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  • Writer's pictureSarah Rivera

A Different Time Zone

Ever since high school, I've had a job (well, most of the time). I've done fast food, reception, admin, client services, etc. Speed was always appreciated in these positions. I learned to serve customers and clients quickly so they didn't become impatient. My bosses usually wanted things done yesterday and I put effort into meeting their demands. That was the job.

To say it was stressful would be an understatement. I'm not a high energy person and it took a lot of focus and effort to keep up. Eventually, I began developing anxiety, my hair began to fall out and I dreaded going into the office.

I ignored it and kept going. I valued being useful. If I wasn't useful, then I wasn't valuable. Looking back, I can see how twisted that sounds, but it was a very real driving force for me. So I kept losing hair, I kept pulling myself up by my bootstraps and I pushed forward.

Horses were my escape. When I could, I would take lessons, and I volunteered at a rescue. Just being around them made my crazy brain stop and all that existed was the moment. There is something calming and purposeful about just grooming a horse. My anxiety settles, my mind clears and my body relaxes. Yes, I talk to my horse. She keeps my secrets.

About three years ago, I discovered a different kind of horsemanship called "at liberty". There were no ropes, no saddles, and no round pens. I was curious and reached out to a local barn to give it a try. It was a game changer. Up to that point, all my horsemanship had been focused on riding and getting a desired response from my horse. This was completely different. My horse was given the space to say "no".

When a horse says "no" it forces us as the human to re-evaluate the relationship. Horse are honest and have their own reasoning. Instead of making him see things my way, I really had to listen to see things his way. That took work. It also took a lot of time.

Horses are experts at reading energy and body language. Whenever I would try to rush the connection or task, I lost the horse. My mind was so use to going a million miles an hour to keep up with my daily life, that I struggled with slowing down and adjusting to "horse time".

Horses don't live by clocks. That's a purely human thing. They have their own time to do things and their own way of building connections and relationships. Honestly, it can feel like watching paint dry and the only way I've found to be successful at it is to just embrace it. But when a horse looks at you and says "yes" it's an incredible feeling. This large creature has decided to trust and partner with you. He can walk away at any time and there isn't anything keeping him there except the connection and relationship you've built. It's exhilarating.

When I go to the barn to work my horse, I don't look at the clock. Mercy doesn't have one in her world. What she does have is a sense of connection. In the arena, it's just the two of us and we have our own routine and rhythm. I push everything out of my mind and focus on walking slow. Breathing slow. Moving slow. It is in these moments that we find our greatest connection. As I stop moving at my speed and sync with my horse, it opens the conversation between us. We work "at liberty", Mercy has a few good rolls, I groom her and sometimes we just hang out together.

We didn't start this way. In the beginning, we started at opposite sides of the pasture. She had no reason to trust me and I had to work to earn that. If you've ever had a thoroughbred mare, you know that they have their own opinions and aren't easily swayed. Mercy made me work for every inch of ground I gained. There were times when it felt like one step forward and two steps back.

Today, we've both changed. I've figured out that there are just some things Mercy won't change her mind about, but I've also earned her friendship. She helps keep me centered and lets me know when I've made a mistake in our connection. Mercy requires me to be honest and grounded. If I lose either of those, our partnership doesn't function smoothly. It's a hard balance, but I've been getting better at it over time. I still have a long way to go, but we're in this together. In a way, we need each other. The only way our relationship works is on the ground, eye to eye in a fluid conversation of trust and boundaries.

I find that Mercy has an incredible ability to forgive my mistakes. I imagine she rolls her eyes at me quite a bit. But through it all, she knows I'm her person. She accepts my flaws and I accept hers.

This rescue horse has an uncanny way of pinpointing what is happening in her human students. I've had clients laugh, cry, and have personal realizations that had a deep impact. Mercy truly is the life coach in the arena and I'm still learning just how insightful she really is. Together, we do amazing things that are bigger than both of us, all because we choose to connect with each other.

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