Monday, May 02, 2011

A Magic Pixie Eases the Messiness of Horses

"It's neither good nor bad; it just is."

his isn’t going to make sense unless you first watch (and listen to) the embedded lecture, so go do that now.  I’ll wait.

In case you missed it, let me repeat this part for you:  “You know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you seventy-six things you do really awesome and one thing that’s an ‘opportunity for growth’?  And all you can think about is that ‘opportunity for growth’?”

Raise your hand if you feel a connection to that image.   Mine is scraping the ceiling.

Brene Brown, sociological genius and self-described “Researcher-Story-Teller”, has a bead on the human need for connection.  Where is that need more obvious than in our work with animals?  Okay, maybe in our work with children and maybe in our erratic and unstable love lives, but third on the list has to be our work with animals.  We are so desperate to be Animal Whisperers (which is worth 47 bonus points in our idiosyncrasy file), so defiant about our inability to know every thought and feel all the love we believe our animals are pouring on us, that we sometimes believe the connection has been made even when it hasn’t.

And then the “opportunity for growth” arrives, the moment when we see how we’ve screwed up, and we can’t think of anything else.  Wonderbud may look amazing to the outsider.  He may have perfect conformation, work on the ground and under saddle like the True Champeen we know he is, and he may be our bestest buddy ninety percent of the time.  But there’s that other ten percent isn’t there?  There’s that little glitch, that tiny hole in the fabric of his excellence that we just can’t turn our minds away from.  It grows and festers in our dreams.  It makes us feel embarrassed in front of our co-workers, even if they have no clue that we own a horse and have let him go on this issue to the detriment of his otherwise perfect horse-ness.  We blurt it out at inappropriate moments.

CO-WORKER:  So, I see that Suzette is getting promoted again!  I wonder who she slept with this time to make that happen.


CO-WORKER:  Uh, I need to go refill my stapler….

Thank goodness for the magic pixies in our midst!  Were it not for researcher-story-tellers like Bene Brown, we would not have a clue as to the source of our insanity.  She begins her lecture by pointing out that many people consider researchers a step below blowflies in their meaningful connection to daily life.  Horse people are no exception.  Memetics aside, many of us look askance at news about how our horses think, what makes them tick, what makes them horses in the entirety.  We turn up our noses, announce that our horse doesn’t do that, and off we go armed with the memes we’ve adopted, ignoring the ones we probably should pick up and carry along, and focused entirely on the one hitch in our giddyap, our missed connection with our horse  (NOTE:  replace “horse” with any other animate nominative and the sense will remain).

Meanwhile, back in the Wonderbud world, there’s an animal who feels exactly the same way!  He has worked hard, knows that you are fond of 90% of him and his abilities, but there’s that one thing that you keep harping on that has grown and festered and taken on massive proportions in his mind as well.  And he can’t do any more about it than you can for whatever reason.  He can’t cure it, and he can’t stop focusing on it because every friggin’ time you touch him you remind him that if he would just ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________ (fill in your choice of behaviors of questionable value that you'd like him to perform or not perform), he would be the most perfect horse in the universe.

The irony is that he’s already the perfect Wonderbud.  Horses, like humans, are messy.  They have loose ends and frayed edges and frizzy brain hairs that get worse in the wind or under pressure on show day.  We’re messy, and so are our relationships.  So why do we think we can possibly unmess all of this, and what made that a priority anyway?  When you ask your best horse friend about her horse, does she immediately give you the details of his recent lameness or her unplanned horizontal footing inspection?  Do you sense the shame, the longing for perfection, and the sadness she feels at this little mess in her horse life?

We can make this better.  Brown defines shame as the fear of loss of connection.  It’s the “I’m not good enough for you to love me, be my friend, or even want to be in the same universe with me, and I don't know how I'll live without you” feeling of being vulnerable to loss.  So what is the opposite?  What are we to strive for?

It's certainly not total, unabashed love and respect flowing freely between us and our human friends and acquaintances (and total strangers in line at Super Shop, and that waitress at the diner, and boss's sixth cousin who probably knows all of our foibles because what else, after all, does the boss have to talk about at weddings and funerals?).  That ain't happening.  Buddhists aside, humans like hierarchies, competition, and pummeling others into a platform for our own aggrandizement.  What we have to remember is that we each live in a solitary world of our own devising.  No two human's worlds are alike, though they may overlap on the time-space continuum.  Your best friend in the world actually can't see you, can't see your world, and couldn't care less since s/he's got bigger personal fish to fry (like a horse whose ears she can't clip).

So it is with us and our horses.  Do we really believe that other people care whether or not we can get Moonrover to turn on a dime?  Oh, sure they’ll criticize us.  That’s how people make themselves feel better.  We self-soothe by beating down the competition so we stand out like that lone dandelion that has defied the mower blades.  But in the end, do we really care about the person we’re busy loathing, or are we only tuned into how we feel about ourselves?  Is whatever our equine bud is doing or not doing endangering our bodies or only our self-esteem?  What kind of vulnerability are we really feeling?

Check it out.  Be your own researcher.  Let the Magic Pixie in your head loose and listen as she describes to you what she’s seeing in your behavior.  Then look at your horse.  Do you really think he’s judging you?  Do you honestly believe he’s got an ulterior motive in his behavior or lack thereof?  Or is he just being his emotionally and psychically messy self, and can you just leave him to that? Can you muster the courage to do that?  Can you let your horse, your friends, the world at large, and yourself see who you really are, see your fear and your worry, and just be?  If Road Rash is about to knock your head off with his antics, that's one thing, but if you're more concerned that your friends won't like you because your horse won't do a canter pirouette, well.....

Give it a shot!  What have you got to lose?  Remember that horses don't behave well or badly, they just behave like horses.  We put the labels on the behaviors and the stress that goes with those labels.  Your horse will probably not take advantage of your show of vulnerability as much as he'll appreciate it.  Your magic pixie will still work at controlling and predicting, but maybe you won't have to worry so much about the mess she leaves behind. 


Susan Schreyer said...

Loved the video, Joanne. So much of it, and what you said strikes home. We are hardwired to require connection to others, and unfortunately, we often feel in order to achieve it, be worthy of love and respect, we must be perfect. The truth is, we must be vulnerable -- and that takes courage. Knowing we are good enough, just as we are, failings and all, to be loved and respected is a difficult achievement in a culture that puts tremendous value on achievement and perfection.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. By being vulnerable and admitting that we're less than perfect (which kills me btw) we open the door for others to be the same. Too many of us feel isolated because we're too afraid to admit that horse won't clip.