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Happiness and Horsemanship

Anger

by Keen Behringer on 02/19/20

I got mad last night. I was angry and my stress bubbled up to the surface. I let the ugly side of myself show. I have been hustling hard lately. I’m always hustling hard but lately I’ve been kicking my efforts up ten notches because I’ve got big goals. When I got done after an unending day I found that one of my kids scribbled on a project I had spent a lot of time on and the other had been playing with baby powder all over the upstairs hallway. I yelled, I threatened; I threw the pen across the room that they had used to destroy my project. I made one of them cry. I walked away, cooled down and started to feel terrible. I talked to them both. I apologized for my behavior and told them it wasn’t acceptable. I told them I was sorry to have treated them that way.

 

Today, the sun came up and a new day started. I got to thinking it had been awhile since I had written a blog post. I was driving down the road brainstorming what important mental characteristic I could discuss this time. We’ve touched on fear, gratitude, grit and surrender in the past. I kept thinking about what things make riders great, what are the keys to mental toughness. I couldn’t settle on anything so I asked myself the question in a different way, “What emotions or mental characteristics can ruin riders or their horses?” The light bulb went off in my head. I remembered how I reacted last night and knew just what to write about… Anger!

 

Yesterday I let the whole weight of my world come out on the ones who put the most, blind, faith in me. I let all my own worldly problems come to a head over some baby powder and pen scribbles. I started thinking about all the riders I have taught over the years. I thought about the times I have seen a good rider running a bit back and forth through a horse’s mouth because the horse is getting too fast, the rider is out of ideas and is just flat mad. I thought about the times I have pulled riders off of horses and told them to go home when they have shown up to their lessons carrying all the baggage from work, school or relationships. I thought about how many times I have uttered the phrase “You better get your mind right, because that horse isn’t going to change until your attitude does!” I also thought about how there is no way for a rider to go back to that horse as I did with my children. There is no way for the rider to apologize and explain to that horse how they had a really hard week and they let their anger get out of control.

 

There are a lot of parallels with raising a child and developing a horse. Both child and horse can have erratic and unexplainable behavior at times. Both child and horse can at times have trouble communicating their discomfort or need for attention. Both child and horse need structure and boundaries just as much as they need positive incentives to succeed. In both species, horses and humans, the discipline has to fit the nature of the misbehavior. Often when a rider is losing control of their anger they start overreacting to a problem that might amount to nothing more than baby powder or pen scribbles. I remember one instance where a rider wouldn’t stay tall and upright in her upper body while cantering a particular mare. The mare was rooting and pulling down on the bridle, the rider was leaning forward and coming out of her seat. I remember her grunting and groaning and jerking on her reins all the while simultaneously kicking the horse. I stopped her and told her that I wouldn’t accept that behavior in my program. This made her further angry and she retorted with all the reasons the horse was being a problem. The fact of the matter, is that it doesn’t matter, if the horse is being a problem. You have to carry yourself with calm and confidence all the time when in the saddle. If the horse gets you so riled that your anger starts to be a problem the situation will only snowball from there. The horse needs encouragement not unfair and over the top rage. The horse can’t fathom unnecessary roughness no more than a child can. The anger only breaks the horses trust and confidence in their rider and makes them act out even worse. In this particular situation what the horse needed was the rider to calm her emotions and focus on her body control. The rider needed to get her seat bones connected with her saddle so she could drive the horse forward with her leg. She needed to raise the horse up in the bridle and make the horse canter collected and uphill. Eventually this did happen and the rider realized that she was in the wrong with all the jerking, and grunting and yelling.

 

There are times that a horse needs firm and swift discipline. They are big strong creatures that can be dangerous if they are allowed to behave however they may wish. After the discipline takes place however, the rider has to be as centered and calm as ever. The rider has to move on like nothing ever happened. They can’t carry their anger with them or let it bubble to the surface. Sometimes when you are feeling particularly out of center, when you are feeling particularly stressed or angry the biggest thing you can do to display your horsemanship is to groom your horse and stay out of the saddle that day. Give your horse a peppermint and a pet and tuck them in for the night. There is no sense setting yourself back in the training of your horse by getting on and getting angry over a little baby powder and pen scribbles!

Fearless or Fearsome

by Keen Behringer on 01/07/20

We've entered 2020, a new year, a new decade. Out with the old, in with the new. Each new year brings about feelings of rebirth and new beginnings. It's another chance to start over and do things right. At this time of year people are often busy making resolutions for their health and happiness. People set goals make plans and find inspiration. What if the reason you haven't met your goals in previous years is because of the presence of fear rather than the lack of other important qualities? How do you move forward before you address the fear? How does one experience growth in the face of their anxieties?


In November of 2019 an article was published on VeryWellMind.com titled "The Psychology Behind Fear." The article was written by Lisa Fritscher and medically reviewed by Dr. Stephen Gans, MD. In the article Fritscher describes fear saying, "Fear is a powerful primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger and was critical in keeping our ancestors alive." She goes on to say, "Some fears may be the result of experiences or trauma, while others may represent a fear of something else entirely such as a loss of control."

As equestrians we run across all kinds of different anxiety eliciting situations. Some of these are irrational fears, where some are very real. Some riders fear the show ring, others fear a particular horse, others yet fear a certain gait, such as a canter. Riders who are inherently brave tend to excel and reach greatness more quickly than the timid anxiety ridden equestrians. People tend to perceive brave riders as fearless. In reality their bravery has nothing to do with the lack of fear. Bravery comes from the acceptance of fear. Bravery is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.

There have been many occasions in my life where someone has commented to me about my tolerance for risk. I've shown and ridden many very challenging and sometimes, flat dangerous horses. On hundreds of occasions I've sat on the backs of horses that have never carried a rider before. I've heard people comment about my nerves of steel. Although the critique of my character is flattering it is not quite accurate. You see just as Lisa Fritscher describes in her article "The Psychology Behind Fear," people can become acclimated to the feeling of fear. Fritscher explains, "Repeated exposure to similar situations leads to familiarity. This dramatically reduces the fear response..." As a professional horse trainer I am not only confident with what I know, of my skill set and balance, but I also have become accustom to the fear that is synonymous with my profession. I have learned to control my breathing in the face of anxiety and give my own mind the pep talk it needs when something feels impossible. I am able to talk my own mind off of a ledge when it's running wild and taking over.

Dealing with fear is the basic principal riding instructors use all over the world to help riders experience growth in equestrian and all walks of their life. At the beginning of many equestrian careers a similar scene plays out. A riding instructor will be patiently coaxing a rider along asking them to rise and fall to a posting trot for the first time. The rider isn't acclimated to the feeling and is very aware of the fear of falling. To the instructor it's an irrational fear, as they may have taught hundreds of riders before, they trust their school horse and have all the proper safety practices in place. But to the rider, floundering around on the back of the horse, it's as real as the day is long. The riders anxiety spikes, their body tenses towards the fetal position and all the chemistry and balance is gone. Once the instructor acclimates the rider, through repetition and muscle memory, things get cohesive and fluid. The rider gets past the fear and begins to learn. The instructor didn't erase the source of fear, they just made the rider accept the fear until their body no longer manifests the response. You can't erase the fear, but in order to get to the beauty on the other side you must push through the fear. If you never submit to the voice of your instructor in those beginning lessons instead of the pulsing nerves rushing through your gut, you'll never know the feeling of cantering a horse in a warm summer breeze under blue skies in perfect harmony. Jumping through the fear could open beauty as you've never known it.

The same could be said with all things in life. If you don't push past the fear of rejection you'll never land that job, get that gig or be hand in hand with that girl you've always admired. If you have the tools, the team, the support, and the coach, it's necessary to take that fear, chew it up and spit it out in order to accomplish your wildest dreams. Don't let your own head trip cripple your opportunities, as sometimes the best opportunities present themselves as the fox in the henhouse. Sometimes the best opportunities show up as fear itself. Let go of the control you so desperately seek. Dive into the fray, with the right help and advice, look the devil in the eye and tell him you're coming for him, no matter what he throws at you. Don't be fearless, instead laugh in the face of your fear and then go ahead and do it anyway! I choose fearsome over fearless any day of the week.

Happy New Year everyone, may you conquer all your fears in 2020

Grit

by Keen Behringer on 12/06/19

Grit; an intangible and arguably immeasurable quality necessary for achieving goals in many areas of life. Grit is what gives people the ability to pull themselves up out of the most depressing and desperate situations in life. There are people all over the world who are on the brink of disaster and manage to continue forward. They give themselves the ability to rise up like a phoenix, proceeding to crush the worlds expectations of them. These types of people are full of this invisible attribute; Grit. We all know a cinderella story of someone who was set up to fail but time and time again they prevailed instead. I believe there is no cross section of people that displays the power of grit better than the equestrian community. Grit trumps talent any day of the week.


Angela Duckworth is an American academic psychologist and popular science author. She has spent years studying grit and trying to find a way to measure or even predict a persons level of grit. I have recently been reading her book and listening to her talks. As a horse trainer and riding instructor I find her work fascinating. She defines grit as, "Passion and perseverance for long term goals." In a live recorded TEDx talk in which Angela Duckworth was the speaker she explained further by saying, "Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month but for years, working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon not a sprint."

When I listened to this talk my first reaction was to begin thinking about these statements from my perspective and experience as a riding instructor. I see students come and go all the time. Some riders come into our program just wanting to have a moment, an interaction with a horse. They may ride a few weeks or a month, then often those students are satisfied with having had the chance to cross something off their bucket list. They then move on to another activity or sport that they are more passionate about.

Other riders come in with a feeling of passion for horses and equestrian sports. That is the group I really began to dwell upon after listening to Angela Duckworth's talk. Some of the passionate riders have a great deal of natural talent, others really struggle just to master the basics of a strong position and the ability to rise and fall at a posting trot. It's easy to get excited about a very talented young rider who displays passion for the horse and equestrian sports. Passion is the first necessary item for long term success with horses. Without passion the story of a child's riding career ends here. Their talent however does not indicate in any way shape or form how far they will go, or how successful they will be in my program, or with show horses overall. I've had the privilege of teaching many talented riders. Some of my most memorable and rewarding riders have been the ones that may not have had the talent right away but they had the grit in order to develop the talent. These are the riders who were able to keep their grit or let me inspire them into believing they were gritty riders. They used that grit to make a grand transformation in not only their riding but their character as well.

I recall a tiny little girl who came to ride with me right when we were looking to buy our farm about seven years ago. She was cheerful with a short leg for a rider, but a good attitude. She could pop off of a horse easier than any child I had ever known. She even had a few riding related injuries over the years. She struggled with her confidence in the early years because she found it arduous to develop a tight seat. It seemed she was always having falls. The thing she did have was a ton of grit. She's grown into a wonderful rider with a long leg. Even after years of ups and downs she still rides with me. This can only be because of her grit as opposed to her talent.

My second thoughts after listening to Angela Duckworth talk on her research about grit revolved around my college career. I went to a college with a large equestrian program in Fulton, Missouri. Some might argue with me, but in my perception I was easily not the most talented rider in the program upon my entrance. Boy, did I have a ton of grit though! I was also about as wild as a saltwater crocodile in those days. Sometimes my wild ways interrupted my ability to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for early morning rides or classes. My grit kept me focused though, with my constant desire for improvement. My grit kept me on course and directed my wild ways towards my goals instead of towards self destruction.

I want to preface this next statement with the fact that I do not blame anyone who decides to leave a career in the horse industry, particularly if they were working in the capacity of a horse trainer or riding instructor. It is a very challenging lifestyle with long hours, high risks, and often little pay. That being said, I think back on all the talented riders I went to college with, some of whom became very talented trainers. Many of the students I thought had superpowers on the back of a horse are no longer in the horse industry at all though. Many of them had really valid reasons to change directions and go a different career path, of course. Some of them had a great deal of grit in something they were equally or more passionate about. Many of them had unexpected changes in their lives which made different career paths the only option. However, it does help us see that talent is great, but talent paired with grit is even better. Grit can create talent, where talent alone isn't what will carry a rider though the difficult times to continued success. Isn't that so true with everything in life? Talent alone is not enough for a rider to fulfill their goals or for a person to achieve greatness in any field.

If you are an active rider, as you look around and see people who you admire and respect, don't be blinded by their talent. Don't be covetous while watching the best riders in the world perform if you feel you don't have, or won't ever possess their level of talent. Some of these same riders may at one point have not had talent, but they always had the grit. Idolize the gritty riders not because of the talent but because of the grit. Grit creates talent. Instead of wondering if you have talent, go out and find your grit!

Practice Gratitude

by Keen Behringer on 11/24/19

Gratitude, an appropriate, albeit perhaps cliche topic to discuss as we head into the week of Thanksgiving. My intention however, might come from an unexpected place. I don't wish to tell you how grateful I am for all the amazing things in my life. Gratitude for; sunshine & rainbows, puppies & kitties, hugs & kisses, proves to be easy, expected even. I want to tell you how deliberate, consistent and practiced gratitude can influence your mind, riding and maybe even your life.


Wallace D. Wattles wrote in his book, The Science Of Getting Rich (1910), "The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best; therefore it tends to become the best; it takes form or character of the best & will receive the best." This is a powerful idea. What Wattles suggests, is that if you look around and only see your hardships, your hangups and your shortcomings you will unconsciously create and attract more of the same. Even those living in poverty or sickness have something to be grateful for. Negativity breeds negativity, constantly looking at the down side is going to accomplish nothing, except keep you there.

There are two statements that make me shudder when they slip out of the lips of a riding student. They never come from a place of gratitude. One is "I can't..." The other is anything that starts with, "this horse (insert misbehavior of choice here)..." Those statements are the beginning of mentally giving up. One of the stand out qualities of any successful rider, in any discipline on any breed of horse, is mental toughness. Those statements are admissions of defeat, the end, the excuse, you are passing the blame. "I can't..." inadvertently says, "I don't have the faith, the work ethic or the trust in my trainer &/or my horse that they are here to help me improve in my riding and maybe in my life." The phrase, "This horse..." takes the blame and responsibility and puts it on someone else. Imagine how those same statements would change with deliberate gratitude "I can't..." becomes; 

"This is really difficult, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to try." 

Or perhaps 

"I'm grateful to be farther than many, and moving forward one step at a time through these challenges." 

The statement "This horse..." with gratitude becomes; 

"I may not get along with this horse but I'm grateful to be in a situation to try to better myself and learn to understand the needs of my horse."

The well known phrase "They see the world through rose colored glasses," has long been held with a negative connotation. I believe on the other hand that is exactly what we need to do. We should nurture our feelings of gratitude for all things and in all parts of life. If we try to be grateful for our source of pain, discomfort or pressure we may start to see the world in a way we never imagined, with a rose colored hue.

Another favorite quote of mine from Wallace Wattles book is, "...Faith is born of gratitude. The grateful mind continually expects good things & expectation becomes faith." 

Once upon a time, if you are a rider, you may not have believed you could rise and fall, posting to the motion of a trotting horse. You were however instructed on what to do, or observed how others do it. You were most importantly, grateful for the opportunity to try. Perhaps if you were lucky you were grateful for a good teacher and a safe horse with whom you put much faith in. You fumbled and bounced and slowly found your rhythm. Your faith in yourself, your horse and your teacher thus improved and hopefully so did your gratitude. 

There will always be hard times and hard rides, lost classes and unexpected events. Those times make the good times even sweeter. Without friction, without pressure we can't move forward. We would just be content to stay where we are. Pressure is the same force that makes worthless carbon atoms into sparkling diamonds. We have to learn to have gratitude for the discomfort which moves us forward. This is how we can create positivity from difficult situations and rise with our focus forward on regaining traction towards our ultimate goals, whatever they may be.

So when your lesson horse has thrown her head for the whole ride and drug you around the arena the whole time you were in the saddle, as you dismount, be thankful anyway. Give your horse a rub down and the best of care. Treat her as you would the most expensive and impressive of show horses. Be grateful, for she is spending her life teaching you, not just about riding but about life. One of my past teachers and a huge mentor of mine would say, "The only thing in life without ups and downs, is mediocrity." Practice Gratitude, in the good and in the bad and you will begin to reap what you sow. Soon you'll be seeing the world through rose colored glasses.



Happy Thanksgiving everyone, We are always thankful to the amazing people and animals we get to work with day in and day out. Thank you for your support!


Surrender to Working Together

by Keen Behringer on 11/17/19

So much of my life I have had laser focus driving me towards specific goals. These goals have been as a rider, as a professional, as a business owner and goals to work toward just becoming a good human being. We all know that life doesn't always necessarily go as planned. For very goal oriented individuals, like myself, sometimes setbacks, or the idea of how things could have or should have been, can be unnerving, derailing, and downright depressing.


In the past year, particularly the past few months, I have been working on my ability to surrender. Ambition is a glorious thing, but to the ambitious, taking action is second nature. Surrender is against some very core beliefs of who I am. Because of this, it has been a difficult practice and therefore has helped me grow as an individual, a mother, a wife, a horse trainer and a business owner.

Surrender is of the utmost importance to growth as a human being and as a rider. The more I practice the art of surrendering to how life is, the more I think this is the same thread that will keep the horse industry together as a whole, if we all hone in on it. You see surrender is not the lack of action. That is what I misunderstood at first. Surrender is when you stop worrying yourself about where you thought you would be in life. Surrender is when you stop imagining what kind of rider you thought you would be, or what level you would be competing on. Surrender is when you get rid of the anxiety that comes with comparing your success, or lack thereof, to others successes.

Get rid of all those worries, all those fears, all the anticipated timelines for you, or your horse, to be decorated champions. Once you remove all those things your mind can be open, your mind can be clear. Once you find clarity, you can start to learn to be satisfied with the journey you are on. You can learn to be grateful for it, and in turn, you can begin to open your mind to new ideas, new techniques and new growth.

Lack of surrender in riding leads to pushing horses too fast. It leads to forcing horses into jobs they aren't capable of. Things like trying to make a wonderful Western prospect a successful Park horse. In reality if you surrendered to what you have, you may find satisfaction in having the best Western horse in the nation, rather than a very unhappy Park horse. Surrender helps you focus on your own stage of riding, instead of constantly making comparisons to those who you perceive to be ahead of you. Comparison can be the thief of all joy.

If we all find this surrender in riding and in life, I feel like we could better learn to work together. Our industry would feel more supportive and welcoming. Imagine if all trainers and riders could surrender to their own reality? Imagine everyone being able to cheer for their competitors and be supportive of each other? The act of surrender keeps us from feeling slighted by not accomplishing what our competitors have, or even what our fellow barn mates have.

Surrender doesn't mean stop moving forward. Surrender means throwing away anxiety and worry, working towards your own goals with clarity. It means having faith in yourself, your trainer, your horse and your team. Having the faith that regardless of what lies ahead, your struggles will lead to your ultimate growth. It means surrendering to the fact that maybe your horse won't bring you show ring accolades, but that it has made you one heck of a rider. It means having the faith that the powers that be, know your goals and someday the right horse, trainer or opportunity will present itself to you. It will present itself, as long as you keep going.

The hard lessons, the lamenesses, the falls, the wrong horse, the crazy horse... Just Surrender! Surrender to the fact that you haven't shown at Louisville yet, surrender to the fact your horse threw you, surrender to the sore legs, blistered fingers and run your own race. Surrender to working together towards what you will be, instead of what you thought you would be. I think if we could individually accomplish this; keep our drive, keep our tenacity and gain the ability to surrender, we would all find gratitude and success in our life and our riding careers.