Horse Lessons on Raising A Teenager. ~ Julie Tallard Johnson

Via Julie Tallard Johnson
on Oct 3, 2013
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Photo: Wild Wisdom Natural Grace
Photo: Wild Wisdom Natural Grace

I kept reading and being told, “Horses are spiritual teachers.” “The horse will teach you about your self.” “Horses are powerful mirrors.”

However, I tend to focus on caring for our two horses. I want to make sure they are happy, comfortable and safe (I’m a mom). It doesn’t matter if I ride them or not. They are simply part of the family.

We got the horses for our teenage daughter a little over two years ago. And she and I have taken lessons off and on from several trainers. I mostly watch as they work with my daughter.

After several skillful trainers and into our second summer with our two horses, I admit that there wasn’t a spiritual lesson in sight. Not for me anyway. Even when our 20 year-old horse, Norm, who was blind in one eye, knocked down a trainer on the same day he was aggressive with me.

I didn’t get a lesson out of it. I did get the horse tended to—we discovered he was going blind in the other eye as well and that his jaw was displaced. He was a grumpy horse because he was in pain and going blind.

I did take some time to consider what the lesson in it for me might be, but honestly nothing significant stuck. I just saw it as a horse that needed some attention. Well, just because I didn’t get a lesson doesn’t mean the horses weren’t teaching me something.

Norm has calmed down and hasn’t been aggressive since we got his jaw tended to. Knowing his “blind spot” helps a lot too. Then came the most recent training session. This trainer is known as a “trainer among trainers.”

She has been with horses her entire life. We are lucky that she comes out to this area for some other students and is willing to take us and our horses on. This last lesson was our third lesson with her and took place on our land instead of in a friend’s indoor arena.

I observed as my daughter and the trainer first did ground work with our one horse, Whiskey.

And that’s when I finally got what both the horses, in their own way, were mirroring for me. My daughter fell off the horse. The trainer congratulated her on the fall and asked us how many times she has fallen.

She was stunned to know that this was my daughter’s first fall. “Oh, your not an adequate rider till you’ve fallen at least 10 times and not good till you’ve been thrown off or fallen at least 20 times,” she said with a soft smile.

This was not said to make either of us feel better but to prepare us for the inevitable if we were to continue on this path as horse people. My daughter had to learn how to fall off a horse.

As a mother to an only child, was I really wanting or willing to let my daughter romp around in the pasture with a huge animal that will want to throw her off? Can failure and pain really be the path to success and mastering a skill? Why won’t the horse just be nice? Could there be another way to horsemanship?

Ultimately, could I allow my daughter to participate in such a dangerous relationship? I am certain my daughter had her own lessons to learn from this (She did get right back on the horse).

My first lesson (and likely the one that will also show up later as the last) is one of allowing.

You know, surrendering. Letting go. Letting things be. Getting out of the way. I need to allow my daughter to fail, fall, wipe out and get her heart broken and her pride bruised. Not just by a horse.

How can she, or any of us figure out this wild ride of a life without several cracks and bruises? Have I not written that disappointment points out that we are taking risks? And, in this new technology of cell phones and texting — can’t my daughter go places I cannot follow?

Can she not leave home without me asking her to check in with a text? Are there not many “pastures” with some version of a treacherous relationship that she may have to navigate herself, on her own, In her own way? Can I trust that she can and will decide if she wants to get back on the horse again? Can I surrender my need to pacify my own fears around her independence?

The trainer reminded my daughter that she is the Lioness; the Queen in this relationship and the horse needs to know that! And, I want her to know this about herself in all her relationships — that she is a Lioness, a remarkable young woman and is in charge of her own destiny.

I want her to know she is capable. But how, oh how, can she figure this out with me on the sidelines, texting her, or, if I am always there in the arena with her? She can’t. The horse too is showing me that this is between them, and that I should just stay away as they work all this out.

“Let things be as they are,” as the Buddha recommends.

For me I see that the horse could be a friend or teacher or romantic interest that she is exploring. She will fall, several times until she gets the right fit for her self, on her own––in her own way.

So it is a lesson of respect and trust as well. My daughter deserves my trust and respect and I will just have to deal with my own anxiety and blind spots on my own. When I think back on Norm (the older horse) and his aggression and blind spot—I think of my own blind spots and how I too misbehave when I am not able or willing to acknowledge them.

The blind spots will continue to be there. So anytime I feel the desire to take the reigns from my daughter I will know she is likely in one of my blind spots and instead I will breathe and stay put. Surrender. Let go. Take a deep breath and leave her be.

My “bite” of trying to make everything work out a certain way only makes me unpleasant to be around. So, lesson learned.

Now, on to the next one, which of course is all about how often we need to get back on the horse.

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Assistant Editor: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Bryonien Wise


About Julie Tallard Johnson

Julie Tallard Johnson is an award winning author of 10 spiritual books ( 7 for teens & 3 for adults), which includes The Thundering Years: Ritual & Sacred Wisdom for Teens. This won the IBPA for Best Multicultural nonfiction for Teens. My upcoming book: The Zero Point Agreement: How To Be Who Your Already Are includes endorsements by Parker J. Palmer, author of A Hidden Wholeness, & Allan J. Hamilton, M.D. author of Zen Mind: Zen Horse. She is a transpersonal counselor who has been in practice for over 30 years. Julie presently has a private practice, Healing Services on the River in Prairie du Sac, WI since 1995. You can find out more about her at her website.


22 Responses to “Horse Lessons on Raising A Teenager. ~ Julie Tallard Johnson”

  1. Asia Voight says:

    Well written Julie! The allowing-of-the-falls and knowing viscerally in our body life is not over. The fall is another opportunity at life with wisdom. Thank you for this reminder! Yes, remember you can ask the horses directly what lessons they have for you, saves you a few falls!

  2. flamingrainbowwoman says:

    Thank you for reading Asia. Yes, it is good to prevent the falls if we can by holding that conversation ahead of time. That can be true too with my daughter — talk with her about her intentions and then let her go . . .

  3. Natalia Erehnah says:

    I've written three blog posts on a similar theme in the past month. I have no horses in my life, but three children who provide frequent opportunities for accepting and allowing. I appreciate your mention of the blind spot. I'm contemplating how I can recognize what I'm not seeing.

  4. flamingrainbowwoman says:

    Great question Natalia — How can we recognize our blind spots? A teacher of mine suggested that we just know that we have them! I also imagine that my daughter mirrors these to me. Thanks for reading and carrying on the conversation.

  5. flamingrainbowwoman says:

    Thank you for reading Natalia. I appreciate all you write too –. You may want to share an article in here too! The readers would love your message.

  6. Saturntrees says:

    Well written! Seems to me one of the biggest lessons in life is learning that falling is often the start of something wonderous. And if teachers, parents can stand back without judgement or drama and let a child fall and then cheer or be supportive as that child pulls themself back-up, then I say well done!

    I agree with the teacher who suggested just knowing we have blind spots… I like the idea of others as mirrors too.
    Thanks for the reminder to let go of the outcome, the need to control, only gets in the way.

    Thank you!

  7. Rebecca Cecchini says:

    I enjoyed this. I have no kids and no horses (though I worked closely with both for a few years), but the letting go – in so many ways is a lifelong lesson.

  8. flamingrainbowwoman says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting Saturntrees. I appreciate how your phrase, "falling is often the start of something wondrous." It can be so challenging to stand back, but the immediate and long term rewards are there.

  9. Mokasiya says:

    Great lesson, now on to the practice. For some reason this story reminds me of my cowboy friend who works with horses, he is nearing 80 years of age and said to me once, "I can resist everything but temptation" I imagine it can be more than just temptation to get back on the horse and learn to ride in this life.
    So ride em cowboy and give that horse an extra carrot for his teaching.

  10. Bert Stitt says:

    Julie … I so enjoyed your piece and loved the title, "Horse Lessons on Raising a Teenager' … It reminded me of my own horse history … being thrown by 'Mike" one of our family's horses when I was about ten and ending up with a broken collar bone. I've always appreciated that experience 'as a life lesson' … particularly in my own naive certainty that 'I could handle this' broken collar bone and all. AND … when the bone was mended I would (and did) get back on Mike and go for a ride. At the time I didn't have any awareness of the notion of metaphor and how we learn. However, I've always felt a strong sense of my own ability to keep going in the face of disappointment, disaster, or whatever.

    I also deeply appreciated your recounting of the Bhudda teaching, 'letting things be as they are' and letting your daughter learn her own lessons; surely, independently, securely.


  11. P. Payas says:

    I love to read Julie's writing because it usually shares some wisdom I have not figured out yet myself. The insights about my blind spots with my own adult sons, as well as, learning to allow them to be the people they need to be were just profound insights for me. I try to invite observation for what is meaningful to me in every situation that shows up in my life. But I miss some when I am tired or too busy. I know there's a reason for that, too.

  12. Kathy says:

    What a wonderful and difficult lesson for you–allowing your child to fall (and learn her own lesson) on her own. Tough spot, but one of extreme importance for both of you. What excellent teachers Norm and Whiskey are! Thank you for sharing this.

  13. flamingrainbowwoman says:

    Thanks Mokasiya —

  14. Kate says:

    I love this, Julie. Thank you for reminding us to not to live so safely that we have not really lived.
    ps: I used to think the most difficult part of parenting was sitting in the driver's seat while the teen took the wheel for the first (or second or fiftieth) time.

  15. Kate says:

    um, passenger's seat!

  16. Greg says:

    I learned a lot about myself as I read. How many times we all fall in this thing called life. Clear, honest, down-to-earth and enlightening. Thank you Julie!

  17. Alicia says:

    What an inspirational and well written post! It's amazing how experiences like this can wind up teaching us so much about ourselves. Your daughter is very lucky to have a mom as supportive as you.

  18. Wendy says:

    Great Post. Allowing is defininately a practice…over and over again. Thanks for the great insignts.

  19. Thank you all for reading and sharing your own wisdom.

  20. Hello P! You rock too. I learn much from you as well — like the value of keep going. Perhaps you will share your DUCK story in here??

  21. Thanks for reading Alicia. I love the writers life for this reason — so much becomes material to learn from and write about. And thank you for the kind words too.