Humans spend so much time trying to “make” horses do things. I’m a little more fascinated these days with what horses have me doing. I’m an introvert who travels to work with groups of humans who have horses. I’m not sure any of us remembers a time when horses felt like a choice. It was always my introvert plan to sit in my little studio and write to my heart’s desire in the scant waking hours I wasn’t in the barn. Writing isn’t exactly cutting-edge technology, but it’s a crazy world and here I am in New Zealand again. I’m having a fabulous time, seeing old friends, equine and human, and meeting new friends.
Giving horses free rein to take me where they want to go has been a wondrous journey of learning through the course of my life, but the literal journey has been just as amazing.
Still, being a Traveling-Introvert is complicated. My first existential dilemma happened at the Colorado Springs airport, about fifteen miles from home. There was a delay on the first leg of my twenty-two-hour trip to Auckland. The delay was bad luck, but the dilemma was a man at the gate wearing a t-shirt that said: “Do me a favor. Don’t talk.” Dang. It’s perfect introvert travel gear… but I certainly understand his point.
As if being a Traveling-Introvert wasn’t enough, I think too much. Horses have taught me the folly of that fruitless behavior around them, so I discipline myself and only think too much the rest of the time. I dodder around the nooks and crannies of my own mind. I’m visual, so it’s as if I’m paging through scrapbooks of everything I’ve ever seen, had a passing thought about, or dreamed of doing. Endlessly fascinating. Restorative. Time-consuming. Lollygagging around in thought is great for long flights.
Landing in Auckland, there’s a different customs agent but it’s as if I’m continuing the same conversation every trip. If you go to agricultural areas on a work visa, things must be declared. I’ve really straightened up since that first time when I brought my favorite ropes. Now the only questionable thing I have are boots. I bleach and scrub them before packing, but not good enough and the agent frowns. She says, “It’ll take time to clean them. Don’t bring these boots next time.” Then she looks suspiciously at some white hairs on a black sweatshirt in my suitcase. “Horse hair?” she asks. I stand in a stupor. There’s no telling how much dog hair is packed on my clothes.
Miraculously, they let me pass and drag everything into the bathroom because customs can drive an introvert to crave a stall and this is the only kind airports have. It’s called the toilet here. Still, easier to breathe in a stall and when I’m almost myself again, my second existential dilemma. I’m not sure why suddenly no two faucets on the planet are the same or why, even with my advanced technological skills, I can’t figure out how to get hand soap out of the spout or start the water. So, I breathe some more because nothing I do with horses is as challenging as this. Finally, with wet hands, I look from side to side, trying to remember the last thing I read about germs and hand drying. Don’t use the paper towels; save the planet, it matters. But the blowers are loud and it’s a stressful process since I’m still recovering from trying to make water run. Should I buy a tea towel in an airport shop? I scan the options again. How did hand washing ever become such a quandary? Giving up, I dry my hands on my hair, making the spikey parts happy. Does that qualify as a travel beauty tip? As close as you’ll get.
It’s a miracle, I clear the terminal and I’m off. The first clinic was in Otaki, then on to facilities outside of Christchurch, Dunedin, Cambridge, and finally Whangarei. I won’t forget a moment. The horses are so varied, so interesting, so communicative: Arabians, Standardbreds, Warmbloods, Icelandic ponies and Friesians are just the start. Off-the-track rescue horses, purpose bred horses and station-breds, a driving pony, a mule, and the most outlandish, wonderful mares. What is it about the mares in New Zealand? And this trip, I met some Kaimanawas, New Zealand’s wild (feral) horses. I gush about the horses, but the riders were amazing, too. They were smart, caring, dedicated students of the horse. And my highest compliment, they’re open-minded. Horse people can be as “partisan” as any group and the things I teach break lots of old rules. Some riders were relatively new to horses but many were seasoned horsewomen. I was grateful to be among them.
That’s not all! There was a live band at a clinic pot luck, operatic donkeys in blankets, a plague of man-spreading on planes, sausage-eating river eels, gourmet bistros in airports the size of bus stations, magical birds everywhere, flawless flat whites, and just to prove it isn’t totally perfect here, rain, but then we went into the barn aisle and had an amazing conversation, followed by an inspired, screaming affirmation which I will not repeat here. (Warrior Queens, nothing less.) Beautiful beaches, friendly hotels, and the Southern Cross sharing the night sky with an upside-down flipped-over moon.
There were writing workshops; more horse people write than you’d imagine. Each time a rich, varied and eloquent group surprised and inspired each other and especially me. A true privilege to be part of those heartfelt days, thanks to all those hearty souls.
Hotel Pro-tip: It took me a while to learn this but if your business requires as much daily computer work as mine, remember when they say free wi-fi that means wi-fi not worth paying for. Lower your expectations. You’ll be fine now.
How does an introvert do it all? I created a character I play in public. The fancy word for it is a persona, I recommend getting one that doesn’t fit too tight. Mine is just like me, knows what I know, but has better words and an audible voice. She’s an extrovert who can remember every fifth name, a huge improvment over me. She’s comfortable with large groups and she doesn’t swear or talk politics. Much. Then at night, I peel my persona off and leave it outside on the doormat. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep if she was inside.
We like to think of introverts as people who are shy and quiet while extroverts are outgoing and talkative, but that isn’t quite right. There’s a bit of a spectrum of behaviors and it actually has more to do with what we do to restore ourselves at the end of the day… more about our time off than our time working. Introverts need quiet time to restore ourselves, we’re attracted to toilet stalls and marginal hotels. Extroverts- not so much.
Did I mention that Calming Signals are my equine specialty? Is reading people much different? In some ways, introverts are like stoic horses. Herd animals create a persona, how they want to look to others in the herd while hiding feelings of anxiety or pain inside for reasons of safety and security. Any of this sound familiar?
I think the majority of us horse people are introverts. Okay, perhaps the beauty tip was a bridge too far, but aren’t we more alike than different?
Clinic participants tell me they feel a bit isolated in the horse world, that our training methods are not respected. What if the world was full of us but we didn’t mention it for fear of being weirder than we are already? It sounds like something an introvert might do.
So long, New Zealand. Thanks for making me and my dorky habits welcome. Thanks for sharing your horses, and now, let’s share our voices, too. Let’s do it for horses. It isn’t like we don’t feel awkward already.