Any number of sports and recreational pass-times can be potentially life changing. Sports like surfing, skiing, sailing, mountaineering, hiking… even team sports such as rugby, cricket, netball, soccer, basketball, whatever… can have a profound impact on where and how a person chooses to live their life and conduct their relationships. Some activities go beyond simply influencing life’s choices and cut to the heart of an individual’s thinking, beliefs, morality, purpose and spirituality.
One sport goes even further. One sport provides its adherents with a guru that is both unforgiving, yet forgiving, demanding, yet self-less, tolerant, yet intolerant, and spiteful, yet kind and loving. No mystical guru of any man-made religion shines a brighter light on the soul of its worshippers, nor blazes a more brilliant beam on the right life’s path for the faithful – nor sets a higher standard for how one may live their life – than a horse does. Not all horse people experience the profound changes that a horse can make in its human partner’s life, because many humans doesn’t allow it. This is the story of the life of one human who, every day, works at allowing her horses to teach her about the world and how she can live productively, truthfully and lovingly in the world. This is one example of a person who is allowing her horse to change the way she lives her life in more fundamental ways that almost any other sport could!
I have this enigmatic friend. Some people are easy to read, and others are more complex. I break down my understanding of this character into bits that I get, bits I think that I get, bits that I think I get but are more than likely wrong about and bits I don’t have the foggiest about.
It’s a given that she is smart, creative, beautiful and doesn’t have much time for idiots and the unethical. This much I get. The things that I think that I get are that she is courageous, tough, a good prioritizer, a glass-half-full person, strong-willed and (usually) a good decision-maker. The bits that I think that I get (but am, maybe way off-beam about) are that she prefers to see the world in black and white, she is easily bored, she is not impressed with convention, she thrives on challenges, she is not argumentative (she wouldn’t be bothered) and it’s likely that she comes from another planet.
Now for the tough one. Despite having known this friend for years it is either a testament to my lack of perceptiveness or a measure of her mysteriousness (or possibly a bit of both) that there is so much I don’t get. What kinds of people interest her? Not sure. What does she value in friends? Nup. Don’t know. What kinds of guys does she find attractive (I assume she is hetero)? Not sure. I suspect she likes man’s man types, but I don’t have much evidence to support this. What things frighten her? Dunno. Maybe she doesn’t get frightened? Does she ever get depressed or anxious? No idea. What things make her joyous? Buggered if I know. Is she happy (she is certainly a positive and optimistic person, but this does not always equate to happiness)? So, don’t know. Does she fall in love easily? Or make friends easily? Or tire easily? Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. What does she really want out of life? Nup. No idea.
Why focus so much time prattling on about what I know or do not know about this enigmatic character in what is meant to be a sports story? Because this sports story is about a person… and a relationship… and how the person relates to the world. It is also about how horses have changed her… not just in terms of lifestyle choices but also in much more fundamental ways. The telling of the story may not make the person any less enigmatic or mysterious but it may show others how they might be able to make similar exciting changes in their own lives. Through learning about the story of Lulu and her journey with her horses I might get to understand Lulu better. That would be fun. But even if I don’t, it is bound to offer me insights as to how a sport activity to can enable me to live a better life on this exquisite planet.
The story starts a few years back, when my friend and her daughter were spending a bit of time around an equestrian centre. The daughter, Coco, loved horses and, my friend, Lulu, had noticed how the young teenagers around the centre were seemingly responsible, devoted and passionate kids and Lulu felt that working and playing with horses would, there-for, be good for Coco too. Initially then, horses were intended to be a positive part of Coco’s journey and not something that Lulu would get very excited about.
As part of the plan to enable Coco to grow in the sport, Lulu started looking around the local newspapers and web sites for horses that might be suitable for her young equestrian hopeful. As fate would have it, the handsome and exotic man who was wooing Lulu at the time, noticed the interest that she was displaying in horses and he started to put together a plan that would change my friend’s life in a way that she never expected.
As her fortieth birthday approached, Lulu had a sense that her man was working on a special surprise for her, but in her imagination, she conjured images of beautiful jewellery or some other such finery. When the day was almost upon them the boyfriend surprised her when he said, “Go to Pottsville… 8.00 a.m. … don’t be late!” What kind of jewellery can you get at Pottsville (a rural village in Northern N.S.W.) at 8.00 a.m. she thought? This was not looking promising.
As it turned out, the gentleman had done a little numerological research and very specifically chosen a nervous, unschooled, horse that now waited in a paddock in Pottsville to meet it’s new, not terribly enthusiastic, owner.
“Don’t you understand?”…. “Not really,” responded Lulu.
Lulu ran her eyes up and down the timid mare. The horse looked back suspiciously.
“This horse loves you… it needs you. This horse is perfect… it’s perfect for you,” said the boyfriend to Lulu. “Don’t you understand.”
“Not really,” responded Lulu. She, graciously, didn’t say anything about the total lack of jewellery that should have been part of the deal.
The women who was selling the horse complicated matters by throwing in, “Hmmm… I don’t think I am going to sell this horse to you. It doesn’t seem like a good match.”
The owner’s inference that Lulu would not be up to the challenge shifted Lulu’s resolve in relation to the gift horse. Her stubbornness was aroused! Her determination stimulated. A challenge had been offered… and she had a vague sense that somewhere at the end of this journey a beautiful outcome might be achieved. Besides… how tough could it be, she thought. Buy a saddle and some riding gear on the net or at a garage sale, jump on the horse’s back and away you go! This was no big deal. Lulu felt that she had been given an opportunity to start a new challenge and at the same time give a creature the good life that it deserved so she decided that she was up for the journey.
After Lulu promised the seller that she intended to work with a specialist trainer to develop the horse the deal was done. So, began a journey that has changed Lulu and Coco’s lives in so many ways!
It wasn’t an easy start. In fact, it was difficult. Very difficult. About as difficult as anything Lulu had ever done.
“I was at a stage in my life where I could present myself to the world differently to who I really was… but I couldn’t do that to the horses,” she says now.
The process of working with her new horse started a massive unravelling process for Lulu. She couldn’t fake it that she wasn’t scared. For a person who projected strength, confidence and control to the world to realize that she was not remotely in control of the situation made Lulu feel vulnerable. Lulu found herself more frightened than she had ever been at any stage previously in her life.
Fear was not the only emotion to bombard Lulu. She also experienced feelings of rejection. She couldn’t understand why this animal showed no signs of wanting to have anything to do with her. Despite the physical effort, the care, the time and the financial resources she was pouring into this animal that she was trying to provide a great life for, it responded to her with distain. She couldn’t understand why her horse wanted nothing to do with her. She couldn’t understand why the horse seemed to hate her.
Despite the intense feelings of fear and rejection, Lulu still managed to grasp glimpses of great beauty in her horse and in their growing relationship. The wonder that this partnership could grow into something beyond special prevented Lulu from running away from the challenge.
Despite the difficulty of these early days in the journey being all consuming, Lulu recognizes now that the fact that her horse was spirited was a blessing. If she had bought a well-schooled “easy” horse she would have been able to jump on its back and canter off without getting the opportunity to discover what developing a relationship with another creature is all about. Over time, she came to discover that the horse that she had initially felt was giving her nothing back, despite the enormous amounts of energy she felt she was investing in the relationship, was simply refusing to allow anyone to come near it that wasn’t doing so with the “highest level of respect.”
At a meeting with an “animal communicator” Lulu had lamented that she didn’t know what to do because “she does so much for her horse” yet the animal continues to hate her. Memories of her horse wildly tossing its head about while she tried to brush prickles from its mane, really rankled. “What is your problem. I’m doing this for you… not for me!” she had complained to the recalcitrant animal.
When the communicator pointed out that it was important for Lulu to approach the horse with full understanding that the horse “knows everything that you are thinking and feeling,” scales fell from Lulu’s eyes. She suddenly understood that her feelings of resentment fell well below what her horse would find acceptable during their interactions. Lulu explains now that her horse would not allow her to approach it without Lulu being willing to provide a respectful and even divine space. “As human beings we usually assume that animals are stupid and basic… inferior to us in every sense,” explains Lulu. Such attitudes prevent us from dealing with animals in the respectful way that they deserve and demand.
“Once I took that out of the equation, then everything changed. You start to treat someone as an equal,” she adds. Since then the relationship has blossomed. Not everything has gone smoothly all the time, of course. Lulu talks about many lessons she has learned where she hadn’t got things quite right and had been bucked off her horse’s back and ended up landing on her head on the hard ground. These lessons have enabled her to recognize parallels in her own life.
She remembers rabbiting on to a friend about how she was not remotely interested in having any boyfriend in her life if the relationship didn’t promise to be “beautiful, amazing… at the highest level!” The friend pointed out, wisely and perceptively, that her horse expected no less from her. “Your horse will not tolerate anything less than you meeting her in a space where she deserves to be met,” said the friend. The high standards that Lulu demanded in a romantic friendship were no different to the what her equine animal demanded of her.
As Lulu’s journey progressed she was discovering every day, more and more, that everything changes… as you change the way you see and relate to the horse. “Bit by bit, it opens up to you,” she says. Initially, the horse may have been asleep… a slave to a former owner who had no regard for its feelings – a beast that was used for breeding and that had its babies stolen away soon after birth! Lulu argues that no decent human being should ever treat another sentient being in the way that normally decent people sometimes treat horses. When you allow the horse to be “different” from this captive role you create an opening for a relationship of equality to develop… to create a place where the horse can become what it wants to be. At this point the partnership and the journey becomes unique for you and the horse.
“You wouldn’t tell a young child that they are going to be a pole-vaulter… and then you just make it happen,” says Lulu. Unfortunately, many horse owners have little interest in what the horse may want. She believes that horses, as sentient beings, have wants, desires, hopes and dreams just as humans do and to force an animal into a human-determined role is inappropriate and unsatisfying for everyone involved.
Lulu’s growing relationship with the horse was now being constructed around the “Who are you?” question that she was asking of her friend every day. Instead of telling the horse that it must jump or that its role in life is to be a racer or an eventer, decisions in the relationship were based on the principles of “consent and free will.” Lulu loved to ride her beautiful mare but if “free will and consent” means that she doesn’t get the opportunity to ride as much as she would like then that is okay with her. She believes that there is no real relationship if she doesn’t go into every interaction with her horse without her honest intention of giving the horse the freedom of choice.
“Anyone who is unwilling, unable or just doesn’t want to open up (to the horse) in this way will find their horse totally different (to the type of horse in the world that I have discovered). The experience will be totally different. They are different worlds. You cannot marry the world’s together. They are different experiences!” says Lulu. “There are no short-cuts in this journey. It’s mind-blowing how different an experience this can be, and you cannot experience it unless you do it (honour these principles of free will and consent).”
There is a “never-ending flow of misinformation, pseudo-wisdom and inaccurate assumptions in the horse world”
Lulu is a fan of famous horse-relationship expert, Klaus Hempling, who has strong views on how one should enter a relationship with a horse. Hempling argues that if you are not in the right kind of relationship (life partner), or not in the right work, or your body and health are not right then you shouldn’t be around horses! Lulu says that while people don’t want to hear such things, maybe it’s time to get a divorce, or quit a job if you want to build a great relationship with a horse. It’s simple, she believes. If the rider is presenting something that is not truthful or is different to the way they really are… if what the rider is projecting is not in alignment with their true selves or not living in simplicity, then horses will be able to feel that. The feeling for the horse in a situation like this is awful and they simply do not want to be around people like that.
Lulu says that there is a “never-ending flow of misinformation, pseudo-wisdom and inaccurate assumptions in the horse world” and she wonders if that is common in the rest of the sports and leisure activity world. “You have to let the horse know who is boss… the horse has to respect you,” are examples of the horse truisms that Lulu says are unhelpful and keep people on a path of confusion. Most people who love horses desperately want to achieve wonderful relationships with their horse, but they don’t know how to achieve this relationship. Unfortunately, many traditional horse “experts” and large parts of the mainstream horse industry encourage this style of thinking.
The first and most obvious one is the thing that horse ownership shares with many sports… i.e. a healthy, outdoor lifestyle and the fitness advantages that flow with it. Lulu and Coco are up at dawn every day to feed the animals and, of course, this takes them out into the beautiful natural world at a time when everything around them seems bright and new and shiny! Most surfers, skiers and hikers will tell you that a large part of their love of their sport is the way it draws you into the natural world. Sharing a life with horses is no different. As is the case with surfing, skiing and hiking dealing with horses is also great physical exercise. Lulu laughs when she explains that many think that riding is a passive event… that the rider is a passenger who makes little physical effort. As any rider knows, riding a huge, powerful animal is anything but passive. The rider is working hard most of the time. Even more significantly, Lulu explains that even when she is not riding, caring for horses is hard physical work. She and Coco are constantly carrying around large bags of feed, erecting or taking down fences or carrying out one or other of any number of physically taxing tasks. As she says, as a horse owner, I don’t need gym membership!
Along with being out in the natural world and doing hard physical labour Lulu explains that there is a deep sense of spirituality in the journey of horse ownership that has enormously enhanced her and Coco’s lives. “Coming to understand that your horse is another being that has feelings, dreams, hopes, experience, fear, joy and even humour brings your whole world alive,” says Lulu. “It’s like living in ‘Alice in Wonderland! Your whole world ignites.’”
Lulu has discovered that when you are around horses a lot there develops an interconnectedness between you, your horse and the world that was not there before. You start to develop a greater awareness of the signals and energy that you give off. “There is a fine-tuning of your body”, she suggests. She also believes that you learn to observe… to watch… and to sense when something is going to happen. You are no longer separate from what is going on around you and you are often able to predict what is going to happen well before it does. A good example is the way she has developed a sense of when a herd of horses is becoming excited and is about to gallop off as a group.
Lulu finds it extraordinary and exciting the way an experienced horse person can “read” that a horse is feeling troubled or stressed and rather than becoming annoyed, up-tight or frightened themselves they acknowledge the horse’s feelings by creating a “peaceful space” that their horse can come into. This is a special gift that an experienced rider can offer to their horse. When this happens the rider and their horse are demonstrating a real partnership… an almost spiritual partnership!
Negotiating this spiritual path is not all smooth sailing. Lulu recently was riding her horse near their property. They were just having a gentle stroll. As often happens, the world started to play tricks on them. A motorbike rider was making a big racket… an old foam box was rattling around in the bushes at the side of the road… the wind was howling through the trees nearby. Lulu could tell that her horse was feeling uncomfortable. Moments after she whispered to her horse that it “would have to find its centre” she realized that if this situation was going to work out positively she had to find her calm and centre, too! “We are in this together,” she laughed to herself. “It’s not all about you!”
The pair got most of the way to the home paddock without any dangerous incidents occurring when Lulu accidently gave her partner the signal to go. Next thing she knew she was hanging on for dear life as her horse led her through the trees and bushes at a full canter! Just when she thought she might be about to be bounced off her buddy, the horse screeched to a dead stop just in front of a telegraph pole. “That was a close one”, Lulu thought. Pondering how her horse had previously been a dead slow-poke she patted him on the side of the neck and said, “hey… you have really come to life.” She immediately realized that that worked both ways. She had fully come to life as well. They had sprung to life together!
No bit. No saddle. Absolutely no riding crop!
Moments like these are huge to Lulu. She understands that such small incidents may mean very little to other people, but they are extra-special to her. What happens between her horse and her, whether good or not so good, are all part of a very personal journey that is shared. As part of her philosophy of “free will and consent” Lulu uses very little riding gear when she is out with her horse. No bit. No saddle. Absolutely no riding crop! Very little gear at all. She honestly admits that she doesn’t even bring much skill to the partnership. If the horse decides to gallop off there is absolutely nothing she can do about it. There is no way that even a strong and experienced rider could pull up a huge powerful animal under such circumstances, so Lulu has no chance. She can rely to some degree on her intelligence… but her most significant tool by far is her trust. Trust in the relationship. Through respectfully tuning into the horses wants, needs and feelings she can usually get a sense of “how far she can push things, how much she can ask of her horse, when it’s time to go home or when it’s time to get off.” While the respectful partnership and trust serves her well, the reality is that things are always close to the edge! A surprise is always a possibility.
In this way, Lulu lives every day with her horse, close to the edge. Some people may go on adventure holidays to exotic locations for an escape from their hum-drum lives. Lulu lives a life of adventure every day. She lives, works, eats and sleeps just like the rest of us but at the same time she and Coco are living an extraordinary adventure all the time. As a person who loves excitement, this is the ideal life.
Thanks to her horse, (and the other horses in Lulu’s and Coco’s lives), this family are fundamentally changed by the journey they have taken with their equine partners. While Lulu owns and manages a successful organic cosmetics business she is in the process of creating an animal sanctuary on the property where they live. The respect and love that she has learned is essential to her relationship with her horses she now offers to all animals, humans and the world itself. Lulu has learned to live her life with the knowledge that every sentient being has a right to have its free will respected and that nothing should be done to or taken from a creature without its consent. While her journey is full of surprises, usually, but not always good ones, she wouldn’t change her path for all the tea in China.
I still think that Lulu is enigmatic… mysterious even! But I think I get her passion for her sport. It’s hard to imagine any other leisure activity or sport capable of so fundamentally shifting a person’s way of viewing the universe and changing their lived experience as developing a relationship with a horse can. While most of us, despite the joys and benefits gained through out sporting pursuits, live relatively hum-drum lives. You can tell by the sparkle of aliveness in Lulu’s eyes that every day, for her, is an adventure. She lives like Lulu in Wonderland.
Post script – Lulu made the point to me recently that it is important to keep in mind that one’s journey with horses is not about what horses can do for you on your path through life. That approach is essentially selfish. It sees the horse as a means to an end. If a horse would be happier galloping around a pasture with its mates than having you riding on its back so that you can get some developmental experience, then to ride it is not okay. As Lulu said, “like many people who have embarked on a similar journey to me, I don’t ride my horse because I have realized that it’s not what they want! Horses have inspired me to find my own majesty, grace and power – rather than experiencing these things with a horse as an extension of me. I am finding even more majesty, grace and power now through improving my skills at combat sports and deepening my friendship with horses.
For those interested in finding out a little more about developing a special relationship with horses Lulu recommends the book Riding on the Power of Others – A Horsewoman’s Path to Unconditional Love by Ren Hurst. Published by Vegan Books.