One of the most rewarding things about running our Mindful Meditation Retreats here in the south of France, is the friends we make during the retreats. And not only us. Very often, our retreat participants make friends during the retreats that they keep for life. Our horses also make friends. Many of our guests become attached to our horses, so much so that they often continue to send horse treats (often home-made) for many years after they attended a retreat – or until they attend the next retreat.
When you first set foot in the horse world, you meet a lot of people from a different planet. Horse people. They live in a parallel universe – in a neighbouring dimension – where life revolves around huge four-legged animals with un-split hooves. From the moment they wake up, till the moment they fall exhausted into bed, they have one thing on their mind : horses. Their horses, their friends’ horses, horses in their care, horses they have met and horses they hope to meet, horses they are thinking of buying /saving /feeding /shoeing /riding /worming /breeding…etc.
If you are going to find your way around, say you want to start riding or you want to buy a horse, you need a horse world friend. A very good friend, who will introduce you, stand bail for you, guarantee your integrity and show you the ropes. Otherwise, you are out in the cold. No helpful hints about good farriers, trustworthy vets, threatening epidemics, no advice when your horse gets ill, no support when your horse dies…dismal, in other words. So you better make a few horsey friends, and sooner rather than later. But how to go about it?
There is a saying, “If you want good friends, be a good friend.” Nowhere is this a truer saying than in the horse world. Because not everyone on this otherworldly planet can be trusted in equal measure. I have come across the odd dishonest horse seller or trader in my time. In some facebook groups, you will find that the most ardent armchair critics of horses and riders have never been anywhere near a horse and have certainly never set a foot in a stirrup. So you are going to need a few very good horsey friends that you can trust.
I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: « The only way to have a friend is to be one. » So if you want to make and keep a good friend, you are first going to have to BE a good friend.
If you want to be a good friend, then…
- Be your own best friend first. If you can not accept and appreciate yourself as you are, you won’t be able to accept and appreciate others. If you can not forgive yourself for past mistakes, you won’t be able to forgive friends’ mistakes. A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are. Be that sort of friend to yourself.
- Be yourself. Do not try to be someone you are not so that people will like you. Do not try to be the person you think your friend expects you to be. Be sincere.
- Make time to get to know each other. What do you have in common (apart from horses)? What do you disagree about? What do you both like/dislike? Find common ground. Trust is best based on solid knowledge. Trust is the foundation of friendship. If you give it, you will receive it.
- Listen with all your heart and mind. Do not just listen in order to reply. Just listen. Hear what is not being said. Be comfortable with the occasional silence. Wait before you reply. Make sure you understand the answer. Listen long and listen hard. Do not give advice unless solicited, and if you do, spare each others feelings.
- Take a genuine interest in each others’ lives (as well as each others’ horses). As Dale Carnegie said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
- Commit to the friendship. This means being there for each other at all times, middle of the night, middle of a meeting, middle of a dressage lesson. Make time for each other, regularly check up on each other. Keep in touch. It can be difficult to create times to get together, so take advantage of common activities and interests you have.
- Be honest, but be considerate.
- Share. Share your hopes, your dreams, your failures, your disappointments. Share your victories, big or small, celebrate together. Learn from each other’s experiences. Share your feelings.
- Support each other. Support your friend even if you can not support her behaviour or her opinion. It is OK to say, I don’t agree. You can still be supportive. Don’t give up on a friend because he/she made the wrong choice or isn’t the person you want them to be. Appreciate and accept your friends as they are, unconditionally.
- Help each other grow. Encourage each other. Go on workshops together. Read personal growth books together. Help each other back on the road less travelled if one goes astray.
- It is OK to disagree. Just agree to disagree. Don’t obsess about small disagreements. Forgive. Forget. Apologise first. Do not hold grudges.
- Be loyal. If you give your word, keep it. Tell them, “I have got your back,” and mean it. Be dependable, keep your promises.Be trustworthy.
- Be an empath. Put yourself in his/her shoes. Imagine what he/she is feeling (when you are together but also when you are not together). See a problem from their perspective, before you show it to them from your perspective.
- Do not manipulate your friends, ever, not even for their own good. Only make use of your friends by being of use to them.
- Be generous. Be grateful for their friendship and tell them that you are. Show them. Send a card. Buy flowers/a small gift. Any friendship worth maintaining needs nurturing. Give as much to the relationship as you get from it. A good friendship is based on respect, balance and equality.
- Cheer each other up, when needed. Most people, when asked, say they want a friend they can laugh with. Always give humour free access to your friendship. Make each other laugh.
- Know when to let go and walk away without making excuses.
A good friend…
- Has good timing. Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of perfect timing. “There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.” – Gloria Naylor
- Is trustworthy. “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” -George Washington
- Is precious. “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” – Muhammad Ali
- Is committed to the friendship. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” – Jane Austen
- Cares. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
- Motivates and inspires you. “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Is in it for the duration. “I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.” – Jon Katz
- Loves you. “I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you’re loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn’t any kind of burden for me because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure.” – James Lecesne
- Enriches your life. “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anaïs Nin
- Knows when it is time to move on. “Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled.” – Ally Condie
I do not know where I would have been today without the help of my friends. Somewhere very uncomfortable, no doubt. I am immensely grateful that I can keep in contact with friends effortlessly by using the internet. If a horse’s leg swells up, I send a photo to a friend/a facebook group/the vet to ask for advice. Instantly. Of course, one still has to use one’s common sense, but the support and understanding one gets from friends on- and off-line is invaluable.
It is definitely worth trying to be the very best friend I can possibly be in return.