Mark Lyon and the Waiting game. I watched it, he won it.
It’s the beginning of a new year. New Year’s resolutions abound. I never make them though I do not begrudge the practice in others. I used to make them. To learn a sport… failed that one. I could not tell you the important stats on a given sport to save my life. I don’t even know why I made that resolution! To speak less and listen more… failed that one on the very first day when a friend mentioned that gun ownership should belong only to law enforcement and that they should turn their guns in at the ends of their shifts. I had a LOT to say about that one! CLEP (College Level Examination Program) is a way for students to get college credit if they pass an exam that covers a comprehensive compilation of the matter in a given subject. One year I decided that my New Year’s Resolution was to CLEP out of Calculus, Chemistry and Biology, three subjects I had never had in my years growing up other than a cursory introduction to Biology and Algebra. That meant I would have to teach myself the whole subject before the CLEP test date. I believe it is quite possible that this particular resolution was made under the influence, because I would like to believe that I wouldn’t have done anything that hair-brained while under the full control of all my limited faculties! But I was committed. Biology was a little easier than I had thought, and having a bit of a pyromaniac streak in me, I loved Chemistry and signed up for lab time to blow a few things up… I mean, perform properly managed and carefully controlled experiments. I passed both CLEP tests and went into Calculus cocky. I did not pass! But the hardest resolution that I ever made was …. to be more patient, and to be willing to wait.
To many, wait is a 4 letter word. Ok, well, wait is a 4 letter word to everyone unless you are talking about the relative mass of an object and it’s downward force…..
We don’t usually like to wait.
We wait in lines
We wait for test results
We wait for the light to turn green
We wait for appointments
We wait 9 months for a child to be born and many wait even longer to adopt a child
We wait for an answer to prayer
We wait for a movie to come out (my kids recently saw Star Wars, but the weeks waiting on that nearly killed them… and their mother)
We often see waiting as a waste of time. Wait and time are irrevocably linked. We see waiting as a passing of time while nothing is happening, but that is most assuredly not the case. We see waiting as the passive opposite to action. Waiting however, is not passive, it is often proactive, and it is not easy.
Last year I watched Mark starting a horse. I have seen a lot of horses broken, and by broken, I mean broken. Most of the horses that I saw trained, were trained for harness not under saddle, but the point here is the process, not the skill set. I had never seen patience, calmness and active waiting, until I saw and heard Mark with that horse.
People that I had seen break horses, in my experience (disclaimer… my experience means and is worth very little) were trainers that held an inverse relationship with their horse’s actions. We often refer to horses as being reactive, but humans are often just as reactionary. As the horse becomes confused and frightened, his reactionary nature moves into the foreground and the trainers I observed then perceived this as stubbornness or stupidity or willful refusal. The trainers frustration becomes an inversion of the horse’s responses. In a frenetic attempt to goad, prod or badger the horse into a correct behavior, the trainer becomes almost hyper-active in his own choices of behavior.
Mark was not in a clinic in this situation, someone had simply come up and asked for help and typical of their response, he had quickly given it. To be clear, I have little skill with horses. I have a lot of history in their presence, not all of it good. I do not have the skill nor do I have the understanding that many have and I hope that I have never made it seem so. But I do watch and more than that, I listen. I can hear Mark’s voice and the subsequent conversation. Please forgive how I may describe what I saw, as it may seem naive or ignorant to those more skilled and knowledgable, but I am very clear on what I heard. Mark’s body language and particularly his hands did not seem filled with any tension. Mark was not resisting or fighting the horse, he was guiding. It is subtle and I will not condescend to explain the difference, I expect you understand that, far more than did I. Unlike what I had experienced growing up, as the trainer became more frustrated, he became very “busy.” Mark became very quiet. He was waiting. He was unconcerned. He was not stressing out over the horse’s behavior. Waiting, was the best word that I could come up with for the process Mark was involved in. He was waiting on the horse’s understanding and resultant decision. He knew it was coming. I guess I have needed a few experiences recently to make me more fully understand the process of waiting.
He explained that his goal was not to demand mindless acquiesce from the horse, but to help him see and move through the door he had opened for him. He explained that he had shut any other possible doors and simply was waiting for the horse to take the path of least resistance, which happened to be the door Mark had opened for him. Mark knew where the door was. It was Mark’s goal to help him find the door and make the choice, not drag him to it and shove or whip him through it. It was a great analogy and one that was easily relatable to his observers.
It became clear that he was creating in the horse a foundation for what would become a pattern in his future schooling. Furthermore, it struck me that Mark’s willingness to wait on the horse to find the answer, indicated that he put great value on what it was he was waiting for. What we are willing to wait for says a lot about how we value that end goal. Not only what Mark was waiting on, but HOW he waited, said a lot about Mark. Waiting is very hard. And like many hard things, it requires practice, dedication and it is a choice.
I don’t think I really have a bucket list. I’ve said that before though and then come up with things that I would have liked to have done. I would love to see a falcon hunt. The sport of falconry has always fascinated me, though I’m not really sure why. One of the terms in falconry is called, “waiting on.” It is precisely what it sounds like. It is the active waiting of the falcon on the falconer. Far above him, he will wait for extremely long periods of time for quarry to be released.
The Bible has a lot to say about waiting. In Psalm 130 David says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.” Doesn’t sound passive like sitting on the couch to me. Both Matthew and Mark recount when Christ healed Peter’s mother in law and she got up and began to wait on them. In restaurants we call them waiters. Their job is not to sit in the back, but to wait actively on the table in their service. They are waiting and watching on the ones they serve. Waiting for orders or requests. There are also a number of references to waiting, as a lion or a bear waits on its prey. Also not a passive, inattentive picture in our minds.
We have come to live in a wait-free world. We can hardly stand the 3 second wait for a reply to a text. Microwaves cook food in minutes so we don’t have to wait. Digital pictures can be downloaded and printed immediately so we don’t have to wait for them to be processed. We don’t wait for relationships either. We jump into and out of them as soon as the winds of discord blow. We don’t wait for rewards. We want instant gratification, immediate answers, fast turn around times, speedy Jimmy-Johns delivery. We don’t like waiting for mail, we don’t like taking the train or waiting at the airport. Everything has been tailored to suit our impatience and expedience. At what great cost.
We have exchanged commitment to the process for simpler and quicker end results. End results that are often woefully lacking in-depth and foundation. For the last couple years I have prayed… begged… pleaded…. and then carefully qualified my prayer. This last week was the wait of a lifetime. Like that girl Veruca Salt, in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when she sings that song, “I want it NOW” … I was that foolish child. But waiting is an exquisite pain and a priceless process. Waiting defines us in some ways. And through the wait and defining, comes refining.
There is a time for everything. A season for every activity under the heavens.
There is a time to wait. There is also a time to NOT wait. For what are you waiting? Mark was waiting for something he knew was coming. He designed the path and guided the outcome. His vision, in many things and in many ways, has changed the lives of many horses and their owners. In fact, Mark Lyon is the reason that I taught my children about Michael Faraday. Faraday lived in the early 1800’s and was largely self-taught. Autodidacticism is the three dollar word for someone who largely teaches themselves about a topic and to expertise in that topic, often reaching a level of skill above what would be considered the norm. Autodidacts also tend toward learning many different things, because theirs is not just an enjoyment of learning, but an insatiable and uncanny ability to grasp knowledge and possibly more importantly, to expound upon it. To utilize it in a practical manner. Michael Faraday was lauded by Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and Albert Einstein, as one of the greatest scientists in history. Not for his one time accomplishment (we most often reference his invention of the Faraday cage but he did far far more than that) but because of the foundation he laid in electromagnetics. Michael Faraday was also a waiter. Patient, sure of himself and his research, he was willing to wait for what he knew was coming. His waiting was rewarded. As was Marks.
We hear a lot about a brand new year and wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. But there is something to be said for starting where you are. We live often through great paradox in this world. We attempt to forget the past and move forward and I am not saying that is always a bad thing. I have done it and I know people of better esteem who have as well. But staying the course, continuing on, plodding forward, all have their own unique merits.
A new year with new opportunities for training, both yourself and your horse. Never has there ever been a better time to act, to wait. Happy New Year, what are you waiting for?