Thursday, June 15, 2017

Confessions of a Control Freak

I tell my daughter, Camille, that its genetic; that it isn't our fault.  But there it is.  Its my largest character flaw -- and one that has cost me friends over the years.  It is also the source of the conflict that defined my relationship with my father for many years.  Both of us, control freaks.  Not pretty.

Of course, I didn't always recognize this trait as a flaw.  I was pretty blind about it, to tell you the truth.  And, I've only come to the realization that it is the reason I lost some friends, years after the fact.

I'm this strange mix of control, intuition, sensitivity and introversion.  I am consistently an outlier on personality profile tests.  I'm a weirdo.  Its a fact.  About fifteen years ago, I identified the control demon in the course of doing some hard spiritual work, acknowledged it, and began the hard work of controlling that beast.  (It's not easy and I'm not always successful).

What does this have to do with horses you ask?  Everything.

I think control freaks are drawn to dressage.  I could be wrong.  But I know I liked having clear goals, and a training pyramid to follow.  Dressage involves a dance between precision and feel.  It has been a good fit for my personality.

Tex... well, he's a whole different ballgame.  He draws on the intuitive side of my personality and my sensitivity -- that's a good fit.  But, he has good days and bad days and our progress is far from linear.  I struggle with that part.  Its not a training pyramid, its a training trail; a true journey.  There are sunny days and cloudy days; beautiful stretches of trail under the trees with a view of snow-capped mountains, and there are stretches where we trudge through switch backs, on a bare mountain side, under the beating sun.  ...okay, maybe not quite that bad.  But, challenging.

Thank goodness for Robin.  A few days ago, she reminded me that I can't just set parameters with Tex and hold the line.  Tex is a very damaged horse.  He's going to have good days and he's going to have days where its hard to trust.  Really, really hard.

On his good days, I can push on the boundaries of his comfort zone.

On his bad days, I need to encourage him to trust.  Robin calls this "seeking mode."  I want him to be seeking me -- whether its watching me from the pasture or walking towards me.  If I catch him watching me, I throw him a carrot.  I don't require him to walk all the way over to me and stand in a designated place.  If he starts walking towards me, I toss him a carrot.

After two days of tossing cookies, Tex is stalking me.  And, I love it.

This morning, when we brought the horses into the barn to escape the heat and the flies, Flash was first to the gate.  Flash nickered to me, while Tex stood at his flank, a few steps back.  I knew Flash was nickering more for breakfast than for me, but I praised him anyway and gave him a treat and rubbed his face.

Tex had this look like, "What the heck?  He's not your horse.  I'm your horse."

And then he stood perfectly still when I approached and was even a tad greedy about getting his halter and a treat.

I'm not so sure that I'm training Tex.  I think he is teaching me.


  1. Yes! They do teach us so much- even when we don't think we need and/or want to learn

  2. Control freak? I never noticed.

  3. An American in TokyoJune 15, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    I always thought that horses were the best teachers, if only we listen to them! I'm glad that Tex is communicating with you more! =D

  4. A lot of insight on your part. I can see what you're saying about control freaks being drawn to dressage. I think some are also drawn to western competition. Keyword: competition. Tests and shows can provide a measure for our work. The kind of thing you're doing with Tex is, in my opinion, much bigger and more important (to you and him) but measured by intrinsic rewards. I was just talking to my husband about this very thing today. Horse people who are in it for the intrinsic rewards are very rare. I think I better back track a second here to say the two can exist together with some horse human partnerships. I think there are some horses who like to show off what they've learned. Tex is not one of those, and I've enjoyed watching your journey and you being okay with that.

    1. You are right on so many levels. I was highly competitive when I was younger (in swimming) but I never enjoyed showing horses. I'm still competitive, but its more against myself (which is why swimming worked). I thrive on feedback and loved getting my test scores/remarks -- but I really hated the whole braiding and dressing up and being on stage thing. Some horses (Winston was one) do love to strut their stuff but others (Jackson, Lucy and Tex) would rather be at home, working in a familiar environment. Jackson would go anywhere and do anything for me, but he was happiest on the trail. I'm happiest on Lucy, working together in the quiet of our arena, with no distractions. Now, I'm also very happy with every tiny step Tex takes towards relationship, relaxation and contentment. You and Leah are on much the same journey.

  5. Animals will make us grow, and your insights show this is so true for you. I love how you and Tex are teaching each other. I once knew a bearded dragon named Sydney, who taught me so much about life and love.

  6. What if we were to imagine ourselves in the horse's position? If we were held captive by another species because it had that kind of power and control, how would we want to be treated? Wouldn't we want to be recognized for who we are as individuals and treated not as a slaves nor spoiled children but with dignity and regard for our emotional as well as physical wellbeing? Horses are capable of incredible depth of connection. They can become like large bonded, well behaved dogs. To have a horse like Tex give his heart in that way is an incredible honor. The path to the heart is the longer journey, yet so richly rewarding. I believe you will achieve that with Tex. He is one lucky horse! :-) Robin


Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.