Why did I leave the horse industry to pursue life coaching?

Strawberry Creek 5This is a question I have thought about deeply over the past six months.  The decision probably seems very odd to those who know me, especially those within the horse industry.  The decision came down to results, refinement, and practicing what I preach in every aspect of my life, not just my profession.  

I will forever be grateful to the horse industry.  I got paid to travel the US to work with the most beautiful horses, work alongside some legendary mentors within the industry and outside of it, tour the natural landscapes of ranches, explore perfectly manicured farms, meet some amazing people, and most of all, learn from the interactions between horses and humans.  At the end of the day, though, there was always a gut-wrenching feeling in my soul that something wasn’t right with what I was doing.

That feeling took me a long time to dissect in order to understand and accept the truth behind it.  First, I was working for other people within a bureaucratic system that ensured that change was almost impossible. The result was that you worked against your own being and became the robot they most desired you to be.  Then I began exploring the horse industry on my own, because I decided that I would rather be miserable and work for myself provided that it led to actual improvement, rather than seeing what needed to be done and not being able to do it for all the most nonsensical reasons. 

Oddly enough, I really didn’t even begin my journey of learning until I had the opportunity to pause, which happened to about eight years in. At that time, I went from survival mode to a point where I didn’t have to worry about finances, and as a result I was then able to think and reflect upon everything that had happened up to that point. Before that, it was all I could do to find the next job that would pay for my next meal, and I had no time or brain capacity left to think. I only had room for action.  This is the worst spot for any individual to be in, because it’s a vicious cycle that is tough to break out of.   

The reason why entering the horse industry in the first place had been a no brainer for me was because of what the horse helped me through on a personal level (which is a story for another time). Through my learning process with the horse, I felt that I had finally found a medium through which I could help others live their lives better. It didn’t take me long to realize that the only way for a person to improve their horsemanship is for them to be very intentional with their actions and cultivate the proper mindset right from the start. This mindset is one that accepts the fact that change must occur within ourselves before any change can manifest outside ourselves, i.e. with the horse.  Unfortunately, I soon figured out that people were not interested in that type of learning process because it is one in which the blame can fall only on the person involved.

This is where I stubbornly trudged headfirst into a metaphorical brick wall for far too long. I betrayed myself and the principles I believed in by succumbing to outside influences that I knew were wrong.  Instead of leaving the path I was on, I became the embodiment of all the problems within the industry that I despised. I became an enabler, saying and doing the exact things that I was against just in order to “survive”, thinking that someday I would be able to change the industry for the better. This was, of course, an impossibility, but I clung to it in order to be able to stifle the sense of discomfort I felt every day, a feeling that tainted every dollar received and every horse I trained from that moment on.  

The saddest part of all of this was that I did it to myself. I should have realized long before that I was going about everything in the wrong way and that I was ultimately in the wrong industry to accomplish what I had originally set out to do.  This was all my fault, and no one was going to tell me any other way of doing it. I guess some people just need to suffer before they believe they deserve something better.

I ignorantly believed in the idea that when one is in doubt, one should just work harder and harder. I traded in my desire to change the rider to suit the horse, and I began to fit the horse to the rider. Meanwhile, a darkness continued to spread throughout my entire being, screaming and yelling at me to change my path, but I went deeper into the darkness by hiding my unhappiness from everyone and pretending that I was “living the dream”.  I felt like every second that I spent with a horse was a second during which I was betraying them on a exponentially increasing level.  

Mind you, this is all happening within me, and the horses were not conscious of or affected by this inner struggle.  This is merely a journey within my own head, and it was one that I needed to experience in order to break down the old false realities, unrealistic expectations, and irrationalities that I had let take root.

So I soon figured out how to fit horses to their riders, which was invaluable.  I learned amazing things about the human mind by honing my skills of observation and deductive reasoning over time.  This allowed me to completely ignore any words out of the riders’ mouths because I knew how to get them to help their horses without really involving them at all.  In other words, I found out how to take humans out of the equation and deal only with the horses in front of me.  

I know that sounds heartless and arrogant – and I agree – but at the end of the day, it kept me sane.  I’m sure everyone can relate to this scenario in some way? Sometimes with family, significant others, or coworkers, you just find a way to work around them.

Then came the last piece of the puzzle: figuring out how to make money working with horses.  Toward the end of my journey in the horse industry, I was making an average of $15,000 per month, but I had never felt worse in my life. This financial stability did, however, finally allow me the space and time to step back and take full account of what I had created.  Did I even enjoy it anymore?  Was there any indication that I had helped change occur within the individuals I worked with?  Was this really what I wanted my career to be about from the beginning?  The more I thought about all of this, the sicker I felt within. 

The answer to all these questions was a resounding NO!  It was the same “no” I felt when I started this process long ago.  The big question that followed naturally was what did I want my career to be and how do I go about doing it?  Keep in mind the fact that I had been riding on average between six and fifteen horses each day, six or seven days per week, for the past ten years, traveling nonstop, coast to coast, across the US. I was utterly exhausted all day, every day. I know, right? How stupid was I? Pretty obvious in hindsight that something needed to change.

The transition process went something like this. I knew I wanted to work forever on becoming my best self, but instead of working on that through the horse, I thought that maybe I should try doing that directly through other people.  (When I say work on being my best self, the essence of that statement is centered in the fact that the better I can become as a person, the more I can help others do the same for themselves). That’s what led me to life coaching, or, in my words, “a guide to the journey of self-mastery.” For obvious reasons, it’s easier just to call it life coaching.  The next step was simply to try it out and see how it went.  After just one session, I was in love all over again, just as I had been at the beginning of my journey with the horse.  After seven months of full time life coaching, the only thing I wonder is why it took me so damn long to figure this out.

I still work with horses, but now I do it for the purity of the experience and so that I can continue to grow as a person alongside the horse.  I only work with four clients per day in order to maximize the quality of my work The rest of my time is spent working on all the things I practice and preach, both with the horse and with guiding others through the mentoring process.  A lot of my time is allocated to spending quality time with the people I want to be around most, learning from all the aspects of life and ranch living, and considering how everything relates to the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I am maximizing my ability to improve myself through the daily process of self-education and the application of this education to all aspects of my life. I am taking the time to reflect on my own being and thoughts.  It has all been very intentional to get to this place, and of course things are constantly changing, but I can honestly say this has been the best seven months of my life.     

This post is in no way meant to degrade the horse industry because I wouldn’t trade a single moment of my time spent on the road working horses for the public. Every person, every city, and every horse taught me more about myself and others than I could have discovered in any other way. This is why I am grateful for all the help I received from everyone along the way. I couldn’t have done any of this without them!  If I expressed any negativity along my journey, it was simply due to the state I was in personally at the time. I was the one who gave in to the negativity and ignored the clear signs within myself that said I needed to change.

If there are a few last words I can leave you with, they are these: there is a way to live a simple, more meaningful life through intentionality. Take ownership for yourself. Don’t let others decide your future for you, but don’t hesitate to seek out the guidance of those around you; it will help you realize that we’re all going through the same hardships, they’re just in different forms that correspond to our individual journeys.  We all need to raise our awareness by learning how to observe ourselves and our world more carefully, but guidance sure helps to speed up the process.  Thanks for your time, and I appreciate you greatly.

 

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The Boys in the Boat Review

I absolutely loved this book! It was an easy read, and it covered so many different aspects of the 1930s that I imagine there is something in it for everyone.  I really enjoy books that show me history from a specific viewpoint, as they help me etch out how things really were from certain perspectives and allow me to create a more complete timeline of events in my mind.

The Boys in the Boat tells many personal stories about hardships and difficulties that were eventually overcome. Some of the stories are truly heart-wrenching, and I found it quite unbelievable that some of the people involved even survived at all. These stories are, however, very inspiring due to the sheer grit displayed by each and every one of the characters as they overcome their circumstances.  For some, living in appalling circumstances was simply a way of life, which is terrifying.

The book also describes many competitions that put you on edge even though, for the most part, you already know the outcome.  The history of the sport of rowing and of this particular team was interesting on so many fronts that it’s actually hard to dissect it in a summary review. There were even a few words in the text dedicated to the horse world in the 1930s and the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.  I thoroughly enjoyed that little snippet!

My favorite part of all was the perspective I gained of how the world was before WWII started.  Everyone was very aware of what was happening abroad, but yet there was never any true understanding of what was about to come.  It really made me wonder what it must have felt like to be in Berlin for the Olympic Games, and it gave me such a disturbing feeling deep down as I thought about what would happen shortly thereafter.

The historical timeline given by the book through the lens of the struggle of individuals and families is unbelievably chilling.  Through all the hardships of economy and nature, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard life must have been.  What never ceased to impress me was how people kept on making things work as best they could.  This was especially of Joe Rantz’s life and family, the specifics of which the book depicts skillfully. Rantz was truly an amazing man that seemingly had everything against him in life, but he kept the best frame of mind that a fella could in order to survive and ultimately succeed brilliantly!

The one person featured in the book who I most wish that I could meet is George Pocock!  He is the one person to whom I am most been drawn on a personal level. He was a true master at his craft and life.  Every single quote he said was beautiful and true because his sentiments were universal and not constrained to the art of his craft.  I could have changed a few words here and there to make each one fit with the art of horsemanship without any problem.  The way Pocock handled himself and lived his life gave me goosebumps.

I highly recommend The Boys in the Boat because I imagine that everyone can find in it something good to take away. This is a truly inspiring and educational book that I can’t say enough about.  In the weeks to follow, I will be discussing this book chapter by chapter in order to highlight some of its most interesting aspects. I am also excited to say that I will not be alone as I make my analysis.  I hope you all read and join in on the conversation!

 

Beyond The Specific!

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I was recently encouraged to express my feelings on the book entitled Control by Glenn Beck, so here is my attempt.  In short, I believe he summarizes the book perfectly with two quotes on the final page of the text.  One, in his own words, says, “It (a solution) can only be found in the rooms of our homes and the streets of our neighborhoods.  The other quote is from Obama, who says, “When a child opens fire on another child, there’s a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill.  Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”  I couldn’t agree more with those two views, but I believe it goes even one step further than that.  The real solution should be focused on the real culprits, Me and You.

I believe we are responsible on an individual level for each and every negative and positive thing that takes place in the world.  Each and every negative action done by one or more persons was simply a failure of those closest to them.  This could be a lack of positive influence, a lack of action, or just ignoring someone clearly in need. If we live lives of unaware selfishness, we continually add to the deepest issues in the world today.

We all believe that something so tragic could never be done by those closest to us in our lives, and especially not ourselves.  Why couldn’t that be you or me?  A better question yet, why couldn’t we be the ones who went down the same path as those “crazy” negative humans who finally got to a point of taking extreme action?  Take all the positive moments in your life and replace them with all negatives and isolation; before long who knows what each of us could do?

If you can’t imagine any version of reality that could lead you to the darkest of dark places, well, quite frankly, I believe you are currently living in a delusional world of self-righteousness, blaming all the issues in your life or in the world on someone else or something else.  If that is the case, then we are avoiding the truth at the core of the issue: a lack of personal responsibility for all actions in some way, shape, or form.

We all get so caught up in the meaninglessness of our day-to-day schedules that we become self-centered, unaware monsters, oblivious to the people around us.  We ignore those in our lives who need help, guidance, leadership.  We ignore the small moments in which we could make a positive difference.  If this is the case, then we continue to add to the corruption instead of changing it for the better.  We each need to take personal responsibility for influencing all those around us, especially those nearest to us.  It could be as simple as a smile to a passerby or as deep as a heart-to-heart with a loved one about some negative behaviors.

An example from the horse world would be a “problem” horse.  These horses are simply misguided horses.  We could all say that the horse was simply born that way or is beyond help, ignoring that they can all be redirected over time.  The reality of all “problem” horses is that they were created by someone just like you or me. This horse could have been created by one catastrophic event or, more likely, by tiny negative reinforcements eventually getting the horse to respond with extreme negative force. The horse may become dangerous to the point of taking a human life.

Either way, these horses can always be brought back to the realm of a purposeful life full of positive relationships and interactions.  All anyone can do is start from where the horse is currently and build them up from the foundation.  Start with the basics, the very beginning, and work with them from where they are coming from, not where you want or expect them to be.  All they need is guidance from their perspective and a leader to show them the foundation, acknowledging success with small consistent rewards, redirecting them in times of error, and letting them become their own teacher so that they can find the path toward a great life.

Please just try your best to be the positive force in others’ lives. Acknowledge those in need and help where you can.  Don’t leave it to others to make life better; take it upon yourself every day.  The best way to that is a two-fold plan done every day for the rest of your days.

1.)  Become your best self.

2.)  Help others to do the same.

In order to become our best, we need to study, apply, and reflect on how to do this in line with our own interests.  There is no magic, one-route way to become our best self. It is merely a refinement of your daily process.  If you don’t know where to start, either follow your current interests or find a mentor.  We also need to help others by trying to understand their point of view and why they think the way they do.  This is perfect because it allows us to practice what we are personally working on ourselves. The process allows us to further our understanding that everyone we meet is actually our teacher, not our student.

It’s hard to imagine this type of world, but it’s possible.  Don’t get caught up in the small things. Acknowledge them, then move on to the bigger picture.  The positive influence you can have every day on yourself and those nearest you is important.  Accept responsibility, become aware of those around you, and take action to help one person at a time. Start with yourself!

Process and Purpose

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In working with a horse, it is important that one focuses on and understands the connection between the physical process of training the animal and the ultimate goal or purpose for which the horse is being trained. The physical process of training a horse is made up of countless small interactions between horse and rider, and it is important that all of these interactions are carefully considered by the rider. If one interacts carelessly with a horse or does not ensure that each interaction supports the ultimate training goal, the horse is likely to become dull or resistant in his response.

Often times, there are multiple interconnected purposes behind any given process of training. For example, if the training process consists of encouraging a horse to engage physically and mentally, the immediate purpose might be to facilitate a compassionate and clear understanding between the horse and the rider. This purpose may, however, lead to a secondary purpose, such as allowing a horse to think independently, seeking and finding answers for himself.

This example is reflected in the process of starting colts and the purpose behind it. First, in the round pen you indirectly connect the horse’s feet and mind to yourself by correctly positioning yourself in relation to the horse. This process builds the connection necessary for a smooth transition to a direct form of connection, such as halter work. The same concept can then be applied to the transition from halter work to saddle work, in that direct connection between horse and rider via the halter will pave the way for a successful connection between horse and rider under saddle. Ultimately, this direct connection will mean that the human is able to communicate clearly with the horse and support the desired training outcome of fluid, controlled movement of the feet.

Just as correct halter work and saddle work build on the movements of indirect communication established in the round pen, each interaction builds on and refines the foundations of the horse’s training. Complete refinement can only be achieved if there is an even trajectory from indirect connection to direct connection in the horse’s training and each element is in harmony with all the others. Each process must reflect the ultimate purpose and build upon previous processes, never deserting any piece of the training along the way.

With consistent quality work, this process of building connection creates a horse that is the same in all areas of horsemanship, no matter what the given circumstances may be. With a cultivated awareness of purpose behind each element of the horsemanship process, you can reap unimaginable benefits for both yourself and your horse. Beware, though – it takes great desire, effort, and self-reflection to reap the benefits, and all of this has very little to do with the horse. It’s all to do with you!

What Can We Do For The Horse?

img_0244At the end of the day, we do little for the horse.  Think about it –  the only things we can give the horse are peace of mind in places it naturally finds unnerving, a meaningful and enjoyable job to do, and a sense of superiority over other animals.

Horses, as prey animals whose instinct is to flee, are inclined to stay away from anything dangerous to their well-being. As riders, one of the things we can give horses is a sense of peace in ‘dangerous’ circumstances.  When a horse is encouraged by the rider to be calm and connected in surroundings that seem threatening, a rapport of trust between horse and rider is formed.  This rapport gives the horse a feeling of safety and comfort with the result that it learns to let down its instinctual guard and relax completely.

Horses can also benefit from the work that we, as riders, demand of our mounts. A meaningful and enjoyable job can give a horse a sense of focus and purpose that, once understood, can provide a great deal of enjoyment. A horse that enjoys his job can’t wait to be caught up and go to work.

Finally, by working with horses, we can teach them to be dominant over other animals. As herd animals, horses are constantly trying to establish themselves within the social hierarchy, moving up or down in accordance with their level of aggression or dominance. Horses in the wild often establish their dominance by forcing their herdmates to move away from them in deference to their presence. A newly alpha horse might need to bite or kick another horse to force it to withdraw, but eventually it will take only a look to send another horse away. When we train a horse to herd cattle or other horses, we are reinforcing this dominant behavior and instilling a valuable sense of confidence in the horse. If the horse grows to associate your training with its dominance over other species, it will come to associate you with the endorphin rush of dominant behavior.

In these three ways, we encourage the horse to grow and improve while simultaneously submitting themselves willingly to the training and leadership of their rider. This creates a harmonious partnership between horse and rider that is inspiring, and both parties will seek to strengthen the bond.

Habit Awareness

img_0246With horses, you’re creating either good habits or bad, both in the way they think and in the way they act. Promoting good habits should lead to the point where you are able to catch the horse, saddle up, and go right to work in total suppleness, balance, and connection no matter the weather or surroundings.  Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t even aware of the habits they are creating in their horses, both physically and mentally.

I see a lot of folks unknowingly teaching bad habits by giving the horse the freedom to do as it pleases at inappropriate moments in the presence of a human. One that drives me completely bonkers is when someone lunges a horse for the purpose of “airing them out”. The horse’s first response is to go completely crazy bucking, kicking, and screaming. From the horse’s perspective, the daily routine is:  human catches me, then I go completely crazy on the lunge, and then we get to work.  Talk about creating a terrible habit that can get both the horse and human hurt!

This “airing out” may be harmless at first, but it can lead to a horse’s bad behavior snowballing.  The horse may grow to exploit that moment of complete craziness on the lunge that has been sanctioned by the human and extend their bad behavior into other moments leading directly up to the lunge or directly after the lunge.  Little by little, the horse becomes a pig in the halter, possibly running people over, bullying other horses and people, and perhaps even becoming an aggressive monster that people become scared of.

You may have heard people say that particular horses are bad, but that’s not fair because their bad behavior is most likely the result of bad habits that their humans have allowed them to develop over time, although admittedly sometimes one extreme negative event might be responsible for a horse’s poor behavior. These bad habits were created by a human either being forceful or disinterested in the horse’s development, and the horse has learned to be resistant to the training.

In order to create a good habit, all you need to do is know what it is you’re looking to create and then make the horse’s progress toward that goal as easy and rewarding as possible. One must simultaneously discourage the horse’s incorrect actions by making steps in the wrong direction more difficult.  Thus, good habits will mean less work for the horse, while bad habits will lead to more work.  No matter what takes place, the horse will always find the route of least resistance given the circumstances presented to them.

Use every opportunity to encourage your horse’s development towards being responsive, calm, and respectful from the very beginning of your interaction with them. Keep thinking of the whole horse, becoming more aware of the habits being created along the way, and build a companionship in which is enjoyable for both parties.  The most important thing to preserve and reinforce in a horse is their ability to discover and embrace good habits on their own initiative.

Teaching Vs. Mentoring

img_0238I believe that any perceptive teacher can see what his students really need emotionally in order to succeed far beyond mastery of the basic lessons he imparts daily. When a teacher is able to relate to a student on a deep level, teaching turns into mentoring.

To me, a teacher is a person whose priority is to educate their students on specific content. In contrast, a mentor is a person who not only lectures on specific subjects, but also has an underlying leadership philosophy that positively influences others as they move through life. He will inspire them to pursue their dreams and fulfill their true potential beyond the basics.

In order to become a mentor, first you need to become aware of the role you have in the eyes of your students and become intentional in the way you are interacting with them. If you are successful, you will find that the students are mentoring you just as much as you are mentoring them. Thus, if you are going about it correctly by working with them as individuals, the benefits will be priceless.