Over the last couple years I’ve had opportunity for so much travel, for both business and pleasure, that I’ve been thinking a lot about how to stay centered and whole as the world is moving around me. Looking out into the Grand Canyon, the Chicago skyline, the Rocky Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean or the Yukon wilderness makes me feel such difference and such sameness. All riding arenas look alike when looking to the inside, after all, but so different from the inside out. This perspective from an arena is such a metaphor for my life, entangling my work with myself, my travel with my center and watching worlds move around without me.
I’m always drawn to big spaces where I can feel small. I’m inspired by big skies and rugged wilderness that keep me from feeling too busy and important, by cracks in the earth that seem deeper than any soul and an ocean that holds a world I’ll never feel. Sitting on the docks of a small town on the Atlantic this last week watching the sunrise, I felt that quiet sense of calm I get when I let a space come inside me without the block of human energy coming first. As the sun got higher and people started waking up it was amazing how fast I felt the energy change and my insides start fighting to not take on the other people, because that is not how I am best as a thinker, horse person or human.
Last month when I was in the Yukon, one area I visited I felt so staggered by the beauty, but at the same time felt unwelcome. The land didn’t seem to want me there and within a few minutes I knew I could never live there. I asked a lot of questions about the soil, the glaciers, the trees, trying to give an explanation to my feeling because the contradiction I felt between being in awe of the great space, feeling so happily small and wondrous, and knowing I couldn’t stay, was something I had not felt so fully before. By the end of the week I discovered so much about the land that made me feel confident it was not a place for us, even that historically the First Nation people never lived in this small spot and it was only settled after the Alaska Highway came through. The spirits and the land didn’t want me there and that’s just that. There were plenty of other amazing places I saw on that Yukon trip that made me feel like I could be there forever and feel only warmness from the trees around me. I wouldn’t have embraced that feeling from the land so easily ten, even five years ago. Following the feel of something beyond the human experience is something I’m learning to do through working with horses day in and day out.
I think this is one of many reasons horses are so important to me. If I really listen, they can be the bigness to make me small even just inside a round pen. Not because they are magic, but because there is nothing about their value that they truly believe is relative to my experience. They know that they are at our mercy, for sure. They know that their lives are not completely theirs. But I don’t think they believe their value as an individual is defined by their performance. That is simply not their experience of themselves. It is just their reality as domesticated animals.
When I look inside each arena it is always full of wonderful people coming with open minds and amazing talents. But for myself as a participant in these knowledge sharing relationships, and often the one in the center with the microphone, I struggle to maintain my practice of looking to the outside and staying small and reverent to these worlds around me. No matter how far away from the Chicago skyline I am, a clinic always feels busy. Not just with schedule, but with experiences, break throughs, learning and difficulty. This is such a blessing to my business and my thankfulness cannot be expressed in words. Yet at the same time I find myself so easily lost among the horses and humans my life is entangled with. Just like in that moment on the ocean watching the sky and the town wake up, I easily become big when filled with the lives around me rather than filled with the world we share.
I don’t yet know how to redefine myself as someone not relative to others. I also don’t know how to fully communicate that horses have value beyond their entanglements with humans, when the fact remains that a domesticated animal is only alive because a human made it so. I definitely don’t know how to do that while being paid to train horses to perform for people, which puts both me and the horse in a position that fundamentally doesn’t jive with these ideas by defining us both by what sort of riding horse we can make. I just want to keep doing it as responsibly as I possibly can until I can figure out a way to do it better.