Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Baby Steps

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao-Tzu

You want me to go where?
As much patience as I think I have learned from becoming a horse parent, I am always getting tested just as I get comfortable. I feel like I am in Buddhist boot camp with all the Zen I am being forced to find. In all relationships there are ebbs and flows, ups and downs, periods of lackadaisical contentment and periods of emotional angst. Doesn't matter if it is a romantic relationship, a job, a friendship, or a business relationship. It happens. Things can get more complicated when there are multiple reasons for the relationship, ie business and friendship. That can get tricky.

I was feeling all kinds of teenage piss and vinegar last week (sad, because I'm 33) on Monday when it finally registered that Abbey is not ready to show. I know I was in denial before that. I had to be to make it through the month of a deathly ill dog, a sister who faced a really difficult childbirth, and a horse that couldn't keep shoes on her feet and keeps banging her legs on anything she can find. The only way for me to cope was to believe that all the time, money, sweat, and tears of getting to this summer was going to result in me proudly riding around a show ring in front of people on my little mare. Crazy, I know.

When reality finally defeated all the defenses of my stubborn optimism, I felt what any normal person would feel. Extreme anger, disappointment, betrayal, and uncontrollable sadness. Again, crazy. Never mind that K had told me earlier in the spring that maybe I should just plan to go to shows this year and not show. Nope. Wasn't having it. I. Was. Going. To. Show. Period. Can you say Leo much?

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. ~ John Steinbeck

Well, through this challenging first part of the summer. I just kept barreling ahead, paying no heed to the feedback I was getting from life in the form of talks with family, friends, my trainer, work, and my horse. I really thought that if I just believed that we would be ready it would work out. Well, our July show date was staring me in the face. I had a lesson last Monday, and K was back to riding Abbey during the week after her trip to Nationals and then Abbey's flat tires. It had been about a month. K confirmed what I had been feeling, which was that Abbey was not herself. Her eyes were wide and worried, she was distracted, and her gaits felt off. Abbey had so much time off that maybe that was a factor. Her banged up leg could also be hurting a little.

I left the barn feeling so much frustration and anger I just didn't even know what to do. I was mad that we back-slid so much since May. I was mad that I felt like K didn't care that we were not where I hoped to be. I felt betrayed because the only reason I had this dream of showing was because I was slowly talked in to thinking it would be fun. I needed to vent, and vent I did. I screamed, I cried, I cursed. I had been holding myself together through all this emotional turmoil the past month and a half I just couldn't keep the seams from busting any longer. My husband listened the best he could. He said to sleep on it and maybe I would have some answers in the morning...

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. ~ Dante Alighieri

Not so much. Not right away, at least. I decided to abandon the idea of going away for the whole weekend with a horse who was off in La La land and where I would have to foot the whole bill for the weekend since the other people who show in my barn are kind of out of the picture for various reasons (injured horses, sold horses, lack of cash - good reasons all, but most of the fun of going to show is spending time with your friends and cheering each other on, even if all you are doing is getting your horse acclimated). I talked to some of my favorite mentors the next day at work, and talked to my mom. They each had good insight about how to approach the difficult discussion with K.

In the end, I know that K and I were both nervous to talk about where things stand. I know that we both value the friendship that has developed between us, but we also both have a business and professional relationship with each other that needs to be honored as well. I was supposed to have a lesson, but I just dove right in and told her how I felt, that I was frustrated and sad that we were not farther along as a team. She listened, and then spoke. I am sure she lost nearly as much sleep as I did over knowing that I was unhappy, even if that was not in her control. She is a very caring person who really does try her best to take the high road and go above and beyond for her clients. She explained it to me in a very simple way. Abbey is broke to show at home, but not broke to show at a show. That frame of reference was eye-opening to me. That's fair. I realized that even after a year-and-a-half of being at K's place and seeing first-hand how long it takes to train a horse from the ground up, I made a rookie mistake. I assumed that Abbey would just adapt to the show environment like she did last year. I forgot the cardinal rule of Ride the Horse You Have That Day. K also said that when I came to her my goal was to have a safe horse that I could ride, not to show. She said that if my goal had been to show all along, that she would have done things differently and taken Abbey with them all last summer. Hindsight is 20/20, and while that is probably what should have happened, I did the best with what I knew back then, so I am not going to bear my decisions as a burden when it comes to that. Nor could I have afforded it last year. I can't really afford it this year, but I am going to fight for it.

Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us. ~ Samuel Smiles

K and I kept talking and came up with a plan to take Abbey to local shows or to other barns where K knows the people and Abbey can get used to trailering and working in new places with lots of distractions during the month of July. Once a week is the goal for that. Then I hope to take her to a two day show the first weekend of August, and another one the second week of August, and maybe show her myself the very last weekend of August. If all goes well, then in September we will go to one last show for the year. The thing is that between now and September, there are a million little steps along the path.

We took a few steps this past week, with K riding her twice a day, me having a good back-to-basics lesson, and Abbey getting back to her normal self. It worked out that we were able to trailer her to a show about an hour away and meet up with some really awesome people that train with K, a mother and son who are some of the kindest people in the world.  Abbey was really good for the ride there, she lunged well for K and then for me. I walked her all over, letting her see and sniff and touch things. She gave the pony carts the side-eye, and spooked at one that came barreling toward her at top speed (rude of the lady to see her panicking and not slow down to make sure we were okay). I think she thought the rattling wheeled monster was trying to devour the desperately trotting dapple grey pony it was chasing. The horror! She also jumped out of her skin as we walked past a surprise horse tied to a trailer that she wasn't expecting. The group of 30 people watching us were not impressed. Horses are good for deflating ego like that. I am proud of how far I have come in staying calm and being her anchor so that when she panics I feel centered and aware, but solid in knowing that most likely she will settle back down if she sees me being settled.

I watched K with her, and it was incredible as always. Where most people see point A and point Z as the only places on a map, K sees all the letters in between. She knows that it's not possible to drive from New York to LA without stopping for gas, food, construction, detours, and an occasional flat tire on the way. It's just part of the journey. Most people would have lunged the horse for a while, seen it settle, and thought, "Well, here we go! Time to ride!" Not K. She took her and walked into the warm-up area where she was almost run down at least five times by people not in control of their horses at all. Abbey was a saint. K just stood there, lunge whip in hand. She stood with Abbey, and Abbey stood with her. She was relaxed, head down, foot cocked, ears switching flies. They stood there, together, until the ring was cleared for the next class. They walked out calmly, together. Click.

When we are sure that we are on the right road there is no need to plan our journey too far ahead. No need to burden ourselves with doubts and fears as to the obstacles that may bar our progress. We cannot take more than one step at a time. ~ Orison Swett Marden

I realized in that moment that I forgot how it was to have a baby green horse who didn't know anything. I was able to stand and look back at where we were when we first came to K, running scared from all the monsters of the unknown. K has taken Abbey and me and given us a sanctuary where we can feel safe and secure at her barn. We aren't afraid to learn new things and sail into uncharted territory because we have faith that it will all be okay. Abbey and I have trust with each other because we have trust in K. Where most people would have looked at K standing in the middle of the circus that was the warm-up pen at the local open show and thought, "Huh, why isn't she doing anything?" I looked and realized that she was doing everything by doing nothing. Abbey needs to learn to trust herself, to be secure in herself, and to learn that her people may take her new places but we will always keep her safe. It was like the map that had been written in invisible ink finally revealed itself to me in that moment. I saw that there are lots of dots along the way to that first show, whether it is in August, September, next year, or in 10 years. I hope that it happens this year. That would be awesome. But, if all we do is stay safe, go to shows, and learn to be broke and trained away from home I will call that a win in my book. As I watched K gently walk, trot, and lope her on the grass behind the trailer, pony carts and all, I still feel optimistic about the progress that we will make this year. We have a ways to go with getting over the buddy-sourness, but time heals all. She's a toddler learning how to self-soothe right now.

I took stock of my budget, worked out how much I should spend as a responsible, married, adult, and am going to allow myself to experience up to four horse-related trips this year. I spoke with  my husband for the first time without yelling and being angry about the budget. I feel like I have grown inches taller in my responsibility and am doing a better job of trying to balance out spending money, time, and expectations fairly. Throughout all of this, I have prayed to learn what it is that I need to learn from these challenges, and to learn it solidly so that hopefully I won't need a refresher in patience, responsibility, trust, and faith for a little while.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. ~ Greg Anderson

When I am going through a learning curve, I always think about the line from the movie Evan Almighty when God (Morgan Freeman) says to Evan (Noah/Steve Carell), "Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"

I am very thankful for these lessons, and grateful that God sends angels to earth to teach me how to be a better person through these challenges. I think K and I are back on the same page, and it feels good to see her working to help me and Abbey overcome this next hurdle in our journey together. Sometimes there are valleys, sometimes there are peaks.

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. ~ Marcel Proust

Something I learned when I was younger and did a lot of hiking is that the best views are oftentimes behind you. People get so busy looking ahead to the next great vantage point, that they forget to pause and turn around to see what they have already overcome. When I get frustrated with not being farther along life's path, I try to remember how it felt to be hiking the Appalachian Trail in the soft, cool summer drizzle without the sunshine to cheer us on our way. Getting to the top of Beauty Spot was always a good feeling, and the view breathtaking even in the lowering clouds. But to look back on the winding trail, knowing that there were slips and falls, twisted ankles, bagels dropped cream cheese-side down in the dirt, and soggy sleeping bags in the past made standing there in the present all that much sweeter.

Look back so you remember why you started looking forward in the first place. ~ Kristen Wicks

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