I met Sally when she was a youngster, just a slight filly fresh off the trailer. I had recently purchased my lovely horse, Rosie, and was knee deep in our love affair when Sally arrived at the barn where I rode at that time. Just your average bay mare, brown coat with black mane and tail, but there was a spark in her eye and something that I could feel in her presence. I noticed it right away–and it shot straight to my heart. I admired her from afar, periodically stopping to say hello and to give her a friendly rub. She was owned my trainer, and as he had many horses of his own, he rode her periodically but she mostly rotated through droves of riders and his students. For years, I watched her, rode next to her, passed her stall. I continued my deep soul connection with my Rosie. And, I couldn’t help but feel a pull toward Sally.
Years later, I was riding with my trainer and a split second of opportunity occurred. He was riding Sally and he hopped out of the saddle to fix a sprinkler. I was standing there and the moment hit me between the eyes. The words were out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying: “Can I ride her?” The rest was just a series of open doors, those decisions you come to and it’s clear there’s really no decision at all. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m on the fence about the concept of fate. I’m a realist with a strong connection to a higher power. But sometimes I watch my own life as if it’s a fantasy movie, and I am awestruck by what presents itself. Sally presented herself. I have no doubt about this.
When I took Sally home to my ranch, something shifted. A story was born, as is often the case with humans. That busy meaning-maker will spin a tale no matter what. I had years of data about Sally swirling about. I had seen her living in a box stall. I had seen her cycling through dozens of riders. I had seen her trained hard. I had even ridden in the same show ring as her. The story became a web I was trapped in. I needed to help her, to relieve her stress from being a show horse, and to allow her to return to her natural freedom to move and to be herself. I would set her spirit free.
That story kept a confusing wall of pressure between me and my new horse for nearly three months. She kept a distance from me. It was subtle but it was always there. I took it personally sometimes and thought I was doing the relationship wrong. Other times, I just worked harder to win her over, to heal her, to soothe her, to convince her that she was going to be okay. This was a good life we would share. She just needed to open up.
One day, we were in the round pen together. It had been a good 20 minutes of interacting and she was doing her usual all-business routine, moving about and listening to me, but with her head turned away from me ever so slightly, her clear message: No. Too much. Too much pressure. I walked alongside her maybe three times around the pen, the late afternoon sunlight glowing and sending these powerful beams through her hair. And then I saw my own hair glowing in the light. This might sound crazy but I’ll say it anyway. What occurred was one of the truest moments of my life. We walked side by side as if we were in separate but parallel channels or tracks. I had a profound sensation that we were completely connected, but I had my path and she had hers. Something unnameable opened inside of me. I could call it freedom or peace or letting go but those words diminish the experience. It was like the tectonic plates of my own personal earth shifted. I felt a smile come and some tears. We kept walking and I could finally look straight ahead and focus on where I was headed. I knew Sally was there, so very present, but my own path finally mattered. I no longer felt compelled to focus on hers. We slowed down and walked toward each other. As equals. When we touched in that instant, our partnership was born.
That day, I broke through the story I had been carrying, and I realized it was MY story, not hers. In fact, it had been a lifelong story between me and people close to me for much of my life. This horse was completely fine. More than fine, she was peacefully in the moment. But I was projecting pressure and worry, and she could feel it. The more I pressured her to be okay, the more she kept me at bay. When I let go and stepped into my own presence, we could accurately see and feel each other. We could finally have an equal relationship. The pressure I was putting on her kept her away, kept me from seeing her accurately, and it kept me from experiencing my own reality. I was a hostage in my own skin, behind the bars of a story that didn’t work in my life anymore. She didn’t need me to fix her. She wasn’t broken. And neither was I. But that rescuer story was so horribly outdated and getting in the way. It was time for me to see myself in a new way, to see past my obsession with fixing others, and to make space to be. It was my freedom that needed fixing.