WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

September 16, 2014

We Speak With Our Feet

Over the last few years I’ve been taking riding lessons at a place called Cottonwood here in the Denver area. Suffice it to say that Colorado is horse country, and there are a lot of stables. I was referred to this facility through a mutual friend, and for the most part was pretty happy with it.

I say “pretty happy” because there were some drawbacks. On one hand the instructors didn’t stay for long. The other drawback was the owner, who has the unfortunate characteristic of publicly dressing you down if she didn’t like what you were doing. Didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, what you were paying to be there. If she didn’t happen to like something,  she would take out her fury on you at full volume,  treat you as though you had the brains of a caterpillar, and make sure everyone in a mile radius knew about it.

The first time this happened  I was simply appalled. What kind of an owner treats paying customers like this? I later found my sense of humor, wrote it off and got over it. However, I made sure that I stayed out of this woman’s way as much as possible. As my instructors always said, “Tara’s barn, Tara’s rules,” which were capricious at best. Avoidance worked til last Thursday.

This past May I came home from Nepal with girardia, which just got diagnosed.  In addition I’ve been riding bareback saddle pad which was fine on some horses but not on others, whose rougher trot caused me considerable pain and bleeding. Thursday I was both in pain and ill, and I had put on a saddle for the first time this year. I was sliding and slipping and frustrated, in pain and annoyed at myself and my physical condition . In addition my young instructor was nagging at me for the second time that week- for reasons unbeknownst to me. Her horse had died the previous Sunday, she was angry and hurt and no wonder. She was taking it out on me, and the two of us were having a rough day. Not an impossible one, but we were a little short tempered.

Add to this inside the big internal ring, the owner’s habit of riding around and around, back and forth, this way and that, wholly unpredictably, so that not only do I not have a clue where she’s going or what she’s doing I end up stopping completely so that I don’t run into her. She lays into me at full volume, on and on and on and on and ON, without the courtesy of asking what might be the matter. Tara’s dressing me down the way you might a three year old kid who’s smeared food on the wall. I’m at least fifteen years older than she is. I grew up saying Ma’am to my elders. And betters. It’s a spectacle indeed.

A sane person with a modicum of decency might quietly pull us both aside and inquire as to why we were complaining at each other.  While I have compassion for whatever is causing her so much pain she must take her fury out on others, my riding boots and bucks belong elsewhere.

I fired Cottonwood,  and wrote the kind of Yelp review they had coming.  You do not shame, punish and verbally abuse customers. You do not take out your personal damage on clients. Anyone even thinking about Cottonwood should be forewarned.

Our mutual friend argues that Tara is strong. I’ve build women’s networks out of powerful, incredible women. They were also immensely humble, compassionate and gracious. These are the precise characteristics that made them strong.

Emotional maturity is born of our ability to take what life has handed us and turn it into gifts, not grandiosity. Every truly strong woman I know isn’t the least bit arrogant or hateful.

We all have the right to put ourselves into healthy, nurturing environments where we are fed the kind of WordFood that develops us. If you find yourself around someone whose self hatred spills out in toxicity, leave as soon as possible. You cannot do their work for them, but you can improve your quality of life.

June 3, 2013

Cultural WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:16 pm

This May was an immersion in Argentinean culture, and while most relate Argentina to great beef, Mendozan wine and the tango, my focus was on the traditional gaucho experience. In my backpack were a brand new pair of tall riding boots, a riding helmet and all the paraphernalia for as many rides as possible, especially in the high country around Bariloche and Mendoza.

In a country where mostly men are the riders and girls are not as encouraged to become horse experts, tourists are taken on group rides that are mostly walking tours on very docile horses. Great, unless you’re a serious rider, which I am. So the trip was a series of often funny moments when there was a bit of a translation between “soy experiencia”- which gauchos often heard and frankly didn’t believe, and then actually seeing you ride, which often meant you scored a better horse.  These guys have seen it all- the fat tourist whose last ride was for five cents on a circus pony being led around a circle and he’s saying he can ride, and he falls off at the trot. You can’t blame them for taking “experience” with a jaundiced ear.

So one gaucho I hired for a two-day solo excursion over a high mountain pass did what I wish they’d all do. Five minutes into our ride, we hit an open patch and before I knew it he was off like a bat out of hell. So was I, right on his heels. At the quarter mile he slid to stop, then turned to watch me handle the stop at a dead run. What I got was a head nod, and a curt “bueno,” which was exceedingly high praise from this man, and I count it as a high point on the trip. From then on, he was gracious, helpful, trained me on tack and saddlery and all aspects of my horse. And I respected him for testing me.

On my final stop, an estancia on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a lovely family hosted me for nearly five days. Their young daughter Ro rode with me, and at the end of the first day I asked to switch horses with her, not knowing what I was requesting. She hesitated, then agreed. I’d been invited to help herd the horses from the far pastures into the other far pastures. Once I passed through the final gate and gave my animal its head, the next thing I knew my helmet was nearly blown off and I was gripping this plunging creature with all my strength, grinning like a banshee, as we ran flat out for the far stragglers. As they wheeled, we shot right, moving the herd towards the gate.

In an instant, the work was done and all the animals were where they were supposed to be. Delighted, I asked permission to ride this horse for the rest of my time. Ro nodded. The next four days, this smart, agile, lightning fast animal was saddled and ready to go every day, up to almost moments before my ride to the airport.

What I had not known, and found out on my last day, was that this magnificent creature had belonged to the long standing gaucho Don Juan, who had died just the year before. Don Juan was much loved, much revered and respected. His horse was part of the family and the only tie they had to his memory. And he was not available for tourists. For this family to have allowed me to sit on him, much less ride and work him for four days, was a gift of the highest order. Argentina respects history, its traditions and its gaucho ways of riding. Ro apparently had made a case for me and the family had agreed. I had been riding gaucho history, and it moved me to tears.

My Spanish still needs work, but between my pidgin Spanish and their pidgin English we patched together this wonderful story, and it became the single greatest moment for me in Argentina. Their kind words and trust, their gift, reminds me of the generosity of spirit that exists everywhere. Behind all things there is a story, and we cannot take what we experience for granted. Sometimes we don’t always understand what we are being given, and it serves to find out, especially when in another country. And when we do, it might just bring us to our knees- like when a very poor family gives you its only bed, or last bowl of food, out of courtesy. Often cultural WoodFood isn’t spoken outright, but it is there.

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