Getting Thrown Off A Horse

May 28th, 2007

Rebecca and I spend a lot of time around horses. In fact, you might say that one of our ‘jobs’ is training the creatures.

Being around horses transforms people. There’s nothing quite like a horse to cause a person to go totally Zen. One minute they are thinking about balancing their checkbook, and the next moment, in the presence of the horse, they’re totally present.

Rajah and KentonNow, there are all sorts of spiritual explanations for this, but I like to think it’s because we’re standing next to a creature who can smoosh you with an accidental shift of weight. (We work around draft crosses – these horses usually weigh between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds.)

So there you are, and if the horse accidentally stepped on your foot, your bones would be reduced to the consistency of cornmeal, and this animal is listening to you! In fact, they’re usually more than eager to try to figure out what you want them to do. And because we train horses for Renaissance Faires, we do all sorts of crazy things, like climb around them as if they are jungle-gyms, and stand on their backs, and get them to shake ‘hands’.

To really get great performance from your horse, you can’t force these behaviors out of them. You have to find a magical balance between being firm and being patient. Almost always, the horse will try his or her best to do what you want – but often, they don’t quite understand our requests. Then, it’s easy to become frustrated with the animals, and you’ll see people getting pretty upset with their horses for ‘misbehaving’.

At its best, training horses is effortless. Indeed, if the results aren’t coming along, it’s almost always because the human half of the equation is over-thinking, getting impatient, or being inconsistent with their cues. With an animal that can sense the most subtle shifts in body language, you’re effectively having your mind read. There’s no room for trying to pretend you’re not having an emotion.

Today, I was in one of those situations where the horse was getting a little excited. I was on her back, and she rounded up and started to let me know that she wasn’t too comfortable with me perched there.

Now, I’ve been thrown in the past. Rajah, my two-year-old Shire/Percheron, has tossed me off his back more than once. And with horses that big, it’s a looong way down. When a horse starts to buck, our first reaction is to tense up. We don’t want to get thrown, we don’t want to get hurt. Our body stiffens, and the combination of bucking horse and stiff human is the perfect recipe for bouncing right up and off the back of your steed. Wheeee! (At least until you land.)

But these days, I can’t believe I was ever bucked off of Rajah. He’ll still buck once in a while (he thinks that’s what I’m asking for when we try to canter), and his bucks are so gentle that I’m confident anyone could ride them out. That is, they could ride them out if they were loose and relaxed, moving with the animal, just letting the motion move through them.

Life is just like this. It’s easy to get bucked. All we have to do is tense up, fight the motion, and pretty soon we’re being jostled all over the place.

But it’s also easy to have an awesome relationship with life. Believe it or not, even though life is really, really big and could smoosh us with the tiniest accident, life is actually more than eager to move with us. Whether we are rich or poor, whether we live in a huge house or in a little shelter out in the woods, whether we’re sick or healthy – life is ready to move with us in the most remarkable ways.

It’s just our effort – our tension and our desire to have things turn out a certain way – that has us off-balance and getting bucked off the back of this horse called Life.

The balance can be difficult to find – but it’s not difficult to sustain. In fact, once you get the hang of it, it’s the easiest thing you can do. You wake up each morning a little bit excited, and each moment you’re right there. All the movement happens naturally, just by relaxing into the flow of things. Really, if you’re not trying, you can’t go wrong.

7 Responses to “Getting Thrown Off A Horse”

  1. Daniel says:

    Ha! Nice!

    I spoke about this today at the Zen Center. We were discussing ‘not-knowing’ and I told a story about how I used to have very fixed ideas about how I needed to have my relationship needs met and and how this always led to suffering. Now I no longer have any ideas at all about how to have my relationship needs met. Knowing has been replaced with feeling: what does this very moment call for me to do? Since then I’ve been amazed at how my needs can be met in ways that I never even imagined.

  2. Daniel,

    I love where you took this — I think that seeing another person as ‘their arising self’ rather than the static image we usually hold in our heads is probably the most precious gift we can give to someone. As you implied, this has a way of making our relationships more amazing than they could ever be by way of conscious manipulation.
    Thanks for the insight!

  3. Karl Staib says:

    Not trying is something that I have trouble understanding. From a philosophical stand point I understand how to let go of my expectations, but actually applying it is difficult for me.

    I’m learning to flow with what I do instead of pushing myself to complete the task.

    Thanks for the article it has given me a better grasp of what I’m developing within myself.

  4. Hello Karl,

    This ‘not trying’ or ‘non-effort’ is particularly challenging to understand, because it doesn’t make a bit of sense to our understanding minds. I’m considering writing another article on it to approach it from a different angle. I’m glad to hear that you are sensing that there is something tangible behind this otherwise mysterious-seeming concept.


  5. […] Whitman presents Getting Thrown Off A Horse posted at Zen-Inspired Self […]

  6. […] Whitman presents Getting Thrown Off A Horse posted at — Zen-Inspired Self […]

  7. Alice says:

    What a wonderful perspective! As one of those tension-filled people who have a definite view of how I want things to turn out, your post rang some bells with me! It gave me a little bit different viewpoint to consider… Thanks for the gentle nudge.

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