Have you ever made a list of the attributes you’re looking for in a horse (or a relationship)? Have you then gone to all the trouble to seek out exactly the horse or person of your dreams…and found them? How did things turn out?
I’ve noticed something quite interesting about those “lists” over the years. My experience and observations have led to the conclusion that the more one pursues a relationship according to one’s list of “wants”, the more likely outcome is having chosen the wrong one. Why is that?
First of all, whenever I went looking for the ideal horse, I ended up with a list of problems that I hadn’t anticipated. For example, my off-track thoroughbred, Dusty. I was looking for a suitable hunter-type for the 3′ amateur division. There were several I tried out, but Dusty was the breed, color, age and temperament I was looking for. He had been field-hunted after his racing career and presumably that meant he would be bold and safe over show-ring hunter jumps. I chose him over an older, better-schooled, seasoned warmblood that would have actually been the better horse for me at the time.
Dusty was a problem from the get-go. We’d only had a basic soundness exam done, which he passed at the time. I was in a marriage to a horse trainer who was becoming difficult too. I’d actually sold my horse trailer in order to purchase the perfect horse. My husband’s mood swings were causing anxiety, and it was making me anxious about getting a new horse. We were in a new barn and recently married, and a long way from my previous home with my parents. I had no support system. I really wanted and thought I needed that horse!
Dusty did not stay sound for long. He had a crooked spine. Interestingly, so do I. He had anxiety attacks and purposely fell down on concrete flooring. I was in an increasing state of anxiety at the time. I could probably analyze every detail of my relationship with Dusty and find some way to relate his issues to my own. He was like a mirror for my own problems. With horses, as with people, it would probably be a valuable exercise if we realized the mirroring effect at the time, but usually we don’t.
That was over 30 years ago. I learned to stop looking for horses after that and just let them show up in my life. The ones that literally “dropped into my lap” were much better overall. The key? I had to let go of the attachment to my list of what I wanted. I didn’t realize the amount of suffering those attachments would cause. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, the lessons were obvious.
I’ve had so many clients also make the wrong choice of horse. Often against my better advice. I don’t take commissions on sales horses as most trainers do so it’s not like my suggestions were related to money. My preference was to see the right rider on the right horse, especially given my prior experience. People still purchased the wrong horse, probably for reasons similar to why I bought Dusty. You don’t even realize what’s happening or why.
Then I learned about non-attachment. Ah ha. The “list” is all about what we’re attached to, whether it be in a person or a horse. Buddhism teaches that attachment leads to suffering. Yes. I’m proof of that. I’m sure many of you are too. Those attributes we want so badly, or think we do, in a horse or in a relationship with another human, are exactly the attributes that will bring us suffering when things don’t turn out as we wish.
The perfect jumper goes lame. Our perfect spouse sustains a head injury and his personality changes. The horse ages and can no longer jump. The husband decides he prefers a younger woman. Are we still as excited about that horse or that person as we were when they fit our list of “wants”? Can we have compassion for them when they no longer fulfill our desires, or if they’ve hurt our feelings?
Letting go of the attachments, especially an attachment to any outcomes, is a worthwhile practice. The other is self-compassion… the desire to alleviate your own suffering, knowing that suffering comes from attachment. I’ve found that letting go and living with a tremendous love and gratitude for all of life opens the door for loving and grateful relationships to return to you.
The surprise is that those who come into your life may not be anything at all like the list you’ve made. The thoroughbred of your dreams might manifest as a scruffy little pony who needed to be rescued from somebody’s back-40, but that little pony could just end up being the best jumper you’ve ever had.
According to psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. “our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.”
So we can make note of this, and then turn to the practice of compassion and developing non-attachment:
“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama
If you do go looking for a new horse (or person), my final thought on the matter is to first, ask yourself why you want this being to come into your life. Where are you with your self-compassion?
“When you stop trying to grasp, own, and control the world around you, you give it the freedom to fulfill you without the power to destroy you. That’s why letting go is so important: letting go is letting happiness in.” Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha