“Stop being so grouchy!” I quipped to Lizzie, my palomino coaching partner. I was puttering around her, getting set up for our client to ride, all the while Lizzie’s ears kept going flat against her head and she would bare her teeth just a little. The woman we would be working with was standing off to the side, watching as I saddled Lizzie up.
I pulled the cinch tight and was met with another ear pin and teeth bare. “Why are you so grouchy today? Stop that!” I grumbled at her again. With a different horse, the pinned ears can mean several things including: “Get out of my space or I’m going to bite you!” With Lizzie, it’s more like her natural state of mind, a behavior we are all used too, and she’s always a little cinchy.
Knowing all of this and mumbling to myself about Lizzie’s attitude, I happened to hear myself through the ears of the client. “Stop being so grouchy.” Oops.
Do you hear my mistake?
“Stop being so ______”
We are a society who seeks to be happy above all else, at the expense of our vast range of emotions. We invalidate each other constantly by minimizing feelings, big and small. As a coach, I work very hard not to do that to a client! But good grief, there I was modeling that same invalidating behavior to my equine partner, in front of a client.
You might be saying, “Well, it’s just a horse, it’s different.” But is it?
Lizzie was “voicing” her opinion in the only way she is able, and letting me know that she was having an off day, that the saddle was irritating her, and I was minimizing and invalidating her experience.
Once I caught myself, I apologized to her and told her it was okay to feel her feelings. Yep! I literally said that to Lizzie, the Horse. I took the saddle off and we changed our course of direction to accommodate both horse & human. It’s as okay for Lizzie to have an off day, as it is for my client to have an off day.
In fact, I am often reminding my horse training & horsemanship clients, that horses have good days and bad days too, and that their behavior isn’t a reflection on them as a person. Just like your friend, co-worker, or significant other’s good and bad days aren’t a reflection on you as a person.
It’s so important to validate the entire range of emotions and feelings, from joy and happiness to sorrow and grief, without minimizing anyone’s experience. In fact, it is vital, to both the human and the equine experience. Everyone, including horses, wants to be seen and heard and met exactly as they are in the present moment.
There is no greater gift we can offer.
Can you begin to listen to your own self for times in conversation where you might be minimizing how someone feels by telling them how they should or should not feel or react, and begin to course correct? I hope you’ll give it a try!
As always, I say a heartfelt thank you to Lizzie, for another life lesson learned from The Heart of a Mare.