The thing about disappointment is it comes from expectations… we tend to expect things to go a certain way and when they don’t all kinds of unhelpful emotions follow. This is true of life let alone when we throw a large, independent thinking prey animal into the equation…yes, our horse!
As many of you know I struggled, and I mean really struggled, with my horse Millie for the first few years we were together. It’s been a heck of a journey; we have both grown and learnt a lot. I have spent thousands of hours (well it feels like that) building our bond and connection, stepping up to being a leader and, most of all, I have been patient. I really thought we were there, sorted, it was all going to be sunshine and roses from here….yeah, right.
Never underestimate what a difference a change of environment can make to your horse. I have gone back to being on a livery yard after 6 years of complete independence, that in itself is a challenge for me. As far as Millie is concerned she is now living out in a herd of around 22 horses for the first time in her life (up until now it’s just been her and my other horse Sally). I believed she would be much more relaxed due to her living more naturally and I would be able to easily ride her up the gallops they have there and sit on top of the hill admiring the view. Well…..my Millie had other ideas.
Yes, Millie is very relaxed, loves being with herd, so much so that she is reluctant to leave! My leadership is being tested again, after all, why would a horse want to be with one human when it can be with a huge herd of horses? Let me tell you about the other evening (not a horror story I promise)…
The herd were on top of the hill (part of their 80 acres) which has trees and shrubs on its banks so, once up there, they cannot be seen from the lower pasture. I needed to get my Millie in for the night to keep my poorly, elderly horse company and so off I went, huffing and puffing to the top of the hill to find her. Now, she is still caught easily and often comes to me as soon as she hears or sees me so that’s fantastic…I then came to lead her down the bank and away from the herd. At first she simply kept stopping (something I have overcome in the past), we were in an area where there really wasn’t much room for us other than to move in single file. We got a certain distance from the herd and she then, well, went nuts. I understand why and, given more space and more time, I could have helped her through it but I needed to plough on. My confidence on the ground with Millie is usually 10 out of 10, in that moment it plummeted to 1, I was in a dangerous situation and I simply chose to focus on my destination and get there as soon as I could. Luckily, as soon as we got to the lower pasture and she saw Sally she came back down to earth and we also had a lot more space.
Whether I handled this correctly or not is irrelevant, it was what it was, I got through it and we both survived. However I cannot say here exactly the thoughts that were going through my mind as many expletives were involved. I could not believe that after 13 years I was experiencing behaviour I had not witnessed in a long, long time, I felt like I was back to square one.
The thing is, stuff happens, unexpected stuff and it’s all there to teach us and challenge us. Sure, it’s unpleasant at the time but all is not lost.
What if we simply go with the flow and let go of expectations?
What if we embrace the ‘stuff’ and see it as the perfect learning opportunity?
What if everything is happening at exactly the right time and in the right way for us to grow and develop?
What if your horse is giving you the experience you need right now to ultimately move you forward?
In that brief moment, and for a few hours after, I felt like giving up and letting her turn feral. All those years of patient training and I get this? But the next day I picked myself up, dusted myself off and figured I haven’t finished with my life lessons yet (will I ever?) and Millie continues to be the greatest teacher I have ever had.
So you see, it happens to all of us at some point, high expectations followed by disappointment, frustration and many other emotions and you know what? It’s ok, it really is. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, remember to breath and you will get there. Maybe not in the way you expect, or at the time you expect so for now, just go with the flow.
Written by: Caroline Andrews, Horse Rider Confidence Specialist