A Horsing Practice Is Different To A Routine & Different Again To A Schedule

A large number of people who come to me for help with their riding motivation, lack of time or feelings of self-doubt or lack of confidence are looking for a prescription or a formula that they can apply that will fix their lack of ‘not riding’.

Some arrive with the belief that the accountability provided by our relationship will be the cure to the problem. That maybe if I tell them exactly what to do on what day, if I give them a precise schedule, or the right things to action that things will once again feel ok– that time will open up, they will become unstuck, they will once again feel motivated.

Often, if they perceive that they ‘aren’t doing enough’, scattered in amongst our conversation are their own ‘solutions’ to the problems…

Perhaps if I got up earlier? Or when this situation at work changes? Or once the kids go back to school? Maybe I can take this out and slot this in? Try things at a different time of day?

It’s not that I don’t have things to say, and I certainly offer things (I hope) that people will find helpful.

But more and more, I am faced with a reality which is this:

Most people I work with are not professional riders. They are riding or have horses for the love of it. And in amongst this, the fact they are custodians for their horses, they are also many other things.

They are often working full time, some are caregivers, many are mothers, or mothering in ways that we don’t socially recognize. The days are full to the extent of asking for 30 minutes of their time feels the same as asking them to lasso a woolly mammoth.

And beyond that, the real truth?

Most people are exhausted. Not just a little bit tired, but chronically so. Tired to the inside of their bones.

And that tiredness is not just an individual ‘issue’; it’s part of a wider, social narrative, the same capitalist system that trains us to treat how it is we are with our horses, how we take care of ourselves, the same way it wants us to engage with everything else:

As a schedule of production.

One that leads us to harbor unreasonable and inhumane expectations of what’s possible, and then gets us to turn around and beat ourselves up when what we’re able (or unable) to do falls short.

A practice of any kind- and this is different to a routine or a schedule- is an energy that we are in relationship with. Riding is not referred to as an art for no good reason. To my mind, good riding and good horsemanship are subject to the same creative muse, the same inspiriting forces as any other creative medium we are involved with.

If we think of our riding and our horsing adventures this way, our interactions become a part of a wider ecosystem; it becomes something we are in collaboration with, not in control of in the way that we might traditionally think.

Which leads us to the question:

How are you in collaboration with your riding and with your practice of the art of horsemanship?

Do you only feel ‘successful’ if you’ve ridden or worked your horse(s) ‘x’ number of times? When you have done something that the outer world will tell you means you’ve done something that is good? Where you are given two thumbs up by someone other than yourself?

If we are going to throw our relationship with riding and our horses in the same basket as any other that relates to productivity and output, then pretty soon we are going to find our relationship with our horse producing the same pressure as work, as anything else that can be both bought and sold.

And what’s more, it’s like pouring concrete on the soul.

A horsing practice is different to a routine and different again to a schedule.

Practices are fluid and responsive. They change with the seasons; of the year, but also of life. Is it not to be expected that your horsing practice will change, adapt to children, work, the fact you have been sick, the lack of available light?

This is not an individual failing; it’s something that’s to be expected. Practices are molded and informed by the complexity and fullness of our lives; often they exist not in spite of them, but because of them.

A riding and horsing practice is not a schedule. It is not a fixed routine. It is not you grinding yourself into the ground, martyring yourself to a riding schedule that leaves both of you feeling depleted instead of nourished.

What would it look like to approach your riding and horsing with a playfulness, the spirit of creative venture?

What would it look like if you lay down your beliefs about productivity, the tight schedule you might have around when and where you show up and what exactly that needs to look like?

What if you treated your riding and horsing practice like someone you loved, treated it the same you would a treasured friend?

What would it mean to step out of riding (and beyond that, how you look after yourself) as a ‘have to’ and treated it as a creative practice?

What would things look like then?

xx Jane

 

Beliefs As The Willingness To Be Different

We had an interesting discussion in Stable Hours this morning, which is a weekly live Q&A in JoyRide. It started with discussions about emotional relationships to different parts of the body and then meandered into a conversation on beliefs, in all their many, varied forms.

When I first got into the field of mindset and behaviour, I found information about beliefs- how they affect us, how we can go about shifting them- confusing, and in some instances intimidating. What if I had a limiting belief that I didn’t even know about that was somehow holding me back? What is it I could do then? How can I possibly change something if I’m unsure what it even is?

Us humans love to fear the unknown.

So much of who we are, of course, is formed by what it is we believe. It can restrict our possibility or expand it. Allow us to attempt something new or keep us in the confines of what it is we already know. Allow us to a fuller breadth of experience is all sense of the word, or keeping us running up and down on the same spot. We understand this. And we also know that so much of what we believe we have absorbed; osmotically, as a result of the people we hang out with, the circumstances of our growing up, the possibilities afforded to us. Not all of our beliefs have been the result of active choice.

It’s no wonder we are interested in learning more about it.

After years of wondering, learning and yet more wondering, I’ve arrived at something I think is relatively simple, at least in theory- it takes a little more work in practice (as all things of deep roots do).

In this video, I discuss what it is I believe is needed to shift a belief of any sort, in a way that does not require digging around, or worry, or deep lines of investigation. It simply this:

The willingness to be different at the end of an experience than you were at the beginning.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx Jane

 

 

Why You Need To Take Yourself Seriously. You Know, Make A Big Deal Of Yourself.

Back when I was a teenager- or at least on the cusp of teenage-ness, probably around 13 years old, my parents bought me a horse who was called Minnie. At that stage of my life, Minnie was beyond anything I had allowed myself to dream. She was beautiful, the colour of red burnished treacle. I used to run my hands over her coat, marvel at her sheen.

 

Despite her inherent and regal loveliness, the fact that she strutted round as though she was a Queen (side note: she was), Minnie was not without her quirks. She was sensitive and feisty. The charisma that she carried, the air of whatever it is that makes a horse stand out meant I had to work to harder, learn more, step up to be the kind of horseperson that really met her standard. But I was in love, had time and was up to the task. I got up to muck out early, cleaning paddocks before school, and as soon as the bus arrived at our corner, around 4:30 pm, my bag would be flung to the side, I would change out of my school uniform, and you’d find me in the paddock, in the arena, riding round the farm, always in the company of my beloved horse.

 

At this stage of my life, my family had started competing. It seems funny to look back on – my horsing adventures seem so removed from this kind of life now- but at the time I loved it, and it allowed us to travel round and have many experiences together as a family. When I think about my competition life, or if someone asks me to describe it, I would say I was a nervous competitor, yes (that anxiety was, in part, the reason that I have the business that I do now), but I was also fierce. The anxiety was less about a specific fear and more about the fact I took what I was doing very seriously. I took myself and my horse seriously. And I did so long before anyone else did.

 

There’s a part of me that loves and most definitely roots for the underdog. There was a showing class at the Sydney Royal Show where there were over 80 horses in my class (a thriving era in agricultural scenes which seems to have taken a tumble in the years of late). The showing world is known for being subjective and political. I was told: ‘you don’t have a chance. No-one knows you. But you know, you can at least go out there and have fun.’

 

This particular story has a fairy tale ending- lord knows, we know they so often don’t. But Minnie and I- we won that class. With the 80 something horses. All the words of “you can’t do it” ignited something within my head. I believed in my horse and beyond that, loved her with intensity. Maybe she felt that. Maybe we just got lucky. But it still stands regardless as one of the best moments of my life.

 

The actor, Ethan Hawke- one of the Patron Saints of creativity- talks about how moved he was listening to a speech by the wife of one of his recently passed away screen writing heroes. To quote the article speaking to the same in the New York Times:

 

“She looked out at the crowd and laughed. She said John Cassavetes was always disappointed because nobody would finance his movies; he’d always felt dismissed and disregarded. “‘And now here you guys are making a big deal out of him,’” he remembered her saying. She said that was nice, but that they shouldn’t miss the point. “‘Make a big deal of yourself.’ You know? Whatever indifference the world gives you, he felt it, too. So you’re just as good as he is. Like, go out and do it.”

 

I believe this to be true, not because I’ve read it, but I’ve lived it. I have no idea why the seed exists inside me, but I hope it exists within you too. And if it doesn’t, please make it your mission today to start to find it.

 

I took my riding seriously long before anyone else did. I took my business seriously years before it earned me a single dollar (and I continue to take it seriously through all the ups and downs). As a writer, who hopes to share experiences of wonder and is moved to write as part of her love letter to the world, I take my words seriously, regardless of the numbers who read them in return.

 

I take it all seriously- which is different to gruffly, or holding on too tightly, or being arrogant and not humble- because they are all important to me. They are part of my vitalis, my vitality, and the sharing of what it is I love.

 

Taking yourself seriously is important. It’s, in part, the curative for self-doubt. It is the thing that needs to happen, before and not after, someone else takes you seriously. And perhaps, most importantly, it’s what allows you to create a life that is lived on your terms. In developing self-trust.

 

Take yourself, the things you love seriously. But as a start point- not as a thing you get to at the end.

 

Taking yourself seriously is what allows you to devote time and to keep showing up for all the things you love.

 

Onwards,

 

❤️ Jane

On The Importance Of Imagination, Archetypes & The Mythic

I often joke about wanting to be Arwen from Lord of The Rings. I use the word ‘joke’ loosely, because potentially, if given the option, I would seriously consider it. I talk about her to my horse, Merc, so much that he’s really started to buy into the whole situation also, despite being slightly concerned over basic logistics, like if there’s hay or hard feed available in Elven Kingdoms. I tell him of course, and hope that I’m convincing, because the reality is I have no idea myself.

The thing is, if you were to question me about Arwen, tried to nail me down on all of the specifics, subjected me to a pop quiz, I would most likely fail the test. Because I don’t know that much about Arwen at all—what I love is my idea of her, the archetype of Arwen and all that she represents. I’ve seen her flash across my screen, bow and arrow in hand, horse with mane streaming, powerful, fast, determined. I see her and a jolt flashes across my adult, childlike heart that sings in universal recognition. She taps into a part of me that I wish to bring more to the surface. I want those things expressed in me.

Stories, mythologies, and archetypes have existed for millennia as portals for humans to express their fears, longings, and desires. As ways to shape and conjure what we experience as a collective. We have been influenced by them to negative effect- a long and extensive conversation for another day- but we have also been empowered, uplifted by them. We cannot separate ourselves out from our mythic imagination, from our dreams and hopes that express in the imaginative collective.

I see imagination devalued generally as a tool- and there have been times when I’ve rejected it myself- but now I strongly rally against this. For better or worse, we are where we are because of our imagination. Understanding the power of symbolism, of images, of our ‘first thought, best thought’ that lies just under the surface of our skin, is an important piece in understanding our creative potential, of how we can use our imagination as a way in to deal with things that feel challenging, hopeless, or cause us to be overwhelmed.

I recently read a post that wasn’t horse related from someone who had been in a tough situation and had instantly fallen into self-blame. My intuitive self felt the limpness of her spirit in that moment. A common situation that I’m witness too more than I would like. There was much to say from a logistical position that may or may not have been helpful, and plenty were offering that advice. But my heart suspected they needed something more. They needed the spark back that makes someone entranced by Wonder Woman as a child, that leads us to believe in fairies, that sees an Astronaut shoot off into space—the part of us that believes it’s possible to do the same.

I said to her: I think we need to go a little bit women who run with the wolves on this.

My point: Imagination, archetypal imagery may not be the entire story to bring the help you need, but it IS part of the story. Often a big part. Do not be talked out of the magic and mystery of your imagination. If you feel you have lost that side of you, conjure it back. Invite yourself to read stories, look at art and imagery that uplift and inspire you. Let yourself be Arwen. And don’t let anyone tell you it should be any different.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Pictured is Merc, starting to tune out after I tell him for the 1,000,000th time how we need to be like Arwen.

On Glimmers, Shards & Small Happinesses

There’s a small mound that lies a few meters down from our top paddock that’s one of my favourite places to sit. Maybe you would like to sit there with me too. It’s covered by long grass which makes it a little hard to see, but if you go through the gate and head left towards the arena, you’ll see me sitting there. There’s absolutely space for you.

The horses, most likely- if this is a normal day- are there in front of me. Eating each a pile of hay. Elvis, my husband’s horse, will tell the others in no uncertain terms that sharing’s not for him. His ears will pin right back. His head will toss to add a bit of drama and their advances will be met with his hind end, a clear signal saying it’s better if they stop.

In response, Merc will scuttle off. He is a peace lover after all. Not interested in fights. Ada will have tried to have at least a nibble, hopeful of perhaps being friends. And when Elvis tells her once more that this pile is definitely his, she will make the opening and closing motion with her mouth, that baby horses do, in the hope her age will grant her a free pass. Which, in this situation, never works.

We can sit and we can watch their gentle politics. We’ll probably quietly chastise Elvis, amid soft laughs. “Don’t be such a grump,’ we’ll say.

We might point to other piles of hay: ‘Over there’ we’ll tell them, ‘Don’t get mixed up in his stuff, he’s being mean’.

And then eventually, the tetris of the feed time will all settle, and conversation, both horse and human will all stop. And we’ll be left with the sound of air and birds and whatever particular words captures the sound of horses eating hay, that’s as calming as a heartbeat and a hug.

This last couple of weeks have been a little rough. I have had a flu that’s completely knocked me out. If I felt ok in the day, the coughing kept me up all night to the point where I was seeing stars and was good for little more than lying flat in bed. When a body is forced to lie still, it’s interesting to observe what swirls close to the edges of the skin. One day, two days, I feel I can get away with, but beyond that, I start to get concerned.

I have things to do, people to show up for. For those of you who are self-employed know, nothing outside of you stops even if you do. It’s a difficult conundrum. It’s easy to say, ‘you have to rest’- and I agree completely- but there are very real responsibilities and concerns of the day to day that are not made up or the product of mental drama or self-interested imagination. I am yet to reconcile all the sides and moving parts.

And yet, in amongst it all, I recognize my privilege and my blessings. I talk with people who are really doing it tough. Those who are caregiving or are needing care themselves. Those who feel overwhelmed by the state of the world, or who are stumped in their horsing life to the point where what’s not working feels utterly consuming. I hear their stories and wish that I could fix them all.

The offer to sit next to me, on the little mound of grass, at the top end of the paddock, is part of what I know is able to help. It’s the searching out of shards, of glimmers, of small happinesses.

When I think of the last little while, it’s the glimmers and the shards that have seen me thorough. Sitting and watching the horses eat hay. The new notebook I got with the hare on the front cover. All the lovely comments to an essay I wrote about frogs. My husband making me endless cups of tea and bringing me hot water bottles. A scarf I’m knitting (I’ve taught myself to knit). The lovely comments from people in JoyRide telling me it’s ok. The specific light that hits the pillow in my bedroom around mid-afternoon. A new book that turns out to be really good. An idea for a course that I’ll put out soon.

Glimmers, small happinesses, however you refer to them, are as important as water and food.

Sitting here this morning, and writing this to you, I am not without my concerns or my worries. But I can hear the Kākā, a New Zealand Mountain Parrott, arguing with each other in the trees. The rain that was heavy last night has stopped and I’m grateful for the stillness. I can see the Kōwhai tree out my window, who never fails to watch over me. Every day I trace the outline of her branches and her leaves.

And even though as I type, I have described these things as small, the little voice inside of me says that’s not true. It’s the noticing of such things that is, in fact, the everything.

So, although you may not be in a position to sit beside me, or for us to have a coffee and talk about our day, perhaps together we can look out for the shards and the glimmers knowing that someone else out there is doing the same.

We’re all in this together, after all.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

On Mothering, Matrescence & Horses

The word ‘mother’ covers many situations and complexities. We can be a mother to biological children. We can be mother to children not born to us. We can mother, never having given birth nor lived with a child. We can mother in the face of loss, or within a framework that was very different to the one that we may have once imagined, or perhaps hoped for.

To go through a pregnancy and birth is inherently a transformative experience, and one that our culture and society does not hold well. Despite the advances in so many areas of health care, pregnancy, and early motherhood- I would argue even well beyond that- is a vulnerable time for women’s health and wellbeing.

During pregnancy, I would look up the different stages that my body was going through only to have the period of gestation compared to a piece of fruit.

This week, your baby is a grape.

This week, a kiwi fruit.

Now, they are an orange.

There was little to no information about the true nature of the physical changes my body was going through, let alone the mental, the psychic and the spiritual. My body experienced pregnancy like an earthquake, a hurricane, a spitting volcano. Nowhere was this discussed or really mentioned.

I did not want to hear of bowls of fruit.

Statistics also show that women are poorly informed about the true nature of giving birth, which can result in a whole myriad of problems for our future physical wellbeing and leave us uninformed to make decisions about the process of giving birth. Our bodies are amazing, yes. But there is much to be said about the role of religion and a patriarchal culture that has placed much of the reality of what women face in the transition towards and within ‘mother’ behind a curtain of invisibility, isolation, and shame.

Especially when it comes to discussing parts of the body which might now be painful or experiencing dysfunction when they occur in places whose names we have been conditioned to not say out loud.

Why am I talking about this? The overwhelming majority of those I work with are women. If we were to break into groups the number of people in the equestrian community who are mothers, the numbers would be big. Huge in fact. And I know many of those women have not had an easy time.

Their bodies have undergone changes that make the transition back to riding and horsing hard, and because of everything I have mentioned above, embarrassing to talk about. I read that it’s ‘normal’ to tear in childbirth, to be stitched up. I can assure you, if you are one of those people, it being ‘normal’ does not ease the pain and difficulty of the actual event.

Of all the women in my antenatal group, I was the only one not to have a c-section. The only one.

None of this is a judgement- quite the opposite. Instead, it’s a call to recognise that an empathy and understanding for what women go through during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood is essential if we are to support mother’s back into the process of riding and getting back into the saddle, should that be the desire.

Physiologically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Matrescence brings a complete reconfiguration of identity.

For me, horses were a lifeline that I refused to give up. I was lucky to be supported in that. I know that many women aren’t. And while some are fortunate to ease into motherhood as a smooth transition, many more find it hard- for all the reasons and so much more that I haven’t mentioned or described.

This book that I have pictured, Matrescence, is brilliant. I highly recommend it.

And as trainers, male or female, I also recommend you add it to your list. This is not a female issue. It’s a human one. And we need bigger, wider conversations for both humans and horses that speak to the fullness of our real, lived, experience.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

On Navigating Difficult Conversations

On navigating difficult conversations or,

not wasting energy on attempting to change the mind of people who aren’t ready for it or open to it.

Today, is a short one. I just wanted to flag that up to prove I’m capable of a writing brief post (which, ironically, is getting longer by the second).

Ready?

I never answer a question I wasn’t asked.

I can’t tell you (well, I’m telling you now) how much simpler this has made my life, especially when it comes to navigating online spaces.

In practice, it looks something like this:

If you weren’t specifically asked the question, don’t answer it.

And if you/we do offer advice, ‘constructive criticism’, or ‘give feedback’ when it wasn’t requested, then to ask ourselves, how do we benefit by doing so? Like really benefit. Is it really about the other person? Or is there something that we gain ourselves, a need that’s lurking underneath the surface.

Something to consider anyway, and I can tell you from experience, it’s definitely worth trying on for size.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

PS. There is no always or never- sometimes it’s right to interject without request. But for the most part I’ve found the above to serves me very well!

On Balance, Or Allowing Movement To Organise The Posture

On balance,

Or allowing the movement to organize the posture.

Last night, Giles and I were chattering in the kitchen talking about nothing in particular when I asked him how the waves had been that day. Giles is a keen surfer and while I understand very little about swell or how the wind direction affects the movement of the water, I hope that by way of osmosis I will learn a little more about the sea and its ways.

It’s interesting, he told me. I’ve been watching a martial arts guy who also surfs on YouTube, and he talked about things in a slightly different way to how many other people do. Something about what he mentioned- at least how he mentioned it- made sense to me. And so, I practiced for a while the movements that he talked about, and I noticed a really big difference when I was out there on the wave.

He described the process that he went through; how he had to look behind him to gauge the waves position. How that arced his body in a particular way. How the successful completion of the movement required a degree of anticipation, that meant not only coordinating with the movement of the water in that moment, but how it might move and behave many moments forward in space.

Oh, I said, you were following the balance line of the wave. That’s exactly what I teach when I am riding.

I stood up on the tiled floor and we talked about how, just like a horse, a wave has a centre of gravity, a balance line, or a line of energy that determines the waves direction and equilibrium. Successfully merging and matching the wave requires orienting your own centre to the line of dynamic energy moving through. The more successful you are at this, the more easily you flow together. To oppose the balance line of the wave means your balance point is off and the movement runs away with you. Or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say you get further away from it.

In other words, you and the wave find yourself travelling in quite different directions.

In other words, a situation we would describe in surfing and in riding as ‘unideal’.

In other words, you are no longer standing upright against the wave. Or sitting on your horse. Whichever the case may be.

Understanding balance lines- the balance line of your horse and developing a felt sense of it as your orienting centre- is the holy grail of the biomechanics that I teach. Instead of micromanagement. Instead of contracting this muscle and releasing that. Instead of adjusting this ‘very slightly’, we focus on the movement of the horse and how their centreline- a literal moving, sliding structure in the body- travels and coordinates itself in space.

The possibilities for our horse in movement exist only within the range that they are balanced; our job as riders, then, is not only to facilitate balance in them in order that they can carry us without compromising themselves, but also to ensure that our balance point matches theirs; understanding where and how your horse’s centreline moves in space so you can coordinate together in movement.

Otherwise known as matching yourself alongside the body of the wave.

If you can understand the balance line and seek to follow it, riding becomes more about feel and less about force. The body organically and intuitively orients around the point that seeks to harmonise best with the movement, leaving you free to concentrate on the next best action to take for both of you.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

On Holding Fast, When Life Gets Lifey & You’re Not Sure You’re Down With It

On holding fast,

Or when life gets life-ey and you’re not sure you’re down with it.

I’ve had some questions, some swirling of feelings expressed in my membership recently that spoke to the life-ey-ness of life that we are all familiar with. How it can sometimes be a lot to hold. That there are disappointments, people not behaving the way we hope they might (or perhaps we, ourselves, doing that). Grief. So much grief and loss. Ugh. And then that niggling undercurrent that can manifest in feelings of invisibility, or beyond that, sometimes even hopelessness.

It’s destabilising because it should be. A life well lived is a life of curve balls and disruptive energies. Experiences that cause you to question and think and wonder and ultimately, change. To evolve.

But it’s these qualities that are also the hardest to hold. They call things into question, and to change, and you can be left with a feeling of discontent. They can make you feel a little crazy if your bodily container is yet to figure out how to embrace them.

I was marinating on these conversation this morning and remember had some words spoken to me a while back by a very dear friend and mentor that I thought might be helpful to share with you now. This was taken from a time when I myself was really struggling. I sought her out as an ear to listen to my woes, and as a person I trusted to hold my hand as I ventured forward into the unknown.

She said, your container is expanding fast, Jane. With every conversation and interaction, it’s getting bigger and bigger. As she spoke to, she held her hands in front of me and began to move them out to the side, as though holding a beach ball within them that was expanding every second.

Your work then, she said, is to focus on this energy.

She took her hand and traced from her head, down the centre of her body to the ground.

‘The expansion is occurring. Your work is to stay connected and grounded within it.’

It might seem weird to group lots of what I’ve said together with the concept of expansion. At the time, as we lie in the metaphorical (or perhaps not so metaphorical) foetal position, expansive can be the last thing it feels like after all. But I believe anything that shatters the fabric of how we know our current selves in doing exactly that- expanding us. Even if it’s (whatever ‘it’ is) is doing so seemingly against our will.

But let’s get down to the big stuff.

The purpose of this writing is ultimately to share what staying grounded and connected looks like to me in the midst of rapid change. Or perhaps more so, what it doesn’t look like.

It doesn’t look like comfort.

It doesn’t look like calm.

It doesn’t look like clarity, even.

What it does look like is openness. Even if that’s just a splinter of light. A slight opening between your ribs that lets your heart peak out, if only for a moment.

It looks like holding fast. Holding fast like a piece of sea kelp in the ocean that stays anchored to a rock.

It looks like waiting for the spinning ideas and possibilities to land in a way that informs my next right step. Knowing that they will land. They will.

In the midst of new ideas, conversation and possibility, you don’t have to force what comes next. Your only job is to be with it. To be open to it.

And then within that, to stay present in your life. To keep moving. Literally keep moving.

To get your toes in the earth, whenever you can.

To be with your horses if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so.

And to be ready. For whatever the greater world has planned for you next.

To be expectant that there IS a next for you. Of course there is. You’re fabulous.

If your world is rapidly expanding sideways, keep focused on the up and down.

Hold on to your beach ball for all its worth.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

6 Things To Think About When You’re Short On Time (But Still Want To Work Your Horse)

6 things to think about when you are short on time but still want to work with your horse.

1. Choose one thing

If you only have a limited time to work, choose something which is possible and achievable to work with. The number of times that I have started playing with my horse, only to come in some time later and remarked to my husband “I only meant to be out there for 20 minutes” is, well, a lot.

I’m pretty sure Einstein was working with a horse when he figured out his relativity of time theory. We may not understand it fully when we read it but as soon as we hit the barn we are like, oh! Of course. Makes sense.

Anyway, I digress.

It’s a wonderful luxury to have lots of time to play with, but the reality for many (or most) of us is that we don’t. The benefit of NOT having much time is that we can be very intentional and specific about what we DO do.

Intentional and specific leads to less faffing, more clarity, and a more obvious understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.

2. Make something (or someone) a priority (in the case of more than one horse)

This is a weird one to write, especially when it relates to the “someone” part- so I’ll add the note that making someone the priority does not make the other someone’s any less important. What is DOES mean is that there is some sort of order, however temporary or permanent, to how you go about things. Kind of along the lines of doing one thing well, rather than lots of many things more half-baked.

Anyway, let’s keep going. I have five horses in total; I’ll list them for you here:

Merc, who I refer to as my Patchy Pony. Ada, who is my Irish Draught yearling. Saffy, my five-year-old Irish Sport Horse. And Nadia and Dee, who are both warmbloods.

Two of those aren’t in work; Dee, owing to soundness, and Ada, who is just a babe and free to roam as such (I do little bursts of ‘lessons’ with her every so often to establish the life skills!).

For me, looking at this on paper, it’s easy to find it overwhelming, but in my mind it’s very clear. Merc always gets worked first. He is my priority. Both for my work and for my sanity, I need one horse in full work and Merc is my main man and beloved sidekick who I have chosen for the job.

The others I have a well-defined idea of where I’m up to and what I’d love to be working with next but to look at them as a group can sometimes feel overwhelming; prioritising one creates momentum and a start point that my mind can easily latch onto, and from there, I make my way further down the line.

3. Don’t waste time wishing that you had more time.

Chances are time with your horses is your love and your passion, but it doesn’t pay the bills, or directly affect anyone’s wellbeing (and least from your perspective, but I can argue this point all day!) aside from you. Because of that, it’s easy to both put things ahead of time with your horses and / or wait for pockets of time to ‘open up’ / ‘that thing’ to change when you will ‘definitely have more time’. Please don’t do that.

The thing about spending time on the things that you love is that we are trained out of taking it. And sometimes actually berate ourselves when we do. With that in mind, taking time to do something you love means you have approach it with the same degree of dedication that you would squeezing through a gap in a window to retrieve the keys to the tack room you left on the other side. This happened to me recently, and believe me, the commitment it took was unquestionable and intense.

THAT’S the kind of dedication we’re looking for when it comes to making time for what you love, even if you have to snatch it in the dark.

4. Do something in service of your horsing and / or riding

This is actually a principle I work to as part of my writing practice, but it’s directly transferable to here. On the days (weeks) where it might be impossible to do all that much with your horse, think about what you can do ‘in service of’ of them instead.

It could be watching a training series, reading that book that’s sitting in the pile you haven’t quite got to. Moving your body in a way that increases your awareness.

‘Acting in service of’ is one of the most useful mindsets I’ve taken on. It helps me keep creative and think outside the box when the ideal feels far away or things get stuck.

5. Know when to quit (and when to abandon your plans for other things)

Knowing when to quit is perhaps the most important part. If you have a limited window, you don’t want to start a discussion it’s not possible to finish. We want to end with things more harmonious, more clear, with the feeling that more things will be possible tomorrow.

Along the same lines, going in with a clear intention and plan does not necessarily mean that plan is possible; your horse will always ultimately decide that. Like knowing when to quit, knowing when the time ISN’T right to begin a new conversation is equally important. It’s ok to leave thing for another day if the time isn’t quite right now to fully commit. You’re not a failure- you’re just being discerning.

6. Be creative

Sometimes, we can develop a very narrow window of what ‘learning’ looks like. It doesn’t have to mean saddling up and there’s a lot that you can get done standing still. Take the time to pay attention to the details (for example how comfortable they feel about the bridle; doing some bodywork; just, well, hanging out) is always, always worth your time.

What do you focus on when time (or light) is short, and you have limited time to be with your horse?

❤️ Jane

On Pressure or, How Tightly Do You Hold Things When Only Lightness Is Needed?

On pressure or,

How tightly do you hold things when only lightness is needed?

I was sitting on some bizarre exercise machine whose official title I do not know to name, when the words were said to me that changed my relationship to my body and my horse from that moment forward.

‘You don’t have to hold the handle like that’, my teacher said. ‘You don’t need to use any pressure. If you just understand the direction that you want the movement to take, then you can just allow your body to follow. You don’t need to force or push.’

I sat for a moment, stunned by what probably appears to be a fairly run of the mill observation. Little wires inside my brain started buzzing with the creation of new circuits. I finally ‘got’ something- not as a basic understanding, but in the cells of my body awareness of my relationship to pressure. Sitting in a beige and boring room, no horses within sight, and yet everything about how I would approach them moving forward being changed.

I realised: I had a habit of applying pressure, in everyday situations, in life where it absolutely wasn’t needed.

I repeated the exercise again, this time without the force. My body flowed. There was no restriction or compression. I had been adding energy to something that didn’t result in an addition but only ever took away.

Since then, I have become obsessed with noticing our everyday use of pressure. How lightly (or tightly) we grip a pen. How we hold onto our mug. The sound of other’s footfalls when their going up the stairs. The type of grip a person uses when holding onto the steering wheel. It all matters. It’s all energy consuming (and energy conserving when we start to reconfigure our habits and movements a different way).

It all flows through. How heavily you hit the stairs correlates to how much pressure you put into the stirrups in the rising or posting phase of the trot.

If you hold a pen with a lot of unconscious force, what is the pressure you’re applying down a lead rope?

Do you grip your tea the same way that you hold onto the reins?

I’m convinced that we would have so much energy at our disposal, would find ways to make so much of what we are challenged by more easeful by examining the ways in which we push. By looking at what force we are using when no force is needed. By looking at what we are gripping onto, when it would lie easily in our palm if left alone.

Take out your pen and write. Can you create a new story, but use less pressure to bring it to the page?

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

Training While Holding A Tea Light Candle (Or Going Against The Grain)

Training while holding a tea-light candle, otherwise known as:

Going against the grain.

I truly don’t think I would ever have started my own business if I didn’t live in the location that I do. Isolation, combined with a healthy appetite for learning, the willingness to figure things out and take consistent action, and never really entertaining the thought that, well, I couldn’t, played not only a formative role in the creation of my business, but is also an essential ingredient in progressing with my horses in a way that feels natural and humane to us both.

We all know about the benefits of community, and the obvious advantages that this has. I’m not suggesting that friends aren’t important (they absolutely are), or that you don’t need a teacher or a mentor (you do), or a second pair of eyes when you get stuck (please definitely seek this out); what I am saying is that this needs to be balanced with alone time where you are free to bumble on and make mistakes.

Where you can figure out how to hold your hands and coordinate this part your body with that without referring or deferring to someone else.

Where you can let yourself learn, free of the lurgies of comparison or not-so-great-wonderings that accompany us when we are individually doing our best to figure things out in the context of a lots-of-opinions environment.

When I was first invited to speak within summit setting, I was launched into a container filled with other professionals much more skilled, more well-known, and more accomplished than myself. I looked around and thought, I’m so glad it’s taken me so many years to get here. The a-few-years-earlier me would not have been deeply rooted enough in her own understandings. She would have spoken words that were yet to live in her heart, shared knowledge that lacked a point of difference or uniqueness.

And that’s totally ok. The a-few-years-earlier me needed more space, more time, to figure some stuff out. She needed to dive in to learn, to gather knowledge, and to listen to other people’s thoughts and understandings. And then she needed to retreat. To play; to practice. To get oh so many things wrong so she could maybe get a couple of things right.

A similar, slightly different situation:

Once, when I was on a training week for some horse bodywork, I went to a stable that was home to at least a hundred horses and then counting. I looked around, at the comings and the goings. I thought how difficult it must be to learn here, if what you are playing with is different, new, or against the grain. How you are always witnessed, always under the gaze of another person’s eyes.

And so, I say: new learnings, new understandings are like holding a tea-light candle. The flame needs protection to get big. Once it has; once it’s licking the ceiling and not easily extinguished, you can carry it around in all manner of weather and situations and it’s unlikely to go out. But until then, it needs protection. The protection not only of people who are looking to also nurture the flame, but alone time where you get to stare at it, marvel at it, figure out how to make it grow.

My personal challenge is not so much alone time to play with new ideas, or space with my horses to apply new understandings, to figure out what goes where and how this connects with that. My challenge is community; the second eyes, the people around and on hand to help me out.

But if you find yourself in the context of many, YOUR creative challenge might look quite different. Because going against the grain, new learning, and the chance to apply what you have been told to the point where it has practical benefit means you must have time to think things through- alone.

You must have time to figure out how to figure it out in a way that lives in your body, which requires you go through the process of letting yourself learn.

At the end of the day, the ultimate in any learning situation is a balance, between mentorship and independent learning. Between opinions and the space to figure things out. Sticking to something you recognize is right for you or your horse but goes against the ‘most practiced and familiar’ can be tough, even when we know that it’s the right thing for us to do.

Protect your tea light candle insides until they’re a strong and solid flame. At that point, alone or in a group, the flame is sure enough of its own heat to not go out.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Time: Did You Feel The Clocks Go Back?

In the early hours of Sunday, the clocks changed. Time- the ability for someone to make a decision about it, the ability to fiddle with it- is a fascination to me. That I can be sleeping, my horses are grazing, the moths flying around, navigating by the moon. None of us notice a difference in that moment. None of us stop, look at each other and say, did you feel that? Did you feel the clocks go back?

We still sleep, we still graze, we still fly.

In the past, I have resented, pushed up hard against this artificial changing of the light.

‘I would much prefer it,’ I said, chopping tomatoes in the kitchen, talking to my husband ‘if they just let it be. I’d rather have it be dark in the morning and light late into the night’.

But I know, at the end of it, my opinion doesn’t really matter. Whoever it is that makes the final decision about the clocks, who presses the button to decide the time we run our lives by doesn’t really matter either. The days will still have the same number of hours, the seasons will still become darker and then lighter and the darker again, regardless of our schedules or our will.

This year, however, I’ve noticed myself feeling different. The dark, instead of something to resist, feels welcome, like being wrapped up in a warm, familiar blanket. I am grateful for the ability to retreat. To be less visible. To compost in contemplation of my thoughts.

I crave rest. To be allowed to have slightly shabby edges in a way that’s not available for all to see.

There is a dignity to darkness that cannot, is not, shared by the experience of light. It gives us time and space to exist within ourselves without the glare of a harsh spotlight.

Conversations at night around the campfire foster an intimacy not experienced in the middle of the day. Walks shared in darkness allow for spaces absent of the fierceness of visual attention. Overnight stays rather than day trips lead to comradery and deeper knowing of each other often for the simple fact that we, together, shared an experience of the night.

Darkness is often seen as something to avoid. Dark emotions. Dark experiences. But we have all had experiences where darkness is exactly what we craved.

The darkness of refuge. Of a warm bed, of by-yourself-ness, hidden out of sight. The darkness of being able to share a truth, where, in the space of being fully seen would remain hidden. The darkness to figure things out where light feels complicating and too bright.

I wonder, in whatever season we are in, we could give ourselves the space just to exist? And to ask what that particular season, that particular moment, asks of us? Regardless of whether we’re heading into summer or into winter?

Whether a shortening, reducing of the light, could expand our view in other ways?

And if you are in the season of the sun, what you could bring forward, that is ready, desiring to be fully seen?

I will contemplate along with you.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

On Soak Time: The Process of Thoughts & Attention Becoming Embodied Understandings

On Soak Time: The process of thoughts and attention becoming embodied understandings.

—-

As a culture, we have developed strong patterns of believing that we are consciously in control of everything. In theory, we delight in the thought that our body is wise, intelligent, and intuitive. In practice, our true beliefs (and perhaps beyond that, our control patterns) show something quite different.

Most of the work I do involves using our conscious awareness to support unconscious processes, via a practice I refer to as sensing. Sensing is not a new word, but it can mean something different depending on the context that it’s taught. For me, sensing is the mothership; it’s the process of reactivating our sensory system via body-based processes that allow us to develop a different relationship with the patterns we find ourselves stuck in, the relationships we are a part of (including our horses) and the wider world at large.

If this seems like a big claim, I guess it is. But that has been my experience, and the experience of many hundreds of people that I’ve worked with, for the simple reason that: as humans, we are sensing creatures. The way our body is designed is complicated in its detail but simple if you break it down in blocks.

If our sensory system is compromised- as is the case when we get stuck in repeating patterns, have experiences we label as trauma that see us spinning round in loops, or can’t see the forest for the trees- we become victims of our own story, a spinning loop of everything that came before. Without a sensory system feeling out into the world, our body struggles to relate us to ‘what is’- to our horses, ourselves, each other.

We are mechanically misfiring, spluttering up and down the streets in a simple effort to drive a few miles to the supermarket.

My work is based on this understanding. If you come to me, we begin with sensing practices almost straight away, the catch being: If you are new to sensing, as so many people are, in the beginning the practice can seem fluffy, and like nothing is really happening.

You are ready for the big shift, and I tell you to do something seemingly ridiculously subtle! Gah! Tell you to hang in there, that things are going on behind the scenes that lie outside your conscious awareness.

Noticing something changing and something changing are two different things. The outcome of sensing can be instant (OMG! My life has changed overnight!), to a very slow build, that creeps up on you like a slow atmospheric shift until you notice that something is different. It’s the latter that is the biggest struggle with getting anyone to commit to ‘doing the work’.

Reaping the benefits requires trust. But how do you trust something when you can’t see exactly what it’s doing, or when you don’t really notice a big change?

Why SHOULD you trust someone like me, when they / I tell you it can take a while to notice the change?

How DO we get to a place where we trust in the unconscious wisdom of the body? Where we understand is to be something that desires, homes in on vitality and wellness, if only the circumstances allow for it?

If you need a reminder that the body is constantly working, adapting, changing beyond what you are consciously aware of, then the best analogy I can think of is the idea of “soak time” with our horses.

Why is it, when working with our horses, that we allow for breaks in between activity?

How is it, that after a rest, or a holiday, following a stint of more intensive work that a horse can come back ‘better’, provided that the processes they were taken through before were ones that were mutually understood?

Whilst we might not have deliberately labeled it as such, soak time is conscious learning being transferred to the unconscious. It’s the process of thoughts and attention becoming embodied understandings. The conscious supporting the unconscious.

Biomechanical change, change to patterns and behavior all fundamentally happen at the unconscious level. When we understand this and put it into practice, we are left to trust, observe, and decide what next action supports our intentions best.

There is practice and action, and there is also trust and allowing. All are essential.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

Things I’m Thinking About #3

Things I’m thinking about:

1.

Riding Merc yesterday, I was thinking about how the more stoic horses, or those we might consider to the heavier types, can lead us to make assumptions about use of pressure. That is easy to assume that they will be less sensitive, or mobile or responsive because of a more solid body and a tendency towards freeze rather than flight.

I think about how, with humans and with horses, I’m always considering balance and wellbeing elementally. That a predominance of earth, for example, within someone’s constitution does not need more of the same heaped on top. In fact, what they need is to have that met with appropriate amounts of fire and air.

I look at the constitution of Merc’s body and see physically, he’s predominantly the earthy type. Bigger bones, a more solid frame. Wide, cupped feet that travel easily over ground. Observing this, it would be easy to overlook his sensitivity, and the accompanying predominance of air.

Air in a constitution, as the state itself suggests, travels quickly. It is light, ethereal, prone to change. A balance of air allows for lightness; too much and we become most likely anxious. We literally and metaphorically lose our anchor to the ground.

Understanding this about my lovely horse, allows me to ride and be around him with more nuance. I need to offer lightness, in order that physically he may find it in return. His appearance of the strong and solid type need not delude me that I need to cultivate an energy of the same.

At the same time, his lightness of mind means I need to act with a grounded-ness and certainty. Hands on the body to keep him within the edges of his skin. Clarity of intention. Allowing for generous amounts of time to work things out.

2.

I continually remind myself that thoughts are instructions. That my brain is designed to cue my body to behave in specific ways. That I do not have to force or coerce; I simply have to ask.

Bringing attention to a particular part of the body is not an exercise in bringing consciousness to that place, as we so often think; it’s a remembrance of the consciousness that’s already there.

When I make requests of my body in this way, I am reminded of the inherent and benevolent wisdom that’s ever present within me.

When I sense into my body, my conscious thought and my unconscious knowing meet.

As I ride a circle, I tell my centreline, the balance line of my body, to arc in the same way as the horse. She does her best to follow my instruction.

3.

I’m thinking that our body is a container that can be breached. How many of us think that accepting, recognizing limitations is a failing, or a product of limited thinking, rather than a necessary acceptance of the reality of life that we’re all in conversation with.

The nervous system itself is not a plateau but an edge. We do not rest on flat and stable ground. Instead, we are traversing fault lines, climbing valley’s, looking out over the peaks of mountains.

We look out over the edge and decide, is it safe for us to step over or should we go back?

The nervous system as an ever changing edge.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

Things I’m Thinking About #2

Things I’m thinking about

1.

I was poo picking in the paddock yesterday and thinking about our relationship to time. How we can so easily develop ideas about what we need to do or change that can result in ways of living that to my mind are inhumane.

I look around at my horses and even in their domesticated state, the way they structure their day follows a natural order. What would it look like to move through a day where I moved at a natural pace? Just the idea of it makes me take an exhale.

For one I know there would be a lot more space. I would daydream more. I would spend more time just pootling in the paddock. I would write more, ride more, hang out with people I love more. The time that I got out out of bed would change most of every day.

To follow a natural rhythm feels like a series of hours that holds its tasks with more levity, regardless of what specifically they might be.

I think of my people in JoyRide and our conversations around time, and fitting things in. How even those with bright hearts and good intentions, as they all have, struggle with the rhythm of the day. I tell them, I don’t believe this is something for you alone to hold. We are trained into busy-ness meaning goodness. This is no longer an equation I want to play with or to hold.

I will think about humane time. I will think about natural time. I will continue to consider how it is my life can live by both. I will continue to hold our human-ness to a far greater value than our productiveness could ever be.

2.

I’m thinking about decisions, and what it takes to be able to make one. Decisions, it seems, are the mother of everything. If you can’t make one, there is no action that you take, and no action results in, well, nothing. Or even worse, a situation where you are stuck up in your head.

I’m thinking of the words my lovely friend and nature writer, Janisse Ray, shared with me recently:

“There is a huge cultural divide between the sexes when it comes to making decisions. Men make decisions. Most women are not taught to make decisions. They’re not given permission to have a choice. Women do what men decide.

Every day I see examples of this—a woman doing what a man decides.

I’ve been training myself to make my own decisions. In situations where I would normally ask my husband or a friend what they think, I’m forcing myself to stay quiet.

It is wretched. I hate it.”

I wonder about this. I have talked about it with many of my professional friends, those who have students whose love are horses also and we see it as a familiar thread. The action taking component, the ability to make decisions is a struggle that is familiar to most.

Our lack of decision making can be a protective action. An “if I don’t do this in the first place then I can never prove to myself that I’m not capable. It will always be hanging as a question”. It can be because we don’t feel good enough or skilled enough. That we don’t back ourselves enough.

But I see our lack of want to make a decision come up in the most basic of circumstances. Where there would be no fallout or judgement, aside from the one that exists inside our heads.

I have a rule for myself, which is the bringer of great peace. I don’t let myself rest too long in indecision. And there is no such thing as a wrong one. The decision that you made is the only one you ever could.

Liberation exists in the body of decision that is made and moved on from.

3.

I’m thinking how fragile life is. This morning, I found the robust and delicate body of a Bellbird lying on the concrete path. Her fifty shades of moss feathers against the greyness of behind was like an abstract work of art. I picked her up and whispered to her, placed her within the bowels of the Flax, the long grass shielding her from the light. I thanked her for being a bringer of such beauty, wished her well along her way.

4.

Picking up poo, I found a feather, of a design that would be almost impossible to draw. I picked it up and placed it in my pocket. Even the most mundane tasks bear gifts that appear like apparitions on the soil.

The feather was a smile-maker.

Take care of your gentle selves,

xx Jane

Things I’m Thinking About #1

Things I’m thinking about:

1. At the moment, the entirety of our herd is grazing the front paddock. This feels like a delicious and wholly visible luxury. The paddock has dried off enough that it’s forming standing hay, the green underneath sufficiently dried to the point that I’m no longer bobbing my head up and down considering its sweetness every time I see them nibbling at the shoots.

The luxury exists in their immediacy to my senses. I no longer have to hike many minutes up the farm. I can glance them, catch them in my eyesight as I wander from the house up to my office; watch their arguments, and games and intergenerational politics as I make a cup of tea. I can hear them snort as they make their way around, notice the moments when they stand just taking in the view.

The paddock that they’re in is a big one. The bottom edge borders the tidal estuary, which, with enough footsteps forward, flows out to the Pacific. It rises to the foothills of our house, which itself rests at the bottom of the old volcano, Mopanui. Embraced by the arms of fire, cooled by the curtains of the sea.

I love to see their space wandering, when they have the means to do so. They graze where the sunlight first hits in the morning, and then rest an hour or so later at the very top, just dozing, dreaming. Once awake, they venture to the farthest reaches of the paddock, winding their way from left to right depending on the timings of the day.

I love to notice their time keeping. That when the space allows, they have habits and routines that maintain order and spatial relationships in their day.

There’s not a lot that is random, when we are present to witness their daily living for more than a snapshot, more than a postcard amount of time.

2. Friendships. Dee and Nadia have a deep and solid friendship. Two big horses who would exist in harmony in a very confined space, should the circumstances call for it. A few weeks back, Nadia was kicked (the likely suspect was Saffy we all think), and I took her out and put her in a different paddock so she could rest without being moved around.

The thing was what was good for her leg was misery for her mind. She was heart sore for the company of her herd, and things went from worse to worse. Allergies sprang back up that had been absent for years. She kicked out at the fence. The horse that I most trust to be handled by anyone was fractious and unhappy.

I thought to myself, how health and healing is such a balance. That we can get hyper focused on one area, like nutrition, or in this case, the healing of a leg, and we lose something else in return. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary for the greater good but often it is not. We can underestimate the emotional lives of our horses in our quest to ‘manage something’ or ‘get it right’, underestimate the presence of their friends, and the impact this has on their wellbeing.

So, I surrendered, in what I think was the best possible way. I decided happiness was the ingredient needed to make her feel better. And that if I got it wrong, and did the wrong thing for her leg, I would at least have a horse who was balanced on her insides and whose heart could find some peace.

Incidentally, her leg is looking great.

3. The other night, I went to check the water in the paddock, and Saffy came over to hang out with me. She was so engaged and wanting to be present that it felt really wrong to leave. And so, I didn’t. Instead, I stayed with Saffy on the hill, and we watched the world go by.

From the position we were standing, I saw an angle of the view that I hadn’t seen before. From where I stood, the mountain of Mopanui was framed by the moving of the clouds in a way that made the entire skyline look like the doming on the earth.

Saffy had brought me to a position where it felt like we were watching the edge of the universe together, as the weather had so framed it in that moment.

And who’s to say we weren’t. Horses have always taken people to the edges of the world, and sometimes further.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

This photo is from two days ago when I decided the weather was so lovely and the horses so close that I dragged my chair and computer to the edges of the paddock. Merc found this to be a fascination.

What Are You Looking At? Understanding Gaze As A Cue & An Aid

What are you looking at?

Otherwise known as:

What are you going to ask for or do when you look at me that way?

Growing up, my father was the armchair expert of our family. An ex-competitive athlete (he was a 100m and 200m sprinter) my dad knew how to commit himself to something and how to train. The same accident that put an end to his running also prevented him from ever riding himself, but despite that, he was at every lesson we went to, was there on the side of the arena when we worked horses whenever he was able and was the person behind the video camera filming when we were competing.

A mannerism that I have picked up from him is when I am watching something or someone and I am concentrating, I cock my head to the right-hand side. I saw a photo of myself once and remarked: I look exactly like my dad.

My dad had very specific gazes that preceded an action, feedback (cough cough) or a request. I knew when he looked at me “that way” how my efforts were tallying up in his mind, and more or less what was to follow. We all have this skill of “reading” people’s gaze. The intensity of it, or lack of. Whether it feels inclusive or dominating. A gaze where we know we’re being watched. That look where an instruction (or perhaps a criticism or adjustment) is likely to follow.

Our horses feel the same. The way we use our eyes is often the first communication received from the unconscious about the information and action that’s to come. If we have become habituated to looking at our horse a specific way or in a specific place when we are about to make correction or to alter something we perceive is “wrong”, then our horse will become sensitized to that look, and reflexively seek to remove themselves from the pressure before it increases or overwhelms them (if the look itself hasn’t done so already).

How does your gaze differ when you are looking for something that pleases you, compared to when you are searching for something to correct?

What does the intensity of your gaze become when you are deciding what it is you’re going to do next? And how might this effect the insides of your horse?

Some of us only truly look- and some of us are truly only seen- under the gaze of criticism, or where our needs are not being considered. This prevents us wanting to be seen and sends us spiraling into reactive ways of being.

Our gaze and the way we look at something or someone is an action in and of itself. The action of seeing and the experience of being seen is a powerful one. Let the act of truly looking not automatically be coupled with the action of correction.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

What Is Our Relationship To Control?

With the unclipping of the lead rope, she begins to wander round the salt and pepper surface of the arena. On first impression, she appears black but the dark caramel on her flanks and underneath her stifle suggests this might not be true.

I look with more attention, see she’s the colour of deep and burnished toffee. The light falls in such a way that one side is accentuated in its brownness; the shadows magnify the black. She is far from one colour but a cacophony of many that, if I look with lazy eyes, my brain merges into one.

The rails of the arena are one, two, three rails down and then the ground. A foot drop, maybe two, enough to angle the head at 45 degrees and take a well-intentioned snatch at the grass that spans the perimeter underneath. She snatches and walks, snatches, and walks, consistently lapping the arena in a pattern we aren’t sure is pre-designed. But who knows really; it may be only the limits of our perception that suggests this is the case.

I sit within in the bowels of my dark green fold up chair, and I watch. I am observing at a clinic with Elsa Sinclair, and we are in the early stages of our time together here. These moments are just for observation. We are looking out for patterns of curiosity and concern, and if we are clever, to notice the signals that are communicated before. The uprisings of sensation and feeling in the body that choose to travel to the place of comfort or a place of worry. The skill on our part is to begin to discern which.

Is it possible for us to get more active and distracting before the worry settles in?

Can we be in relationship with our horses in a way that encourages activity of their senses, to create movements towards cooperative patterns, rather than acceleration towards places of fight flight?

The observation stages, whilst seemingly inert, can be a telling moment on the inside of a human.

How comfortable are we with our horses choosing to leave us, and pay us no attention?

What ultimately is our relationship with control?

What images are conjured in the shadows of our brain if we see them run, or buck, or frolic?

What are the behaviours we would ultimately like to shut down, and what are the ones we want to encourage? And why is this the case?

How willing are we to try something new, to allow ourselves to learn, to not understand or mess it up or experiment in situations where we are witnessed?

Observation of our horses when they are free of our control brings us face to face with all of this. Just as we need to learn to identify pre-concern in the minds and bodies of our horses, we need to learn to become familiar with our own.

Identifying patterns of pre-concern, to use Elsa’s term, is not about being perfect or having your insides sorted to the place where you feel like you’re a solid human, because this will rarely, if ever, be the case.

Instead, it’s about maintaining agency and the possibility for action.

What’s possible right now? What takes me half a step beyond the current moment?

And at what point do I lose my ability to act?

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

Having Good Boundaries Requires A Willingness To Lose

“Having good boundaries requires a willingness to lose”.

When I first heard this in a training session, I couldn’t really make sense of it. Up until that point, I understood boundaries to be the opposite. They were the willingness *not* to lose. To stand your ground like, in my case, a slightly more feminine version of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, proclaiming thou shalt not pass to the world.

To have good boundaries, I needed to prepare myself. To get ready to face whatever was *out there* and meet it in a way that was clear that I was not a person to be messed with. Such is the pendulum swing of someone who spent years with a porous layer between her and the world and some fairly well practiced people-pleasing skills.

I had made, like so many others, the classic mistake of confusing a boundary with a barrier, and they are not the same thing. So, what is the difference? And what does it mean to say that boundaries are the willingness to lose?

A true boundary is not something that exists prior to the moment it’s required for. Instead, it is responsive. A living, breathing, fluid entity that allows us to both step closer into a situation or further away from it, depending on what’s required.

To create a boundary means that I have recognized a pattern of behaviour in someone or something- a human, horse, or situation- that does not work for me. Perhaps it’s in conflict with my needs or values; perhaps a dishonouring of my time; perhaps it’s physical, a breach of personal space. We can conjure up a variety of examples.

But in response to the situation, I offer choices. I communicate what it is I am noticing about the situation, and I say (hypothetically speaking) that Option A and Option B are available to follow. In other words, I hand over power to the other party and say, in response to your choices I will act in “X” way.

And this is where the willingness to lose comes in. Boundaries require the willingness to lose for the simple reason that in response to the choices we’ve offered, the other party might pick the one we don’t want them to. They might NOT change their behaviour. And the holding of the boundary means we have to follow through on what we said and change OUR actions in response.

Boundaries do not require the other person or situation to change. They require WE change in response to a boundary we created.

A barrier, in opposition, does not offer choice. It says, this is the situation, you absolutely can’t do “x”. A barrier is not always the wrong thing. If my horse is about to run over the top of me, I am not offering choices. I’m saying you absolutely can’t do that. It’s a safety issue. If my child is about to run out onto the road, I, again, am not offering choices. I’m going to grab their arm and create a physical barrier to the behaviour.

But what I commonly see is people behaving in ways I described at the beginning- psyching themselves up with the don’t mess with me attitude- and proclaiming that from now on, they’re going to have good boundaries. But what they have created instead is a defensive mode of functioning that is not responsive but closed down. Instead of meeting the world and making decisions based on what presents, they are presupposing that it needs to be met in a certain way and they brace themselves as a result.

This next little while in JoyRide, my membership program, we are working with an exclusive focus on boundaries. Elsa Sinclair is giving a guest workshop this morning discussing boundaries from the perspective of her work and experience with horses, so if you want in, come join us sooner rather than later (we are kicking off in just over 90 minutes time)! It’s all recorded if you can’t make it live.

In addition, over the course of the next couple of weeks we will be looking at:

– The relationship of boundaries to your physical structure, including body mapping movement sessions and understandings of how pre-existing fight flight patterns can contribute to challenges with setting appropriate boundaries

– Workshops exploring the nature of boundaries and behavioural patterns

– Boundaries and their relationship to working and playing with our horses

What are your experiences with boundaries? And what are your challenges? I’d love to hear about them!

And if you want to join us, you can read more or sign up for JoyRide here.

Let me know if there’s anything I can help with,

xx Jane

What’s Your Relationship To Tension?

What’s your relationship to tension?

I know when I started my adventures understanding more about the body, the main preoccupation was in developing softness, pliability, and flexibility. Tension was something we wanted to get rid of, or that served no purpose other than to indicate areas of stress, dis-ease, and potentially even pain.

This narrow lens that framed my understandings of tension often prevented me from seeing the bigger picture and I would even go as far as to say, got in the way of my body moving towards more optimal ways of being.

To better understand this, let’s consider the concept of tension from a couple of different viewpoints.

In the first instance, the body requires the interplay of various tensile forces to support itself from the inside out. My work understands posture, for instance, to be the product of different internal pressure systems and structural forces that all work together to support the magnificence that is our physical body from the tubes of our blood vessels to the surface of our skin.

Take, for instance, the neck. If we want to take a log of physical complaints, neck pain is way up there. If we understand the relationship of biomechanics to the nervous system, this is, often easily explained.

In the fight flight system, the body uses the cervical spine to power the movement of the shoulder girdle. When the nervous system is adaptable, we would only do this for limited periods of time. But in modern life, we find ourselves “stuck” in this operating system and it causes wear, tear, and pain as a result.

Contrary to popular thought, the neck is not designed to be super mobile and “soft”. Instead, it’s designed to be quite a “tense” structure. The top of the lungs, when operating in the parasympathetic system, sit in the neck tube and press on the deep front line of fascia, stabilizing the cervical vertebrae and the entire structure of the neck.

When people I work with start to develop more stability in the neck, one of the things that they will experience is the subjective experience of “tension”. But this tension is necessary, “normal” and desirable.

Once this position has settled, we no longer experience it as tension (we only consciously experience something for as long as it’s novel). But in the interim, we can get in our own way through the assumption that something is wrong by massaging, poking, and manipulating our way out of it.

The point I want to make is that our experience of tension is subjective. And it’s not always “bad”.

The other thing is that regardless of whether we perceive tension to be positive or negative, tension is always functional. It exists because:

– The brain lacks the necessary sensory information to bring the body into the present moment and consequently leaves it physical buttons of “stuckness”

– Tension has been created as a compensatory or protective pattern to support the body in some way.

– The muscles have developed patterns around supporting the body to be stable rather than mobile.

Simple “releasing tension” is not desirable if it not the decision of the body in question to do so. We need to provide the brain with more information about its current position so it can make any changes that are relevant (should they be relevant), which happens through the stimulation and activation of the sensory system.

When I look at the body know, be it horse, human or otherwise, I’m full of reverence. At that moment in time, regardless of my perception of what’s going on, the brain has made choices with the information available to it that is always in that being’s best interest. My “job” then is to support it to make its own changes at the pace and depth that it so chooses.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Don’t Let ‘Nervous System Regulation’ Become Another Outlet For Control

Don’t let your quest for ‘nervous system regulation’ become another outlet for perfectionism or control. Another movement towards the ever illusive idealized or better self.

‘Nervous system’ is simply the term we use to describe how the body- your body- understands its place in the world. How we relate to things; our experiences, each other, the universe as a whole. And because we acknowledge that all these thoughts and feelings we’re having from moment to moment exist within this human animal skin, we know that there are some things we must take care of in order to operate in a way that is true to our basic design.

In truth, considering how our nervous system is functioning- which is just a fancy way of saying how WE are functioning- shouldn’t be something we have to think about or do anything special for. But it is, for the simple reason that we aren’t living in a world we are designed for- and neither are our horses.

What we are designed for is collaborative, communal living, not just with our human friends, but with the non-human and the animal. Where life is a reciprocal arrangement with the land, and where movement is an expected and intrinsic part of our day. In this way, the nervous system takes care of itself.

And because this is no longer the case; because the modern world has separated us from ways of being for which we are designed we now have to choose and act our way into wellbeing, an onus of responsibility that we’ve never previously had to carry.

And a paradox of burden in that we are essentially asking the same body, the same system that is experiencing the dysfunction to also find their way back to a state of health, which is a tricky thing to do.

But outlining the difficulties does not make it any less true.

What learning about your nervous system should provide you with in a remembering and reclaiming of your intuitive, sensual self. Not in a stereotypical way, but one that allows you to recognize your inherent creativity; where you become more adaptable, less controlling of your circumstances and surroundings; where you are able to maintain a sense of rootedness in what’s important to you without being swayed or buffeted with each opposing thought; where you allow other people to have their experience without the need to convince or coerce them into agreeing with what you understand to be true.

It is not a call without- to another bio hack, another step-by-step process but a call within. And not in isolation but in collaboration. In recognition of your wider place within the world and the relationships that form a part of it.

It is the reclamation of choice, that you are the change agent, instead of waiting or insisting that the world around you adjust to fall in line with your desires.

We will feel more, sense more, act more. A handing back of agency, of potency, of understanding the wider web in which we live.

If you are looking to be perfectly balanced or calm with your nervous system work, then what you’re moving towards is not regulation. It’s another loosely disguised box that really just control.

Onwards

❤️ Jane

You Aren’t Entitled To Success

You are not entitled to success.

You are not entitled to things working out.

A horse, even one you label as your own, neither requires nor demands you to continue being a horse. They have fulfilled their remit by virtue of who they are. They have nothing to prove- to you or to themselves.

You are not entitled to their attention, nor the attention of others.

It is us alone with the questions, the appeals. But the answers, the filling in of all the blanks, is not something that is promised to us.

It is a decision, an adventure, we open ourselves up to, to occupy a third space, that is neither solely human nor solely horse. Instead, it is a little bit of both, and something of another we are unable to grasp fully or identify.

The space of a horseperson.

Horses make no appeals that we dance with our shadow side. That we reconcile our need for control. That we meet the lingering fears born of a body we occupied for decades previous creating an atmosphere of concern in our cells. That we elasticise the borders of a comfort zone preferring to identify as stone.

It is a life with horses that asks this, requires this.

You can make your way through life experiencing success, even happiness, without ever meeting any of these things.

But if it’s a life with horses that you want, the space of a horseperson you want to occupy, then at some point you will find you need to face yourself within a conversation that calls to reach for something deeper than you initially present.

But your horse makes no demands for it.



❤️ Jane

What Do We Feel We Need, To Be Ready To Begin?

What do we feel we need, to be ready to begin?

Which we could rephrase as, what’s getting in the way of us starting?

This question I always find to be a thorny one to answer, not because of the obvious nuance that’s real and present in a human life, but because of all the ways that we argue against ourselves. We have a fierce and fast tendency to rise to the defence of all the reasons why we can’t do the thing that we want to do, which can make for sticky conversations as we start to unpick why that might be the case.

If you feel yourself bristling, perhaps you can identify.

The reality is, to get started, you need practically nothing except the willingness to do so and the commitment to taking some form of action. This is true regardless of your start point, financial resource or current state of health and wellbeing. And that’s because the art of “getting going” can be reduced to a startlingly simple equation:

Getting Going = Decision + Action

The acceptance of where you’re at and figuring out what’s possible within what’s possible. Which is going to be different for all of us. Identifying the next available step and taking it.

So why, for many of us, is this such a hard thing to do?

Here’s a pick’n’mix assortment of common things I see getting in people’s way.

1. You’re waiting for it to be easy, or at least ‘easier’.

Easy or hard, it doesn’t matter. If you are creating momentum where there is none, or doing something that is currently outside your skillset or comfort zone, then there’s no way around it other than committing to some form of action. Doesn’t have to be huge, and it’s not about putting yourself in an unsafe position. But it most probably is going to involve some sort of sacrifice.

You are going to have to NOT do something else to do the thing you want. You are going to have to say no to other things and realise that there is some level of hardship involved to committing.

It has rewards, but they aren’t necessary instant. You have to give yourself time. But the only person who can bridge the space between doing and not doing is you.

2. You somehow think there’s going to be an energy shift and you’ll naturally be compelled to do ‘the thing’.

This isn’t about forcing or pushing through. Again, it’s about finding what’s possible within what’s possible. Which will change from day to day, moment to moment.

I can speak to this endlessly from the level of the nervous system, but it can be useful also to consider it from the point of energetics.

Consider things elementally: earth, air, fire and water. Earth is heavy, grounded, lacks movement. Someone lacking motivation, get up and go might need to consider how to introduce more fire, emotionally, nutritionally, functionally.

Conversely, anxiety is predominantly air. A head detached, floating away. Ungroundedness, concern. How do we earth, how do we ground?

How can you balance your natural, elemental tendencies? How can you create a system of support that naturally includes a movement towards taking action?

3. You are getting too far ahead of yourself.

Showing up and getting started is surprisingly easy. What often stops us is the attachment to showing up and getting started *in a specific way*. If you are attached to how things have to be or how they need to look (hello perfectionist and control patterns) then you are going to have a hard time motivating yourself to get out of the literal and metaphorical gate.

Beginning is just that: beginning. It’s not beginning perfectly or having it all together. It’s acceptance. This is the start point. What’s possible from here?

What to chatter about what I’ve shared above? I’m more than happy to ping some thoughts around. Let me know below!

xx Jane

How Do You Stay True To Yourself?

The other day, I was asked, how do you stay true to yourself, live a life that is connected and creative?

I replied that I’m not sure, but I understand it to be a daily practice of dissent.

And then she asked, what is it you mean by dissent?

I paused for a moment, attempted to bring up the formal definition in my mind, but it continued to desert me.

Dissent, I began, is the constant process of deconditioning. The daily re-commitment to what’s important in your heart and in your mind.

And I recognize, I faltered, that to even consider this conversation means I am answering this question from a place of privilege. That I have the choice to be something, to do something, in ways that many others don’t.

But as I’m answering regardless, let me take you on an adventure of my yesterday.

Yesterday, I woke up already feeling not ok. I was tired, the cumulative result of broken sleep. My mind was tight with all the things it was usual to be concerned about. The pressures of running a business, the constant feelings of keeping up. The responsibilities involved in caring for people other than yourself.

In that moment, as tired tears started to roll, I thought to myself was what I really craved was space. I wanted to go sit on my log in the back paddock and talk to trees.

Wanted to remember my own unimportance, to reduce myself in the context of the natural to my meant for and intended place; as just another creature treading this earth in this human, animal skin.

And a voice piped up, “well you can do that. You can go and do that now.”

So I’ll take you with me, together now, on a walk of nothing and everything, a day filled with much the same.

A re-commitment to what’s important in what I first described as counter-intuitive, but that’s not really right at all. What it is is counter-conditional; all the conditional beliefs that attempt to wield and rule my day.

As I walked outside, I saw a parrot, her body heavy against the horizon and resting on the flax. Before this year, flax has always been just that- flax. But I took up the habit of nature journaling and drawing and I see her now as so much more.

There is the mountain flax, herself a different colour to her low lying cousin friends. The more olive-y greens juxtaposed around the burnt red and brownish hues. Each plant a universe, an ecosystem, providing sustenance for birds and animals alike.

As the plants break into blossom it’s the nectar feeders that come first. The Tuis, the Bellbirds, all feasting on the sugar. But now with the flowers gone, the parrots break into the pods.

Later, when feeding the horses, I walk pass, analysing the seeds. I can see where strong and sharp beaks have made their entry, of the seeds that lie within.

I’m walking now, up the hill and over the crest of a gentle rise. Below me, I see the movement of three of my horse friends. They are all following each other, nose to tail, and one by one, they turn to face the sun.

They see me, acknowledge me with their eyes, and I call back in adoration, walking on.

The next paddock that contains life holds two more horses. They nicker to me as I make my way up the path, with the expectation of hay and feed. The next ears and eyes I see are Ada and Merc. We commune, scratch and breakfasts are doled out in the expected order. The air feels with the happy munching sounds of horse’s eating hay.

Now on to my intended destination, Bear’s log that sits within the paddock we call the twisted gums. My eyes relax here, take a long soak in the green of the surroundings. I notice a feathery grass I cannot name that I have not given much attention to before. In their sea of family kin, they all look golden, but on closer inspection, I can see the edges tinged with pink, as though gently dipped in watercolor paint.

I look down at my feet; my shoes now feel inappropriate. I take them off, my socks too, and lie down on the log. It doesn’t feel right so I get up, and start to walk on further still, making my way to the farthest corner down the back.

Despite the rising heat of the day, each place atop the land has its own specific temperature. At first I walk amongst the grass covered with dew, the cold so clear and strong that my bones inside my feet begin to ache. I think two things:

I am so glad we are no longer cutting hay. The days with intermittent rain and the mornings with already present dew would guarantee a seasonal headache.

Two: This cold feels like the sea. A plunge, a surprise, a body that reacts.

And then warm. Up the rise and the grass feels in comparison like hot pools. It’s not surface level heat, but underneath. The earth feels like freshly baked and newly taken out cookies. My legs fill with gingerbread delight.

I hear sounds of birds I cannot place, and I look upwards. I can tell the birds are many, but I can’t make out exactly what. My eyes and ears do their best to strain together, but today that knowledge is not theirs for the taking. I thank them and continue on my way.

My hand reaches in the pocket with the expectation of my phone but it is absent. Left, on purpose on the bedside table many steps away at home. I look at the watch I quickly borrowed in it’s place: 8:12 am.

I need to go. I have a call at 8:30, a commitment that sees me turn in the direction of my home.

When I speak of dissent, this is what I mean.

Not necessarily outward flourish. No big announcements or protests that involve the masses or stepping somewhere else other than the place you currently stand.

It’s really simple. A remembering. A recommitment. An action in support of both those things.

The daily practice of your smallness in the vastness of the land.

Onwards,

❤️ Jane

In Response To Being Told To Leave My Emotions At The Gate

In response to being told to leave my emotions at the gate, or find a point of operating we might call neutral…

Dear friend,

I really don’t think there’s any such thing as leaving your emotions at the gate, or even finding a place within yourself that you would call neutral. What even is that, I ask myself, besides a damping down of everything that makes us human?

I don’t expect my horse to turn off their horse-ness when I am with them. To do so, I think, is what we would refer to as shut down.

It would be unfair, unrealistic to expect the same thing of myself. For Jane to be less Jane.

So, I simply don’t.

I carry them with me. Me and my emotions, we arrive at the paddock, to the arena, we adventure on the trail. I don’t try to escape them- we both know that would be futile- but we dance in a way that is dynamic, ever changing.

My horse is emotional, not in a human way, but a horse way.

A human is emotional, not in a horse way, but a human way.

The true building of relationship and understanding comes through an alchemy of both these forces, not by pretending or turning off the enlivening part of me in an attempt to present as something I am not.

In writing this, I recognize this is a nuanced conversation. Some musings that spring to mind that maybe led us to this point:

Humans are often led by emotion rather than informed by them. We easily find ourselves hijacked, taken over by the experience of what we would label an emotion, which removes us from the ability to be present, to be effective, and sometimes, to be compassionate and fair.

But this, my friend, is not the emotion, but the story, and alongside it, a fixed idea of outcomes. The story and the judgement- not the emotion- is what we need to leave behind.

Emotion, sensation is the body’s communication network, a lively conversation between the body and the brain.

Emotion is the body informing, relating, understanding its place in the environment it finds itself, its current situation.

To be empty of emotion, simply put, is to no longer be alive.

So where does that leave us then? If we are humans, full to the brim, a complex sea of ever-present emotion?

It leaves us with the truth of ourselves and the moment we find ourselves in.

It leaves us with the opportunity to reconcile the patterns of people pleasing, the pressure of what we feel like we should do instead of what we are able and willing to do, to understand the presence of emotion is not fixed, but ever changing, constantly fleeting.

To learn to act within the experience of emotion in a way that feels do-able and kind.

To learn to trust and advocate for ourselves, and for our horses.

To reconcile our triggers from the past that push to the fore old experiences that are no longer relevant to our present moment.

To observe our emotions and understanding the choices we make within them, as exactly that: a choice.

And if we can’t. If we find ourselves in the position where we feel like our capacity to be clear, consistent, and kind for our horses is removed, then we can choose to walk away, if only for a moment.

To get off. To take a break. To hand the rope to someone else.

But we practice, every day, letting go of the story, allowing ourselves to be new.

Bringing the fullness of ourselves to conversation and allowing our horses to be free to do the same.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Can You Learn To Read A Body?

Can you learn to read a body?

Every body expresses a story. The story of everything that came before.

I’ve had many conversations with trainers and riders, where in theory we seem to be on the same page, but their horse’s bodies show me our approaches are quite different. I have been surprised, caught out on more than one occasion, found my feet shuffling uncomfortably in the sand where I think I have a good thing going on as far as training conversations with another human, only to have the reality revealed by the body of their horse. Once your eye and hand are trained to patterns of force and tension, it’s impossible to unsee.

The curve and bulge of certain muscles, the deficit and atrophy of others. The little, knotty balls you feel under your fingers as your run your hands down the length of their neck.

The fullness- or lack of- that sits under the saddle.

The freedom of movement, happiness in the jaw and mouth, contentment in the eye, looseness, and pliability of the skin.

The horse does not need the command of words to gift you with their story.

The same is true for humans, despite our presentation patterns and attempts the cover up the truth. Learning to read the structure of a body- how it changes in the different nervous system states, how the body rearranges itself- will tell you more about a person’s state of being than their words ever will.

Our bodies are the canvas on which we paint our life. There is much to be learned through its careful observation.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

The Stuff We Humans Can Do When We Don’t Think That We Can’t

At 4pm yesterday, I threw my laptop in a bag, along with a notebook and some pens, and jumped into the car. My eldest son who’s 12 was with me, we were heading into town for the 3rd day in a row of training for his PADI scuba diving license.

The bags under his eyes show he’s a little tired but he can’t stop talking all the way. He’s chirping like a little sparrow in the background, speaking of things I neither understand nor keep up with.

“When we get to this level mum, the pressure in the tank changes to “x” amount…”

“When you work with your buddy, we have to double check each other. That’s the only thing I really struggle with, it’s hard to lift the tanks.”

He’s fires at me questions he knows I cannot answer, delights in the fact he can correct me, inform me of the things I do not know.

We park outside the pool, and he streaks off, leaving me standing alone in the car park. I follow inside, feeling like I’m wearing a sign on my head announcing myself as the land dweller amongst a bowl of happy fish.

My boys, my two babes and my husband, are most at home amongst the salt and the sea. They’ll spend hours in the water whose temperature is not for the faint hearted. Our stretch of coast is a cold, open and beautiful part of the Pacific, where five people on the beach feels like a crowded day.

His love of diving began, I think, not 20 minutes from home in the flowing tendrils of a Kelp forest. I remember him arriving back, cheeks flushed, eyes much wider than the norm.

I asked him what he loved about it.

“It’s just so peaceful down there mum”, was what he replied.

One of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever heard.

I don’t have to understand the activity to understand the feeling. I know what it’s like to be called back to something, a pull that sits beyond the logical and the rational. It’s the feeling so many of us share when sharing movement, space, and energy with a horse.

I carry my bag up the steps to a dark mezzanine room that sits above the diving pool, some many meters deep. I can hear his voice in the background, chattering away to those around him, his heart and mind on equal ground with those around him despite the many decades of living that space between them. He is by years and years the youngest.

I hear the trainer give the instructions.

“Tonight, we are going to do a 200-meter continuous swim with your weight belt, a minute or so rest, and then treading water for another ten. An hour’s diving after that.

There’s no touching the bottom and no resting. I’ll let you know when you are done. We need to know that if something happens out there in the water you have the capacity to swim.”

My heart feels the tightening of concern. I text my husband. I am worried with the weights and the lack of stops that it might not be ok.

I go down to the water’s edge and speak to my boy.

“Are you feeling ok to do this?”

I can see he does not mirror my concern.

“Of course”, he replies, “I have to do it. It’s just part of it.”

Matter of fact.

The other divers around him smile. I attempt one of my own, secretly ready to jump in.

I watch him swim, up and down, up and down, the many lengths of the short pool. I feel like I’m watching the Olympics. My eyes start to cloud right over.

On the final length, they all cheer for him. The small body of my boy making his way back down the stretch of pool. He’s giggling at the end, cracking jokes, pulls up on the side in a way that’s pleased with himself. Then he bombs back in the pool and plays around.

Driving home, I tell him how proud of him I am. He said it was hard, but an important thing to do.

“I understand why they do all these tests”, he said, “and I agree with them. I don’t want to be treated any different. I want to show them I can do it just as good as them.”

I admire my child’s steely determination, his absolute self-trust that he can do it. A resolve that floats under the surface of his skin, surprising all the adults around him.

I post in my JoyRide Facebook group a little video of the swim.

A lovely member comment:

“Honestly, the stuff we humans can do when we don’t have the baggage of not being able to do the things.”

Exactly what I thought, I reply.

“Imagine what we’ll see when we dive out there in the ocean”, he enthuses to me at home.

“Imagine”, I reply, and give him a little hug.

❤️ Jane