hope hardship horses

Hope in the Face of Hardship

Those of you that own a troubled horse may know a particular type of isolation I am familiar with, the type of loneliness that comes when an expert looks down their nose at you and says, “this is too much horse for you” or the kind of despair that comes from finishing yet another clinic in humiliation because your horse was the most explosive, fearful, defiant, you name it beast there and everyone knew it. I can’t tell you how many times people have politely said to me, “Green and green make black and blue,” meaning that a novice owner and untrained horse are a set-up for injury. Some owners of troubled horses decide that because the effort and training is hard that the partnership was just not “meant to be.” These owners sell or give away their horses and hopefully, but not always, find themselves a more calm, obedient mount. Others believe that nothing great comes without blood, sweat, and tears so they shoulder in and work hard to overcome all odds and wow the crowd. I have many talented friends and trainers who have done just this. I also know five times as many horses who are the “discards” still waiting for their chance at greatness. I have one of those discards standing in my pasture. She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I’ve come to know beside her the greatness within. No amount of outside praise or accolades will ever match this brilliance.

Cherokee is my reminder every day of how easy it can be to lose sight of our own inner light. After 6 years and 7 trainers she is still too unpredictable to ride and still sometimes fearful. In a world that values outside measures of success and that idolizes goals, we become addicted to praise and, by default, criticism. We come to fear both, for praise only causes a craving for more praise which requires exhaustive effort and, well, the pain of criticism is an easy one to be habitually phobic of. Our fear causes us to set up a belief system that helps us make decisions when the outcome (praise or criticism) is unknown and adversity arises.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown outlines the two paths people commonly take when encountering hardship.

  1. “When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort we are quick to think This is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or, This should be easier: it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it.” I would like to add that in the new era of spiritual positivity and the chase for happiness many also now see roadblocks in a given path to be a sign from a divine source that this is not the right direction. These believers think It’s only hard and slow because it’s not meant to be. 
  2. Others believe “that everything worthwhile should involve pain and suffering.” Brene uses “never, fun, fast, and easy” to explain this mindset. For spiritual seekers looking to become more aware/conscious/enlightened this can look like I need to learn these lessons and clear these woundings before I can attain this dream; the tougher the lessons the bigger the dream. I would venture to say that in there is also the thought I need to learn these lessons before I am worthy of this dream.

Take a moment to consider: What kind of believer am I? We each have a default setting when hardship arises. What is yours?

Awareness here is the first step. If we can catch the first thought of this is too hard or I have to struggle on before our mind takes off in the whirlwind of drama around either path we can hopefully avoid errant action. This is where we break old patterns of ejecting from one friendship/job/marriage after the next or of suffering through unhappy friendships/jobs/marriages way past their expiration date.

I typically default to the “never, fun, fast, and easy” mindset and have been quick to idolize the “meant to be” mindset because that seems so easy and elegant. I sobbed after riding Cherokee for the first time, it was an overwhelming release. I realized that for once, I felt worthy of her. I wasn’t sure if the countless hours of effort and training for both myself and her had been the ticket or if I’d finally healed to the point of deserving this dream. I had been bracing for so long against the hardships and lessons that it was such a relief to have succeeded.

I only had five more rides on her which didn’t always go so well.  I started to loosen my grip on my vision of a blissful riding connection with her. Then, surprisingly, I fell out of love with her. Sounds harsh I know, but I was willing to be with that truth, albeit I kept it a secret at the time. Then I allowed myself to be with What if it’s not meant to be or What if I will never be good enough? 

Luckily, I understood that neither viewpoint was the truth. Every time I heard myself say I’m ready to quit or Just keep going, I used this as a cue to check in with my core self. Always, the entire six years, the truth has been that she is my horse and I am her human. Call it fate or destiny or karma I don’t care, but I know in every fiber of my being that we are family. That’s just it.

It is in this knowing that I find value every time. I don’t know why we’re supposed to be together or what she has to teach me or me her. It really seems to go beyond all of that. There is just a truth in our togetherness that is unfaltering and that itself has value. Trusting in our relationship and our intrinsic value always takes me out of the praise/criticism addiction and brings me hope in the face of hardship.

Here is what Brene Brown has to say about cultivating hopefulness:

“We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. Hope also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal happens to be fun, fast , and easy doesn’t mean that it has less [or more] value than a difficult goal. If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and demonstrate perseverance. Not every goal will look and feel the same. Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.” (page 66 of The Gifts of Imperfection)

So next time you catch yourself thinking that Spirit has approved your goals by making the path easy, stop to ask your inner self how you feel about the goal. Next time you start thinking that you have too many wounds to heal to be worthy of your dream ask your inner self how you feel about your path. Is this worth doing even if you fail? Remember the outcome will never be how you expect it.

Just yesterday after a quiet play session together I took a moment to stand with my bay mare out in the sunny, snowy pasture. I was in her shadow standing beside her neck as we both faced northeast, the place of rebirth and renewal. I ducked my shoulder under her jowl to wrap my arm around her head and hold the bridge of her nose in my hand. For the very first time, she softened in to my embrace. I felt the loving and gentle pressure of her jaw resting on my shoulder. I immediately understood the tenderness of her gesture and brought my entire awareness to bear. We stood doing nothing else but soaking in each other’s light. This is what love and value look like. Everything else is just an illusion.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

Stacey Couch

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch is a Spiritual Advisor who supports creative seekers learning as they go on the spiritual path. She serves beginner and life-long students of the soul. Her compassionate and collaborative approach honors the humanity and value of each person. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. Through meeting with Stacey, lost souls find refuge. Connection to the Divine is realized. Belonging comes. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. Learn More about working with Stacey
2 replies
  1. Nanette
    Nanette says:

    This is such a great read! I am reading this in March 2016 and it fits what’s going on with me personally as far as my goals and feelings at times of fear, disappointment, is this meant to be etc. Very well written Stacey!

    Reply
    • Stacey Couch
      Stacey Couch says:

      Thank you Nanette for posting your comment. It gave me a chance to go back and reread this article again. Three years later and Cherokee has been retired for a year now due to arthritis. Just when I make it through one challenge with her to a triumph, another challenge always seems to crest the horizon. It has been hard to give up our playtime. After all those years of training and practicing and dancing with her to get to a supreme level of connection through movement and I’ve had to let it all go. I am reminded that nothing is permanent. The best course of action is to renounce the fruits of my labor and find love. Now I’m learning to be with what is.

      Reply

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