Working with horses boils down to trust. Of course, we have to trust the horses themselves: they’re bigger, faster, and stronger than us. They have thousands of years of instincts baked into their DNA, alerting them to everything from minute shifts in scent to faraway sounds. For about 6,000 of those years, they’ve worked with humans, doing the hard work in exchange for protection and love.

There’s more to trust than trusting a partner, though. Like love, trust comes from a wellspring inside us. We have to have it first. If we don’t trust ourselves, we can’t trust others – and they can’t trust us.

I’ve been thinking about this as I spend time with Boogie. As you know from the first Groundwork post, Boogie and I have a complicated past. He’s spooky and skittish, always a little reluctant to separate from his herd. I don’t feel comfortable with a child riding him now, so I’ve taken over spending time with him. When we hang out, we often just sit together. I’ve learned that one of the fastest ways to calm a horse is to take a big, loud breath, letting it out slowly and noisily. When I do that, I’m saying: it’s okay, it’s safe, there’s no threat here. The horse hears it. More importantly, though, I hear it. A big breath reintroduces me to my center, my trust in myself. It’s only then that I can be present and open enough to hear what Boogie communicates through the flicks of his tail, the twitches of his ears, the alertness of his eyes, the carriage of his head.

Trust comes from you first

After Boogie’s accident, I had a lot of time to think about what I could have done differently. I could have started working with him in a more natural way earlier. I could have noticed his signs of distress before they spilled over into panic. I could have left him in the pasture that day instead of taking him to lessons. I didn’t though, and in trying to reckon with why I didn’t, I keep coming back to trust.

I didn’t believe in myself, and my own reading of the situation. I’d learned to defer to other people with longer experience, even when my gut disagreed with their decisions. Even when I knew something was wrong, I couldn’t articulate it well enough to advocate for the right thing instead. I felt like I had two voices inside me: one speaking out of anxiety and one speaking truth. In a tricky, delicate, frightening situation, guess which one was louder?

I’ve talked before about how horses are mirrors to our emotions. Everything you feel, they feel back at you. If you’re nervous and unsure, so are they. If you’re calm and collected, they’re ready to be just as laid back. It makes sense: prey animals have to know that predators are far away. Why would an animal with so many prey instincts trust a leader who’s not even confident in herself? It makes sense, when you think about it, that horses calm down around people who are calm. They know that if the people don’t anticipate a threat, they can relax too. With Boogie, I didn’t trust myself, so I helped to create a situation where trust couldn’t take root.

Since then, I’ve learned more about listening to myself. I’ve educated myself on natural horsemanship, through reading and hands-on practice with experienced instructors. There are still competing voices, and the nagging thoughts of not being good enough, strong enough, smart enough. But I can sort through the noise now. I can trust myself, and in doing so, I’ve begun rebuilding my relationship with Boogie, one breath at a time.

Easier said than done

It’s easy to line up a page of self-help advice about trusting yourself, but it’s harder to live that commitment. The thing is, you have to define what it means. Just like you had to decide who your customers are, and what you’re really offering, you have to decide to believe in your own ability.

Most of the marketing advice out there is really advice about how to be someone you’re not. If you create an aesthetically pleasing feed with prepackaged positive messaging, people will like it. That’s okay, if all you’re after is likes. That said, I think part of trusting your story and your process is not hiding who you really are underneath a pile of platitudes. Your audience will grow more slowly if you stay authentic. Your business probably will, too. What grows, though, will be something real, something you feel proud of, something you love.

You’ll find yourself getting off-track. I’ve pursued plenty of projects only to realize, halfway, that they didn’t feel true to me. But every time I start to get that itch under my skin, that sense that things aren’t quite right, I stop and reassess. Even if we’re on the verge of launching in a new direction, I stop. It means that over the course of the Kinship’s time, we’ve changed directions several times. We started offering new, fuller-service options and discontinued some of our more piecemeal options. We decided to use our network to create a community through the Simply Kinship Series, instead of trying to support one business at a time. We’re honing our focus more, working with farmers and eco-conscious creative businesses that do vital and under-supported work.

Trust is a project, and a process

These days, I can send the web developer on the team one sentence about a page that needs to go up, and watch the project complete itself. She’ll talk to the copywriter, who will turn around a few paragraphs. Then she’ll use our team dropbox folder to find a good photo, and put up the new page, matching it to the current ones. The whole process takes a matter of hours.

It wasn’t always like this. Even a year ago, I couldn’t imagine feeling confident enough to delegate this much. I’ve found, though, that as I have a deeper sense of trust in myself and trust in my vision, I also have a deeper sense of trust in my team. They have my clarity to work with, and when they don’t, they help me find it. I don’t have to rein them in, because they know exactly how to work together to accomplish what needs to be done. We jigsaw our work in a way that feels natural, and almost effortless. Slowly, surely, we’re getting there.

After work today, I’ll go out to the field and visit Boogie. Dublin, the other member of our horse family, will wander over to say hello, and the goats will weave around us. I’ll take a big breath in and let it out. I’ll listen to that quiet inner voice, the one that says: you’ve got this, you’ve got this, you’re good.

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