I was toodling about on Santa today, and bethought myself: You cannot ride from toughness and strength anymore, Grace Ann. You have to ride from lightness and quiet. (I listened to my blog buddies and did not hang up my spurs.)
What does that mean to ride from lightness? It means that if you are tough and strong and can go forever, you can in some moments “arm wrestle” the horse into doing what you want. You might use a firm hand on the bit, repetition, or a stout leg aid to figuratively shout at the horse when himself is ignoring your cues. Of course, that can inspire many horses to shout right back.
Most equines, though, are pretty willing to do as you ask, if you ask so they can hear the question. Present one question at a time, give the beast a moment to consider how to answer. If he guesses wrong, ask again–nicely–and so on. Don’t shout. Getting into a power struggle with a horse is never a good idea, but for me, now, that has ceased to be even a momentary option.
The challenge has become to see how quietly and precisely I can ask–for a canter depart, for change of direction, for a halt–and get the desired result in an organized, balanced fashion. We’re going for subtlety here, folks, and the irony is, this is how I should have been riding all along. I tried to–honest, I did–but when you know the horse will respond to figurative bellowing, finding the patience and determination to whisper is challenging.
This encounter with the horse led me to consider all the skills I’ve acquired later in life that would have stood me in good stead earlier. I’m much better about saying no to commitments that have the potential to snowball, and no to people who show a tendency to become difficult. I’m no longer as prone to doing my F. Lee Bailey impersonation, turning every discussion into a Supreme Court closing argument. The legal-beagle nerve endings still fire, but I don’t get as wound up for the sake of hearing my own foghorn.
I am more likely to consider strategic questions: Who benefits in the short term, and who benefits in the long term? Is this important or just urgent? Is it my urgency or somebody else’s? How does privilege play into this situation? Why am I talking? (Thanks to Austin Kleon for that last one… acronym WAIT).
We lose a little as we age. I cannot recall where I put my riding helmet half the time, and my ability to gain and maintain physical strength is a fond memory. But what I have instead is substantial in a different way, and at least as useful.
How has your store of wisdom and skills changed over time? Any new skills edging their way into the picture? Any new approaches to longstanding challenges that might have stood you in good stead earlier in life?