Have you ever met a person that appears happy all the time? You know the one that doesn’t react to traffic, screaming babies and illness with complaints and a negative attitude? These people have found their inner peace.
Peace is defined as “a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress.” Some people believe that inner peace is a state of consciousness or enlightenment that can be cultivated by various forms of training, such as prayer, meditation, and yoga. I have tried all of these but when I recently reflected on my path to inner peace, I realized it all started with my first horse.
When I got my first horse Stormy he was green, he had just come off the track and only knew how to go fast. He had one speed, no brakes and the only jumping he knew how to do was out of the pasture. He was a loooooong way from the quiet show hunter I wanted but he was all I could afford.
My normal state of being has always been “let’s get it done!” I usually have a fierce sense of purpose, a keen sense of direction and will happily roll up my sleeves and work until my goal is accomplished. I love to scratch things off my ever-present list of things to do. Until I learned about inner peace if an obstacle got in my way I used to attack it with the intensity of a storm. This attitude doesn’t work with horses however.
It took a while, but I had to learn a different way and it started with my first horse. Training a horse does require a sense of direction, one can certainly have a list of goals, and it does require work, but what it requires most is Patience.
Patience is a hard one for a go-getter.
Patience is defined as “the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way”. Anyone that has ever been with me when there is a traffic delay will testify that I am anything but patient. I have my work cut out for me.
Working with Stormy required me to be happy for the tiniest steps in the right direction. Like the day he learned to stand still in the cross ties. His first correct right lead canter departure. Each setback in his training had to be met with a calm demeanor or it would create an even greater problem.
Inner peace is a state of mind where you keep yourself strong but calm in the face of discord or stress. Training a horse taught me that the joy is in the journey. One tiny patient step at a time.
I try to meditate every day, even if I only have time for 10 deep breaths at a traffic light. When I do have the luxury of a real session I end it with three deep inhales where I fill my chest with air as I raise my arms skyward. With each inhale I recite, “Fill me with Enthusiasm. Fill me with Energy. Fill me with Empathy”. It helps me start my day with a conscious reminder of how I want to live.
I added empathy in this prayer because empathy is something I work on every day. It’s easy for me to make assumptions about others without really understanding their story and I want to change that about myself.
Working with Stormy opened my eyes to how easily I judge someone’s success or failure as different than mine. When we first started showing I just assumed the riders on the horses that won had the good fortune to have deep pockets. I imagined that they were lucky enough to buy a “made” horse.
Of course I also presumed that the crazy horses were all ridden by terrible riders with no respect for others. I remember thinking if they would just learn how to ride their horse would behave!
Empathy is defined as “making less distinct the differences between the self and the other”. After my first show I could definitely empathize with those “terrible riders”. Stormy bucked and shied right onto another horse. He refused to go in the ring in one class, and cantered backwards in another. I was so embarrassed.
After years of patient training and exposure to the chaos of the show ring we started winning. He was a star. The under-their-breath comments I heard from other riders as I passed hurt. I wanted to scream “Hey! Don’t you remember when…!” But instead, I gained a sense of empathy; understanding that there really isn’t much separating us all. Now, when faced with unjust comments from fellow horse people, I try to focus on our common love of horses and I take a deep breath.
My little OTTB (off the track thoroughbred) was just that, little. Standing only 15.2 he was small by hunter show ring standards. What he lacked in stature he made-up in brains and stubbornness. If he didn’t like something he was very eager to let me know.
Milestones in his training, like getting him to load onto the trailer or having his ears clipped, were met with the willfulness of a two year old child. I was so frustrated and remember saying to him “You are only making it worse”. I was determined to win him over, to get him to accept his fate and trust me enough to willingly do what I asked. Over time he did.
Acceptance is defined as, “recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit. “ My horse’s inflexibility gave way to a quiet voluntary submission based on our mutual dependence on one another. Seeing this gave me insight to my own inability to accept my limitations, my current state of affairs. How I was only making it worse for myself when I did not accept my situation calmly, peacefully.
I learned to accept that there would always be situations better than my current one. At times this was difficult to do. It’s hard to accept things peacefully when, as a single mother, you are raising your children alone. I think it helps to start to recognize that although there will always be better situations, life could always be worse. To think, “at least I am healthy”, or “at least my kids are happy”. I had to learn to trust in God and my journey, so I could enjoy my present circumstances even if they “could be better”.
Anyone that has worked with an intelligent but green horse knows that they are afraid of what they don’t understand. It truly amazes me how silly they can be. It also never ceases to amaze me how brave they are to do what we ask them despite their fear.
Animals react to fear in two ways; fight or flight. A horse is a flight animal and runs when faced with danger. Courage is defined as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery. “ According to this definition inner peace is the “state of mind” required to be courageous.
At first Stormy reacted like a typical horse. Ask him to go over a bridge, he’d turn and bolt. Loud noise? Same reaction. The first time I asked him to jump you would of sworn there was an alligator under the cross rail.
In the past my reaction when I am afraid was similar. Worse is what my imagination did to my fear. I remember having to give a speech about nutrition to a crowd that included some very well-respected trainers and veterinarians. My fear helped me imagine the worse; I would get my slides mixed up, forget what I was saying and look like a fool.
Eventually, Stormy learned each new thing was just that, a new thing. He began to love our trail rides, he became a fearless jumper and with each passing lesson he became more self-confident and brave. Most of the time all it took was a kind word of encouragement from me.
I too learned to summon my courage and faced that crowded room for my speech. I thought of how much the anxiety about this was interfering with my ability to think. I decided that if I gave into my fear of failure it would guarantee that I would. I was still nervous as I gave my presentation. After I was done one of the most respected veterinarians in the state of Virginia came up to me and said, “That was the best equine nutrition talk I have ever heard”.
I try to remember Stormy’s courage and that compliment every time I am faced with a new challenge in life. I find comfort in conquering my fears. I find peace with courage.
Eventually Stormy became accustomed to everything. He was what we call in the horse world “bombproof”. This took years of training, hundreds of shows and trail rides, as well as a willingness on his part to cooperate with my plans. He developed a calmness and maturity that no one would have guessed possible back when I bought him.
Equanimity is defined as “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation”. Sounds like inner peace to me.
My journey to have equanimity has been a path very similar to Stormy’s. I have been faced, and over-faced, with many difficult, stressful and scary situations in my life. Many times I over reacted, ran from the problem and missed a valuable lesson.
It wasn’t until I decided to trust God, my path and myself that I saw a different way to deal with the chaos of life. It took many small lessons and a smart little horse to help me.
Peace isn’t having a life without problems, noise, stress or hard work. Peace is having to deal with all that but with a calm in your heart. Peace is trusting that things will work out as they should, even if it’s not as you planned. Peace is having the courage to follow your bliss.
Thanks to a little OTTB named Stormy, and all the horses since, it easier for me now. To practice Patience while I build my company Horse Hippie. To feel Empathy when I listen to my daughter tell me how hard it is to be a working mother. To Accept that I am growing old and will never be able to do the 3’6” hunters again. To be Courageous when faced with the loss of a loved one. I have more Equanimity now than ever and maybe, if God willing, with the help of horses, I will find Inner Peace.
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aka The Horse Hippie
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