Years ago, I was attempting to take my off-the-track-Thoroughbred out on the dirt roads around the farm by ourselves, with varying amounts of success. It was a little stressful for both of us. A friend asked me how it was going, and I told him, “Well, my horse isn’t sure he’s okay being out there all by himself.” “Kathleen,” my friend replied, “he’s not by himself. He’s with YOU.”
Then a little voice said in my head, “Yes… but I’m not ENOUGH, obviously!”
And I think therein lies one of the harder things to get right in our horse work. Being enough. At any moment in time, with this horse and that horse, taking into account all the variables present at any given time, being just enough. And not too much.
What do I mean about “being enough”?
At any given moment, there are things a horse needs from us – from direction, to support, comfort, blocking, insistence, repetition, reward, release, relief, you name it. In any moment, there is something the horse needs from us so he can do his best and mentally feel his best. And getting THAT right, being on time and accurate with that thing the horse needs right then is incredibly difficult. Sometimes we are too much in the moment, and then others times, we’re not enough. It’s hard, it’s contradictory, and it’s really important to the horse.
For instance, I’m getting to know a new horse who is at our farm to further his education. He doesn’t know much, but he’s not a blank slate either, if you see what I mean. There are some unexpected things in a horse like that. He got me thinking about “being enough”. This horse, if you pet him, he mentally elevates. He gets excited and then he thinks about biting. Now, I’m petting him to soothe him (my intent) or I’m petting him to reward him for doing something correctly. My intent is NOT to excite him and make his mind busy. But whether I like it or not, that’s what petting does right now. I didn’t make him that way, he came that way. In order for me to be enough for this horse, I need to be less. I need to not pet him when he does something right, but instead just let him quietly soak and think and stay mentally quiet so he can feel the relief in doing something right and being with a person without becoming mentally elevated. For now, in this case, I need to be less in order to be enough.
Then there’s River. He’s a colt we’ve brought along for ourselves here at the home farm, so we know him pretty well. He’s laid back and easy to get along with and cheerful and willing as he progresses in his life and work. I realized the other day that if I’m riding him out and about and he looks at something, I take my legs off him. And I KNOW that this colt likes the support of the rider’s leg gently “hugging” him and directing him. I also know that for decades I rode Thoroughbreds off the track, and if they were out and looked at something, it was a pretty wise move to get your legs off them so you didn’t add fuel to the fire, so to speak. But when River looks at something and I take my legs off, I’m now not enough and he becomes less confident. In order to be enough in that moment, I need to override my reflex to take my legs off and keep that soft, supportive contact with him so he can carry on. If River gets worried, I may need to increase the support of my legs so I can be more in order to be enough. In that case, I may need to be more to be enough.
And this is the hard thing – to be just enough in every moment. It’s all too easy to be too much or be too little. Sometimes simply who we are is too much or too little – maybe in certain moments, or maybe all the time. That’s hard to swallow.
The horse is the authority here. Only he can tell us if we are enough or too much, and he is always right. In any moment, he can only do what he can do. He responds to what he feels and sees right then. That’s just how horses work. He may or may not respond to us the way we think he will, and then we have to adjust so that we are just enough. Not too little, and not too much. Enough.