Boundaries

A couple summers ago a friend and I were riding out in the hills and we saw a coyote. I almost didn’t see her because her brown-grey coat blended right in with the brown-grey grasses. She paid us no mind, although she knew exactly where we were and how far away, but kept right on doing what she was doing – looking for something to eat. She gave no indication that she even knew we were there, yet, at some specific point we crossed an invisible boundary and she took off.

A few years ago, while boarding at a different stable, a mare had a foal. She was fine with people around her baby but protective around other horses. Angel walked up; she paid him no mind, just kept on grazing, and gave no indication that she knew where Angel was or even where her foal was. Then, Angel stepped over an invisible boundary and suddenly the mare was all flat ears and bared teeth. Angel backed off real quick.

I’m learning that working cattle is a bit like that. You move a cow by moving into her space and basically pushing her to a different space. You hold a herd of cattle in one spot by setting your horse so close, but no closer. Not so close that they feel pressured to move, but close enough so they don’t wander off.

This close, but no closer.

Humans are pretty messed up when it comes to boundaries. We’re actually taught to not have them; if we don’t let people into our lives on their terms, we are called “unfriendly” or “cold.” We take it personally if someone won’t let us cross their boundary, and we take it personally when someone crowds over our own boundaries.

I doubt the coyote took it personally when we got too close; she just figured it was time to go. I doubt Angel took it personally when the mare drove him off; he just backed off and went on to something else. Maybe we should take a lesson from nature. Everything isn’t about us, and we don’t need to take every bounce off of someone’s personal boundary personally. If we took a more equanimous approach to life we might invade each other’s space a little less and get along a little more.

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