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BLOG: The new year is always a time for reviewing the highs and lows of the year just gone

Kerry Mack thanks Mayfield Pzazz CREDIT Michelle Terlato

© Michelle Terlato

The New Year is always a time for reviewing the highs and lows of the year just gone, recalling the lessons learned, the goals set and achieved, or not achieved. It's a time for setting new goals and making plans on how to realise them. We know that goals should be SMART, (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). But I am not going to bore you with that. Goals should also reflect your values. Just because you could achieve something doesn't mean you should set that as a goal.  The holiday season is a time we spend with family and loved ones, which often leads us to think about what is important to us, what our values are.
Why do we ride horses? A simple explanation is that it makes us happy. Let's think about this a bit more. For me, the holiday season is a time for catching up on reading. I have been looking forward to reading 'The Book of Joy', a collaboration between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These inspirational and wise men have seen immense suffering with the tyranny of China against Tibet, and the terrible fight to stop apartheid in South Africa. They met for a week in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama, to discuss Joy and how to achieve this. 'Joy is much bigger than happiness.while happiness is dependent on external circumstances, joy is not', says Desmond Tutu. The Dalai Lama believes that the 'purpose of life is to avoid suffering and find happiness'.

Of course the Buddhists recognise that to live is to suffer, so it's not always about avoiding suffering but to suffer well, to take adversity and find meaning in it. This is the first pillar of Joy outlined by the pair of spiritual leaders. Perspective. The way we see the world is our perspective. Survivors of the Holocaust described that people who could see some meaning or purpose in their suffering were more likely to survive. They had a different perspective than those who found only hopelessness.

Now we know that being involved in horses brings joy and happiness, frustration, and heartbreak. In the experience of the difficulties with our horses, we can bring a perspective of optimism, we can take a wider perspective, stepping back from self interest. Can you take something bad and see the good that has come out of it? The loss of a loved horse is only heartbreaking because the relationship brought so much happiness. Hopefully we reciprocated by caring for him and ensuring he had a good life. So when he leaves us we can reflect on the happiness that we hope was reciprocal, and be comforted by that. Sometimes the big disasters (like the fire we had in our truck) lead to people rallying around and supporting us, bringing us closer together..

Another of the eight pillars of joy identified by those two very wise men is gratitude. It is easy to take a moment to really feel gratitude for the huge privilege it is to have these wonderful creatures in our lives. Sometimes we forget to feel grateful. We take it for granted that we can have horses, or we allow ourselves to be overcome with feelings of frustration when things don't go according to plan. And yet it is through the frustrations and sufferings that we become better versions of ourselves. We learn to regulate our feelings, we learn to persist with determination, we learn to see things from a wider perspective, which could include the horse's perspective.

The eight pillars of joy include four from the head, namely perspective, humility, humor and acceptance, and four pillars of the heart, namely, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Don't you think that our involvement with horses gives us innumerable opportunities to practice these qualities and experience a deeper joy than just happiness. The are many times I am able to practice humility with my horses when yet again I get it wrong. And many opportunities to practise acceptance. If you can't go to that competition because the truck isn't going or a hoof abscess interferes with the preparation, you just have to accept it. To accept the decision of putting a beloved youngster down, due to a fracture sustained in the paddock, on a Sunday when no one was around to upset him, is so so hard. But it had to be done. We forgive our horses their failures and foibles, and disobediences (within reason).  We have compassion for these animals that depend on us, and give us much. We should always be generous in spirit to them.

So the joy in your horse may not be only the immediate joy and happiness of achieving that goal, be it a training goal, like a flying change, or a competition goal of a clear round cross country. The joy you find in your horse may be the kind of joy that makes you a better person, a more compassionate person, a more joyful person who influences those around her joyfully.

Happy New Year Kerry Mack

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