When Nothing is More

I’m back in the saddle. I tried taking riding lessons last winter, but the situation didn’t gel. I still love horses, I need joy as much as the next author of happily ever afters, so I try, tried again. The process now is very much one of remediation, as in, “The horse goes on the bottom, Grace!”

Good to know! Little known fact: In order to work efficiently, a horse has to be relaxed. Even if he’s putting out a lot of effort, he should have a rounded, fluid silhouette over his back, he’ll be fighting his own physics with every step.

I was trying to get my mount round and relaxed at the trot, which meant he’d be pushing from behind, but still moving smoothly. Up one side of the arena we went, around in a circle, down the other side… and me being out of shape meant my signals to the horse became increasingly noisy as tired. I was bouncing around more, banging on his back instead of managing my own weight. Over-relying on my reins, and generally doing a worse job the longer I kept at it.

My horse was not going round. “OK,” I says to myself, “time for a walk break or this will just degenerate further.”

Now, at a certain sophisticated level, the rider thinks, “Walk,” and a smooth, balanced transition from trot to walk happens. The horse floats into the slower gait, the rider remains poised and elegant in the saddle… but the third lesson back is not that day. I’m in the saddle thinking, “Eyes up and soft, weight balanced over both seat bones, reins in connection, don’t forget to breathe, and–ARE YOUR EYES UP AND SOFT, GRACE?!–elbows at your sides, inside shoulder back and down…” while my noble steed is be-bopping good-naturedly around in the trot.

From the center of the arena, madam instructor expostulates, “THERE! You got him round! That’s wonderful, look at him. What did you do? Because this is the frame you want.”

We came down to the walk about a quarter of a long-side later, and I thought back: What had I been doing when the horse had relaxed, stepped up behind, and begun to work through his body? What had I been doing? What? What? WHAT?

“Nothing,” I said. “I was too busy planning my downward transition. I just… sat here?”

The instructor smiled. “You got quiet. You gave him a minute to process what you were asking, and stopped handing out orders.”

On the next trot set, we tested the hypothesis: If I waited for a few seconds between asking and expecting a result, did the horse produce the result? Yes, he generally did. He needed time to process, without me offering reminders, encouragement, footnotes, and other assorted noise. He need ME to listen to HIM. He needed ME to adjust to HIS mental pace.

What a concept. Do you need processing time? Do you get it? Are there people in your life who might benefit from being allowed a little more of it? Are there situations where to get what you want, you have to be quiet and listen? To three commenters, I’ll send an Advanced Reader Copy of Not the Duke’s Darling, which releases on TUESDAY!!!



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24 comments on “When Nothing is More

  1. For some folks with impulsive tendencies, like me, developing the skill of sitting back, being quiet and just waiting can often produce better results than charging head long into a situation or conversation. I had to develop this skill when I was working at the school board office often for bosses who believed they knew everything. It’s carried over into retirement when my husband retired. I’m finding I need more reflective wait time before responding with, “WHAT are you thinking?” In the 44 years we’ve been married, we’ve never been home together for long, long, periods of time. Now we are. Most of the time it works just fine as I have my interests which take me to a different part of the house or away from home. Still patience and silent wait time can be a good thing.

  2. I’ve always been someone who gave a lot of thought to something before I would act on it. At times a little too much thought. I remember one of my bosses, when she was putting work teams together, paired me with a “fly by the seat of her pants” kind of gal, thinking we would be good for each other. She was right. At times I would encourage my teammate to give some thought before she jumped in. At other time she would encourage me to quit thinking about it and p**s or get off the pot. It worked for us.

  3. Apparently muses are like horsies. Local bug going round forced me to take a sick day. In the end, I snored away most of 48 hours. Woke up feeling vaguely human & realized I had the answer to the latest creative problem. I’d been pushing things too hard, trying to get them to the trot on someone else’s schedule. The moment I ignored the conflicting signals and had to switch off the frenzy of effort, the answer popped right up and moved out smartly. All I had to do was stop thinking and listen.

  4. I’m with Mary T. If it’s possible to overthink, I will. My husband is just about as bad. We have a ways to go before we catch up to my mother called “Madame Previous” in the family. It’s best not to give her too long or she will have worked herself into a state. My sisters staged an intervention last week as she had Christmas dinner half done. She passed out her presents at Thanksgiving.

    I also find that anti-depressants give me the 10 seconds I need when I am angry to shut my mouth.

  5. Ideally, I need to focus as a conductor. The rehearsal process is such that it isn’t until right before the concert I am able to be totally in the Zone. I tell my singers I need to get to my *Zen Place*. Some times, I am fighting my way up the sides of Mt. Fuji, and some times the path is easier to climb.

    As a performer, I also need to focus. And again, it isn’t usually until right before the recital or concert or ??????? I am able to get it.

    Since this ain’t my first Rodeo, I can get into focus and my Zen Place on a dime if I have to. It’s not ideal AT ALL but I don’t need as much time to get in the Zone. After years and years of practice, I need to have no distractions to be at my best in concert and I know what I need to get there. Sometimes, it’s by the skin of my teeth.

    Happy Holidays, Grace! And Happy Beethoveen’s Birthday (it’s today)!

  6. I can definitely benefit from remembering your words as I teach special needs kids who are mainstreamed into regular classes. At times the need to keep them moving along with the other students is just so overwhelming that I forget the reason they need me there in the first place. On the other hand, I truly wish my cats could and WOULD read this blogpost. When they decide it’s time for me to get up and feed them in the morning (always at about 5AM), they have absolutely no interest in allowing me time to process their demands!

  7. I often find, that if I let some time pass, like overnight, that I have an idea to finish off a project. One problem with that is that my mind can be spinning with thoughts while I’m supposed to be sleeping. Sometimes I even go ahead & get up to accomplish some task. That’s when I need to find that quiet time & mind.

  8. I have a bad habit of interrupting when people take to long to say something to me.I know it’s rude and I am trying very hard to stop this It helps if I recite a little poem we learned at school many years ago.The wise old owl sat on the oak the more he saw the less he spoke the less he spoke the more he heard why can’t we be like that wise old bird.Listening is the key to good communication between humans too.

  9. I grew up on horseback. No formal training. Just three small stairstep (aged 4, 5, & 6) children loving an assortment of large, mixed-temperament horses – our own and those that boarded with us. Through school free summer days, weekends and any other time we could squeeze in, we saddled up and rode whichever horse needed exercise whenever we could. Gradually, I became the child who slipped into the horse trailer to ease out new arrivals. At 4 feet tall and 60 odd pounds, I needed to know how each new horse felt about me and that trailer and the new surroundings. I learned that the more I saw the horse, better things went. I’m now 72, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. I’m still “seeing the horse.” Whether it’s my husband of 52 years or family, responses are better when I present the thought, action or request and then just wait for the response.

  10. Oh Lord Yes I need time to process things at the best of times but – especially now! I just got transferred to a location where the team – was literally in mutiny because the former manager was not doing his job. I walked into a store with a horder in charge who barked orders at his team and Did Not Let Them Clean. Thankfully there are people at headquarters who were happy to come help get things in order – including the owner of the company! There’s a lot to do – including Holiday sales our busiest time of the year. But I can see my goals a bit more clearly.

    My new team now needs time to process that things are going to be different and I hope I will have the opportunity to give them the training they were missing out on. My regular customers need to adjust to me being back – this time as manager since I worked at this location for several years. Several have already expressed their happiness at my return – which feels great.

    Things will get better and what better season to change and move forward than the holidays? Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah/Chanukah! (a bit late), Happy Kwanzaa! and New Years!

  11. I need A LOT of processing time. My hubby, bless him, knows this about me, even when I forget. He’s so good at giving me time, which I forget To give myself.

  12. Thank you for sharing this experience as well as the valuable observation. Time to think and process. I am going to apply this approach to myself as well as to those I interact with. It is a loving and respectful gift and priceless, because it will help to improve communication and peace. Thanks again!

  13. My co workers are quick to grasp a new concept and run with it. I am a prossessor -need time to sort through the new procedure.

    I am a bit tired of- Sue, don’t you get it? I have learned to smile & nod.
    A lot.

    Greg and I have advanced to the next level in our obedience training.
    We are working on a new training piece. It took us 3 weeks to work through this piece. I had enough time to figure out what I needed to do for him for us to work together.

  14. I often need a bit of time to process, and I’m okay with that. What is painful to me is the fact that our seventeen year old daughter, who was in a car accident in September, is having some difficulty processing things due to a concussion. Her neurologist said that this is normal, and it hasn’t been too much of an issue. It’s really a minor thing, but to see her using the wrong word on occasion, and not realizing it until it’s pointed out – well it kind of gives me pause. She is also having difficulty reading, due to processing & headaches. This could have been a truly terrible accident. It wasn’t. Out of the three cars involved, no one sustained major injuries, hers being the worst; concussion, whiplash, two bulging and one herniated disc. I’m thankful that she is basically healthy & unimpaired, but when she was finally able to take her SAT test after two postponements, she slept for almost a full day afterwards. Major headache, too, and she didn’t get the results she had been getting on practice tests. This is a child who is very bright and learns easily. Our son has mild ADHD and has always had issues with learning and processing. That has been another struggle entirely. He’s smart, but loses himself in too many steps in a procedure. And so – those are our processing woes!

  15. Your discussion reminds me of Mr Rogers. He always spoke slowly to give children the time to process what he was saying.I watched him but I found his slow speech boring.I think I did learn what he was trying to teach.It has taken me most of my life to learn to speak slowly and give other people the chance to respond. It is most important in emotional situations to give people time to think what they want to say.Sometimes the way you can help others the most is just to be quiet and listen. Listening shows you care even in situations where you may not be able to help in any other way. I think we need to teach the importance of listening in todays world as people expect quick answers in our fast paced technical world. I do not text and this seems to annoy some people. I hate shortening words as it goes against the proper English I was taught.

  16. This is such an important concept to remember and yet we forget it so often. I grew up riding horses, so I understand both the literal and metaphorical issue here. I think this is a concept I really have to keep in mind with my husband. We’ve been married for over a year now and together for nearly five, but I still struggle to be patient with him. He doesn’t always come to the same conclusions as me and maybe not as quickly as I do and my lack of patience can make simple situations escalate into an unnecessary fight.

  17. I definitely need to process. I just recently read The Kiss Quotient, I really related to she didn’t like surprises. The building I work in they are tearing it down and will be rebuilding a structure on the same site. We will be in temporary housing for 3 to 4 years. I currently have an office which I love. I am moving to a cubicle. I am really nervous about it. But we have been talking about this for quite a while.
    So I am trying to wrap my head around it. I have never been in a cubicle before. We move in January 2nd, wish me luck.

  18. As someone who manages a team of 13 people, I think your insight is invaluable. People, as well as horses, need time to process, to interpret, and to plan what comes next. When we don’t give them that time, we take away some sense of independence and critical thought. You’re right that we don’t give ourselves this kind of time, as well.

    I really loved the first book of this series, and can’t wait for the second!!

  19. I am very change-resistant. I just don’t change gears quickly. I need a few days to move my mind around something that will mean a change in my normal way of doing things. This gives my husband of 52 years and my adult children a lot of amusement. Conversations often begin with, “Mom, I know you don’t like change, but why don’t you…?”

    BTW, are those Thelwell illustrations? In my horse-crazy youth I loved his books!

  20. All the time. I have taught in many different kinds of situations, and it is always helpful to remember that children process at different speeds and in different ways. I don’t know why we expect adults to be different from children in that regard.

  21. These illustrations are priceless! I hope you will keep giving your riding a chance. Your love for horses I’m sure will come through and translate to a successful relationship with your horsey.

  22. I definitely need processing time before I open my mouth which often results in the conversation passing me by but I am generally able to avoid saying hurtful things.

  23. I read a post on FB about a Dr. who delivers babies and at their two month check-up he presents them with a home-made, individualized blanket that he made for them. I like a guy with smarts, skills, and a huge heart. I also like alphas like the BDB who have a core of integrity to fight for the good and overcome personal circumstances to serve others.

  24. I think as people we tend to talk, act and expect too quickly. Even when working with a dog you have to let it sense what you want. After you have worked with it for as long as needed for that particular
    dog they are then able to anticipate what you want or need. Their sense of smell can tell them about our moods as well as our needs. We just have to become “buddies” doing the same job. It just takes practice and consideration dealing with one who is not us.