Galahad is still my teacher

20170518134208(2)[Cross-posted from It’s an Alchemical Life]

Another stream-of-consciousness post, as I’m working on something that feels new:

“Making” my horse do anything is no longer something I want to do, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So we’ve been studying and trying things out.

Yesterday I went to the barn to work with my Galahad on a lesson from the online course we’re enrolled in.

The assignment was to get him from the pasture and take him for a walk on the lead without pulling on the lead rope. I was in each moment to try to figure out what he was feeling, ask him to come along instead of insisting, etc.

His feet were sore, he said (true enough—he’s recovering from a bad bout of thrush), so he didn’t want to walk on the lane where there are rocks. If we walked on grass, though, all he wanted to do was eat. He wanted to go say hi to all the horses in the turnout runs, which I couldn’t let him do. He didn’t want to go across the bridge, because ROCKS and SCARY. Mostly, he just wanted to eat grass. Our communication seems pretty clear, but it kind of feels like I now have a grass-eating monster who asks politely—by stopping dead in his tracks and pointing—to eat more grass. He will, if asked quietly and several times, lift his head and follow me for a few steps. That’s a very good thing.

After half an hour or so of grazing, we found the big indoor arena open, so I took him in there and took his halter off. He explored for a little bit with me, but wasn’t too enthusiastic. I tried asking him to move, which he did, but then he went back over to the gate and stood there getting sleepy…. Our session obviously wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to end before he got really shut down, so we left.

I tried really hard not to be disappointed by this, but OMG I am so disappointed.

It’s all my fault, not his. I just can’t seem to drop the agenda. But it just seems like all we ever do together these days is clean his feet, feed him, and walk around while he grazes. There’s nothing else. It’s not like I don’t enjoy his company, but I watch other people ride their horses (which I would never force him to do even if it were safe); I watch the videos of people with horses who happily move around them, pay at least some attention to them, and dance with them. Sheesh. I want Galahad to enjoy something, anything, that we do together that’s not grazing; I want to play with him. Other people do that with their horses…why not us? And Galahad plays with his friends…why not us?

I feel like pretty much of a failure; I shed lots of self-pitying tears over that. I feel bad because I know Galahad knows that I’m not satisfied, and he’s so sensitive that it can’t be any fun for him, either.

There is actually a different way of looking at this—but maybe it’s too dreamy. Dunno.

My horse loves me, I know without a doubt. And he seems to enjoy being with me as long as I don’t ask anything of him. It’s exactly the same when I used to try to ride him: I can sit on him and he’s fine, but as soon as I ask him to do anything, he rebels and bucks.

But here’s the thing: It could actually be that this grazing is more about him wanting to be with me peacefully, without any agenda, without me asking him for anything that he doesn’t want to do or can’t do for whatever reason. It could be that he really is avoiding the pressure of me asking anything of him. Because here’s the thing: He never wants to go back out to be with his horse friends; he always stops me several times on the way back. He has such a good time outside the pasture—and it’s not just about the grass, because he’s just as bad in the dead of winter, and it’s not about treats, because I don’t carry them.

I wonder if what he’s actually thinking, when he blocks me on the way back to the pasture, is something like, “I’m not ready to go back yet, Mom. Can’t we just hang out some more?” and then he offers the thing he likes best in that moment, which is grazing quietly, side by side.

I like that interpretation, and it actually feels accurate…but what do I do with that?

Anyway. Like I said, it’s not him; it’s me. But I’m about ready to give up and just quit trying.

And then, this morning, an insight that was probably obvious to everyone but me: At some level, Galahad and I are replaying my childhood experience with my dad, with me cast in the role of Arthur The Great. Like so many girls, I was desperate for my dad’s love, attention, and approval—and he (narcissistic, perfectionist, domineering) was never satisfied with anything I did. It was a losing battle, though I never knew that. Kids never do.

And like Galahad, I did the best I could to please. A part of me rebelled, like Galahad does, though not outwardly (that was always punished). Galahad’s lucky—and this is what makes him such a great teacher—because he’s incapable of artifice. He is himself, and only himself. If he can’t please me by being himself in the moment, he will just shut down; and thank goodness, at this point in our relationship, he doesn’t get punished for it. He gets to express an opinion.

At least that’s one possible interpretation of what’s going on, and it’s a really useful one for me personally.

So I’m wondering…. What if I work with Galahad but in the knowledge that I am working with myself as well? I mean, do the “repair” work consciously, as a practice, almost? What would that be like? Healing the two of us? Because we’re both survivors of a terrible “parenting” or “training” style. “Obey me or I will hurt you,” and “No matter what you do, it will never be perfect, and therefore it will never be enough for me to accept you.” Seriously. Both of us.

Could I do that? Could I overcome my internalized parenting style enough to do this? What an interesting thought…. But it could take forever! I want to play with my horse NOW! I want him to trust me NOW!

Yeah. And how old are you, Kay? And how many decades has it taken YOU to work through this? What? You haven’t figured it out yet?

Yeah. It’s gonna take a while…. He and I are worth however long it takes…and it will take ME way longer than it will take him, I bet.


3 thoughts on “Galahad is still my teacher

  1. Mai van Run says:

    Oh Kay, how I would love to chat with you about these things, sitting in my paddock, in the shade of the oak trees, having a cup of tea and watching my harmonious herd do what they do!
    Watching my herd has been my most valuable teacher through the years; recognizing the waterhole rituals in their behaviour, applying those rituals myself and in doing so, learning how well these rituals work if applied with the same simplicity and clarity horses use when living in a herd.

    This sentence stuck with me: “And he seems to enjoy being with me as long as I don’t ask anything of him.”

    My experience is that this may feel true but it’s only true to a certain extent. I learned that my horses start enjoying being with me much more when I DO ask things of them! The success is all in the intention with which I ask though. As soon as I start feeling guilty about what I ask of them (which I feel may be true for you, from what you wrote), their ‘antenna’ picks up on that and it’s not going to work. When I have the intention of a ‘precocious child’ though, they just LOVE it! You probably know how children can almost seem to bully their pony, but nevertheless the pony enjoys what they ask even more! That’s because the child is confident and doesn’t feel any guilt. The child is not in the thinking mode but in the ‘being mode’. And this is exactly what I see in my horses’ herd relationships.

    The thing that has surprised me the most in all those years – and this really was a wake-up call for me! – is that horses DON’T WANT me to allow them to do everything they want! On the contrary, they THRIVE when I show them clear directions, even (and perhaps especially?) when I ask them to do the opposite of what they prefer at that moment. They taught me this by showing me their herd behaviour day in, day out. What I saw is that they direct each other – often without any apparent reason or objective – a lot of the time, seemingly “just because they can”. They can even bully one another sometimes – even quite explosively at times – and despite that (or perhaps because of that??) connect even more by grooming each other only seconds later.

    The thing that really struck me a few years ago, when I did the Insider Circle with Carolyn and she gave me the assignment of lungeing my ‘lounge lizards’ at liberty in a roundpen each day for let’s say five minutes, is how they learned to love it in just a few days! The first day or two they were quite reluctant to speed up, but I just kept them going without giving myself time to feel guilty or bad about it. And then the miracle happened: each day Kría and Saegola were already waiting for me to practice with them and they became more eager by the day! They just wanted to be challenged by me! How about that :-)?

    “What if I work with Galahad but in the knowledge that I am working with myself as well?
    What would that be like? Healing the two of us?”

    Kay, it’s my conviction that you don’t even need to be aware of the fact that you’re working on yourself, because you ARE working on yourself… always… in everything you do. Trying too hard to be aware of that might even hinder the process of interacting with your horse. It’s all about BEING, just being, and letting all actions spring from that source of being (but this seems to be the hardest thing for human beings to ‘get’ as we’re always so much in our heads ;-)…).

    So when are you coming over to Europe :-)??

    I really love your honest blog writing!

    Lots of Love <3!

  2. Mai van Run says:

    Oh and I’d like to add that the story of your upbringing by your dad is very similar to mine, so I can really relate to all you wrote.

  3. Mai–thank you SO much for this wisdom! It’s really helpful, especially the idea of having a childlike energy. That’s something I wonder if I ever had…and can’t quite imagine having. I started to type “…and I’ll work on it…” but realized what I was saying. Wow! What an insight!

    I’ll take your words with me when I go out to see Galahad today. It’s his “birthday” (rescue day)–he’s ELEVEN this year!–and we’ll PLAY!

    So much to think about. Know that I love and appreciate you SO MUCH, my friend. Yup–I need to plan a trip!

    Big hugs!

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