“You might want to move away and give him some space”, Diane said as the thoroughbred horse started to turn its backside towards me, and pin me to the rail of the coralle.
I was somewhere in the Santa Cruz mountains, above San Jose California, sharing a ring with a magnificent horse called Tango, and I had been doing an exercise with him to get him to move around the ring.
Two days into the horse whispering experience and I am realizing just how much horses reflect back to you what you send to them. If you are stressed, they are stressed. If you are chilled, well they are pretty content too.
Day one had started with a demonstration of how it should be done by Diane, and then she invited me into the ring to have a go. As I stepped into the ring, my reflex was “right, what are the instructions? What am I supposed to do? What are my KPI’s (key performance indicators) that will tell me I am doing this right?”
Apparently horses have never heard of key performance indicators, and the more I was looking for them, the more the horse was eating random grass outside the ring, or smelling his poo that he had just deposited on the ground.
Day one then became an exercise in “just being, not doing”. Those of you reading this who know me well, will know that “just being” is quite ruddy difficult for me. I am always on the go, and if I am not on the go, I am thinking about the next on the go thing I need to do.
But there in the ring on day one, I just sat down in the middle of the ring and did nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I breathed, a lot. And concentrated on not doing anything. And it worked – the horse wanted to chat, and talk to me, and when I finally got up, follow me around the ring.
Day two, and Diane thought I was starting to get comfortable with how to do nothing, so it was time to do something. Time to be in the ring with the horse, and find a way to get the horse to move.
To be fair, I did a good bloody job of getting it to walk around the ring. And then canter around the ring. Always in the same direction.
But as Tango cantered around, he was clearly feeling the pressure. I wasn’t yelling or screaming at the horse, or putting pressure on him like that. But I was putting the pressure on myself. Pressure to do the right thing – work out how to “get the horse to do what I wanted to do”.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t get a horse to do anything it doesn’t want it to do. It does whatever the bloody hell it likes. Now, you can make a suggestion as to what you’d like to to do – but that’s about it.
And that didn’t help my nerves or concern about what I was doing and whether it was right.
“What if you just tried something, and then wait and see. And if it doesn’t work, try something else. And if you don’t know what to do or to try, that’s ok. What if you allowed yourself the possibility of not doing it right, or not knowing what to do?” Diane was full of ideas …
Now this notion is hard for me. I have spent a career being good at what I do, and in the times when I didn’t know what I was doing, make sure that no one saw through the facade of pretending that I did. And now even more so, since I started my own business – I have been even more determined to know what to do.
When I do that, it makes things challenging. It’s hard going when you have to be right all the time. And I don’t mean that in the context of always having to win an argument or have the last word – but I mean that in the context of being the one to take the decisions all the time, no one there to give you the answer cos you gotta find it for yourself, cos guess what, this is your business, and it all hangs on you.
But standing in the stall, Tango could feel that pressure I was putting myself under to do the right thing and “get the horse to move”. And he wanted to show me just what that felt like – I guess cos he knew that I had become so used to the sensation I didn’t notice any more. So as I was standing there, at the rail talking to Diane, tango turned away from me to point his butt in my direction, to put me in between him and the railing, so I could feel that pressure.
And when I became aware of the pressure I was putting myself under – I was able to walk away from that pressure. To breathe into it.
I found that pressure in my tummy, and realized that when I am stressed or unsure I clench my tummy. So I stopped doing that and started to relax my tummy.
So yes I look at the photos and see this big fat stomach on two pin legs, but I also see a thoroughbred horse come talk to me, and follow me wherever I wanted him to go. Because I was relaxed and present.
And as I sit here in San Jose airport writing this, I am thinking about how I can bring this back to my business. What are the areas I can just breathe into and try – new workshops, new blogs, new services. Getting them out into the world. And if they don’t work, well I’ll just try something new.
What about you? What are the areas where you are putting pressure on yourself to get it all right? What if you just took down the pressure a small bit or two, and just concentrated on enjoying the experience rather than thinking you had to be right all the time ….