Lessons from the Horse Barn

I'm riding regularly again, which causes me to do the happy dance.  I haven't ridden since the time in Louisiana (documented in The Peace of Wild Things), where, among other things, I remembered that life was about running wounded.  I also learned with that post that those who would rather not acknowledge their wounds will be concerned about you, which I now realize is code for, "You've stopped being the person we want you to be."

So I had.  And have.  I continue to learn who God wants me to be, and my horse regularly gives me hints. Horses have abundant personality, and they never forget how big they are.  They know they could step on you and ruin your day, but choose (mostly) to work with you.  We humans could take a hint from that choice.

They also have quirks.  Kiss frequently decides that corners in the arena are filled with scary things like fencing and dirt, so she must at all cost avoid them.  I, of course, want to to trot the full arena.  So the fun begins.  She pulls to the center; I guide her to the edges.  She then sees just how close she can get to the fencing without taking my leg off.   Steering her and keeping good form and staying in the saddle when she does that little stutter-stumble just to see how panicked I may or may not be when she disrupts the rhythm of her trot keep an equestrienne on her riding-boot clad toes, without a doubt.

The biggest trouble I get into while riding is over-thinking.  As my instructor says to me, more than I often care to hear, my job is to remember that my soul knows how to ride and my brain can often get in the way of what I inherently know how to do.  The first time she said that to me, she got The Look.  She laughed and reminded me when Kiss stumbled for the first time with me in the saddle, I didn't pull back on the reins.

"You went with her and kept form."  

That, apparently, is either part of a person's soul or not, to go with the stumbles and falls or to fight against them and make a bigger mess out of something than it needs to be.  When most horses stumble, they know how to stay on their legs.  The rider's job is to let the horse do what it needs to do and not interfere by digging heels into the horse's side or pulling back too hard on the reins.

I have a wonderful ability to make a bigger mess out of something than it needs to be, by the way.  Over-thinking is a wildly popular hobby of mine.  I just apparently don't do it while I'm sitting in a saddle.  If I could just remember how to carry that lesson into my life.  But maybe that's what my weekly time with horses does - reminds me of something I innately know how to do, something I think all humans innately know how to do, which is feel our way through a situation.

Feeling, however, is a bit uncomfortable because feelings are most often not logical.  I have noticed how many people begin sentences with, "I feel," and continue on forty minutes or so about a very intellectual diatribe with what they think.  Thinking has its place.  Thinking helps us budget our time and finances, organize a committee meeting, and plan a healthy menu instead of opting for ice cream for dinner.  Thinking makes sure the tack is in good condition and the saddle cinch is tight enough.  Thinking makes lists and sees if something looks good on paper.

Feeling doesn't do any of that.  Feeling simply is, and is rarely explainable, which makes it terrifyingly scary to our logical selves.  Feeling is that moment where we sit alone and allow what is in our souls to have free form and simply imagine and hope and fear, often all at the same time.  Feeling overwhelms us and inspires us and terrifies us, if we're truly feeling.  Feeling reminds us that we are only called to be the person God wants us to be, and that living into other's expectations is a classic recipe for unhappiness.

Our society isn't too excited about feeling, that Holy Spirit that lives within each of us.  We are far more comfortable with logic and thinking.  But thinking can close off huge portions of our instinctual selves, and often our most challenging work in our spiritual lives is to reconnect to the feeling part of our souls.  It's hard work, by the way, to listen more attentively to that voice within our souls that just says, "Shut up and try,"  and to feel fully and freely without logic attached.  When we are anxious, when we feel control removed from our grasp, we think.  When we allow God to move within our souls, we feel and think.

When I ride a new horse, after a few rounds of walking, when I move her into a canter or any faster gait, my brain always thinks about what could happen, what I don't know about riding, or how fast this beautiful creature could go with me simply along for the ride.

Then my feeling soul takes the reigns and says, "But you know how to feel this.  So go with it."

And we ride.


David Lose said…
Just beautiful. Thank you.

My soon-to-be 12 year-old daughter has been riding now for five years and has a similar connection to the horses she rides and the experience of allowing your soul and body to take center stage for a time. The stable is 30 minutes away, and every once in a while after a particularly hectic week it feels like just too much to make the round trip. But then we climb into the car, and the hour we have to visit with each other getting there and back, and the hour she gets to spend communing with the horse on each side of her lesson, and the hour she spends listening to her horse and her soul during the lesson often end up being three of the best hours of the week.

Sarah SSM said…
This is wonderful. Thank you.
Chantel said…
"Feeling simply is, and is rarely explainable, which makes it terrifyingly scary to our logical selves." Such wisdom. I was raised on a ranch in the rockies, my horse was my escape from isolation. When the world was cruel, she and I could ride for hours....I miss that.

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