Warning: This might not be only about horsemanship.
In developing my horses I focus on finding what I call the Sweet Spot. The Sweet Spot is that lovely place where both horse and human share a balance that each can agree on, and that neither can experience without the other. It is a place where human and horse merge mentally, emotionally, and physically. It feels so good that humans are willing to face frustration, discomfort, and confusion in order to experience it for those magical, elusive moments.... But it doesn’t have to be so uncomfortable, confusing, or frustrating to find. You just have to decide to love the process.
The Sweet Spot is so attractive and addictive because it allows us to feel more than what we can if we are alone. It allows us to feel an ‘all is one’ moment; a connectedness with the horse. It’s not about submissiveness or domination. I don’t know, maybe some humans finish their day and think: “wow, that was awesome, I really loved using all my strength to force submissiveness today, I hope I get to do that again”... But that’s not my idea of a Sweet Spot. My dream is to finish my day and think: ‘Wow, it was like I dreamed it and it happened! We really did it together!”
Living in the Sweet Spot is about balance. We need to balance what we want with what is fair, reasonable, and possible to have with our horse in this moment. We have to be balanced physically (the perfect blend of alignment, tone, and relaxation), we have to be balanced mentally (the perfect blend of clarity of intention, yet openness to other possibilities) and we have to be balanced emotionally (the perfect blend of calmness and excitement).
There are as many different Sweet Spots as there are combinations of humans and horses, and days, and activities you could be doing. There is no ‘correct Sweet Spot’ written in stone. It is a dynamic that changes moment to moment. To find it you need to experiment, and search with curiosity outside the normal range of what we do in order to find that ‘just right’ combination of ingredients for this day in this moment with this horse of yours. It is about how it feels to you and your horse more than what it looks like to others. This is the magical, private connection that students of the horse feel that no one else can understand.
The key to living in the Sweet Spot is to be focused on what adjectives you would like to experience, to be aware of what is going on right now, to be open to make adjustments, and to be willing to let go and trust... As opposed to trying to hold it all together.
How's it working for you?
How do you know if you are in a Sweet Spot? You stay aware of the adjectives you want to be feeling. You also test it... How is it working for you? Meaning how is it functioning? If you think your horse feels good, but you aren’t able to transition to anything... Or if your horse seems inflexible to new ideas, maybe it isn’t as sweet as it could be!
Another way to test if I am in the Sweet Spot with my horse is to add a little fuel to whatever I am doing. If I am truly in a Sweet Spot and I add some energy to it, then it should get even sweeter! But if it was a little off balance, or if I was holding together something that was actually falling apart and I add energy, it will often fall apart more or get even more off balance. So, increasing the energy, hitting the gas, or increasing the general activity level can give you a lot of information! The key is to take that information as a gift.
Let’s say you have a horse that is trying to lean in directions you don’t really want to go and you’ve been holding it together... Maybe you think you just need to be stronger and work harder to fight it.... Maybe you think you just need to smile and pretend like it is all OK (after all it’s not too bad, it’s just a little out of alignment).... But see what happens if you ask for ‘more’. Your horse likely will go off course even stronger... Well, at least now you know. Hopefully you can now recognize the symptom of a horse going in the wrong direction, and you can agree to never enable that again.
Once you are aware, you will realize you need to address the alignment and adjust to find balance again. You want to be able to add more power to your horse and have it go more powerfully, more purely and positively forward. It’s OK to work hard, just make sure you are working hard to get to a place where you don’t have to work hard; a place of ease.
Of course the real solution is never that simple or easy because sometimes you might not be in a Sweet Spot and when you add energy to your horse it WILL get better... And that is when you know that it was forward positive energy that was lacking to begin with. You just learned that everything with your horse can be better if you just put more effort in... Everything can be better if you were just a little more excited and energized, and were unafraid to make a bold move and go for what you want.
Horses = Life
Now. I did warn you that this article was not just about horses. It’s not. Go back and read the beginning of this article, and substitute the word ‘life’ every time you see the word ‘horse’... Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I was inspired to write this because it was hard for me to ignore some of the things that are going on in our country and our world and it made me a little sad. I so love my life. I have created such a Sweet Spot for it. I have worked hard, and continue to work hard on every aspect of my life so I can feel peace and ease. My property and company is called Temenos Fields. A Temenos is: A sacred space without limits where special rules apply and magical events are free to occur. I actively strive to keep the Sweet Spot alive and well in my temenos. You can feel it when you are here.
There are too many people who are experiencing too much pain and fear. There are so many people taking their own fear and using it to cause pain in others. They are examples of lives out of balance. We are all in this together, so when one part gets out of balance, we are all pulled off balance. It is easy to start trying to hold things together stronger, or to try to dominate the other into submission, or just smile and pretend it is not falling apart. But that takes us ALL further from the Sweet Spot.
Give Energy to the Sweet Spot
So what is the answer? What is there to do here, in my little magic Temenos? What is there for any of us to do as we go about our lives? Here is my idea:
Take a good look at the little dynamics and habits. The words you say, the actions you take. What would happen if you added more fuel to them? What would happen if more energy was put behind little thoughts of ‘I am better than them’, or ‘I need to put someone down in order to think and feel better about myself’?. What about the thought that ‘I can’t share because there’s simply not enough to go around’? What if more energy was put into the feelings that ‘someone else is to blame for my inability to be happy’? We all have these little thoughts... It’s not so bad... It’s just a little thought or comment here or there, perhaps even said as ‘just a joke’.
It doesn’t seem so bad until big energy is put behind it. We all have seen the results of that, too: Killing in the name of religion... Corruption, greed, war... You get the idea. But once you see what happens when you energize this dynamic you have to adjust. You need to not just smile and pretend, you need to commit to no longer enabling things to go in that direction.
There will be days when our energy comes up; when our emotions are high. You want to make sure you are in your Sweet Spot when that moment happens. Those are the times when we are tested, and when we really need to be balanced. That means we need to focus on being there as much as we can; rebalancing daily, practicing coming back to a positive center when the little things take us off course... Just like we do with our horses. Consciously. On purpose. And we need to be willing to experiment with great curiosity knowing that in any moment we can find the best version of ourselves. There is always something we can do to make a moment sweeter.
What we can all do is make sure we are living in a way that yields more of the adjectives we really want when we put energy into it. Be aware of the little comments you make or thoughts you think... from the slightly racist joke, to the secret wish that the other person in the competition will fail, to the jealousy you have for your friend when they have a success. Ask yourself what would happen if you took that thought or comment to it’s most powerful form, and ask yourself: Is that where you want to be heading?
Maybe you feel like you aren’t having any little unsweet thoughts. If so, then maybe you can activate your self. Energize your life and be an example of Sweet Spottedness! Demonstrate it. Share it. If you know you are in a Sweet Spot, test it constantly. Add even more energy to it! If you have something you can give, give it. If you are feeling happy, laugh out loud. If you think someone is a beautiful person, tell them. If someone succeeds, be happy for them. Something as simple as paying for the person behind you in line at the drive through is a way you can share your sweet spot... And inspire someone to seek it for themselves...
When you are in the Sweet Spot with life (or with your horse) you want for nothing. You are whole in that moment. It is effortless. But you have to work hard to get to that place where you don’t have to work hard. You often need to take action.
Be the change...
We need the examples of the Sweet Spot of life to be louder than the cries of fear, more explosive than bombs, easier to acquire than a gun, and to spread faster than hateful comments on facebook. We need to live by the unshakeable belief that there is always a Sweet Spot to be had in any moment if we just are willing to experiment beyond our normal range, and trust. When you are in a Sweet Spot it is easy to get complacent; to just want to relax and enjoy it... It’s easy to think that who you are and what you do doesn’t really matter, but it does.
I certainly am not a perfect model of this, and I’m ‘just a horse trainer’ so perhaps it is out of my scope to dare to suggest how you live your life... But working with horses has trained me to see dynamics of energy. I recognize patterns of behavior and see where they are heading. I have learned to see the first signs of disharmony and address them as soon as I can. I am practiced at stretching out of the comfort zone and then re-establishing harmony and balance in this new place. If I don’t, someone is going to get hurt. But that’s just horse training. In life... Well... Yeah, It’s the same.
I know I want to do my best to choose what I fuel. I know where I want to be heading. I know the adjectives I want to be experiencing. I know I want to be a force for Sweetness in the world. Will you join me?
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Karen Rohlf, author and creator of the Dressage Naturally program, is an internationally recognized clinician who is changing the equestrian educational paradigm. She is well known for doing dressage with a priority of partnership, her student-empowering approach to teaching, her virtual courses, and her positive and balanced point of view.
photo of Karen Rohlf and Monty taken by: Peggy Finnerty