Horse Training Tips that I use on People and you can too (but don’t tell them!)

You may have read the story about how my horse Max and I found each other.  I give Max full credit for teaching me how to be a better person.  When I first got him, he was so incredibly stubborn. If he wanted to go somewhere, he would GO, and it didn’t matter if you were riding him at the time, or if you wanted to NOT go with him.  He was a very strong (fat) horse and was pretty uncontrollable.  He was also extremely food-motivated, so if you tried to bribe him with treats he would go from completely ignoring you to absolute mugging you for ALL the treats.
He kept getting worse so I started hiring different types of horse trainers to work with him.  They would all get frustrated (it seemed like Max did it to them on purpose) and get more and more forceful until Max had enough and then he would LEAVE the arena, by just running right through the gates and back to his field.  He became so good at this maneuver, rearing up in the air, jerking the lead rope out of people’s hands and then running away, that I could see exactly when he was about to do it.  I would warn the Trainers, but he always (every single time) was too fast for them.  Someone told me about “natural horsemanship” which is like horse psychology (being a horse whisperer) and I found some home learning programs and really dived into them.  In one exercise I had to fill out this huge psychological test for both Max and for me.  It was kind of like Meyers Briggs for horses but incredibly in depth.  I was surprised to find that Max and had the same personality/horsenality type!  I’m laughing as I write this because it really is true.  We are both stubborn, introverted, like to feel safe, don’t like surprises and like to be in charge.  The training program helped me change MY behavior so that Max would want to engage with me, and it taught me how to be a better partner and less of a bossy pants.  During this process, as my relationship with Max started feeling easy and magical, I noticed that ALL of my relationships were getting better.  I was listening more, asking questions, and really looking for common ground.  I was so much better with my organizing clients, instead of thinking that “MY” filing system was the best and everyone should be using it, I was looking at how to create lasting success and really connecting with people’s needs in a whole new way.
18 years later, not only do I have an incredibly deep partnership with the fabulous Max, I also have changed drastically from the Type A control freak I once was, to a more mellow, go-with-the-flow but still get it done type of person.  I develop true friendships with my clients and am able to (mostly) drop my ego and follow the basic horse whispering concepts I learned so long ago.  So here are a few for you to try in your own relationships.
Always start and end with the “Friendly game”. The Friendly game simply means that you want to empower the other person to feel safe and confident.   Even if you are asking them to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new, you want to start the process by making sure they know they can do it, you believe in them, and you’re there to help.  Then you end the session the same way, making sure they feel taken care of.  If you want your kids to help you clean the house, for example, if you start off by making it fun, and you end it by making it fun, they will be much more likely to help out willingly the next time.
Drop the reins sometimes.  When I first got Max, I wanted obedience!  I wanted to be the BOSS!  Max also wanted MY obedience, he wanted to be the boss!  One riding exercise we would practice would involve me dropping the reins and letting Max walk (and eventually trot, and then canter) wherever he wanted to in the arena.  My job was to just be a riding partner and let him be the leader.  It was so fun!  I learned that I could trust him and Max also learned that I could trust him.  Many times in my life when I am focused on a goal, I find that letting go of my idea and following someone else’s instead, whether its a client, an employee or one of my kids, makes the whole process turned out so much better.
Reward the slightest try.  This is a basic training tip that works so well!  I wanted to teach Max a trick of how to step up on a mounting block and then stand still with his feet up there.  I taught him one little step at a time, rewarding him with a treat every time he even attempted what I was asking.  In no time at all, he would stand up on the mounting block the minute I pointed at it. (the problem with having such a smart horse is that when I am riding him, and he decides its treat time, he will head towards the nearest platform and attempt to climb up on it.  This can be startling to me AND other people if I am not paying attention.)  Perhaps you would like other people in your house to be a little tidier.  If you ask your children to put their laundry in the hamper and they start doing it “sometimes”, reward that slight try!  Tell them how much you appreciate that they really listened to you and heard your request and it means a lot to you.  Ignore the times they don’t get the clothes in the hamper but continue to reward each try.  Eventually, they will realize that putting clothes in the hamper is something that makes them feel good and they’ll keep doing it.  (their future roommate and/or spouse will thank you one day).
Your Relationship, not the Task, is the important Priority

This was a hard one for me because I wanted to “complete the task” and “reach my goal”.  I wanted Max to learn what I wanted him to learn, and I wanted to do it TODAY.  And of course  I had a lesson plan and a checklist and I wanted to cross something off so it had to get done.  So Max would leave. When I stopped listening and started bossing, Max would LEAVE the area and go back to his field. If he had to run over, or go through another horse, a person, fence, or a gate, that was fine with him.  If it wasn’t a fun or rewarding activity, he was going back to his field.  As always, he was a great teacher and I had to learn that having a great partnership with him was the important thing, and I couldn’t sacrifice that in order to check off my list.  The same lesson applied to my other relationships too.  Sometimes I really want a person to do what I want them to do, I want my client to get that closet sorted out, my kids to clean their rooms, my husband to fix the kitchen light, etc.  The minute I make the task more important than the person, I have to really look at my priorities.  I don’t want my clients to feel pressured by me, my kids to feel judged, or my husband to feel nagged, I want all of these people to feel supported and appreciated by me so I need them to know their feelings are important.

Here is a photo of me “asking” Max to walk across a wooden bridge. I have an oh-so-fashionable fanny pack on, filled with Max’s favorite treats which is his big reward at the end.  I am holding a stick with a string attached, which is NOT a whip, but rather something to wave behind him to put a little pressure on. (Punishment and fear tactics don’t work on horses, or people).  If I smacked Max with the stick, he would leave the area.  He would leave the area VERY FAST.  So I am rewarding the slightest try.  Will he put one hoof on the bridge?  Yes?  Great!  Thanks, buddy, let’s walk away and eat grass for a minute.  Then we come back. Will he put two hooves on the bridge?  Yes?  Great!  Let’s pause and have a head rub for a minute.

So how does this work with people? If I have a client who REALLY is motivated to go through some old papers but is dreading the bad memories that will come up (from a divorce, loss of a loved one, etc.) I use the same principles.  Can we get through one box? Great!  Now let’s go declutter some clothes, a kitchen cabinet, books, or whatever is easy.  Let’s talk and laugh and share stories while we do it.  Can we come back and do another box today? Yes?  That’s great!  The goal is NOT TO FINISH THE TASK but instead to gain self-confidence and mutual trust through the process!  We will complete the task eventually but build a foundation of trust and helping someone empower themselves to work through fear is so much more important than one simple task. )

Be interesting and be fun
This was a hard one for me because I’m not one of those creative, fun, extroverted people that will break into song at the drop of a hat.  I was at a horse training clinic one time and the Instructor said: “Raise your hand if your horse is hard to catch.”  I raised my hand, as did many of the people in the class.  The Instructor then said to all of us, “If your horse doesn’t meet you at the gate, and actually runs away from you, that means HE DOESN”T LIKE YOU!  You are probably boring.”   i was CRUSHED!  What an awful thing to say to people!  And I was paying her to say it because I was paying for that stupid class!  She went on to tell us that horses are curious and want to learn new things, they are attracted to laughter, they are playful creatures.  But sometimes people just want to get on them, ride them in a circle and then put them back in their stall and why should they want to sign up for that? I realized she was right and that I would try to always do fun and interesting things with Max.  Since I made that change, Max has never run away from me, and he will meet me at the gate (unless there’s fresh hay, he’s not walking away from that for anyone).   If you are dreading cleaning out the garage, think about how you can make it more fun.  You can play music, you can make into a game, set a timer, reward yourself with a treat every 15 minutes, have short-term milestones (I am going to go through these 5 boxes in 10 minutes), etc.  If you have people helping you, you can have dance contests or races with your helpers “Who can be the first one to put 5 things in the trash?”, reward helpers with candy or something every 15 minutes, or set a timer.  There are so many ways you can make an organizing project be fun and interesting.  I love to listen to audiobooks while I organize a space and that makes it fun for me.
Now you are ready to train a horse, clean out a garage, improve your relationships, you are AMAZING, I knew you could do it!  (see what I did there, that was the Friendly Game!)
(thank you to Pat and Linda Parelli from Parelli Natural Horsemanship for all you have taught about horses, and myself).

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Storage Units: How to Use Them, How to NOT use them

Storage Units are great for holding onto items TEMPORARILY!  Storage Units are not great for long-term storage because they are EXPENSIVE!
I tell people that having Storage is like paying rent for people you don’t really like. If someone you LOVE needs a place to stay, you would make room for them at your place or help them find a place to go.  You would visit them and spend time with them. But when you take items you think are very important to you, stick them in storage somewhere and never look at them again as years go by, how much do you really need, want, or love those things?
Storage Success Stories:
Doug and Liza sold their big house and moved to a small apartment while their new condo was being renovated. They put a bunch of art, collectibles, and memorabilia into storage for one year.  They spent about $1800 for that unit.
Elizabeth went off to college and her Mom sold the house.  Her Mom put a bunch of items, furniture, memorabilia, household goods and things like that into storage for Elizabeth so that she would have it all when she got her own apartment. The storage unit cost $5,400 for 3 years.   When Elizabeth got out of college and got her first apartment, she hardly had to buy anything new.
Storage Sad Stories:
Sarah cleaned out her Mom’s house and put a lot of furniture, art and family china into storage, intending to sell it someday.  Time went by and she continued to pay $300 a month for the storage unit. She didn’t even remember what was in there until she finally hired me to help her clean it out.  Unfortunately, at that point she had spent $32,400 (that’s $300 per month for 9 years) storing her Mom’s things, and none of it was very valuable anymore.  She ended up donating it all just so she could get rid of the storage unit ASAP.
Betty had to clean out her house in order to sell it but didn’t want to get rid of many items.  Her son finally just put a bunch of things into storage and figured they would “go through it a little at a time.”  Time went by and before they knew it Betty had paid $12,000 for a storage unit she had never been to once.  As usual, no one could remember what was in there.  Betty’s son hired an Auction House to sell the contents.  They Auction brought in $3,200 and his Mom received $1,500 of that money.
How to Make your Storage Unit a Success Story
Rule #1:  Make a detailed list of everything in your Storage Unit.  If things are in boxes, you can number the boxes and list the Contents somewhere else.
Rule #2:  Take photos and measurements of big items like furniture.  That way if you decide to sell something that’s in storage, or move it to another location, you will already know exactly what it looks like and if it will fit into your new plan.
Rule #3:  Have a plan and do the Math.  If you can buy a new sofa for $1500, it doesn’t make sense to store an old sofa for 2 years, because you will have spent more money than if you bought it new.  When you rent a Storage Unit, have a plan, a timeline, and a budget.  If you are going to “go through” the items in Storage (which most people don’t do because it is REALLY not fun to sit in a chilly steel box and go through stuff that you will regret you kept all this time), then put those Sessions on your schedule, in your
Calendar and have a plan.
Rule #4:   Understand the physical demands of moving things around.  Hauling boxes of books, furniture, and knickknacks in and out of vehicles and storage units is hard physical work.  Be prepared to do it yourself or have some strong labor to help you.

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“You can’t have too many…., right?”

Sooner or later, most clients ask me this question.  The answer is always the same.
YES!!!! Yes, of course, you can have too much of anything.  We are all told to drink more water and get more fresh air, but too much of either will kill you.   Of course, having too many cans of soup, umbrellas, or extra bars of soap is not going to kill you.  EXCEPT, if you pile them up so high that one day the pile falls on your and kills you.  Yes, clutter does kill sometimes.  Google it.
You just need to remember that everything takes up space, and space is finite.  We only have so much of it.  (if you are anything like my son Jeremy, meaning pretty smart and also somewhat smart-alecky, you are probably right now saying “actually, Christa, OUTER space is infinite.  Yes, Jeremy and all of my Jeremyish readers, you are right.  Now go clean your room and rot your brain with some reality television).
Sometimes it helps to quantify how many of something you need, based on how many you have now, how often you use them, and how quickly you wear them out.  For example, I have 2 umbrellas, one in my car, and one in my coat closet. I rarely use umbrellas, because my crazy hair is much like its own rain hat.  (this can be quite unattractive on wet or humid days as my hair turns into a frizzy, yet helpfully waterproof bird’s nest).  So having just 2 umbrellas works for me, I could possibly have a 3rd in case one of those two breaks.  However, I have had as many as 10 umbrellas in my coat closet in the past, “just in case.”
“Just in Case” is a very misleading phrase.  It is the “fear” part of your brain doing the whole “we must be prepared for a zombie apocalypse and so keep everything we need because someday the world will end and we will all be bartering with things like umbrellas as currency.” Or “One day I will be having a friend over and it will be raining and she will have forgotten her umbrella and have some kind of elaborate hairstyle that cannot have one drop of water on it and I will have the perfect extra umbrella in my closet that I can let her use and she will be so amazed by my preparedness that she will think I am the most amazing person ever.”  So yes, that could happen.  Or you could be carrying those 10 umbrellas with you throughout your life for the next 60 years and when you die your kids will have to clean out that coat closet and as they pull those completely unused and now rusty, stuck and unusable umbrellas out of the closet and throw them away, their brains will be thinking “Why the heck did my Mom keep these all of these years?”
So yes, You can have too many of …….

Great Aunt Sally’s Lamp

Here’s a typical exchange between me and my clients.
Allison asked me to help get ready to move. We are starting in the Attic and she says its mostly a bunch of junk and she is probably going to want to get rid of (donate or trash) most of it.  So we get started.
Me:  “What would you like to do with this broken lamp?”
Allison:  “My Great Aunt Sally gave me that lamp, I loved Great Aunt Sally.”
I wait.
Allison says, “I don’t think I can let it go. Great Aunt Sally was so good to me.”
I point out that the lamp is NOT Aunt Sally, it is just a lamp.  And it is broken.
I ask, “How do you feel about the lamp? Is it something that you love and would want to get fixed and display in your living room so that you can always remember Aunt Sally?”
You look at me in horror and say, “No way, that is an ugly lamp.”
I ask, “Do you need to keep this lamp in order to remember Aunt Sally?”
You say, “No, I have her china and that blanket she made for me.”
I wait.
You say, “Okay, let’s get rid of the lamp.’
I have had conversations like this with clients approximately a gazillion times (I’m not sure how much that is but I know its a whole heck of a lot!). I am sharing it here because I want people to understand how this process works and why it helps to work through it with another person.
The most important part of our whole conversation?  It was two words. “I wait.”  Allison was having a moment of nostalgia, she was thinking about Aunt Sally, she was not thinking about the lamp at all. Then she was feeling guilty about wanting to get rid of the lamp.  Then she was realizing that the lamp really had nothing to do with Aunt Sally, it was just a broken lamp.  Allison needed time to work through all of that for herself, so my job was just simply to wait.
There were also no right or wrong answers to my questions either.  Sometimes clients DO want to get that lamp fixed, and they do, and they love it. Sometimes we carefully pack it and move it to their new house and then when we unpack it, they wonder why they kept it.  But there are no wrong or right answers, you do what feels right at the time.
Allison was so cool, I wish I could have met her Great Aunt Sally.  The lamp was ugly but it was that neat kind of ugly where you almost want to put it in your living room as a conversation piece. Almost.