"There are no facts, only interpretations." - Nietsche
A few days ago I was reminded of an episode that momentarily rocked me off my equilibrium, if there ever really was one.
It was an ordinary fall day, a bit windy, but no rain so I decided to take Little Love for a walk over the fields. I took her blanket off and threw on the rope halter and off we went, walking side by side.
You really have to know Little Love and her history to know how big of an achievement walking with her on trails is. I would not have dreamed of such a thing a year ago. Yet this is something we can now do regularly, something we share and enjoy together. I have come to love these moments, to cherish them and to feel pride over our connection, our understanding of each other. I am only human and we humans like to have proof of our accomplishments, and I felt that this was exactly that: proof of our connection, our friendship. Perhaps that was my first mistake.
That day we got past the neighboring farm and were well in the fields when suddenly a flock of white seagulls landed in the grass some hundred yards away. This is exceptional, as we don't usually see seagulls this deep inland, but apparently they fly over once every year.
There is something about the color white that truly sets Little Love off. She is especially fearful of small, white animals in the distance be it a dog far away in the grass or a plastic bag in the wind. At the sight of the some 50 white birds she stopped immediately, her head up high and nostrils flaring.
If there is something I have learned from this horse, it is that sometimes it's just best to turn around and go home. Little Love was nervous; trotting and fidgeting on the end of the lead rope, but she remained by my side for the most part. I always have to be careful not to assert too much pressure on her face, as there is nothing she hates more than being restrained. I picked up the pace as I knew that trying to hold her back when she was worried about something resulted in more problems.
By the time we reached the farm, she was teetering on the far edge of her self-control. We only had another 300 yards to the barn, we could already see the building. That was when we both saw the enormous plastic bag flapping in the wind.
Twice a year the Swiss garbage service collects household items such as furniture, clothes, toys - anything people basically want to discard. Today was the day. The farmer had decided to load his junk into a large plastic sack usually used for storing grain. He had placed this enormous cow-sized bag on the side of the road with his forklift. And we were going to have to pass it to get home.
Did I mention the bag was white?
Little Love nearly fell over. Her immediate reaction was to rear and run the other way, but half way through the action she remembered the birds which had followed us and circled the field next door. Completely panic stricken she stood shaking on the end of the lead rope. Any connection we had ever gained dissolved into the wind
Suddenly, she bolted to the only opening she could see: the gate of the pasture that was hanging open on her left. She bulldozed by me as if I was no longer there. I hung on to the rope for about a second and then simply let go. So much for our connection.
She ran to the other end of the pasture, as far as possible from the gate and the awful, white beast flapping in the wind and stopped in the corner. I thanked the gods above that she was in a fenced area. I went over to her and caught her, hoping to redeem myself, to gain control. Although I remained outwardly calm, I could feel my heart racing in my chest. I was fairly sure Little Love could feel it, too. Horses make it their business to know the emotional states of all humans around them.
To make a long story a bit shorter, it so happened that the garbage truck showed up next and took the white blob away. I would love to tell you that everything was dandy after that with Little Love, but it would be a lie. She paced and snorted and ran around me. I attempted to walk her around, hoping I could bridge a connection, hoping to gain some of control so I could get her home.
Then finally, after 20 minutes in the pasture, Little Love followed me through the gate. I honestly thought we were home free.
Then, of course, there was a loud noise, a tractor behind the barn or perhaps the cows inside. Who knows. Little Love spooked. She spooked and slipped on the asphalt, her backside gliding from underneath her. She scrambled to her feet, now in total panic. In a split second I realized that if I hung on to her, several things could happen: a) she could freak out even more, as she gets more fearful when you try to restrain her b) she might fall over again, and this time all the way down or c) I could get dragged the two hundred yards to her stall and get hurt in the process.
It was a no brainer: I let go. She was loose for the second time that day and this time there were no fences to restrain her.
Little Love trotted off in panic but after 20 yards she stopped and looked at me. Then she turned and walked calmly down the road until she was met in the yard by the guy who works in the barn. Luckily there were no cars, no other people. But I was shocked. I had not let a horse loose for probably a decade and a half. It had, in fact, been so long that I couldn't remember when it happened last. Letting a horse loose was poor horsemanship.
I had done the unthinkable: I had lost control.
As if that wasn't bad enough, I also felt like a failure because I had thought Little Love and I had a special connection, I thought she trusted me, I thought she would never want to run away from me - no matter what. I had been so comfortable, so happy in our connectedness, cocky even. What had happened? Was it all a lie? I was so angry and actually felt betrayed. Betrayed by a horse. I was convinced it would never be the same.
And it wasn't. Interestingly enough our connection seemed stronger than ever. I had failed, and there she was, bonding with me like never before. What had happened? Didn't she know I was a failure?
And then I got it: I had only failed the human standard, which is that no matter what, you must remain in control of your horse at all times. I had only failed the image I had in my own head of a perfectly behaving horse who listened to me (and my standards) every second of her existence.
But from Little Love's point of view I hadn't failed. She had been scared and I had not tried to control her, to hold her down, to force her to face her fear. Instead, I had let her do the one thing she wanted to do which was get away from the scary object. I might have been the first human to ever allow her to do that. This was huge. It was almost as if I had passed a test. And the result had been there, right before my eyes, when she had trotted off but then, realizing she was free, had no longer been scared.
I'm fully aware that if Little Love and I get into a scary situation like that again, most likely she will choose to flee. I try not to take it personally. Instead, I hope I can give her the freedom she needs to not be scared. So often it is not the scary object that is creating the panic, but the fact that there is a human at the end of the rope trying to control the outcome of the situation. For most of us, there is nothing as scary as the loss of control, be it with horses or with our lives. Let's face it, most of us are control-freaks. But sometimes we can learn only when we let go of that control. And interestingly I have discovered that sometimes less is truly more, like in the case of Little Love. She is teaching me so many things, but one of the most important lessons has been to learn to let go at the right moment.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
-- Lao Tzu