MICHAEL JOHNSON MONDAY…”Coming out of the Dark” – wonderful prose, lesson learned.

Michael Johnson, author of “HEALING SHINE and many other wonderful missives (click here to go to his website) sent this great story… I love his stories.  They always ring true for me.

Michael Johnson


“If you would understand your horse, you will find you have to work on yourself.”
– Ray Hunt

I read those words long ago. Now so many years later, I am so ashamed to tell you something. I sat there after re-reading that sentence a number of times, and I thought to myself, “What? What on earth does that mean?” Because try as I might, there was just no way I could see me being the problem…because I knew all about “it.” Couldn’t be me.
So it had to be the horse.
The article by Ray Hunt came in a Zen magazine. (Yeah, like I read those all the time.) Of course, I didn’t order the thing, but it still somehow managed to slip through all the security I had around my farm to prevent new ideas from making their way inside. This thing fell out of the sky on its own. Didn’t matter anyway. No time for such nonsense. I had a serious problem to deal with. My horse wouldn’t rein.
The blue colt had come into my life almost two years before and I had rarely known such happiness. The color of a pencil lead he was and my heart was so full of joy. My goodness, he was a splendid child. I took great pains with him during those first two years. Careful never to frighten him, always patient, and only employed the very best of practices in his elementary school years. While I did enjoy that preparatory time, I could not wait for the day when I could actually mount him and begin our journey to him becoming the best roping horse in the world. Then the goofy thing couldn’t rein. Good grief. I called my friend, Bronc. (Great name for a cowboy or what?)
“He’s just dull in the face,” I said into the phone. “I have to plow him around like an old mule.”
“How long have you been working with him?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe three weeks,” I said. “And that has amounted to three weeks of nothing.”
“My goodness,” he said. “Three weeks and he’s not ready for a world show?”
I knew he was scolding me for being impatient – something Bronc cannot abide in people when they are impatient with the horse. “Okay, okay,” I said. “You still have to come down here and do something to fix him.”

He came and he stayed two days. I think about those two days all the time now. I sit on the porch in the evening watching Blue graze in the pasture – no longer two, but twenty now, and still such a splendid child – and I think of those two days.
I remember that morning with such freshness now after all these years, and how he watched me ride the colt in the round pen for a short time, and then he said, “Okay, let’s get some lawn chairs.”
“Great,” I said. “Are we going to use the chairs for some sort of drill to help him?”
“No,” he said. “We are going to sit in the chairs and talk until you see that when you get better, Blue will get better.” We sat in the chairs, and he talked and at first, I was irritated and impatient. I wanted to help my colt. And the more he talked, the quieter the world became on that day, until there was just Bronc and me in the world. After a time, it was as if he grasped my lower eyelid with one hand and upper with the other and jerked them open, and the light came in… and I could see.
It wasn’t the colt. It was me. It’s not them. It’s us.
Jeez. Still hurts to write that.
While that little lesson may have been painful, it was certainly worth it. Bronc didn’t fix my horse, but he certainly helped me. And guess what? Blue still doesn’t know much about reining, but he handles like a dove. Bronc taught me how to ride him with my feet, and my legs, and my voice.
I’m not telling you I have arrived. No boasting here. There is a catch to all of this. It is joy that I feel having walked out of the darkness about the old ways. The old ways of yelling and hitting the horse. The old ways of “breaking” the horse, and the old ways of “never letting the horse win.” There is joy in learning the horse will do anything we ask if he understands what we want. But once we walk into that light, we just assume the new and better answers will be lying in the sun there waiting for us. They are not. Just because we learn our old ways are ineffective does not mean that now we know the right way. The right way remains to be learned.
But at least after all these years, I’m coming out of the dark.

“Coming out of the dark, I finally
see the light now
And it’s shining on me.
I see the light. I see the light.”
— Gloria Estefan

Michael Johnson
Johnson Farms –
Home of Little Blue,
good reining horse

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