Stay in Your Own Lane

I don’t mind getting stuck in traffic. It practically makes me un-American to say so. I don’t love it but I don’t get hair-tearing frustrated. I’m lucky to be an introvert who likes her own company. Perhaps a bit too much.

As the youngest child, my mother expected me to go outside to play and not come back before dinner. It felt like a get-out-of-jail-free card and I’ve been amusing myself ever since. Besides, horses taught me that getting frustrated was never the right answer.

And I’m fully cognizant that complaining about traffic is just about the most lowbrow, whiny small talk possible, but why let that stop me? I promise I’ll get to horses.

In my travel memoir, Undomesticated Women, Ft. Worth is notorious for the worst eternally under-construction freeway/agility course anywhere. Also the scene of the infamous road rage incident. Don’t let the fun I had writing about Ft. Worth traffic fool you. My dog and sanity coach, Mister, had to cover his eyes.

During that trip, I stayed over at the ranch after the clinic and then drove south through town in Monday morning rush hour traffic. We managed to score $96 in express tolls. GPS can’t distinguish between a freeway off-ramp and an express toll lane. Not even with dozens of opportunities. The hilarity continues by putting off-ramps on the left because it increases the number of wild last-minute lane changes. It’s genius.

The locals have a “T” sticker for toll discounts but wayward tourists get lost for hours like fat hens who can’t hear the cash register dinging with each wrong turn in the endless circle of express lanes. We cluck profanity but we are only tourist hens and easy prey.

I was back for a clinic on the north side of Ft. Worth this week. Afterward, Mister and I headed to the south end of town again to visit his family. Mister wants to be the sort who visits family, but like a lot of us, he doesn’t get along with all of them so well. He does like the ones who share their cheese.

This time I prepared what I needed like I do tacking up my horses. They shouldn’t have to wait while I wander off to find my best rubber curry, neck ring, or helmet. Horses appreciate common courtesy. And I prepared for the traffic in Fort Worth in the same way.

This time I didn’t wait for Monday rush hour and left Sunday night, a hindsight choice in hopes of less traffic. I had my mail-order “T” sticker and my GPS was primed and ready. There was a cool bottle of water in the console, a protein bar to guard against low blood sugar-induced fits, and some sunflower seeds for stress-eating. And Mister strapped into the passenger seat, a dog who just doesn’t care. Drama is not his thing.

Long story short, no one died. I escaped all of a thousand hellish off-ramps to toll roads. They did not induct me into the Two-time Debtors Prison. But I can report that the Texas road rage numbers were at an all-time high. I got shoved deep onto the shoulder at the end of the merge lane no less than three times in the hour-long drive. Really? Is Sunday night game night?

We travel in a truck and trailer. We need more distance to stop and can never forget our real length at a tight gas station or a grocery store parking lot. From Seattle to Philadelphia, urban drivers were capable of doing the math and letting us merge in without incident. Letting us have the forty-four feet needed to slide into traffic didn’t destroy their day or set off a rage. I thanked them with the coveted index finger salute. Sometimes a full five-finger wave. But not Texas. Here it’s like everyone was screaming “Stay in your lane!” even if it isn’t a real lane.

A tiny BMW missed my front bumper by a fraction and then hit the brakes in front of me. Followed by the black Lexus chasing it. An F-150 in the right lane came wheel-to-wheel with me, making eye contact, and not speeding up or slowing down until I had to skid to a stop on the shoulder. And not that size matters, but I drive a big dog F250 Super Duty. With a big dog chrome grill on the front that I’m not afraid to use.

But instead, I gave way. The traffic word is yield. Playing chicken is a stupid dominance game and I am just barely smart enough to understand no one wins. If shoving a gray mare with an RV onto the gravel makes their day, I hope they don’t have pets.

There is a word for these angry animals. Anthropocentrism is the concept of human supremacy or exceptionalism. It’s the idea that we are separate from and superior to nature and have intrinsic value while other lower lives may justifiably be exploited for our benefit. Whether they are human or non-human lives.

Do you know who does stay in their lane? Horses. Yes, I equate everything to horses because they are better than us.

Picture a herd of horses galloping over the landscape. Notice how they don’t crash into each other? Or run each other off a cliff? They keep a safe space between themselves to preserve their safety while moving with the herd. It’s the same thing birds and fish do.

We might be the only animals that have temper tantrums and slam into each other. Why call it playing chicken when chickens don’t do it?

Non-collision is a fundamental survival skill of horses. Running is their primary defense against predators, but more than that, space gives them some security around us predators.

At the same time, the first thing we do is crowd them, intruding on their space. Humans are face talkers. We put our nose an inch from theirs, so close they can only see a blur. We run them off the road with affection or training aids, we think our desires about space are more important than theirs.

Now I am a gray mare, tired of watching horses cringe in their calming signals when we shove into them. Tired of watching them ask for their space while yielding, always yielding to us. Horses close their eyes or look away as we take the predator position. Then we get louder thinking they are distracted.

We could stand peacefully at their shoulder but even then, we crowd into their space, whether we do it for reasons of domination or our need for affection, it’s intrusive. It’s our will over theirs, rather than a respect for mutual rules for each other’s safety.

What constitutes a traffic jam for a horse? Humans.

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37 thoughts on “Stay in Your Own Lane”

  1. I’ve met some wonderful people over my 40 years living in Texas, but the ratio of buttheads to regular folks seems pretty high, I’m sad to say. Being a loud, obnoxious bully is seen as a superpower here. But driving with a trailer on an interstate is a challenge I will literally go out of my way to avoid. Just be glad it wasn’t a loaded horse trailer: some of them (especially motorcyclists) like to drive up real close so they can scare the horses. That’s when I wish I had James Bond devices on my vehicle, to throw out tacks or something!

    • I agree, Susan. I have great clients and friends here. I enjoy much of the culture. Initially I thought it was a coincidence but way too often for that. Horses have it right.

  2. Love it, Anna, although your description of Ft. Worth traffic makes me slightly sweaty. I have never understood road rage but there’s a lot I don’t understand about humans these days. Glad you are safe! We are heading down the road in two weeks with horses (and dogs) in tow, taking a wide berth around Texas. (Not even getting close.) Have a great summer!

    • Downright clammy!! I’ll miss your visit to the lower 49 this year, but have fun and be safe. Here’s wishing you the better kinds of adventure. Thanks, Kaylene and bon voyage!

  3. Scary description, Anna. Sad to say I have watched that attitude here in NY – and its not ALL done by NJ drivers (nyer feelings). The lack of any concept of space between a car and a horse trailer OR a tractor trailer really scares the hell out of me. Watching some of these brainless idiots pull directly in front of either without a thought of what it takes to be able to SLOW down or stop?
    Makes me wonder exactly what they are teaching new “drivers”.
    And yeah, the push & shove done by humans to horses – and other animals – just makes clear that the dominance beliefs are still alive.

  4. I so identify with what you wrote. Only child used to entertaining myself and doing it really well for many years. Almost run off the road a few times. Love my horses and treat them with respect which is the way they treat me.

  5. Great article, Anna. I always enjoy your writing and humor.
    As for the Ft. Worth traffic, I get it. Our son and his family live in Sugar Land, just west of Houston.
    Hubby and I call the area Kamikaze Land, because with their speed and recklessness, drivers there are frightening.
    You know who are the best drivers there?
    The Lyft drivers.
    I use them when I fly into Houston and need a ride to my son’s house an hour away.
    I always compliment the drivers on their sensible driving, saying how much I appreciate their carefulness.
    One driver recently told me part of their contract is to drive within the speed limits.
    As for crowding horses, I try to keep my breathing slow and movements unrushed. Stay out of their faces.
    Sometimes have to politely ask well-meaning horse people to keep their busy hands off my horse’s face and muzzle.
    People think they’re showing their love for my horse. My horse is polite, but it’s annoying.

    • Your good horse is tolerant and you are right to support him… thanks, Tara. Mister does agree we need a driver so we can ride in back eating cookies.

  6. I don’t know anything about Texas or their drivers, but the divide between Maryland and Virginia drivers seems real. Maryland drivers are always harping on how rude Virginia drivers are, while Virginia drivers are outraged that Marylanders refuse to yield to whatever a Virginia driver does.
    Until this latest post, I found there was a similar divide in my mind between the knowledge that horses are constantly asking for their space and the wisdom of acknowledging it. I pray that this new-found wisdom prevails. Thank you, Anna!

  7. I recently traveled to Scottsdale AZ (and back) to participate in a Miniature Horse show, from the central coast of California. On the road heading there I was almost taken out in a head on collision. Another time, a car approached at such a high speed that one of us ended up on the shoulder while the speeder (likely 90 mph + ) passed me with a flaring honk. I gave the one finger salute, but he went by so fast that I doubt he saw it. What is the matter with people? I’m 74 – and used to coutry roads. It was a bit traumatizing, to say the least. All horses are fine.

  8. Love this blog, Anna! If only we could learn from horses! We think they’re “dumb” animals. Um, excuse me?! And i LOVE “Undomesticated Women”! It is wonderful and makes me smile or laugh often. You are a fabulous story teller. AND i Love your irreverent sense of humor. LOVE it! Thank you, Anna!

    • Thanks, Carolyn. The horse world is just like the real world. Some of us learn and it feels like others never will…

  9. Road bully, horse bully, child bully; I think that they are all cut from the same cloth. I don’t know if my assessment is accurate, but it feels like the percentage of people who feel entitled to bully is growing. I try not to have an ill will after witnessing an episode of bullying, but my fantasies of retribution lean towards violence against the oppressor. Does that make me a bully? I hope not, but so far offering a bully an alternative way of negotiating has not yielded positive feedback. I don’t think that I’ll resort to my violent fantasies as an alternative partly because I’m of a certain age in which I would likely end up the loser. In other words I can’t float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

    • Yes, Laurie. A bully is a bully, insecure in a dozen ways. When I have violent fantasies, Mister reminds me that I can’t outrun anybody.

      • Well, I look like Forrest Gump when I attempt to run. The image of me could potentially disable any bully that I plan to challenge. Maybe those violent fantasies of retribution could come true after all.

  10. Great one, Anna. I agree with all points. We try to do better. Glad you survived the highways and exits.
    Come to visit us sometime — I think you will find the driving more sane, generally.

    I have been MIA for a while. Four weeks ago, I crashed down in the living room (notably, trying to move a cat litter box), broke three ribs, fractured both wrists — the left badly — and just for good measure, hit my head rather hard on the way down (not wearing a riding helmet). David ran in, asked me for the name of the president (the common mental check) and I answered, Rishi Sunak. It made him laugh. You’re OK, he said. But I wasn’t.

    Anyway, casts, broken ribs aside, I then picked up a virus at Urgent Care (vacc. against Covid, RSV, both influenzas) — it had to be yet another one. So, I am just beginning to recover from broncho-pneumonia, which, added to the fractures, made life truly miserable for the past 10 days. The coughing, and pain in the ribs, most upsettingly.

    Finally, saw the horses today (friends and the new manager at the barn have been amazing). The both looked good and well-groomed. We had to move the day before I went down with pneumonia — I almost passed out. Now into the fourth week and have cast the casts and now with two strong splints, which are more comfortable. Still some pain so I am writing slowly with three fingers.

    Hope to be back soon, but weeks ahead yet and PT. I know you have been through it. It comes to us all.
    Everyone said, “Was it the horses?” Of course they asked that.

    A Persian rug was out for cleaning — I had to hit that precise spot, crashing down hard on the wood floor.
    I regret getting rid of the carpet now. The past four weeks have seemed like three months and sleep is

    Tonight I said, ‘Bloody hec…it’s time for a glass of wine’.

    Good night, keep the humor coming, it helps healing.

    Warm wishes,

  11. I have lived in Texas all my life(66 years). We used to be the “friendly state with friendly drivers.” Drivers used to let the other guy in, the one guy even stopped for another so they could cut in or cross a multi lane street. I have memories of my dad taking us to the country and raising his two fingers to say hi to the passing car. All, sadly things of the past. Admittedly, I am not so proud of our state these days. I opt to hang out with the animals instead. I hated to miss auditing the clinic while you were here, Anna. Hoping to be able to go next time .

  12. Absolutely poetic, the way you always relate horses to human happenings in a cleverly written life lesson. Regrettably I don’t live among horses, but I do love them almost as much as some humans.

  13. I love this. And you had my husband laughing, which means it was especially brilliantly written. But as for me, after laughter, I got teary eyed for some reason, when you wrote:
    “Do you know who does stay in their lane? Horses. Yes, I equate everything to horses because they are better than us.”
    I’m not sure why it touched me so. Probably because I get sentimental about their superior ways, as you describe them. I try not to, and to think more in terms of doing better, but I guess I can’t help myself. And I’ve been on the road myself with sleep deprivation, nasty drivers and road construction with ridiculous and little signage (especially Houston TX) and missing my donkeys and horse for 2 weeks. Tell Mister for me that family visits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, although 7 years is a long time not seeing my sisters and brother, and I am a little sentimental about them 😉. Thank you for great reading in the car.

  14. Love your blog around Texas traffic. Been there, done that. My trainer ( Casey Deary) lives in Fort Worth, So in the past I flew in from South Africa several times to ride with him. Also imported my favourite mare from Casey.
    However scarey your highways are – at least you don’t have hijackers that throw spikes onto the road and then hold you up/shoot you. This is a current road-sport in South Africa when I take the N4 toll road from the city ( Pretoria). where I live, to my farm, which is 32 km away. They specifically mention the road in the following link ( Watermeyer Road to Bronkhorsespruit)


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