First, consider the horse. He is a majestic, elegant animal with a free spirit–intelligent, playful and spontaneous. He is nothing short of awe-inspiring. He canters over the earth with his muscles rippling and his tail flagged, drinking the wind like cool water. He has been the very image of freedom and beauty since the beginning of time.
Now consider the Type-A rider. Psychologist Saul McLeod writes, “Type A individuals tend to be very competitive and self-critical. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments. Inter-related with this is the presence of a significant life imbalance. This is characterized by a high work involvement. Type A individuals are easily ‘wound up’ and tend to overreact. They also tend to have high blood pressure (hypertension).”
“Type A personalities experience a constant sense of urgency: Type A people seem to be in a constant struggle against the clock. Often, they quickly become impatient with delays and unproductive time, schedule commitments too tightly, and try to do more than one thing at a time, such as reading while eating or watching television.”
And he continues, “Type A individuals tend to be easily aroused to anger or hostility, which they may or may not express overtly. Such individuals tend to see the worse in others, displaying anger, envy and a lack of compassion. When this behavior is expressed overtly (i.e. physical behavior) it generally involves aggression and possible bullying.”
That seems a little harsh. And gratuitous. Maybe even mean. As a recovering Type A individual, I notice a lot of us are impatiently attracted to horses. We crave synchronicity with this beautiful, ethereal animal. They do say opposites attract, but that’s just the beginning.
I’ll use myself as a bad example. I was 25 years old and showing my one-of-a-kind work in the best fine art jewelry gallery in the country–on 5th Avenue in NYC. And at home my baseboards were spotless.
Then I entered the twelve step program for recovery, meaning I bought a horse. He was a brilliant weanling who I could mold perfectly who would train me to exhale. Again and again, to the point of hyperventilating in the beginning.
There’s a word left out of that long-winded Type A definition; the one word hurts the most to admit: self-loathing. We push too hard to make up for our imperfections, yet we stay conscious of each one. We see them in our horses. A strategy to fake leadership can work to a point with some horses, if you are a big enough bully, or if art and beauty don’t matter to you. I was out of luck on both counts. On the bright side, I didn’t enjoy feeling like a loser either.
Type A riders like control a bit too much. Some of us control freaks micro-manage our horse’s nose into being afraid to take a breath–before we clear the mounting block. Type A’s and horses are kind of a perfect storm. The harder we try, the less we receive, the more we demand, the more resistant the horse becomes, the bigger the fight…but most of us internalize it stubbornly. Then if it’s a really bad day, a giggling kid rides by bareback and mocks all your work. But Type A’s are not quitters, so we double down.
Then, if we have a very good horse, he doubles down too, refusing to submit to soul-killing repetition and mind control. He requires equality, the thing we doubt most about ourselves.
We should have just gone to therapy in the first place because we can imagine a better way. We are haunted by beauty: some riders and horses have a synergy and together they ride just to the edge of control–and balance there, sharing perfection. There is brilliance in the art of the edge, but you have to give up some control to let the horse be there–you have to trust him. These are the moments that hook us forever because we become vulnerable partners. Our rules and restrictions fall away and in the moment, we are as authentic as a horse. It might happen doing flying changes in the arena or it might be picking a trail over uneven ground. It’s humbling to feel your horse rise up under you and offer himself.
And if you feel it once, just an instant, the addiction takes hold and we try to re-create it at all cost. That desire is our doom and for a time, things get worse by our own force of will. Instead, like a surfer waiting for the perfect wave, we have to stay open and be ready to go along.
Our intention is to make perfection, but perfection is already a horse’s natural state. Thinking that we need to micro-manage the horse is the ultimate vote of no trust. The more we hold our horse or correct the mistake before it happens, the more our horse loses confidence in his own ability. We damage their balance and rhythm but most of all, we stifle their personality and individuality. We end up damaging the traits we loved the most and progress is simply not possible–we are in our own way.
It takes a strange courage to un-control the outcome. Truth be told, Type A’s aren’t that into freedom and trust after all.
I’m lucky. My horses never had much tolerance for my intolerant ways. And since I was Type A, I controlled myself…to give them time to answer; time to be beautiful and intelligent. Hush. I had to quit nagging long enough to let him volunteer. Then I had to find my manners and let him know how I felt. It required honesty, in the moment, beyond external noise. I had to be real in order to progress.
The best reason to improve our riding is that it allows the horse to work his magic on us. The more we get out of his way, and let him carry himself, the more he gains the confidence to partner in our dance. Our riding should not limit the horse’s best qualities but rather, encourage the horse help us possess them also.
It’s a perfect plan: equine passion pulls us past the self-loathing part and then horses mentor us to wholeness. We can learn compassion where there used to be criticism, and baseboards be damned, so much more about ourselves to like.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.