The Importance of Wiggle Room

#7 in the arena

… March 17, 2013 …

Last week, thanks to Bear, I learned a valuable lesson on the importance of wiggle room.

In truth, I believe he’s been trying to reach me on this one for a while. I guess sometimes we just don’t “get it” until, well, push comes to shove.

I’m not going to go into all the boring details.

Remember the ice falling off the roof and his little temper tantrum a couple of posts ago?

Well, we had very much the same kind of experience again, only without the catalyst of ice. Bear was simply being unbearable, and I was getting more and more frustrated until Coach mentioned one seemingly insignificant, but ultimately important, detail.

“You need to move your shoulders!”

I what?

“You’re riding stiff as a board and Bear can’t move freely. He’s telling you to get out of his way!”

The thing about riding horses is, of course, that they are acutely attuned to body language. How I am in the saddle translates into how Bear is as he moves. If my mind is wanting one thing and my body language is saying another, he’s going to give me what my body dictates. He’s not a mind reader.

And if I send him mixed messages … well, I may as well just go home. He will not tolerate it.

Do you like it when someone is sending you mixed messages? I know I don’t.

So, he called me on it last week. I wanted him to move more athletically but my body — my stiff, immovable shoulders in particular — were getting in the way. So much so, in fact, that at one point we stood at an impasse in the middle of the arena for several seconds (seemed like an eternity at the time) and I almost had a meltdown.

I could not understand what was going on.

“Trust me,” Coach said, “we will get through this, you just need to move your shoulders.”

Could it be that simple?

Gathering my wits and my reins, I pressed my legs against Bear’s side and sent him forward again into canter.

Move my shoulders … move my shoulders … move my shoulders …

It was a struggle, at first, like giving birth to a new idea, but then it clicked. Instead of the fight, we had detente. A gateway to a new way of being was opening … and it felt wonderful.

But, oh, the battle to get there. And not the battle with Bear, necessarily. The battle within my self.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to digest this incident.

Within hours I was sent into a 24-hour emotional tailspin as I processed the implications of this exchange, not just as a rider blossoming in her skills, but as a woman rising out of dysfunction.

Bear had shown me a new way and the importance of wiggle room — of releasing the strangle hold of old ideas and learning to live more fluidly in the flow of new ones.

With respect to riding, somewhere in the back of my psyche lay the notion that being still in the saddle equated to the perfect ride. In fact, as with all rigidity, it produces the opposite effect, causing angst for the horse which in turn produces angst in me which makes me more rigid which makes him more angry … and on.

At some point during my post-ride ruminations it finally dawned on me … if Bear moves his shoulders, shouldn’t I, then, move mine?


I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but when you see someone riding seemingly effortlessly on the back of a powerful, athletic horse, it is not effortless at all. Not only must the rider’s mind be attuned to the mood of the horse that day, but the body must follow as athletically and subtly nuanced every step the horse takes. When we don’t, sensitive horses, like Bear, will call us on it.

There’s no question my boy can deliver what I want in terms of athleticism and connection. He’s simply demanding that I deliver what he needs in order to achieve it. That means I need to be more finely tuned to his movement and allow some wiggle room so the terms of our engagement are more fluid.

We all know what it’s like to feel constrained in a relationship. Something’s got to give. When push came to shove, Bear had no trouble telling me he needed more wiggle room. When I found a way to give it to him by becoming more consciously aware of what I was doing to impede his movement and then changing it, magic was created once again.

I believe this can be applied to life in general.

When I’ve felt stuck in my life (often without being fully aware that this was the case), it’s been my experience that life has had a way of creating more wiggle room.

I can think of several times when I was shaken, rattled and rolled out of a debilitating malaise.

Twenty years ago, a boss shook me out of the trance of an unhappy, beleaguered secretary and helped me to discover my aptitude as a writer, communicator and leader. This changed my life, giving me the freedom to see myself from another more expansive angle. I probably would not be writing this today were it not for her giving me a kick in the pants. 😉

A few years later, my grandmother’s sudden death rattled the chains that had tied me to an emotionally empty matrimonial life and stultifying career in public relations. Within months I’d thrown off my career to pursue a dream of working with horses. This engagement with my passion ultimately became my greatest teacher. Within years I was divorced and negotiating the highs and lows that inevitably line the path to self-awareness.

A trip to post-war Sarajevo just four years ago proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, rolling me right into the therapist’s office where I’ve been examining and releasing early childhood trauma ever since.

Truth be told, there were many years when, as survivor and victim, I stumbled along the pitted road of self-pity. All that got me was even more stuck in a downward spiral of worry and despair. Paying attention to the wake-up calls has taken me off that debilitating path and given me a new way of being, one supported by the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners attitude of my beautiful horse.

So, when I consider the wake-up calls Bear gives me once in a while, I believe he’s creating wiggle room for the next growth spurt. I just need to make sure I’m paying attention … and enjoy the ride. 😉

Has something in your life taught you about the importance of wiggle room? Please feel free to share …

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

10 thoughts on “The Importance of Wiggle Room

  1. I really want to thank you for the Liebster award! I have completed a draft which tells 11 facts about myself, answers your 11 questions, have 11 questions for my nominees, and picked 11 others for the Award.

    Now, do I post the draft online? And, if yes, what else must I do? I really want to participate fully in this, but am just a bit “fuzzy” about the final details. Again, thanks so much!


    • Yes, post the draft as you would any other, including the image, which I’m sure you can copy from my post and upload as a jpeg. You can’t really go wrong. … So glad your happy with your nomination. You have a lovely blog. … Be well, Dorothy 🙂

    • Believe me, it’s an ongoing journey. Just when I think I’m getting it right Bear throws another challenge at me. No two rides are ever the same. It can be amazing one day and complete rubbish the next. Learning to take it all in stride is one of the toughest lessons … I guess that’s why he keeps testing me on it. 😉 … Thanks for weighing in … Be well, Dorothy 🙂

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