the experience together. Not because we had to, but because we wanted to! It was our gift to one another. Now that’s TRUE LOVE!
What does it mean to you to have self-love? How often do you speak honestly about your feelings, act on what you need and set boundaries? Or forgive yourself for being human, accepting and even appreciating your unique individual qualities as a gift that you give to yourself and others?
MEET WAVE AND THE OTHER HORSES AT YOUR NEXT Life Lessons with Horses