Emotions are hard to control. You can be in a really high state of awareness about yourself and still lose control of your emotions. You can be riding a horse in the most amazing view and still feel some negative emotions. It’s hard to be anything other than those emotions at the moment. So how can you show up authentically to those emotions and not push them aside? Find out in today’s episode.
Join Whitney Lauritsen as she shares what horse riding with her sister taught her about emotional courage. Discover her experience with horses and animals. Learn more about the emotional well-being wheel. Finally, find out why you need to stop masking your emotions.
This episode is sponsored by Zencastr. Visit zencastr.com/pricing and enter promo code “wellevatrzen” to get 30% off your first three months.
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What Horse Riding Taught Me About Emotional Courage
Growing Up In A Farm
I am at my sister’s in New York. It is mid-October 2022, and it’s my last full day here with her officially because I am driving down to another family member’s home in Maryland. I rode a horse for the first time in a very long time. If you didn’t know this about me, I grew up on a horse farm. My mother and sister are both professional horse riders and trainers. They are passionate about that career path. They deeply love horses.
I was very blessed to grow up on that farm because not only did we have horses but we had all different types of animals. Cats, dogs, chickens, geese, and turkeys. At one point, I had a bunny, fish, and hamster. I could go on and on. Basically, any animal I wanted within reason. We never had cows or pigs but I probably could have convinced my mom to get that for the farm because we had this space, and we all love animals.
I started riding horses when I was little because that was my mom’s passion and career. It was something she encouraged within me. I got a pony when I was ten or something. It was a Christmas present. It sounds like every little girl’s dream but I didn’t care that much about riding horses. I appreciated them. I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember but riding and taking care of horses was not something I was into.
As a little girl, I don’t even know if I was excited about it or felt obligated to do this. That’s a big part of the story. I remember my mom encouraging me to take lessons. Mostly, she taught me these lessons, so that was easy but then she wanted me to enroll in pony-related activities. This is interesting because I see moments of my social anxiety from looking back on those experiences.
I remember being in some pony club, maybe that’s what it was called, and it was all girls that I recall. Every girl there seemed so enthusiastic about it. I felt like I was faking it. One time, I feel physically ill and nauseous but it seemed like it was in my head. Looking back, I’m like, “It probably was in my head because I didn’t want to be there.” We were studying for some exams. I don’t even know what that was. It was really unpleasant.
Somewhere between 10 and 12 years old, my mom sent me to a horse camp. That was also challenging. I have spotted memories of that experience. I don’t like being away from my family, and that felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like being around all these new kids that I didn’t know. I remember my eating issues coming up at that point, feeling uncomfortable around food and out of control, and there were all these limitations around food. I remember having to do chores and wake up early. I think of the camp experience as being unpleasant.
It’s no wonder that over time, I jumped out of the whole horse world, and it happened around the time my mom got me a second horse because I outgrew this pony that she bought for me. She gave it to my sister, and the pony became a training horse for kids. One day I was at a friend’s house and called home to check in or something, and she was like, “By the way, I got you a horse.” Talk about privilege but also a weird sense of privilege of something you don’t even want that your parents are choosing for you. I was so confused, especially because she bought me a horse that couldn’t do the type of riding that I did.
I grew up doing equestrian, which was a lot of things on the trail and going over jumps, and it was adrenaline fueled that I enjoyed. This other horse did a type of riding that my mom and my sisters specialize in called dressage, and that was never my thing. Again, knowing my personality type and the way my brain works, it makes complete sense because it was slow and deliberate, and there are all these rules, and it’s very rigid. It’s a whole other level versus what I was doing with equestrians, which felt like I could do things in a particular way.
I didn’t like to compete growing up. That always put a lot of pressure and stress on me but I loved the experience of the type of riding I was doing with my first pony. When my mom gets me this horse, I can’t do those things, and it has been trained to do a completely different style. That was part of my journey to stop horse riding.
Also, that coincided with when I started getting interested in film, video, and creative arts. I was interested in acting and performing in different ways. I didn’t want to put any more energy into horses. It seemed like a waste of time and money but it was tough because I felt like I was disappointing my mom. Luckily, that wasn’t as big of a deal because my sister became into horses. It has been a huge part of her life. Now, she runs this incredible farm in New York State, where I’m at. She’s probably going to walk in the door at some point. I’m going to try to keep this episode short.
Horse Riding Experience
I want to share my experience because, in theory, it should have been amazing. It is mid-October, as I mentioned. The weather has that crispy air, and the leaves are all different colors. She lives in this incredible area. This is nowhere near New York City. It’s closer to Connecticut if you know the state’s geography a little bit. It’s absolutely stunning here. She lives on this incredible farm and has a barn full of amazing horses to ride.
She asked me if I wanted to go on what’s called a hack. A hack is a term for casually riding a horse through nature. Usually, fields, woods or trails, and I love that. I said, “Sure,” and didn’t think much of it. She offered to make sure I had the right helmet for safety. She offered me boots, although I ended up wearing my Vessi Shoes, which I have been into. They are insanely comfortable. It’s my new favorite shoes, and it’s not sponsored but shouting them out anyways because they are awesome. She got me a nice jacket, so I stayed warm because it was early in the morning. She took care of all those logistics and got the horse already for me.
When I got to the horse, I suddenly had this moment of, “I have not ridden in so long,” even though it’s like riding a bike because I was trained so much as a kid. I will never forget how to hold my arms, my hands, my feet, and my posture. That all came back to me right away but what was interesting is that I didn’t feel mentally prepared for the experience of riding a new horse in a new environment. I found myself getting frustrated with my sister because she made the assumption that I would be much more comfortable with this than I ended up being. I didn’t think to ask her any questions.Learning how to ride a horse is like riding a bike. You'll never forget how to do it. Click To Tweet
I get on this horse. She gets on a horse too. She’s going with me. I’m not alone, and one of her friends is there as well. The three of us start going, and the horse that I’m on, she kept calling him fresh. I didn’t feel like I had full control over this horse. We start going towards the trail. We had to go on this road. A car is passing by, and the horse starts freaking out, and I start freaking out.
I found myself getting into this deep state of panic and anxiety and feeling out of control. I was frustrated, a little bit angry, and resentful. “Why did I choose this for myself? Why did my sister take better care of me?” It didn’t feel like she was looking out for me. She was riding away with her friend. I kept shouting things at her.
I found myself unable to communicate effectively, and I was being rude to her but I was doing that because I was in this anxious panic state. My sister keeps going. There are three of us, and I’m the third horse in the back. I wanted to stay a little further back because I was afraid my horse would get too close to others, and all these fears as if I had never ridden a horse before I came up.
We start going through these phenomenal fields again. The trees are on fire. They are red, orange, and yellow, and it’s the perfect weather but I couldn’t wait to get off this horse. I kept thinking over and over, “I want to go back to the barn. I want to get off this horse. I’m scared. I felt out of control and panicked.” Again, that feeling towards my sister of like, “Why did she do this? She’s not looking after me.”
Emotional Well-Being Wheel
A lot came up, which is why I wanted to share this on this show because it was an interesting observation of myself. One thing I’ve recognized, especially through therapy as well as the well-being coaching training I’m in now, is that I have a super high level of awareness about myself but that doesn’t mean that I can fully control it. In fact, I’m going to pull up something we have been doing in the training called the Emotional Wellbeing Wheel. It takes you through a little self-assessment around awareness, flexibility, clarity, connection, resilience, and balance.
I tend to have a strong awareness, balance, and resilience. Awareness is that I’m good at recognizing what I’m feeling. I can respond to my emotions with intention, even though, in this case, I wasn’t communicating with my sister well, I was shouting at her, and there was tension in my voice. I want to acknowledge that something I experienced because her friend was there who I haven’t known super a long time but well enough that I didn’t feel I was super masking around her. I felt somewhat comfortable talking to my sister in a way that I would normally feel embarrassed about.
I imagine this is a relatable thing. A lot of us treat family and close friends a little bit differently. We might feel more comfortable being rude, short or snippy. That’s something I’ve found a tendency to hide around strangers but then again, I don’t know if I would’ve hidden this reaction from my sister because I panicked. That’s where it was coming from. I was very aware of that. I also became aware of the shame I felt after talking to her that way in front of somebody else.
That was an interesting thing to examine. If I have time, I will come back to that. I felt a bit embarrassed. I’m like, “This makes me look immature,” but I also found myself afraid that I looked, for lack of a better term, like my neurodivergence was showing. I don’t know if those reactions are directly related to neurodivergence. Are they a coping mechanism? What is it exactly?
Through my research and reflection on neurodivergence, I felt in that moment I was like, “This is a sign of it,” because I was with 2 other people, 1 of which is neurotypical. My sister might fall into the term allistic. I’m not quite sure. That’s coming from the book, Unmasking Autism that I’m reading, and I still don’t fully understand that definition. My sister has a lot of traits of neurodivergence, and it makes sense genetically but also how we were raised that we would have similar brains and responses to things.
She has such a different approach to life in these certain circumstances. I started to experience a familiar feeling of shame and loneliness because I was reacting in a way that I didn’t think my sister would’ve reacted. She probably would’ve masked it. She probably would’ve been very quiet or might’ve been kinder or gentler. She might not have been as panicked as me in her expression or communication. I started feeling this sense of, “I need to mask now because my behavior is not socially acceptable.”
I was processing that during the ride because of my awareness. I started thinking, “I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to be reacting this way.” I found myself wanting to get quiet and control myself. I found myself wanting to pretend everything was okay, but then I also started feeling resentful of even the thought that I should pretend to be otherwise. I started thinking to myself, “Why can’t I? Express these frustrations and emotions? Why is it socially unacceptable?”
This also comes from a part of my well-being training. I saw this TED Talk and took notes. I’m almost positive when I’m referencing is from this woman named Susan David. It’s called The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage by Susan David. She’s talking about showing up authentically to our emotions. How we often are taught rigid responses to our emotions, become hooked on being right, feel certain emotions are deemed legitimate, and judge ourselves for having “bad emotions.”
We find ourselves collectively actively trying to push things aside. We might feel that our normal, natural emotions are good or bad, moral or wrong. We experience this tyranny of positivity which can be a very cruel, unkind, ineffective, and unsustainable response. When emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger. When we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish we would be.
I’ve read this out loud and also thinking at this moment, I don’t think I brought this up in a previous episode. I’m thinking of that at this moment because another quote of hers I loved, which is, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” I highly recommend that you check out that YouTube video because it was wonderful.
Masking Your Emotions
Thinking about Susan David’s words in the context of what I experienced was reflecting on, it would’ve felt false for me to stay positive and mask my emotions at this moment. Even though I was a bit embarrassed by my reaction, I still didn’t want to hide my feelings because I was on an animal. If I break it down, I was on top of an animal, which in itself has some ethical issues there.
I’m literally riding this horse I’ve never met or interacted with. We have no connection. We have no trust built together. I don’t know about this animal’s behavior. I trusted my sister to partner me with an animal that would match me but then I started to doubt, “Did she put that much thought into it?” I don’t think that she would’ve ever put me in an unsafe position but it’s also an example of how other people experience the world differently, and their versions of safety can be vastly different from yours.
My sister, as I mentioned, has been riding horses since she was a little kid. Even though I have lots of experience with horses, it has been a very long time. I’ve evolved as a human being since then, especially through my process of unmasking and getting to the core of who I am and uncovering my realness so that I’m no longer pretending and staying positive even when I don’t feel it.
When I’m allowing myself the freedom of true expression, I can’t approach something like horse riding or bike riding even. Whatever I used to do as a kid, teenager, or young adult, I’m not the same human. My body doesn’t even move the same. I also found myself feeling afraid of, “What would happen if this horse started doing something and I fell off the horse?”
When I was growing up, I fell off horses fairly often. One time, I got bit by a horse, and there was a slight scar on my face. It happened to occur on a part of my face that’s a little bit hidden. Funny side note, when I look in the mirror, I never notice that scar. My brain no longer processes that a scar is there, and I rarely ever remember but there is a little scar on my cheek from a horse that basically its teeth grazed over. I don’t think it was trying to bite my cheek off but I was standing next to my pony, the one that I mentioned I got as a gift. She was irritated at something I did. She swung her head around, her teeth grazed my face, and I had to get stitches.
I also fell off horses. I remember one time, riding through this apple orchard near my parents in Massachusetts. I went flying into an apple tree all by myself. I was out and about as a kid, and then there must have been so many occurrences. That same pony was wild in a lot of ways. One time, I tried to get on her, and we had a level of trust and connection to a certain degree, so I could be standing on the ground and get on top of her back by jumping a little bit and pulling my body on top of her. I did that many times, that I thought she was okay with it. One time, I tried that with her and she kicked me on the side of my body, and I went flying. It was all caught on camera.
This is that transition period where I was like, “Maybe I like cameras, and they feel safer than horses do.” That was a great example of that. Here I am, riding this horse I was on. It was technically a pony, a smaller horse, and all these memories start coming flooding in and I’m like, “Any of these things could happen to me again. How can my body now handle it? It’s not as flexible and loose and young as it was back when I was riding horses.”
I wonder if my brain could even handle an accident like that. How much would that traumatize me? How much did those old incidents traumatize me in ways that I didn’t fully even process because I was so young? This new fear came upon me. I felt frustrated too because I was trying to enjoy it. As I mentioned, it’s so beautiful around me and truly like a cinematic moment. I even got out my phone. I took some great pictures from the back of this horse.
I was trying to be present, gentle, respectful, and grateful, and all of that with the horse, and be in that in-sync state of mind with it. I’m trying to feel grateful for my sister for taking me and being kind to her friend but when you are experiencing all those tough emotions, it’s tough to be anything other than in the moment of those emotions.When you're experiencing tough emotions, it's hard to be anything other than those emotions at the moment. Click To Tweet
Emotional Well-Being Wheel Struggles
Going back to that Wheel of Wellbeing, another thing that I find myself feeling good about is balance. I don’t think that things are perfect but things aren’t out of whack in my life. I feel like I can take on changes in my life because, generally, I feel rested and emotionally available. Although rest is a whole other subject matter.
I also feel resilient. I can acknowledge that hard things happen, and I’m able to problem solve and do what’s the most effective thing to get through moments like I had without blowing stuff up or avoiding, and I can forgive myself when needed. I was able to process a lot of what was coming up for me through my awareness, resilience, and balance but the three areas where I struggle are connection, flexibility, and, surprising to me, clarity.
According to this wheel, flexibility is defined as being on the lower end when you get stuck in ruts with the same thought going around and around or struggling to see someone else’s perspective on a situation. I could relate more to that. I score on the low end of flexibility versus the high end, defined as being good at getting myself out of times when I feel like I’m spiraling. I might still have thoughts that aren’t super helpful but I’m able to let them come and go without dwelling on them.
Reading that out loud, I feel somewhere more in the middle or maybe not towards either side. I can notice things through my awareness but getting myself out of it is tough. I found that on this horse where I don’t even know how long we are riding, maybe 30 to 45 minutes, and it took me to the very end of this horse experience to feel my body relaxed, my hands, arms, and legs, not have as much tension for me to appreciate things and not be so focused on these tough emotions that I was processing. That’s where my flexibility struggles.
When it comes to clarity, if you rated yourself low, it would be because you feel like it’s hard to make decisions. You may feel like something in life is lacking or get frustrated with yourself and how you spend your time. I can relate to that a ton versus the higher score end of clarity is when you know what’s important in your life, and you are able to tap into those things when it comes to making choices about how to spend time. You are someone with conviction and move through life doing what you feel matters most. I resonate with some of that but it’s hard for me to make decisions and my experience with time.
I rated myself on the lower end of clarity. It’s interesting to notice how that’s different from awareness. Making the decision, “Do I turn back? Do I get off this horse?” I felt conflicted. “How was I going to spend my time?” I wanted to spend my time on this horse enjoying it but I had to work through and process a lot of emotions to get to that place.
Lastly, the connection side of it. On the low end, the score is when you feel frustrated that you notice you don’t know how to ask for what you want. You may feel like people don’t understand you. You may not have enough people in your life who get you. That’s me. That’s so much of what I was experiencing. Again, I was frustrated. “How do I ask what I want from my sister, who I’m super close with?”
My sister and I have so much transparency, honesty, and authenticity but I still mask around her because my sister can also be very judgy. I can be judgy of her too. That’s part of our dynamic. We are trying not to be. We had a big conversation around this a few days ago, and it’s tough and hard to do these things even when you have awareness and some of these other things that I’ve mentioned.
On the higher end of the connection is when your relationships are mostly satisfying, and you know what you need or how to get what you need from them. You might have a glowing number of people in your life that support you and have a pretty glow balance. Keeping them in touch and setting boundaries, I struggle with that stuff, and I didn’t even know that I struggled with these things until recently.
Giving Yourself Space
My journey through neurodivergence has taught me so much. It’s interesting to look at these experiences. It’s something simple that lasts for less than an hour, and how much of an impact it can have on you. When I came back from riding the horse, I didn’t have a day of meetings, so I wanted to sit down and record right then. I intended on that because I thought, “This is a fresh experience. I have all my emotions,” but I needed to come down from that experience. I have a tendency to get overstimulated and deeply feel things, and I need time to process them and slow down and do nothing.
I went and laid in bed with my weighted blanket on top. I sat in the sunshine and warmed up, and that felt good. The sun was coming through the windows on the bed that I was on. I scrolled through TikTok. I looked at my day and saw, “How can I design my day so that I feel like I can recover from this tough experience? How can I allow myself this space to process this, take it in, and learn from it?” I’m still going through that.
Talking about things out loud helps me that it makes sense that I have a show because I need space. It takes me speaking on something for this length of time to understand it, get to the core of it, and feel satisfied with it. It takes me that time of laying down and not talking at all too. It takes me the time of having conversations, and yet I’ve found myself avoiding that experience with my sister.Talking about things out loud is a good way to give yourself space. Click To Tweet
I have been afraid of her making fun of me for my reaction. She hasn’t done it yet but ended up having a hard day herself. I found myself moving into the role of caretaker with her, which is another thing I’m still trying to understand about myself. I deeply love taking care of my sister. Visiting her puts me in a mom mode where I’m cleaning up after her, cooking, and doing things I can do to support her emotionally.
I’m going down the list of all those love languages like words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service or giving her gifts. What’s funny about the five love languages is that a lot of people have an issue with the guy that wrote that book but it’s good timing because my sister got back. I can wrap up this conversation for now and say thank you for reading this.
If you want to check out the Vessi shoes, I will use my referral even though I’m not sponsored. The Vessi shoes are awesome. I also put pictures that I took if you would like to check them all out. That’s all at Wellevatr.com. If you are interested in more of the things that I’m learning from the Emotional Wellbeing Training, I would be absolutely happy to share more in future episodes. I will keep you posted as I move into coaching, which is the whole program I’m doing designed to certify me as a well-being coach so I can put all of the stuff into practice that I learned about myself and others so I can support people like you.
I will be back again with another guest episode. Sometimes I don’t want to say who it is in case I change the timing but if it is who I think it is for the next episode, our conversation lit me up. That’s all I will say for now. Stay tuned. You can subscribe if you would like or come back and check out the show to see what episodes are out since you read this one. Bye for now. Best of luck to you, and thanks again for being here.
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