Take a Deep Breath

If you happened to see my last post, you know I’ve been having something of a difficult six or eight months, for a lot of reasons. It’s complicated, as much of life is. Employment troubles make for a fair bit of stress; and then there’s my animals and a month without a paycheck and putting two new tires on my car. It’s first-world problems big time, but it’ll still get in my head if I let it.

I have to admit, I have let it. I’ve let the stress, on a few occasions, fry my nerves and set me on edge. I’ve found myself walking around barns physically unable to unclench my jaw, cringing every time my phone vibrated. I’ve become short-tempered, and I’ve ducked into stalls to avoid bosses. Mostly, I’ve allowed all the grievances I have against those who hurt the people and animals I care about to simmer in my insides until it has turned to a boil and started to cook me from the inside.

For a long time, I was able to keep this at bay. I could smile through the situations and maintain an obnoxiously positive outlook. In periods of my life that have been much more difficult, I have had a much easier time, and I can only speculate as to why.

Example: Last year, during the foaling season of my senior year of college, we had six babies. We ended up losing three. By the end of the year, I was staying up all night every other night and sleeping at the barn when I wasn’t (one of my mares was the last to foal). We were all exhausted, physically and mentally. And yet somehow, I kept up a relentless sort of…tenacity, I guess. I’m not really sure what the word is exactly. But I had the sort of obnoxious grittiness and positivity that made me want to punch myself in the face.

Seriously, it was nauseating.

And yet, somehow, a year and a half of dealing with the bosses (and a couple coworkers) that I have dealt with, and I found myself mentally run into the ground and unable to maintain any kind of cheery façade. So here’s the question – what’s the difference between these two situations? Objectively, the first was more difficult and trying, and yet the second is what I allowed to get to me. I’ve never much been one to worry about what other people have done to me, either. It’s always just kind of rolled off my back.

I have listened to a newborn horse drowning in his own fluids and held his mother as he died, and gone to watch a movie with my friends that very night with a smile plastered to my face. Yet, somehow, the ill treatment of a few sad, lonely, miserable women has convinced me to curl up inside myself and become resentful. This complicated breeding season convinced me I want to carry on working in breeding, and working for these people has very nearly made me question, though not quite, whether I should even be in this industry. I can’t really say why that would be. I try to be self-aware, but I’m not sure that’s an explanation I really want to have.

I’m reminded, as I often am, of a movie. In this case, it’s Moana – or rather, one particular line from one of the songs. “They have stolen the heart from inside you,” she sings, “but this does not define you. This is not who you are; you know who you are.” I have hailed this particular film, while it is based on Polynesian mythology, to be one of the most Christian movies I have ever seen, for a lot of reasons that I won’t take the time to get into here. What I will bring up is this: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

That, to me, is a concept that spans all boundaries and bridges all gaps. It is universal as few things are, and it is incredible. Because here’s the thing. I allowed my heart to be stolen from me, if you will – I’m not blaming anyone I’ve worked with or for, mind you. It’s my own responsibility, and I don’t expect anyone else to take it on. But there’s a certain measure of freedom in the knowledge that I am not defined by the person I’ve been in this period of my life – short-tempered, frustrated, massively stressed. That is not who I am.

Pardon the self-exploration, please, as well as the temporary deviance from my traditional equestrian rhetoric (it’ll be back next week I promise), and bear with me, because identity is something I find myself interested in for whatever reason. Of course, I come at it from a Christian perspective. There’s no getting around that. And that perspective is that when my heart is set right, overflowing with God’s great love, free of the bitterness that has ruled me of late … well, everything is suddenly better.

I pray before I get on every horse I ride now, because if I can’t come at it from that place of peace, what business do I have putting a foot in the stirrup? Ninety-eight percent of the time, I am more than capable of separating my external stress from my dealings with horses. I have a very good track record, largely because I am so completely in the moment around horses that the rest of life never bothers to rear its ugly head. But that other two percent, to me, is unacceptable.

It never escalates to anything genuinely unsavory, I have to point out. Even when I go over the edge, I pretty much just say nasty things while doing exactly what I would be doing otherwise. I am at best marginally proud of my self-control in those moments. But they have happened, and that I regret. (I’ve genuinely lost my temper a time or two, when I’ve been seemingly incapable of getting through to a horse – literally, for months – but that’s not what I want to address at this moment, simply because it comes from another place. I do want to acknowledge its existence, though, to avoid painting myself as anything more than I am.) The fact, though, that I even have the capability to approach my work from a less-than-pleasant mental place – regardless of how well I act while in it – is deeply disconcerting.

If self-pity, bitterness, and anger rule your heart, you can find something more. If, like the lava monster in Moana, you allow your heart to be restored to its full glory, you can spread life and light to the world around you. The human eye is capable of seeing a candle flame on a pitch-dark night from a distance of thirty miles (or so I’ve been told); the human heart can see a light from a much greater distance.

To be the best horseman you can be requires compassion, gentleness, and a great deal of patience, and this requires a full heart. Your horse is generous enough (presumably) to allow you to ride him, to direct his every step, so he deserves to see the best of you. The best partnerships are joyful ones, and you have to bring that to the table. He won’t have it if you don’t, and he’ll always be able to tell.

I am almost sad I was able to quit my last job before figuring out how to make myself deal with it better. Almost. I know that I’ve been placed everywhere I have been for a reason, but for the time being I’m happy to be able to stop for a minute and just breathe. (You may call it bumming around my parents’ house for a month; I’m claiming it as one of the summer vacations I never got to take. Potato potato.) I’m stepping back for a bit and reflecting. Reading books, hanging out with my dog, and building candy pyramids, but also reflecting.

Most of my conclusions you’ve read already. The rest are fairly simple. Every bad situation I’ve been in has pushed me closer to God, regardless of what happened in the interim. That inherently means that it is a good thing that I was where I was. There’s a purpose behind it all, that much I know, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing to take a break and reset. I’ve needed this deep breath to unclench my jaw and think about things and prepare to jump into my next adventure without strings from the last one still clinging to me.

It takes a lot to restore a heart. In a delightful animated film, it requires an arduous cross-ocean adventure with a very dumb chicken and the balls to walk up to a raging lava monster with a shiny green rock. In real life it takes a certain measure of self-awareness and desire to change. The latter is significantly more difficult.

You can walk through this world – in horses and in everything else – spreading life or spreading death. It’s rare that someone leaves no trail when roving the earth. Your actions, your words, your life – they are a reflection of your heart, so choose to fill it well.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

                                   Proverbs 4:23



Coincidentally, a friend of mine discusses a similar subject today. Check her out:



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