Learning to Roll with It

By Blair McKissock

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Life is not a flat, straight line.  No, that isn’t a surprise. Every day, life throws us something new. Sometimes life throws us a small pebble, other times it throws us a curve ball, and sometimes it throws us a boulder. With all that is thrown at us, we get good at the dip, duck, dodge, WHACK! There is never a convenient time to deal with what is thrown our way, and sometimes we have to learn to roll with it. If you get unsettling news just when you are tending to someone else’s needs and you may not be able to process it right away, it may be necessary to compartmentalize the emotion, and cowboy up until you can steal a moment. This can seem somewhat contradictory to the idea of being authentic, yet we cannot deny that it happens. If you work in a field where you are working with people who come to you to be emotionally vulnerable and process through their own trauma, or if you are a teacher and you are responsible for the wellbeing of the 21 little ones, what do you do when that whack on the side of the head occurs? You may not have the luxury of taking a time-out right at the moment, because if you do, you add a layer of burden onto someone else’s shoulders, and they may not be able to take it.

As an example, imagine you are teaching a lesson on bullying to a group of students, and they are all sharing stories of when they were bullied. Some of their stories are emotional, and you are leading the discussion. You glance at your phone as a text comes through that someone you know was in an accident. At that moment it may not be possible for you to step out and address the situation. You might need to take a deep breath and roll with it. That is just one example that we can all identify with. It doesn’t even have to be at that level. Sometimes it is the small stuff that we have to roll with that adds up over time. Horses have a great way of rolling with it. Something happens; they might flee, freeze, or even fight, and then it’s over. They can go back to grazing, and on with their life. The ability to roll with it can be one of the greatest skills we can develop, leading to the ability to be resilient. In a barn, shit happens, there is nothing you can do about it, and life has to go on. That doesn’t mean that we have to suppress or bury our emotions in order to function, but it does mean that sometimes we have to leave it in the bucket for a moment, shake it off, and move on. The trick is to remember to go back and deal with it later.  
 
There are several ways we can learn to roll with life practically, instead of fighting it, or constantly rolling in it. The first is to be aware of what you’re rolling with. We have to be honest with ourselves. Horses are so honest. You can’t know exactly what’s going on inside their heads, yet if you pay attention, they give you a pretty good idea. Being honest helps us to remember to go back and deal with the emotions or situations we may have buried. We also have to adopt a perspective that emotions are energy, and that energy has to be moved through. We may not be able to do that at the moment something comes up so even if it’s after the fact, we need to move. That can take the form of walking, or dancing, or whatever. Just move. If you have ever trained a horse, they can be fabulous in the ring while you work through a new behavior or skill you are working with them on. Then when you let them loose, they run out to the pasture, and buck and run, letting go or working through the pent-up energy of all that hard work, and then they are done. They will get down on the ground, and literally roll with it.  Horses also live in herds. Having someone to lean on can mean the difference between holding it together and not. You can lean on them to hold the space for you when you have to set emotions aside and get through the next task, and they are also there when it’s time to move it through. Horses in the wild migrate and cover miles of ground every day, finding food and water. They gain a new perspective on the landscape, as it changes before them as they look out from the higher ground.  Many times shifting our perspective literally and figuratively can help us become more resilient. In our heads we can choose to look at a situation differently, helping us to let an emotion roll over us and off of us. Changing our point of view, or shifting our physical location to see something from a different vantage point can help create a shift in our thinking. Changing your perspective, you remember how much there is out there beyond the problems we deal with on a daily basis. Don’t forget that everyone is trying to roll with it.  We all have stuff going on every day, and some days we are able to roll with it, and some days we are simply not able to.  Giving yourself and others “off days” helps keep things in perspective also. 
 
Horses are some of the most adaptive and resilient creatures, able to cope with what we as humans bring into their life.  In a moment they can become a container for strong emotions, especially when the human is vulnerable. In the moment, the best way to roll with it is to breathe. Take a deep breath, and find your feet, and ground them into the earth.  Grounding yourself makes it easy to still the storm building inside; finding calm in the moment, to get through the next moment until the time is right to process.  One of the most important things we can do to help learn to roll with it is practicing gratitude.  It may not be possible to scientifically prove that horses show gratitude. In my mind, I see a mutual sense of gratitude between horses and humans when they connect with us; those quiets moments when they are still with us, and allow us to be with them, with no agenda or task.  In the same way we can show gratitude to those things in our life that we cannot live without.  We can be grateful every day we wake up, for our family, friends, and life itself. Take time to make a list of things you are grateful for each day. Show gratitude by saying thank you, and demonstrating appreciation for the things and people that are important. When we take stock of what is really important, it makes it easier to roll with the punches, curve balls, stones, and shit that life throws at us.
 
Blair McKissock, MSEd, RYT is a speaker and author on experiential and nature-based learning. She loves sharing the amazing world of equine-assisted learning and therapies, through her work at Strides to Success in Plainfield, Indiana. You can learn more about coaching, OmHorse mounted yoga sessions, and upcoming equine-assisted workshops at stridestosuccess.org