How often do you feel haunted by a mistake you've made? You rehearse it over and over in your mind and it seems no matter what you do, its always there, lurking like a coiled snake ready to strike when you least expect it.
Past memories of failure or a traumatic experience that leaves you feeling hopeless and unable to let it go and move on.
Horses can teach us a great deal about learning to live in the present. They react to the here and now and although they can remember traumatic experiences, maybe rough handling or pain, they generally react to the present circumstance, fight, flight, freeze or flop. Then they return to grazing and peace once the danger is over. We call this homeostasis.
At the moment I am working with Sergio. He is a beautiful 5 year old spanish horse. When I saw him in Spain, he was in a riding school and I watched him behave impeccably with children and rode him myself. He was quiet and well behaved. When he came to the UK, it was a different story. It was a cold November morning, he had settled well and I decided to ride him. It started well, and having trotted around the arena and warmed up, everything seemed fine. Then out of nowhere he spooked and bolted. It was a frightening experience for me and him. We were both totally out of control and we parted company. Fortunately neither he or I was hurt, but both shaken up.
Although I have ridden and trained many different horses over the years, I felt anxious about riding him again, and we have started the long process of re-starting him and earning his trust again.
I rehearsed this experience many times in my mind and berated myself for maybe taking things too quickly with him. So how have I overcome this problem?
1. Firstly, I decided to forgive myself and not keep thinking about the negative experience, it just really isn't helpful.
2. I decided that I would not give myself or him time pressure. We will take as long as we both need to feel safe with each other again.
3. We have had all physical issues addressed. It turned out that he was very stiff in his pelvic area, probably a result of being ridden too much too young.
4. We are gentle with one another and taking time to build a solid relationship.
This has proved to be the best thing, he trusts me now and although he is young and still a bit anxious at times, he is beginning to relax and enjoy our groundwork sessions.
This whole process has taught me there is no point looking backwards, it keeps you bound in fear and inaction. Everyone has a degree of fear, which is healthy and natural, it keeps us safe, but we have to find ways of pushing past mistakes or traumatic experiences and reframe negative thinking patterns to build emotional resilience.
The brain is an amazing organ. Our emotions are filtered through a part called the amagdyla and fearful emotions such as anxiety and depression can get lodged in not just our heads, but our bodies as well, often coming out as aches and pains or other physical problems.
The good news is that the brain has the capacity to re-wire and make new neural pathways. This can be done by positive influences, words, actions, affirmations and repetition. It doesn't mean that you don't feel those anxious feelings, but with practice, you can learn to move beyond them and create more positive outcomes.
Horses have taught me so much about pushing myself beyond my comfort zones. This coupled with a faith in God who gives me the courage to try again, even when I don't feel up to it, has been life-changing.
What's keeping YOU stuck in the past today?
What are YOU going to DO about it?
Doing nothing leads to quiet desperation at best or threatens your life at worst. By choosing intentionally to do whatever it takes, brings great rewards.
Come and see how horses can help you overcome your past, and build a brighter, more confident future to become the best version you can be of yourself.
"My friends, I don't feel I have already arrived, but I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run towards the goal so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done."
St Paul's letter to the Phillipians 3:13-14 (Contemporary English Bible).