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Turning Loose – Thoughts for the Human

July 8, 2013

Ray Hunt, a great horseman and colt-starter, published a DVD titled “Turning Loose”.  This term, “turning loose”, has caused me to scratch my head through the years.  Some days, I think I know just what that means and others I think I’m only scratching the surface of the depth of the term.   This summer, life set me up to understand this idea in a deep way.

I try to  train horses.  I try to train people.  I am constantly looking for the horse or the human (or when I’m helping a partnership, I’m looking for both) to “turn loose”.  In other words, I’m looking for the student or the horse to say, “I’ve got it.  I can do this, no problem.  And I’m not worried about what may go wrong.  I’m confident with this motion or action.”

I was with a master horseman, Dave Ellis, in May this year.  He talked about helping the horse find “comfort in motion”.  To me, I immediately equated this to “turning loose”.  For example, I might ask my horse to trot the arena rail with me until he finds comfort in it.  I might help him maintain that trot on the rail until the horse accepts the responsibility of trotting the rail and owns the task.  Sooner or later, I no longer have to correct the horse for slowing down to a walk or speeding up to a canter or leaving the rail.  He is simply turned loose to the action and has stopped looking for comfort elsewhere.  Now, there’s a difference between a horse that is doing the task with tension.  I would help the horse find relaxation while trotting on the rail.  Relaxation is much more comfortable than tension while trotting the rail.  I might make sure I’m responding to every attempt the horse makes to relax with a positive feel, while making sure I’m not holding on to a single bit of tension myself. IMG_1120 Eventually, this horse finds comfort in trotting the rail because I’m quiet and relaxed, he’s quiet and relaxed and together we are going somewhere comfortably.  That lovely sound a horse makes when he blows and exhales while allowing the poll to rest at or below the withers would tell me we were getting something great done.

Recently, I suffered an injury while trimming a very troubled horse.  My knee was dislocated and I needed surgery to walk again.  I had a slew of emotions during this period.  I was angry about losing time with my students and the horses. I was frustrated as business was going quite well and I had plenty of work that I’d have to put on hold.  I was sad and lonely, as the world was continuing to evolve outside my window and I was unable to join.  I had plenty of time to think and process my situation…  two weeks waiting for the operation, two weeks of nearly full-time bed-rest, then the beginning of rebuilding, physical therapy, and feeling very clumsy and unable, with crutches and a knee brace.

What I realized a few days after the surgery was this:  it was time for ME to “turn loose”.  I ask my horses, my students and their horses, to turn loose all the time.  When was I going to realize this was my opportunity to exercise my own ability to turn loose and find comfort in immobility.  There was nothing I could do to heal any faster or change my situation.  The injury had happened and that was that.

When I had this revelation, I realized this was my opportunity to really understand what turning loose is all about.  I had the chance to explore the emotions and find the actions that would allow me to find comfort in the moment.  I had to make a change and figure out how to be fine, just like my horse trotting the rail, because I’ve set him up to do that.  My horse would rather be grazing with the herd, but I’ve put him in a situation where he’s got to make the best of it and release himself to it.  Maybe, if I’m doing things well, my horse even starts to enjoy it.  Maybe, if I’m improving on myself, I can learn to enjoy this time of healing?

I knew I had to stop dwelling on the negative and focus on the positive.  The negative things were easy to see – I was out of commission, I couldn’t earn money, I couldn’t progress myself, my students, my horses.  I couldn’t ride.  I couldn’t go for a walk, a run, a hike.  I couldn’t drive.  The list goes on and on.  I finally started to focus on all the things I COULD do.Caugt someone reading in a funny position and this shot came out of it.

I was finding a lot of enjoyment in reading.  When would I ever get a chance to read this many books?  I was finding myself watching a lot of videos on horse training, stimulating my own thoughts and feeling through memories of moments with horses and how I might approach them differently next time.  Even better, finding ideas for things I’ve never tried that would stretch me, my horses and my students.

I was able to lay in bed and talk to my kids without being distracted.  I’m a Type-A girl, so my mind is always racing and thinking forward.  I know that causes me to sometimes miss the enjoyment of the present.  I was practicing living in that very moment, a great exercise for me.  I was finding high doses of love and intimacy from my marriage.  My husband was happy to care for me, bring me meals, handle my whimsical needs (would you pass me this, or bring me that?).  My children stepped up to the plate and helped with whatever we asked.  I was practicing dependence, a huge task for me and my progression as a better human being.

And at some point, I took my first steps without crutches.  This place I’d turned loose to wasn’t my forever place.  It was just for right now.  I was elated to begin the process of truly walking again and regaining my freedom.  I also realized I’d have to leave the comfort I’d found in being out of commission and it surprised me to feel a little strange about that.  My Type-A brain immediately wondered, had I gotten enough done?  Had I taken full advantage of being down?

Now, as I continue to rebuild strength, I am working hard to remember the things I learned through this process.  Live in the moment, enjoy the “right now”.  Find comfort in my actions (or inactions) when life throws me off course.  Learn all I can, always – keep growing through the good and the bad times.  Find the silver lining, because it’s surely there, ready to give me a peaceful feeling.

I’d learned what turning loose really feels like.  I’d found comfort in my situation and all that it entailed.  I just needed the time to do it.  I imagine I’ll turn loose more quickly if there’s a next time.  I know my horses turn loose much more quickly than I do with each transition I suggest.  Oh, how the horses teach me.

 “If I’ve helped the human, I’ve helped the horse. If I’ve helped the horse, I’ve helped the human.”  – Ray Hunt

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