Dad kept cattle once as a money making project. We lived in a subdivision with cul de sacs and he’d rented 50 acres about 20 minutes away for the cattle. I’d go with him to feed the cows some and he even bought me a pony. It was a welsh pony that someone had used for barrel racing. He’d paid $50 for her. White coat with blue eyes; named Bimbo. “Daddy, what does Bimbo mean?” He mumbled something nondescript. Now I know that it means “Named by a dude.”
Dad spent as much time teaching me the proper way to mount and ride as he’d spent teaching me how to feed the cattle. He’d given me a bucket of feed, I remember, and said, “go bring the cows in.” I tromped out, about twelve years old, alone with the bucket. I shook it and the herd of cattle ran towards me. I dropped the bucket and ran panting towards the barn. Dad walked straight past me, angry that I’d wasted the corn, and rounded up the cattle.
I roamed around unnoticed kicking dried cow dung patties and watching the smoke puff out of them until I thought it safe to return. Finally, it was my turn to try and ride Bimbo. He put the saddle on her, hoisted me up, handed me the reigns and sent us off. No instruction. Bimbo took off and promptly ran me under some limbs in a successful attempt to knock me off.
Back at the barn, Dad got on her and said “I’ll whip the piss and vinegar out of her.” He rode her in a circle and popped her on the butt with a crop. He didn’t beat her. There was no muscled arm pumping up and down with white knuckled force. He may not have even touched her with it; such an old memory. I recognized it as just the normal whipping or threatening to whip that the many riders of the many rodeo’s I’d attended commonly used. (My cousin was a champion bull rider)
Still, I was traumatized. I hated the way the animals were treated at the rodeo. Pinning up a giant bull until he bucks in frustration and watching a man try and prove his ability to master the beast seemed familiar. Create frustration in the victim, then blame the victim for a natural “piss and vinegar” response to the frustration you caused.
In Arkansas, high school educators find allowing students to play basketball on the backs of donkeys inside a gym full of screaming 10th graders totally normal. A video circulating on Facebook shows donkeys being tugged at and shoved around as if they are pieces of furniture. As if they are objects placed on earth solely for human entertainment. The utter detachment of every single human in attendance from the feelings of the donkeys stabs at me every time. I know how the donkeys felt. Dad had shown Bimbo the same amount of regard and respect that he’d always shown me. Like all abusers, unquestioned respect from me in return was mandatory.
My friend and I tried an exercise from a Connection Training method book. She has a traditional horse back riding background so she was as intrigued by the material as I was. The exercise involved one person acting as the horse and one as the trainer.
In the first iteration, she as the horse, was guided to a spot that I’d preselected for her. She was to find the spot by receiving a click each time she moved anywhere near the direction of the preselected spot. With nothing to guide her other than a click when she was on the right track, she wandered around a bit until she found it.
In the next iteration, she as the horse, was guided by my finger gently touching her in an attempt to guide her towards the preselected spot. This method went much faster. She was quickly able to find the spot.
Then we switched roles and went through the exercise again. We discussed our feelings. It was quickly clear to us that, even the smallest and most thoughtful poke of the finger was still upsetting. Also, it took much longer to get on track by allowing the “horse” to find it’s way by simply listening for the click.
We concluded that, even though it took much more time to achieve the goal with the clicker, the remaining feelings between “horse and trainer” were positive and empowering. On the other hand, using a finger poke to get it done quickly felt insulting, degrading annoying, and negative. It fails to recognize the feelings and abilities of the poked.
Dad dismounted and walked her over to me and handed me the reins. She stepped on my foot and my toes quickly drew back into my Poll Parrot’s. I stared at the ground bleary eyed, trying not to register discomfort on my face. Didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me crying, failing, or in pain one more time that day.
My father grew up with livestock and was considered very knowledgeable. He had a way with animals. I’d seen wild deer walk straight up to him in the woods. He kept tarantulas in the laundry room. And, he had a trained falcon which still appears here on Bohemian farm from time to time. After dad died, my uncle asked me if I’d seen Dad’s falcon. “You mean like in The Chronicles of Valdemar- kind-of- land-on-your- arm-kind of falcon”? Yep.
My Dad’s family was unusual to begin with. Add the fact that Dad “lied when the truth would do better” as my grandma described it, and you’ll see why I never could really trust his version of reality without first some research. He told fantastical tales of being run up a tree by a bear when he was 9. The mythical Stradivarius, (which was just like all of the millions of other common Strads) but Dad believed it was the valuable rare kind. Kept it in the attic. Right Dad. If it is what you say it is, you’d have it in a climate controlled space. Still, I took it to an authority who told me it was a very good fake label. Probably a student violin of German origin.
But, some aspects were true. This is how I learned about people who blur the lines between delusion and a spark of truth.
I was able to confirm the bear story. And, sure as shootin’ there are Peregrins living on Mt. Magazine. We finally figured out that the giant buff colored owl-like raptor that flew over the garden every night at dusk was actually a falcon. We also figured out why he was sometimes blue and sometimes buff. There’s a pair of them.
In my thirties I studied dressage basics at a barn outside of North Little Rock. I couldn’t afford my own horse and learned on one of the school horses that was boarded there. A Palomino colored pony of Western background. I finally was taught how to properly lead and bridle and pick hooves and groom and, eventually, respectful leadership. One needed to simply to squeeze a rein or flex an inner thigh muscle in order to direct the little horse into a figure eight.
My teacher was wonderful and funny. In an effort to help me overcome my fear of being in unprotected spaces with large animals, she teased me one day. After my lesson she handed me a bridle and said “Would you please go out into the field and catch Braveheart and lead him in”. Braveheart. Having a brave heart had only brought rejection and isolation in my experience. And, Braveheart the horse, seemed an island.
I was panic stricken but had learned how to hide it like the Marquise de Merteuil stabbing herself under the dinner table with a fork while keeping a pleasant face for the dinner guests. I forced myself to face the goliath ebony equine. I was sure that he had more piss and vinegar than Bimbo and I put together.
I tromped out as I’d done to feed the cows before and braced myself for potential humiliation. I led him in to the barn amazed that he’d complied, and she cracked up. “I can’t believe you actually did it. I was teasing you know” she said as I led him in. I tried to solidify the inner sensation of shaking jelly.
In my fourties I went to therapy. I saw both a traditional psychiatrist and a psychic healer. In Eureka Springs, psychic healers abound. She went into one of her trances and saw the bear Tall Tale play out. Later I confirmed it with my uncle who was also run up the tree. He told me that the bear killed my Dad’s dog that day.
I’d entered therapy because I was having unexplained panic attacks. The psychic said that the fear and trauma that my father experienced in his tiny boy body that day was transferred to my DNA. Sounded like hocus-pocus then, but now we have the science to prove that it can happen. It could explain why I’m hyper vigilant to the danger posed by large animals like Catalunya. To this day, I cannot go into his pen with him.
Having been raised by a gas-lighter- narcissistic liar may explain my hyper sensitivity to bullshit. In my teens I resented having to develop the skills necessary to find truth. I’d have preferred to develop other skills. But now, I am thankful. My friends are confused by the current gas lighting techniques foisted upon us. Me: “this ain’t my first rodeo”.
“You shall know the truth and it shall make you odd”. Flannery O’Connor
3 thoughts on “Piss, Vinegar, and Gaslighting”
Hey Karen, I’m back in Virginia, can you send me a link to that reading you did. I’m writing my book and up to were we met. I’d sure appreciate it. Best, Robert
Robertmcnabb@swva.net or cell is 540-577-8534
Hi Robert. I am sorry that I have just now seen this. Hope you are well.