RELATIONSHIP LESSON FROM HORSES
I love horses. I mostly grew up in the city and my ranch raised father decided I was missing out on the education in hard work he had received as a child. So he sent me to work on my grandfather's ranch with my uncle David the summer I turned 12 years old, and I continued to do that every summer until I was 18. I was horseback 16 hours a day. At age 11, I learned to get up at 5:00 in the morning, catch and saddle my horse, and be working by the time the sun came up. By the time I was 13, I could cut and corral cattle as well as my uncle.
During those summers I would usually have two horses, and I would alternate them every other day so they would have a day off between work days. During that period of time, I got to know about five horses really well. Each one had its own personality and style. My least preferred mount was a tall and beautiful sorrel named Lad. He was beautiful, and a great cow pony. But he was mentally ill. When I would call the horses in, all the other horses obediently came in, knowing they would be fed grain. I always had to go out and catch Lad in the pasture. When I saddled him he would blow up his belly so the cinch would not be tight. A mile or so down the road I would always have to get off and tighten the cinch. Before I discovered that trick of his, I had the saddle just slide off to the side and fell off a couple of times. Whenever I went to get on him, he had his ears pinned back like he was angry and stepped around nervously like he wanted to buck.
Lad did buck with me a number of times. Typically, if I held something out to the side of me, he thought it was a ghost or something dangerous to him and would start bucking. The first time it was a water jug I was handing back to my dad. I didn't last three jumps before I was bucked off. I can describe the other incidents, but you get the general idea. Typically, I never got to ride Boots or Smokey when my brother or cousins were around, because I was the more experienced rider and knew Lad better -- and he was by far less gentle than the other two. Sometimes I hated him.
The biggest problem I had any time a horse started bucking was that I would freeze with fear and spend all my energy trying to get the horse back under control. I always try to keep control and stop them from bucking in the first place. But once they start bucking, I have to control myself before I can control the horse. If you talk to great rodeo cowboys, they can tell you that they simply accept that the horse is bucking and, in fact the harder he bucks the higher they are likely to score if they can stay aboard. They focus on themselves and the things they can control (body position and movement). They focus on reacting to the rhythm of the horse and getting into that rhythm with him. They aren't fighting the horse. They are working with him. You know what? Once the horse knows he can't beat you, he realizes that bucking is futile and he stops wasting his energy bucking.
Much like Lad, most of us in this group have experienced traumatic events or relationships in the past. We are likely to overreact as a result of that. Much like the 12-year-old me, we are tempted to try to control our partners to prevent chaos from erupting and destroying our lives.
Like a bucking horse, when a trial appears in my life, it usually feels like chaos unleashed. I instinctively try to seize control of it. However, if I relax and focus on the things I can control, I generally see that there is a rhythm to it. It is not chaos. If I accept that the horse is bucking and get in sync with the rhythm of it, I can ride it out. If I fight it too hard, I am likely to get bucked off.
Relationships are like that too. If my partner feels fear (which most do at some point in a relationship) and pulls away from me, I might be inclined to react with fear and try to seize control by arguing vociferously for why she is making a huge mistake. So what is she going to do? She's going to buck harder. (I have learned this from experience.) What if I accept that this is where she is and try to get in rhythm with it? We are more likely to ride it out. We are likely to build trust and both of us will gradually realize that no bucking is necessary.
Life and relationships can be like riding a high spirited horse. You can't take them for granted and they can surprise you in all kinds of ways. But remember, when it feels like chaos is breaking out, it probably isn't. There's actually a rhythm to it. If you can get in sync with that and work with it, life goes better and relationships go better.