I've been on a Buck Brannaman kick lately. I've watched the documentary at least three times, and blew through his biographical book The Faraway Horses in about two days. My trail riding partner Michelle and I are making plans to go watch him give a four-day clinic this June. We've signed up for the incredibly long waiting list to ride, knowing that we likely won't get to do that, but also knowing that just watching him work with other people and their horses and listening to him teach will benefit us a lot in our own horse journey.
Buck's observation that whatever issues a person has in other areas of their lives will be reflected in their relationships with horses. There are some incredibly concrete examples of this in the movie, and I'm sure many more on the 300+ hours of tape that hit the cutting room floor. I see it in my own life.
The mare I bought on a whim was sensitive. More than sensitive - she would bolt at the touch of a feather. If it was evidence of my own troubles that I added a horse to my barn that was drama personified, it was at the same time evidence of the working of God (or the spirit or the universe or whatever name you might give to Him) bringing me the challenges I needed in equine form to help me become a more balanced, calm and compassionate human being.
My standard approach simply did not work with her. I had to learn a whole new sense of feel. If all it takes to get your horse to respond is a half pound of pressure on the lead rope, why would you start with fifteen pounds? And so I had to learn how to start with the smallest amount of energy and increase it only to the point where my horse responded to it. I had - and continue - to learn how to recognize exactly when that response came in order to reward with a release more immediately. To help my horse be able to make the connection between those two events.
And I took that mare as far as I could, and then my gelding entered my life, and while not the flight risk that little mare was, he is still a sensitive soul. The only way to help him - and me - grow was to continue along that path.
And as I have worked on my issues through my horses, I have seen the results carry through to my home and work life. I am not the same person I was two years ago. I am a better parent, a better partner, a better employee, a better boss. I'm not in such a hurry anymore. I don't feel this frantic sense of urgency, I don't feel the need for everything to be resolved or understood NOW NOW NOW. I am more in tune with others and how they react to me and to the way life unfolds around them.
Still, there are challenges.
The loss of my brother and the annual winter doldrums have brought a sluggishness into my days, a lack of desire to get out of bed in the morning, a heaviness of heart that makes doing the things I love seem less inviting. And so I am learning that in order to keep the happiness in my life growing, I must apply some discipline. In the same way that we make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy so that our horse can learn in the safest way possible what it is we want from him, I need to create pathways for me to continue to do the things in my life that create joy and not those that simply lay waste to the potential of my life's moments.
I know that the terms "discipline" and "joy" might seem mutually exclusive, but I'm absolutely certain that there is a relationship between them.
If I want to maintain a level of fitness that keeps me healthy, that provides the endorphins I need, that gives me the energy and mobility I need to be an active parent and to enjoy my horse, I need to be disciplined.
If I want to make sure that my relationship with my horse continues to grow and develop, I can't just get on him once every couple of weeks and expect that's going to benefit either one of us. I have to have the discipline to get out there a few times a week, even if its just to do groundwork or give him a good grooming. He needs to have my attention, he needs to feel useful in order to be truly happy. The time I spend with him is incredibly beneficial to me, it is one of the foundation stones of my own happiness.
Spending time with my husband and my children makes me happy. But sometimes, especially when I'm feeling pulled under as I am lately, it seems easier to give my attention to a book or a social media stream or an email I want to answer. Finding the joy in my relationships means applying discipline to the amount of time I spend online or disappearing into a novel.
Sometimes it is as simple as saying, Stop doing this and start doing that instead. Sometimes I need to be even more authoritative with myself and schedule time for my joy. Put it on the calendar, make a date with my husband, make plans with my kids or with a friend.
And most important of all, I must take the time to savor those moments with the people I love, doing the things I love. Death reminds me that life can be brutally short, that there might not be another time to express my feelings to someone, to hold their hand, to wrap my arms around them and hold them tightly. Death reminds me of the pricelessness of moments spent doing meaningful things, even things as simple as stroking the small dog on my lap -- and of the futility of time wasted over pointless drama or feelings like anger and bitterness, jealously and resentment.
There is no time but now, but not everything needs to be accomplished right now. Happiness waits to be found in being mindful of the way that I spend my time.