Ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living and How it Applies to Horse Owners by Pamela L. Maynard, PhD
Recently, I saw an Oprah interview with Dr. Brenè Brown, and her book Daring Greatly. In the book, Dr. Brown discussed Wholeheartedness. Dr. Brown’s defines wholeheartedness as:
“The capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace — not in that self-help-book, motivational-seminar way, but really, deeply, profoundly embrace — the imperfections of who we really are.”
As I read this definition, something deep down inside of me really resonated with these words. As a horse owner, animal lover, and a person who has read her fair share of self-help books, I couldn’t read that definition and not apply it to horses. We, as horse enthusiasts, know that horses assist and guide us to our authenticity. They cultivate courage and compassion within us from their examples and they embrace our imperfections. Isn’t that one of the many reasons why we love horses? They never judge us. They never tell us we look fat in those jeans. And, they always love and accept us for who we are--no strings attached.
As I continued to listen, Oprah went on to discuss Dr. Brown’s ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living, which are as follows: Perhaps it is a result of being horse crazy, but I was inspired to share with you how these guideposts apply to me and my relationship with horses. Dr. Brown has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. In 2010, Dr. Brown’s TEDx Houston talk was on The Power of Vulnerability. A quote from her website (www.brenebrown.com) read as follows, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”
My intention is to share my vulnerability with you and give you some food for thought that will assist you on your path of continual growth with yourself and your horse.
Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
I believe that we all have gone through a time in our lives when we were concerned with what other people thought of us. I love horses, but my passion is the Arabian horse. My whole life I have had people say negative things to me about my Arabs. “When are you going to get a real horse?” is probably the one I hear the most. I was even turned down at a boarding facility because I had Arabian horses. So, I would over-compensate and make sure I rode in the same brand of saddles and tack as the Quarter Horse trainers rode in. I would take my horses to reinings and open shows just to prove that my little Arabs could do what the other breeds could do. And one time, I even taught one of my western horses to spur stop like a Quarter Horse!
I am sure it has been a lot about maturity and even more about personal growth, but now I choose to let it go when people make comments to me about my Arabians. I love them, period. Twenty years from now, is it going to matter? The only thing that matters is that I am happy, my horses are happy, and as a result I have been authentic and true to not only myself, but also my horses. And they deserve at least that!
Cultivating Self‐Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
My astrological sign is Virgo. And Virgos are detailed orientated, which can also translate to anal retentive and obsessive compulsive disorder. Every Sunday I would bathe and clip my horses. This included conditioning their manes and tails and re-wrapping the tail and putting it up in a wrap that would protect it and prevent the tail from breaking off so it could be long for the show ring. In addition to taking 15 to 18 credit hours at the University, I was training horses, running a lesson program, and working at a tack shop. I was young, energetic, and go-go-go seven days a weeks until my body would eventually give out to the flu or a cold and I was forced to take a day off. It was after a couple of bouts with bronchitis that I realized it was okay to miss a week of bathing and clipping and actually take a day off!
As of today, my horses haven’t had their tails wrapped in years. I no longer clip their muzzles or eye lashes. And sometimes, I even let their bridle paths go for a month at a time. And you know what? They haven’t complained to me once!
Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
When I was fresh out of high school, I had dreams of winning multiple Regional and National Championships. I was willing to do whatever it took to become a famous Arabian horse trainer. I worked for other trainers that took advantage of me, never gave me a day off, verbally abused me, and paid me peanuts. I became numb to block out the hurt feelings that occurred on a regular basis and I also gave up my power to these people by allowing them to treat me like crap. Even though it was technically a choice, I felt that for the sake of self-preservation, I was forced to cultivate a resilient spirit and take back my power. As a result, I have a better relationship with my horses and they choose to perform better for me!
Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
My whole life I have heard the phrase “horse poor.” It has taken me a long time, but now that I have let go of that false idea, my business is starting to take off. As a result, I get to help other people and their horses and in return I am grateful and receive great joy from my work!
Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
Okay, I will be the first to admit that this one is an ongoing process for me. I have a fear of the unknown. But, I practice every day and am getting better! My biggest lesson I learned for myself and translate to my students is that YOU KNOW YOUR HORSE BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. Trust your gut and have faith in yourself and your decisions.
Unfortunately, I have learned this the hard way. Every time I have let someone talk me into doing something with my horses that did NOT feel good, I regretted it. And, I usually paid for it by having a sick horse and it cost me more money in the long run. Note to self: I KNOW MY HORSES AND MYSELF BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE!
Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
Over the years, I have always compared myself to other horse trainers and even some really close friends I have in the horse industry. I would think to myself, “Do my horses look that good? Do my horses look that bad? Am I that mean to my students? Am I too nice to my students?”
It has taken years of introspective work, but I can now say that I have come into my own and I am comfortable with my own gifts and talents. I have created a program that works for me and my students and it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. I have also accepted that everything is in Divine order and horses and talent cannot be rushed!
Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self‐Worth
As I previously mentioned, a couple of incidents with bronchitis that literally laid me on my back for a week at a time and then didn’t give me back all of my energy for at least 2 to 3 more weeks, was a life lesson that taught me it is OKAY to take a day off. Not only do our bodies need to physically rest, but sometimes we need a mental break. This includes a break from emails, phone calls, and life in general. I can honestly say it is still a challenge. I still check my emails at least once a day unless I go out of town. However, I have let go of the mind set of working hard all of the time or you never get anywhere in life. And just because I am not being productive work wise every day, it does not mean that taking care of me is not productive in the long run. Plus, I am sure it also benefits the horses!
Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
I find that the best way for me to cultivate calm and stillness is by leaving my cell phone in the house, turning off the barn radio, and just be with my horses in the stillness of nature around us. This can be as simple as spending quality time with them and grooming them or going on a trail ride. I actually find that when I am doing arena work, I am the most likely to let go of any anxiety and just concentrate on the maneuvers I am working on in the present moment.
I remember many years ago when I was an apprentice at Al-Marah Arabians, there was an accident at the show barn. I did not see exactly what happened, but one of the young stud colts spooked and knocked down his handler. Initially she did not let go of the lead rope and tried to stop him. As a result, she was dragged and stomped on. As she lay near the barn screaming bloody murder, no-one could hear her because the radio was blaring so loud. The only reason we found her is because the stud colt showed up with a lead rope dragging behind him with no handler. Moral of the story: turn off the radio, listen to the birds chirping, and just be calm and still with your horse. You will be amazed what a difference it makes!
Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self‐Doubt and “Supposed To”
All right, this is another one I will admit is an ongoing challenge for me. I grew up surrounded my negativity and I still hear those negative voices in my head, “You can’t do that! What do you want to do that for? As long as you have horses, you will always be poor! When are you going to get a REAL job?” It is one of those situations when someone tells you that you are stupid enough times, you start to believe you are stupid. Therefore, the negative voices have yielded my self-doubt along with people telling me what I am supposed to do.
Whether those voices are from a family member, a friend, or your trainer, let them go! If you want to show at Nationals, trail ride in the mountains, or ride a Grand Prix test, don’t let anyone tell you different! Cultivate what is meaningful for you. Sometimes it can be as simple as spending 5 days a week at the barn instead of 3!
Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
Some might think that this one is a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how hard it is for some people to just let go and laugh out loud, sing off key in front of people and dance around like a ‘white-boy’ with no rhythm. A few years ago I adopted 2 adult cats and the first time I sang in front of them they looked at me like I was abusing them, but now they don’t mind (at least I don’t think so!) I sing when I ride because it helps me to remember to breathe. I am a dancing fool and my old gelding use to like to dance with me at the end of the lead rope. I have found that when I let go of being cool and in control, my life is less stressful and I smile more. Try it for yourself, you never know, you just might like it!
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