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Let The Horse Teach

by Lydia Rousseau

Copyright 2017 Lydia Rousseau Smashwords Edition

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To all my dear friends and family whom supported me every step of the way… and of course my thanks to all the pretty horses.

Table of Contents

1. The Mystery

2. The Task of the Mirror

3. The Task of the Boundary

4. The Task of Getting Out the Tree

5. The Task of Teaching

6. The Task of the Mark

7. The Task of Being Dynamic

8. The Task of Preparation

9. The Task of Curing the Bamboo

10. The Task of Quietness

11. The Task of the Fall

12. The Task of Peace

13. The Task of High Places

14. The Task of Telling Time

15. The Task of Being Concise

16. The Task of Scribbling in the Sand

17. The Task of Awareness

18. The Task of Sorrow

19. The Task of Protector

20 The Task of Casting off the Training Wheels

21. The Task of Humility

22. The Task of Passion

Horse - Izapa!

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1. The Mystery

For eons the horse has accompanied man through his journey over the rise and fall of colossal empires, driven by heroes in mighty chariots to the heart of battle and suffered with their brave masters as recently as World War I. We have always been inseparable, man and horse, as the enigma of this animal has captivated humanity for almost as long as existence itself.

Their gallop through time echo with the drumbeat of an olden mystery, a secret untold and misunderstood to this day. Here and there, some have unravelled mere fragments of this conundrum and became known as the ‘horse whisperer’ of his time or clan. The American Indian has embraced the horse as a brother, a soulmate whose spirit danced in the flames of their fires at night, galloped through the rhythm of their songs to just as quickly vanish into obscurity as the sun streaked its rays over the first hillside.

At night I sit with my brother and study his breath, the rhythm of his heart palpable in the evening air… in his eyes I see the ancient fire burn, gleam for that one moment when him and I are in perfect understanding one of the other. I hear him speak, but no words are spoken, only the flicker of a nostril and the calm rhythmic swish of a tail tells me a story whose chapters I long to hear.

Another language comes to light when I look to see, listen to hear, and study to acquire this flame that does not burn, this light that does not shine – yet is there, right before me. This new conversation I began to learn humbly as a toddler stumbles clumsily over the simplest of terms: word for word, moment by moment.

I leave often more deep in thought than I arrived; what was present in the depth of that moment, I had but grasped a bare fragment. And yet… it is enough to make me a contributor to the eons of masters and teachers and horsemen that began piecing the mysteries of this animal together, to weave these threads into this tapestry of knowledge and understanding that we call the horse.

It is a language of expression, if I could try to explain it in this way. Words are excessive, even offensive. The more I spend time with my brothers and sisters the quieter I become, the desire to speak quenched by the earnestness with which I seek that deeper connection to the animal. This dialect is fuelled by a bond between two very unlikely creatures, based on a wisdom as deep as the foundations of the earth. Immersed in this mystery it is possible to evoke the priceless message of this ancient teacher and scholar of man.

What happens when a man’s soul becomes silent? Where does he go when his overpowering need to give verbal expression to every little thing is suddenly absent? What does he say when words are taken away? What does he become? Only the brave dare venture into this place of solitude, dare push against the braced doors of this tower of knowledge.

It is from these fleeting moments of clarity and understanding from which I hope to share with you, the reader, the insights I have gained from my teachers, for I have found the horse to understand man better than mankind does himself. Let us use this animal as a metaphor to clarify and demonstrate aspects and depths of ourselves long forgotten.

2. The Task of the Mirror

My horse looked like a swarm of moths had attacked him – his beautiful black mane in shreds. In general he looks a bit dishevelled I suppose… not dirty or neglected but definitely not the picture of elegance and precision expected of a Friesian. All my animals have one or another interesting twist to their personalities and Judah is no exception. But this level of disarray was new even for him.

The answer is simple, Judah simply ignores all obstacles and barriers that stands in his path in search of green grass and breaks down camps and fencing with ease by sticking his head through holes it doesn’t belong. Of course the mane ends up in frayed tatters because of these ventures, providing lovely nesting material for the local birdlife and rodents. I had to clip it – an absolute crime in the world of Friesian horse keeping.

When a horse and his handler become synchronised with each other, when their energies synergise and form this unseen but almost tangible connection, what becomes apparent is magical… reflection. The power of my brother has forced me deep into the wells of merciless introspection as a result of his reflection- of me.

Let us examine mirrors for a moment. Mirrors and reflections are probably one of the most underestimated agents of change in society. Our glass towers and shopping windows glare back at us as we flow past them in the endless rat race that we call life. Is it not amazing that you will also notice how people have stopped looking, ignoring the testimony of their very existence in the glass panes on the street? But when faced with a reflective surface placed in an unexpected location we see the quick pause, straightening of a shirt, adjustment of one or two hairs out of place and so on.

Mirrors don’t lie. A mirror can only reflect you back at you – nothing else. They can distort and over accentuate but even within that there is this elemental truth: it is the property of the mirror and within those parameters still is an accurate reproduction of the reflected. Often when our behaviour is fired back at us that we make life changing decisions in this sacred moment of clarity.

As a horsewoman my mirror has four legs, can kick, bite, charge, buck and rear. It is at least five times heavier than I am and much stronger and there is no common language between us. We do not share the same background, norms, core values or upbringing – not even the same species. But we share the property of life… of being alive.

It was a shock to me when I realised how much me and my dishevelled, soon to be shaved horse had in common. I’m by no means the most precise and appearance-conscious persona you will ever meet. I am a physically, emotionally and spiritually strong person with very clear boundaries and no fear of defending them. And so is Judah, exactly the same. Where he goes he is noticed, his strength and power is amazing but the nobility with which it is carried has me in awe. He is kind, not so gentle, but as very low tolerance for any injustice from any human including me. In short, he is a hero. Like a grindstone and a blade we interchangeably shape each other. It is a frightening precipice of reality.

In the dynamics of the herd horses reflect each other also. They often form a close friendship bond with one other whom they shadow, share food with and groom. Their connection is reflected in the health of the other party, for if not groomed by another in nature how will the horse maintain the integrity of its skin where it cannot reach? How will its need for closeness and intimacy be fulfilled? Who will stand guard while it takes a moment to lie down and rest – a place of total vulnerability?

Mirroring creates safety and security. It improves quality and distils positive qualities maximising their potency. Mirroring can be a painful process, as faults and shortcomings are clearly evident in the merciless glass. If I make a mistake in how I handle my horse he very quickly points it out to me by protesting with a shake of the head or a snort of the nostril. In the beginning he mirrored my fear of him by being overpowering, overconfident and kicking at me.

The balanced leader is a mirror into which his subordinates and work environment is reflected, a reflection which becomes reciprocal when there is mutual balance, connection and synergy. He is the grindstone that sharpens the blade of his enterprise. An unbalanced leader will be the mirror image of his environment, constantly reactive to the chaos of interpersonal relationships, deadlines, financial demands and other work dynamics.

Only quiet water reflects – Lydia Rousseau

3. The Task of the Boundary

Not all horses are the saints that I describe in earlier chapters. They are still instinct driven, spirited animals with a set of behaviours and reflexes that are finely developed to survive in the wild, but at the same time can be very dangerous to the handler. In the phase where the handler of the horse is the grindstone, i.e. modifying behaviour, boundaries of safety are essential to preserve life and limb.

But establishing boundaries is in itself an art and the horse demonstrates this to us in a phenomenal way. I have often stood and watched the small groups of mares and geldings interact in their respective camps and could definitely identify that some horses could not tolerate the proximity of others anywhere near them and the groups stayed a respectful distance from each other. Intention and warnings were subtly communicated with hardening of the facial muscles and lowering of the head, opening the haunches for a kick if necessary. These moments were brief but effective.

I came to the erroneous conclusion that horses must be incredibly clumsy creatures since so many of their confrontations where they finally did kick at each other resulted in misses. Cuts and scrapes were common but broken bones and similar injuries were hardly ever seen for the entire time I was with them, and believe me there is no shortage of quarrels in a mare camp.

The most vulnerable part of a horse is its legs. Tender ligaments run along the relatively thin bones covered only by a layer of skin. Wounds to legs heal slowly, infect readily and are usually debilitating to the animal. In the wild it means death. I observed very few direct injuries to legs by the group of horses that ultimately became my teachers. I almost never saw them kick low where they risked a strike to one of the legs but rather, kicked with both legs higher to strike the chest or haunches, well protected by thick layers of muscle.

What does this imply then? There is no shortage of boundaries in any group of horses, and they maintain and protect them vigorously. Violations of personal space, the order in which the horses walk, competition and rights to fodder and water sources are immediately addressed. The incidents are swift and accompanied by a squeal, flattened ears, and a pair of hooves or teeth aimed at the offender. Peace then returns almost immediately.

As the handler I had to learn to draw boundaries for my own safety as well. Not all horses are calm, deep sympathetic creatures, the strength and instinct of a stallion is an energy that is to be respected and well understood in order to be safe, for example. In order to reach the point of mutual mirroring, I have to bring the horse to a place of willing surrender of its perceived right to overpower and overrule my intention. This can only be done if balanced, well timed boundaries are drawn which the horse respects, understands and most importantly, makes sense.

The weakest energy or emotion of expression, is anger. Anger indiscriminately destroys trust between the horse and the handler, results in boundaries becoming punishments and instructions becoming ultimatums. A horse responds to an ultimatum by either opposing it with full force, charging at the offender with hooves and teeth flying, or, if it is enforced by unmetered, idiotic violence and if enough of it, a broken spirit. The animal becomes a hollow barrel of existence, its life force having seeped into its past and disappeared. The effect of anger on others, internally or externally is always a tragedy…

So it is with people also. If anger is a ready state to which the leader defaults, the chaos caused among his cohorts is easily perceivable. Work efficiency is reduced and productivity falls. The space given to the leader is too wide and communication breaks down to crisp, short conversations. No horse can survive on a diet of anger and ultimatums, so also the subjects of such a leader cannot. Blindness to the absence of connectedness and mirroring will result mostly in mediocre interpersonal and personnel response to pressure and demands. Like two grindstones grinding against each other, the parties finally wear each other out.

4. The Task of Getting Out the Tree

The laughter of my one and only student, my little sister, could be heard throughout the stables, and with good reason too. I was not born with any natural athleticism to speak of, and agility is not one of my strengths but I managed to scale the one and only tree in my horses camp with the agility of a primate. Judah was merrily galloping about squealing with excitement and glee at the prospect of feeding time arriving, an opportunity to flirt with the mares on the way, and pick a fight with the stallion that stood at the last camp en route to his stable. Under this barrage of horse hooves and trembling earth I opted for the safety offered by the branches of the rickety tree standing in his camp, utterly humiliated in front of my student and the groom who came to rescue me soon after.

I was jealous. The groom calmly waited at the gate as the storm of hooves raced toward him and simply stopped, patiently waiting for the halter to be put on and to be led away, not even casting a backward glance at me still perched in the branches. But how? Why could he do it and not me? Why was the ground he stood and the territory he held more sacred to my horse than my own? Have I not done weeks’ worth of work with the animal, spending hours and hours building the bond of trust and relationship just as I had learnt from those I consider mentors? Was this fiasco a predictor of days to come – my first horse, at that time a stallion, to be the utter failure that everyone predicts? At least my sister reminded me of the humour in the situation.

I struggled to get down, mostly because I had no idea how I had scaled the branches in the first place but was glad to be on terra firma once more. The realisation set in… my horse had just literally chased me up a tree – and he knew it.

There is no chapter in any equestrian resource on this planet to assist horsemen in trees. No writer had ever given it a moment’s thought to just shine a little light on a unique situation such as this for this simple reason – horsemen do not belong in trees. They either proudly ride their steed, stand in the training pen lunging the horse, or are poised by the side of an arena instructing a student of theirs. There are no trees in the world of a horseman. It is a place for children, amateurs – failure.

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