We’ve all had those moments. Those face-burning, goose-bump forming, gut-dropping occasions. Regret… Remorse. Last week’s class got me thinking… how do we discern between those who are feigning remorse and those who truly regret their decisions?

Not surprisingly, I’ve seen this in my horse. I have described the following chain of events as following to my horse friends: it’s like a kid pitching a fit going to the doctor. Her actions were explained, yet still unacceptable.

A couple weeks ago I was cleaning her lady-parts (a necessary evil of mares) when she kicked me. Not a warning shot, not a “I’m showing you I’m 10x your size” threat, but a direct and calculated hit. She aimed and was successful. Thanks to my horrific temper, I reacted swiftly, yelling all sorts of colorful things at her and chucking the hard rubber curry comb at her rump as hard as I could. Had my leg not been bruised, a kick from me to the uber-sensitive belly would have followed.

Her body language, even prior to my yelling was that of remorse. It was obvious she wasn’t remorseful of being caught, she regretted her action. She was truly sorry. She didn’t react to my explosive behavior like a typical horse would have- fight or flight. She did neither. She flattened her ears, hung her head and didn’t dare move a muscle. Like any good parent I forgave her but still followed through with the punishment.

Into the rig, an ingenious contraption that’s designed to force (persuade is a nicer word) a horse into the proper position. For a green animal it’s difficult to sustain. Imagine making an out of shape person do wall-squats (isometric) for 15 minutes. Same thing. Round and round she goes, when does she stop? When I say so. My knee throbbed pretty hard. When her compliance and obedience made me feel merciful, the throbbing returned and I continued with the reprimand.

The infamous balance system. With the right training plan it can work wonders.
The infamous balance system. With the right training plan it can work wonders.

I guess this situation made me realize that I should have retracted my words from last week. I said Lance should have received a lesser punishment if he was truly sorry. Dakota didn’t. She was sorry, and she got the punishment as if she wasn’t. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

It reminds me of quite a few Bible passages as well. God is the ultimate good Father, punishing when needed but always forgiving. Forgiveness doesn’t prevent consequences. (Galatians 6:7, 2 Sam 12:13-14) Christian or not, here’s something we need to remember… we will always have consequences for our actions. What we need to realize is if we can deal with the results.


Perception is reality

Typical leading behavior from her paddock- floppy ears and not a care in the world.
Typical leading behavior from her paddock- floppy ears and not a care in the world.

Normally walking Kota up to the barn from her paddock is laid-back. I have to walk slower than molasses, almost backwards, to keep her pace. Lately, things have changed. She reared upon exiting her paddock (getting her to the gate was a struggle itself), tensing and backing, refusing to listen. I had changed nothing, but something I couldn’t see had a tremendous effect on her. I expressed my frustration to Travis, one of the barn managers, stating how Kota has been an absolute basket-case as of late.

“I dunno whats gotten into ’em lately. I ‘magine it must be dem kai-otes round here. There’s a white ‘un that comes around at dusk and travels ‘long da road by da girl’s paddock” he stated with a exhausted air about him. “I tried killin’ it when I saw it up on that hill…” he pointed vaguely towards the cow pasture, squinting into the sun and continued “I had a semi-automatic ‘an by the time I re-loaded it ran ‘way. Ain’t gonna be ’round long. It’s done pure white. Some hun’er is gonna get it if I don’.”

The entire week all the horses, even the calmest, were spooky. They jumped at leaves, refusing to approach one side of the ring. Something had happened there. It’s likely the white coyote had taken down some prey there and left the remains in the bushes. Horses are notoriously afraid of dead bodies- Kota nearly threw me when she once sniffed a dead snapping turtle in the creek. Harmless, but to her it meant she was next.

Comparing Dakota’s brain to mine, I have a greater ability to reason. She thinks in pictures, moments, and emotions. Being the more informed of the two, it would only be natural that I cast her concerns aside and continue on doing what I felt was reasonable. However, being around horses, it is known that not listening and being unreasonable never ends well. Pick and choose your battles so you can win every time. Losing can be ugly… and painful.

I knew that during our ride there was nothing to be afraid of. I tried every trick up my sleeve to distract her and redirect her frazzled brain. It’s pretty frustrating trying to get a tense 1,033 (she’s gotten fatter..) pound beast to do a jump course when one quarter of the ring is the scariest place on the planet. At one point we went shooting across the ring while I was yelling “this is RIDICULOUSSSSSSSSSS” as her jell-o legs each went in opposite directions. Point being: she was afraid, she knew something was up, and I didn’t. I knew she would be fine during our ride, nothing would attack in the day, nor would a coyote try to take down a horse her size. This doesn’t mean her fears were irrelevant. She had every right to be scared, especially with coyotes (and black bears I’ve been told) roaming the place. I also found out later that day that target practice was being held in a neighboring field that morning. No wonder they were jumpy… gunshots all morning long.

Her world isn't the same as mine
Her reality isn’t my reality

Perception is reality. I wasn’t going to have any success arguing with her. My best option was to understand her fear, accept it, and choose not to fight it. Ultimately, when inconsolably afraid, it’s best to leave it be (for now). Work on things we can succeed in and build her confidence. Understand that her fear is real, justified even. Avoid the triggers and make the ride a positive experience for both of us. The spookiness has since passed, for now, and she’s back to normal. Darn kai-otes.

Similarly, scientists are the “more informed” people compared to the public. I could have chosen to abuse my power and literally beat my ideas into her without listening. First this isn’t humane and second it would get nowhere. As scientists we have a responsibility to understand the public we serve and present our information, our logic in a manner in can be understood.

Arguing with a scared animal is a lot like people? We try to have political debate, argue about religions, fight over who was/is “right” but usually these arguments end in red faces, harsh words and cold shoulders. The sooner we realize that others see things from a different perspective, the sooner we can begin to understand and approach them in a constructive manner. We have to speak their language. I’m not saying we can’t disagree. I think that discrepancies are what makes the world so much more fascinating and fun to be a part of.

A crazy teacher back in high school used to always tell us that “people’s perception is reality- their reality is different from your reality”. As if personal communications wasn’t challenging enough, let’s make it more difficult. However, this is why it is so important to listen to others, incorporate their experiences and see things, even for a brief moment from their perspective. You just might learn something.


There is nothing more wonderful that taking an impossibly long hot shower while the landlord foots the bill. This was my intent, until an event transformed my glorious shower into a cage match.

The blistering hot water streamed down and I looked up, squinting through the cascade to realize that I was not alone. I was joined in my tiny, time-worn shower by one of the most unwelcome guests: arachnid. He began to descend into my personal space bubble when a wave of terror overcame me, adrenaline came to my aid and I triumphantly killed the little beast, sending him into a watery grave.

Had I not seen him I would have had the absurdly long shower I envisioned. I’m sure Spidey McLotsoflegs would have minded his own business and probably killed a few bugs in the process for me. But one thing changed that: fear.

This weekend was similarly more eventful than I had hoped. After giving Dakota a few days off as I was out of town, I rode out into the field with a couple friends. I was tense, feeling her explosive attitude which was not unexpected after a few days without work. She was ready to go. My fear of her violent behavior was what stoked the fire. She felt how tense my muscles were, how unwilling I was to go with her movement, and how desperate I was to feel in control. After witnessing one friend get dumped by her horse (a very minor fall), we continued deeper into the field walking around and enjoying the sunshine. Nearing the woods, instinct become too much for Dakota to handle- in her true skittish form she spooked. Had I actually slept the night before I might have stayed on.

This wasn’t the case.

180 spin + bolt + bucking = rider bail. There was a point where I realized, and verbalized, that I wasn’t going to regain control and I knew, one way or another, I was coming off. Adrenaline once again took over- in a matter of seconds I dropped my remaining stirrup, picked a side and bailed. I landed with minor injuries and Dakota stopped after throwing a few more good bucks to ensure the imaginary horse-eating panther was gone. She calmly allowed me to get back on, no (significant) harm done. Admittedly I feel like I was hit by a train, but other than that I’m whole.

The cause of that mess? Fear. First mine, then hers. Her instincts are fight or flight, in this case she flew and then fought with bucks. When God was giving out instincts her reply was “make hugs, not war”.

Typical spook spin- we were intending to go straight.

And here’s the difference between my horse and I: I can overcome fear with logic. She can’t. The only way to get around fear in equines is desensitization or distraction- neither of which was being employed Sunday evening.

Fear is debilitating. FDR worded it so beautifully in his famed quote ” the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, he continues, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts…”

Had I been unafraid, I wouldn’t have been tense. I would have been like jello, she would have felt the calm and probably been more confident. Because of fear, she was scared and it spread. She reacted.

Aside from being a handicap, fear can also be an incredible tool. As humans we naturally have fears that keep us from doing really idiotic things. Scroll through a few of the Darwin Awards and you’ll find a multitude of people that didn’t have quite enough fear in them. Fear of heights, speeding cars, creepy looking bugs, snakes, animals with giant teeth… these are healthy. Going and playing with sharks is ill-advised and there aren’t many people who want to do this… except the Irwins.

Physical fears are probably the easiest to identify, but not the most common. Fear of rejection? Conformity is a powerful phenomena and is powered by none other than our lovely enemy, fear. If we let fear overcome us, we would never try for that grant, ask that person on a date, speak out about an injustice, apply to that school or try to achieve, well, anything. Don’t be an atychiophobe.

And here’s the amazing part- because we can use logic and reasoning fear is a choice. We can allow our minds to run rampant and take over our actions, often falling into paranoia. However, we have a choice- we can choose to mentally fight the terror and change our environment to resolve the issue (sorry Spidey- you had to go). Of course there are times when fear is justified and maybe even helpful but often in our day to day ordinary lives it’s unwelcome. We don’t need it.

Hard to get, easy to lose.

Resisting conformity, guys. I’m not posting about the Young Professional’s Guide. Take that, Asch!

“I’m so glad I have an honest horse” Cassie exclaimed as she landed a rather interesting feat: jumping a wide, large, solid wooden jump with her unsuspecting boyfriend sitting on top of it. Cross country schooling (big field + jumps + horse) can be a terrifying experience or rather reassuring.

Honesty. This is probably not a word that non-horse people would apply to the equine species. I’m not talking a horse that is a spitting image of honest Abe or George Washington. In the horse world this term, “honest” means a horse that undoubtedly trusts its rider. It knows the mission that the rider is directing it to do, and will do it without question. Truly unconditionally honest horses like these are hard to find, they cannot wholly be made, but must have a somewhat innate form of honesty. These are trusting horses. Gaining that trust from an animal that operates on fear is difficult. It wasn’t until recently that I finally began to trust Dakota again in the field (after a few bronco episodes) and we were able to accomplish so much more. My trust in her translated to a more relaxed jump approach and in turn she trusted me. I had to stick my neck out on the line, trust her, before I was granted the same courtesy.

She took the big spot but it was fluid because of trust.
She jumped early but I trusted her. No harm done!

It’s a funny thing to think that something so simple as trust is extremely difficult to gain yet so easy to lose. It’s what all quality relationships are built on, regardless of species.

Think about who or what you trust on a day to day basis- your car, other drivers (now THAT is terrifying), food, water, electricity, the government… This is only a TINY inkling of all the people and corporations we trust every day. What happens when these agencies/companies mess up? Can we afford to stop trusting them? No- unless you’ve been betrayed by a brand you can boycott (enter Chobani- one of many food recalls).

Water, government, electricity, transportation, employment- we need these things. We don’t have a choice. Do you think that plays in to how they choose to ethically conduct themselves? I think it does.


Earned trust means so much more than forced trust.