Truce

When I started learning about horses, it was from a place of deep and abiding love. The way of being with horses that I fell into came from a place of entrenched warfare. Not everything done to them was horrible, or drew blood, but looking back I can see how dominating it was. Between learning from cowboys (who, admittedly were patient enough to teach an eleven-year-old girl who was just happy to be with a horse) and people who were in the horse show world, my love of horses revealed itself in small moments. A quiet bareback trail ride. Feeding carrots. Burying my face in a furry, sweaty neck and inhaling when no one was watching.

But the other times, no matter who I learned from, it seemed to be some version of “make them do it,” and “show them who is boss.” Being both a beginner and compliant by nature, I did as I was told. Horses were, and are, also compliant, and so they would yield to my battering legs or yanking hands, and if they didn’t the more experienced person would “show them who was boss.”

By the time I’d reached my early twenties and got a horse of my own, the only thing I knew was to ask nicely once and then drop the hammer. Over thirty years of learning about horses, with many of those years spent deprogramming much of my previous learning, I now know that what I learned was how to be at war with horses.

After I was married, had a job and two horses of my own, a small barn, and decisions that were up to me and whatever equine healthcare professional advised me to do, it wasn’t too long before I wanted to go to war with others too. I wasn’t loudly argumentative. I didn’t hit anyone. But my own anxiety and unexplored inner landscape caused me to fight with people in the form of being overly controlling, judgmental, and passive-aggressive. Oddly enough (haha), this came out in my horsemanship too.

Two things happened in my late twenties that would change the trajectory of my life. I began therapy, and I met a cowboy clinician who worked with horses in a way I hadn’t ever seen before. If a horse chose to fight, he didn’t. He directed. If a horse couldn’t engage or didn’t understand, he persisted with quiet confidence until the horse was able to show up. He talked about lightness being on the outside, and softness being on the inside. He said softness was joy. I was hooked.

This was also the time I began meditating, walking, and the martial art of aikido. I don’t think it’s an accident that the word “aikido” translates to “the way of harmony.” I kept on with therapy. I had an established and strong network of wise women.

Piece by piece, I began to find moments of clarity and harmony. Oddly enough, this showed up in my horsemanship too. I started asking questions, instead of demanding. I began learning more about the intricacies of how the horse saw the world. I realized how little I knew, and how far there was to go. But horses didn’t care how much I didn’t know. Their peace with who I was on any given day started to influence my desire to also achieve their state of inner quiet.

Since then, I’ve spent many years practicing and teaching the art of softness, both with people and with horses. This art has to come from softness on the inside of myself – softness can’t be faked.

So here we are, decades later, after a monstrous year (if I hear the word “unprecedented” one more time…) and I’m realizing that I no longer wish to be at war anywhere. On the inside of me, the outside of me, with friends, family, people I dislike, people in general, governments, the pandemic, nothing.

What does this uneasy truce look like? Right now it involves a whole lot of acceptance, and I’m realizing that acceptance doesn’t mean I think things are amazing and don’t need to change. Acceptance isn’t passive. It’s actively seeing things for what they are and do what I believe to be right and true. It means that the worldwide chaos and death, along with the heaviness of the recent deaths of friends and my beloved 18-year-old cat has a place to be expressed that has nothing to do with shame or putting an end date on grieving. It means keeping my eyes open to the possibility of being kind.


This truce is, for moments, a restful place to be. In the time it takes to inhale and exhale, I can look outside the window where I’m writing and appreciate the blue winter sky and the wind moving the pine trees. The dog at my feet. The steam from my tea.

I don’t want to fight anymore. At 51, however, this has a completely different expression than it did at 11 when not fighting was more to feel a sense of safety, whatever the cost to myself. Now not fighting means looking for ways to blend with What Is-even chaos, even death, even the threat to our health and life. Not fighting means I call a truce with myself first, that I stop judging my aging body, that I stop being impatient with my grief, that I give myself and others the benefit of the doubt.

Horses started me on this path to ending the war with them. The end of that war meant calling a truce with myself, and the life I inhabit.

66 responses to “Truce”

  1. This is Incredible Crissi, so many parts of this speak to what we are all going through. I love the piece about returning to peace with horses. It reminds me of a bible verse if you don’t mind me sharing ☺️
    “Enter in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who go in by that way. Because narrow is the gate and narrow the way which leads into life, and few there are who find it.”
    I feel so very blessed to have found the peaceful way you and Mark show us to be with our horses and in life. Thank you so much for your leadership and encouragement on this journey 💕

  2. This is an incredible post Crissi, so much of it speaks to what we are all going through. I especially love the piece about returning to peace with horses. It reminds me of a bible verse, if you don’t mind me sharing:
    “Enter in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who go in by that way. Because narrow is the gate and narrow the way which leads into life, and few there are who find it.”
    I feel so blessed to have found the peaceful way you and Mark are with horses and in life. It has made me a better person all around… the leadership and encouragement you both give is appreciated and valued 💕

    • Crissi, this is a beautiful post and “truce” a great word for what we need in the world right now. Caitlin thank you for the passage. It speaks to the way forward and the difficulties we sometimes face. And the only way is through whatever it is we are dealing with. Much gratitude for you both.

  3. I love this so. Speechless and feeling my own recent space of grief and acceptance. Acceptance of grief. Grief of so much when I’m not bracing against any realms of what is. Vulnerability and grief. Love and grief. Breath and grief. It’s like it becomes a vital partner to curiosity and enthusiasm, honoring the balances always needed. ❤️

  4. This speaks to my heart in a deep and soothing way, referencing the peace and kindness I want with my horse and with the wider world. I am finding that peace in new ways within myself. Thank you, Crissi! I am going to print this blog post and tape it up as a source of support for myself and reminder that you and others want these same things.

  5. I love how your writing touches my heart. At 64yo I too am tired of fighting. Peace is what I seek and love. Horses have so much to teach us if we just humble ourselves to listen. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words. I alway look forward to reading your pieces. 😊💕

  6. Thank you for this Crissi. Never a coincidence when things show up at exactly the right time. So much of what you speak about I have been giving deep thought to…
    This was truly a gift to read.
    🙏 Thank you

  7. Although I think the “wise cowboy” that you met is probably a different one for me; I too, met a wise old cowboy who changed the way I see, and work with horses. I will be eternally grateful for that amazing horseman and for the respectful way he taught me to react with horses. He changed my life and the lives of my horses. However, I still have work to do, especially in my dealings with people. I don’t have the patience with people that I do for horses, and struggle daily. I wish that at 61 I could be more forgiving of myself and others. I’m trying, but it’s a very slow process to retrain oneself.

    • If it’s any consolation, Lorie, I work a TON on my interactions with people, too. I think striving to be more forgiving of yourself and others is preferable than the alternative. And who was it who said that when we stop learning, we stop living? 🙂 All the best to you on your journey. –Crissi

  8. Crissi,
    From the time we met at one of Marks clinics years ago you inspired me. Your thoughts always seem to show up when I need to hear them. Thank you for sharing.

  9. From faraway Germany I send my warmest wishes, best regards… I am very grateful to see that some of your experiences mirror mine and that practicing meditation, reflecting about peaceful ways to interact with others and learning from being with horses goes together so beautifully. What makes me so happy is the idea that finding like- minded people nearby and faraway seems to point to a possibility of a huge and deep collective transformation. Aren’t we all tired of fighting?

    There are so many blogs with so many words… I rather don’t pollute myself with all these things the internet has to offer…. But your contribution is different, honest, courageous and inspiring.

    Thank you… I bet we could be friends, Mo

  10. I love the line “ It means keeping my eyes open to the possibility of being kind.”. I would change only one word, eyes and I would put in heart. Thank you for your posts.

  11. Wow, Crissi! You read my mind. As I drove out the gate this morning I contemplated conflict in the world and I can only influence those around me, by not engaging in it. Then with my horses I have been practicing just showing up and seeing what they need. No agenda. And really listening. Thank you for saying it more elegantly! Looking forward to our paths crossing again.

  12. Crissi, this was the most moving blog. I’ve ever read. Wish I had grown up with horses. They can teach us so much. See you in September.

    Jon Morrison

  13. My horse experiences parallel yours in so many ways. Right down to the compliant part. I think back to how gullible I was and how I was so ready to trust anyone who had more experience with horses than this naïve little girl for whom horses were my whole world. I sure am happy that youngsters nowadays have so much better role models than we did!

    • Yes, there are many of us recovering from the domination techniques we were told were true. Thank goodness! The horse industry is evolving and I am also grateful.

  14. Amen, Crissi, Amen. Another absolutely beautiful, inspiring blog that was sorely needed. Thank you ♥️

  15. Dear Crissi. I love this post. When I first started riding, I saw the attitude that human must dominate. Fortunately, I became from friends with my horseshoer (starting in the early 80s), who was a horse whisperer. He got horses to do what he wanted without violence, but by being clever and gentle. There was a story of a mustang who wouldn’t load. He traveled to Wyoming and found a horse that would not lead into a trailer. So, he backed the horse in with no fight whatsoever. Brilliant. My first horse wouldn’t load with 30-60 minutes of drama and coaxing. He said, get a long lead rope, feed it through the trailer window, back around and around the butt of the horse. With gentle pressure from behind, the horse stepped into the trailer happily. Brilliant. My first horse, that one, was a 16.2 appendix quarter that was considered rank and dangerous. I hired the English riding stable to train me to train him. Over the course of time, he and I became good friends. He would follow me without a lead rope. I also learned to jump. We had fun.

    At that time I had already been practicing meditation (T M) for a decade or two (and had lived in India in 1970). Over the course of time, I studied aikido for about 10 years, too. I Iove aikido. These practices never leave you, although I do not formally practice aikido at this point. (I don’t think I would bounce as well as I did, anymore.) (I do practice meditation every day for substantial times. It’s very nourishing.)

    We currently have 3 horses. I like to go out and talk with them as well as help feed them every day. They are all characters. Of course. One is particularly affectionate. I like to pet them and try to read what they are saying. In the spring, when there is no longer winter winds and icy trails, I look forward to riding. (I am in 70s.) I do not want to deal with problem or ornery horses. But I would if I didn’t think I would get hurt. I love the approach of you and your husband. I have read most of his books, seen the videos. They are fantastic. I am a fan and admirer. (And we live in Boulder county.) I judge horse people by whether they can get what they want with kindness as well as skill. I abhor cruelty. One horse (a 16.2 or more buckskin, unregistered, but gorgeous), backed up whenever I tried to mount (from a mounting block). (Your husband in a book said that most people are smart enough to get a horse that they can get on. I am not that smart.) So, I started mounting from a picnic table near a tree. Worked pretty well. Eventually I figured out that any touching made him think that he should back. So I tried tying the reins over the saddle horn, and stepping on without even touching his mane. Not being entirely stupid, I had my wife be ready to hold his lead rope if he decided to go anywhere. It’s all a process. Your husband said he learned that if you wait and listen long enough, the horse will tell you: I love that. I am an adequate rider. I love being around the horses, (and our dogs, and wildlife, too). My first horse trainer would say the outside of a horse makes the inside of a man feel good. Every now and then I get tested. First time my big guy saw goats, we both learned a bit about running sideways away from dangerous goats. It took a while, he is OK with goats now. Similarly with alpaca. But, our biggest nemesis was a giant hog in someone’s yard in this residential mountain neighborhood. We ended up jumping in tight circles about a half-dozen or dozen times before a more stable horse helped us get by the pig. I was pleased to stay on! I kept up with soothing words and petting his neck, reassuring him as much as I could. Luckily my balance was good enough. Luckily he likes and trusts me, he was soaked with sweat. We have more to go, each of us more to learn.

    During the winter we are writing a photography book with narrative on African wildlife and enjoying the hermit like times with our animals. I admire and love what you and your husband are doing for the horses and the humans to understand horses with intelligence, intuition, honesty and kindness. Thank you! Perhaps a time will come in which I can study with you guys in person.

    All the best!

    Incidentally my URL is http://www.jonathanlmiller.space which your site won’t accept as a URL. Serves me right for not getting a better URL but I haven’t used it much. Probably will start using it.

  16. Thank you, Crissi. I enjoyed reading this tonight. It mirrors what I heard from Anna Blake in an online consult today, that so many good things happen with out horses when we stop fighting with them. It’s so simple and yet so difficult to unlearn old ways. . and it certainly applies to our human relationships, too. This is a timely ( covid & political fighting) essay .

  17. Crissi, warm thoughts to you as you grieve the loss of your little cat💞
    Thank you for your thoughtful words, your writing always makes me feel like you are speaking directly and reflecting my own thoughts.. I will try a little harder today to find inner softness for myself and my horses .

    • Hi Annette – thank you for your sympathy. I’m very sad these days, but also finding my way through it. All we have is this moment, this day. And I will join you in finding a little more inner softness.

  18. Very funny when the need to take a breath, step back and just chill, along comes one of your blogs that makes me say, I’m on the right path and in good company. Your writings always make me take a long look at how I am in a peaceful place with my fur babies. You make me feel that slow and easy is simply so much better no matter what people say. My horses are better off because of what I have learned from you. Thank you saddle sista!

  19. Beautifully written Crissi! Thank you for the truths behind every word. I tell my boys all the time “Let’s practice kindness today”. There is so much peace in the idea of truce. Thank you for putting this out there!

  20. I finally had a moment to catch up on my email. And low and behold, once again Crissi puts my feelings and struggles in writing. Thank you for helping me to set a new goal for myself, One I’ve been struggling to find. Truce! I believe it will bring me the peace and acceptance I seek.

  21. Thanks so much for this blog post, Crissi. I’m a pretty hardcore realist and have been working with my grief around all humanity’s imbalances for a long time, framing it as either “acceptance” (even-keel days) or “resignation” (harder days). But I love your word “truce”. It feels much more collaborative, active and focused. For years I chose a new word as a meditative focus for the year. There has been “effort”, “gratitude”, “reduce”, “energy”, “soft”. I didn’t get around to it this year, but now I have it! “Truce” for 2022. Perfect. ❤️

    • Hi Mary – thank you for sharing this. I share your grief about our species. It is deep, and ongoing. Each day gives us an opportunity to be the exception, and like you, I feel that truce is a big part of how we will cope with all the ups and downs life, and humans bring. I appreciate your articulate comment. 🙂

  22. What a timely, wonderful post. Thanks once again for sharing, your words resonate with me, and I so appreciate them.
    Take good care❤️

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