Doing Things Well: Part 3, A New Year & Question

The New Year is my favorite holiday.  I rarely go out and celebrate at midnight, but instead find the changing of the calendar year to be a natural signal to reflect on the last 365 days and think about the next.  When I look back on 2015 I realize it was a watershed year for me, in accomplishments and realizations, changes and inspiration.  Of course, when I consider my life, it always comes back to horses.

In 2015 I began graduate school, following my interests in animal behavior to the next logical step: humans!  My husband and I bought a beautiful piece of land and spent the second half of the year restoring the crumbling house that called the property home. Horses took me further than I ever thought they would both personally, professionally and geographically, carrying me from the southern border of the United States to as far north as the Canadian Yukon, and so many places in between.  I spent time throughout the year minimizing my possessions, selling and giving away (or trashing when warranted!) at least two thirds of what my husband and I owned, making space in our world to hear our thoughts and desires, and to follow intuition instead of all of the things around us.  As the year came to a close, I left the barn and ranch that had been my world and home for all of my adult life with sadness, gratitude and excitement.  

All of these experiences combined with the many people and animals I have spent time with really have me thinking hard about what my life will look like in 2016.  After such a long run at the Three Forks barn I decided that the early part of 2016 will be dedicated to recharging, clearing my head and reflecting on where I would like to take 3R next.  It is hard to look thoughtfully at a business when I am right in the middle of it, and without getting off the amazing 3R wave I’ve been riding for so long there was no way that I could have any say in what direction it goes from here.  My experience as a small business owner is that it starts with an idea, then a lot of hard work, and before I knew it the business was a life of its own and I worked for it, not the other way around!  

This is fantastic and exactly what I wanted to happen when I started 3R.  In fact I think the business has exceeded all of my expectations and then some, but I think it is time for me to take the lead again to make sure that my life and the life of 3R can live together sustainably.  Now that I am lighter, with less stuff and no barn, I felt ready to jump off, take a minute, and get back on on my own terms.  I will spend a couple months this winter teaching on a limited basis and traveling a lot to see people that inspire me and recharge me, ride my own horse and write.  I think that by taking a moment to prioritize the parts of myself that have nothing to do with my business, I will end up knowing exactly what 3R needs to stay a true reflection of me and not just a calculated response to what is successful in the horse industry.

The biggest question that I am going to be considering over the next couple months is one that has burning inside me for a long time.  Many of you have heard me talk aloud about it because it is hugely important to me personally and professionally.  How can I make my money dependent on making riding horses, when I truly believe that horses have value beyond being ridden?  How can the starting and central point of my philosophy be that a horse is an individual that has her own experience that is as valuable as a person’s, when the whole point of my job is to make the horse fulfill human expectations of what horses are supposed to do and be?  The bottom line is, even though I train differently than most trainers and my clients feel differently about their horses than most owners, we are all still in a silent agreement that you are paying me to make riding animals.  We all like that we do this by building positive relationships so that the riding becomes an easy side effect of that relationship, but when it comes down to it, that side effect was always the goal.  I have written many other blogs on this subject throughout 2015 and if you haven’t read them yet, at this point I recommend going back a bit and then returning to this New Years Eve entry.

I love riding horses.  I have nothing against it.  But I’m endlessly troubled by my own involvement in the horse industry, which I find depressing beyond words.  This is a horrible world to be a horse in.  I can’t decide which is better: to fit into an industry by prioritizing “training” and just do it more responsibly and with more consideration for the horse than the average trainer, while perhaps compromising some of my own philosophy but also reaching more horses and people.  Or to embrace my belief that horses can and should be valued beyond being ridden, and riding should not be our starting or ending point when establishing a relationship with them.  The latter does not fit well in our horse industry and more than likely requires me to have another source of income because it means that ethically there will be certain horse and human issues that though I may be capable of “fixing” by creating new behavior, I will have to step away from, knowing that fixing is not always in the horse’s best interest.  In some instances, just because we can, does not mean we should.

I already walk this line daily.  Some of you work with me because of this line, some of you choose me despite it.  I have had remarkably candid conversations about this throughout 2015 with so many of you.  I’ve occupied both options equally.  Sometimes I prioritized training because I truly felt that making the horse’s experience of a bad situation even a little bit better was better than nothing.  Sometimes I did it because I knew I would lose a client otherwise.  Other times I was brutally honest that I’m not interested in being a horse trainer, only an advocate for the horse, and set the necessary boundaries.  To a variety of results.

As I look into 2016 I know for sure that as my business evolves I want to feel more settled into where I fall when answering this question.  I no longer want to waver back and forth between the lesser of two evils and a full rejection of the industry that feeds me.  I don’t know exactly where I belong, but I do know that to pursue a simpler and more peaceful life and mind, I had better figure that out and figure out how to live it completely.

I try really hard to stay honest and vulnerable when I write and talk to all of you, which is why I don’t produce a daily blog.  Some mornings I wake up with something to say, others I don’t.  I hope that you will all engage with this post because whether or not I end up agreeing with them, I am greatly influenced by the thoughts around me of people that are struggling with these questions alongside me.  What I know for sure going into 2016 is that I have some decisions to make and I am not willing to compromise being able to look at myself in the mirror and my horses in their eyes knowing that I am involved in this industry in a responsible way.  I just have to figure out exactly what not compromising looks like, and if it is possible to make a living doing it.