Category Archives: intention

Guest post from my colleague Pam Suraci, LMFT in San Luis Obispo

It had been a long day.  One more stop before I go home, to clean stalls and set up tomorrow’s breakfast.  The barn nightlight creates shadows as the horses poke their heads out to see who is visiting so late.  Preoccupied with my day’s work, I grab the rake and wheelbarrow and get to work.  As I scoop sift, dump dirty shavings and manure, the sessions of the day roll through my head – was it a full moon?  What on earth was happening with my clients – so much resistance today, from everyone.  How weird- no wonder I was so tired.

Scoop, sift, dump.  Like a stall –cleaning machine.  My mind wanders….What was up with that teenager?  She was so combative – it reminded me of parenting my own kids in the most challenging times…  That never happens in therapy sessions though…I can usually find a way in, especially with that kid.  The horse, whose stall I had invaded at this uncivilized hour, seemed to need to stand exactly where I needed to clean.  “Come on, buddy, move over” I coaxed – a step here, a step there, he always seemed to be more, not less, in my way.  Gentle nudges, contorting myself to reach around, finally the stall is done.

Next stall, back to the replay of my day.  What was going on with everyone today?  The couple who had been doing so well were suddenly at odds, irritated by each other and by me.  Back to basics and they found some peace, but dang it, they should be beyond that, shouldn’t they? …just as that thought pops in, my next housekeeping job is challenged by another 900 ponder who can’t seem to get in my way enough.  “Really, Max?  Do you need to stand here right now?”  He blinked at me calmly in the dim light.  Once again, contort, scoop, sift, dump.  Max moves closer, nosing the cart and threatening to dump two dirty stalls’ worth all over his newly clean floor.  I yank the cart out of the way, just in time.

One more stall, my horse, to do.  Before I even enter, the movie of my day begins to replay.  My big gentle friend blocks the door completely, before I even get to scoop, sift, dump.  “Dude”, I softly say, “move your big butt”.  Nothing.  He extends a velvet muzzle my way…I know the game.  I touch the very tip of his nose with one finger, and he sticks his tongue out.  I retract, he extends and we start again.  He can play this game for hours.  But I am in a rush, so I shove by him to clean his day’s leavings.  He is certain, though, that his ideas are better.  Sidling between me and the cart, he again extends his soft nose.  Ok, I get it…one finger, a big pink washcloth tongue emerges.  I put down the rake.  I reach to pet his neck, but he pulls away.  Nose out, finger touch, tongue flick.  I scratch his always itchy shoulder, but again, he moves away.  “Nope,” he seems to say, “I only want this interaction”, and extends his nose again.  I am ready to pause my chores, give him a snuggle and get on with my cleaning but he moves just out of reach.  Slowly I get the message – he will only receive what he is interested in receiving.

Deep breath, horse smell, long gaze.  A decision is made.  Today is already done, no more replay.  “Pay attention,” he seems to say, “you’re not the only one here.”  I need to focus on what he is showing, not telling, me.  I can give only what the receiver is ready to take.  I step back, he follows.  Another step, he follows again.  Hands in my pockets, we regard each other for a moment.  He steps forward a bit more, sniffs my jacket and together we take a moment.  I realize, once again, my desire to give or to heal never trumps the needs of a receiver.  That teenager? She was doing exactly what she did with her mom, and showing me what I need to see to help them both.  Today’s couple? Well, they had a bad day.  They weren’t ready to receive from each other, or from me.  When I pushed, they retreated.  When I paused, went back to the smallest connections, they came forward.  It’s a lesson I learn over and over again.  There will always be time to scoop, sift and dump.  Right now, I pay attention.  I extend my finger, and the soft muzzle meets me halfway.

What my Horse Whispered Today: Trust your internal guidance system.

A three part series about leadership: Leading your life; Leading others; Sustaining leadership

Horses are wonderful leadership teachers. They instinctively know the survival of the herd depends on their trust and connection to the lead mare. Imagine a herd of wild horses grazing in a field. On the perimeter the lead mare patrols and alerts the herd when it’s time to move on. All of the horses within the herd have one ear pointed toward their lead mare at all times. Each horse is aware of the slightest changes; a flick of the ear, muscle twitches or shifts in the wind. Without the lead mare’s ability to lead them away from danger and toward water and new pastures the herd would perish.

Like horses, humans willingly follow leadership when they trust and have an emotional connection to the leader. Leaders and their followers have an Internal Guidance System (IGS) that functions like their inner lead mare. Our survival, individually and as a group, depends on attending to our IGS. The more we nurture our mind-body-intuition connection (our vulnerable sensitivity that immediately responds to truth) and listen its internal signals the stronger our IGS becomes. To do this, we must learn to regulate our emotions and feed our spiritual life. We can rely on our IGS to give us clarity in confusing situations, help us refocus and lead us in the direction of our best life.

Neglecting our IGS by substituting other’s opinions and allowing our immediate, reactive emotions guide our decisions ultimately blur’s and disables our ability to make sustained, positive changes in our lives. Internally, we become a herd without their lead mare. Not listening to your internal IGS is like a herd disregarding the signals from their lead mare.

Racing thoughts, anger, holding onto past regrets prevents your IGS from functioning properly. Relying only on emotions and rehearsing the old painful stories feed the distorted beliefs about the self and sabotage the IGS. Your emotions take the lead and cause you to wander around, questioning everything, unable to focus or recognize real threats.

I was conducting an Equus workshop with a group from an addiction recovery center. I asked each participant to guide a horse through a simple obstacle course. One of the women had been walking side by side with the horse, moving it forward, her eyes focused on the barrel at the end of the course. The horse hesitated. She got confused, stopped, then turned and faced the horse. The horse responded to her confusion by refusing to move.

Me: What’s happening right now?

Woman: “Well the horse stopped and I’m trying to get it to move forward.”

She and the horse stood still facing each other for about four minutes.

Me: “Where do you want to go?girl&nauticmoving forward

Photo by Sheri Wirt Photography

Woman: “I want to get to the end of the obstacle course but this stupid horse won’t move!”

Me: “ Your horse isn’t stupid. You are asking her to move forward but where are your eyes and body and facing?”

She laughed as she realized that she was physically facing in the opposite direction of where she wanted to go; where she began instead of the finish line.

 Me: ” You need to look in the direction you want the horse to go. You are facing where you’ve already been, not where you want to end up. You want to move forward but keep looking back to where you’ve been instead of where you want to end up.”

Woman: Bursting into tears, “That’s why I can’t kick this drug habit, I keep looking in the wrong direction. All I see is my past failure. I’m not moving toward recovery.”

Then she stopped, calmed down, refocused. She turned around, faced the end of the course and walked the horse finish line.

There are similarities between leading horses and leading ourselves toward our best lives. Where we focus determines our next steps. If we, or those in leadership, disconnect from our IGS letting shame and failures dominate, focusing on the past, our sense of direction is lost. We are leaderless.

Individually or we are in the role of parent, teacher, therapist or equestrian, our connection and response to our physical, emotional and intuitive signals determines the effectiveness of our leadership, personally and with others.. Disconnecting from your IGS disables your ability to connect with or lead anyone else

I teach my clients how to connect to their intuitive self by developing their IGS using the three core practices of personal leadership.

They are:

  • Examine your personal truth: Are your passions, values, emotions and actions are aligned? As I asked my client, “Are you focused in the direction you want to go? “Focusing on the past, keeps you in the past. Moving forward takes all of your energy, focused in the direction you want to go.
  • Listen to your heart: Your heart is that part of you that immediately recognizes the truth. Have a clear focus for the day. What do you want to create and how you want to feel at the end of the day? Ask yourself what truths are your emotions and body telling you, right now?
  • Stay Present: Adjust your actions and thoughts according to the needs of the moment: Your body (not your judgmental, critical, worried mind) is your most trustworthy guide. Be like a horse- a prey animal. Without engaging your analytical mind, the vulnerable part of you becomes more responsive to what is happening in the moment. Connect and trust your physical/emotional responses to direct your next steps. The feeling of lightness and freedom says, “Go.” Constriction and heavy, hesitant feelings say, “Stop, wait, look, reconsider.” Trust yourself and adjust your actions accordingly.

As the herd depends on their lead mare, depend on your IGS for daily guidance. Aligning your responses and decisions with this internal system will reconnect you with your inner leader who will protect and move you forward.





My Therapist Eats Grass: A blog for anyone who has experienced the power of the horse-human connection.


What my horse whispered today: “Chop Wood, Carry Water and Carry On.”

Blog 4

My friend, Susan, who is one of my favorite horse people, gave me some awful news a few days ago. The results of her biopsies revealed she has an aggressive form of breast cancer that has metastasized.

I met her at the stable, cried, hugged her and gave her my love. Typical of Susan, she said she was sorry that her news made me upset. She’s sure everything will be okay.

Me: “But you said ‘it has metastasized’.”

She: “I know, but I’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.”

She was scheduled for a double mastectomy the following day.

She had to leave and take her husband to the airport. I turned back and walked toward the barn. Nautic greeted me with his typical nickering. I gave him a treat and began stroking his head. He leaned in, lowered his head and stood really still. I was a sad, tearful mess. The fear and sadness of possibly losing Debra to cancer jolted my soul. I asked myself three questions: How can I help my friend? What can I do right now? Is there a lesson I need to learn from this?

I believe that everything comes to us as a gift, intended to teach and enlighten us. Both the good and the difficult guide us toward our own North Star, helping us find Home. Our journeys are fraught with obstacles, surprises, challenges, defeats and victories with lessons coming in all shapes and sizes: rude people, an injured horse, unrealistic demands you’re trying to please, a sick child, a grim diagnosis, chemotherapy, annoying relatives, traffic, a 17.2 hand Warmblood refusing to take one step closer toward a plastic sack on the trail, a courageous friend. Everything is designed to shine a light on daily, ordinary moments, revealing the Truth we need to hear. By paying attention, letting feelings flow and trusting that there will be enough light to lead us out of the darkness; we eventually, become the authentic, loving creatures we were born to be.

There is a story about a man who went to his teacher and asked: What must I do to find enlightenment?

The teacher answered, “Chop wood and carry water.”

Several years later the man returned to his teacher and asked: “I haven’t achieved enlightenment, what must I do?”

The teacher answered; “Chop wood and carry water.”

The man went away and many years later returned to his teacher and said: “Master, I have achieved enlightenment. Now, what should I do?”

The teacher replied; “Chop wood and carry water.”

Her life has been turned upside down. My life remains pretty much the same. What changes is my commitment to stop wasting time and energy fearing the possibility of bad or scary news. Almost everything in my life will take on a new shade of grace, because Susan’s journey has gifted me with a new perspective.

The answers to the three questions I had when she told me about her cancer have become clear: Be still; patiently wait, watch and listen. As my friend embarks on her new adventure with breast cancer, I will stand by her offering my love and support as she faces days of feeling awful, more surgeries, chemotherapy and doctor visits. Selfishly, I’m hoping that being in the presence of raw courage will shed some light and teach me more about confronting my fears.

Fearful, troubling situations are part of life. In fact, if your life stops encountering scary, fretful or anxious moments, you’re probably dead. For me, the essence of living my best life means accepting the daily challenges that are right in front of me; the big scary fears, the everyday annoyances, and allowing all of them to teach me the lessons I need to learn. Great or small, it means being still, facing whatever is terrifying me and promising myself that I won’t run away. Most likely, I will need to reach out for a hand to hold, or grab some mane and hold on tight. I’ll let fear be my teacher and let my courage grow. I’ll live life a bit more enlightened and brave as I continue to chop wood and carry water.

P.S. One of the ways I can support Susan is to offer Equine Days for breast cancer patients, survivors and their families. Like my friend, we want others to experience the powerful healing and strength that comes with being in the presence of horses. I’m already finding funding sources willing to help me provide this gift to honor my friend. Knowing Susan, she’ll probably insist that I use her horses and her arena; her way of chopping wood and carrying water