7 Life Lessons from Horses

7 Life Lessons from Horses

Earlier this week, I received the call every horse owner dreads. The call which starts with “there’s been a terrible accident” and ends with uncontrollable sobbing.

Grief and pain immediately take over, leaving you unable to do anything but continuously replay the horrific details over and over again in your mind. In that one instant, all your hopes and dreams suddenly vanish and you are paralyzed with sadness.

Moving on after such an intensely sudden and painful loss feels utterly impossible.

It’s the type of call which causes you to question why you ever got involved with horses in the first place. This one incident threatens to derail a lifetime of passion, perseverance, and hard work.

Even despite the emotional agony, a tiny piece of me yearned for the answer. I desperately needed something to hold onto. Something to get me through the quiet desperation of an unfair situation.

That tiny piece of me needed a silver lining. I needed his legacy to be defined not by his death but by his life and by the value horses have brought into my life.

I’ve heard it said time and time again that horses have the ability to reveal things about ourselves which would otherwise remain hidden. They are a mirror into our inner selves and I sincerely believe this. Every partnership has something different to teach us if we are willing to listen.

In this time of grief, I am choosing to reflect back upon life lessons from horses rather than dwell upon the sadness of his loss. And if you are going through a similar situation, I hope that you too can take comfort in reflecting back upon all the good times. The times which were so incredible that you’d never dream of trading them even if you knew how it all would end.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

My History with Horses

Fortunately (or unfortunately for my husband!) horses have been a lifelong obsession. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by their beauty, strength, and majesty.

Some of my earliest memories revolve around our family’s horses. Although my dad and his brothers operated a dairy farm, we always had a diverse range of horses around. My dad and uncle grew up farming with horses and even after machinery entered the picture, the horses remained.

As did my passion for these beautiful animals. And my own life lessons from horses.

I read everything about horses that I could get my hands on. Subscribed to multiple magazines and watched movies and shows galore. Throughout middle and high school, I rode in 4-H and other open shows. And as a natural introvert growing up in a very small town, horses also served an emotional support role for me.

After high school graduation, my life went a completely different direction. Horses were no longer a central focus and although the passion was still there, it lay dormant for a period of time.

A New Direction in Life Lessons from Horses

About 5 years ago, I began to feel the need to include horses in my life once again. After some searching, I finally found an instructor willing to give me a few lessons in a completely different discipline than I had grown up doing. And I immediately fell in love once again! Since that time, I’ve ridden a few different lesson horses under her careful (and very patient!) guidance, even doing a partial lease on one.

But there’s just something about owning your own horse. Ownership means an opportunity to grow and bond with the animal on an entirely different level.

Although I had seriously contemplated ownership, there were several significant roadblocks (aka my husband) in my path so I eventually resigned myself to leasing.

Until about a month ago when my sister completely took me by surprise with an offer. She had recently acquired a new horse and was wondering whether I was interested in her other horse, Ike.

My sister had purchased Ike about 10 years ago and had gone through thick and thin with that horse. She had taken him from an unruly youngster to a sound and sane partner over those years. Countless hours of patient and persistent work were put into him.

But despite all those hours, Ike simply was never cut out for the type of riding my sister loves. He liked to move out and became bored easily, qualities which do not win in the western pleasure circuit.

But they are qualities sought after in the dressage arena and he was therefore right up my alley.

After about a week of begging and pleading, my husband begrudgingly agreed to the purchase. And I was in heaven! After 5 years of lessons and leasing other people’s horses, I was finally going to have one of my own.

Curious about dressage? Find out more here.

Ike

Although I had ridden Ike a few times over the years, it had been over 5 years since I had last done so. To make matters even more complicated, my sister lives in Kansas, a bit of a trek from my home in Wisconsin. Agreeing to the purchase without even trying him under saddle beforehand was a gamble.

But a chance at horse ownership meant fulfillment of my dressage dreams and even more life lessons from horses. It was a gamble I was definitely willing to take.

After some deliberation, my sister decided to make the trip from Kansas up to Minnesota where her in-laws live on a Thursday and then head to my trainer’s farm the following day.

On that Friday morning, I eagerly waited for her to drive up with my dream horse in tow. Finally, I heard the rumble of gravel and frantic whinnying signaling his arrival.

He was clearly not impressed with the number of hours spent in the trailer over the past 2 days.

Despite being slightly disgruntled, he calmly walked out of the trailer and across the yard to the round pen. After trotting a couple of laps in the pen, he realized there was grass to mow down and he settled right in.

Two days later, I saddled up for the first time and had an absolutely fabulous first ride. I was ecstatic thinking about our future together and the partnership being built.

Little did I know that our first ride would also be our last and in a little over 24 hours, I would be making the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye forever.

Life Lessons from Horses

Although our journey together was incredibly short, Ike’s loss has been a deeply painful experience. I wouldn’t have changed a thing but desperately wish we could have had more time together.

In moments like these, there’s a natural tendency to question why bad things happen. And in truth, we may never get the satisfaction of knowing exactly why things happen the way they do.

But we can make a choice to actively search for the silver lining. We can choose to focus on the good which is present in even the worst of circumstances.

Ike’s loss has driven me to search for the good and the valuable life lessons from horses I’ve gained over the years. He gave me retrospection and the opportunity to appreciate the impact horses have had on my life.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

1. Be Grateful for Life Lessons from Horses

Life comes with no guarantees and tomorrow is not a promise. The key to happiness is appreciating the here and now as the gift that it is.

Too many people in this world spend all their energy wishing for things to be different instead of acknowledging what they do have. I am certainly no exception.

There have been more than a few moments over the past week when I have desperately wished things had gone differently. But no amount of wishing will bring him back again.

And this type of mindset gets you nowhere except bitter and unhappy.

Although there will never be another Ike, there are other incredible horses out there waiting for their human partner. And those lesson horses that I spent the past 5 years riding? They’re still there too.

I have so much more to learn and am incredibly grateful for everything they have taught me thus far.

Choose to be grateful and watch your world brighten.

2. All Good Things Take Time

If you want to truly excel at something, you have to put in the work. There are no quick fixes in life. No shortcuts.

Especially when you are building a partnership. This is true regardless of whether it’s with a horse or with another human.

Building trust takes time and effort.

Things will almost never go according to plan and nothing worth pursuing in life comes easy.

Add in a little patience and you have the recipe for success in the dressage arena and in life.

3. Do What You Love

Want some good news? Opportunity is everywhere in life but it comes with a catch.

Opportunity is everywhere in life.

Confused?

Let me explain.

The world is full of distractions disguised as opportunity. There are choices to be made at every turn. Choices about your work and home life. And choices about how you spend your free time.

In other words, you have to be intentional about your time otherwise you will undoubtedly fill it with mindless distraction.

But if you are truly passionate about something, set your intention and follow it with all your heart.

Life is too short to live in a state of constant distraction instead of with focused intention.

4. Forgive Easily

Any partnership, whether with a fellow human or with a horse, is susceptible to misunderstandings from time to time. We will be let down because no horse or human is perfect.

But if our ultimate goal is a strong partnership, there can be no room for holding grudges. We have to learn to let the small things go for the sake of the bigger picture.

In thinking back to my early days of riding, I had a tendency to hold grudges against my horse for not responding correctly. I would then hold onto this negativity and it would darken the entire riding experience.

Once I learned to let go of perfection and forgive the mistakes, riding became much more satisfying. It took on a lighter and more positive experience when I finally realized that I was far from perfect and should forgive my horse’s honest mistakes.

Forgiveness is central to happiness because bad things are inevitable in life. Learning how to process tough emotions and move on releases us from a cycle of pain and bitterness.

5. Find a Mentor

It’s incredibly difficult to make progress in a vacuum. Finding a mentor is essential if you desire more from your riding, your personal development, or really any other area of your life.

An outside perspective provides unbeatable value when you long for lasting and meaningful improvement.

Prior to starting dressage lessons 5 years ago (and coming from a strictly western background), posting the trot was a foreign concept. Mastering even this very basic technique felt nearly impossible.

Today I am able to not only post the trot but have made huge strides in achieving throughness and collection across all 3 gaits. I have become a much more confident and able rider under the guidance of an experienced trainer.

There’s absolutely no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t found a mentor.

6. Motivation Comes from Doing

There’s a common misperception out there about motivation. Many people think motivation is the very first step toward achieving greatness.

I disagree.

No matter how passionate you are about something, I guarantee there will be days when you won’t feel like putting in the work. There will be days when you don’t feel like saddling up, hitting the gym, or writing.

Motivation in and of itself only takes you so far and is typically highest at the beginning of your journey. But then a shift happens and you must rely on something else to drive you toward those goals.

At that point, motivation only comes after you’ve put in the daily work.

Doing the work then becomes the thing which motivates you.

Dig deep into your why and saddle up even when you can list 10 different excuses as to why you should skip today’s ride. It’s the small, daily actions which eventually add up to spectacular results.

Check out this post for tips on staying motivated.

7. Life Lessons from Horses Involve Never Giving Up

I’m not going to lie. In those moments after Ike’s death, I seriously contemplated getting out of horses altogether. Losing him so quickly after waiting 5 years to find an equine partner seemed like a sign.

A sign that maybe horses weren’t my path. That maybe I should give up, go home, and just forget about the whole thing.

Except it’s nearly impossible to give up something you’ve thought about every single day of your life.

My earliest memories include horses and even to this day, they are a constant presence in my best and brightest daydreams. Even away from the barn, I am always mentally processing my latest lesson and figuring out how I can do something better next time.

Walking away at this point means giving in to the sadness and letting negativity engulf me. It means completely eliminating something which has brought so much joy and fulfillment to my life. It’s not the legacy that Ike deserves to leave.

And although his life ended far too soon, he was truly loved and that’s really the best a horse can ever hope for.

The silver lining in all of this is that his death has given me the opportunity for reflection and has proven my gratitude for life lessons from horses.

Horses are my passion and I would feel completely lost without them in my life.

If you are going through a similar loss, I hope this article has inspired you to find your own life lessons from horses. I pray that you can take comfort in knowing that your horse was also deeply loved and that the memories will forever live on.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionism is sneaky. It often starts as a coping mechanism when we’re young and unable to recognize its lies. Although it disguises itself as a desire for excellence, perfectionism is actually an intense fear of failure.

This fear has the power to destroy confidence, self-esteem, and relationships. It keeps those in its grasp believing that our worthiness comes from achievement. That we could never be valued or loved based solely upon our status as a human being.

Perfectionism is a toxic force which often associates with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even suicide.

If perfectionism is ruling your life, it’s time to set yourself free. Ditch the inner critic and choose peace. Start here.

The Perfectionism Myth

Perfectionism has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s tough for me to recall a time when I didn’t obsess over every little detail of everything I do. Or procrastinate because I believe that I’ll never complete something to my own impossibly high standards.

It’s funny how quickly our own maladaptive coping strategies weave their way into our lives, blinding us to their truly negative impacts.

At least not until something challenges our inner world. Although I have recently had one of those “reality check” moments, I once regarded perfectionism as my super power. Deep down inside, I secretly believed that my success in life was directly related to my perfectionism.

I believed that my tendency to stubbornly cling to ridiculously high standards drove me to greater heights than I could otherwise achieve.

In fact, perfectionism eventually permeated my thinking to such a degree that living any other way was simply unimaginable. My constant need to control every aspect of my life was exhausting but felt safe. It wove its way into my very being, wreaking havoc on my motivation, confidence, and even my self-esteem.

And it all starts innocently enough, often with the simple desire to succeed. But instead of focusing on achieving success, the focus is on avoiding failure.

Over time, the focus continues to narrow in on avoiding failure. It consumes you and soon it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the journey because you’re too busy fixating on failure.

You tell yourself that you’ll be able to relax once you achieve the goal. Except the goal you’re going after is constantly moving. The bar is always being pushed higher.

And there is no celebration because perfection does not exist and you will therefore never achieve it. This is the myth of perfectionism.

You may also enjoy reading this post about overcoming self-doubt.

Signs of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can take many forms. It may show up in your life as rigid, all-or-nothing thinking. Soon this can morph into the desire for greater control. Then follows the nagging thought that if you only had more control, then you could achieve perfection.

Or maybe perfectionism manifests as having unreasonably high expectations of yourself or others. Thus the difficulties with achieving both inner peace and harmony with those around you. After all, it’s tough to have a sense of calm when nothing ever feels good enough.

It’s that voice in your head which points out every tiny mistake in an endless array of life scenarios. A misspelled word here or an awkward interaction there. Such mistakes may cause you to seriously question your worth as a person. How could anyone ever love you after such gigantic blunders?

Maybe you even find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed but unable to delegate anything to anyone else. After all, there’s no one who can do it like you do. No one else has the attention to detail or commitment to the project. It would only result in you needing to do everything all over again anyway.

Procrastination is perfectionism when you put off tasks due to fear of being unable to complete them to your high standards. You’ll never succeed anyway so what’s the point of starting?

And being unable to accept compliments from others is yet another sign perfectionism is ruling your life. Anyone who compliments you is clearly lying because there are a million things wrong with this project. Either that or they’re too oblivious to realize all the mistakes you made in its completion. And at the end of the day, neither scenario is flattering.

Perfectionism Holds You Back

Regardless of how perfectionism shows up in your life, it’s holding you back. It holds you back from your true potential, from authentic relationships with others, and ultimately, from happiness.

Perfectionism is a mask we use to hide our true selves from others. Something which starts as a coping mechanism evolves into a completely skewed view of the world.

Perfectionism has you believing that your worth is based upon your accomplishments. That you have to earn love and acceptance. And that showing your flaws to others will only push them further away from you.

Perfectionism keeps you from trying new things. It paralyzes you with fear of failure. And it keeps you stuck where you’re at.

The worst part about perfectionism is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. It feeds you the lie that you’re in control and as long as you’re calling the shots, nothing bad will ever happen.

But the truth is that as long as perfectionism is running the show, you’ll never be the person you were meant to be.

The person who simply tries their best and is ok with the rest.

Or the person who can actually kick back and relax without fearing the world is coming to an end.

And you’ll never find the inner peace of someone who accepts themselves for who they are, flaws and all.

As someone who has lived the lie of perfectionism for the past 20 years, my greatest wish for you is to find peace.

The Path to Recovery

If any of the above rings a little too true with you, congratulations! You have achieved the crucial first step of awareness. It has taken me years of discovery, self-development, and counseling to unpack the negative impact perfectionism has had on my outlook.

But I couldn’t have done it without opening up to someone. I had to let someone in so I could finally see that all my self-imposed rules were ridiculous. My goals were unattainable. And all the negativity was only feeding into my anxiety and depression.

Perfectionism tends to keep you locked in your head avoiding action. But opening up to someone you trust releases those thoughts and gives you outside perspective.

Although friends and family are great for support, I recommend finding a professional, at least in the beginning of your journey. A neutral third party, such as a counselor, is essential for giving you completely unbiased feedback.

Loved ones mean well but they often have their own opinions about your life. This can actually be counterproductive when trying to break free from people pleasing perfectionist tendencies. Their feedback has the potential to trigger the perfectionism in such subtle ways that in many cases, you will be completely unaware of it.

A trained professional can help you identify these behavioral patterns. They can also help you develop ways to overcome them.

Although I have been known to joke about my perfectionist tendencies, it is a serious issue which requires attention. Just the other day I read an article about a beautiful woman and mom of 3 little ones who struggled with perfectionism and unfortunately, took her own life. Her family was very clear that perfectionism was a contributor to her suicide.

Get the help that you need now to overcome the negativity. You matter!

Stop Comparing

Comparison is a slippery slope to perpetual unhappiness. There will always be someone out there who is prettier than you. Smarter than you. Wealthier than you. And someone who has a better Instagram feed than you.

Their house is bigger, cleaner, and more tastefully decorated. Maybe their kids are better-behaved and their husband does all the cooking. They’re always driving late model SUVs. And they were recently promoted at work.

There will always be someone out there who appears to be further ahead than you are. It’s a fact of life.

The reality is that we all struggle in one way or another. Perfectionism wants you to believe that you are the only one struggling.

It has you believing that you need to look and act a certain way to gain the approval of others. That you will never receive love or acceptance if anyone sees the messy parts of you.

Perfectionism is a liar.

We all have messy parts in our lives. Everyone struggles, fails, and starts all over again at some point in their lives. Not one of us has gone through life without failing at some point.

There is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist.

So stop the comparison trap. Turn off social media. Take time to do those things which make you feel good about yourself and who you are.

Meditate. Exercise. Journal.

Do whatever it is that makes you feel like the person you were created to be.

You may also enjoy reading this post about comparison.

A Word About Self-Talk

Self-talk is the language we use with ourselves. It includes both the easier to identify conscious and the more subtle subconscious.

What does your self-talk sound like? Is it encouraging and uplifting? Or does it sound more like the mean girls from middle school?

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, chances are good that your self-talk is the latter. It’s time to put those mean girls in their place. Middle school is over. You’re an adult and as a human being, you deserve better than that.

Start paying attention to the words you use with yourself. If you’re having difficulty identifying whether or not your self-talk is positive, write down your thoughts and read them out loud.

I had no idea how truly hurtful my self-talk was until I started asking myself whether I would say the thought out loud to a friend. It’s shocking how clear the nature of your self-talk becomes when you use this filter.

And I became immediately aware of just how critical I had become of myself.

Self-talk is powerful. It can either build you up or tear you down. It’s the most frequent voice you hear so you owe it to yourself to make it a positive one.

Mute the inner critic. I promise that you will miss her even less than your 8th grade bully!

Shift Your Mindset

Once you begin working on your self-talk, it’s time to tackle your mindset. Perfectionism has you believing things are black and white. Gray doesn’t exist. There is only success or failure.

Perfectionism is a liar.

There is a gray and it’s the place where the most growth happens.

Failure can never exist if you instead re-frame it as learning.

Whenever something doesn’t work out as planned, you have a choice. You can either allow yourself to be defeated or you can pick yourself up and try again. Learn from the experience and apply those lessons toward a different future outcome.

Perfectionism has you believing that you are powerless. A victim to circumstance.

But do you want to live your life that way? Wouldn’t you rather be the heroine of your own story? The person who never gives up and never surrenders?

I do.

Shift your mindset. Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth. Remember that failure can never exist if you learn and grow from it.

Ditch the black and white thinking and start living in the gray.

You may also enjoy reading this post about achieving a positive mindset.

Live, Laugh, Love

Perfectionism is an evil cloud blocking out the sun in your life. It’s time to get serious about confronting its subtle lies.

You deserve happiness. Life is messy and unpredictable. But you are more powerful than you realize. You are the heroine of your story and can overcome anything, even perfectionism.

Stop hiding behind the lies and start living. Don’t let its lies steal even one more moment of happiness from you.

Get the help you deserve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how perfectionism holds you back and what you’re doing to overcome it below!

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” -Zen Shin

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

It was Friday night. My hubby and I were doing our typical but very sophisticated Friday night thing. I was attired in the very latest of fall fashions with hair and make-up perfectly done while my husband was similarly decked out. Minus the hair and make-up, of course. We were headed to one of our favorite top-notch hang-outs downtown for wine and live music but had just enough time to stop and snap a pic commemorating yet another highly successful date night.

Just kidding. We were actually lounging on the couch, he attired in athletic shorts and I in my favorite pajamas which unfortunately happen to have a gigantic hole in the crotch. Some type of sports ball was playing in the background and he turned to show me a Facebook pic. A married couple we know was doing exactly what I described in the first paragraph and the thoughts started rolling through my mind.

“They always look so happy. I bet they never bicker about household chores or the kids. And they are always dressed like they walked out of a fashion magazine shoot. We’ll never be as happy or as successful as they are.”

Social media is a double-edged sword. One side facilitates communication with friends and family. But the other side displays everyone else’s highlights and greatest accomplishments for all to see. And I am as excited as the next person to see professional family photos, job promotions, and brand new baby photos but sometimes my mind goes to a dark place of comparison.

Suddenly everything that I’m doing (or not doing) somehow seems inferior and everybody else is having all the fun. Everyone else is prettier or more successful or has their lives way more put together than I do. Surely no one else forgets school picture day. No one else can possibly forget parent teacher conferences or to send a snack for the kindergarten class. Those pictures of one isolated moment don’t only reflect perfection in that moment but also in all areas of life.

Inevitably this line of thinking then brings me to comparison and ultimately, scarcity. As if there are only limited amounts of beauty, organization, or love in the world and I am definitely missing out because my Facebook feed doesn’t highlight lovely photoshopped versions of myself and my family doing artsy, sophisticated hobbies. There cannot possibly be enough love or beauty to go around for everyone and especially not for someone who has no idea how to capture a decent selfie.

Have you ever caught yourself in this same trap of negativity? It starts innocently enough with five minutes of scrolling here and then ten there. Suddenly, you realize an hour has gone by and you’re feeling anxious and depressed with no idea why.

In my own life, I’ve reached the conclusion that comparison sucks the joy right out of living. Not only that but thoughts that resources such as success or admiration or even hard work are limited and only bestowed upon a very select few people are closely tied with thoughts of comparison. The entire package is a devastating blow to positive progress in your life if you’re not aware of the insidious nature of these thoughts or how they’re tied together.

Comparison leads directly into scarcity because the very nature of competition implies multiple people going after the same thing. Only one person goes home with the trophy. We are all driven by competition to various degrees and therefore it is a natural progression of our minds to see other people’s success and almost subconsciously reach the conclusion that we will never attain that level of success because that person already went home with that trophy. There isn’t room on the Olympic podium of life for more than one person to have success in a particular aspect of life.

But the truth lies in the fact that there is no finite amount of success, love, beauty, or talent in the world. These qualities are out there in such abundant amounts that they can never be used up. Furthermore, one person’s beauty in no way diminishes your own beauty. We have all been given a specific set of interests, talents, and abilities to share with the world. The only fair and valid competition is that which exists between the person we are right now and the person we either used to be or the person we are evolving into.

Just as there are infinite amounts of the incredible qualities which make life worth living, so too is the truth that you are on a completely different journey than anyone else. No one on this earth has had the exact same life experiences, setbacks, influences, or education that you have. No one else in the world is faced with the same questions and decisions about which path to choose. You are unique and beautiful and deserve to free yourself from the self-defeating mindsets of comparison and scarcity.

Challenge yourself to grow in the areas which are important to you and minimize comparison and scarcity by taking action on the 4 steps listed below:

  • Spend time reflecting upon where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go
  • Set goals which are measureable and have clear action steps
  • Periodically check your progress toward those goals
  • Celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes

Having a clear sense of your own goals, priorities, and successes makes celebrating the accomplishments of others easier because you have outlined a road map for your own life. You know where you’re going and how far you’ve come. You embrace celebrating your own achievements as well as the knowledge which comes from missteps. It’s incredibly easy to be sucked down the rabbit hole of comparison and suddenly lose focus of all your own progress but you have something to share with the world and although it may be vastly different than what others are doing, it has value. Don’t let your progress be stalled by competition and scarcity.

Only by celebrating your achievements and maintaining a mindset of abundance can you truly ward off the trail of negativity which can be precipitated by mindless scrolling. Start being mindful of how you feel when spending time on social media and take steps to alter these behaviors if you find it puts you in a negative space. As the saying goes, “Ain’t no one got time for that.”

If you find yourself struggling with the flip side of comparison, which is fear of what others think of you, check out my previous post about freeing yourself from the opinions of others. It can be a tough mindset to change but absolutely crucial for a happier and more joyful life. And if this post hit home for you and you’re ready to take an even deeper dive into mindset, click the image below for more information on one of my favorite inspirational books by down to earth, tell it how it is Rachel Hollis.

Never forget that you have value in simply who you are as a person regardless of your profession, accomplishments, or talents. You are amazing!

I’d love to hear about the impact this post had on your mindset! Leave a comment below with new revelations or ways you plan to implement this into your daily life.