The Hero’s Journey; a Horsewoman’s Story

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Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world. Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through. He calls this common structure “the monomyth.”

So many of the biggest box-office films we all know and many love have featured the hero’s journey, from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Hunger Games are just a few.

The universal story somehow speaks to us on an unconscious level, it stirs up something in our souls, but not many of us would ever imagine that we too might be on our own hero’s journey.

Call to action:  February 24th 2009, started like any other winter morning. There was snow on the ground and the chill in the air took my breath away as I stepped out to face the day. I headed towards the barn to feed my two horses, Rondo and Gino.

As I entered the barn, I knew something was wrong, both stalls were a mess, shavings all pushed up against the walls and obvious signs of a horse that had been struggling on the ground. I ran out to the corral and found Rondo sprawled out on the ground in distress.

Rondo was the first yearling I had ever had and when he turned 3 years old in 1987, I attended a colt starting clinic in Clemens, CA. It was an amazing weekend and I was the first to ever be on Rondo’s back.

Twenty-four years later I found my best friend fighting for his life and while he had fought colic for several years and together, we successfully got through them all. I knew this time was different. As my husband and I made our way into the Carson Valley with Rondo in the trailer heading for Great Basin, my heart was heavy with fear and regrets.

I knew this would most likely end with my having to say goodbye to a horse that had seen me through so many of life’s milestones. Marriage, the birth of two kids, divorce, marrying the love of my life, relocating and starting a new business. He had been my rock through it all and now I was about to say goodbye.

That day a part of me went with that amazing horse as he drew his last breath. I had never lost someone so dear to me and I found myself lost and alone. As time passed, I was being nudge from something within to find my next young horse to raise and train as my trusty steed.   

The summer of 2009 RC joined our family and I set out to start the training of my second youngster. I felt a strong calling within to step out of my comfort zone and make the commitment to a lifelong dream of learning to be a horse trainer.

Refusal of the call: While a part of me longed for nothing more than to devote my time to pursuing my dream and sign on to taking the horsemanship journey, fear and doubt talked me out of taking that leap of faith.

So instead I spent as much time as possible with RC training him the best I could with the help of a home study course. I was enjoying the process and could see the difference in myself and how my horses were responding to me. I continued to ignore the call within to take the leap of faith towards what I knew deep inside was the path that was meant for me to be on.

Meeting the Mentor: In the summer of 2011, RC turned 3 years old and it was time for him to begin the next level of his development and learn to carry a saddle and rider. A friend of mine who was also on the journey of learning horsemanship as well, introduced me to a horseman that had recently relocated to our area. He too had been involved with a renowned horseman and had spent several years studying with his own mentor.

I hired him to start RC under saddle and spent the next year with him as my mentor. During that time, I was introduced to the first band of wild mustangs. I assisted him in the gentling process of 10 amazing wild mustangs.

Crossing the threshold: As time came to an end with the mustang project and RC was well on his way to being a solid horse under saddle, I was being called to continue my journey with the wild mustangs.

I became so concerned about the plight of the wild mustangs and it broke my heart to see how they were being treated. I knew could not turn my back on them.

After working with the 10 wild ones, seeing how incredibly amazing they were and how traumatized their being captured still haunted them.

 Whenever they heard a helicopter or plane on the horizon, they would all scurry for cover under the trees. The one in the round pen with us became absolutely frantic and we would have to leave the pen until the craft above was out of sight.

Trial and First Failure: I found a local organization that had just rescued 130 wild mustangs from the auction and had released them on a 650-acre sanctuary. I became a part of that organization and was assigned the job of being the herd manager of these amazing mustangs.

I had taken on a job that was going to challenge me to apply all of the skills I had learned as a horsewoman and be open to learning all that these wild horses had to teach me.

The problem was while this ranch was beautiful and peaceful, it lacked the things needed to safely move, these horses around, confined ones that needed to be confined and pens to safely start working with those that were ready to be gentled and trained.  

I would go home at the end of a long day knowing what I needed to construct in order to turn this old and run-down cattle ranch into a functional wild mustang sanctuary. I did not have the manpower, skills to construct what I needed nor the material or funding to do so.

Yet I tried and tried to get what I needed done with what I had and kept coming up unsuccessful at the end of each day. Discouraged and feeling like a failure I finally reached out to my husband sharing my struggles and asked for his and our son’s help.

Meeting Allies and Enemies: My supportive family joined me on this project and together we created a plan and a list of materials we needed and I set out to seek donations of materials and funds to get the job done.

As I shared the story of these wild mustangs with others, we soon had a strong team of volunteers willing to donate their time and labor, just to be in the presence of these majestic animals. The lonely old ranch was transforming into a beautiful and functional wild horse sanctuary.

During this transformational process with the ranch and the wild mustangs, we not only made many new friends we encounter those who began to become hostile towards us for being able to create something amazing out of what seemed impossible.

Resentment began to rise and power struggles ensued. What started as a group of individuals doing all they could for the love of wild mustang soon became a game of who is in control at the expense of the welfare of these beautiful beings. 

It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made when I decided I had to walk away. I felt tremendous guilt for walking away from those 130 wild mustangs I had grown to know and love, yet it was the only choice I had. I felt as though I had failed this herd that had begun to trust me.

Growth, new skills: During the year and half I spent with those wild horses, I would arrive at the ranch hours before anyone expected me and I would go out and find the herd. I would sit on the hillside and watch them as they began to settle into the new life they had been thrown into

During those quiet moments my equine psychology and behavior education began and I was learning from the most experienced teachers around. I was truly learning how to think and act like a horse.

Taking what I had learned as a horsewoman over the past 12 years of practicing natural horsemanship and what these wild horses had taught me, I set out on my never-ending journey of being the best horsewoman I could be.

I had not only learned about horses and mustangs, I learned more about myself as a person and what it means to be devoted to something far bigger than yourself.

I learned that failure is not the end of the road, it is the opportunity to gather what you know and apply it in a new way. I had learned that deep within I have the power of a warrior and the grace of a goddess.

I learned that in order to be successful with a herd of 130 wild mustangs, you must always remain present, calm, focused and willing to be flexible at any moment.

I learned that when you make the commitment to engage with these powerful wild beings, you must be prepared to stand your ground as their leader and prove to them you are on their side.

First Success:  The summer of 2014, my husband and I decide to relocate to the Carson Valley where we could live together with our horses and newly acquired wild mustangs we adopted when we left the sanctuary. Once settled into our new ranch and prepared to work with mustangs, I began gentling and training wild mustangs for others.

My first project was 3 BLM wild mustangs, once they were haltered started, able to trailer, stand for the farrier and vet along with two being started under saddle they were sent to Texas.

I continued to gentle mustangs and develop my skills and understanding with each new mustang. In 2015 I reconnected with the mentor I had worked with in 2011 and was ready to take my education as a horsewoman to the next level.

I loved being a student again and was able to grow in so many ways and apply what I was learning to every horse I worked with. I began to assist my mentor in horsemanship clinics and develop myself as a motivational coach helping people to discover and grow in their own life skills through their interaction with horses.

Grand Trial, Revelation and insight: The spring of 2017, I was truly living my dream of being a horsewoman, I had several of my own clients and was really making a difference in the lives of those I was fortunate to work with during the clinics I was assisting in.

One afternoon while returning RC to his pasture he spooked, spun and hit me in the head with his joule, knocking me unconscious for 15 minutes and giving me a triple brain bleed.

As I laid in neuro ICU under close observation, I found myself scared and reaching out to God. I prayed that I would be able to talk to my children every Sunday on the phone, that I would watch my grandchildren grow up and be able to continue my passion with the horses.

I felt a sense of peace come over me and I heard a still quiet voice ask: if you could have one thing come from this accident what would it be? Without hesitation I stated “inner peace, I want to know you God on the deepest level possible and I want inner peace.” I finally drifted off to sleep as my pain medication eased the intense pain in my brain.

The recovery was a 4-month process and during that time, I gained much insight into who I was and who I desired to be. I spent many hours on the couch, resting my brain and exploring my mind, my beliefs, patterns and behaviors. While this was a challenging process it was what I was meant to do.

Discarding Old Self: As I emerged back into my daily life of horses, I realized I was not the person I was before the accident. I truly had gained a new sense of inner peace and self-confidence. I knew I was indeed on the right path. I could no longer play small and allow others to guide my way.

Accepting the new role: I found myself stepping back into my day to day life with a new sense of inner peace and a new level of self-confidence. It seemed as though my horsemanship and coaching skills had somehow been amplified during my head trauma and recovery.

I was being approached by more people in search of my horsemanship coaching and decided it was time for my husband and I to finally start that non-profit we had been talking about.

The road back: The summer of 2017 on through all of 2018 was filled with tremendous growth and education. I was actually living my dream that I had been dreaming of all of my life. With that came lots of changes, while many were amazing and exciting. Lots were painful and I found myself feeling alone, isolated and questioning if I had truly made the right choices.

September of 2018, I took the leap of faith and answered the nudging from within to launch my own horsemanship motivational coaching program and was very excited to be so well received in our community.

2019 began with a full calendar of clients and clinics and we had a wonderful board of directors in place for our nonprofit which was growing at a very steady pace.

Stepping up to the final challenge-success May 30th in a split second I found myself being forced to let go of the lead rope, the grip I had on my 1200-pound horse and metaphorically so much more. I don’t think I will ever forget recovery from surgery and being asked if I wanted to keep the amputated part of my finger.

Of course, without hesitation, I replied no! For crying out loud I had held that thing in the palm of my hand for 8 fricking hours while waiting for surgery, it was of no use to me now.

The months that follow I found myself letting go of so much in my life, things that just no longer had meaning. I found myself letting go of the need to control that outcomes in my life.

As I processed through the experience and began to heal, I realized that in that moment of losing my finger I also loss the need fear of needing to try to be perfect. I let go of the grip that I had of judging and criticizing myself and others.

I was beginning to loosen the death grip that I had on old beliefs, thoughts, beliefs and patterns that I had ruled how I lived my life for as long as I could remember.

Restoring Order: Finally, the day was here that I was ready to get back in the saddle.  It was time to see what life would now be like without possessing all of my appendages.

How would this effect my ability to handle horses? How would I be able to ride with contact and feel the connection I once had with RC? How would I be able to communicate with young or untrained horses the lessons they needed to learn?

Could I learn to overcome the fear I was experiencing due to the trauma I had experienced? Would I be able to be the teacher I have always strived to be for both the horses and Humans?

The only way to find out was to get back out there where I belong and allow the horses, my greatest teachers to show me the way.

Taking new place in the old world: I began teaching horsemanship lessons before I ever was able to handle the horses or to ride them. What I was experiencing in my lessons was a new sense of certainty in what I was seeing in both horse and rider. Somehow in the process of being forced to “let go” of the lead rope and all the certainty it provided, I had gained a new level of “feel”. The ability to feel both horse and human and their connection or lack of, better than I had ever done before.

During the months of healing and letting go of the inner conflicts and blocks, I had emerged a more whole hearted person. Without the filters of negative thoughts and patterns, I had freed myself to show up authentically in a world where most are so disconnected from how they feel and what brings them joy.

I paid very close attention to the tools I was using in order to process through this trauma. When I got the go ahead from my physician and physical therapist to resume my normal horse activities, my first clinic to teach would be Finding Our Way Back After Trauma.

This clinic was filled up within 10 days of announcing it and the 8 amazing women who joined me, were indeed trauma survivors. Despite their ongoing fear they still found the courage within to be with their horses.

During this clinic, I was able to assist both horses and humans in processing through their trauma and reconnect with themselves and each other. All gained a new level of confidence including myself.

I now know more deeply than ever before, that I am a horsewoman with the purpose of helping to bridge that gap between horses and humans. I am here to help people to know and understand horses and in return themselves on the deepest level possible and I do it with a holistic approach.

I would like to close the telling of my “hero’s journey” with this quote:

The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets. -Joseph Campbell-

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