Maria loves having Chloe and is experiencing, as she has before, the attachment and emotional issues that make the human animal bond so powerful and sometimes so difficult. She wrote about it honestly and movingly on her blog yesterday. These two wild women love one another and have connected very strongly, but Chloe is giving Maria a hard time about being ridden where Maria wants her to go.
This is a new experience for Maria, it is familiar to people with ponies and horses. Maria encountered a lot of anger and isolation and hurt as a child, she is sensitive to being forced to do things she does not wish to do. She has been told that she must be a leader to the pony and make sure Chloe does what she is asked to do. This is a familiar process with many animals, especially dogs.
In my experience, there is a point in my life with animals – we have surely already been through it with Fate – where you have to make sure that the animal understands that they have to do what they are being told and asked to do. That you are the leader, not the boss – two very different things. This is how they live safely and harmoniously in our world, it is crucial to the relationship we seek to have with them. The challenge is to make this clear in a loving and positive way. For humans, that is always the hard pain, especially when the animal echoes painful and complicated issues and experiences in our own lives.
I am a passionate follower of attachment theory and I learned that our emotional interactions with animals are almost always reflections, even mirrors, of our own lives. Maria is learning it as well.
Maria is a very strong person, and a very sensitive one, it is very difficult for her to force any living thing – human or animal – to do something it doesn't want to do. She has been through that herself, and she experiences coercion as a form of abuse. The very idea of it is painful and troubling to her. For her, the horse has to do with gaining strength and confidence – seeing her astride this animal is inspiring, I do not think I could do it.
So how do you make an animal do something it doesn't want to do, and how do you feel comfortable about doing it when it kicks up so much painful dust?
Ponies, like border collies, can be willful and difficult. I have seen Maria process this kind of pain and abuse and confusion many times, she always comes through it stronger and clearer, she never gives up or gives in. It is the reason we are together, one of the reasons we are so connected. I can testify to her commitment to finding her strength and moving through the challenges of life. Witnessing her find her voice and come to strength has been one of the most remarkable and powerful experiences of my life.One reason I love her so much is her extraordinary combination of strength and vulnerability and sensitivity, this mix is all over her art, her true voice and identity. It is, in some ways, what her life is about.
We are all made up of different recipes, we are all a brew, different smells and ingredients and flavors. Maria's stew is sensitivity, she and Chloe are in the dance, it can, I know, only have one outcome, even if she isn't yet sure of that.
I have seen and learned that many people talk of change, but very few people change. One of the few things Maria and I argue about all of the time is this question of change. People are always proclaiming themselves changed and healed, but I don't see too many people doing the real work of change. Maria tells me I am too hard on that issue. But to me, real change is not about revelation and intention, it is about long and hard and painful and difficult work. Maria is facing herself, as I try and face myself, and it is awful sometimes, it can hurt so badly.
But her pony is a vehicle for change and understanding, this is what animals do for us, they give us the opportunity to see ourselves, and to grow, and to become better human beings, if we are willing to do the work. She is already doing the work, brushing the pony, grooming her, talking to her, hauling out the saddle and harness, riding through the fields and pastures, coaxing, urging, prodding this animal to do what she is supposed to do, being asked to do. It is, in so many ways, the age old story.
I am outside of this circle, I have no role to play but to watch and encourage, take photos and applaud, sympathiize and listen.
Maria does not write for sympathy, or to get money or help. She does not want help, she wants to understand it and sort it out for herself. She writes out of the timeless struggle of valiant people to face and find themselves and seek to be complete and authentic. I know something she does not know but will soon find out. She will not be having this problem in six months, she will not be mired in the endless recycling of pain and lament that marks the lives of so many people.
You can take it to the bank. She and Chloe will be having many satisfying and exciting rides together, whether the pony wants to go back to the barn or not. Maria will be all the stronger for it, that is her way. That is the gift of the animals.