The big gray mare lopes around the arena, her breath chuffing heavily in time with her footfalls. She rounds the corner and the request for a lead change is coming up. We all know this because they have been working on it for awhile. She doesn’t make the change, is late behind. Awkward and difficult for her, she struggles with the request. They hang in there and they don’t quit. Eventually it comes together, the change takes place, smooth, sweet and easy.
For someone who went to Peter Campbell’s clinic last weekend with the goals of staying out of her own way and staying out of trouble, I failed miserably.
For a person who went to the clinic with the goal of gleaning every possible bit of available knowledge that I can access, for making whatever the next right change in life that’s in front of me, that I would have to call an unqualified success.
“What do I have to do to get you to understand this?” Peter is exasperated. It’s Day Four. I have been lost, wandering around, AGAIN, and the good looking little bay Nebraska Humane Society rescue horse I am on is feeling the pain of my not being able to get the point. This horse cannot afford the holes I am going to put in him and Peter wants better than that for both of us.
“Did someone tell me that you were even teaching a clinic? YOU??” He shakes his head. “I have been watching you all weekend and I have been thinking, how can that be?”
There’s more. Tears stream down my face, it hurts, but I take my licking. I have it coming. I don’t know why my brain locks up, checks out, does the things it does. He tells a story about how Trina (his wife) at one point didn’t think she was qualified to teach a clinic. To him, it’s a funny story. Not so much to me.
I want to speak up, defend myself, say hey if people can get even a glimpse, a taste of what is available to them through this brand of horsemanship, maybe they will get interested enough to seek out the source. They have to start somewhere. I keep my mouth shut. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings and failings but this is not the time.
Later, Peter says do whatever on your own time, it matters not, but at least get it right, yes? Yes.
I have been in my own way all weekend long. At one point while the heat was on, my mecate comes loose in my belt. I am fixing it and Peter says “Don’t you get off that horse. Don’t you do it.”
No way Peter. I am not going to quit. I am not quitting you, I am not quitting this horse and most of all, I am not quitting myself. This is not the first time in life that I have run into trouble over not being able to maintain focus or gazing inward so hard I tune out everything around me, making mistakes all along the way. Not the first time things have become more difficult that I wanted to deal with.
Some people come to Peter’s clinic just to ride their horse. That’s fine, not a thing wrong with it. I come to grow and right now that means getting through the next thing that I desperately want to say “This, I cannot do” over.
When a thing comes right, you can feel it. That is how Peter runs his clinics. He sets things up, over and over again, for you to get the opportunity to feel things come right between you and your horse. When it’s wrong, you can feel that too, if you are awake enough.
That was my challenge , be awake enough. I had excuses. I always do and they seem pretty good to me at the time. Day 1, I am tired, woke up too early, knee hurts, is in the brace, snags on the jeans, can’t hop around, can’t keep up with the horse . . . old, fat, tired, out of shape and whiny. I keep my mouth shut and I try but none of it comes easy.
Day 2 I know that excuses do not matter in light of what the moment needs. Do the job. If you can’t do the job, get out of the way and let someone else do the job. I want to do the job. This is me here, not Peter. I didn’t tell him about the knee til Day 4, might have been information that would have made things easier on us both.
Day 3 Things feel better, but that change, that gut wrenching process ending in bright understanding and relief . . . that has not taken place, there is a bubble of pressure inside me growing and I hang in the balance of really wanting to quit and knowing I absolutely cannot.
Day 4 I get my bell rung. The steel gets heated with a blow torch so the nail can come through. It does, the change is made, things REALLY get good. Both my horses are happy, but not nearly as happy as I am.
You might shudder in horror, reading this. I don’t want THAT!! Don’t worry, you will get what you come for. Peter will do his best to help you and your horse. He will push you as far out of your comfort zone as he can to get you where you need to go, but not everybody needs the clue-by-four that I do. Don’t think he just rides around looking for places to climb on people. Mostly, you will hear “yes, do that. Good. Nice. Doesn’t that feel better?”
Maybe you can set your ego, your habits of what you think you know aside more easily than I, can see through your own haze that much quicker, get through whatever the demons are that keep you from performing to your fullest potential. Just depends on how much you want to take home from your experience and what Peter thinks you are ready to take. Peter will do as little as possible and as much as it takes to get the job done.
Maybe you will just ride around, pick up a few pointers, remain oblivious to what is really out there for you. Could be you will feel some heat, blow up, leave and think bad things about Peter, like it’s his fault you cannot get out of your own way. If you do, I hope you come back. It’s worth what you have to go through to get where you don’t even know you need to be until you get there.
As the message sinks through, he guides you. He allows people and horses work at the wrong thing a little, so they know what that feels like and he stays with them, if they let him, til they get to the right thing so that when they go home, they know the difference and hopefully can continue in a good direction, not going back to the same old that brings them in the first place.
We started a little bay horse for the Nebraska Humane Society this weekend. Six, maybe seven year old stray stallion, they didn’t know much about him. NHS gelded him, fed him, fostered him to a gal that got him a little gentler and brought him to the clinic looking like a million bucks. Through Peter’s coaching, we got the gelding ready to saddle, saddled, got him ready to ride, got me ready to ride him. By day four, he blended into the woodwork, riding along with everyone else in the Foundation horsemanship clinic. “Someone can probably get along with him now.” say Peter.
Once your head and your heart softens up, your ears open, his words are kind. Good words from Peter, praise even, means a lot. He doesn’t say it if he doesn’t mean it. He told me later he was proud of me. Can you guess how much that meant to me?
I cried a lot. No, I don’t do that often. Yes, I think tears are healing and I will encourage you to cry as much as you need. I know it melts the ice around the soul, just something I am out of the habit of doing. I cried in embarrassment and pain, I cried over unsaddling Duke for the last time, I cried over the comfort my friends gave me, and later I cried for my slinky black cat that passed over while I was away.
Again, you are saying, if crying is what you do, I am NEVER riding a Peter Campbell clinic! Put that away, put it away right now. Crying is what I did, and melted off a ton of ice around my soul. I also laughed so hard I . . . yeah. And hugged people. I used to be a hugger and now I am not. I hugged a lot of people. I hugged Peter twice. I left that clinic a better person than I came there. Did I go to help my horse? Ya, you betcha. Did that take place? Immeasurably, and we are just touching the tip of the iceberg of what this weekend might mean for Duke and Royal. More about that to follow . . . stay tuned race fans.
Portrait of Peter Campbell by Karen Johnson