Riding the horse we’re given

September 6th, 2010 by gelenberg Leave a reply »

When I lived in Tucson I owned two horses—Arabians. I loved them. And learned from them. A rider has to get to know his or her horse, to learn how the horse thinks. Some experienced riders say one should “ride between the horse’s ears,” which means thinking like them, anticipating their next move.

Over the centuries, humans have lived with three other species primarily: horses, dogs, and cats.  A quick glance at newborns of any of these species tells us how much temperament varies from the first day of life. It’s true of all social mammals—including us.  Some run from a novel stimulus. Others seek it out with eager curiosity.

I’m a father and grandfather. I’ve owned horses, dogs, and cats. And I’ve been a psychotherapist. What I’ve learned from all these activities and roles and from a long life and reflection is how each of us is born with a temperament and that our biggest challenge is to learn how to manage ourselves in life’s adventures—within the limits of that temperament. It’s as if each of us were arbitrarily assigned a horse to ride throughout life—with no choice in the selection. To avoid calamities, we’d try to become familiar with that horse’s peculiarities, fears, and needs. As parents, we try to recognize each kid’s strengths and weaknesses. Some need more quiet time; others thrive in high levels of novel stimuli. Some do best one-on-one; others love groups. Wise parents help their children become familiar with their assets and manage their limitations.

It reminds me of rehabilitation after an injury. Or coping with a loss. We assess assets and weaknesses, fears, hopes, and preferences. We manage expectations and try to play to strengths.

For myself, my family, and my patients, I try to convey these lessons. Accept that horse. Learn to manage it through life. Become familiar with it, comfortable, accepting. And then turn it loose to enjoy life to the fullest.


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