Thursday, March 25, 2021

Things That I Must Take Very Seriously

There are a lot of young people who depend not only on what I say, but even more so, on what I do.
I am very conscious of the fact that many young people look to me as a role model and as someone that they believe would never let them down.
I cannot expect them to practice the virtues of courage, compassion, honesty and resilience if they do not see those virtues demonstrated in my life. That means that every now and then I must do things that might seem difficult to understand to others not in my position. 

Which brings us to my upcoming 100 mile in a day ride. 

Seven years ago Terry and I rode 109 miles in seventeen hours. I am now sixty one. My health slipped during the pandemic. For the first time my semi annual checkup produced bad numbers in my blood work. As I have always done when I have needed to bolster my health, whether physical or emotional, I planned to set a difficult goal, work hard for it, achieve the goal, and then put one more success down in the books. By mid December I was getting in fairly good shape from a steady exercise regimen. I was looking forward to the end of deer season so I could condition my body and my horses to the degree that I could push myself through a 100 mile in a day ride.

Then the complications started. We had to stretch our hay by adding commercial livestock feed for all of our horses every day. I had some great help, but for most of the mornings I have spent time that I would have spent in the saddle feeding horses. Then came the biggest problem.

My left should has had flair ups of what might be bursitis, or tendonitis, the effects of arthritis, or maybe some damage to the joint itself. In years past I got a shot in my arm and it became functional again. I am in physical therapy and the pain is reducing and I can get some use out of the joint without it causing pain. It is getting better but it is not good.

As I have began to get serious about doing the 100 mile ride I chose a date about six weeks after my original date of late March. I have dropped at least 25 pounds and am getting the rest of my body in tolerable shape. Very well intentioned people, who have only my best interest at heart, have urged me to change it into a 100 mile in three days ride, or to postpone it until fall. 

I can't allow myself to give serious consideration to either idea. I teach kids about riding, music, soil and water conservation, heritage breed livestock preservation, natural horsemanship, wild life habitat development, history, and microbial pasture development. But what really matters is that I teach kids to do things that they do not think can possibly be done. I teach kids to exceed everyone's, including their own,  expectations. 

Were I to make adjustments to the ride to accommodate my shoulder, my age, or my weight, it would not matter how eloquently I could urge them to take on the challenges that life throws them. They would have no choice but to look at me and know that I would have no place "In the Arena" that Theodore Roosevelt spoke so eloquently of.

Finishing the ride will not be a "manly" thing to do.

It is particularly disappointing that some might consider this to be a "macho" act of an old man trying to prove that he is still a man. The four virtues have no gender. Resilience is not merely a masculine affectation, it is, in fact, the most important of the virtues because resilience makes it possible for one to get up every morning, day in and day out, and do that which is right.  . 

If I begin the ride and cannot finish, the kids will know that I tried. If I begin the ride and injure myself, the kids will know that I tried. If the weather changes and a driving rain makes it impossible, the kids will know that I will try on another day--very soon.

But if I don't try, because my shoulder hurts, or I really did not have time to get in hard riding shape or whatever excuse one could come up with, the kids will know that I did not try. And some of them who face what might seem to be insurmountable problems will remember that I did not try. And some of them who have been taught by life that they just are not quite good enough will know that I did not try. 

I really appreciate the concern expressed by those urging me to postpone or modify the ride. I spend a lot of my time telling kids to "try." That time will be wasted if I do not also show them how to try.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Virus: What It Has Done To us and What it Can Do For us

It has curtailed our autonomy. and for predators there is nothing more destabilizing than to loose one's autonomy. As prey animals, horses seek security with an innate drive every bit as hard as predatory animals (including humans) seek autonomy.

Trauma drives humans to have the same desperate need for security that horses exhibit in their daily lives.

And the virus has taken it all form us. We have lost both our autonomy and our security. The effects are obvious. People who have fallen from horses many times in their lives all of a sudden find that a few falls gives them anxiety and loss of confidence in their riding ability. Physically, many of us are out of condition-- making riding harder to enjoy. When we do not feel in control of our lives it can make it seem even more important to feel in control of our horses. Constant exposure to information about sickness and death has caused some people to project a debilitating hypochondria onto their horses making every cough, scratch, or blemish seem like a medical emergency. 

But it does not have to stay that way. The virus has also done something for us. Upon reflection. it has taught us that as individuals, and as a people, we can do things never thought possible. Two years ago no one would have believed that the vast majority of the nation would accept wearing masks in public, curtailing social events, isolating from older relatives, meeting by zoom and transforming much of our economy into a home based system of workers. But we have done so and are at the cusp of defeating this virus within the next six to nine months.

Here is why that matters--two years ago few of us would believe that we could make radical improvements in our lifestyle such as eliminating sugar and making exercise a center piece of each day. Two years ago few of us would believe that they could become competent trainers of  untrained horses. Two years ago few of us would believe that they could condition their horses and their own bodies ride fifty miles in a day.

If we step back and look at how much this world has made us change we should be able to question our beliefs about what is possible in terms of our horsemanship, our health, our capacity to help others, and our own individual ability to make gentler the life of this world.

Over the past six months I have made transformations in my own health that I never really believed I could do. Over the past six months I have seen horses in our program transformed in ways that I never believed possible. Over the past six months I have seen changes in our infra structure at the horse lot that I never believed we would be able to afford. Over the past six months I have learned more about teaching others to overcome trauma than I ever thought I would have the capacityto learn. 

It is the ultimate irony of the past year that while the virus forced us to build walls around our bodies, it gave us the opportunity to knock down the walls of disbeleif in our own abilty to change, and to change for the better.

I have never been more optimistic about the future of our program than I am right now. If you are in our program and find yourself in a hole I do not have an elevator to bring you out, but I sure can show you where the stairs are. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Horses And The Nature of Evil

I am not qualified to argue with Capt. Gilbert. He studied the matter from a much better vantage point than I ever will. 

 “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trials 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. 

A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. 

 Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” -Captain G. M. Gilbert, U.S. Army psychologist.

Natural horsemanship is the most effective tool to enhance one's ability to empathize with one from another culture or walk of life that I have ever encountered. I now understand that it is the reason that our program's teenage participants behave in such a caring, mature manner.

The irony of it all--it is a worn out cliche to to cast aspersions on the behavior of another by sarcastically asking, "Were you raised in a barn?"

With a lot of my program participants the answer is, "Of course not. I was raised in a round pen."

More on empathy and natural horsemanship coming in future posts--but for now keep in mind a statement that came from a TV show on our program many years ago

"Natural horsemanship makes better horses, but what matters is that it makes better people."