Margin, Barn Therapy & The Work

Who would you be without your story?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas!

During this Holiday season I’ve found myself building up internally with small stresses and irritations- running short on time and daylight to do all I want to get done. 

A friend of mine recently shared a similar experience with things we both acknowledged were of small consequence but still made their way into slow boiling frustration- she finished her mild vent to me with the thought: These are first world problems. I know I need to be grateful I have a home and people who love me and everything I need. I am blessed beyond most of the world’s population. 

It’s true. However life still can catch up with us all. For me, I’ve had some car issues- covered under warranty – but my dealership is 2 hours away so having to get my car in and out 3 times in a month is a huge unplanned time suck. Also having a car go unreliable on you really can wreck the plans you DO have and not being sure if you’ll get home after work in the dark over airport mountain (with no cell service) is pretty stressful. 

Oh- and I hit a deer with their rental car while mine was days in the shop. That sucked. As the driver it’s my insurance which means a large deductible so let’s pile on top mild financial stresses as well…..

December is full of holiday recitals to organize and juries (music final exams) at the college, scheduling make up lessons, keeping some kind of exercise routine in place (tis the season to gain 10 pounds if I’m not careful!) and of course trying to get a few gifts in the mail (uh… after choosing, purchasing, or often in my case making said gifts)….oh yes, there the usual stuff like laundry, feeding the cats, making occasional dinner, and super minimalist chores like at least removing cobwebs once in a while – I feel lately like I’m never really home very long. 

Add to that my trailer hitch needs replacing and I’m now in hoof boot season and lost a boot my first ride out of shoes (more on that process soon… we’re working on solutions right now and it’s been an interesting learning opportunity for me)….

I remember years ago hearing Dr. Richard Swensen talk about margin: that space in between things… time, finances and emotions… and the toll it takes when you lose your margin. 

For me it means the wrong turn because my GPS wasn’t clear to me causing a 10 minute detour in a town I’m unfamiliar with or the Target photo printer device taking forever to help me get a few simple photos from my phone to print… or the fact that one gift I’d decided to pick up for my husband is so popular it sold out when I went back to the store 2 days later… losing an expensive hoof boot on the trail the first day out of metal shoes…

These things become super frustrating instead of mildly annoying. 

I knew something was happening below the surface when I made it to a yoga class and random unorganized thoughts kept attacking me no matter what I did mentally. I had zero focus. I started to feel separation in my relationships. I noticed I wasn’t really listening to people, I started to feel pinched and a constant low level of stress. Distracted. Disconnected. 

In my head I told those stressful thoughts  basically – you all are first world problems, and I’m going to be merry anyway, look on the bright side there is nothing here I can’t handle or sort out.

I am fine!!!


But I’m not fine. 

I realized this recently when I went mentally off the deep end internally (hopefully not so obvious to the outside world) and my negative stressful thoughts took over. I won’t share exactly what that means for me- but as Byron Katie says: there are no new stressful thoughts in the world. They’ve been around since time began and each of us have experienced most of them at some point in our lives.

When I stopped long enough to realize the build up and loss of margin had taken me to this place I took a ‘time out’ and did what I need to do to straighten myself back out and regain my sanity. 

Which brings me to why I decided to write out this in my horse-life blog. It hit me and this thought was more clear than ever before in a moment. 

And I bet it’s not what you think. 

Big yawn from Wild Heart… looks a little crazy in still form but it was a good moment she was processing

That thing I need to straighten out my mental and emotional state is NOT barn time. It’s NOT time with my horse. It’s NOT barn therapy. My horse is NOT my therapist and it’s not her job to be. 

What I needed to get back on track was an hour or two writing in my journal questioning my thoughts on paper.

Everyone has a different thing they need- yoga, prayer, meditation, a soak in the tub… so I’m not preaching journaling here necessarily but I will tell you what I’ve learned about it and how it’s changed me – and you can play with it or not, it’s up to you!

What I’ve found works best in my life now is The Work. It’s a process Byron Katie uses to help people question their thoughts in order to find joy, peace and connection. In her words: I learned that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, and when I didn’t believe them I did not suffer.  

It may sound crazy, but the work is simple. 

Judge your neighbor:

You take a stressful moment (specific is better- if you get too generic the mind and ego will play tricks on you to weasel out of the truth), and you get as petty as possible about someone or something that upset you. 

Then you ask four questions and turn it around. Then find examples where the opposite of what you thought is true – or sometimes even truer.

You can delve into The Work easily and for free. I recommend going to YouTube and searching for Byron Katie- there’s enough there to keep you busy for weeks. You can also go right to her website. Everything is free except her books which are also great. 

What the work does is give you something to ‘meditate’ on (not emptying you mind which I cannot do… but sitting with your thoughts and questioning them with real inquiry), and then it frees you from being emotionally controlled by them. 

It’s helped me find what’s really true around me and what is the story I’ve created about it. Good story or bad story, they are almost never the whole truth, and we create an alternative reality with these stories so often without even realizing it. This is why life is stressful and why we have disconnection in relationships and loss of peace. 

For someone always on the move and working toward goals.. forward thinking sometimes to a fault- it helps me get present in where I am right now. 

For me it’s meant that I found joy, connection and clarity- no matter what the circumstance (and the tools to help me back when I’m not there). I’ve learned it doesn’t take two to fight- it only takes one. It just takes me to start or end a war. 

I look at it like staying in my own business- because it’s the only business I have any control over. And when my feelings depend on other people to behave a certain way I am hopeless. I have no control over who likes me, who is kind to me, who agrees with me, and what the weather is. 

So the work has helped me reconnect with the person I most need to understand… the person ultimately responsible for my feelings and mental health: me. 

The seemingly minor detail that is actually the most important thing is writing it down. I’ve spent most of December ‘too busy’ to take time out and sit and write… doing the work in my head laying half awake at 5am or while driving… even while at the barn. When we are stressed and disconnected we are at war internally and (another Katie-ism): all war belongs on paper. 

It is amazing when you have to write it down and have to stay with a specific experience. It takes away the power of the thoughts and fears.

As an interesting experiment- I was in an emotional argument with someone I care about who was angry with me. I wanted to be open, to understand and listen; so after telling me why they were angry verbally I asked them to write it down for me. I wanted to go all the way so to speak- to really deal with these thoughts and feelings. They had just spoken the words, but in the end could not write them on paper. 

Finally when they agreed to humor me and just write it down – the words written were not at all what were spoken clearly 10 seconds earlier, and much more generic and less personal. I was taken aback. 

That moment I understood more clearly the power of the pen. I am a believer now more than ever – not just in vague journaling but in the work on paper. 

So, my gift to my friends out there is if you haven’t tried the work to check it out. It has been a gift for me this year and turned some pretty stressful times into opportunities for growth I am now truly grateful for. 

And what about the barn?


I still go there as a happy place, I still love my horses and my connection to them is vital. 

However it was obvious this December that I was still stressed out regardless of a decent amount of barn time, great riding and connection with Khaleesi and some wonderful progress with Wild Heart. My barn time was always positive and gave me a little jolt of happy feelings- but I noticed some of my most stressful days came after a lovely morning with my horses. That happiness isn’t the same as finding peace in my soul regardless of hitting a deer or seeing ‘caution: drivetrain malfunction‘ show up in my car computer screen. 

Truth is my horse expects me to be a leader 100% of the time- not just when I’m having a good day. ** this doesn’t mean I haven’t leaned on my horse in the barn broken into tears over hard emotional struggles… I have. I also know horses know. You can’t lie to them with a strong fake front… but being honest with sadness is not the same as being distracted, on autopilot and not present ** 

And in working with the new mustang I definitely need to be 100% present. Though I love seeing the woods from my horse, I’m never a relaxed passenger with my mind wandering freely. I’m listening to my horse and communicating with her as we work on or off trail. The barn and riding are like a job too- an amazing, fun, rewarding job that I love… but still, more of a job than therapy. 


I used to smile and agree with the FB memes popping up that read: my horse is my therapist… or barn therapy is the best kind… but now I have to say for me they just don’t ring true. It’s a nice thought but it doesn’t feel honest. 

I’ll go out on a limb here and say something many horse colleagues may disagree with: my horse has a job. I try to be clear with her what it is – and it’s not therapist. That just isn’t fair to her. 

But with some help from the work- I find truth and peace in reality.  I do my best to come to the barn in good mental and emotional health to be the leader, and when I do I find the best co-pilot I could ask for ready to do her job. This is more rewarding in the end. 

And together we fly.