Horses are amazing creatures. I really love horses and I am so very grateful for the many years I spent with them, and the many things I learned from them.

I want to write about a powerful analogy I recently heard that involves horses. Think of yourself as a rider and your horse as a metaphor for your thoughts.

Our thoughts (our mind) are at the heart of who we are and how we experience our world. Awareness of our thoughts and exerting control over our thoughts determines who we are and how we will experience our reality every day. Ultimately, recognizing our thinking and thought patterns, and exerting control over our thoughts, is how we create a fulfilling and successful life.

However, if we are not paying attention our thoughts are like a horse choosing to do its own thing. If you are not familiar with horses, there’s a few behavioural traits that are inherent in almost every horse:

  1. As soon as a rider stops paying attention, a horse will just do whatever it wants. Based on my experience with horses, they usually do whatever is easiest.
  2. To improve the odds of survival, horses love conserving energy.  Why run, your horse thinks, when you can walk or stop?
  3. Horses love familiarity, similarity, and repetition.

Our minds exhibit many of these same three behaviors.

So, if our mind is our horse, then it follows that we always need to be aware of what our horse is doing. When we are aware and we take charge, our horse will respond to our commands – a trained horse that is. Once trained, our horse can be miraculously responsive. You and your horse can literally become one being. When you have the experience of oneness with a horse, your life is changed forever.

But training a horse takes time and effort.  There are tools for training our mind to notice and control our thoughts, just as there are tools for training an actual horse. Things like mindfulness and meditation start us noticing our thoughts (where our horse is going). Tools like visualization and affirmations help us shift our thoughts (control our horse). There are many other tools, for example: thought replacement technique. When we notice a self-sabotaging thought, we can replace it with a self-supporting thought.

Noticing and controlling our horse is conscious living. Letting our horse do its own thing is unconscious living. Conscious living is eminently more fun, more fulfilling, and more successful than unconscious living.

Thoughts are always coming into our mind, i.e., our horse is always moving. And sometimes that can take us into trouble. To illustrate this, let me describe a couple of real horse experiences:

  • I have a vivid memory of riding alone in the mountains in unfamiliar territory and getting too far into a muddy bottomland. We were getting in deep. Then, directly in front of us appeared a full-size, undisturbed, bleached white, horse skeleton laying exposed on the surface of the mud. Clearly that horse got into big trouble. I got the message and turned my horse around and followed our tracks out of trouble.
  • A runaway horse is terrifying – I’ve witnessed this several times. A runaway horse usually only stops when it’s exhausted or injured. It can go a long way on the adrenaline that’s pumping through its body. When we experience negative emotions in an extreme way, it’s like being on a runaway horse – we are headed for big trouble.

When our horse is taking us toward trouble, we can turn it around. We are always in charge. The key is to recognize when our horse is heading for self-sabotage and exert our leadership and authority. Of course, this is the big challenge and that’s where awareness is so important. Being vulnerable and seeking support can help. And it’s critical to pay attention to the constant feedback that is coming our way, mostly from other people. They can clue us in, if we are listening, when we are getting off track. Chances are if our thoughts are negative, judgemental, angry, or unloving, we are not controlling our horse very well.

But it takes work to always be controlling our horse. That’s why we will point the finger at someone else for the way we are feeling – it is easier than introspection. It’s why hate is appealing – because hate is easier than love.  Remember, your horse wants to do what is easiest, but that’s not necessarily the best option.

I have written previously about gaining control of your thoughts because it’s just so darn important. This is what mindfulness is – being mindful of where your horse is trying to take you and consciously choosing to take the reins and take control. With practice it gets easier and first thing you know, it’s no longer a struggle. You are one with your horse and you are always in control. Life is then an entirely different experience of love, compassion, and equanimity.

What mindfulness practice(s) might you begin to become a better third-party observer of your thoughts?

In what destructive ways do you let your horse become a runaway?

Our thoughts are not us. Thoughts appear, but once we are aware, we can take the reins and take control.

What tools can you use to increase your awareness and assertiveness to take control of your horse?

With loving kindness,
Coach Billy