Buster the horse, and my big life lesson

When I was a young girl, I spent many weekends in country Victoria visiting my mothers’ relatives.  Along one highway lived quite a few family members and it often became a pilgrimage of food and family love; cups of tea and biscuits at one house, a few hours later we’d end up at the lake house for dinner and then in the morning we’d head off to another house for the rest of the weekend.

One of my favorite stops was usually the first, to see my great aunt and second cousins, in a small country town called Seymour.  Welcoming our, often unexpected, arrival was usually a platter of sweet biscuits and little sandwiches with the crust cut off and a television break from a long car ride.  But, on a visit to this house I anticipated only one thing; a ride on Buster the horse!

As a young girl, I had a fascination with horses.  They were so majestic and powerful to me and I felt like they had a soul and a wisdom that ran deeper than my little six year old could know.  Of course, I didn’t articulate it that way at the time, but at that age horses were the stuff of romance and fantasy.  The first movie my parents ever took me to see at the Cinema was a film on the great Australian racehorse; Phar Lap.

My older second cousin Cindy was a prized equestrian at the time.  Her room was wallpapered with 1st place ribbons and big glossy photos of her jumping fences in her elegant riding gear.  It was pure little girl awe on my part.  Buster was Cindy’s horse and, if we arrived at their house at the right time, he would be in the backyard and I’d be bursting from the inside out waiting for someone to say….”do you want to go for a ride, Lyn?” I loved when Cindy took me for a ride around the town, and everyone knew it.  They told me that Buster loved me just as loved him, and I believed it.

We had a special bond, he was my unicorn!

When Cindy took me riding she put me in front because, she said, Buster understood everything I said.  So, when he suddenly stopped mid ride she would lean down and whisper to me that I had to tell Buster what I wanted him to do.  He only understood me, she said.  So, in my little proud and commanding 6 year old voice I’d say “Buster, trot.” And, sure enough, Buster trotted on.   And then Cindy would say “What would you like Buster to do now?” and I might say “Canter” to which Cindy would say “Well, you have to ask him, he only understands you.” So, I’d lean down and say “Canter Buster” and Buster would canter.

I would come back home boasting about my time on Buster and privately convinced I was an expert horse rider with magical horse whispering powers.

For years I believed I could ride Buster because he understood everything I said, and all I had to do was speak and it would all happen.  Like magic.  Kind of like when you were a kid at Xmas and all you had to do was be good, put a little bit of food out for Santa, go to bed and when you woke up your living room was filled with gifts!

With a real experience of magic in Buster the horse, my little girl dreams were satiated.

Skip to a few year later when I was 14 years old.  It had been many years since I had seen Buster, let alone ridden him.  But, I had always been steadfast on my horse riding skills so my parents organized a few days for me to stay out on the farm and get to ride Buster the whole time.  Imagine my excitement!

Out on the farm, on the first day, Buster was saddled up and ready to go.  I knew he was waiting for me and I knew he must have been just as excited to see me, as I was to see him.  Though he didn’t show it at the time.  All these years had passed and I still believed he and I had a special bond and that I was the only one he understood.  I mounted the saddle and he was so gentle and patient with me.  My great aunt gave me a quick lesson on how to get him to move, stop, pull back and turn.  I only vaguely listened because she clearly forgot about my magical powers with Buster.  I only needed to sit back, speak and things would happen.

When it was time to go riding, however, he didn’t move, and neither did I.  I didn’t want to boast with my horse powers so quickly out the gate so I stayed silent, waiting until we were alone so I could really have a conversation with him.  But still, Buster wouldn’t move.

So, my great aunt slapped his ass and he took off to the middle of the paddock.  I grabbed the reins for dear life, asking Buster to stop but he didn’t right away and I instinctively pulled on the reins and he slowed down and then stopped in the middle of the paddock.  I was a little shaken, and figured we had to get to know each other again and that all I had to do was speak to Buster and we’d get right back to how it used to be.

There we were, me on Buster’s back, standing still in the middle of the paddock.  I leaned down and said “ok, Buster, let’s trot.”  But he didn’t move.  So, I said it again and he lifted his head a little, let out a horsey noise and continued to stand still.  I looked over to the edge of the paddock and saw the adults watching in anticipation and care.  They weren’t to know what was going on but both a feeling of panic and disappointment rose in me when I realized, I’d been duped.  Buster didn’t understand a single word I was saying, and he never did.  It had been my cousin leading him the whole time, while creating a world of magic, joy and empowerment for me.

And now, here I was, a cocky 14 year old with no idea how to ride a horse, even though I had insisted I did right up until that moment, feeling completely disempowered.

Give me the discovery that Santa isn’t real any day!

It was, for me, a transition into the murky world of growing up.  It was a jolt from a world where magic and wonder and horses who understand kids was normal, into a world where I was stuck in the middle of a paddock, on a horse who didn’t understand a lick of English, awash in let down and now, responsibility.  Sure, I’d had many other disappointments, but this was a big one…this was the last piece of magic I was holding on to.

Even still, I had to get this horse to move.

So, I took the reins and figured out how to ride a horse.  I did my best to remember what my great aunt had told me and within a short amount of time, Buster moved.  Gingerly, at first.  Together we walked the paddock.  With a little trepidation, we trotted.  Before long, I was riding Buster with a profound sense of connectedness and achievement and the magic I had felt as that 6 year old returned.

I’ve often reflected back to this story, and I’ve retold it with hilarity and delight, making light of the fact that I should have known better at 14 years old.  I don’t know that I was aware of it at the time but I was being taught that in order to make something move, you have to move too.  Sitting there, mounted on that horse, I was being asked to take the reins and make something happen.  It could have gone in many ways but what eventually happened has been the perfect metaphor for any good accomplishment that has happened in my life.

Without making a long story even longer (but you know I’m going to) I had another experience on a horse recently when I was in South America.  My friend and I had acquired, rather serendipitously, two horses to take into the mountains and coffee fields of southern Colombia.  I insisted that I should be given a tame horse since it had been a few years that I had last ridden and despite the 22 years that have passed since Buster taught me a life lesson, the sting was still there.

When I mounted my horse, it didn’t move.  When I tried to get it to move, it barely did an inch.  I knew I couldn’t speak to it, clearly, and that same feeling of panic and disappointment started to rise in me.  My friend, on the other hand, grabbed his reins and mounted his bucking horse like the cowboy he revealed himself to be and it couldn’t wait to take off.  It’s true, the grandchildren of the man who owned the horses eventually had to lead me through the village for a while because, if I did get my horse to move, it just moved in circles.  In the end ‘John Wayne’ up front, with his bucking and enthusiastic horse, reached down and grabbed my horse’s rope to lead us both through the mountains for the first hour.

Here I was, 38 years old in Colombia bravely going after my dreams and doing some big girl things for my new business and I had forgotten the basics of riding a horse.  But, I remembered Buster and after that first hour I grabbed my courage by the reins and made the decision to ride my horse on my own.  And I did.  Sometimes even surpassing my friend the long trails; galloping past coffee fields, ducking under low hanging branches, winding down narrow mountain paths, splashing through large water holes and into open fields.

And, as I rode, I spoke to my horse and she understood me – I swear – but it wasn’t my mortal, human voice (she probably didn’t understand English anyway!) it was my energy, she could feel.  She was reading the universal language that sometimes we don’t listen to because we are thinking too much.  She felt my courage and my connection and she met me with hers.  And, as mine grew, so did hers and the faster we went and the more exhilarated I felt.

I think this is what following your dreams feels like.

As we all move into 2015 may we be reminded that the magic we want to feel as adult’s lives in the empowered and conscious choices we make each day.  As children we understand magic to be made up in our imagination because we have little control over our circumstances but as adults, magic is felt when we use our imagination to take action and move it into reality.

It is possible.  It’s scary and sometimes it will feel like we’ve mounted a horse we don’t know how to ride, but we must take the reins and move.

In the world of yoga and self-help it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that all you have to do is create a vision board, say a few mantras and all will appear, but it’s just not true.  Doing that, and little else, is like getting on a horse, sitting back and asking it to move.  It won’t.  Trust me.

I’m writing this on the back of another metaphorical horse.  I’m sitting in an airport lounge in Bangalore, India as I embark on my third journey to the motherland and my second yoga/writing retreat.  I never know what’s in store in this country and on this retreat.  I’ve been here less than an hour and my courage and heart is already growing.

The man at immigration here in Bangalore opened my passport, laid down his stamp, flashed me a pearly white wide grin and wished me a Happy New Year.  Then he threw back his mustached face and laughed a joyful, jolly baritone laugh – maybe he knows something I don’t…I have no idea!

But, I’ll take it.  Come ride with me……..

On my horse...no, it's not a donkey - as my best friend asked!
On my horse…no, it’s not a donkey – as my best friend asked!

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One Response to Buster the horse, and my big life lesson

  1. My god Lyn, you have never told me this but DAMN what a GREAT story and amazing metaphor for life indeed. Love it!!

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