Lessons from a Rabid, Hyperactive, Mystical Horse

Yesterday when we showed up to the Equine Session we were greeted by a mammoth, dark brown horse, stomping, snorting, jolting, and galloping up and down the fence line, head erect and tail sticking straight up in the air. As we stepped into the arena this horse, who I will call Free Will, made his presence known. He clomped, and snorted, raced loudly past the group, jumped into the air, dug in the sand with his giant hoof, shook his head dramatically making a growling-type noise, and at one point, he even laid on the ground and rolled around in the sand like a dog trying to scratch its back.

This mystifying creature that towered over us reminded me of a cross between a hyperactive kid, a rabid dog, a wild stallion, and a playful dragon. Needless to say the guys were a bit intimidated by Free Will. The other horse in the arena, fairly unnoticed was a short, stubby looking light brown Palomino, unassuming, not calling attention to itself, calm, and just chilling in one place. The guys were asked about why they felt Free Will was acting the way he was. Some thought he was angry, others thought he was happy. Some thought he was showing off, others thought he was just curious about a new surrounding. Some felt he didn’t want to be there, others felt he felt free there. They all mutually felt that working with, and most definitely conquering, Free Will would be a challenge bordering impossible. And they were intimidated and terrified of him.

The facilitator gave them their challenge of the day. There was an obstacle, two poles (approximately ten meters in length) crossing each other and propped up (standing about two feet high) by buckets, right smack dab in the middle of the field. The guys were asked to, decide as a group, and name that obstacle as an obstacle that they regularly come across in day-to-day life. Then, as a group, they must try and get one of the horses to jump over the obstacle, conquering it. The guys named the obstacle “temptation”; resembling different things for different guys. They were told they could start with either horse.

They chose snorting, stomping, racing, Free Will and fearfully yet confidently went straight for him.

Free Will

At first they did not really work as a group very well. Free Will teased them, running all the way to one side of the field and waiting until they got there, then running to the other side, whinnying what I am sure was a horse laugh. The sensitive animal also picked up on their nervousness of him, which made him even more high strung than he already seemed. Eventually, the guys adjusted their strategy, became calmer, worked as a group and managed to contain Free Will in a specific area of the arena, not far from Temptation. This was the interesting point.

Free Will completely calmed down and began to eat grass. He was no longer stomping and snorting and running, but he also was not budging. They had Free Will restricted to a certain area but not controlled, and they could not get him to move. Free Will was happy exactly where he was. He lacked motivation and was content with his grass. They guys were patient, and for the next hour they kept Free Will contained, but could not get him to move towards the obstacle. Early on, three of the youngest guys became frustrated with the task, and maybe also bored. At first they goofed off, pushed each other in the direction of the big scary horse, laughed, made jokes, tickled Free Will on his belly with grass, and were generally disruptive towards the goal of getting Free Will to jump over the obstacle of Temptation. The other group members became frustrated with them. The youngsters didn’t care. After a while they gave up and went over to sit on the fence.

Then I watched as the remaining group members, totally absorbed in their task, tried to get Free Will to move. They were determined to get Free Will to overcome Temptation and it seemed that they forgot another world existed around them; some of these guys I know have overcame enormous temptation in their own lives, and some I know are still struggling with huge temptations on a daily basis. Those guys saw the depth in the challenge, and it meant more to them than getting a big horse to go over some stupid poles. It was more than an exercise, this was their life. 

I thought about the three youngsters sitting over on the fence, whose group involvement had actually been counter effective. All three are around the age of 16, and have maybe not been burned by the temptations of life the way the other older group members have. I actually know for a fact they haven’t. Even with the temptations they do face daily, the youngsters are still in that flirty phase, where they are not so sure they don’t want it in their lives. They did not seem to care much about getting Free Will to overcome Temptation, and actually ended up being a distraction for the others that did. The others, they remained focused and unwavering. They tirelessly tried, but in the end time ran out and they never got Free Will to jump over Temptation.

They were disappointed in the end. In feedback they mourned that they had not accomplished the task, getting Free Will to overcome Temptation. The facilitator disagreed. She first of all noted that they had taken a huge challenge in the first place, choosing Free Will and not the docile palomino. Then she explained that Free Will was a race horse, and a champion at that, and he is not easy to work with. She said that merely getting him contained like they did was a huge victory, because a group of addicts she had worked with in a previous group had not even been able to get the snorting, stomping, running Free Will contained. For the addicts, Free Will ran from them, pushed them, intimidated them, and controlled them. So the group being able to simply contain Free Will, and calm him down, was an enormous success. I saw the guys’ chests begin to swell back up a bit from their deflated stature.

My thoughts and reflections from watching the group of young men trying to get Free Will to jump over that Temptation are endless; some of their actions impressing, some insulting. But I can’t help but see the great semblance between this exercise with a horse, and the challenges I see the guys face in life, as I watch them trying to get their snorting, stomping, racing free wills contained, but then not stopping there and getting their free wills to overcome the obstacles and temptations of their lives. It’s a painful privilege to be a part of.


One Response to Lessons from a Rabid, Hyperactive, Mystical Horse

  1. Stacey says:

    Hey Ryan, I’m blown away by your perceptiveness and interpretation of this powerful and accelerated learning process with horses! It is an incredible priveledge to be a part of the transformation taking place in the guys lives (those who truly want to make that change), and I am equally thankful of the opportunity to work with someone like you! Stacey

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