Friday, December 30, 2011 |

On bulldozers from Avatar and irreverent horsemanship

“Sometimes, Maia, you have stupid ideas.”

This would sure be the last time I let her pick her own way through the woods. I leaned forward and grabbed onto her neck while she ripped through the dead branches like some sort of maniac bulldozer straight from Avatar. She clearly knew where she was going and clearly knew the shortest way to get there—which was clearly through the thickest part of the branches’ overhang.

This is Maia. In her heart of hearts, she wants to be a bulldozer from Avatar.


This was quite a dilemma. If I ever wanted to escape this death-trap with all my skin and eyeballs and limbs still intact, I would have to more or less look up from my huddled fetal position. Then I could actually see so as to direct Maia (who was having altogether too much fun killing me, in my estimation, judging from her pricked ears and bouncy step) out of this jungle, as she obviously had no intention of taking anything less than the shortest route full speed ahead to wherever she had decided to go.

But the thing was, if I risked the danger of looking up from where my face was buried in her neck, then sure as anything I’d glance up at just the moment some great big nasty dagger branch would poke me right in the eye and then I’d probably lose my eyeball and while I was occupied with that I’d quit paying attention to my legs and would get my knee whacked into some horrible rock-hard rough scrapey tree and get gashed to the bone or lose my leg or something and then while I was trying to wrench my hip back into its socket a big branch would hit me right in the chest and flip me off my horse, depositing me in a poor crippled heap on the cold, unforgiving ground.

This was so much fun. No, really. It was.

Over the past weeks, I had fallen victim to something very common in the horse training world: not having fun. I spent so much time trying to be productive and "train horses right" that I crippled myself by rules.

Or, in other words, I was not being “irreverent.” In my film and theatre acting training, one of the most helpful concepts for me is to be “irreverent”: be spontaneous, free, breaking the standards and the status quo, getting out of your head and into the moment—and having fun.

Irreverent horse training has similar qualities. It is knowing when to crash through the woods without worrying that your horse is hollow or uncollected—because you know he is building a mental clarity far more important than any momentary posture. It is knowing when to let loose and gallop toward home—because you know at that moment the experience of flying, for you and your horse, is more meaningful to your relationship than any standard of propriety. It is knowing when to give up your slow, careful, conscientious training plan for a day—because you know it is more critical to your horse's joy to be free and happy galloping along the trail than it is for him to never have his mouth pulled on a little.

Irreverent horsemanship is knowing the rules of safety and experience well enough to be just a little heretical with them. It values flexibility and depth of relationship over an external set of rules you have imposed upon yourself and your horse.

Because, in the end, life doesn’t revolve around rules—it’s founded in relationship. With God, with others—and with horses.