In the early days of my career with horses, I would look forward every year to the 2nd week in April when I could attend the Horse Expo in Albany, Oregon.
Leaders and game changers in the field of horsemanship and riding brought their talent and knowledge to the arenas of the expansive fairground. In one place you could see dazzling demonstrations of brilliant dressage riding followed by the unique movement of the “tolt” in the Icelandic breed or the magnificent power and majesty of the Friesians.
John Lyons, renowned trainer, author, and master horseman appeared annually offering his down to earth, sensible advice for understanding your “perfect horse.” One year he began his demonstration by sharing words of wisdom that have stuck with me to this day. He told the audience, “If you are here next year and I’m still doing the same thing, then you have my permission to move on and find someone with fresh ideas to help you have a safe and healthy relationship with your horse.”
Lyons was saying, if you are not changing and learning, then you are not growing. And if you aren’t growing, then you risk being fixed in your thinking, certain you have all the information you need. If you are looking for a better way, though, then you’re probably struggling, challenged by new experiences, occasionally failing but still looking for answers. That puts you in the middle of the “arena” with your students or clients able to remain resilient and share in the discovery of novel approaches with horses and in life.
Having a growth mindset means never losing the desire to want to know more and questioning what you already know; being willing to get it right instead of being right. It’s being able to see opportunity and learning instead of frustration and anger in the midst of struggle.
I tell myself I know a lot about what it means to be present and in the moment, to pay attention on purpose. Each day with horses I am reminded that the moment you “check-out” when you’re with them is the exact moment they’ll decide to take matters into their own hands-from diving their head for a mouthful of grass to jumping over a barrier into your audience in the middle of a demonstration.
Over the years, I’ve shared this knowledge with horse owners, riding students and my Life Lessons with Horses clients. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on being present with horses.
Stuck in an Old Habit
But the minute I find myself challenged by something novel in my life outside of horses, I fall right back into the old habit of saying “it’s too hard, I can’t do it”. It happened as I was writing this blog!
I immediately looked for something to distract me (I love the term for our phones by author Jud Brewer, “weapons of mass distraction”), got pissed at the slow internet connection and yelled at the dogs- anything to avoid the discomfort.
Try being more mindful, I say. YEAH RIGHT!!
Growing Into a New Habit
Because I’m a life coach I read a lot of books and articles about being mindful, including Brewer’s new book, “Unwinding Anxiety” about the habit loops in our brain that keep us repeating the same behaviors even when they don’t work. So, I try to reframe and practice a new habit I’ve just read about.
I slow down, and speak kindly, lovingly to myself: “Cathy, you know what’s happening. This is the same thing you do every time you get stuck and feel incompetent, afraid to look stupid. Your shoulders are tight, your gut is churning. DO YOU LIKE HOW THIS FEELS?
That’s a stupid question, right? Of course, I don’t like it, but it’s a habit!
“So”, I continue to myself “take a breath and remind yourself it’s okay to just let go of the need to be perfect, to get it right the first time. So what if you make mistakes? Who doesn’t? Your writing has improved because you are willing to take chances. You can’t learn if you’re not making mistakes. Keep writing and it will come to you or take a break and come back. You can do it!”
Spring Brings Growth and Renewal
There it was-I was stuck and so sure that I should know how to do this already! Beating myself up for not knowing what to say was keeping me from being open and curious, willing to risk failure. I know it sounds too easy but every time I stay in the moment with my horse or a challenge in front of me, the answer presents itself. Even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
The answer comes though, only if I’m paying attention to what my body is telling me and am able to explore what it means. Dismissing the message and letting my inner critic take over is when I shut down the creativity, curiosity, and kindness it takes to change a tired worn-out old habit. I kept going and with a lot of editing (after all, I was allowed to make mistakes), I finished this blog.
It’s spring and the time of year we most associate with growth and renewal. I’m betting that if I keep practicing the new habit for responding to frustration and the inevitable challenge of new experiences, I’ll be looking and feeling a lot brighter and cheery like the gorgeous flowers blooming on my back deck.
What happens when you find yourself set off by frustration or hurt? Are you tired of your response? I’ll show you how to practice a simple activity with or without the horses that will change how you respond and get you feeling lighter, more open and curious, full of kindness for yourself and others. Contact me or sign up for a class at www.lifelessonswithhorses.com