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Entries in The Horse Whisperer (2)


Trust is earned in inches.

Safe people, "guard your trust as if it were money in the bank."  - Dr. John Townsend


In the movie, The Horse Whisperer, a young girl and her prized horse, "Pilgrim," get hit by a tractor trailer truck, head on. 

In order to protect his vulnerable rider, Pilgrim throws her off  to the side seconds before the impact.  But Pilgim is not as fortunate as his rider; he takes the full force of the truck's grill in the chest.  He is thrown down the road; his flesh is sliced open, his psyche smashed.  He is a trauma victim.

Trauma steals capacity:  Capacity for trust.  Capacity for connection.  The horse has lost both.

The horse's one hope is Tom Booker, the "Horse Whisperer;" but rehabilitation will be slow.  In a moment of triggered fright, "Pilgrim" breaks out of the round pen, to be found miles away at the long end of a distant field.  Tom Booker responds to the distance with patience.  

The horse is a footbal field away; so Booker sits down in the grass.  And waits.  He won't violate the horse's sense of safety.  

When the time is right, Booker approaches Pilgrim by taking a few steps, less than the length of a car; then sits.  And waits. Then more steps; more sitting.  It takes all day to cover the distance of a football field, until Booker finally has permission to connect within arm's reach; in the horse's own space.  Trust was earned in inches.

Safe people know your capacity to connect shrinks when you're processing a painful experience you can't metabolize.  So they earn your trust inch by inch; for as long as it takes.


Lesson from The Horse Whisperer: You don't "break a horse."  

The Horse Whisperer
"Buck," the  documentary, is about the man behind the legendary cowboy in "The Horse Whisperer."  His name is Buck Brannaman.


You don't 'break' a horse:

You don't break a horse.  You don't force them into compliance.  You don't enforce your will upon them by violating their will.  Neither do you do this to a person.  Another term for "breaking a person" is compliance:

  • Compliance breeds fear, and uses intimidation to its advantage: 
    "Do this or we will threaten you with 'consequences' until you meet our expectations."

  • Compliance is impatient: 
    "Do this now:  We're more interested in outcomes than in hearts."

  • Compliance violates the will of the other: 
    "I have the right [and power] to bend you to my will.  What you want isn't important."


You don't break a child.

Neither do you "break" a child; and this doesn't always imply a physical domination over a child.  Yet common parenting techniques that enforce "consequences" and varieties of disciplinary punishment; as well as "classroom management" techniques that get kids to shut up and be quiet "break the child" to gain compliance over their will. 

I once observed a substitute teacher scream across a cafeteria at a young girl for dropping food on the floor.  The adult's voice shattered the din and the room went silent.  The young girl shook with fear.  Tears streamed down her cheeks for the next 10 minutes.  He broke her.

The children, our spouses, or whomever we jerk around with bit and bridle, are the mirror to our souls.


"In this particular discipline, you have to be a sensitive person.  That vulnerability makes you great."  - from Buck, the film