For the past few weeks, in my training of Flynn, I have gone back to the basics. Though he is broken in and I have ridden him numerous times, there was an issue with him “under saddle” that actually appears before you even put a saddle on him. Like a child trying to learn the alphabet, what was the use of teaching him “D, E and F” if he didn’t know “A, B and C”.
One of the basics we have been working on is an exercise known as lateral flexion. In this exercise, I stand next to his shoulder and simply pick up the lead rope at approximately a 45-degree angle to his head – Flynn’s response should be to bend or tip his nose around to me in a soft, quiet manner. It’s a simple exercise, but an extremely important exercise as it forms the basis of turning and stopping when being ridden. It can also be a boring exercise – as you can spend a lot time waiting for the right response from the horse. At times the temptation is to accept near enough and to move on to something more interesting. However, to overlook such a small thing, can result in so many bigger issues further down the track.
So, what has lateral flexion got to do with sexism? Over the years, this topic has garnered a lot of airplay in the media. It is a topic close to my heart, for it something I, like most women, have experienced. In a country where women can vote, receive education and equal pay it seems strange to say that sexism is still an issue. However, scratch beneath the surface and you will find attitudes and comments that prove there is still more to be done.
I have lost count of the numbers of times, I have been spoken down to, dismissed or over looked because of my gender. And I now I am not alone in this experience. Though I am a capable, competent leader and public speaker, I have had it suggested to me that what I do is “abnormal”. My marriage and my relationship with my husband has been called in to question simply because people see me as a strong woman, and apparently, strong women are not meant to be. Even to speak up, and to suggest that maybe change needs to occur, can, and has resulted in further derogatory name calling…
In a recent meeting I attended, the issue of gender specific language came up. One of those attending the meeting asked “does it really matter” – maybe at first glance, it doesn’t matter. I mean does it matter if Flynn can’t tip his nose towards me? Does it matter if we use the word “man” to refer to all people, or chairman instead of chair. However, I believe strongly that by ignoring the small things we potentially set ourselves up for bigger problems down the track…
A number of years ago, New York City was considered one the most dangerous cities in the world. Tired of the bad publicity and the inherent dangers to its residents and visitors, the then mayor, Rudy Giuliani, adopted a zero tolerance approach. His belief was those who committed major crimes (murder, assault etc) started off committing smaller, petty crimes (vandalism etc). Over the course of a few years, as they tackled smaller crimes, the numbers of major crimes diminished. NYC went from one the most dangerous, to one of the safest cities to be in…
As I write this, today is International Women’s Day – maybe it is time to adopt a zero tolerance to all forms of sexism – from the language we use, to the expectations we place on women, to the way they are treated. If we as a society want to see the violence that is perpetrated on many women stop, then maybe like NYC, we need to adopt a zero tolerance stance. Maybe larger crimes can be addressed, when we begin to address smaller issues like attitudes and belief patterns regarding women?
For many years now, I have adopted a policy that it is best to be silent – for to say anything, is to sound like I am pushing my own barrow – that it is better to let men speak up on our behalf. I have decided though, that no – things need to be said. We need men and women to speak up – to highlight both the big and small ways we can all change. Our ultimate goal is not to prove that one gender is better than the other but to show what can be achieved when both learn to work alongside each other and to appreciate the strengths that both bring to any environment.
There have a been a number of times now, as we have practiced our lateral flexion, where Flynn will turn his nose towards me, his eyes are soft and gentle and even though I release the “pressure” he remains there with me. At those moments I am so proud of what the little horse does and the change that has occurred in him. Those moments have taught me the power of persevering – of never giving up and of believing that change can occur. They are qualities that I hang on to as I look forward to a day when women are free to do – without judgement and scorn – what they were created to do.
“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal…” (Galatians 3:28)