Is willpower our greatest strength? Maybe. It really is what gets us going and keeps us going. Surely it is one of our greatest strengths.Some believe that we only have so much willpower to use each day and, when it’s gone it’s gone.
Another belief is that if we have to spend a lot of time, effort, and emotions just trying to control our tempers or just trying to control everything because we feel the need to be in control of everything and everyone all of time in general, we simply don’t have any willpower left to do the things we really want to do. Because we use it all up on the issue of control.Some good news: Many researchers also believe that we can get more willpower! That it’s like a muscle, kind of, and we can strengthen it!
We need willpower to keep our promises and our new year's resolutions, to quit smoking, to lose weight, to beat our addictions, to finish a project or program or class, to get up and make it to work and school on time, to take care of ourselves and our family and garden and animals, to accomplish, to improve, to forget, to remember, to forgive, to confront, to avoid, to say something and to resist saying other things, to try, and try again. We need willpower for self-control, self-discipline, self-motivation, and self-improvement. To do all of the things we want to do, we need willpower. Yes, surely willpower is one of our greatest strengths.In our horsemanship program, we often remind each other that “it’s not just going to happen all by itself; it’s up to us to make sure it does happen." We have to really try and want it to happen, we learn to visualize and focus. And once we get going, as we get more advanced in our horsemanship program, we begin to ask ourselves more often, “how little does it take?” How little does it take to ask my horse to back away from me, for example? Well, at first it might take quite a bit. But as we go along, it takes less and less and, before long, it hardly takes anything at all! In fact, we are able to ask our horses to back away from us without anyone else really seeing us do it. That’s some pretty amazing communication! And the less effort it takes, the more willpower we have left to do other things!
Willpower is also what helps us ride and guide our horses here and there, right and left, over the jump, between the cones, wherever we want to go, without doing much at all except, as lightly as possible, communicating with our partner, our horse. Those who stick with our horsemanship program are able to ride our horses without even using the reins. Nothing wrong with reins, they are really nice to have and we almost always have them on our horses when we ride; but we need to make sure we do not become dependent on reins. If we never learn to ride with loose reins, we never really learn to ride very well. Because if we are dependent on our reins for riding, we are using all of our willpower to hold on tight, to control. Reins are not what balance us or keep us from falling off. We can stop our horses without reins, we can steer them without reins; but developing this relationship and trust with a horse does take dedication and consistency, and we have to really want to learn how to do it. It's not just going to happen and, yes, it takes a lot of willpower! As we strengthen our ability to visualize, focus and be aware of every little step, turn, transition, thought, etc., we also strengthen our willpower; and we also strengthen our communication, trust, and relationship with our horses.In our horsemanship program, there are two main kinds of willpower. One is the stuff we need to do anything in life. Make and keep a schedule, be on time, write down important info, use our resources, practice at home, watch training videos and read, remember the phases and sequences, know when to quit, have plans and goals but be ready to modify them and have realistic timeframes. Just do it; that kind of willpower. Review everything we discussed in the previous chapter about Awareness. Be aware of everything and everyone, including our own stuff. How is my physical, emotional, and mental fitness? How am I, and how do I seem? Being aware of all of that, checking in with myself often, takes a lot of willpower. But the more I practice those things -- being aware, checking in with myself, etc., -- the more natural it becomes and the less willpower it requires; thus, freeing up more willpower to advance to other levels and activities. The other type of willpower we practice and develop in our horsemanship program is more directly with our horses. We can move our horses around just on our willpower alone, without physically touching, pushing or pulling our horses. This type of willpower is more about a mental and emotional connection with a horse. We can become so consistent and clear in our communication with our horses that we (humans and horses) begin to know what each other is thinking and doing and asking, without anyone else really seeing the communication going on. That’s a really special kind of willpower that you will share with the horses here in our program, if you stick with it.
Ok, so, how can our horses help us strengthen our willpower?They do it by just being themselves. Because they have way more willpower than we can even imagine. They have way more awareness and way more willpower than we do. But as we spend time with them, do things with them, enjoy their company, understand them just a little bit more each day, we can learn from them. We can strengthen our awareness and our willpower. With the horses as our teachers.
To give you an idea of just how much willpower horses have, here are some true stories about some of the horses I have rescued. Some of them I knew for only a few hours, some of them I have known for years, some of them are in heaven, some of them are here with us and you can meet them and learn from them in our horsemanship program.
Jasmine's story.We rescued Jasmine's herd from starvation when Jasmine was 11. She had her yearling baby by her side and was about to give birth to another baby.
Only problem -- Jasmine had a broken hip that had never been treated, she was emaciated, dehydrated, and lame due to no hoof care; and she had a respiratory problem. We followed our vet's orders and, 3 weeks after her rescue, Jasmine presented to us her new baby boy.
Jasmine gained weight and strength and was a very good mommy, considering she had a broken hip and couldn't really teach her baby everything she wanted to.
After her baby was weaned, Jasmine went and lived at a really nice retirement home. But soon her other hip gave out, probably from having to work double hard since the one side was broken. It was just too hard for Jasmine to get around anymore, and we had our veterinarian administer humane euthanasia. It is amazing that Jasmine survived her starvation, it is amazing that her new foal was born healthy, it is amazing that Jasmine stayed strong until her baby was weaned, and then she let us know that life was really getting hard for her. Staying alive and strong for her babies took a lot of willpower. Her babies, Minerva and Hero, live here with us and are a part of our horsemanship program.
Aspen's Story.I met Aspen nine or more days after State and County law enforcement had already met him. When I met him, he looked like this:
I knew in 3 seconds he was still alive, and I could not understand how our humane society, sheriff, and state vet could have known about him and left him like this. I don’t know how long he had been like this. This is how he was when I met him; a "humane" officer had called me and asked if I could bring some hay, as though that would help. (I consider this to be an extreme example of long-term ignorance, for this "humane" officer had held that title for many years, yet had never bothered to learn anything about basic horse health. After all of those years, it can no longer be considered ignorance. At that point it is serious irresponsibility and possibly even neglect! ) So, when I saw Aspen like this I immediately called our veterinarian to come, and our veterinarian immediately called the proper agencies to receive permission to humanely euthanize poor Aspen. Why did he have to suffer for this long, for this many days. Because of ignorance, irresponsibility, neglect, lack of willpower by all of the people in charge. All of the agencies who were supposed to know and care about Aspen, about animals in our county and state, DID know about him. But they did not care. They could not have cared. They did not have any willpower to do what should have been done. They certainly did not do what was humane. And even though they were not Aspen's owners, they were just as responsible for Aspen's continued suffering. Because they had no willpower, no care to do what was right. How could Aspen still be alive after all of that time and suffering? This was in a very cold South Dakota winter, and the horses had no food or water. Aspen had been put in this falling-down building and left there with garbage, just like garbage. There were other dead baby horses out in the snow, and another one in this building. And remember, law enforcement and our humane society had known about this situation for at least nine days. And still, Aspen lay here like this, suffering so. How could he still be alive? Because of his willpower! This is how much willpower horses are capable of. I think Aspen was waiting for his real horse rescuer to arrive, so he could know what kindness and compassion felt like. So he could know that for sure, kindness and compassion really do exist; and some humans really are capable of it. So he could know that, even though it was too late to be made healthy, it was not too late to be loved. It was not too late to receive a name, a pillow, a blanket, and the humane act of our veterinarian to bring him peace. It was not too late for Aspen to know that he mattered. And that his story would be told. And so here I am telling Aspen's story yet again. Every time I tell this story it is with the hope that it brings great awareness to our community. I guess, not just awareness but also compassion, prevention, and the will -- the willpower -- to do what is good and right.Aspen's story is awfully sad; I know it is. But if you decide to get involved with a horse rescue organization such as ours, you will hear some stories like these. We aren't like other horse places. There are many good barns around here -- boarding facilities, training facilities, breeding facilities, places you can go for riding lessons -- you can avoid the rescue, sanctuary, shelter, animal welfare part if you want to. But if you are in our horsemanship program, sometimes the rescue stories come up. The best thing to do really is to become aware of these stories and learn from them. Get a feel for this strong willpower and awareness that horses have. And become aware of how it is possible to learn from them.
Lily's Story.While I only knew Aspen for an hour or so, I have known Lily for 8 years now!
Lily and one other horse were put out in a field during a cold South Dakota winter with no food, no water, no shelter. Lily's friend died. County officials said the other horse had been lying there dead for some time before Lily was noticed. What willpower did that take for Lily! To keep waiting and hoping while she was freezing and starving, standing there by her dead friend, her only friend. When we rescued Lily she had a body condition score of 1 (there is nothing lower, only death). She was loaded with worms, had received no hoof care, and her halter was growing into her head. She had nothing left but willpower. That is how she survived. Her recovery, growth, and development was slow. A few months after her rescue we did put her up for adoption, but no one wanted Lily. She had a long way to go in her recovery, her future was too unpredictable, we could not guarantee that she would someday be a riding horse or even a healthy horse. So she came to live here. Unlike many of our "rescues," Lily did recover and grow and has become an excellent horsemanship partner here. We never want her to lose her willpower, her spirit, her dignity, her quirkiness, her individuality. Lily is a survivor. I learn something from her every single day.
Saint Nick's story.
Sometimes I still can't believe that Saint Nick's story is true. His owners left him in a road ditch near our shelter, in the middle of a cold South Dakota winter. They tied him up there to a fence in the ditch. And that's where he spent that night. Alone, cold, frightened, emaciated, injured, on the Eve of Christmas Eve. A neighbor found him the next morning and brought him to us, and our veterinarian met us at the clinic, on Christmas Eve Day. A horse does not get in this emaciated condition overnight. What willpower these horses have, to survive for so long. I really do believe that most of them try to hold on for as long as they can, believing that a true rescuer will come along so they can know what love feels like, before they let themselves go. In Saint Nick's case, we might have helped him get through his starvation; but his leg injuries were too severe and he could not be saved. You see, his owners had transported him in a trailer that had holes in the floor, and Saint Nick's leg(s) were dragging through the floor of the trailer as the trailer was moving. And still, he wanted to believe in humans. He was a perfect gentleman for us and as the Vet worked on his legs.
He still believed in humans. That they are capable of goodness. What willpower these horses have! Willpower to survive, willpower to please us and trust us, and willpower to forgive. Surely we can learn a lot from them.