Tag Archives: horses

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.

Why Horses

bugsy and Tom

Be very careful about what you ask for in life. Spending a weekend with a horse whisperer and a herd of horses, became an adventure that irreversibly changed the focus and direction of my life.
Up until that weekend, my life was predictable. I did what I thought was expected of me. Being a responsible adult meant putting away childish things and disconnecting from essentially anything that made me feel alive. By silencing my authentic, essential self, I exchanged playfulness for a perpetual emotional state of confusion and apathy. Nothing really made me happy. It felt like there was a piece of my soul missing. I traded what I loved for the approval of my parents and the ominous “everybody”.
Over the next 30 years I had a few enlightened moments. I spent hours reading dozens of self-help books. In one of Martha Beck’s books she wrote about her encounters with a horse whisperer and the freedom she found doing that work. I thought, “That would be so cool if I could do that!” Several weeks later I discovered an opportunity to spend a weekend session at the ranch where Martha and the horse whisperer. My husband thought it would be a great Christmas present. A month later, I left for Arizona, ready for an adventure and not expecting a total transformation.
On the first day of the workshop, I felt some old negative feelings surface; grumpy, resistant, defensive and curious. The second day, while I was standing in the middle of a huge arena, coaxing a small, stubborn buckskin mare into the corral, I felt an enormous emotional shift; like a gigantic genie had jumped out of the bottle. My dormant essential self had come up for air, saying loud and clear, “Hey, I’m out, I’m not going away and I want to play!”
I felt a deep, peaceful calmness, free, released and clear. In that moment, nothing existed except me and the horse. I knew what to do in that moment with the challenge the horse was presenting. I focused on my breath and watched the mare’s nostrils moving in and out. We were breathing in sync. Taking one more gentle breath, I moved into a sacred, wordless mind space, relaxing and trusting myself. My heart and breath and the horse were connected. I gently motioned toward the corral with my hand, made a kissing sound with my lips, and the mare and I willingly moved in the desired direction. The mare went into the corral and I, relaxed deeply into my intuitive self.
The entire process from shifting to alignment took less than 90 seconds. The original assignment, to get three horses into the corral, seemed like an impossible task. Experiencing Oneness with the horse made it an effortless, joyful event. The best part was that I had reconnected to the True Self I thought I had lost decades ago.
I have not been the same since. Almost every day, I stop and let myself drop into the same connected oneness of my mind, body and emotions that I experienced on that hot afternoon in Arizona. When my heart and mind align and connect, I am free.  I know what to do next. Life in that moment makes sense.
Today, I give others the opportunity to connect to their powerful wise selves by working with horses. Over the last three years, I have witnessed horses helping humans ease into their vulnerability. Successfully communicating wordlessly to a 1000 pound horse, requires that you connect, first, to your primal self and then to the horse.  In that connecting moment, nothing else exists. The mind-heart connection to each other leads to a state of oneness that guides and helps you know what to do next. I promise, you never lose the physical and emotional impact of that moment, ever!  That connection in that moment, sets you free to be your powerful, wonderful self.
Horses are healing beings. In his book, Radical Knowing, Christian de Quincey discusses the three brains in humans; the gut, the heart and the brain. As prey animals, horses have a similar system. They respond first from their gut, then their heart and finally their small brains. When we listen to all three of our brains (starting with our gut), we accurately address what needs to be done with each challenging moment. We have Oneness with our essential, true nature. There is no second guessing, over thinking or comparison to others. We are leading with our primal wisdom, our true nature. Participating in equine facilitated learning is one of the best ways to make the mind-body-intuition connection. Horses lead the way to our transformation.

Try this: Equine Facilitated Self-Coaching Exercise #1

For those of you who claim you always feel better after spending time with a horse.

Beginning Oneness:

Go into a pasture, or corral or round pen where it’s quiet: just you and a horse.

Sit down or stand still, focus on the exhale of your breath.

Do not look at, invite or approach the horse in any way.

(Read a book, drink some water, have a picnic. Your lack of any demand on the horse is your invitation to connect.)

If/When the horse approaches you, maintain an arm’s length of space between you and the horse.

Watch the horse’s nostrils and sync your breathing with the horse’s