Horsing Around!

adorable affection animal beautiful

Photo by Tatiana on Pexels.com

Welcome to another episode of my life 😊 Two weeks ago was a rough week at work, with our busy season starting and me being exposed to new skills at work. Going into it I was prepared with three things to look forward to: my weightlifting shoes arriving Tuesday, an event with one of my favorite animals on Thursday, and visiting a friend on the weekend. Well Tuesday came, and it turned out the sizing for my shoes on Amazon was wrong: I ordered a 5.5M, but what came in the mail was a 5.5W, which I definitely couldn’t wear. I was SUPER upset/let down Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. I somehow got through Wednesday, but wasn’t really all that excited for Thursday because a) SO much work is required to plan ahead for being out at work, and b) I really didn’t know much about the event I’d be missing work for, aside from the fact that it was an equine-guided leadership event. I love horses, but just didn’t really know what there was to be excited about.

Well, Thursday morning came and I showed up; it was myself, two other ladies attending, and our host, a lady named Amanda Kent. We were in an enclosed arena where dog shows, horse-riding lessons, and the like were held. There were four horses in the enclosed area, and our first exercise was just to observe them, noting their individual personalities, where their attention was focused, and how they functioned as a group. I came into this event as a completely blank slate: I knew next to nothing about horses and their behaviors. After observing for a while, we discussed our findings as a group. There was an older male, a younger male, an older female and a younger female. The younger male, younger female, and older female all stayed together in close proximity, while the older male stood off in the distance, watching. The younger male made sure everyone was okay and that the three of them stayed together. The older female was the final decision-maker, however. She made sure everyone knew their place and stayed in line, especially the younger male. The younger female just stayed in the middle of the three and watched the older female. We initially assumed the older male that stayed outside the group and watched from a distance was a bit of an outsider, especially since he was new to this herd. We were wrong by labeling him an outsider, however, because this was simply his role to play: that of a lookout. A lookout can’t do their job if they’re right in the mix with who they are looking after, and a herd with no lookout is at risk for outside threats. Similarly, every herd needs breeders (the younger female), managers/decision-makers (the older female), and protectors (the younger male). All roles within the herd are equally important, and if even one is not filled, the herd is immediately vulnerable and must make shifts to compensate.

Applying this same concept to humans lent itself to a good lesson, one that I had been learning along with accepting myself. Every individual has a role, no role is more or less important than any other, and if a role goes unfilled everyone suffers. Although i’m making progress, I struggle with not comparing myself to any and everyone I perceived as being better than me at pretty much anything, from lifting weights, to project management, to even having a better singing voice. It’s a sucky feeling, constantly feeling inadequate and small. While this is something I’m still working at, it feels SO freeing to know I don’t have to be like anyone (or everyone) else. I can have my own path and no matter what that ends up being, it won’t be any more or less important than anyone else’s; it will just be mine.

The rest of the exercises throughout the event mainly involved interacting with the horses (either through approaching or leading them around), while reflecting on goals, resolves, and issues with which we struggle. These exercises were really what made this whole event worth it and are why I was glad to have come as a blank slate in terms of horse knowledge. It was weird, yet completely fascinating to see the horses not just react, but also reflect our emotions and energies. For example, while leading a horse around in a big circle, Amanda led us in a self-reflection about why we attended the event. The goal was to get down to the nitty-gritty and identify whatever underlying issue(s) was causing distress. As we talked while leading the horses, she questioned us about how/why we came to certain conclusions, what we truly believed, and what we planned to do to improve the situation. It got intense; the two other ladies cried at different points. I made it through just about all of the exercises unscathed: whatever horse I was working with at the time was completely obedient and followed me without a problem…until we got to the final exercise.  

Our final task was to each create an “obstacle course” out of materials that were laying around the arena: logs, cones, crates, whatever we could find and carry. On our turn we’d explain the course we created, what the obstacles signified, and then walk our horse through all three of the courses, all while answering questions thrown out by our host. My obstacle course was a path outlined with cones that led to a mailbox at the end. In the middle of the path was one cone, and off to the side, but still on the path was another cone. I explained the outside cones were there to keep me focused on my ultimate goal (the mailbox): self-acceptance. The cone in the middle of the path was an obstacle: self-doubt. Lastly, the cone off to the side represented my habit of over-thinking. Oftentimes I’ll overthink and psych myself out, creating roadblocks where there really are none.

After describing my course, Amanda asked what some other potential stumbling blocks would be, to which one of my answers was “judgment.” I began explaining my ongoing struggle with judgment of myself and others and how this was rooted in my parents and how they raised us. I talked about how we as a family viewed other people as “outsiders”, fostering almost an “us against them” mentality when it came to those who were different than ourselves.

Suddenly my horse was acting weird…

He kept moving around and getting in front of me when I was explaining all this to Amanda and the other participants. He kept nibbling at my arm and occasionally jerking his head as I held onto the rope attached to him. I had no idea how to react to any of this so I just sort of let it happen as I tried to continue my story. Eventually Amanda chimed in and said I needed to establish boundaries: show the horse who was boss and also establish boundaries in my personal life. I thought I had gotten a lot better at talking about my parents: it no longer makes my blood boil to think or talk about my father. Over time I’ve learned to let go of the things he says/does that I disagree with, yet it seems there is still a good deal of anxiety there, and I still have a difficult time separating myself from them.

Going into this exercise I believed my issue was self esteem, but it seems I have the self esteem: the horses were very attracted to me, and while leading one around it never stopped or waivered in its path. Maybe my issue is needing to establish boundaries in order to better deal with my anxiety. I don’t know. I’m only partially convinced: I feel like there’s self esteem there, the problem is getting it to come out…

The one thing I am completely sure of is that grounding myself is definitely something that needs to be incorporated into my life, so I’ve started doing it here and there, along with meditating and being more aware of what my thoughts are saying to me. I have a long way to go, but am really thankful for this event and what it brought to my attention.

Thanks for reading!

~ Jessie

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