Not too long ago, something happened and it triggered a physical reaction that I was not expecting. This has happened to me before and I was used to letting it go. “It’s not a big deal, just let it go and move on,” I told myself. This time, the pressure in my chest became a constant ache like someone placed a stack of bricks on there and every breath feels labored. My head is buzzing and it’s exhausting trying to get the feeling under control.
“Leadership is not making the right faces, memorizing the right lines, pumping your fist in precisely the right way at exactly the right moment. It’s being.“ ~ Umair Haque, ‘Are You a Leader, or Just Pretending to Be One?’
January of this year I was given a horse, Howdy. There was planning in the process to decide whether we should get a horse after researching the efficacy of equine therapy for veterans with PTSD. Further research was needed. There were lists to create, journey maps to build, and milestones to think about. My analysis was leaning towards leasing a few horses to have a clear understanding of whether this was a good idea for us. That wasn’t how it worked out.
What do I do now? I’ve been thrust into a predicament without knowing how to handle a horse properly. The finances have not been prepared enough to guarantee that we would be successful with this endeavor. Are we going to be worthy partners of this large animal that is extremely different than owning a dog or cat? We began to work towards figuring out our next steps to meet Howdy’s needs because now, this was like having a toddler tossed into our laps to take care of. We had a new addition to the family.
Fortunately, at the ranch where I was voluntarily mucking stalls for ‘me’ time while learning what I could from the boarders and barn help, I met a fascinating man. While watching him train his horse, he eagerly answered my questions as I asked why he was doing what he was doing and how he was doing it. As luck would have it, he’s an equine trainer for hire.
Several people advised, “Just jump into it and start doing things with your horse.” Howdy is only around 2 1/2 to 3 years old. He had a little training but nothing near enough to consider putting a saddle on him. There’s no way anyone should consider getting on his back unless they have the experience to handle a fresh horse.
In business, several people suggested that I seek a management position because I would be great at it. My response was, “No. I’m not ready yet and I’m not sure if that’s something I’m prepared to tackle much less want.” Their advice was to fake it until I make it. Good grief, absolutely not. Now, just jumping into a round pen with my horse felt like I was doing that very thing. Faking it until I make it. Unacceptable. This is how people get hurt or worse, make mistakes that are not best for the horse.
Back at the barn, where I was socializing, I engaged the equine trainer to ask him if he had the capacity to take on another student. There wasn’t any choice now, I had to hire someone to teach me all things horses. While jumping into practicing the lesson of lunging a horse for respect, Howdy reared up and as I instinctively pulled on the lead rope to pressure him back down, he began to run full force around me while I clutched the rope for dear life. Now what? At that moment, I realized that I was in grave danger and I didn’t know what to do.
As Howdy barreled around me, my heart felt like it had jumped to my throat. It was obvious that he didn’t respect me at all. How do I get out of this safely and in a controlled manner to prevent harm to myself, to others, and the horse? As I’m following him with the lead rope held tight, he’s racing around me in circles and I calmed down enough to think. I stepped in front of his path with the stick and string swinging towards his rear end praying that he would yield his hind end to give me two eyes and stop.
To my surprise, he did. Standing there I felt my heart racing with blood coursing through. I led him back to the paddock and decided that was enough. I had no idea what I was doing. I almost quit right then and there. I almost told the previous owner that I had no business owning this horse. I knew that. We weren’t a good match at all.
I called my trainer. Explaining the situation to him he came to me as soon as he could. “Let’s see what’s going on here.” Sure enough, he ran hot and stubborn. He wasn’t just young and untrained, he was also spoiled. Spoiled rotten. He reared up on the backup and I realized that I had nothing but backup in my step. I was afraid. No. I was terrified.
My trainer expressed that I did the right thing that day. Safety should always come first. This began my path of rigorous training that demanded complete commitment. Not with empty words but with my heart and soul. What I learned was, I had to be honest with myself first, to be honest with my horse. If I could not do that, I knew my trainer would dump me.
Fast forward to today. Recent events have heightened my awareness of how fake we can be with ourselves and others. It is a battle of conditioned behaviors that social narratives normalize. It’s identity trauma compounded by the necessity to ‘just be’ with my horse when I’m working with him. Thank goodness my trainer has patience. I’m blessed that my trainer has the working values to insist that safety comes first but to keep showing up every day and try, together, with my horse.
In the effort of learning how to be an honest leader for my horse to help him with the confidence he needs to believe that he can trust me to guide him, I’m discovering the gaps within myself that have been covered with toothpaste that is fake mortar to hide the cracks I didn’t want to deal with. My horse has become a real reflection of where my leadership skills lack.
While sharing some of the wounds that are a part of the cracks, because I needed it exposed to hold myself accountable, the person listening declared, “My God. Do you realize how strong you are to have survived all of that? That’s awful and incredible that you have come to where you are at today.”
My equine trainer expressed his sorrow that I have to deal with this. Conversely, he recently retorted, “You’re strong. That’s why you handle things the way you do.” Puzzled, I mumbled, “I don’t feel very strong right now.” He acknowledged, “Of course not. You are though. You handle information differently than most. You’re stronger than you believe right now.” That is not a direct quote. I have written that to the best of my recollection and that was what I heard. Because my thoughts denied it.
My inner self refuses to accept it. I’m learning though, through my horse and my equine trainer, I’m learning how to lead myself to realize my strengths so I can turn weaknesses into complimentary power to lead my horse as an agent of change into transformation by meeting his needs. That begins with just being.
“Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard and mostly what I need from you.” ~ Billy Joel