Is vulnerability a weakness? Ask your horse

Is vulnerability a weakness? Ask your horse

June 08, 2021 4 Comments

The power of vulnerability is clear to me, just think about your horse and you'll see what I mean. Would you say you have a good horse when he's being stoic and resistant, or would you say you have a good horse when he's being open and unoffended? You see, it's when our partner is open and not so quick to react or be offended that we trust and admire them most. 

Of course, we also value determination, and a strong mind, and so on, but vulnerability is waaaayyy underrated as a valuable trait. It's often considered a weakness, but maybe we can change that with a little perspective. 

Imagine your horse trusting you, responding to you, believing in you, even excusing your mistakes. Wouldn't you love to have a horse like that? Have you ever seen a horse that doesn't do those things. You know, a horse that bites, kicks, reacts to little things, lets you know every time you make a little mistake, and always stands on guard. That's not a fun horse to be around. In fact, it's the very horse that people send to me for training. Why? Because people don't want reactive, frozen, closed up horses. They want vulnerable, leadable, teachable, kind, open horses. And if that's something we want in our horse partners, it's probably something we want in our human friends too. 

But humans add a little element of confusion to the mix by viewing that kind of open and kind nature as weak and susceptible to danger. It's not a hated trait, it's just looked upon poorly because it seems submissive. That's where the confusion comes in. We want our horses to be submissive but we don't want to be submissive to others. We all know that there are some people that we can't and shouldn't submit to. And this is where I want to step in and say... you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable. We can separate those words. Submissive can be powerful too, in some situations to help de-escalate and manipulate the tension in the room. Great negotiators know there's always a moment or two where it may be required. Generally, however, you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable means you stop reacting when people point out your flaws. It means you're not afraid to put yourself out there and inspire others. It means you expose yourself in an authentic way. It seems dangerous right? It seems like people could tear you apart. And guess what... they can and they often try to. And that's why people are so afraid of letting their guard down. That's why horses stand on guard too. They've been hurt when they've been exposed. 

But there may be no need to fear. If you can stop putting your faith in how others will treat you and start putting your faith in how secure and strong and capable you are, you can let go of the fear.

I've often referred to this short, true story to illustrate the point here. Years ago I helped my older brother build his house. At one stage of the building process we had to stand on the walls and prepare for trusses to arrive and be set. My brother invited me to stand on top and walk around the wall structures, all of them not more than six inches wide. I remember feeling afraid and vulnerable. He encouraged me not to dwell on those feelings and instead embrace a natural inner strength. He simply asked one question. "If you begin to fall, do you believe you can catch yourself? Do you believe you can recover?" When I stopped to think about it, I realized I do have what it takes to recover, to catch myself, to start over, to heal, to be whole. With that new powerful thought I began to test my balance and discovered I was more capable than I thought. And in that vulnerable state I became powerful and useful. There was certainly risk, but there was also reward. In those moments, walking those walls, I began to feel alive like never before.

My point is this, if you want to fly, you have to expose yourself. If you want to ride, you have to expose yourself. If you want to feel alive in a relationship, you have to expose yourself. And only in that vulnerable state will you feel truly powerful, because you'll remember you are strong enough to catch yourself, to recover, to adapt. Fear will keep you locked up and guarded. Vulnerability will open you up to what life can really offer. It's riskier but more rewarding. My hope is that with that perspective, you can not associate weakness to vulnerability and instead associate the word strength to vulnerability.

Here are a few qualities of a vulnerable person, just to hit it home. 

A vulnerable person is strong, braver than most, and capable of more.

A vulnerable person is slow to judge and quick to forgive.

A vulnerable person is open to opportunities and ready to reach for them. It's hard to reach up when your arms are guarding your heart.

A vulnerable person can be more situationally aware, knowing when to be on guard and when to let go.

A vulnerable person is a better communicator, accepted by more people and trusted more by his or her animals and loved ones. If you're a horse owner that means you'll get better results with your horse by being less guarded. Not blind, not unaware, just more open.

One last note. If you've been hurt, if you stepped up on that wall and fell, if you opened up and was taken advantage of, you're not alone. That happens to everyone who dares to be vulnerable. Try not to associate that pain with openness and instead associate the pain to awareness and learning. Pain can teach us to see what we missed and do better next time. It shouldn't teach us not to try anymore.

I went deep today. I realize, as I read through for errors, how big this topic is and how close to home it comes for many people. I've exposed a little of my own heart and I know the risks. Lead by example, isn't that what they say?

Comment below. Share with your friends and continue reading.

Comment below and share with your friends. We're all in this together!

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4 Responses

Carol James
Carol James

June 16, 2021

You are a truly inspirational human being. Inspiring us not just to be kinder to our horses but also to be better human beings. I am so grateful that you share your wisdom and for your help for us to improve: from the inside first.

Katie Herczeg
Katie Herczeg

June 12, 2021

I love God’s timing. I saved this email to read when I had a moment to do so in peace and unhurried. The message was exactly what my soul needed during a difficult week. Well said. And thank you.

Freddy Verleyen
Freddy Verleyen

June 11, 2021

Woh, a lot of people for sure don’t see it like that. I hope lots will read this and changr there way of acting. Thanks Don, for sure i go read and read over again.

Terri McCoy
Terri McCoy

June 10, 2021

Well said and powerful. Thank you. Many points of interest.

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