The Heart Horse

I Cat Nihem

I'm very fortunate to have been taught by more than a few heart horses. I recently sat down to make a list of the horses who have stamped my heart with their hoof prints and I counted 21!


The requirements to make the list didn’t depend on if I owned the horse but rather whether or not that horse offered me a friendship so unforgettable that it changed my life.


My heart horses were not the easiest to ride or the fanciest movers but they gave me profound gifts that arrived in the shape of challenges that helped me grow, change, and evolve.


These challenges taught me self awareness, skills of observation, empathy, athleticism, critical thinking, and even spirituality.


Felicia was one such Heart Horse and a life-changing chapter in my story. She was my first red headed mare. She was not the typical temperamental red mare and because of all that she taught me, my life has become one big thank you note to her.


She was big, bright, beautiful, and chromed out but she was not a fancy mover and her back was as long as Route 66. It took me two years to figure out how to get her on the aids. She was truly a saint and patiently waited while I bumbled my way up the levels. It was a hard slog and my inner dialogue was pretty brutal because I was disappointed in myself.


What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was making progress, it just didn’t look like what I thought it should. Day after day, week after week, month after month it felt like I was working on the same thing. Why couldn’t I get her head down and her back up?!


But what felt like riding in circles was actually a spiral. Every single session I made progress and inched my way up. Of course, I was judging my progress and it wasn’t nearly fast enough, but the day I figured out how to get her on the aids those feelings flew out the door.


We began kicking butt at horse shows and we beat some really fancy horses. As I look back on our upward spiral, I realize that I was often focused on how I could get better faster. I really wanted to find the gas pedal, if you will, and accelerate the process.


While I will admit that journaling can often accelerate the process it’s not because you’ve found that gas pedal.


The truth is many of us are riding the brakes. We are getting in our own way and slowing our progress without even realizing it. My primary “brake” on my progress was my self-talk. The things I said to myself in my head, I would never dream of saying that to another person.


I held myself back in many ways. I had limiting beliefs on what I deserved, what I was capable of, and even what resources were available to me. I didn’t always journal about Felicia, but the entries I did make - paint a picture. I wasn’t getting the full value of each lesson that I took.


My trainer and Felicia offered me EVERYTHING but I was so caught up in my own drama that I didn’t always integrate what I was learning. For example, if the lesson cost a dollar then I was getting about $0.20 worth.


There was wisdom in my experiences but I was in my own way and I couldn’t see it. One of the things I love about journaling is that it can help that wisdom rise to the surface where it is more obvious.

I love this quote by Ralph Marston:
There are plenty of obstacles in your path.
Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.”

Isn’t that the truth! Especially with horses! This is an incredibly challenging sport with major and lows.


I don’t say this about many things in my life, but I actually have regrets about how I spent my time with Felicia. She had so much to teach me and our time was cut short when she died in my arms.


She was at the farm where she was born and had a freak pasture accident. Her final lesson for me was about accepting the gifts that horses offer us by being present to receive.


I feel like there may have been more I could have learned from her if only I could have gotten out of my own way and picked my struggles wisely.


Knowing in my soul what it feels like to let go of someone you love focused me and changed me. Every horse I work with gets the benefit of what Felicia taught me and at this point I’m pretty sure that I could get a giraffe on the bit thanks to her.


If you are open to sharing something that you are struggling to learn, I’d love to hear from you. Or maybe you’ve had an amazing breakthrough you’d like to share. On this Valentine's Day weekend, I would love to hear your heart horse stories.


While you are thinking: I’ll give you a bit of a silver lining. Hours later after her death, Felicia’s full sister was born. A chestnut filly with 4-white socks and a blaze. The shock of this profound experience is still with me.


Happy Valentine's Day,

Catherine Respess

Creator of The Equestrian Journal

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