The Work on Rider Etiquette 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It’s a brand new year! 

I start my new years in July because that’s when my life began. It’s also the middle of summer so as a teacher makes sense for me – I’m heading toward a new school term starting in August. 

I’ve spent some time in the past year revisiting The Work by Byron Katie and it’s impacted my life over the decade I’ve been aware of it, but I spent more energy revisiting the concepts this year and I love the perspective, simplicity and clarity it brings.

**disclaimer: the following are my opinions. What works for me. I’m sharing it because it may work for some others as well. Everyone  is entitled to what works for them- the question I always go back to: is it working?

This week I put the work to work on the big topic of trail etiquette. 

If you’re ever on a horse, in a group, on the trail then it’s come up for you whether you realize or not.

The dictionary tells me that:

Etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

It is indeed a code. And with a few exceptions I’d say most riders have their own code. Some hold one or two generally shared basics and some have a very long list of polite behaviors that the entire world of trails riders really ought to agree to if they ruled the world. There are entire books on the matter and many many many opinions. Just throw out the subject on any Facebook horse group and you’ll hear:

  1. Everyone’s do’s and don’t’s for the trail (with the potentials safety hazards to back up why they they should be important to everyone)
  2. Examples of other riders who have broken such rules and how some was or was almost hurt due to this shameful behavior. 

It exhausts me. 

While I do wholeheartedly support the concept of polite behavior on the trail, I struggle with the control and victimization that I hear in the etiquette conversations online and around me.

What I’ve learned from The Work is there is my business, other people’s business, and God’s business. 

Whose business is it what etiquette code I live and ride by? Mine!

Whose business is it what etiquette code you live by? Yours!

Whose business is the weather that day, the trail conditions due to torrential rain or lack lack thereof, or how much water is in the creek… or lightning… or groundhog holes? God’s.

Then take into account how my horse is feeling that day… which is her business… and also mine. My business to give her what she needs to be a well balanced horse and not to put her in situations she isn’t going to succeed… and that’s a whole other blog topic!

What this means to me is that I get to decide how I will behave on the trail. I also ask my horse to stay within my behavior requirements as I’m able. That is my job. 

I can’t control your trail behavior so when I even think about what someone else SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be doing I have left my own mind. In other words. 

I am out of my mind

I have also left my horse. 

And worse: I am now a victim. At the mercy of how you ride that day. 

Whoah. I have found that to be no fun for me.

So here is my own personal approach. 

I assume first that people do not have to obey a polite customary code on the trails and may do all manner of things that will challenge me and my horse to have a strong partnership. 

Yippee! Challenge always means opportunity for growth!!

At a group event one should assume not all riders will know or agree with your particular ideas of trail etiquette. Add on top that they may be stressed, confused, overwhelmed, or in a situation they weren’t prepared for etc and may just not be able to stick to a code they would have liked to in better circumstances. 

Hopefully all riders have a minimum connection and comfort level with their horse – AND awareness to their surroundings – so they will at the minimum be safe if someone does something unexpected, out of their control- or even just plain rude. 

On your own home trail rides- you can chose to only ride with riders who fit into your comfort level. That is generally safe, and if you all agree on your basic ride manners then harmony will rein! 


So how does this work in my reality? I’ll just tackle one of the 106 comments of appropriate/inappropriate trail etiquette on a recent Facebook thread. One of the most common: the water source code. 

EVERYONE knows NEVER to walk off from a water source until every horse has had ample opportunity to drink their fill. 

But yet… I sometimes ride with people who’ve kept walking at a mud puddle (or stream… but my horse will drink from a mud puddle and most people don’t recognize it as a water source which might be why they’d keep walking 😊) when my horse decided to drink. Sometimes I let them know, maybe I just stop to drink and then catch up. Maybe they notice I’m not with them and wait for me. I have a few choices, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. 

I’ve worked on staying connected to my horse and holding her back at a water hole while riders walk off. Who cares about them anyway? They aren’t in charge of my horse.

In any situation, the moment I get into the business of the other rider I have lost connection to my horse. She knows it. She will then either do whatever she wants because I’m ‘gone’ or she will go where my brain went: the other horse and rider team. 

No wonder she’d walk off from the water source. I’ve already left with them mentally first. 

And I’ve let you ruin my day or ride, or moment with my horse. I’m now a victim of your behavior and I’m frustrated that I can’t control you… that leads to more frustration because I feel like you are controlling me (and worse my horse) and now I’m out of control and annoyed. 

And my horse feels my emotional energy and is likely confused (why are you frustrated or annoyed??) which after time means she shuts me out to protect herself. 

This means I will have less connection and be less of a leader the next time it happens… the cycle continues… and then people say this kind of connection where a horse chooses to stay present with its rider instead of throwing in with the herd is impossible and unrealistic. 

The other side is the idea that I must have some special kind of horse to have that kind of connection because all arabs… or all OTTBs… or all ____________ are prone to crazy herd behavior ignoring the rider when _________ situation comes up and we all need to agree on how to ride to keep everyone else safe. 

First let me be clear: my horse is not that unique. And our relationship is still in the developing stages and she does connect to the herd at times when they have a stronger call than I do … and she does get ‘race-brained’ and she does try to kick at riders who push in on her rear end…. 

In truth- when I look at less than optimal circumstances as an opportunity instead of annoyance then my horse and I grow together. Those rude, or inconsiderate, or out-of-control people are giving me a little gift. Growth! The chance to try to be better with my horse. 

The point of this post, in case it hasn’t been clear, is about responsibility. Not the actual code of ethics or the trail riding rulebook. I think polite behavior is great! I have observed in reality we all do not agree on what is acceptable in every given moment (if we did it wouldn’t be nearly so contentious) and we all have good days and bad days- and sometimes just aren’t aware. 

It happens.

Looking at it this way also makes it easier for me to ask for help if I do really need it. 

If I assume not everyone shares my personal trail code without judgment (doesn’t make them a bad person) then I can simply ask for help if I need it on a case by case basis. 

Hi… sorry… K is drinking would you hold up a minute for us?

This is assuming I’m among friends. This does not include random strangers I met on an endurance ride. They have absolutely no obligation to me… if they do afford me some courtesy I can thank them graciously. 

So I have a happier life when I assume responsibility for myself and my horse and never become a victim of anyone else’s choices.

 It also means I can ride with just about anyone which gives me lots of opportunities to deepens the connection with my horse.  

Of course not everyone may like to ride with me. 

That’s ok. That’s their business!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

As this 40th year for me draws to a close in July there and I get closer to a big riding goal- I also reflect on where I am in life and what it means to the larger journey. 

A good place to check in. 

Those of us who are horse enthusiasts all struggle with the personal, relationship, work, homelife balance. We find ourselves defending the time, energy and treasure we dedicate – sometimes striking the perfect balance… often veering off one way or the other.

Sometimes I carry guilt over the balance: Am I giving my horse (who has no one but me to depend on) enough? Am I giving everything my work needs? How about my homelife? Is my yard getting out of control? Dirty laundry and spiderwebs taking over the house? How about other important relationships?

I believe that I change the world only by looking in the mirror. There cannot be peace on earth if there isn’t peace in me. That is my only job here: To change the universe within myself. 

It is a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about what is going to happen in politics, my relationships, my work, my health, (healthcare!?!), people around me… I don’t have to worry about any of it. 

I realize some people believe that means I’m putting my head in the sand… If I don’t fight for my political views with friends and strangers, stress over deadlines (or even miss some!!) or worry over my health it looks like playing the fiddle while Rome burns. 

It is not

Stress and pain are draining and make me less effective in the moment. Fear takes away clarity in decision making. Though discussions with the emphasis on listening are good, arguing with another human being causes separation and rarely sways opinions. 

My obsession with horses and my quest to understand them has taught me some valuable things about life. I hope these lessons make me a better teacher, friend, wife, daughter and leader. 

To my readers who already know and practice these… thank you for your patience  and generosity in reading my own personal process.

Disclaimer: the fact that I’ve learned them doesn’t mean I’m always successful at living them. The reason I can write about them is because I’ve lived every one. I’ve done every one of these the wrong way and seen the less than optimal results!

Seven things I’ve learned:

7. Be joyful.  

Have some fun. Lighten up. When healthy and balanced, horses have great senses of humor. They horseplay. 😁 Horses and people want to be around someone with a generous and joyful spirit. Make a choice not to be a gloomy, glass-half-empty, pessimistic person who always sees the obstacles and doesn’t bring fresh ideas and solutions. 

And life will always bring challenges. Get over it. Make a choice to be happy no matter what is going on around you. If you wait until your outer circumstances are ‘right’ to be content, you will chase joy until you die miserable. Choose love and joy regardless of who is president… of if you have the ‘right’ job… make ‘enough’ money…  have the ‘perfect’ body… fill in the blank. 


6. Slow Down. Observe. 

Many of these lessons interconnect. Almost all of them have this element buried in them. Take the time to see what is really happening and make less assumptions. Question what you see and what it means. 


5. Stay present.

Even two seconds ago is the past. It is done. Don’t carry it with you and don’t load your horse, spouse or friends down with it either. 

On the other hand anticipating the future based on past experiences brings about the negative response you are trying to avoid- especially in horses. Don’t allow yourself to waste time visualizing your fears- they create negative energy.

Allow yourself, your horse and your friends, spouse, parents, children, co-workers etc the gift of a fresh start and the freedom to learn, grow and change.


4. Find three!

I’ve learned good leaders are demanding. Thankfully I seem to fall into this naturally. However the flip side to demanding personalities is they are overly critical. 

I am embarrassingly more aware with my horses, my friends, my family, my husband and ESPECIALLY my students that I lean too heavily on what needs to improve and don’t take enough time to encourage the good things.

I have enjoyed the Byron Katie turn arounds this year and when I get stuck on something like my husband doesn’t listen to me I now write that down, turn it around to I don’t listen to my husband and my job is to find 3 ways that is true. There are usually more than three. It changes the perspective quickly!
Another find 3 is when I realize I’m being too tough or critical in a lesson (always with students I really like and believe have a ton of potential!) I stop myself and find 3 positive things to encourage. Or if my mom calls me feeling like she failed her horse and can’t do anything right- I ask her to find 3 things she did right that day… 3 successes. 


3. Don’t fight

Picking a fight with an intelligent 1,000 pound animal isn’t wise. And we wonder why there are so many injuries in the horse world. Working with and riding horses is dangerous enough without creating enemies out of them.

One way we start wars is through inappropriate reaction. When a horse is distracted or makes a mistake (knocks your head, steps on your foot..) and the human blows up screaming, hitting, jerking to make sure they never make that mistake again. 

Horses who aren’t being disrespectful on purpose are not trying to hurt us and there are much more effective ways to enforce safe space and increased attention to where you are than hitting and yelling. It is likely your horse will pay more attention to you because you have proven to be emotionally unstable (cra-crazy) and reactive and they’ll want to try to steer clear of that. Personally that’s not why I want my horse to pay attention to me. It kills connection. This is easy to translate to human relationships as well and is an unhealthy and hard way to live. (Hard especially on children who cannot chose to leave). 

One of my favorite quotes brings me to the other less obvious way we fight:

Defense is the first act of war. 

Unless you or someone before you created a horse that is disrespectful (they do not come this way naturally) then your horse is not interested in fighting with you. They are the ultimate seekers of peace. We are a species of war. Just look at social media. We can’t disagree with someone without calling them names and picking a fight. No one is allowed to think differently than me. No other solutions to problems except the ones I believe in. 

I’ve watched a horse try to communicate with a human, maybe ask a question… the human reacts immediately as if the battle lines are drawn and they have to win the energy goes up and the yelling, hitting, or lunging begins to teach a lesson and the connection is broken. That will teach your horse to dare an attempt to connect with you!

[clarification: if you truly do have a disrespectful horse then you have your work cut out for you. Hopefully you have the emotional stability to not take it personally. To never allow frustration or anger into the process, and you have the correct tools, knowledge, and cool-headed strength without fear even when the animal is coming at you like a wild stallion- to meet the challenge and climb your way back into the horse’s trust and belief that humans can behave unemotionally and fairly and can make a reliable leader. However This is a totally different scenario than what most horses owners talk about when they use the term disrespect.]

Similarly in the human world- no one can tell me that I have done wrong without battle flags going up. The first instinct is to defend my position and beat down the accuser so they will never consider communicating honestly again. Am I the only one with this natural tendency?

I have challenged myself this year to change the pattern and attempt to begin with: is that true? And then follow it with how can I help?

Can you imagine if your horse refused to walk into the puddle and instead reacting with argument, force and warfare…  to take a moment (slow down) and ask: why don’t you want to go into the puddle? 

Then when you hear the answer which could be I’m afraid there may be a preditor hiding in there…. or I may sink in and get my legs stuck in quicksand… 

you could respond with something like ok- I hear you. Thank you for keeping our safety in mind. I happen to know this puddle is safe. I’d like you to trust me- and I’m going to give you the time you need to learn that. Let’s do this together. 

Then do the inhuman thing and take the time your horse needs to walk through the puddle without fighting. If you have done the work to train your horse in steps and you are certain you can communicate what you want-  put your watch away and go into their world. (If you haven’t trained the steps to get what you’re asking then don’t expect them to do what you’re asking until you have) The saying slow is fast has never been more true than with horses. If you are riding with people who have no patience for helping a horse gain trust in their rider you are with the wrong humans. Not the wrong horse. 

Human lesson: a friend says I don’t think you treated me fairly over this situation! 

My first instinct is to defend why I acted the way I did… but it always feels better to step back and say tell me about it? How could I help? What could I change?

And I can change it or not. But now I have information, and I am not cutting off those who care enough about me to tell me what they think.


2. Nurture connection

Real connection is one of the most amazing things to experience in life. We all want it yet (speaking for myself) we seem to be better at killing it than nurturing it. 

If my horse is connected to me she will stay willing to do what I ask and enjoy our time together. Even more importantly she will do everything possible to protect me. 

I’ve been cantering along with friends, felt Khaleesi spook half way across the trail in an instant… then there was the time a deer jumped out of the bushes and from a fast trot she jumped, spun and ran directly into Faygo’s shoulder behind us. In these and other instances it’s not my ah-maz-ing riding skills that keeps me glued to my horse. Anyone who rides with me can chuckle here. It’s her choice to keep me in the sweet spot. It is her protecting me. 

Then there was the ride she ditched me on trail and left me there. I had lost connection and been a terrible leader on that ride. And she let me know it. She wanted to get as far away from me as possible!

Human connections work best as a two-way line, however I cannot be responsible for others. Thankfully I’m not at their mercy. I can choose to keep myself connected and open. My connection and behavior is my choice. 

It feels like a risk to stay open and connected. However staying closed and ruining relationships is guaranteed to bring failure and pain in the long run. 

(This doesn’t mean I allow just anyone to repeatedly hurt me with their decisions. I can stay open and still make choices as to who I will work with, who I will live with, who I allow into my close friendships – but if I am open hearted I can make these decisions for myself and not be at odds with those I do not choose. Not have hatred, feuds and conflict. And a clarity in those choices based on what I think is best.)

The challenge is that so many things break connection: ego (we all have one. It’s a basic psychological tenant- not allowing it to rule unchecked and questioning its voice is how we grow. The ego is out front in some and easy to see; but more dangerous is the ego that is camouflaged… disguised behind a good facade it is like a silent cancer. Ego is the great destroyer of good things. I work especially hard to keep mine from taking over and destroying everything I care about. Sometimes it seems tirelessly dedicates to that end…)

Then there’s: nagging, being pushy or overly critical, not actively listening, defensiveness, being unclear or fuzzy in your communication, reacting inappropriately, making assumptions, holding on to the past, anger & frustration, arguing, impatience, fear… it is a challenge not to allow these to destroy relationships. 


1. Stay congruent. 

What is in the inside must match what’s on the outside. 

Congruent comes from the Latin to agree: defined as being in harmony. 

Horses cannot lie. And they are confused and uncomfortable when humans do. 

Horses require honesty and that we stay real. They will take a lot of ignorance, unclear communication, failure to understand them (trust me- this I know very personally) and they can bear a lot of pain and sadness with us if we are congruent. They know when you are real: when you are trying to stay open and trying to learn. 

You cannot hide your insides from a horse. They know. If you lie to them, pretend or worse try to trick them (ever bring the grain bucket with the halter ‘hidden’ behind your back?) they know. And it makes them uncomfortable. It destroys connection. 

People do this often. We talk one way but act another. Some people work hard on the exterior… the facade… while doing everything possible to hide what’s really going on inside. 

One of the biggest lessons I’ve come to in sharp focus is that I require congruency in my world. I make the decision to be honest as possible in my own circle, and I want to surround myself with others who are the same. 

I make mistakes and gratefully have friends who love me enough to help me see when I go offtrack. I make an effort to stay real with the people in my world and be honest with my shortcomings and move forward being better for them. 

People who have a pattern of being incongruent over time are confusing and I’m more able as I get older to see there is something wrong and let those relationships go. 

However I don’t have to be at war or dislike the people I feel that disconnect with. There are many reasons people behave this way from life trauma, self protection, fear, being out of touch, confusion… everyone has a journey and a path to walk. I have enough on my hands to walk my own and am way out of line when I try to live someone else’s.


This year especially I am grateful for those whose paths intertwine with mine. 

The people and horses who are my teachers. 

The friends who have walked with me, the family who have carried me, the love that is present in things I welcome and things I dread. 

And most of all for the person who is always there. The one in the mirror. She has a long way to go… but we are getting to know each other better each year. 


Sunday, January 29, 2017

I was recently asked regarding something we are working with Wild Heart on: Is she just being stubborn?

I stopped and turned to my friend and answered: I never assume that. Sure- sometimes horses might have an opinion of I don’t want to do that– but I try never to start with the idea they are just being stubborn, or disrespectful or any other negative attitude. I assume they are giving me their best at the moment, and we just move forward and try to improve on it. 

It got me thinking- especially in today’s social climate, but it’s something I’ve been working through in my own world. 


Real compassion, not just when it’s easy because you already have sympathetic feelings for someone easy to love. Or the kind that says “you are stupid and/or evil but I’ll still try to be nice toward you because I’m better and right”

I want to find the kindness in me where I can authentically care for the feelings of people who are just being stubborn, or have completely opposite viewpoints from mine, or who I’ve perceived to have hurt me in some way… or how about the ones engaged in behavior I find abhorrent? 

How? And how is that different from condoning it?

Note: this is not for ‘their’ sake… doing someone else a favor by being kinder- but for my own sake. It expends a lot more energy working from adversity than from love in myself. Negativity is exhausting and draining. Compassion and real love are energizing and endless. It’s for ME that I want to find more compassion and connection- so I can have peace and energy to be more effective. 

I think the key for me to work on has been the concept of Best

Let’s take my horse as an easy example. 
I learned yesterday that the amazing Khaleesi won’t load in the other (left) slot of my two horse trailer. 

I always load her in the right. She is a perfect loader – I swing the lead rope over her neck and click to her and she walks on. 

We are working on getting Wild Heart to load in the small slot with the divider in and she is worried about the confinement. 

Because I began working on her on the right side- I wanted to allow her to continue there until she was ok before making a change. So I decided to load Khaleesi on the left side so Heart might be more comfortable knowing another horse is also confined comfortably and relaxed there.

Khaleesi refused to get on the left side. Then I insisted- I walked her on- she was terrified momentarily and shot out backwards in fear. 

I scratched my head. Good to know!

My first belief is always that she is giving me her best. Apparently she is worried about being in that other side – for whatever reason I don’t really care– but if I assume she’s being stubborn or difficult on purpose I now color our interactions with negative connotations and have lost any compassion, empathy and connection to her. She is now a bad horse or a disrespectful horse. This changes my tone to either impatient, angry, resentful or even defensive. 

In reality she’s a horse who doesn’t feel comfortable in the other trailer slot. If I assume she is doing her best I can now help her (that is my job) to get comfortable on that side and I will be more effective if I am connected to her and my relationship will not be destroyed in the process. 

I love my horse and this is an easy example. 

Let’s take the co-worker that doesn’t get me important information I needed and causes me stress in my work. (Substitute any work related issue here)

I can get annoyed that he isn’t doing his job properly, that he is making my job harder and is incompetent. I can lose connection with him and be at odds. 
Probably won’t help a whole lot and cause stress. Ineffective. 

Or I can decide that he is doing his best. And I can decide how to work within the situation to be most effective. I can’t fire him (not that I would or wouldn’t – but that not my job) but I can realize I may need to be more proactive in requesting information more often so what I need doesn’t slip through the cracks. I can help him do his job and make life better for both of us. 

In reality he IS doing his best. That’s all we get at the moment. There’s no other option. ‘He should do his job better’ is just going to set me up for failure. 

Does that mean accepting underperformance? 

No- if I were the boss I may talk to the employee and ask for improvement in certain areas. If the person can grow- great- if there are things bad enough that the job isn’t being done then firing someone is always an option. It may be the most compassionate thing to do as the person may not be suited for the job- but it doesn’t need to be done with hostility or disconnection.

Let’s move to a whole new layer- where the rubber meets the road. Someone harder to care about – an abusive husband, a criminal, a politician you completely disagree with… a dangerous world leader … substitute the one who gives you the most stress here.

Can one look at a husband who abuses his family and say he is doing his best? 

Personally I believe yes. 

That person is very likely living in pain and fear and cycles from generations past. It is sad an unfortunate. This is not an easy process- but believing the abuser IS doing his best changes the dynamic in connection but doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be removed from those he’s abusing. 

But is that human less deserving of true compassion and love?

That doesn’t mean staying in a bad situation, or taking away consequences or legal punishment for those who do wrong. But it does allow me to not hold hate, anger and resentment disconnecting me from the world and making me less effective in handling the situation. 

All the stressful thoughts and feelings make it harder to make clear choices and act. It is me that I hurt when I hold onto hate- or righteousness – of being better or different. Separated. 

I can’t just be more compassionate automatically, but when I take a step back in every disappointment and assume the others involved are also doing their best at the moment it makes me better at moving forward clearly. 

I cannot change one person around me, but I can work on me. One day and one stressful thought or situation at a time. And as I get better and more connected I see everything around me get better. 

For me, in practice, it starts at the barn. With my horses who I desperately want connection with above all else. Every time I assume a horse is acting badly on purpose I have lost connection and effectiveness to work on improvement. 

When I assume she is giving me her best I find her best gets better all the time. 

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.