‘tude adjustment

You’re simply un-American if you’ve never heard the phrase “Attitude is everything”. Like a bad broken record, this three-word nuisance was pasted around my schools for as long as I can remember. Along with those cheesy motivators, I found irritation in it. In true adolescent form, I wanted to prove it wrong. I was so naïve.

….until I realized how true it actually was.

Once again, Depp speaks wisdom as a drunk pirate.

I can’t truly pinpoint when this too-true saying finally set into my stubborn, mule-like brain. I’m sure it had something to do with moving from GA to VA, horses, or both.

How often have you found yourself in a scenario that you entered in with a poor outlook: class, a social engagement, a task, assignment….. if you’re anything like I used to be… too often. How did it end for you?

Yet another life lesson learned in the saddle: attitude is absolutely everything. Horses are not like people. They aren’t deceived by fake smiles or false words, they read body language and are keen to hear the tone of your voice. Not the words per se, the tone. Try as hard as you might to conceal your attitude from them but it will be fruitless. They know when you don’t trust them, they sense the little idiosyncrasies that are derived from your uncertainty.

An excellent example is jumping. When approaching the fence, you have to look up, think about the final product and successful completion of the motion. Don’t look at the jump. Don’t look, don’t think, don’t imagine, don’t acknowledge the jump. My sister is the best trainer I’ve had, and I’m not just saying this, because she knows me so well. She has always told me to keep my head up: “keep your eyes out of the dirt or you’re going to end up there” she’d holler (over and over). She always said to pick a point past the fence, focus on it, and make your only desire to get to that point. Don’t worry about anything in between. Make that point, whatever it is, your new fixation. The body language will follow.

The fence isn’t going anywhere. It’s not changing. You’ve already sized it up, you know what you’re up against. Now, you are the one moving. Isn’t this a lot like obstacles in our lives? Focus on the motion. Riding as long as I have, it really didn’t hit me until very recently: the key to a successful (refusal-free) jump is impulsion, motivation, and focus on the motion (not the obstacle). Attitude. If I think I can, we can. If I get nervous, or concerned I will stop her by looking down at the fence, inadvertently giving her a “way out” with my hands, and/or lacking drive in my seat. I won’t mean to, but that tiny glance down at the 3’3” solid, unyielding barn jump will cause her to hesitate. She’ll think something is wrong. She won’t jump. Attitude means everything.

The "you will jump this even if we both go down in flames" face.
_MG_9120 The “you will jump this even if we both go down in flames” face.

How many times have you come home to your spouse/roommate/cat/dog/hamster/dust bunnies and had a sour attitude? How quickly did it spread? It’s contagious. I know, back to the horse again, but when I’m in a sour mood and for whatever reason her fuzzy face and funny antics fail to cheer me up… she senses it. She starts acting up. She gets mad. She knows she doesn’t deserve to be treated with a bad attitude and she won’t take it. She politely (I wish) asks for a better mood. My furry feline is a little more forgiving, she just sits on me and purrs until I give in. Much easier.

Here’s an even more familiar experience for us forever (let’s be honest here) students: imagine the last time you had a teacher that didn’t care. How miserable was that class? Was the topic remotely interesting? His or her care-less attitude had a monumental impact on the way they delegated their instruction: it was boring. It was lifeless. No one cared. Attitude is contagious.

So with this I have promised myself that with the eternal joy that Christ has given me to be a positive person. I want to be infectious. I want to spread the smiles. I want to be a light in the dim gloom that can often invade peoples’ lives. It’s easy to spread the doom and gloom, and just as easy to spread the joy.

Often when I go for my morning runs on the Huckleberry trail, I make it my mission to give, and receive, as many smiles and “good mornings” as humanly possible. I don’t care if I’m pushing my run with my last dying desperate breath. I WILL say hello and they WILL smile back. Maybe this is an aggressive approach, but it makes my runs better. I’ve probably created a “that smiling happy girl” reputation for myself just like the visor walker dude. Please tell me other people have seen him- I have seen and waved at him so many times I feel like we’ve met before. I have no clue who he is.

Point being, you never know how much your smiley attitude will affect someone. It can be as simple as a friendly, genuine interest in how the Kroger cashier’s day is going (chances are, if there are couponers out there like me… not good) or taking time to go grab some overpriced coffee with a friend to see how they are doing. Even more simple, ask someone how their day is and listen. It doesn’t take much. People appreciate it.

If they don’t, they can go take their misery elsewhere because it’s not welcome here.

What motivates you?

Let me get this straight. I need to parade around as someone else, put myself in their shoes, and handle the DC WASA lead in water problem as if I was one of the responsible parties?

I mulled this thought over as I prepared myself to act as Lynette Stokes, a toxicologist from DC Department of Health. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how to handle my very first press conference and representing the DC DOH was a little strange to me. To say that I was nervous about the conference was probably a vast understatement, I was petrified and the video shows it. I had not even an inkling of what to expect; I imagined some sort of cross between a parental scolding and a thesis defense. Neither of the aforementioned events pleasant for any parties involved.

I had read the materials and sleepily assembled an opening statement for Ms. Stokes (confession: I did write my opening statement while half-asleep after working on my proposal). I went with the “fewer = better” approach. I wanted to emphasize that the DOH was doing something. We were giving blood tests. We did get funding from the CDC for this. I saw an email noting that the CDC wanted us to focus on lead poisoning from paint and fumes. I latched on to this.

I watched as each organization, my classmates, stumbled over their words after being prodded… one by one. I felt almost like I was a cow going to slaughter, waiting on my turn for the stun gun. No worries, I thought to myself, the CDC is going down (to China town!). The CDC is not present for the conference. I planned to make them the sacrificial lamb, and I did. I sang like a canary. “Unfortunately… the CDC has provided [funding] for us” I noted, “The CDC prefers that we emphasize the dust and the paint… regrettable…” CDC, meet bus, I hope you enjoy inspecting the undercarriage. I ended with “We have to respect where our funding does come from”. Foot in mouth… I went too far. Dr. Edwards rebutted with a thought-provoking question:

“You say we have to respect where your funding comes from. How far does that go? Does CDC own you?”

I paused. Not to formulate my response by the DOH, but because this resounded in my own life.

Going home, feeling admittedly relieved, I hopped on my bike and pondered. What motivates her? That kid over there? The jerk that just cut me off? What motivates me? Why do I act the way I do? I would like to say undoubtedly that I am led by the teachings of Christ, but this isn’t wholly true. I’m human. My instinct is to watch out for myself.

This was undoubtedly a learning experience, not only eye-opening as a consumer of water that I trust EPA regulates, but as a person. What am I motivated by?

Once upon a time (class) I was told that should you ever begin to lose faith in humanity, change your view. It was true. It was one of those really eye-opening and utterly depressing classes. Change your view: observe people not as how you would like them to act but as how you assume they will act based on normal human instinct. This is unbelievably scary when you apply the nearly true principal that people will default to act selfishly. Depressing as it is, acts of goodwill are far more appreciated when you view the world this way.

But isn’t it true? Do people act selfishly? What drives them? Funding agencies? Religion? Parents?

Think of a small child. Cute, adorable, extremely selfish. Raw human nature. They aren’t bound by the idea of being judged by others. In a way, it’s quite beautiful. In another, it’s slightly disheartening.

I suppose the greater question is this: what motivates you?

I know I’ve seen this in, take a big breath, Dakota. She loves food. Any type of food. Grass, leaves, bugs, human fingers, carrots (same thing?), apples, strawberries, clover, treats, oats, mush, clothes, and Dr. Pepper. Horses need their indulgences too.

She also enjoys the occasional car window as an extra-special treat
She also enjoys the occasional car window as an extra-special treat

I would love to think that when my horse sees me and saunters over, she thinks “oh boy! mom! I love that lady! I wanna go for a ride! Let’s jump things!”

In reality, her mind is more like this: “GIANT CARROT WITH LEGS. CARROTS! I LOVE THOSE! I can tolerate the runabout for THOSE!”

….truth hurts.

She is also motivated by fear, pressure and praise. As much as I would like to live in fairy world where as soon as mom hops on her back she deems me captain… but she doesn’t. When I ride, she is motivated by alleviation of pressure. I squeeze, she moves forward, I release. If you have ever seen a horse being lunged, it is about pressure. Thanks to the herd instinct, it makes driving animals forwards quite easy. I step behind her shoulder, she moves forward. I step in front of her shoulder, she halts. Backing is not a natural gait for horses, so this is a different training technique to achieve. It’s more of a visual, rather than tangible, pressure. It’s a bit like having someone watch you. You feel the pressure of their stare though it isn’t physically inflicted.

Feel the pressure?
The cat, counterpart II. Feel the pressure?

I drive her to and over a fence thanks to pressure. I praise her. Without my influence it would be fear. While we ride she is preoccupied by my commands and doesn’t leave room for fear. When she is turned out into her field she responds differently. She grazes, breaking when she is spooked to run around like a looney-toon only to be distracted by motivator one: food.

Regardless, the point is this: what motivates you? Fear? Professors (refer to fear)? Parents? Money? Food? Comfort?

I’d like to think humans a quite a bit more complex than my fluffy counterpart(s). Counterpart II is less complex than Dakota, she’s only motivated by food. Only.

I should be motivated by God, teachings of Jesus, the will to help others and the desire to glorify Him. I am occasionally motivated by these things but sometimes it’s convenience (aka lazy), petty rewards (ehm.. money), food, comfort, looming deadlines… the list is endless.

And the last prodding personal question: how would you behave if you permitted the thing that should motivate you to actually motivate you? What might that look like?

I know my answer would be a much happier me. Things still wouldn’t be perfect; they never will be. Personally I like it that way- life would be too boring without the mishaps and pitfalls.

But what if, just for a moment, we entertained the idea that everyone was motivated by selflessness?

Boy, what a wonderful world.

Not only is she motivated by food, but she doesn't mind sharing.
She may be motivated by food, but at least she doesn’t mind sharing.


I struggle to learn from reading. I struggle to learn from diagrams. I struggle to learn from writing.

I learn best from experiences. Hard, fast, in-your-face, you-can’t possibly-forget, experiences.

I suppose this is probably because I’m stubborn. I don’t like to listen to logic. I like to teach myself. I don’t like to think about what happens in the aftermath. I like to think about what I want, what that takes, and how to do it. I don’t like to ponder the thoughts of “what if”. Now, I’m a bit more cautious, “mom-like” if you will. After several accidents, it took a few, I have learned. At least I like to think that I have.

It was a beautiful April morning and I was going to enjoy it in the best way I knew how: taking Dakota on the trails. I parked by her paddock, bridled her (I keep it in my car sometimes- I’m that lazy) and walked up to the barn where I would groom and tack her up in a saddle and saddle pad outfitted with pockets to carry necessities: phone (no service- remember?), hoof pick, and a halter (just.. in.. case…). To my dismay the tack room, normally ajar, was locked. No one was there to open it for me and getting my keys meant walking ALL the day back to my car. Heaven forbid I walk 0.01 miles to retrieve keys.

This is when I consciously deceived myself. I chose not get the keys. I opted to hop back on, bareback (thankfully with a helmet!), and take her on the trails. Alone. With a no-service phone. A green, spooky horse. No saddle.

We’ve jumped bareback before. I’ve managed to stay on her spooks lately. She trusts me. We won’t go far.

She was tense the entire ride and she needed constant encouragement from me. I could feel her heart pounding in her chest through my jean adorned legs wrapped firmly around her sides. She wanted to investigate the cows (after jumping 3 feet sideways) but I pushed her forward with a sense of urgency. I told myself she would be just “finnnneeeee” and continued applying pressure. I had a personal ignorant goal to do a nice hilly loop so I pushed. I drove her through. She was snorting. She was terrified. I ignored her obvious signs of malcontent.  Every leaf rustle threatened to kill her. Shadows were carnivorous, preferring horse meat. The innocent looking squirrel was contemplating killing her too. I thought about turning back after the creek. I ignored logic. I didn’t take the little victory of the creek crossing. I pushed on.

I took this on my service-free phone, about 20 minutes before the fall.

She reached a small embankment overlooking a rather pretty ravine in the deep woods when it happened. She succumbed to the prodding fear that had been looming all along. She made a quick 180 turn, I lost my balance. She bolted. I held onto the reins for dear life. Not. Going. Back. To. The. Barn. Without. Me.

Hooves. Pounding heart. Blood. Leaves rustling. Ground. Solid, cold, hard ground.

I couldn’t hold onto the reins anymore. It was hold on and have an arm dislocated or let go. I relinquished my death grip, fearing the worst that she would leave me. I knew she was my only ticket home… we were a mile out. I didn’t know what damage was done. I didn’t know if I would be able to walk, will aside. Without considering the possibility of spine injury, I immediately stood to avoid any further damage by being trampled. I foggily gazed over at my partner. She stopped. She looked back at me. She waited.

Involuntary whimpers of pain leaked from behind my teeth as I then took a moment to evaluate the damage. Bloody shoulder. Still functional. Right arm. Is that my arm? That doesn’t look right. Not functional. Lord, please don’t let it be broken. Vitals. Trouble breathing. Not good. Legs. Attached. Good.

So dizzy.. need to sit. I plopped right in front of her. Anyone who knows anything about large animals is aware that you NEVER allow knees to touch the ground. It makes a fast getaway impossible. I decided, in my adrenaline-pumped state to just sit. Maybe this would persuade her to stay. The situation forced me to trust her. I didn’t before. I do now. She didn’t even think about leaving me alone. She knew how to get home and chose to stay.

She sniffed. She nuzzled. She wasn’t scared of the leaves anymore. She was confused. She didn’t understand. She didn’t mean to do it.

Knowing I was far from home, the grace of God let me get back on her (I still don’t know how- injuries were on opposing sides, rendering me immobile) with a nonfunctional arm, rolled ankle, broken rib, and smashed shoulder. Self-deception can lead you into some tricky spots. Mine nearly killed me. There’s no doubt in my mind that my helmet saved my life. It sustained irreparable damage from the accident.

Long story short, Dakota carried me calmly to the barn. I was able to drive back, call Schiffert en route and played roulette with my parking. Curious students asked: “spelunking or horses?”

I don’t want to talk about it. Stupidity is the right answer.

Elbow injuries are no joke. Until that point I hadn’t cried, but when the doctor turned my arm on the x-ray table I was like a newborn child. I couldn’t contain it. Future reference: save the elbows. The biggest bottle of codeine I’ve ever seen was given to me. The doctor’s parting pity words were “good… luck”. I spent the next 12 hours counting down the minutes until I could have another dose.

My “elephantitis” elbow. Normally my arm is about 1/3 that size.

I’m really blessed. That was dumb. I deceived myself to the point where I wouldn’t listen to Dakota’s signs. I was so caught up in my own lies that she would be a stellar 100% bombproof horse that I risked life and limb for it.

I’ve heard it all before. Know your limits. Know their limits. Be okay with them. I think I can finally say that we’ve come to that point. I’m more cautious but still push some. Without the push, no progress is made.

I learned a number of things from this event: listen, assess the situation, know the limits, relinquish goals for safety when need be, trust your horse, know when to let go, slings are really obnoxious and skin can really turn every color of the rainbow. I can be a difficult student. I learn best from experiences.

This is an extreme case of self-deception. It happens to me a lot. I know that it does. As an experiment I really should try counting the number of times I say “it’ll be finneeeee” on a daily basis when deep down I know the reality. It would be comical levels of ignorance.

I’m glad that this happened to me and the scars are a personal “Ebenezer”. Needless to say, the event was a set back for training. I was back riding within a week. I could ride, I just couldn’t fall again. Miracles happen and I’m completely back to normal with the exception of minor nerve damage in my elbow (it’s weird) and shoulder scars. I still have a torn shirt as a reminder. The irony? It was my physical therapy shirt I “earned” after the last fall. My dad words it best: “don’t be stupid”.

So the next time I think about trifling in a little self-deception, I’ll recall these moments. Or maybe I won’t. Only time will tell.

No, it won’t rain! I will bike!

You’re going to LOVE this six mile run!

There won’t be a quiz.

My cat loves the vet.

No one will care if I vacuum at 6am on a weekday. They shouldn’t be sleeping now anyways. What are they, undergrads?

Sure! I can take a class that ends at 1:30 and another that starts at 1:25. I can totally time travel. This actually is my schedule…

This is daily. Some work in my favor. Some don’t.

2013-06-13 14.06.50
Anyone care for a bike ride? Weather channel says 0% chance of rain.

Optimism is nice. It’s a good thing. It keeps me sane. It makes me a more positive, hopeful person.

Deception is not. I find it hard to discern between the two. The difference is this: optimism is choosing to see the good while acknowledging the bad does exist as is possible. Deception is seeing what you want and ignoring the rest.

I learned the hard way. I’m grateful it’s over. I’m glad I learned.

Dear self, please… don’t do that again.

The ravine. We've since conquered the trails with a saddle and trail buddy.
The ravine. We’ve since conquered the trails with a saddle and trail buddy.



No Service

How many times have you stopped, looked around at the sky, smelled the (semi) fresh air and truly observed your surroundings? In 2013, probably never.

Today as I was speedily biking to my babysitting job, late as per usual, I couldn’t help but play a game of real-life frogger with the students around me. Anyone who has attempted to navigate the drill field at class change can sympathize. I looked around at the students and was struck by a disturbing image: every single one was hunched over looking at their phones. The day was glorious, high 70’s without a cloud in the sky. Yet, even with this amazing atmosphere that God has offered us, not a one was appreciating it.

The saddest realization I made was I’m not different from them. I’m constantly attached to technology, by my phone or one of my two computers (yes, two). Does this foster a positive listening environment? No. Does it foster deep meaningful relationships? No. Is it possible to establish relationships and a positive listening environment despite these obstacles? Yes.

Listening takes intention. Relationships require listening.

Don’t misunderstand me: technology is an incredible tool. We’re extremely blessed to have the modern day conveniences that we do. I definitely appreciate my iPhone. Probably too much. I digress.

This is one of many blogs where I will take a real life, easy-to-relate-to situation for any Hokie and turn it into an equine-crazed post. I apologize in advance for the horse chatter but I can say with confidence that my mare, Dakota, has taught me more than any human being ever could. The past year with her has been the most rewarding, challenging and frustrating that I never could have fully prepared myself for. As a slight aside and to give some background, she was merely saddlebroken when I purchased her in 2012. She’s green: young and inexperienced.

The first day I arrived at my barn I was panicked. It wasn’t the massive horses, the new workers, or the terrifying barn lady (terrifying only skims the surface). The most frightening thing was my lack of cell service. From an inconvenience standpoint the inability to connect was simply annoying, I couldn’t post cute pictures of my horse on instagram, incessantly check my email to see if my advisor summoned me, log on to facebook (another one engaged?! …she got married?) or text my friends to ask for them to ride with me. On a more practical standpoint, I learned that the lack of cell service could potentially be life-threatening (this is another story for another day).

Over time, I have begun to relish my technological cut-off. When I pass a certain hill on Catawba hitting speeds that would (and does) make my mother yell at me, I know the service is lost… and I’m free. I can devote my full attention to my horse. The barn isn’t without distractions: talking to a friend about the latest boy news in her life or hearing the “you wouldn’t believe what he/she said” makes me lose focus. My horse becomes temporarily neglected. I rush through my grooming routine or half-heartedly work her, walking merrily around in circles caught up in the world of girly gossip.

She’s not a half-hearted horse. She needs my full, undivided attention and makes this very clear to me. She has taught me what it is like to truly communicate. It’s hard. I have to cut off the world around me and put myself into her mind. I have to see things the way she does. She doesn’t understand that the red jumping block that has been there for months will not spontaneously grow arms and eat her alive. I have to look at objects to judge their level of “spookiness”, approaching with caution. I have to be attentive with my body to feel for when her muscles tense. When she does, I know what’s coming and have to occupy her mind. If I’m not occupying her thoughts, she reverts to her instincts as a horse and employs her sense of “flight” (mind you hers is quite strong). I have to ask her to do other tasks to prevent disastrous spooks that have been the cause of too many Schiffert visits and every last one of our falls. She doesn’t politely ask for my attention, she demands it and has a right to. Our relationship is a unique bond, between two creatures that truly cannot speak unless we listen to one another. I have to communicate by observing her and understanding her first. I must force myself to “speak” her unique language before I ask anything.

Favorite ViewMy partner in crime, Dakota.

The lack of cell service is circumstantial, but I’m eternally grateful for it. I know when I am out at the barn, the entire world can go on without me. I am required to let go of daily worries (bills… when did I grow up?), emails from my advisor (ugh she’s asking for what?!), texts from friends (no I don’t want to go out… I want to sit in my PJ’s and watch Breaking Bad until my brain turns to mush), useless facebook updates (stop getting married.. please), and hassling phone calls (Georgianna who? I’m sorry, she doesn’t live here. Wrong number).

I become a person again. I’m whole. My attention is 100% focused.

What if we challenged ourselves, for a day or maybe just an hour, to relinquish our grip on technology? I know, especially with school, this isn’t possible for most. Toy with the idea. What would that be like? What would you spend your time doing? Would you notice more things? Take your time? Appreciate the environment around you? Invest in people?

Another topic, aside from pony tales, I will revert too frequently is my faith. It is the most important thing to me without doubt and can never be stripped from me. This idea of investment just goes back to the idea of living intentionally. God invites us to generously invest in things that are eternal: the Kingdom of God and people, all of which who are of His work.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, I think it’s important to take a step back, disconnect from technology and talk to people. I think we (I) often get too caught up with anxious attitudes towards school/life/petty things to take a mental break. As we learned in class, it’s not easy to listen. However, communicating with another (regardless of species) and truly listening to one another can be exponentially rewarding.