For roughly a year, I adopted what I believed was a clever way of describing the status of my riding relationship with Rudy. When someone asked why I was looking for another horse, I would reply, "I need a horse with less f-you."
I proudly clung to this quip through my search and as I worked with my first lease, Millie, and then later with sweet little Anna.
Anyone familiar with my journey with Rudy knows it's been a dream come true and far from a fairy tale. Instead, it's been a winding, ragged, and rocky path with stretches of brambles followed by the occasional open meadow dotted with the vibrant yellow flowers of dandelions drenched in the sun's warmth.
Despite the challenges, there is the knowing that Rudy and I belong.
We are all students of life. Some of us take this role more seriously than others. I have something in me that constantly pushes me to seek growth, to get and be better, and to do my best to live out my purpose.
But I am human, and some lessons are taking longer to grasp. One lesson I feel confident about is the "blame game." When I was in my teens, twenties and even my thirties, I found myself pointing out, looking out, and blaming others for undesirable events in my life.
Slowly and with practice, I became conscious of this tendency and began looking inward at how I contributed to the problem or circumstance. I adopted the truth, "You can only control yourself and your thoughts."
The more I practiced looking inward and controlling my thoughts, the more peace I found. So, when I finally woke up to the blame I was placing on Rudy for our troubles, the reality of that saying slapped me across the face.
A year ago, I decided to "get back on the horse," which in this case meant getting back to trotting on Rudy. Between my riding accident the year before and Rudy coming off a prolonged period of physical and mental stress that resulted in him being more challenging to ride than usual, I knew I needed help.
I decided to take lessons and knew I needed to feel some additional control. I asked the trainer to work with us on the lunge line. For a while, this went well, and Rudy and I started to make progress. After a handful of these sessions, we could get off the rope midway through and end our lesson trotting our patterns like the old days. I was thrilled!
Aside from skiing, nothing makes my heart sing like when Rudy and I work together. I tell you this, so you understand why the next session came as a blow.
I hopped on Rudy, and we started on the lunge line, as usual, and initially, things were good. But then, he became tight. His head was high, his body tense, and he started not listening, or perhaps he couldn't hear me through what was going on internally for him.
As we went around in circles, doing transitions to help us focus, he wasn't with me, and I wasn't with him. The lesson couldn't end soon enough, and while we eventually achieved a reasonable trot-to-walk pattern, I felt done!
I wasted no time jumping off. I was angry with him and frustrated with myself for being scared, and all of this triggered my "not enough." And I was beyond sick of feeling like I was not enough. In retrospect, this is where the seed of this mantra started.
It didn't matter that the trainer and his rider agreed that Rudy could be a challenge. All I saw was his rider being able to work him two times a week and get through it. She could, and I couldn't.
It's been over a year since I have tried to do anything more than a walk on Rudy, and I have not lessoned on him since I got off after that last challenging ride.
We've struck a new balance without all the riding, and aside from a slight nagging that I'm giving up on us by not trying to get back to where we were, we both seem at ease with the current arrangement.
He regularly gives me magical moments of communication, deep eye stares, beautiful lateral work on the ground, fun strolls around the arenas, and much more.
I can't remember what I was doing when this thought struck me, but I knew it was a game-changer. The voice in my head said, "Maybe you have too much f-you." I stopped what I was doing, stunned by these words. I don't approach the world this way, but maybe, I do in some instances.
In the hours before I went to the barn, I turned this thought over in my mind. I wasn't sure how I was bringing this energy to our relationship, but suddenly I knew it was unfair to blame Rudy for our troubles.
I also saw how saying these words aloud and in front of Rudy created a negative feedback loop between us. I walked into the barn and headed straight to his stall.
I asked permission to come in, which he granted, and I blurted out, "Buddy, I'm so sorry I've been blaming you for our problems. I've realized that I might have too much "f-you" in me!" As I said this, Rudy looked me squarely in the eyes. I finished with, "I didn't mean to hurt you, and I won't say this anymore."
If you think this conversation is crazy, this is normal for us. Sometimes I say the words out loud. Other times I say them in my head. Often, he turns and stares into my eyes as I speak. Other times he looks at me as if to acknowledge the communication and goes back to whatever he's doing. I always feel he is listening.
I had the same conversation with him over the next several days. I apologized out loud to him. I told him I realized I wasn't being fair to him and expressed how much he meant to me. I think he forgave me in the first chat, but I wanted to make my message was received.
It was like a switch flipping after the first conversation. By this, I mean I noticed an immediate, positive change. Rudy softened his demeanor, the nipping almost entirely stopped, his deep eye stares were back in full force, he showed me less resistance, and he thanked me with nuzzles and grooming. I am so grateful for his forgiveness.
I can't believe how long I clung to this delusion in hindsight. It makes perfect sense that the relationship was "off" in those months when I repeatedly said this. We are all one. Rudy allowed me the space to figure it out while communicating that I needed to look inward.
I'm grateful he finally intervened. What a powerful lesson. I can't help but share this story even as I recognize that some will think I'm a fruit ball. I am both a student and a teacher until I take my last breath, which is why I share what I learn from my incredible partner, Rudy.
I suggest you inventory where you create unwanted strife in your relationships. Where are you assigning blame or making someone the villain? A simple and powerful phrase that pops into my head frequently is, "If you spot it, you got it." I usually catch myself when assigning some trait or behavior to someone, but this one escaped me for too long.
By Diane R. Jones
Picture: Rudy grooming me post my "Ah-ha."