Space Cowgirl

MORE OHMMMMMM [ALSO: IS IT BULLSHIT? PART 2] Yeah, spacing out. ‘Dissociating’ as it is known in psychological parlance. It’s been kind of a hobby of mine for years. A coping skill, I suppose, that I’ve mostly been aware of, often calling it by the harmless name of daydreaming. It is not a terrible defect of character, and indeed, I probably wouldn’t be a writer without this capacity to stare out of a window for hours on end. It is, on the other hand, a surefire way through which I quietly check out of difficulty and into a misty, rose-coloured netherworld of my own devising.

I’ve read a lot of books about horses and horse-things in this last year. I’m deeply interested in the work that equine facilitated therapy is doing for folk, and read books like Linda Kohanov’s [The Tao of Equus, Riding Between the Worlds] with great attention… and yet, in the abstract, scoff. I grew up in Jerz, not Illinois, but you’d been forgiven for wondering. I mean, how’s a horse supposed to help people work through stuff? In fairness. On the one hand we’ve got the crowd that howls at the slightest indication of anthropomorphism, and on the other the ones that recount great, long dialogues they’ve had with their mounts.

So, show me. And the horses have.

It became clear to me, early on, that this human-equine bond was actually possible. In direct conflict with the crowd I hereby dub The Domination Dudes, my first meeting with Argo had as its hallmark the rubbing of his entire head on my body. So, he had a scratch. Maybe it wasn’t instant affection. My interpretation of it as affection, however, immediately took me out of the fear I had of him as, what I perceived then, to be a gigantic animal, and into a giggly, horse-crushy space that caused me to move through the fear into curiosity and acceptance. In this space, I was less likely to hurt him directly, and to be extremely vigilant that I wasn’t hurting him indirectly. [Even though I’m sure I did, poor fella, until I managed to lighten up my hands. So sorry, Args.] I rode him for five months straight and learned his every quirk and foible, learned to jump with him, and through him solidified my passion for this undertaking. He’ll always be ‘my’ first horse, and there were times that I felt, after I’d moved on from him, that he seemed to edge closer to me when presented with a rider he didn’t know. I watch him sometimes, coping, working as hour under an absolute beginner, wondering if he gets through by daydreaming, too.

That was lovely— I didn’t know I was going to write that. I almost don’t want to address the Other Hand now, but: The Domination Dudes are correct in their way, of course. Any equine literature takes great pains right from the get-go to explain the nature of the horse as a herd animal, and that in order to enter into the correct human/horse relationship, us predators must be the leaders. This is where, say the books, that women fall down. Professional relators from birth, we [apparently] have no difficulty with the bonding part, the grooming and the treating and the whispering. Where we stumble is in the attitude of power, in the wishy washy way in which we want the horse to do what we want the horse to do, but what do we do when the horse won’t do it?

I am that wishy washy one, or I can be. So frustrated with Tango last Saturday, I was after him the whole time, but I also realise that there’s something I should have done beforehand, or [danger! danger!] been to ‘make’ it go better. I talked to Nikki about Tango the other night— I had some wacky notion that maybe Tango needed his eye testing done, that maybe the sunlight/shadow thing had to do with some ocular disorder. What the solution to that would be, I had no idea, and immediately pictured the big chestnut sporting wraparound Oakleys. Anyway: we’re really talking about boundaries here, aren’t we? And haven’t we strayed effortlessly into the very arena I was scoffing at?

All I really meant to do, when I came up with today’s headline, was tell a simple story about Charlie. I struggle with Charlie [I really ought to get back up there, soon] and the last time I had him, we were trotting over poles, and trotting with Charlie is like being tossed up and down, lightly, but tossed nevertheless, like you’re lying in the middle of a sheet held by four people and they’re bouncing you up and down. There’s a terrible weightlessness in the rise, on Charlie, and it feels even worse going over poles. So we’re approaching the poles and for the first time ever on the back of a horse, I space out. I stop paying attention. I drift off.

And Charlie stopped. Stopped dead.

Emma started hollering, and I was… I kind of laughed, and I said, straightaway, ‘It’s my fault, my fault!’ Because of course it was. And Charlie knew it, knew I’d essentially disappeared, and handled it the best way he knew: stop. Not going anywhere ’til you’re there, Missy. Isn’t that amazing?

Right, so: there’s boundaries, there’s assertiveness, there’s patience, there’s present-momentness, there’s working through difficulites and power struggles, there’s acceptance and joy and contrition and love, not to mention getting a stronger leg and doing shagging sit-ups and balance and timing. No time for daydreaming, then. Except maybe during the sit ups.


2 Replies to “Space Cowgirl”

  1. Love it! My horses can feel me disappear too, if I head off daydreaming on a ride. I only have one that I feel completely comfortable doing that on when meandering down the trail, the others I have to keep an eye on.

    You write so well. I love the image of the sheet and being tossed up into the air.

  2. I made the mistake of thinking that riding could be a time for me to forget everything — I found out immediately that I had to be “in the moment” every single moment, or something was bound to go wrong, even on the lesson horses. Or, perhaps especially on the lesson horses, they know when the person in the saddle doesn’t know what they are doing and will react accordingly. I’ve had my mount stop too, when she couldn’t figure out what the heck they were supposed to be doing. I still scoff at the mystical attributes that people give to horses. Like any other relationship, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

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