Watch Your Step… Be Aware of Your Boundaries

For the last several days, I’ve been sitting at my computer, sorting through hundreds of pictures and videos of me with my first horse, Jove, trying to decide what our biggest breakthrough moment was. This turned out to be easier said than done. We have had so many huge a-ha moments, occasionally at the same time, but there is one that stands out for me. To many people, this may come across as obvious, or even downright amateurish. But for me, well us, it was BIG!

You see, Jove came to me as a sort of downtrodden, sad, underweight, under-appreciated OTTB (that’s Off-the-Track-Thoroughbred for you non-horsey readers)/turned eventer/turned pasture puff. Really, we had no business being together. I was, in a word, green. I mean, I knew a few things about riding horses, had spent most of every moment with them in the summers growing up in Texas, having read and watched every single book and video I could get my hands on, and having taken weekly lessons at a local barn for the previous couple of years.

Looking back on my past self from my (much advanced, I assure you) level of knowledge now, I would have advised myself to steer clear of this sickly, elderly Thoroughbred. But there was something about him that spoke to me when we made the journey to meet him. And granted, it may have been the fact that I was finally – after a lifetime of dreaming, wishing, begging, pleading and finagling – going to have a horse of my own. Regardless, I fell in love with him on the spot.

He, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, he appreciated me for the carrot-bringer that I was, but he didn’t exactly come galloping out of the fields to greet me. My desire to connect with him was so great that I practically got down on my knees and begged him to enjoy my company. I did everything I could think of to please him, appealing to his sense of vanity, his sense of adventure, and especially his taste buds. I thought if I was nice enough (“maybe I could bring him some seaweed or something?”) that he would come around.

(I know at this point, there are probably a lot of eyes rolling, but stay with me…)

The Breakthrough Moment happened somewhat unexpectedly, about one year into our relationship. We were out for a ride and got to a road crossing, so I asked him to stop. Which he ignored. He did that a lot… the whole, “Yeah, not really interested in what you have to say… pretty sure I’m going to keep doing whatever I feel like doing, instead.”

I’m not sure if it was the fear of being mowed down by a truck or the frustration of a year of pleading with him to every once in a while do what I asked or divine intervention, but I had this moment of clarity unlike any I’d ever experienced.

I envisioned my entire body sitting back and becoming the brakes that I needed to have in Jove. Instead of asking meekly, I was setting a very clear boundary. No. Right now, you don’t go past this point. Period.

And, Jove, calmly came to a beautiful square halt. Then – and I swear this is true – he turned around and looked at me, as if for the first time, and started licking and chewing, took a huge sigh and lowered his head. He may as well have said right out loud, in perfect English, “It’s about time you started setting some boundaries, lady.”

Our relationships (with horses, with friends, with family, with significant others) are so complex and so fragile and so beautiful! And horses, especially, can teach us SO much, if we’re willing to listen. I realized that it wasn’t just Jove that I allowed to cross my boundaries, it was most everyone around me. And instead of being clear about what was okay and what wasn’t, I just got frustrated or hurt or angry.

Now, as a co-facilitator with horses of personal growth sessions for people, I see all the time how their clarity and the way they reflect who we are back to us can open up a whole new world of possibilities. Every relationship, every interaction, every day can be bigger, better, deeper, more loving, more compassionate, more clear if we are ready to listen and shift if things aren’t working the way we want them to.

I will always be grateful to have Jove in my life, for this breakthrough moment, which has since improved every relationship I have and has led me to find the career path that I know I was meant to do, and for every smaller, seemingly insignificant moment in between.

I’d love to hear from you about your breakthrough moments and how respect for personal boundaries has influenced you or changed your life… feel free to share your comments below.