01/09/2014 11:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gaining Horse Sense at 55

We've always been taught to get our information straight from the horse's mouth.

But, as I recently learned firsthand, the deepest truths just may come from the horse's hoof.

For five years, my husband and I have been making annual trips to Miraval, a wellness resort whose signature activity is the Equine Experience. The main goal is to get a horse to lift its leg so you can clean its hoof, which sounds deceptively simple but can be challenging, frustrating or even terrifying, depending on the emotional baggage you bring to the table. It's meant to teach you about yourself, which is why the more intensive experience led by cowboy/therapist Wyatt Webb is called "It's Not About the Horse."

People -- including Oprah -- have come from all over the world just to do this.

But not me.

For five years, I've come up with every excuse to skip it -- "Oh, we can't miss Zumba," "That's the only time I can get a hot stone massage" -- because I was absolutely convinced I was going to be the only guest in the history of Miraval who wouldn't get the horse to lift its leg.

Control freak, anyone?

This time, with my double nickels birthday approaching, I decided it was time to face my fear. We signed up to participate on our second day there, and I spent the entire first day asking every person we met what advice they had to offer.

Actuary Janice Knight told me about a man in her group who brought such negative energy that the horse turned its head and made a show of putting all its weight into that one foot to make a point. "It was obvious that horse was not going to lift its leg," she laughed.

I laughed, too -- nervously -- and made a mental note not to piss off the horse.

Lynn Grossman, manager for singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, explained that she brought her four childhood friends with her to celebrate their 50th birthdays and share the same life-changing experience she'd had.

I didn't really care about changing my life. I just wanted to make sure I got the horse to lift its damn leg so I never had to worry about this again.

At the corral, Michael and I were paired with a brown and white beauty named Cherokee. I started baby talking to him as though he were a slightly larger version of my late Newfoundland.


"Hi Cherokee," I gushed as I petted him. "We're going to have such a good time together and you're going to lift your leg for me, no problem, right?"

I hesitated, then reached for the magic spot on his leg.

Of course, nothing happened.

I did this half a dozen times, getting more and more frustrated.

"You try it," I said to Michael.

He walked over to Cherokee, touched the spot and the horse picked up his leg.

Three times.

I felt like crying.

"Okay, Cherokee, here we go," I said, walking up to him again with a false brightness that he saw right through.

It was time to ask for help.

"What's the problem?" asked our instructor, Carolyn.

I poured out the whole pathetic story of how I had always been worried that I wouldn't be able to do this so, yes, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know. I was a psych major in college.

"Why do you think you're not worthy of being listened to?" she asked.

Huh? I do think I'm worthy of being listened to!

"The horse picks up on your non-verbal cues, and if your heart and head aren't aligned, it just doesn't understand what you're trying to communicate."

And that's how "aha!" moments happen.

I flashed back to the time a hummingbird flew in the back door of our house and kept banging into the window in an attempt to get out. Whenever I gently tried to move it and talk in a quiet, soothing voice, it freaked out and kept hitting the window. I was panicked that the poor creature was going to kill itself. I knew I had to take charge of the situation so I finally grabbed one of my dog's soft toys, and said to the bird, "Look, this is it. If you want to get out, you're going to have to get on this right now." In what still seems like a miraculous moment to me, the bird perched on the toy and I carried it to the door, where it flew to freedom. If I could get a hummingbird to do that, I could certainly get a horse to lift its leg.

With a new determination and focus, I marched over to Cherokee, touched the spot and that magnificent animal gave me his foot.

Can you hear the angels singing?

Although I wanted to burst into happy tears, I kept my cool and stuck to the task at hand. I cleaned his hoof.

I have never felt so empowered.

I now approach everything I do with intention and focus. I am 100% present in every situation rather than stuck in the past or jumping ahead to the future.

Although I should have done this years ago, it doesn't matter because I'm no longer looking backwards.

Instead, I'm celebrating my birthday, grateful to have finally developed horse sense at the age of 55 and proven that, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks -- or at least a midlife woman.