Do you notice that it gets a little easier to be yourself every day?
Public speaking wasn’t the sort of thing I was born being good at. My first lesson: Everyone thinks it’s a good idea if the person making the presentation breathes from time to time. I listened to podcasts about public speaking, and I practiced pontificating in a clear loud voice while mucking and simultaneously breathing. Writing helps with speaking, too.
There I was in a large meeting room of a fancy hotel, standing behind a podium. At clinics, I build podiums out of muck barrels and coolers, but this was a store-bought wooden one. My shoes were clean, I had a microphone on my lapel, and it was a good day. Make eye contact with your audience, they tell you. I usually pick three people; left, right, and center. It was going well. There was some laughter when I was being intentionally humorous. Fifteen minutes in, a man who favored cowboy dressing walked down the center aisle and sat in the second row. He stretched his legs out, crossed his arms over his chest, and furrowed his brows at me. I smiled back.
I was explaining Calming Signals and the man seemed to think I was an idiot and was not subtle about it. He glared, he fidgeted, he grimaced. I wondered if that approach worked on others, as I moved around my podium and walked out directly in front of his legs, positioned like cross rails in the center aisle. I gave him an unrestricted view of me, made eye contact, and showed him every tooth in my mouth, continuing with newfound vigor. He tisked, muttered, shook his head. Was he heckling me? I let my hands dance in the air, I stood square and looked left, right, and straight into his flinty little eyes. I felt shockingly mature as I remembered times in the past I had bit my tongue when dismissed by naysayers, only to stew, hash and broil about it for days after. You know what I mean.
But now I was a woman of a certain age. I made a conscious choice to not get defensive, and let my voice ride out. There was applause at the end, but he was gone before I could thank him for coming. Genuinely. Things have entirely changed since middle school. I had no idea how much you could enjoy smiling at people who don’t like you. It felt like taking off your underwear at the end of a long hot day.
It should be easier or come sooner in life. Is there something you’re holding your belly in about? Have you been clenching your jaw to quiet your words or pushing your hands deep in your pockets and looking away? Those are calming signals, too. With horses, calming signals are often expressed at the intersection of two conflicting thoughts. They might want to stay with the herd but be curious about going with their human. When we give them a minute to resolve their emotions, they will make a choice, and that action builds confidence.
It works for us like it does horses, but we have that complicated noodle of a frontal lobe and it gives us the ability to think too much. We weigh both sides and languish in worry and indecision. Then we take a break and worry what others will think. Returning to the first issue, we weigh the other thirty or forty sides to our dilemma because the pandemic makes all things murky and nebulous, and then we overthink some more. At some point, making any decision, right or wrong, would be a relief. Just being yourself would be enough if the path back were visible.
Why should a horse trainer mention these things? Because our painful indecision is illuminated by having a horse. That horse is a changing life, at the center of another life that is always changing. Maybe it’s time to retire your horse and you aren’t ready to stop riding. Maybe it’s time to ease away from riding but your horse is ready to run. You know women making a different decision and you linger, wishing her decision would work for you. Even if the issue is not horse-related, it comes up when we’re with them because horses are anxiety detectors.
This is your annual reminder that the things out of your control are still out of your control. Maybe a better question is have the priorities changed? Your priorities are easy to know; after all the talking, it’s where you spend your time and money. Has that gotten tangled up? Are you holding ground that might be traded for something better? So many of us have fought so hard for what we have that we’re bound up in the fear of loss. Are our powerful defenses blocking the next good thing? Maybe we swear off words like should, always, and never to make room for opportunity. Would release feel brand new?
Being a woman of a certain age can be a quirky and awkward time. For all that faces us, may our truest days be ahead. That’s what our horses would wish for us. Authenticity is better than a fantasy, if you ask them. Perhaps it’s time to let go of what isn’t ours and celebrate wanting what is within our grasp.
It’s time to update that personal serenity prayer. Mine includes doing the things that feel like getting out of my underwear at the end of a long, hot, but exceptionally good day. What about you?
Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward
Want more? Join us in The Barn. Subscribe to our online training group with training videos, interactive sharing, audio blogs, live-chats with Anna, and the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere.
Ongoing courses in Calming Signals, Affirmative Training, Fundamentals of Authentic Dressage, and Back in the Saddle: a Comeback Conversation, as well as virtual clinics, are taught at The Barn School, where I also host our infamous Happy Hour. Everyone’s welcome.
Visit annablake.com to find over a thousand archived blogs, purchase signed books, schedule a live consultation or lesson, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses.
Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.