That bright and clear morning as I drove to Take A Chance Ranch, I could not have predicted what would happen to me that day.
For several years I had been aware that my friend and owner of the ranch, Beth Killough had been working with horses to facilitate leadership training, but never even considered the fact it was something I could benefit from.
Horses aren’t my thang, ya know?
Horses are for other people. They are big. They are pretty from over here where it’s safe. They have nothing to do with me.
Or so I thought.
When I walked into the pasture for the very first time, I might as well have been walking onto an alien planet. Before me were 4 beautiful horses and beside me, a trusted friend and my guide on a journey that would change me forever.
Had I known the deep and profound impact those beautiful creatures would make on me personally, I would have asked for it much sooner. But in my heart, I know all things happen in due time.
As part of a collaboration project Beth and I were working on, she suggested I needed to experience for myself what goes on at the ranch. By trade, I am a high tech sales professional which couldn’t be more different than the types of programs Beth has. I showed up full of excitement, ready to try something totally outside my comfort zone.
The property itself is beautiful. Olive trees line the street, wide pastures stretching the length of the property, lots of greenery all around and a big red barn. Her 3 border collies, Glen, Tyler and Georgie came to greet me as I arrived. We chatted for a few minutes as we walked toward the pasture where the horses hang out.
I had no clue what to expect.
What I didn’t know was that the process from beginning to end would reveal how I operate in the world, my decision making process and how I REALLY saw myself (ouch).
Stepping into the pasture I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to BE. I wanted to get my hands on the horses but I didn’t know the rules. Was it safe to just walk up to them and pet them while they ate? Do you say hi first? I had no clue.
We started by choosing a horse to work with.
One was pregnant, one was a boy pony, and two others were females. While we were talking, a bay mare, black mane and tail with a brown coat, came walking up to say hello. I was thrilled. I love people who are friendly, so I was immediately drawn to her. Her name is Riva.
Beth asked me “How do you feel about Riva?” Well I loved that she came up to me and said hello! She also asked “So you are letting her choose you?”
Oh. Well. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but yeah I guess so! I asked if we should say hi to the other horses as well, so we walked over to the other female who wasn’t pregnant, Rosie.
Beth asked “That’s interesting. Why not say hi to the other two horses?”
Here’s loosely how the conversation unfolded:
Me: Well one was pregnant, so I don’t want to bother her.
Beth: Why would that bother her?
Me: Well when I was pregnant, I was uncomfortable so I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.”
Beth: Isn’t that interesting, that you made up a story about why you shouldn’t work with her? Because it would be perfectly fine to. Do you see how we make up stories based on our own assumptions and beliefs?
Me: Woah. I didn’t even realize I was making up a story.
Beth: What about the pony? Did you rule him out too?
Me: Yes, he’s a boy, so he’s out.
Beth: That was fast. Why did you rule him out?
Me: Well, he’s a boy and probably not as friendly or safe as the females.
Beth: Okay. Well just so you know, he’s actually one of the more friendly ones. And he’s my 7 year old’s horse.
Me: (feeling a little embarrassed at how quickly I’m making up stories about who to allow in my life with so little information). Wow, that’s funny. Another story not even remotely related to reality. Huh.
Beth explained to me that our minds are like a perpetual “meaning-maker”, that we size up people and situations based on how we see ourselves and our past experiences. We make decisions so quickly sometimes that we don’t realize the opportunities we miss out on because we are not seeing things as they are. We see them as we are.
As we walked around, Riva kept coming back to say hi. We both laughed and decided I would work with Riva. Prior to stepping into the pasture I had casually mentioned to Beth that I was consciously making the decision to release negative people and get closer to those that default to happy, like me. I told her that I was done trying to drag friends through life or push them to grow and change.
Well Beth heard all of this. She pointed out that Riva had actually picked me, and that I had allowed it because I perceive her as happy.
So she handed me the halter and I put it on. She gave me some guidelines on how to lead a horse and we left the pasture to walk to go to the round pen where we’d try some exercises. Beth actually calls it the “truth laboratory” for reasons that would soon become apparent.
I’m glad I didn’t know that going in…
On the way, we had what she calls our first “conflict” when Riva decided she wanted to graze. I had been leading her when she pulled me to the side and we stopped.
Beth: Oh, I see you are having your first conflict.
Me: We are?
Beth: Well did you want to stop?
Me: I don’t know. She wanted to stop so we stopped.
Beth: So who’s in charge, you or her?
Me: Her I guess (laughing nervously)
Beth: And that’s fine if that’s what you want. Is that what you want? Because this is a relationship between you and Riva. We get to decide what we want and then how we are going to communicate that.
Me: Wow, I didn’t even see that. But she’s big and I don’t know how to be around her yet. I don’t want to make her mad, so I figure if she wants to eat we can do that for a bit.
Beth: That works. Just notice that you are making choices about who is in control and how you want to show up in this relationship, which is really about give and take, right?
Me: Right. Well, if I’m honest, I want to go to the round pen.
Beth: Okay, how will you tell her?
Me: I guess I should pull her lead?
So I pull her lead with a little bit of authority and off we go without any additional conflict. We successfully reach the round pen, Beth takes the lead and walks her into the pen to give me a little demo.
As Beth takes the bridal off she explains how horses are a prey animal and that they have developed acute sensory awareness. They can sense hormones like adrenaline, and that they can sense fear, but also something she referred to as pressure and tension.
She walks around the pen with Riva and magical things start happening. She can send Riva away or make her come closer by using a long lead wrapped in her hand in long loops so that it looks like a horse tail. She can send her away by making herself bigger and make her run by using this pressure. She can also calm her down by pulling tension back or by getting smaller by crouching down.
Then she did something I would have never expected. She kinda skipped and galloped a little bit and Riva mimicked her! It was amazing!
I totally wanted to try that. So it was my turn in the ring but I felt super self conscious. I tried sending her away to get some space and she went…but came right back. I was a little lost.
Beth: What happened right there?
Me: Well I wanted to send her, but I was worried.
Beth: About what?
Me: Hurting her feelings I guess?
Beth: Why would that hurt her feelings?
Me: I don’t want her to feel like I’m rejecting her.
Beth: Well, when your kids were little and you went to the movies, did you want them in your lap or in their own seat?
Me: In their own seat.
Beth: So its like that with the horses, you’re just asking for a little space so that you can work together. It won’t hurt her feelings.
Me: Got it
So I send her away and start using pressure to get her to go. She goes. Then I am galloping a little as she is running and she does it too! It felt amazing! But then she stops running. Pretty soon we’re both standing in the middle of the ring facing Beith. I’m feeling pretty happy!
Beth: That was great! Did you want to stop?
Me: No, not really.
Beth: What happened?
Me: I’m not sure. (I suddenly feel super emotional and make a joke to deflect) Is it too soon to start crying?
Beth: (She laughs a little) No, it’s after 12:00 so it’s okay. What’s going on for you?
Me: I don’t know, I suddenly felt sad. I don’t know how to be in here. I started to doubt myself and she stopped, so here we are.
By this time I’m blinking back the tears and Beth holds the space for me to feel safe as I process what’s happening. I’m not even sure how it came out exactly, but in essence, it hit me at a gut level just how much I doubt myself and I’m overwhelmed. I’m feeling lost because I don’t know what the rules are in this world. I don’t know what Riva wants, or what Beth wants in order for me to perform well and win their approval. I realized that somewhere in my life, that performing well is how I gain approval, acceptance, self worth and love.
Beth stopped and asked me to notice where Riva was. Riva had walked up behind me and she was nuzzling the center of my back with her nose.
“She has your back. You are fully present in this moment and she has your back. You do know how to be.” Beth explained.
Cue the waterworks!
That’s a lot in under 5 minutes.
What was happening here? Riva was my mirror, reflecting what I was thinking and feeling and Beth was watching Riva. She could see when I was doubting or worrying by Riva’s behavior.
We decided to give it another shot. I really wanted to get Riva to run. So being fully present, I got big and used my pressure and got her to run! I could feel the connection between us, I could feel her power as her hooves beat the ground as she ran around the ring.
Here’s where the breakthrough happened. I felt big, I felt connected, I was in the moment and it was magical.
We ended the session by talking about how I could find confidence in knowing how to be fully present. Not worried about people pleasing or performing, but how I could lead others by owning my power and by being my authentic self.
Over the next several days I was able to process all that I had learned and debrief with Beth to gain further clarity. My work moving forward is to be fully present as much as possible and to reach out and share with a trusted friend when I was feeling self doubt.
Looking back, I can’t believe I waited so long to give myself this experience. And now that I have, I want everyone I love to be able to have this experience.
The conclusion I have come to about this experience is one I have visited before. That I had been stuck, but couldn’t find the answer because I was looking in all the familiar places. That if I want new answers, I would have to try new and unexpected experiences to gain new and unexpected truths at a deeper level.
There’s an old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
My teachers that day turned out to be a beautiful bay mare called Riva and my magical friend Beth.
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