The human and horses lessons intertwined in our journey feel worthy of sharing . . . for those who simply need hope about second chances, for the want-to-be rescue horse owner who needs a primer on what to expect, for the frustrated equestrian who can’t figure out what is wrong with her horse, for the individual who has hit a relationship wall and desperately needs a new way of looking at life, and for the dreamer who is about to give up yet wonders if there is a still a possibility to see the vision realized.
So here I tell our story — one that is still unfolding. It captures the extravagance of God’s grace, the fruit of perseverance, the beauty of slow growth, and the remarkable gift of hope that comes through second chances. May it encourage you to press on, expecting the remarkable to manifest in your life too.
Would you agree that it is not only the endless cycle of setbacks that can leave us feeling defeated but also the length of time it takes to truly grow in a way that is evidenced by the results?
Growth is not for the faint of heart.
It times time to get results.
And it takes patience and a perspective check-up to see them.
The problem is that we are often too close to the “thing we’re trying to grow” to see any change at all!
Equally true is that often our expectations for what growth should look like are unrealistic.
We want to lose 15 pounds in two weeks rather than 15 weeks.
We want our addiction to simply stop rather than remove the temptation and deal with the root issues.
We want our children to listen the first time without the uncomfortableness of doling out consequences for ignoring our request.
We want our boss to stop his nagging habit of interrupting us every five minutes and wondering why we can’t get our work done, but we don’t want to have a conflict-laden conversation about it.
We want our horse to be fit and happy, even though the effort to get there requires more time than we want to put in at the moment.
No matter the situation, we have a vision in our mind of what things should look like . . . but instead we find ourselves on a circuitous route filled with obstacles (and landmines) that we have to negotiate around and through to get to the ultimate destination.
It also takes a reality check!
For example, about three months into the journey with Kodiak, I learned that it takes a horse at least six months to settle into a new environment and up to a year before you see their real personality.
While the quick fix would be nice, real change takes time, commitment, and patience.
Six months to a year! That is insane, don’t you think?
But then I stepped back a bit and reflected on the times in my own life when I was plopped down in a new environment. It took more than a year to get my bearings when we moved from New York to Pennsylvania. One might even say it’s taken eight years for it to begin to feel like home. Certainly, I could give Kody a year.
That one piece of information about the adjustment period for a horse radically shifted my expectations o Kody. And with that shift, I had to set up a different set of goals that would define our success. Put another way — it was time to create a new way to measure our strides forward.
Maybe that is what you need to do for yourself right now, too?
What has been that dream you’ve been working towards?
What is that hidden hope you have for that loved one?
Where are you feeling the most stuck in your relationships, personal growth, work?
Maybe the hold-up is your hang-up on what you think it should look like rather than the reality of what it takes to get there?
Another way to consider this is through the framework of Goal Orientation, by Psychologist Thomas Nicolls of the University of Michigan, which Inga Wolframm writes about in Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride: Sport Psychology for Successful Riding. For some people, the natural tendency is to focus on Task or Mastery. These folks “define success through personal improvement. They strongly believe that improvement is down to effort and persistence” (p. 31).
In other words, they keep on keeping on because they are measuring their own strides.
When they face challenging situations, they focus on “stretching themselves” rather than attempting to out-do someone else.
In contrast, there are those who have an Ego or Competitive Goal Orientation and believe that “ability is independent of effort” (p. 31). In other words, they look at what others accomplish and think they’ve just “got it” and are gifted. Rather than investing their own effort in growth, they essentially give up trying.
Which type of goal orientation do you lean towards?
Here’s the scary reality – if your default is an Ego/Competitive orientation, you’ll find yourself endlessly comparing your strides to others. This comparison trap will sabotage your effort every time. It will steal your joy. It will cause you to never go the distance, push through, and experience the results of a hard-won victory.
Thankfully, I had this Goal Orientation Theory in mind as I carefully reconsidered my expectations of Kody. I could have easily looked at other horses and owners at my barn with an ego/competitive mindset, but you know what would have happened if I felt into that trap? A disaster.
Kody was not – is not – like any other horse at the barn.
I am not like any other owner at the barn.
Both of us have our own stories . . . our own struggles . . . our own strengths.
And so do you.
That is why we have to measure strides carefully, going right back to the A.R.I.S.E. principles:
So when Kody and I faced our setback only three months into our journey together, I released my expectations to be able to ride him and have him partner in our equine-assisted sessions together. Instead, I created a three-fold plan that I am convinced is good practice for human and horses alike:
- Address the Pain
As I mentioned in the last post, we put Kody on a loading dose of Adequan to treat joint pain, believing that was the source of some of his muscle tension and irritability. I also began regular Masterson Method bodywork on him – up to three or four times a week for 20-minute or less sessions. In addition, we changed the bridle and had the saddle properly fitted.
- Build the Strength
I pulled Kody completely from training for four weeks. Instead, we focused on hand walking, longing, pole work, stretching, and in-hand work. Then we introduced training rides two times a week and built up to three times a week by the five-month mark.
- Improve the Experience of Connection
We’re not meant to go through life alone. But when we’re in pain, our connection with others can be broken. And when we feel defeated over not meeting a goal, we can withdraw. In either case, finding a connection and improving the experience is critical to healing growth. So that is what I did with Kody. Rather than creating a rigid structure of interaction, each time we were together I made sure it looked different than the time before – sometimes a grooming session, sometimes a focus on exercise, other times liberty or simply being together while he grazed. I also incorporated positive reinforcement to change the negative associations with tack, locations, and habits. We had to rebuild a relationship with positive connecting interactions!
While these examples detail Kody’s recovery plan, can you see how the same three areas could relate to a personal or professional challenge in your life?
Try it for yourself! Grab a piece of paper and at the top write down the issue. Then jot down your thoughts and a potential strategy for recovery for each of the three areas.
Friend, this is the way for you to measure your own strides rather than trying to make someone else’s plan work for you. Whether you’re facing a setback or simply setting forth a goal, this approach works and the results are priceless.
How do I know? Well, Kody hit that six-month mark with me on January 19, 2023, and I couldn’t have been more blown away by the place we found ourselves. Only five days earlier, I was able to canter him for the first time (you can see it here . . . no judging my ability) because he was finally strong enough to carry me and our relationship was healthy enough for me to trust him. In the reset plan, I thought we’d be a year out from this experience.
But that is not all. Just as we kicked off our seventh month together, Kody participated in an equine-assisted coaching session with a full-of-energy little girl, offering her a mounted rhythmic riding experience and a playful groundwork connection.
Yes, I’m beyond thrilled! Not only of the results but truly more because of what we experienced in the growth process!
So go measure your strides, my friend.
When they are realistically set, the results will far exceed your expectations.
Reflection Questions for Your Remarkable Journey
How do you naturally approach goal setting?
Do you find yourself more on the ego/competitive side or task/mastery orientation?
What strides are you measuring? Your own or someone else’s?
What would have to shift in your expectations to measure your own strides?
Ready for part 7?
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