One of the things we’ve noticed lately is that everyone seems to be having a lot of conversations about the future. Will there be a second wave? What will happen in the winter, when people can’t go outside and social distance so easily? Is regular work as we know it ever going to resume?
Some organisations – and ours is one – do have to plan for the future. We have to think of everything from missions to contingencies. However, we have learnt, most especially from working with our horses, that if you let yourself go down the rabbit hole of ‘What ifs?’ then you can get yourself into trouble.
Horses essentially live in the present. They don’t make plans. They don’t worry about what is going to happen in December. They don’t bargain with uncertainty. They tend to react to what is in front of them, in the moment. They are, in fact, natural Zen mistresses and masters, and that’s part of why they are so amazingly therapeutic for our veterans.
To work a horse well, you need to be able to step into that present moment with them. Good horsemanship teaches you a glorious kind of mindfulness. You have to be there, in every inch of your mind and body. You can’t be thinking about what happened yesterday, or what you’ve got to do tomorrow. Your horses will sense this, and become unsettled. They need you with them, right now, and you have to commit to that.
There are a lot of evolutionary reasons for this; it’s all in the nature of the prey animal. We’re slightly tempted to tell you all this, but you might lose the will to live. Suffice to say that it is so, and we see the power of it every day. And we think it is a terrific lesson for life in general, and for this moment in particular.
What is going to happen with the future of this virus is unguessable. It is largely beyond most people’s control. We humans can’t wish the pandemic away, or make normality return with an act of will. This impotence and uncertainty is often hard to bear, and can wear on the spirits. (We know quite a lot of people who are getting into a stage of weariness now, because this thing feels like it’s going on, and on, and on.) So we remember what we have to do with our horses, and that helps us navigate these uncharted waters.
We’ve found that this notion of anchoring yourself in the present moment is very healing for our veterans. As they learn to connect with their horses, they learn to connect with themselves, exactly as they are. Not as they once were, or as they wish they might be, but as they are now. This fits in with our great HorseBack ethos of focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. As you embrace your present reality, you find the possibles in that, rather than the impossibles.
There are so many can’ts at the moment. And mights too. Can’t do this; can’t do that; might be able to do the other. It’s so easy to get lost in those, and to rail against them. We have to remind ourselves all the time of those lovely lessons our brilliant horses teach us: to bring ourselves back to what is happening in this very moment, and look to what agency we do have. These cans may be very small: I can call a friend, I can help someone with their shopping, I can put something positive out on social media. (This is not nothing; if you bring a smile to one human face in these complicated times, you have done something of value and meaning with your day.)
Life may have changed, in ways that would be hard to imagine a few short months ago, but it is still life, and it is still precious, and it still has moments of gladness and grace. And who knows? Something marvellous and good might come out of this testing time. One thing we know, from working with our veterans, is that the testing times in human existence can bring out the very best in human beings, a best that some of them do not even know they have. And that is our consoling thought to start the week.