Moving On, In Traffic
By Betsy Kelleher
Everyone at our barn loves my Lady! Her pretty black head is always over her stall door begging for attention, and she usually gets it. Walker’s Velvet Queen is her registered name, which is very fitting for this alpha mare. Beware, however, if you have the nerve to walk by without paying homage, because you may be startled by a kick and a squeal!
Being a Tennessee Walker, Lady is smooth gaited and great on the trail. Only one problem: she doesn’t like big noisy traffic. Hoping to fix that, I’ve been riding her down the road near our barn with the help of two younger friends with more courage than I have. My first experience riding Lady down that road included meeting a large dumpster semi truck, when Lady spun with me and I earned the “Rodeo Award” from a fellow rider. I stayed on, but the memory has lingered to infect my whole outlook. Every time I think of riding Lady down that one mile road, I get a tension headache.
It’s not a busy road, since it is a dead end for most traffic. Lady doesn’t mind the usual cars and pickups, but heavy dump trucks do travel this road and there is a gate at the end that is sometimes open to farm traffic, huge tractors and giant sprayer machines.
Riding Lady down this road doesn’t scare my retired jockey friend, Cynthia Medina. Cindy has a way with horses and the experience of 18 years riding thousands of horses on her way to more than 1100 winning rides. She has the ability to remain calm and relaxed in spite of stuff that happens and to communicate that calming influence to her mount.
So I rode Rocky, my husband’s young Walker, and Cindy rode Lady. We were almost a mile from the barn that day, in almost the same spot Lady was when the big truck passed us a year ago, when I looked back and saw that same truck coming from behind. My first thought was to get further from the road, but Rocky didn’t trust the looks of a small ditch and started to back up. Meanwhile, Cindy had turned Lady around to face the truck right where she was. The big truck was coming, Lady was at the edge of the road and Rocky was spooking at the ditch. It was a moment of sheer panic! I turned Rocky to stand beside Lady for support, and tried to be helpful. “Easy, Lady,” I said, “it’s ok, girl.” But my voice didn’t sound confident!
As the truck passed, Lady whirled and Rocky went with her, following her movement. The horses went only a few feet, and we were fine. Whew! At that point, Cindy gave me a good scolding regarding the effect of my nervous words. “Don’t worry about me and Lady,” she told me. “but next time, don’t say anything!” I realized later how my fearfulness was a danger to all of us. Perhaps Lady would have whirled even if I’d kept my mouth shut. But horses do sense our fears and Lady is especially quick minded, and as an alpha mare, it is her duty to protect herself and her rider!
We rode a little further, and came to a huge pile of white rocks. After a cautious look, Lady approached the pile and touched her nose on the rocks. Cindy praised her and said, “If you want to move on, you have to face your fears!” She was talking to Lady, but the words went straight to my own brain.
I think many of us have fears that keep us from moving on in life. If we don’t identify those fears and decide to face them, we will stay stuck in our fearful space and waste precious years that could be enriched with greater freedom and achievement.
I remember another time when a riding companion explained the basic principles of Sally Swift’s Centered Riding. My fearfulness that day was causing my young horse to prance nervously. I was feeding off his tension and he was feeding off mine. My companion told me to sit down into the saddle with a relaxed body, to look up at the horizon instead of staring at Dude’s ears, and to take a deep breath and keep breathing deeply. When I followed her advice, the effect was amazing! Dude immediately relaxed, lowered his head and walked on quietly.
So why can’t I simply apply those principles now that I learned before? Why have I become so fearful? I think Traveller has spoiled me with his calm, trustworthy temperament. For almost nine years, I have had the confidence to relax and enjoy riding and feel safe wherever we go. Traveller’s recent problems, just when I thought he was back to normal, indicate more damage from the EPM than I thought, and I’m not riding him. I still have my Lady, but it’s not the same. My confidence was in Traveller, not in my own riding skills.
How can I ask Lady to stand still as a huge truck whizzes by, when she senses my fear? I know all too well how my fear affects her. Can I learn to calm my emotions? I am her leader. Her trust and respect for me is her basis for following, and why should she obey a fearful leader? She is instinctively an alpha mare in charge of her herd, unless I can convince her I am more alpha than she is!
The answer is not to change Lady. I’ve seen Cindy ride Lady near a noisy riding lawn mower and make her stand still as the mower went back and forth in front of her and in back of her. I saw Lady’s legs shaking, and even as she snorted and pawed in fear and impatience, she STOOD! No, the answer is not just to fix Lady. The answer is to change my own fearful outlook so I can take charge safely. I must renew my mind and change my attitude. Can I do that?
Scripture tells us in I Corinthians 2:16 that we have the mind of Christ. But that privilege requires our acceptance of His Sovereign leadership. As we allow His involvement in our lives, as we seek His perspective and study His Word, we learn Who He is and what He can do. We learn to connect with Him, through His Spirit that is given to us when we enter into a personal relationship with Him. That Spirit within us guides us in His ways and helps us grow into His likeness. He does not force His will upon us. He has given us a free will, out of love, to deepen the value of the relationship. His Spirit within us is the connection with His strength and courage.
In John 10:10 (King James Version), Jesus says: “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” How can we live an abundant life if we are stuck in a small, fearful space? He has a wonderful plan for our lives, for each one of us an individual plan that fits our special talents and abilities and desires. But we can’t fulfill that plan without His guidance and strength. God doesn’t want us to be stuck in a tight fearful existence. He wants to lead us to greater freedom and peace. Jesus has the power and the loving desire to give us His Kingdom with eternal life! But we have to face our fears of the unknown, of following an unseen Leader, and seek to truly know Him who leads us. He wants us to know His great love and mercy and power. Do we dare to trust him? Do we dare to follow? A recent devotional reading warns, “If you don’t obey the cue to move forward, you’ll be governed by fear rather than faith. Whatever His plan of action for you, be assured He will see you safely through the ordeal.” Just what I needed, as usual.
Progress has been made. I have ridden Lady on the road while Mary Ann Bowers rode Rocky. We met a dump truck almost as big as the dumpster semi, and I started to panic, but Mary Ann told me to breathe deep and relax. She positioned Rocky diagonally in front of us, and I was on Lady, right by the side of the road. When the truck passed, Lady backed up several steps, but didn’t whirl to run. My leg pressure urged her back to the place we had been, and I felt a little more confident! Mary Ann has lots of experience with training horses and she knows the value of confidence, too.
On another ride, I was leading with three horses behind me, and I made Lady walk slowly past a huge piece of farm equipment, a four tandem disk folded up and standing like a silent monster in a field. I actually felt quite relaxed, and Lady seemed to accept my authority. I could feel her tension as she stopped, but one squeeze of leg pushed her on by, without a problem. I kept my seat relaxed, and my mind focused on going forward with confidence. It worked! It’s easier, I’ve decided, around things that don’t move.
Watching Cindy ride Lady helped me see how she could be asked to stand still in a scary situation. It gave me courage to ask more of Lady myself, and to believe that I could be in control. I remember Sally Swift telling a rider during a clinic, “It will work when you believe it yourself.” I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.
As I went to the barn this morning, I saw a beautiful sunrise behind a cloudy sky, the sunbeams reaching out in all directions toward the Earth like a fanburst of glory. It was a magnificent encouragement, a glorious reminder of His majesty and power! And I realized again the true Source of my courage and confidence. Just as I want to teach Lady to depend on me, I know I must depend on my own Master.
All things work together by His Spirit, for those who love Him. He uses our fears and our problems, helping us through them in ways that teach us we can depend on Him. Like our horses, we often rely on ourselves when we need to rely on a Greater Master. It’s good news that we don’t have to depend totally on ourselves! He has given us His Spirit, placed within us to be our guide and our strength, our connection to a loving Father. Why is it so difficult to simply trust and obey?
(Originally published in the August 2006 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)