Animal teachers: Exploring self-destruction with a Shetland pony

Shetlands get a bad rap. I’ll admit to weak moments myself, and the utterance of strings of profanities that would make a sailor blush, when faced with the sheer brilliance and equal stubbornness of the Shetland pony in my care. He escapes from everything, destroys lovely expensive muzzles like a man with a plan, moves his current roundpen home mind-blowing distances daily with his neck and sheer determination, constantly finds the most trouble possible, breaks latches, pees on his hay and generally is one or two steps ahead of his person and I. In the same paragraph as I admit frustration, I’ll also admit mad respect. This pony is undeniably committed and he’s got the smarts to back it up. His main commitment? Grass. He loves it. So much. But, grass, it does not love him. At all. He is founder-prone and gets incredibly sick and sore with too much (which is not much at all, if any). Hence the desire to escape from all the places, all the muzzles – he fervently yearns to get his teeth on his very downfall. There is no off button, no trigger in his brain that says “perhaps that’s enough.” In fact, removing his mouth from any grass he happens to find during his escapes is near impossible and requires physically lifting up his head into the halter. Such is the sheer level of his determination to continue lawn mowing.

I’ve got to hand it to him. The dude is persistent and dedicated. He’s also agonizingly, hair-pullingly self-destructive. Not that he sees it that way. In his pony brain, he is just finding his way to the stuff that tastes so good, and for a moment, feels so good. I’m not even sure that he’s making a connection between grass and pain. He just wants that pleasurable yumminess. All of this got me thinking about self-destructive behaviour, because there’s got to be a lesson for me in here somewhere, other than deep diving research into recovering from laminitis and founder, how to install stronger latches, and how to tie knots ponies can’t undo.

It would seem that my own self-destructive behaviour is a bit of a blind spot (although seeing this behaviour in others is remarkably easy), and I’m thinking I’m not alone. Because most of it we enjoy on some level. It’s an escape. It tastes good. It feels good. And then, the fall. Like me and donuts. The ingestion of said donut is heaven. Later, not so much. Without getting into the gory details, donuts are not a nourishing Alexa treat (I know, it’s fricken sad). I also may have watched pretty much everything on Netflix, and have difficulty getting through a day without at least one chocolate fix. Now you know all my secrets! Except one. I get high on being supremely busy. It gives me some sort of happy hormonal something, but damn, it gets me on the other side. Like Mr. Shetland, my body pays the price for my insatiable need to be nutty busy, occupied, needed, in demand, and saying yes. And lately that’s been looking a whole lot like adrenal fatigue and good-old fashioned burn-out.

After watching the pony, it got me thinking. What are the ways that I try to weasel out of making time for myself? How do I escape to busyness? How do I break the promises I’ve made to slow down and nourish myself? Ugh. It’s an enlightening process. Like when you realize that you rarely, if ever, “actually” take a day off, because even when you’re not working much, you’re still doing session here, an email there, still creating and planning and organizing. Or when you realize it’s really really hard to take an actual holiday, without working. Like when you decide to go back to school, and run several businesses, and a farm, and have a life. I watch other people with kids added to that mix, and I’m like “how the f—k??”

I would ask you if you’ve get any self-destructive stuff, but I think I know the answer. Unless you’re perfect, in which case, I want to know you. Message me and let’s chat. I’ve been aiming for perfect all of my 38 years and nothing. If you’ve got the answers, I want to hear them! For everyone else, don’t worry, I’m not playing faves and I love you too. But, meeting perfection is like meeting a rainbow unicorn and you can’t blame me for being curious. If you, like me, do things that make you feel like crap (like donuts), and you just keep doing them (cuz it feels so good, for a moment), welcome. You are human. Or a Shetland pony. I can’t necessarily tell you how to change those behaviours but I can tell you from experience that your well-being is likely more important than your need to please, or stay crazy busy, or eat delicious glutinous treats (or delicious yummy grass for the Shetlands amongst you). And because we’re buds and I like you so much, I’d love to see you taking care of you. You know?

Kudos to our unexpected teacher of the hour, you’ve taught us both about determination, and about applying said determination to doing things that are actually good for us. What a concept! Perhaps, little Shetland, you might consider doing the same? Or at the very least, could you stop breaking stuff for a little while? PS. your gallop race around the field this morning was incredibly adorable. Please do more of that.

With love,