Baby Steps

IMG_2953  Our latest training project is a lazy horse. She’s very intelligent and she makes me think. But I’m not used to lazy.  I like Thoroughbreds.  They are sensitive and they love to please.  Like me, they are in constant movement and they like to be around happy others.  They get over things quickly.  This young mare is a mystery to me.  I have to constantly  re-think how I might change her perception of what I want and what is expected of her.  It’s her nature to be quiet and wait for her next meal and she’s willing to turn her butt to you and kick you out of her stall if you mess with that expectation.  She’s not mean, she just isn’t motivated to please you and engage in a lively and prolonged discussion about he wonders of a two stride in-and-out jump combination or the thrill of a three hour hilly trail ride.

All horsemen know, whether instinctively or expressly that training boils down to a simple equation: stress motivates and release teachesphoto-10.  Repetition will reinforce, but the training is simple.  Not easy, but simple.  Make it easy for the horse to do the right thing and he will do it every time. But the real struggle I have with this mare is how do I change her notion that going out under saddle isn’t drudgery it’s partnership?  Somehow I need to affect her personal outlook on life.

Last night, I attended a lecture at the Menlo Park bookstore Kepler’s.  The lecture was given by one of my personal heroes and I’m lucky enough in life to also call her a friend.  She’s a pioneer in global issues of women’s health.  She’s traveled the world to meet with women in war-torn countries, natural disaster recovery and places of untold poverty and disease to help change the way women see themselves so that they become educated and empowered to the benefit of their entire community.  Yeah, she’s bad-ass, no way around it. Here’s the link to her latest book: From Outrage to Courage.  

In the Q&A portion of the evening, people asked questions about where hope is to be found and where change is most needed and where it’s really getting traction.  We talked about sub-Saharan Africa, about inner city India,  rural South America and more.  Despite some awful statistics, Anne was hopeful and excited by the ideas and actions of young people using technology and energy to make important and lasting change.  I raised my hand and told my story about the outreach we do for  a group serving women right here in San Francisco.  These women were still children and they had been involved in the sex trade.  They had already served time in correctional facilities.  I told the story of how these children committed savage acts of violence on each other in the 60 hours we spent together.  I wanted to know how we focus on the culture issues we face in our own backyards of women (children) who believe that violence is a normal part of daily life?

My friend the wise teacher sighed.  She looked me in the eye and acknowledged that what I said was indeed true.  Her daughter chimed in and told of her mentoring experiences where she was floored by the amount of violence that was part of the daily makeup of the lives of local poor girls.

After the lecture, we gathered with a gaggle of people to have a glass of wine and enjoy a warm fall evening outside the cafe next to the bookstore.  We talked about teenagers, we talked about food and books.  When I went to leave, my friend grabbed my by the elbow and said “your story left me speechless Joell.  I don’t know what to say.  But you know, you don’t have to take this on.”  We promised to meet up for a cup of tea next month and discuss things further. I hugged her and thanked her and headed out for my hour long drive home.  My whole body ached.  It ached because somehow, I do have to take this on.  I know that we can’t right all the wrongs in the world.   I know we are just one tiny underfunded organization and that my culture is so vastly different from the girls around that campfire and that they see me as foreign and “outside.”  We just need a plan, a vision of how start to make change in how these girls see themselves of what is possible and what is so desperately destructive.  We need to help them feel or be safer so that they don’t react as if they had rabies and subscribe to a “kill or be killed” mentality.

As I worked with my young horse this morning, I reminded myself “stress motivates, release teaches.”

 IMG_3396      Release. When the stressor is removed or resolved, or when it just stops.  That’s when change happens.  So maybe, just maybe my crazy notion to take these girls into the beautiful coastal hills with good food and fresh air and silly dogs and go playing on the beach and riding horses to see ocean views isn’t that crazy afterall.  When we took these girls to the beach surfing, the girls from the local surf club served them, and then we were joined by the girls from the junior life guards and then word got out to the local women’s surfers and I looked into the water and there were 30 girls and women serving these four girls from the city.  That night around the campfire, our teenage volunteers took the girls on a night hike to visit the horses. For a short while, they were all just girls on an adventure. There was magic. Everyone was celebrating life and there was laughter and movement and fun.  My heart was filled with hope and pride in my community and in the power of women to make change.

Maybe that release, that kindness, that space to breathe and think and be safe – maybe that’s all there is and maybe what we’ve got to offer is

Summer Camp '13 - I will never forget.
Summer Camp ’13 – we will never forget.

actually enough.


“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.” Terry Tempest Williams

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