Catherine Louise Birmingham is an experienced riding coach working in dressage and Equestrianism. Through her work with people, horses and her own struggles, she realised that horses were a parallel understanding of how to live our own lives.
The principles of riding directly related to how Catherine dealt with difficult situations as she was going through life.
Horses are large intimidating animals, the only way we can get them to work with us, is by using all levels of our being. Horses pick up on stresses and worries even things you may feel you are hiding well or the emotions and fears that you may not be aware of. If horses sense fear they pick up on it, they feel a certain energy and respond a certain way. The difficulty is understanding these responses. Horses are very in tune with our energy, where most of the time, we are not.
Catherine grew up in Australia, her family couldn’t afford horses – but her mum helped with the disabled riding, so Catherine helped too and was able to use the horses to teach herself to ride.
As Catherine got older depression developed and she became suicidal… but it was the horses that kept her going. She had an opportunity to work in Germany, so sold her car, moved and worked very hard. She managed to rupture three discs in her back and surgeons told her she would never ride again, but she was determined and stubborn and kept riding. She had to look for alternative healing as she did not want to get operated on and certainly didn’t want to give up her riding career, as it was her life.
As she worked with her horses she realised that she was carrying a lifetime of anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Her horse journey was running along side her emotional journey. After coaching in Japan, she returned to Australia when her father was ill and set up her training stables.
Catherine was fortunate enough to have a passion in life and that passion kept her going through injury and depression. She was extremely sensitive but having a focus helped. The challenge was learning to deal with her sensitivity rather than get rid of it – trying to understanding it and learning how to work around it. Learning how to honour and respect yourself enough, not to put yourself into situations where you are going to be drained. It is about respecting your sensitivity, using it as your superpower and embracing it!
Catherine had to bankrupt her business in Australia and she lost everything – this was her life, her work, her business. She spent a year and a half in deep meditation. She learnt to go beyond her mental, emotional self and deal with the sensitivities… to still be sensitive, but not have the mental and emotional challenges that come when we take life so judgmentally and personally.
Being in the now is so powerful in helping people manage and deal with their own thoughts and sense of themselves. Learning to focus the mind and get in tune with our intuitive feelings.
Training horses is challenging. They don’t have a manual to tell you what to do. They can do things that seem very scary and if you are not experienced you could label it as something bad, but when you are coached and trained correctly you are taught not to be effected by anything the horse does. Everything that the horse does is just a stepping stone to what you want them to do next, nothing that they do is bad, there is no such thing as failure… only stepping stones to success.
How do you deal with fear or anxiety when riding?
The first step is to bring it to the surface, acknowledge how you truly feel, and own it. Once you take ownership – the horse will start to respect you because he knows that you are in control. Then it is about learning how to focus the mind. You have already brought up the anxiety, so don’t feed it anymore. Focus on one small thing that you do very well – you learn how to focus the mind and get in touch with the intuitive side of the body so that you can feel and be more in tune with the horse.
Meditation helps focus and not respond to the mind to become in tune with the essence of yourself. You learn not to respond to those mental things that come up when riding. Even with positive emotions, if you let them get out of control you loose your focus and the horse looses his focus on you. Don’t feed emotion. Stay focused.
Catherine’s world opened up again with horses when she went to coach in Singapore, Indonesia then Bali where she met my current partner. They now live in Italy where Catherine is still coaching and pursuing the writing. The information she has gained from horses certainly resonates with people living their everyday lives, so remember the three things Catherine teaches in riding: focus, focus, focus.