Monday, January 16, 2012
One Round pen, a dream and Whiskey
One round pen, a dream and Whiskey
It was a beautiful drive through the mountains as I made my way from Truckee into the Sierra Valley. From time to time I would get a glimpse of the glistening Truckee river water in the morning sun along the way. As I continued my 50 minute journey it seemed as if I was leaving one world and entering into another.
I was feeling mixed emotions about the next few days. I was excited to still be working outside on December 15th without having to deal with snow. I was sad knowing that this was one of my last days of the season and I would have to wait for winter to past before returning.
I started to reflect on the past 4 months and the experience I never imagined I would be living. I was grateful for what I had learned and even appreciated the times that were hard. Being pushed and tested to the point of discovering many things about myself. Some were good and others not so useful. I had been given many opportunities to stare my beliefs and behavior patterns right in the face and decide if I could let go of those that no longer served me.
Before I knew it I was beginning to make the steep climb up the narrow long driveway. I could feel the excitement beginning to build in my heart. I loved this moment of the day, climbing up slowly and at each switch back in the road the sound of my diesel truck engine revving up for the next part of the climb.
As I crested over the top the first thing I see is the green panels of the corrals. Inside are a few of the wild mustangs we will be working with for the day. I can see their ears turn in my direction yet their attention remains on the round pen.
As I get out of my truck my breath is taken away by the sheer bitter breeze that startles me to attention. I begin to apply layers of clothing, trying to cover up as much of my bare skin as possible.
My mind starts to wonder what will happen today. Who will I work with and will we be able to get a little bit closer to trusting each other? Will we get close enough to look deep into each other’s eyes? To exchange our breaths through our nostrils the way that horses will with each other in a moment of mutual acceptance? Some say that is the moment when they exchange their Spirit with each other. Will I get to touch these amazing wild horses? God I hope so!
“Mornin” I hear coming from behind the large propane tank and all I see is a large black cowboy hat as if it were being worn by the tank. “Morning, how are you, sure is a cold one today” I reply to my mentor as he comes in to full view. “Yep” as he takes another sip of hot coffee. “Great day to play with wild ponies”!
Why don’t you get in there and play with Ranger a bit? Ok sounds good to me as I set my things down. Ranger is a big stalky bay with a white star on his face. He has a very gentle look in his eyes and tries so hard to be our partner. He reminds me of my horse Rondo that has passed away and I am always happy to play with him.
I know I won’t get to see these horses for several months. I am sad and am trying very hard not to show it. Ranger is very attentive and responsive and extra gentle today. I look into his eyes and ask; “you know I am sad don’t you?” I hear him softly say “yes”.
At that moment I decide I am going to savor each horse I work with these last two days. Allowing whatever wants to happen while we are together, happen. As my time with Ranger comes to an end, he lets me stand closer than ever before and I whisper “thank you my friend I will see you when the snow melts”. We look into each other’s eyes and he quietly walks away.
Next up is Bear the oldest mustang in the herd of 18. All of these horses were wild until 3 years ago when they were captured during a round up. They had spent their 14-23 years as stallions roaming the free range and now are geldings, which are fortunate to still be roaming on a fairly large piece of land.
Bear is a wise and gentle horse, willing to explore what we have to offer. However, he’s not making it easy for us to win his trust over. Matt asked me if I would like to rope and halter Bear today. I replied: I’ll try I am not very good at it. I went into the round pen, made my loop started to swing tossed it and it slipped right over his head. I am not sure who was more surprised me or Bear! I successfully haltered him and spent some time in appreciation of him and said; “see you in the spring my dear friend” as we parted ways.
As the day progressed I took time to intuitively say goodbye to each horse we played with and explained we would be back in the spring. When the afternoon rolls around on top of that mountain and the sun drops off in the distance the chill in the air is almost unbearable. We had one more horse to play with for the day and he was one of our biggest challenges.
This horse would rather go over or through a fence panel then allow us to get a rope anywhere near him. We had spent several weeks trying to help him see that we meant him no harm. As Matt drives him into the round pen, he pauses to ask me. ”What can we do to help this horse?”
I think for a minute and say let me do a reflective round pen session with him. I have something that is really bothering me. So let’s see if he is willing to help me. The reflective round pen work is when a human and a horse with no halter or ropes spend time together allowing the horse to connect and mirror for the human what they cannot see themselves. They can display behaviors and actions that are reflective of what is going on for the person. They can do things that will provoke a behavior or feeling from the person that they may not be aware is there.
I had never done a session on myself before. This was going to be a first for both of us. The work I wanted to do with this horse; Whiskey was around my lifelong dream of working with horses for a living. I was feeling frustrated because I seemed to be able to get close to my dream but never fully living it. I longed to work with horses every day of my life. I was feeling sorry for myself.
Matt agreed to let me do this and he took his position outside the round pen and I briefly explained what I was doing and what he might watch for in the horse or me during the session.
I stood in the middle of the round pen and performed a quick body scan on myself to become aware of any sensations within my body. I focused on my breath and released any tension and grounded myself to Earth.
Once I felt centered and fully present with Whiskey I looked up at him and he was looking back at me. My heart suddenly filled with anxiety and constricted, my breath became short and difficult. I felt like I was having a panic attack. Caught off guard I thought oh my God I need to get out of here. Instead I kept looking at Whiskey and focused on my breathing, soon it became aware to me that this was Whiskey reacting to me.
As I focused on both of our breathing we both began to settle down and I explained to him I wanted to know why I couldn’t have my dream. He stood and stared at me, I took a step closer to him and he perked up. I walked closer and he’d take a few steps away. He was being very careful to keep about a 5’ distance between us.
This went on and he was calm, not afraid of me like he had been in the past. I’d move, he’d move, I’d stop and he’d stop, I’d relax and he would relax. We were doing this kind of a dance. I asked myself what’s Whiskey trying to tell me. If he is a mirror of me, what do I see?
I saw curiosity, fear and doubt. Ok I am experiencing all of that around my dream. So what if Whiskey is my dream? What can you show me about my dream? He turns and faces me-my dream is right in front of me, is the message I receive. Ok so if it is right in front of me can I walk up to it?
I took a step forward he took a step back-hmm-no! Can I get my dream to come with me or at least move with me? I start to play the driving game with rhythmic motion I get him to move with me. By using the balance points on his body I can influence whether he walks forward, stops, walks back or even turn and go the other way.
He begins to move with me at first he was bit anxious but then settled into rhythm with me. I moved forward so did he. We walked together stopped together even turned together. For the most part it looked like we were connected. He even stopped and turned into face me, this is great stuff. I then try to shorten my 5’ distance between us and he moved away.
I became filled with frustration tears begin to fill my eyes. I feel like he has just confirmed that my dream will always be just outside of my reach. Unwilling to believe that, I say softly to myself; I will find a way to touch you, to get even just a few steps closer to my dream.
Suddenly my attention goes to the pain coming from my frozen toes. The sun has dipped behind the mountains and it is getting very cold. I take a moment to thank Whiskey and let him out to join his herd. I turn to Matt and ask if we can call it a day.
My drive home was spent deep in thought about that session. The question replaying in my head, why can’t I have my dream? Why I am only allowed to get so close and then I watch it slip away.
I awake before the sun the next morning to the same question playing in my mind. Today is my last day of the season. I have grown very fond of this herd of mustangs and I will miss them so much.
I decide I want to do another session with Whiskey trying to pick up where we left off. Determined to get closer to him, maybe even touch him. If he is my dream damn it I am going to get it!
Matt agrees to let me do another session. As I take my place in the center of the pen, I am again filled with anxiety. This time it was mine. I wanted to turn and run out, run away from it all. Here I was staring my dream in the face so close yet so far away.
What if I tried to catch my dream and it ran away perhaps even over the fence. My heart would be broken. For a moment I was sure it would be better to walk away right then and not try, then to try and fail. Because then not only would I have failed at my dream but I would lose the dream as well.
I couldn’t breathe I was paralyzed for a moment face to face with my dream. I could see the morning air streaming from his nostrils waiting for me to do something. I knew if I moved so would he. I focused on my breath then my heart and then my dream.
I slowly moved towards Whiskey and he stood still watching me. He allowed me to get closer than before and then calmly took a few steps away. Wow that was new! I stepped back to the center and pondered what and why that had just happened.
We did this dance for a while mirroring each other’s moves like we did the day before yet something was different. He was calmer, more connected with me allowing me to get closer and to feel what that brought up for me.
As we stood about 3’ apart looking into each other’s eyes suddenly I heard him say: When are you going to stop chasing your dream? Startled by the question, I replied; what? He continued to say while you are chasing what you think you cannot have, you are missing what you have.
You have a mentor who believes in you and your vision who is teaching and helping you to achieve what you desire. You are standing face to face with your fantasy and still you are trying to catch your dream. Your dream is now your reality and has been for a quite some time now.
Every day you wake up to your horses in your backyard. While you are cleaning and caring for them you get lost in wishing for the day that you can live your dream. You are missing out on what you want most in your life. Stop chasing after what you think it should look like and allow yourself to enjoy what it is you have created. You are playing and working with horses every day and you are very good at it.
Here I was standing face to face with my dream realizing I was so focused on my destination. What I thought it should be I was totally missing the journey and the fact that I had already reached the goal.
I had just spent the past 7 months studying with an amazing horseman. For four months we had the privilege of working with a herd of mustangs. I had learned to rope and halter wild horses. I had learned to develop a new level of calmness and leadership. I had become more deliberate with every move I make.
While dancing in a round pen with Whiskey I came face to face with my dream and realized I had arrived and am living my dream.