Horse Help for Banishing Bullies!

After going out for a quick visit with my horse this morning (bemoaning a day too full for a nice long ride in the October sunshine!), and then starting my work day by reading Martha Beck’s blog (my very favorite way to start the day, by the way. Thanks, Martha! ) She has once again hit the nail on its proverbial head regarding bullies – and dealing effectively with meanness from other people without becoming one yourself.  Or, as Martha so daintily puts it, “Mean People Suck”.


Your assignment? Go read Martha’s post, When People are Mean now, and then come back so we can discuss. I did leave a comment, but no fair reading it because I wanted to go a lot deeper here and invite your stories, because I know you have them!

What was funny to me was how this particular post about mean people (and some of the thinking and writing I have done lately about what our midlife horses teach us)  related so specifically to working this past year’s work with my own midlife horse, Trace.

Obviously mistreated at some point by humans, this horse is very mistrustful, acting out his rising anxiety by bucking and “acting out” in ways that follow your “typical mean person’s story line” precisely: “I am a victim; people want to hurt me; I must hurt them first to be safe.”  Now, I’m a decent rider, but after enough repetition of his bullying behavior (and the more intimidated I got, the bigger and badder he got), my confidence was completely shattered. I loved this horse, and was sympathetic to his issues, but I didn’t want to get hurt. (Hmmm . . . eerily similar to several people relationships I’ve struggled with in the past!)


After spending quite a while trying to baby him, solve his problems (this is actually what first led me to Clinton Anderson and Downunder Horsemanship, and then inspired the creation of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horsees! ), earn his trust with extra love, learn how to communicate with him (and even on some levels I didn’t even realize existed), and soothe away his meanness with sympathetic patience that would drive St. Francis to hit the sauce, we finally turned the corner this year. How?


With the help of Denise Barrows, a very special young trainer who is the poster child for being what Martha Beck (and, I think, Hemmingway before her) describes as a “shockproof shit detector,” I got down to the business of  “responding bravely and compassionately” to the bullying antics of my horse. Now, I’ll have to stop and emphasize here that I KNOW this horse isn’t “mean” at all (my vet says he’s an idiot, but that’s not it either); he was simply playing his own victim story in his head, just as “mean” people do.  AND, I think, he was also mirroring me (as we all know horses are experts at doing), picking up on – and taking advantage of – my own “victim” history and tendency to attract bullies and “mean” people into my life.


The difference in his response is staggering. As I went from “victim” (why doesn’t my horse love me? look at all I’ve done for him!) to “hero” (thanks for letting me know you’re having trouble with this; now, let’s work on your people skills), I learned to acknowledge my “hero’s strength” by doing thousands of mental pushups (and physical ones, too, come to think of it — yanking that horse around in tight circles every time he started trying to buck instead of just holding on for dear life until he decided to stop).  Learning to “get as big as you need to” with horses who are (as I believe our midlife  horses are here to do) simply shining a light of awareness on our less-than-heroic side, is great practice for doing the same with bullies and “mean” people.


I’m not naming names here, but I can tell you this is a lesson that I’ve tried to learn before in my life. Plenty of times. Lots of counseling dollars. And now, I finally get it. And even better than that, (and I suspect, just in the nick of time before the irreversible crankiness sets in ), I also finally understand how to take “calm, courageous authority” over my own response to bullying, “mean” behavior.(The image of the mini villain stomping around in the palm of my hand is especially powerful! This goes double for the tiny little bucking horse.)

As Martha so eloquently put it, “I don’t know about you, but my favorite ways of reacting to mean people are (1) getting mean right back or (2) lying down quietly to display the word welcome! written where my spine used to be. . . .Meanness emerges when we believe that we have no such power, that we’re passive receptors of life’s vagaries. Inner peace follows when we begin responding to cruelty—our own and other people’s—with the authority we’ve possessed all along.”

Mean people DO suck, Martha — and thanks to your wise words and a vivid illustration by my midlife horse, Trace,  I will not become one of them!

Tell us your own stories of how a horse helped you learn how to stand up to bullies – and how mean people suck a lot less when you learn how to calmly and courageously (like the hero you are) accept valid information and muck the rest of what they have to say out of your mind. (Can we get a quick WooHooooo because Martha actually said “muck out your mind” ????  Go Martha–and keep up the good work!) Comment here, post on our Facebook page, comment on Twitter, or send me an email, and let’s see how many of these stories we can gather to celebrate this life-changing conquest!

Happy Trails!
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