What I learned getting kicked in the face by a horse
It was a beautiful Monday morning. One of those days you can’t help but feel on top of the world. I drove slowly with the windows down, letting the cool desert air brush my face. The sky was bright blue, not a single cloud in sight. I let out a happy sigh as I drove down the open road to my friend’s horse property. I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
The 12 months that led up to this moment had been a wild ride of rapid change and personal growth. My life today looked nothing like what it used to. Just a few months ago I was living in the heart of downtown San Francisco, working for a successful technology company, and getting spun up in the career-driven rat race. Now I found myself in a rural town, 45 minutes outside of Phoenix, starting my own business, and playing with horses every day. After years of being in corporate jobs that never felt right, I was thrilled to finally be doing what I knew I was meant to. This was my calling.
My friend and I were preparing to run my very first public equine therapy workshop. For those unfamiliar, the method involves working with horses to help people overcome mental, emotional, and physical obstacles. We’d invited a handful of therapists and life coaches to attend a free demonstration in two weeks time. This event marked the beginning of a new life for me, and I was beyond excited.
As soon as I arrived at her place, we started chatting about the schedule for the upcoming day. Not long into our meeting, we decided to let a few of her horses out in the large arena to see which ones we wanted to use for each exercise. She led a few, and I grabbed the last one. As they were turned out one by one, the horses bolted excitedly around the arena, bucking and rolling in the sand. I took a deep breath and watched in awe at their power, speed, and grace.
As I walked into the arena to let the final horse loose, I noticed a subtle change in the air. Before I could react, my horse unexpectedly let out a massive buck of excitement. I saw his large, powerful hind legs flying up toward my head in slow motion. I couldn’t get out of the way in time. It felt like one of those dreams where you’re trying to move as fast as you can, but don’t actually go anywhere. As his legs thrust upwards, one of his hind hooves connected hard with my face. I heard a loud, blood-curdling crack before being catapulted backward and falling to the ground. In that split second, things became different.
In the two or three seconds following the blow, I had a profound experience. I saw and felt things not of this world, and they touched me deeply. I was in the presence of pure love. I was held, supported, and reassured that I was still in the exact place I was meant to be. As I regained my focus, the presence dissipated and I saw my friend running to my side.
The next several hours were a haze. I couldn’t talk, I’d lost what felt like a dozen teeth, I had bone poking out from under my chin, and I was spitting copious amounts of blood. The ringing in my ears was torturous, and I could feel loose pieces of my jaw grinding together every time I moved. I had no idea if I had brain damage, nor did I know what to expect in the coming days.
After being rushed to the ER, the only thing I could do was stare into my concerned husband’s eyes. I could see the look of terror in his face as he came to terms with what might’ve happened if he had lost me. Despite his obvious concern, he stayed strong, reassuring, and grounded. It wasn’t long before the doctors stopped the bleeding, gave me pain medication, and were able to do a few CT scans. Amazingly, there were no signs of brain or spinal damage.
Shortly after, I was transferred to a Level 1 trauma center and prepped for surgery. I was told that the surgery would be quite complicated, as my jaw had been shattered into several tiny pieces. “We’ll do our best,” the doctor said before putting me under. The team of surgeons worked on me for several hours as my husband anxiously awaited updates.
The days that followed were hard. I was in pain, unable to eat or drink, and struggled to put even ice chips into my mouth. I was frustrated, tired, and cranky. I knew I had a long recovery ahead of me, but was incredibly grateful to be alive. I was also comforted having my mother and husband by my side each day.
In my tired, dazed state I found myself thinking more about what happened that Monday morning. I began asking many questions. Why had this happened right as I was ready to get started? Why hadn’t it killed me? Why did I feel the presence? What did the future hold?
Word about my accident spread around the hospital. The doctors and nurses echoed how lucky I was to be alive, and several of them asked if I would ever be able to go back to horse work, or if I’d be able to forgive the horse that kicked me. They were surprised to hear the answer: “unquestionably, yes.” After all, this was just the beginning.
I ended up having three reconstructive surgeries over the course of four weeks. I was in and out of the hospital, in and out of doctor’s appointments, and in and out of consciousness. Messages of love and support flooded in from family and friends. Yet, amidst the pain and uncertainty, I found an unexpected level of peace and clarity arising within me. Suddenly, so many of the questions I’d had about my life and about the world around me were being answered. As soon as I was able, I wrote. I wrote every day.
I’ve admittedly been reluctant to share my learnings. I expect it’ll take me years to unpack everything, and I certainly don’t claim to have the right answers. In fact, the last several weeks have made me realize how little I actually understand about myself, about this world, and about the ever-expanding universe around us.
However, knowing it would help my healing, my husband encouraged me to share. And by “encouraged”, I mean he made this a bet. He said if I didn’t publish something by March 27th, I would have to donate $500 to certain political efforts that I strongly disagree with. Yeah, that wasn’t happening.
So… in the spirit of vulnerability, here are just a few things I’ve learned in the last several weeks. I genuinely hope some of these insights will be helpful for you in your own journey.
#1 Fear is your life’s silent killer.
Fear. We all have it. It’s that deeply instinctual part of us that keeps us safe. But by allowing fear to control our decisions, we are ultimately allowing it to destroy our lives. Let me explain. As we go through our days, we can make decisions out of confidence and love, or out of self-preservation and fear. Making choices out of fear comes from a desire to protect ourselves from pain or failure. The reality is that we can’t protect ourselves from life happening to us, nor should we! Failure and pain are life’s best teachers. By trying to protect ourselves, we are ultimately holding ourselves back from what’s possible. So, the next time you find yourself not doing something, ask yourself why. Does the answer come back to fear? If so, what basis do you have to be fearful? Is your life really in danger? Or is it that you’re just afraid of being judged or making a mistake? Have the courage to try. Remember, fear isn’t reality, it’s self-defined limitations.
#2 No hurry, no pause.
I’m a recovering speed demon. Prior to this accident, I was always in a rush. I actually had my 25-minute walking commute through the pedestrian-heavy area of downtown San Francisco timed to the minute. I knew exactly which streets to take for optimum speed. I thought that by rushing I could get to where I wanted to be faster. It allowed me to fit more in. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I was physically stopped dead in my tracks by a horse that I realized the importance of slow. Slow is undoubtedly challenging. We live in a society that encourages speed. I can’t tell you how many “top time-saving productivity tips” articles I’ve seen where people rattle off tactics to help you become a better multi-tasker, or help you fit more into your day. It’s all go, go, go until something breaks and then everything comes to a screeching halt. But by slowing down, you give yourself the opportunity to think clearly, be intentional, reduce your stress, and enjoy the journey. After all, don’t you want to get the most out of your life?
#3 Happiness is in mindfulness.
Humans are incredible creatures. We have the ability to do one thing, and think another. This is quite confusing for our furry friends, who only have the ability to exist exactly as they are in any given moment. Being around animals and in nature brings our busy minds back into the present, and helps us keep our brain from constantly wandering. By slowing down (reference point #2), we give ourselves the opportunity to be deliberate and enjoy what it is that life has to offer. Studies have shown that those who are more mindful have less stress, more self-awareness, greater emotional intelligence, and enjoy their lives more. Happiness isn’t found in our external environment, it’s found within ourselves.
#4 Each day is an opportunity.
Every single day is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be the best possible version of yourself. Many of us are constantly waiting. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re often waiting for the perfect conditions in order to have the life we desire. We create barriers about why we “can’t” be who we want to be today. Our brains make up stories about why our external circumstances prevent us from doing what we desire. These are self-created fallacies. I waited years to leave my corporate career and start living my passion. I told myself all kinds of stories about why I had to wait. The reality is we all have an opportunity to work toward exactly what it is we envision for our lives every single day. Honor that opportunity by seizing it!
#5 Nurture the relationships that matter.
One of the first things I wrote down after my accident was how happy I was that I had more time with my husband, family, and friends. I personally believe one of the main reasons we’re on this planet is to cultivate relationships. To laugh, love, and bond with other souls around us. I encourage you to take time to think about who you’re regularly connecting with and why. If you’re not regularly connecting with the people you love, make time for it. I promise that when you come close to death, you won’t regret the time you spent with loved ones. I certainly didn’t.
#6 Your mental, physical & spiritual health are directly linked and have a profound impact on your success.
I’d always had a disconnect with my body. That disconnect manifested itself in many ways, including body dysmorphia, negative self-talk, and obsessive exercise. Prior to this accident, I had no idea that every self-deprecating thought I’d had over the last 30 years had a very real and direct impact on my physical and spiritual well-being. It wasn’t until I was in a considerable amount of pain and desperately wanting to feel better that I came to terms with how important my body really was. It was then that I realized I had the power to help my body heal by thinking positively and by directing my attention to areas in need. Throughout my recovery, I’ve done at least one or two meditations each day where I internally recite positive, self-affirming messages of healing and love, and try to truly listen to the cues my body is giving me. Each morning, I’ve found that I looked and felt significantly better than I had the day before. I’ve had fewer negative thoughts and am healing much faster than my surgeons expected. Being healthy doesn’t mean that you simply eat well and exercise. Being healthy means your body, mind, and spirit are working together in harmony. Neglecting any one of those aspects of yourself will eventually have a domino effect on the others. Spend time tending to each. When your body, mind, and spirit work in balance, magic happens.
#7 Nothing in life is permanent.
As we go about our busy days, it’s easy to forget about the impermanence of life. That job of yours, the availability of food and water, your partner, your health… these are all things that could change in an instant. And they do. It happens to millions of people around the world every single day. Because life is so unpredictable, it’s crucial that we enjoy the things we have when we have them. Instead of worrying about getting more or getting to that next step, I encourage you to look around your life and be truly grateful for what you have. The best way to overcome any anxiety or fear about impermanence is to embrace a mindset of abundance. By existing from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, you will actually allow more new opportunities to present themselves when they are needed.
#8 Spend time alone, daydreaming and reflecting.
I’ve always enjoyed alone time, but I haven’t always used it wisely. In the past, I might’ve spent a night to myself watching a movie or reading a book. While these activities are perfectly acceptable ways to relax, it’s incredibly beneficial to regularly dedicate time to exploring the untapped possibilities of your life. After my accident, whenever I had time alone, I found I was called to my journal. I reflected on my own growth and daydreamed about the future. Do you remember when you were a kid and people asked questions that kindled your creativity? Questions like: “If you could be anything in the world, what would you be?” As adults, we often don’t take the time to ask ourselves those bigger questions. We don’t take the time to really examine why we’re living our life the way we are. We don’t daydream about what our ideal life could be like, we just resign ourselves to the circumstances that we’re in. By spending time alone reflecting, you’re opening a door to new opportunities. Be curious about what’s behind that door.
#9 Hardships help us discover our true potential.
It’s often life’s most challenging events that yield the greatest personal growth. Dealing with things like the death of a loved one, unexpected disasters, or personal problems are never easy. But by facing these adversities, we are uncovering strengths and learnings within ourselves that might’ve previously been undiscovered. In my case, getting kicked in the face by a horse helped me unlock learnings that are going to be incredibly helpful in my work with clients. Things like the nature of pain, trauma, and patience. If you want to know and fulfill your true potential, it is critical that you accept and embrace all of your experiences — the good and the bad — knowing that those experiences are molding your stronger, wiser future self. Tough circumstances will help you peel back the layers of your ego and allow you to fully realize all that you have to offer the world. Who would we become if we were never challenged, never faced adversity, and never had pain? We’d be a shadow of what’s possible. Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
#10 To change your life, you need to change your perspective.
Each day, there are millions of data points being interpreted by our brain. The amount of information we could process is so overwhelming that we subconsciously create mental models as an attempt to make sense of everything and avoid exhaustion. This allows us to pick and choose what we pay attention to. From a very young age, we learn how to categorize and label the world around us, and how to discern valuable from useless information. The mental models we form are a direct result of our life experiences. But these models are only one of many possible perspectives we can accept. The concept of reframing allows us to look at any situation in a new light, knowing there are many potential ways to look at a particular issue. For example, imagine you just got fired from a job. One mental model could be: “I screwed up, nobody’s going to want to hire me now.” That model reframed could be: “Clearly that job wasn’t a good fit for me at this point in time. Now, I have an opportunity to reflect on what went right and explore new opportunities.” Reframing makes us aware of new learnings and opportunities, and frees us from negative thinking.
#11: You must accept love from yourself before you can love anyone else.
I left this one for last because this has been, by far, the most challenging part of my own journey. Despite receiving tons of love and praise as a child, I somehow programmed myself to believe I needed to be a certain way to receive that love. I thought I needed to control my emotions, be polite, articulate, pretty, smart — essentially, I needed to be “perfect”. I grappled with the “what is ‘perfect’?” question for years. And, many times, I incorrectly told myself that my perfectionist tendencies were no longer a problem. I was lying to myself. What I recently came to learn is that perfection is an impossible state of being that causes an endless cycle of self-hate, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. As I grew into adulthood, I never understood why I felt a little empty inside when giving love to others. I most certainly loved many people around me, but something always felt missing. What I hadn’t been able to realize is that by not accepting love from myself, I couldn’t completely love others. By not loving yourself, you’re actually blocking the natural ebb and flow of loving energy. When we give and accept love from ourselves, we open our hearts. When your heart is open, the love that’s naturally flowing inside you can then flow freely to others. I promise, there is no better feeling than receiving and giving love in the world. If you take nothing else from this post, please remember that you are loved just as you are. There is no one else like you in the world.
A final note of gratitude.
Thank you to my mom and husband for their tender care over the last 6+ weeks, to my family and friends who have been sending love and encouraging words, and to all the wonderful horses who continue to act as my guides.