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What Colors Your Vision

What Colors Your Vision of Life’s Obstacles?

By Betsy Kelleher

     Obstacle training is gaining attention! I’m sure the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) is behind it, with their popular competitive trail challenges. These six-mile rides include six obstacles where both horse and rider are scored by a judge—making great fun for the riders (with prizes and rewards), and providing an effective tool to develop confidence in our horses. 

    I rode Lady a year ago on our first ACTHA ride and shared my experience in my November column. Before the ride, I trained Lady to drag a small log—a rather easy task as it turned out, with amazing results! During the ride, when Lady was asked to drag a scarecrow from point A to point B (each point being a barrel), she was calm and cooperative. All during that ride, I saw a new attitude in my usually reactive-minded alpha mare. She seemed to actually think first instead of spooking. At each obstacle, she looked, she went forward carefully, and she did it! When we got home and I asked her to back out of the trailer one step at a time, she did exactly that for the first time in eight years, instead of rushing out.

     So we can teach our horses to deal with obstacles calmly and thoughtfully, which also helps them to develop confidence on the trail. But it’s different, isn’t it, when we humans face obstacles? Or is it? Wait—can I apply horse training principles to the problems in my own life?

     Yes, if I can see life objectively as one big obstacle course—a series of problems, obstructions, trials, troubles and complications of various sizes and importance that appear daily to test my courage and determination, my patience and whatever energy I have left! According to the dictionary, an obstacle is something that gets in the way of action or progress. One morning, as I look for information on the World Wide Web, my computer freezes up. Probably overwhelmed, just like me. No big deal, right? Well, that depends. If I’m tired, already frustrated, under a deadline, or just not feeling on top of things, any little frustration feels like a huge obstacle. So how do I keep the small stuff in perspective? How can I handle life’s big obstacles with a calm, winning attitude? And what training principles apply? 

     Before I could start training my first horse for a competitive distance ride, I had to be sure she was healthy and sound. Proper feed was the first step, then slowly building her stamina and muscle strength by gradual conditioning. You can’t take a horse from a pasture situation to a 30 mile fast ride without proper training. We humans also need a good diet, plenty of sleep and rest, and enough exercise to stay fit. Good health is the first key to meeting whatever life throws at you, to be able to do your best with hope and energy. On the other hand, I’m well aware that not everyone has the best of health. Bad things happen. Those are among the really big obstacles. 

     Many have lost jobs in this economy. Some face losing a home. If you’re one of them, don’t give up. Use Centered Riding principles—sit down deep into your place of security, look up to a higher power, seek balance, and breathe deep. Search with determination for ways to keep going, even temporary ways. As we acknowledge the worst obstacles in our life, let’s learn to view them not as catastrophes but as opportunities. Look for new ideas, new paths, and new possibilities.   

     Break large challenges down into smaller segments. Face life’s obstacles one day at a time. Make one decision at a time, based on accurate information (check it out). Our horses reveal their frustration when we ask too much too soon, and that’s why we work in baby steps. It also works for humans. Are you trying to learn something new? Can you work on one piece at a time? Trying to do it all at once is a sure path to fatigue and discouragement. We start with small accomplishments, which lead to larger successes along the way to the goal. Those baby steps help us to gradually improve in knowledge and skill without feeling overwhelmed.

     Maybe it rains the day I plan something important. Am I flexible? Yes, flexibility is one way of dealing with obstacles. When possible, I do something else instead of whatever I planned to do. I go around the obstacle. I don’t let the rain stop me from doing something.

     Obstacles are meant to stretch our abilities, to strengthen us and build confidence, not to defeat us. How we view our problems can make a difference between success and failure. What colors your vision? Do you see life through rose-colored glasses of eager optimism? Or are you peering through the fog of indecision or the tense darkness of fear? Are you ready for an exciting adventure today or do you dread what lies ahead? What you look for is often what you will find.

     Visualize a jump course. Seeing a big, scary hurdle through fearful eyes from a position of low energy will only convey fear to your horse. Choose a different attitude! Look again from a higher position of courage and strength. Your attitude is critical to success whether you are in the saddle or at the office. Attitude permeates all of life, and attitude influences how we feel and function. Work on your attitude before facing an intimidating project.     

     I once rode with a constant fear of what my horse would do (until I got good old Traveller!). I realized that I ride with the same attitude that I have toward life. So if I change my attitude in one area, then perhaps I can change it in other areas as well. 

     Life can make us feel tired and discouraged, especially as we age and energy dwindles. When life seems too much to handle, we need to ask why. Is it a physical thing that can be improved with rest or treatment? Is something not right that needs to be checked? Learn to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. Listen carefully and figure out what you need to do.

     God gave mankind an ability to reason, which I’m told our horses don’t have. They operate mainly on instinct and past experience. Since we have more than that, we should be able to do whatever is necessary to take care of ourselves. We should know when we need rest, when we need to call the doctor, when we need help in some way, or when we need to change our lifestyle or adjust our schedule. People usually hate change, but change is sometimes a solution. If you tell yourself you can’t do something different because you’ve never done it that way before, take a fresh look. Question your old ways; look for new ways that work better. 

     Problems can have an emotional basis. Remember that our emotions often influence the way our bodies feel. Fear can make your heart race, your body tense and your breathing shallow. Depression can drain your energy and your purpose. Whatever it is, deal with it. Those feelings influence our horses, you know. They sense our emotions and the tension in our bodies. They often tell us when something isn’t right. 

     Life can get complicated. Sometimes we need to simplify. Everything we own becomes a responsibility. I know when I’ve gotten behind, that’s when things happen. I’m not into jumping, but I’m sure if a horse and rider on a jump course starts to knock down poles and get off timing, things usually get worse. Sometimes you have to stop, reorganize and start over. Some of us think we just have to keep muddling along the way things are. But if we stop to take an objective look at a situation, we might figure out a better solution.

     Whenever you feel your life is too difficult, think of someone who has succeeded in spite of an even greater obstacle. You may have heard of Bettina Eistel, an equestrian without arms. She competes in the Paralympics with her horse, Fabuleax 5. She holds the reins in her teeth, and grooms her horse with her feet. One word comes to mind: determination.

     When my own problems seem overwhelming, I look for encouragement in the little things. I find renewal in the peaceful influence of nature, riding my horse on a wooded trail or sitting by a lake. Only God’s wisdom and guidance can help us through those obstacles too big for human strength. His Word gives encouragement. Philippians 4:13 reminds me, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” God supplies more than words, however. In 2 Timothy 1:7, the writer says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” His indwelling Spirit guides us, empowers us, teaches us and helps us be more than we could be on our own.

     May your problems be small and few. But when the big obstacles loom ahead, don’t try to face them alone. Remember that God is able to do more than anyone could imagine. Let Him take charge of your life. Listen for His guidance. Be obedient to whatever He shows you to be His will. Stay in intimate relationship with His indwelling Spirit and take time to study His Word. Trust in His power and love; He has promised to be with you.

(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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