Staring at the blank glass canvas in our waiting room, a now quiet scene with the sound of birds outside the window and the smell of cleaning supplies from the multiple cleans between clients, I pondered what I was thinking setting up the 55 gallon community fish tank. Yeah, it will be fun and pretty for clients to look at, but something else was pulling me in. No, not the underwater plants, the aquascaping of rocks, sand, and dirt, not really even having some lovely fish in our farmhouse. Suddenly I realized what was calling to me in this strange time, it was the creation of a system, not just a community but a creation of a peaceful sustainable system that is in balance with one another and all in a 55 gallon bubble in our therapy and acupuncture office’s waiting room.
For those that know my work, you know that I do mostly individual sessions and mostly with horses somewhere involved. But I have always been fascinated by groups and fell in love with the theory and practice of group psychotherapy. The saying goes that “we need to heal our relationship wounds in relationship”, and I truly believe we need to heal our wounds with people, well, with other people!
We have all known the pain of being pushed out from a group, be it middle school, or a group of friends, co-workers, a farm, even your family, someplace where you were hoping to be seen and accepted and for one reason or another, you weren’t. What most people don’t realize is that we are wired to want to be part of a group, no matter what. Deep in our brains, we know that being on the outside of a group can mean death. We don’t get food, warmth, connection, protection, all the essentials for survival. To survive, we will do anything to be accepted, including betraying ourselves and others, believing strange things that don’t make sense, and listening to any and all things a group leaders says so that we will not be pushed out. The problem with this, is that we can accidentally and unconsciously set ourselves up for Trauma. I use a capital “T” because it is that type of Trauma, the big kind. The kind of trauma where we end up down a rabbit hole and we lose sense of ourselves completely. We then must go on an “auto-pilot” to remain with the flow of the group, no matter how absurd, wrong feeling, and possibly abusive the power dynamic is. When we leave the group, or find another group, only then do we realize what a hole we were in and how far we may have strayed from ourself to fit in. We do this because we are human, and there is no shame in that.
I have always wanted to create groups as a healing modality for people. Whether it be a grief group, empowerment group, mental process group, couples group, or healing from groups group, and now that we are faced with uncertain times, I have paused all my group efforts in my practice. Which now brings me back to the 55 gallon hunk of glass I am staring at in our empty waiting room… this is where that energy is going, to an underwater world of fish, plants, earth, and water. Feels metaphoric, to say the least, as I think I now realize what was bothering my group work - Many group members were struggling to see our inner connected dynamics. Group therapy is about seeing how we impact one another, how my anger inspires you to feel to feel yours, unless my anger is targeted at you, then your instinct is to fight it and protect yourself. See, our dynamics are so subtle and yet so profound. There is such a fine line between hurting and healing, sometimes community and relationships don’t feel remotely worth trying. So many folks I work with, when they are asked to be vulnerable, they actually become neurotic. I define neurotic here as unwilling to come to terms with their truth, or the truth of the situation. When we think being neurotic is being “ourselves,” thats what gets us into trouble. And if no one challenges our neurotic self, how would we know what happens when we work past that barrier we have made?
We don’t value being in a group, hearing one another’s wisdom, their edges to try to connect, to sit with one another in the discomfort of healing. Communities take time and the creation of rules that allow members to be themselves at their core and to also hold space for others in their vulnerability and process. We value productivity and comfort and fun, which doesn’t really create a system that works. Everyone is breathing out and no one is breathing in.
My truest hope for this time is that we learn to sit back and reflect on our communities. Do we live in a sustainable one? Are we on auto-pilot with the group that is taking us away from our hearts? What is our role and are we asking for more than we are giving? Do you know how to sit and breathe in?
One last comment, it is absolutely a privilege to ask people of power and influence questions and challenge them on where they are leading the group, and it is also our responsibility.
I woke up to the news this morning of the closure of the schools in Colorado and the threat of harm to the children. It has been 20 years since the Columbine shooting. At the time, the shooting was unthinkable, two school aged children coming in and murdering their school mates. Sadly, this wasn’t a one time tragedy. Not only has there been a number of school shooting since but continuous threats that haunt our children. I can tell you from working with kids, school life has taken on stress that we can’t even fathom. Not only are children bullied at school with harsh remarks, emotional abuse, and are saturated in a culture of children that self harm, self hate, and disconnect, our children are bullied 24 hours a day through social media. A child wakes up and finds that they have been the source of ridicule on social media and now must face school with laughter and finger pointing, at least until the next victim appears. And to make matters worse, children are now walking around school wondering if at any minute, one of the miserable and hurt children around them is going to decide to take their hurt and anger out in the form of a shooting. This culture and this reality is not okay.
We are a culture that struggles to talk about the difficult topics in our lives. My husband and I sat down with our 5 year this morning to discuss why preschool was canceled. We explained was that some people hurt on the inside of themselves and they are not sure what to do with that hurt, so they want others to hurt so they don’t feel alone. We told our daughter that if she finds children who hurt on the inside, to be kinder on the inside of herself, let her heart melt and speak lovingly to others as they might not even know how to speak lovingly to themselves. Our 5 year old asked a lot of questions, mostly around why children hurt and how come they don’t let an adult help them in their hurting. These are good questions… in a culture that is an expensive one to live and wages are often low, parents now have to work full time coming home tired and unable to find time and energy to speak honestly and openly with their children. Days, weeks, years go by and our children are not finding clarity in how to release tension from their lives, how to process the hurt and abuse they see, and change how they feel from the inside out. They go to school, go on social media, they learn that if they pretend to be happy that is the same as being happy. They live a life from the outside in, instead of the inside out, and because of this, they live in anxiety for not feeling like they can be, and express, themselves. Our children are the most depressed, anxious, self-harming teens we have EVER seen. They need our help.
And our schools are not enough. They are not learning these skills at school and school is not meant to teach them resilience, boundaries, self-awareness, and kindness. School is a place to learn THINGS not WAYS OF BEING. We learn how TO BE from others, how to do with a sense of confidence, clarity, calm, and connectivity. So may years ago, I wanted to be a therapist to help our communities out, to help parents learn to have tough discussions, and to help our people sort out how to be the best version for themselves. I realize now that this can’t be left to the therapists. Not everyone believes in having a therapist or are afraid of the connotation of what that might reflect for themselves or their family, and yet, we need to provide more for our kids. We need them to know that this culture of trauma, of hurt, of pretending, this is not okay and we can do better. We need to show our children how strong we can be, how to not engage in drama, and how to speak to people in a loving way that also reflects how to take responsibility. I know the children I work with learn these lessons from the horses, what the difference is between forcing a horse to do versus building relationship and trust and asking. Even our children can start to understand the difference between DOING something with the horse and the FEELING behind what we do. If it feels good to be with us, the horse will and they will do so safely and relaxed. These lessons are a privilege to learn in life, but to me they are a necessity if we are to see change and health in this next generation. Parents, take time to learn how to be in true relationship with your child and take the time to be with them. If you are not a parent, spend time with your niece or nephew, friend’s child, just spend time with our children. Engage, play, laugh, make space for conversation. This will change perspective and how our brain functions and is medicine for the mind. We can help one another and not ignore the tragedy right under our nose.
Lately I have been having some wonderful discussions about the difference between horse training and therapy. As of May 1st, I announced that I would no longer be offering either horse training or therapy but that Spirit Horse will now combine the best of both. The feedback has been mixed (to my semi-surprise.) I know some folks believe that they should be kept separate, that our problems have no place in the saddle, and what possible good could come from talking in the tack? Trust me, I am no stranger to these comments and for me, my life passion is about respectfully challenging the ways we do things, the way we treat our horses, the way we treat our friends, family, community, and ourselves. Over the years, I noticed that we work with horses a little bit as if we were a prison guard - the idea being that they need to do what we want… or else. This works up to a point, but then the horse asks us back, “or else what?” and we need to respond. Since we often establish a relationship based on control right off the bat with horses, the response is usually “or else I hurt you.” The problem with this is that it turns very ugly very quick and we now need to communicate through pain. Once we start that path, it is very difficult to get off of it (but not impossible!). Don’t get me wrong, horses need boundaries, just like us. Boundaries are what allow us to get to know each other more and on a deeper level. We need to know the rules of relationship, the do’s and don’ts, before we can become more subtle and establish how we will be in our time together, but boundaries don’t need to be angry or aggressive. Indeed, they just need to be clear.
In the documentary, Path of the Horse, a woman named Stormy May goes on a journey to find a better way of working with horses. She goes around the world meeting some of the best horse whisperers of our time. For those interested in this work, it is a must see. Nevzorov, one of the last whispers she meets in Russia, is able to combine relaxation and power in the horse with partnership and the effects are breathtaking. What he is able to do with horses is simply beautiful and in total harmony with the horse. Upon reading his book, The Horse Crucified and Risen, which is a very controversial read, he states that he thinks only a very limited few are able to do this work with horses at liberty and with the horses’ permission. After contemplating that statement from Nevzorov and, frankly, many other horse whispers who have said the very same thing, I respectfully disagree. AND, I do think that in order to work with horses where we create partnership, mutual respect, and one with no violence or aggression going either way, we have to check in with our beliefs and mindset because at the end of the day, horse whispering isn’t something we DO, its a state of mind. If our mind believes that the only way we can get what we want is through force, by making it happen for ourselves, by being bullied or bulling, by either hurting or being hurt, we will sadly never get to connect to the horse, and maybe we might not even get to connect fully to others. We need to be wiling to change our mindset, to change our beliefs, and ride and work without arrogance and pride being at the forefront of how we handle difficult situations. Not everyone is ready for this work, but those that are will be asked to change their mindset of who they are not what they do with horses.
I think this is why you meet horse people who are fantastic with horses, and yet, you don’t see their students have the same ability. Teachers are teaching what they do and yet, when we do something from a scared, tense, or confused mental place, it doesn’t really matter what we do because it most likely won’t work or it creates other problems that we now need to solve. We are not sure what to do next so we try doing what we were told to do bigger in hopes it will work, pull harder, kick more, bigger tools, bigger anger. Now we are fighting the horse, fighting ourselves, and the only way out that we know is to try to do something else, that may or may not work. If we work with the mindset of the human, how to clearly and calmly establish the rules, educate the horse on what we are hoping to accomplish and get them on board with our plan, the sky is the limit.
So do I think that horse training and therapy shouldn’t mix? I think it is a shame they don’t. I wish we were asked to question our way of relating to horses more, be challenged to find a more harmonious way with them, a more harmonious way with ourselves! If how we treat the horse is a metaphor for how we treat ourselves, then no wonder we struggle with anxiety and tension as a culture. We treat ourselves like we are never good enough, like we can’t be trusted to listen to our inner voice, to the part in all of us that can let go and realize that we actually don’t have as much control as we think. That our power lies in our ability to let go, in our ability to ask for what we want and create boundaries around how we don’t want to be treated. I will leave you with a quote from the grandfather of existential therapy that I think speaks beautifully to the work we can do with horses and the truth we can experience,
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Viktor E. Frankl
Yesterday I was sitting in a field, watching a horse run around a small grassy space, shaking layers of dust and tension off into the crisp fall air. I was sitting crossed legged on the ground in the dried grass, listening to the almost quiet. I found myself getting lost in a feeling. Everything slowed down, my breathing, my heart rate, the hawk sat quietly on the tree nearby, the golden horse started to shine, and everything felt in balance.
If any of us has truly spent time in nature, not just being a tourist in nature, but really spent time letting nature wash over you, a wisdom to it all starts to emerge. Very rarely does anything push or force, yet everything is in movement. Whenever there is an opening, a spot of sunlight, a break in the trees, an exposed rabbit, there is something to step into that opening. Everything dissolves into something, the plants, animals, water, earth.
We often as humans become to obsessed with the energy of doing, pushing, talking loudly and quickly, “faster is faster” energy, this need to force things to go our way. We are closing in on opportunity, what we want, on our opinions, on this addictive rush to stay busy and light. Its a great feeling, heavenly almost. The problem with this energy is that it isn’t sustainable. We will burn out and try as we might to drink caffeine, exercise more, start a new project in order to get that feeling back, we won’t. It’s like a tree trying to grow without any roots. It simply can’t be done.
There is a saying that I like a lot for those that are crashing down from this energy, “The bad news is that you are free falling from the sky, the good news is there is no ground to hit.”
I hear that most people fear that if they stop being busy, of forcing things their way, they will become sleepy and depressed. The beauty of that busy energy is a greater sense of self, of pride, vision in who we are. To me, the “grounded” side of that isn’t giving up on ourselves, but more realizing there is no ground to hit. If we stop forcing things, we actually make more openings. By making more openings, we don’t spend so much energy and therefore we have much more energy within ourselves to work with. We become like an untapped stream, plenty of vitality and movement, but now waiting for the right moment to come out.
What I love about horses is that they seem to be masters at taking that grounded energy and using it to move beautifully in this world. I heard once that horses were thought to be the perfect combination of heaven and earth in one being, and that many horse cultures felt that way. I can’t say I would disagree but sadly we often don’t give them space to teach us that. We struggle with sitting and listening to the wisdom around us, feeling the nourishment we can take in with every breath, feeling the openings around us, and using the least amount of energy that we need to - which is actually very little.
An exercise for horse folks and non-horse folks - try doing something with your horse, whether it is sitting on them or leading them, and try doing it with while using the least amount of energy going out. Imagine you are going to keep all the energy within yourself and use the least amount of muscles you can. Take a breath, and then use less muscle, less energy. Instead of seeing what happens, see what changes. For those that don’t have horses on your journey, you can do this in an interaction with another person, with a different type of animal, or maybe even while opening a jar in your kitchen. Find that energy within and instead of having it leak out, let that internal movement make an opening. Get curious. What shifts?
Today is a special day in a long standing journey, today is Spirit Horse’s first year anniversary...
Spirit Horse had been a dream and vision of mine for over 15 years. It all started with a little red horse named Rubi, who I leased a decade and a half ago. Rubi was a firecracker of a little mare with a long list of issues that would put her in the category with most equestrians of dangerous and unsuitable. Needless to say, she wasn’t responding well to the more “conventional” methods of horsemanship and so my first set of questions were born; why do we train horses the way we train? What is our goal when we work with horses? It is to give us pride? Give us worth? To connect? To have fun? Through working with trust and connection with Rubi, I started working on trust and connection in other places in my life. As I watched my peers bully and tease one another to gain self importance, I saw riders bully and tease their horse for the same reasons. I also started to see a different way, a quieter way that wasn’t so obvious. I saw people who were at peace with themselves, living for bettering humanity. They weren’t the ones bragging or being critical of others, they were the ones riding their horse at dusk in the shadows of the sun looking connected and in sync with their horses at every moment. They weren’t living for pride but for true harmony and you could see it in their eyes, in the way they handled interactions, how their horses responded to them, and in just about every gesture they made.
These questions, these observations, sent me on a spiritual and psychological quest to understand the answers. What is it that helps people be in harmony? What do some people understand that helps them live in health? What are these secrets that allow us to live physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in a better place?
Using these questions and starting with a curiosity of our horse and human relationship, I wanted to understand the role of healing through counseling psychology. I added eight years of college, mixing in spiritual principles from Aikido, Tai Chi, Buddhism, the mystics, theories of the perennial concept with the framework and discipline of psychology. I was kindly given a job at a horse farm training and teaching while I also was able to work with an array of horse trainers that were considered some of the best in their fields. It was almost like having three seemingly separate paths; the journey to human wisdom, the knowledge of psychotherapy, and the art of horse whispering, begin to merge and Spirit Horse was born.
I want to thank the countless mentors and teachers that helped me combine these roads to offer a different way of working with ourselves, our horses, and our world. I have been so blessed to have the wisdom holders of these different paths teach me their art and I am so honored to be able to pass it on. I want to thank those who have supported the starting and first year of Spirit Horse, those who have lent horses, offered rides, made space, and got involved. Most of all, I want to thank those who have come to learn, to process, to discover, and to heal. Every one of you have inspired me, whether our journey’s crossed for an hour or I am blessed to see you multiple times a week, I appreciate deeply having been a part of your process.
I truly hope that this path that brought me to start Spirit Horse, these questions, the knowledge, the wisdom, the heart opening quality of this work is contagious enough that it spreads quietly and changes lives for the better, and that it puts seeds in our minds that we can decide to grow when the time is right. Thank you all again for being part of the community!
What if I told you that most horsemanship and the way we work with horses are based on myths? Myths that are actually incorrect. Myths like we must dominate to be respected, that they are looking to hurt us, that they need to accept feeling force if they are ever going to work well, that we need to always defend ourselves from them, that the pain we inflict is for their own good and our own safety, and that we need to instill a sense of “do this or else…” or else we humans will hurt you, literally, we will pull, whack, smack, hit, strike. Even though we are 1/10th their size, we are the ones that are smarter, more clever, and we know what is best.
This way of thinking about horses isn’t new. We saw it in times of slavery, before women’s rights, even in today’s schools we see this behavior, this way of thinking. These theories stem from an innate part in all of us that thinks it is safer to be the abuser than the abused, hence bullies are born. Whether we learned physical bullying, or the more complex, emotional bullying, we start to think that in order to protect ourselves, we must assert our power of dominance.
It starts with “If you do this or don’t do this, then I will hurt you.” If you don’t give me the love I want, I will leave you. If you don’t take my advice, I will stonewall you. If you don’t let me yell at you, I will break things, call you names, take things you love away from you. If you don’t do what I say, please ME, then I will chase you out, scare you, blame you, judge you. This is dominance, the struggle to show we hold the power and we are willing to hurt others to make sure we get what we want. We are in control. And questioning our authority will never be tolerated.
This way of thinking, many do it either on a subtle or not so subtle level. We do it with our partners, our children, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers we have just met. The way we treat horses has become an acceptable way to express this side of our scared humanity, our shadow that we all carry within us, this desire to have control and not get hurt.
What I would like to say, is that this is wrong.
It isn’t wrong because we are evil, it is wrong because many of us don’t know any better, we never learned a different way, and when we start a relationship based in these rules of control and power, we can’t seem to find our way out very easily because we first must embrace the utter and complete hurt, shame, and betrayal that we have inflicted. So first, we must grieve and apologize, really to ourselves that we believed in these ways for so long and became loyal to them, even after we saw and felt the pain they caused.
So how do we stop this cycle of violence?
Think Rosa, Rosa Parks. Can you imagine how much strength it would take to not move? To hold your ground in what you believe? With others yelling their judgement in your ears, with threats, defining you as a person, telling you it would be easier to do what everyone else is doing.
The easier thing to do is abide, to not question, to follow the lead of others hoping they are taking us somewhere with our good interest in mind - like if Rosa had moved a few seats back instead of holding her seat right where she was. But the harder thing, the stronger thing to do, is to break the cycle. To stand up and ask questions, or sit down firmly in what you believe, knowing you have your best intentions at heart, and hopefully the best intentions for all the other underdogs who have had enough. We have had enough being bossed around, being told who we are and who we are not, being told that we must engage in myths of control, and we will not play into these beliefs any more - not with our friends, our families, our partners, our horses, nor with even ourselves.
This truly is a journey. Some folks will believe their whole lives that force and control are the only ways to achieve anything - whether it be with themselves or others or the horse - and they will take that belief to the grave. Some folks will see this cycle for what it is, a way based in fear and hurt, and they will easily choose the opposite, and some of us will play with these ideas for years, partially controlling, partially empowering, before we have faith that we are strong enough to live from a place of love and trust over living from a place of fear.
**For anyone struggling with being bullied or find yourself being controlled by another, I encourage you to reach out and look for support. Often with support, we can stand up for ourselves and help our families, our work place, our relationships with others or we realize we need to walk away, sometimes emotionally or physically, because the other is choosing to live in that cycle and we can’t tolerate anymore. Either way isn’t easy but it is a step towards harmony, which will be rewarding in the long run and I would be honored to help you navigate that path. -Kaia**
I was running an all day intensive on giving back to our horses with a group of teenage girls. The underlying theme for the day, is that we can’t give what we don’t have in ourselves. If we want to give kindness to our horse, we need to give kindness to ourselves first. Same goes with patience, contact, connection, affection, nurturance. Of course, the same goes for others in our lives, not just our horse. We need to be able to find this harmony in ourselves before we give it outwardly and for that reason, sometimes we make big changes in our internal self and it can take months if not years for others to notice that we have indeed changed.
Back to the group of teenage girls. During the morning, I had the story of the two wolves come to mind as I was listening to the ladies set their intention for the day. The story can be found at http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html and is as follows.
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice... "Let me tell you a story."
"I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It's like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. "
"It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way."
"But...the other wolf... ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing."
"Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather ?"
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."
The theme of the two wolves within us kept coming back up all day. What I realized was that in a day on nourishing our selves, our lives, our community, we had to talk about these two wolves. If we decide to nourish the wolf that is spiteful, that wolf will thrive in us. If we decide to nourish the wolf that is in harmony, that wolf will thrive in us. We can’t talk about nourishment without talking about what to nourish and what “feeds” these wolves. What we decided was that emotion is what these wolves eat. We have the feeling of frustration and it is up to us which wolf we want to feed that energy to. We can sit back and say, “I am so frustrated that this isn’t working out for me! I hate myself. I hate what my life has become. I wish everything was easier and I am so mad at everyone that stands in my way!” or we can sit back with that frustration and say, “I am so frustrated and I really want things to work out. I am passionate about my dreams. I have a vision for myself. I am struggling, and I need support from my community to help me figure out what to do.”
Thinking more about these two wolves at war in us, I realized that one reason folks feed the spiteful wolf, is that one screams out to be fed. It is often the louder of the two wolves, the one that needs to growl, protect, fight, hurt or be hurt. The harmonious one is actually very quiet in us, and only screams out when in need for justice or out of love.
Next time you are sitting with emotion, whether it be anger, sadness, frustration, nervousness, or hurt, notice which wolf you are wanting to feed and if you really want that wolf to thrive inside of yourself. Don’t hate yourself for feeding the spiteful wolf, for that feeds it even more. Instead, work on forgiving yourself, forgive others, give back and be honest with yourself. The more you hide your spiteful wolf, the more it screams to be heard. Acknowledge that voice within yourself, see it clearly, listen to its words, and then stand up to it and make that decision that you will not be feeding that wolf any longer. That is power. That is loving strength.
Jumping horses takes a fair amount of skill. Some beginner riders can walk, trot, canter, and gallop roughly on a horse the first time they ride depending on their balance and fitness. Very few can jump until they have learned how to properly ride a horse, and even then, the adrenaline rush you get soaring over fences is huge. There is a fairly small population of people that can jump and they don’t get a rush, their heart rate stays the same, and they end their ride as if they just took a stroll in the park, calm and collected. I admire those folks and tip my hat to them with gratitude that they exist, and then there is the rest of us… heart pounding, muscles tense, just trying to stay breathing is hard enough let alone focusing on distance and technique. For most riders, technique goes flying out the window when we jump horses and we are just trying to stay on and get from jump to jump in an organized and precise fashion. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to that, when they are being honest, have huge anxiety when they jump, they are just trying to keep in together and convince themselves they are having fun. I hear, “I try not to think about it” or “I just kind of go numb and surrender to the fact that I might die today.”
Jumping horses can most definitely trigger anxiety or panic and I see anxiety attacks on a weekly basis. Riders come up to me, breathing heavy, body shaking, tight upper chest breaths as their arm muscles are still tight from the ride. No wonder horses get tense over jumps! If we are asking horses to connect and pick up on what we are asking them to do, then we are asking them to hold their breath, bottle their tension, and be tight. I can see why they buck or take off regularly let alone be anxious themselves!
But when all is said or done, it is just you, the horse, and the jump. Nothing more.
We can try to tell our adrenaline or anxiety to be quiet, but the reality is if you think you are going to die, and you tell your body that, your body is going to go into fight, flight, or freeze, which none of these states are good for riding in. At the same time, you are not going to improve your anxiety of riding or what challenges you by avoiding it. The work with any obstacle is to focus, feel the anxiety, and not let it get the best of you. The anxiety might start when you see a horse, when you mount the horse, when you canter, or go over a pole, or jump a 3’6” box oxer. Wherever your anxiety starts, start there. Notice it. Breathe into it. Feel how safe or unsafe you feel and don’t lie to your body with what you are able to do. Find that boundary where it feels difficult but safe and hang out there for a while.
Most people have the technique, we can keep a leg on each side of the horse, we can stick with their balance, do a two-point. What we lack is the calmness to see what is truly in front of us - Not a lion, not a death trap, or a never ending cliff, but a jump.
This is true for all issues of anxiety, we convince our bodies that we are going to die when we don’t really see the reality in front of us. This is just a challenge that we can indeed walk away from if we choose. Most of us think we have to do what makes us feel unsafe and dangerous, but we don’t. From most things, we can walk away, but if we do decide to face our “inner lion” of everything that we fear, we need to do it knowing we can, nourishing our bodies to give us bravery, breathe deeply, knowing we can say “no” if we need to. The challenges are opportunities to be more still, more centered in the moments of chaos. When we see that our challenges, our jumps, they just lie in the path we are walking, we don’t need to walk differently, just take it in stride, literally.
I seem to be talking about glasses a lot these days to people. No, not the type we wear when our eyes start to get blurry but the metaphorical kind. The glasses you wear when you just became obsessed with rock climbing and now you see the world through your rock climbing glasses; “Could I climb that wall outside of the super market?!” When we spend time and energy thinking about something, we start to see the world through that lens. If we put attention into our breath, we start to notice when we hold our breath, what that does to our mind, what that does to our body. Becoming aware of ourselves and our lenses in therapy is called “tracking” where you follow your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as you go about your day. What is also interesting is that you start to notice other people through your glasses, like your friends who hold their breath, maybe you even notice when people are starting to get anxious before they even know it!
For every unique person in the world, there is a unique set of glasses. Many of us see the world through the religion we grew up in, the messages our family and mentors told us, the lessons we learned at vulnerable times… and some of us have glasses that make everything an adventure and heartfelt and others have glasses that make us feel hopeless and lost, many of us have both.
My curiosity started around this about a year ago while I was sitting at a horse clinic and I heard some people say, “Wow! Look at this beautiful pair!” Of course I was curious and had to come take a look. In the ring was this gorgeous mare prancing around the arena while the rider was holding on for dear life. As I sat there behind a small crowd of people, listening to them talk about how spectacular this pair was and how in awe they were of the rider, I couldn’t help but blink a few times because I couldn’t see what they were seeing. Through my glasses, I saw a rider with a death grip on the horse’s mouth with a very severe bit where the horse’s head was tucked into her chest. The rider was accidentally spurring the horse every step, making the horse jump out of her skin, which made the rider pull harder on the bit. The horse’s muscles were tight from bracing and her back was sunk, I’m assuming from the rider’s very defensive and nervous seat. What I kept looking at was the horse’s wide eyed fright and the rider’s similar look in her eyes. Neither looked like they were having fun or were relaxed in any point in their body, and yet there was a crowd discussing and commenting on how beautiful the pair was. I went home and wondered what had happened that day. I started to step into the shoes of the audience, they saw a horse of great breeding and movement and a rider that could stay on. That was beautiful to them. What makes me sad is that often the good riders that are totally relaxed and help a horse be totally relaxed go unnoticed. I hear, “Oh that is just a good horse” or “what a simple ride that horse is.”
We don’t give credit to the riders with invisible aids that calm the horses’ down, and help the horse’s find their better potential. We praise the ones that look like they are going through hell and manage to live another day! No wonder kids (and adults) bully and create drama to get attention. We don’t see the ones that are calmly doing their lives and quietly finding their highest potential! We like to look at the accidents on the side of the road, on youTube, in our lives, and we skip looking at the beautiful, clear, soft moments that happen around us.
A horse trainer recently told me that she took a year away from showing horses to work more deeply with her horses on a non-sport horse level. When she returned to showing, she couldn’t believe how much more violent and aggressive the riders had become! Then she realized, the riders had always been this way, now she just saw it more clearly because her glasses had changed.
To me, no matter what glasses you wear, there is going to be both ugly and beauty in how you look at it, and it will look very different from person to person. I think it is more about making a conscious decision to wear the glasses we want to wear and change the lenses when we see fit. Ideally the glasses we wear on the outside, match us on the inside. If we want to see kindness and softness in the world, we become that on the inside as well as look for it on the outside. And if others don’t see your point of view, that is ok. If they want to borrow your glasses to look through at some point, they will. Honor what you see in life and don’t be afraid to try other people’s glasses on as you might see something kinda cool that you have never seen before, and it might change your life.
Kaia Livingstone is a psychotherapist who runs a private practice outside of Boulder, CO. She specializes in helping horses and humans bond in order to help them relate and connect on a deeper level as well as heal and grow.