By Hans-Michael Schoebinger
The Haflinger mare would avoid the jump and simply bypass it on the side. “She is definitely not your friend”, the riding instructor commented our third miss in a row. Accommodating his judgement regarding the personal relationship between the horse and myself I noticed that I increasingly felt having been let down and betrayed by her and that she was working against me.
After a few more tries the instructor gave up and decided to get me another horse for the jumping. Be that as it may, I continued to hold a grudge against the Haflinger mare. When it was time to choose a horse for today’s lesson or pleasure ride, I always tried to get another horse and if that was not possible, I was super friendly towards her and thereby tried to become “friends”. Our cooperation did not improve, which I interpreted as a sign of her being unthankful, serving me as another reason to continue feeling morally superior to that horse. To make the long story short, neither these nor similar strategies did work out in the end, and we never got along very well.
This goes to show that taking it personally turned out to be useless and, worse, until this day there remains a bitter taste, when I remember that beautiful mare.
Eckhart Tolle’s statement from a 2008 lecture was geared towards human relationships. He pointed out that there is nothing personal in the vast majority of conflicts. For instance, there is this guy shouting “Idiot” at you, because he needs to change lanes in front of you. And once he’s lined up in front of you, he’ll continue with nasty gestures, just to further insist that you have no brain whatsoever. Sounds personal, doesn’t it? But how can it be, given the fact that he does not even know you and thus will lack any knowledge whatsoever about your intellectual capacity or lack thereof?
If you react accordingly, honk your horn and start shouting swear words in return, you might be in for an escalation to road rage, where one guy tries to kill the other guy, although they do not even know each other – nothing personal, either.
Then there are the people talking badly about you behind your back – once more nothing personal – because if you were not at hand, anybody else would be just as fine to be singled out as victim of their gossip. And if anybody else is equally qualified, where is the “personal” in that?
In fact, all these situations merely reflect the inner state of the actors – the guy caught in traffic being in the grip of his lousy day at the office, the guy caught by road rage being in the grip of his lousy wife leaving him and the folks caught in gossip being in the grip of their lousy household situation with their bloody income not high enough to afford the horses they could ride so much better than their stupid and incompetent owners. Neither of these cases involves any aspect of you.
As soon as Eckhart Tolle had demonstrated to me, that there are practically no situations in everyday life to be taken personally, it dawned on me that there will be even less of these when horses are involved. Horses from the get-go don’t tend to take things personally. One horse bites another to make sure that she gets the better part of the hay. Just thirty seconds later, having completed a circle of no more than ten feet, the other horse returns and peacefully nibbles on the other hay stack next to the one who had just driven her away. No hard feelings, no grudges held, nothing personal.
The only times, where it does get personal, are those, when we come in and portray it to ourselves as such. And this, yet again, speaks only to the inner state of the actor, namely us in this case. To have an excuse for not being able to properly ask her to jump, we attribute it to her flawed character that supposedly holds a grudge against us, while in reality there is nothing but this fixed idea of a grudge, that we have fabricated in our deluded minds.
To not take things personally:
There is ample opportunity for practice in everyday commute: Cultivate compassion for all those ego driven drivers being too late and therefore having to take the spot in front of you in the traffic jam. If they call you names, remember that it is nothing personal, don’t react, but acknowledge their predicament, then respond by making room for them.
Catch yourself, as soon as get too up, close and personal with your horse: She is not a “good girl”, she is a girl, alright, but “good” is your interpretation, your personalizing the situation. You are not her “mummy”, either, but the leader of the herd (if you are lucky). Try to avoid this in situations that you deem positive first, as this will automatically train you for more challenging circumstances.
If somebody is badmouthing about you, there is no need for defense or counterattack, as it is nothing personal and hence has got nothing to do with you. Best of all, it is therefore not your problem and you do not have to spend even a minute more thinking about it. Cultivating this line of thought will greatly reduce the likelihood that you badmouth about your horse and thereby create an adverse situation that stands in the way of progressing in your horsemanship.