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What my horse whispered: If you are troubled, stand by me.

I’ve been having some trouble in one of my closest relationships. I am asking that we work through a problem that stares us in the face daily and is becoming too painful to ignore. I find no consolation in knowing that confronting and resolving this issue will make our relationship deeper, stronger and more intimate. Instead, my emotions flip between wanting to curl up and cry or lashing out in anger. I feel stuck, not sure of my next step. Where do I go from here?

From the time I was ten years old, I’ve known that I could always find emotional peace and safety with my horses. So, today, I drove my troubled self out to be with my horse, Nautic. I brushed him and took him out to graze on the new grass that had sprouted up after our first big rainfall. As I watched and listened to him eating, I experienced the familiar, warm, wonderful magic of being in a horse’s presence: my mind quieted, my heart calmed and I felt peaceful.

Is being in my horse’s presence really magical? A study by the Institute of HeartMath confirmed that bidirectional “healing” occurs when we are near horses. By measuring electromagnetic fields, researchers found that the heart has a larger energy field than the brain. A horse’s heart is five times bigger and stronger than a human’s and directly influences human heart rhythms. Researchers also found that the physiological benefits that occur when interacting with horses included: lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of neurotransmitters (pain suppressors) and reduced feelings of anger, hostility and anxiety.

Psychologists have identified a similar phenomenon in human-to-human interactions influencing heart rhythm called, entrainment. It’s defined as; the process that activates or provides a timing cue for a biological rhythm. I’ve witnessed entrainment by watching a mother calm her crying infant by gently holding its head against her breast so the baby can hear her heartbeat. The peace and stability of one being seems to override and quiet the fear and distress of another. Although researchers may not say it this way; a calm peaceful presence is stronger and able to neutralize fear and distress.

As Nautic is standing in the sun munching on sweet, green grass, my heart and my breathing respond to his rhythm. I experience gentle physical and emotional healing by simply being near my horse. In this peaceful space I reconnect my body-mind-soul and find clarity. I know what the next steps I need to take as I peacefully face the challenges I have today. My horse’s heart and peaceful presence are bigger and more powerful then my troubled self. As I stand in his wordless, calm presence, I receive amazing grace.

I think about loved ones and my clients and want to be more like my horse when I am around them: having a big, strong peaceful presence and giving them space and time they need to find answers as they regain their balance and emotional footing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi

 

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

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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

What My Horse Whispered to Me: “Stop ‘Shoulding’ all over Yourself”

Most of my life I’ve lived with free floating-guilt: feeling guilty when I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s triggered whenever I am living in an unpredictable or new situation or when huge changes have occurred and I am struggling with my new normal.

Over the last ten months, my life has been turned upside down. Some changes were made by choice and others happened quite unexpectedly. Living in my new normal means temporarily sidelining my business and much of my social life. When I compare my current situation to my life a year ago, I feel worried and guilty because I don’t have a clear picture of how my life is supposed to look and feel. Frequently, I second-guess the choices I’ve made and question whether I should have done something different?

One of the most difficult challenges has been reducing the time I spend with my horse. Because it is a 2 hour and 15 minute drive, one way, to the ranch I’ve decreased my visits from five to six times a month down to twice a month. I have looked for stables closer to St Helena, but nothing offers the same care my horse receives at Debra’s ranch. So, twice a month I drive out to Lincoln to reconnect with my horse. It’s not ideal, but it is the best I can do for now.

Whenever I go to the ranch, I find Nautic peacefully grazing in his beautiful, lush pasture. When I call him, he gallops to me. We’re happy to reconnect. We hang out for an hour or two, and then it’s time for me to get back on the road before the traffic gets unbearable. I give him a treat and put him away. Often, he’ll whinny as I drive off and then runs away with his pasture mate to enjoy the summer evening. He is a very happy horse. But, I don’t appreciate that my horse is in an ideal environment. Instead, I leave, feeling a little sad and guilty, wondering whether I should have given him more time?

The source of my guilt is anchored in my attachment of achieving the unattainable, perfect ideal; how my life should be. Failing to meet that ideal means I’m screwing up. Things should go this way. It should look like that. I find myself living as though I’m in some grand Dressage competition, striving for the perfect, illusive score of “10” as I move through each transition. My self-imposed guilt trip makes me miserable. Focusing on what should happen keeps me from learning the lesson of this moment and receiving blessing.

If you have free-floating guilt like me, you suffer through frequent attacks of “The Shoulds”: It should be done this way; Life should feel like that; I should know that by now; I should have seen that coming. In counseling we call this kind of thinking, shoulding all over yourself. It’s a very toxic, unproductive use of your energy, driven by fear, is not reality based and rarely, if ever, brings about positive results.

Horses don’t have the same, large cerebral cortex that humans do and, as a result, they don’t overthink anything. They’re intuitive, able to remember, respond and react, but they don’t over-analyze, draw conclusions, criticize or have any notion of a perfect ideal. If I were more like a horse, I’d stay in the moment; accept reality, stop beating myself up because I’m not living according to an imagined, impossible ideal and the guilty chatter in my head would stop. I long to be more like my horse.

I developed a four-step process that helps me practice quieting my guilty thinking as I make my long drive home.

 

Step One: I clarify the thoughts and guilty beliefs. Where is the should coming from? Have I committed a real offense or am I blaming and second-guessing myself? Has my free-floating guilt habit kicked in again?

 

Step Two: I challenge my guilty thoughts and feelings by asking: ”Is this true or false guilt?” If its true guilt, I can easily identify what I’ve done or said that was hurtful. I need to clean up my mess, apologize, make amends and learn the lesson. If I haven’t done any harm, I’m in false guilt. I’ve shifted into my not-achieving-perfection mode. Go to step three.

 

Step Three: I ask myself: Can anyone help me find a better solution? Am I resisting the obvious answer? Have I failed to tell myself the truth? If I answer “yes” to any of these questions, I seek out help (counseling, prayer, meditation, a really good friend) so I can find what thought or belief is driving of my false guilt.

 

Step Four: The antidote for false guilt: Let go of perfection. Accept and embrace what is happening right now and stop judging, criticizing or over analyzing the situation. Remember, you and everybody else are living in the middle of your life’s movie. You have no idea how it’s going to end. Life is perfect as it is. If we are willing, we learn from it, let it take us to our edges, stretch us and make us more resilient.

As I work through my false guilt, one by one, I experience a deep peaceful connection to my true self. I am in emotional balance. My mind is quiet. It ‘s the same feeling I get when I’m standing quietly with Nautic, stroking his neck, his nose on my shoulder, feeling his breath on my face, knowing that, in this perfect moment, all is well.