When I look back over my life, I know without a doubt in my mind that having horses has helped shape me to be the woman I am today. I am also very fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive family who has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, which is exactly what I am doing today with the help of an incredible team. My dream “job” has always been to help people through horses and at Crossroads Corral, I get to do that. At our corral we strive to help people enhance important life skills through the use of horses that lead to a more fulfilling life. Below is my list upon reflection of what I have learned from horses:
In order to take riding lessons as a 9-year-old girl, I had to do the barn chores. As a young girl I learned about being accountable, reliable and responsible because of this. I would feed, turn horses out, clean stalls, and even break ice out of the water buckets in the freezing winter months of PA. The thing was, I loved every second of it and that work as a young girl made me a better person and a great employee. I am extremely reliable, not afraid to get my hands dirty (literally and figuratively), work hard, stay on task, manage others and enjoy having great responsibilities.
Horses are extremely intelligent beings and they are great at pushing boundaries to see what they can get away with. Due to the fact that I have spent over 20 years of my life working with numerous horses of all ages I have had to learn patience. I have owned horses who didn’t want to get on the horse trailer, stand quietly for the vet or farrier, allow me to catch them in the field, fight with me over a new training technique, not want to walk over a tiny mud puddle on trail, etc. When it comes to training horses, there is a lot of repetition and you need to have patience and set your emotions aside to accomplish the task. In high school I rescued a 6-month-old filly (Roxy) and it took me over a week just to be able to enter the stall and touch her without her trying to kick me. This quality has carried over into my every day life when it comes to working with and dealing with people. Because I have practiced patience for so long with horses, it comes easily when working with humans too.
One of my favorite quotes states, “You don’t know teamwork until your partner is a 1200lb free spirit”. This is so very true. There is nothing like working together with a horse and being on the same page. You have to learn to speak their language and if they don’t understand what you want, you are most likely giving them mixed signals. The same is true for humans. We are all different and we think, learn, communicate, love, teach and feel differently. We have to learn to work together in this world despite our differences. Horses have triggers just as humans due so having a mutual respect and understanding for one another makes for a great team whether it’s the human- horse team or human-human team. When you learn the value of teamwork and have a great team like we do at Crossroads Corral, anything is possible!
4. Knowing When to Pick a Battle and When to Quit
There have been many times in my younger years where I picked a fight with a horse that I did not win. Luckily, I have never been seriously injured but I remember plenty of tears and letting frustration get the best of me. Remember, they weigh 1200lbs and are incredibly smart animals. When it comes to horses you need to learn when to pick your battle and when to quit. Sometimes the horse is in a mood and most often that is because of the humans mood. I have had many rides over the years that I became so frustrated with my horse for giving me attitude and not doing what I asked. Looking back, that horse was just displaying my cranky mood that I should have checked at the barn door before getting into the saddle. I learned to pick my battles when it came to horses and people. I would say that I am typically a non-confrontational person unless something is really bothering me. I don’t think confrontation is bad, in fact I think it can be really healthy, but there is a tact and a way to do it. I think I have learned this from dealing with horses. I have learned not to make a big deal out of something small. I also had to learn when to call it a day and quit. When you ride you should always “end on a good stride”. The same goes with people. When having a confrontation you should always end on a good note.
I grew up showing horses and most of the time I competed against some of my best friends who were great riders. I am a competitive person in nature and yes I like to win but horse shows can and should teach you how to have great sportsmanship. Even if you don’t win in the pen, having a good ride is all that matters. 4-H really taught us how to respect one another, our horses and to always have sportsmanship to fellow riders. I am not speaking of all horse shows, some are extremely cut throat out there so I am only speaking on my experience with mostly 4-H. The value of sportsmanship carried over to the non-horse part of my life. I can truly be happy for others and celebrate with them in their successes. There will always be times in our lives where we want to compare ourselves or life situation to others but instead of being envious or jealous, we should celebrate others successes.
6. Leadership and Assertiveness
Horses are herd animals and when they are in a herd they travel and navigate terrain according to the herd leader, which is most often a stallion. Domesticated horses are also looking for a leader when it comes to working with humans. If they do not respect you or trust you as a leader, they will not do as you ask. Because of horse’s size, you must be assertive but in a respectful way. Horses do not respond to being “pushed around” or “bullied” so you have to be creative in your assertive, yet respectful tactics. This is the same for humans and this is so important for kids to learn. Much like horses, humans don’t gain respect for others out of fear. Working with horses improves your creative thinking and problem solving skills which makes you a great leader.
7. To Overcome Fear
Everyone knows the saying, “If you fall of a horse, you have to get back on”. Even for seasoned equestrians, this can be hard, but most of us do it. I have personally fallen off and despite my fear, got back on and I have seen many others do the same. Horse back riding is a very dangerous sport. I have seen statistics that show over 100 deaths per year are related to equestrian related activities with over 25% resulting in head injuries. There will be so many times throughout our lives that we let fear take over but the fact is, “you have to get back on that horse”. For some just walking a horse or being in the close vicinity can cause fear. The sense of accomplishment is so great once that person works through those emotions. I believe having fear is healthy; it helps us to stay smart and make better decisions. I think being able to push ourselves through our fear is a remarkable trait.
8. Self-Regulation of Emotions
Horses are extremely intuitive in nature; this is one of their many God given gifts. They know when we are happy, sad, angry, anxious and scared sometimes before we even know. Horses will “mirror” or display our emotions for us, which makes them extremely powerful therapeutic animals. They teach us to control our emotions and show us how we present to the rest of the world through their body language and actions. They literally have the power to teach us about ourselves. Sometimes I won’t even realize I’m anxious or stressed about something until I’m working with one of my horses. Their body language gives me a clue to check in with my emotions. Being able to regulate our emotions is so important and horses can help you learn how to do that.
9. Confidence and Self Esteem
Being able to work with horses has helped me greatly develop confidence and positive self-esteem. Horses help people build confidence in themselves naturally because of their size. Horses also help people with having a purpose and developing positive self-esteem. I have personally experienced this and I have seen great growth in youth and others at our farm from doing chores such as feeding, cleaning stalls and leading horses to pasture. We also focus on confidence building as part of our EAL program. Working with horses in the round pen is another area where I have seen confidence and positive self-esteem grow at our farm. Being able to non-verbally communicate with the horses is so powerful. One young girl who I have the pleasure of doing EAL with told me there were some bullies at her school. We began working on some leading activities with her favorite horse to build up her self-confidence. Last week she told me that she confronted the bully (in a healthy way) and now they are friends. She also told me that pretty soon she wouldn’t need my help to take care of the horses because she can do it on her own. She is 8 years old!
10. Unconditional LOVE
The bond between horse and human is something that cannot be explained only felt. Because they are so intuitive and you build so much trust and respect for each other, the love felt is so strong. When I worked in medical sales I would come home from a stressful day, take off my dress and high heels and the moment I put on my jeans and cowboy boots, I felt immediate happiness. Another one of my favorite quotes is, “no matter how bad your day is, there is always someone waiting for you in the barn”. I have talked and cried to my horses and they have never shared my secrets with anyone. In moments of vulnerability, horses still make you feel loved. I don’t have to wear make up, nice clothes (sometimes I go in my PJs and cowboy boots) or have my hair done when I go to the barn. I can be myself even at my worst and always be accepted. That is unconditional love. Our team operates under the power of unconditional love.
Julie and I started Crossroads Corral because we truly see our horses as gifts that should be shared with our community. We are passionate about helping others through horses to develop the skills and fulfillment we have both obtained. You do not have to go out and buy a horse to experience these important life lessons and skills. That is where we come in! As a non-profit we conduct our equine assisted learning activities free of charge to those in need in our community. Please contact us to learn more.