Confessions of a Coaching Intern: Finding Clarity with a Pitch Fork and a Song …

Horse Lover

This is the first in a series of intermittent posts about my experience as a coaching intern, 1995-1997. The memories will flow as they may so events are not likely to be in chronological order … but they will be fun to re-live. And we may actually learn something along the way … πŸ˜‰


It wasn’t so long ago (okay, more than a decade but who’s keeping track … ) that I was a lost and confused early 30-something.

With a failing first marriage and tenuous hold on a career path through the jungles of corporate communications, I was feeling unhinged. When my maternal grandmother, with whom I had a somewhat conflicted relationship, died in 1994 I was forced to take stock. I quickly realized my life was broken and needed to be fixed.

Within monthsΒ my world turned upside-down.

A trip to the Calgary Stampede soon after the funeral (because we’d already bought the tickets) convinced me that all I wanted to do was work with horses. Much to the chagrin of my husband I left my corporate gig eight months later and became a barn hand and coaching intern at a local hunter/jumper barn/riding school. My big idea was to get my coaching certification. It was a somewhat strange notion given that just four years earlier I’d abandoned my love of horses as a childish pursuit and moved on … to nothing.

But somehow our passion always finds us …

As we often do when change presents itself I approached this fork in the road with much enthusiasm, little realizing the many pot holes that lay ahead.

After only a few days I was appalled to realize how little I knew about horses, this despite a life time love of them and trips to the barn every week to ride. Where had I gone wrong?

And I was doubly appalled to learn, over time, just how little I knew about myself.

I went in a a marshmallow and came out toasted …

The two years spent in this school of hard knocks provided plenty of opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. It was the first step to exposing the cankers in my way of being and beginning the healing process.

Only I didn’t know this at the time.

Since, like me, my then husband couldn’t see the bigger picture his support of my “crazy” endeavour was reluctant at best. His main concern was the loss of a second income ~ this in spite of the fact that with my sole income I’d enthusiastically supported him through his expensive Master’s degree in Sports Administration at a U.S. university. My foray into self-education was costing us nothing, and as we had no children and were living at my mother’s at the time we weren’t risking much. For me the timing could not have been better, whether he supported me or not.Β I pressed on.

Have I mentioned it was hard work?

This was no ordinary equestrian centre. It was the largest in the area, set on at least 100 acres with three massive indoor riding arenas, barns for 200 horses, several groomed outdoor riding rings and lovely hacking trails. It was the venue for many local and national shows and was thus, for many years, the hub of the horse world in the Greater Toronto Area.

Me with Buck, my nemesis and the subject of a future post. He may look like Bear but my Bear he wasn't.

Me with Buck, my nemesis and coaching exam horse. Our experience will be the focus of a future post. … Photo taken in 1997.

The riding school, where I worked at first, had 32 horses. Rain, snow or shine I, little Ms Corporate now liberated from the dress suits and high heels I’d sported for most of my working life, eagerly arrived at 7 a.m. to help feed and turn out the horses into their respective paddocks.

The labour intensive task of mucking stalls tested my fabric.Β On good days there were four of us to do this dirty work ~ that’s eight stalls each. On many days there were just two of us. Our goal was to be done by 9:30. No mean feat.

Following a short break I, with my fellow interns, headed to theory and then rode. Then lunch; teaching theory; more riding practical; distributing hay; bringing the horses in; feeding … and whatever else remained to be done until I could leave at 5:30 p.m.

It was a tough slog for this former girl-about-town …

I worked 10 hours a day six days a week.Β Within days of starting my internship I came down with the worst cold of my life. But I still had to work. No sick days. No time off. No sympathy.

I lost weight. At one point my soft hands, whose toughest task until that point had been to pluck words out of a computer keyboard, became so mangled by the manual labour I couldn’t wrap either of them around a door handle or hold a pen.

At day’s end, exhausted from a surplus of fresh air and exercise, I was in bed by 9 p.m. and slept dog-like until 5:30 a.m. when it was time to begin all over again.

Above and beyond this I continued my weekly singing commitment in theΒ Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I couldn’t imagine my life without music. On performance weeks with extra rehearsals I burned the candle at both ends. Exhaustion became my middle name.

Still, I had to keep up. I wasn’t old but I had to use almost twice as much energy as the early 20-somethings around me to achieve the same results. I look back now and wonder how I did it.

I might add, however, that I was no saint. I whined … a lot. When the school barn manager had had enough of my complaining (This is hard; I don’t understand; Why this? Why that? Why? Why? Why? etc.) she arranged for my transfer to the show barn. This, she hinted not so subtly, would really give me something to whine about.

Life got bigger …

The show barn was across the parking lot and an industrial complex by comparison. It was amazing, actually. (I say was because at the end of my internship the whole farm was razed for commercial/industrial property development. 😦 ) The barn housed an Olympic-sized indoor arena where shows were often held and had attached to it an enormous warm-up ring, also indoor. Between the two buildings were enclosed aisles of 50 large box stalls each. One wing was completely occupied. The other was saved for show stabling.

Big stalls house big horses and there were a few of those. Whether by design or chanceΒ I was assigned the stalls with the behemoth horses. My daily quota was 12-15 stalls. The riding school was paradise by comparison.

Apollo,Β an impressive grey, 18-hh show jumper,Β was the largest horse in the barn with the messiest stall. Mucking it was an exercise in unfettered misery for me until oneΒ forbiddingly hot day in July (at 8 a.m. it was already in the high 20s with humidity) and a moment of clarity.

It happened while I was in the throes of pitching hooeyΒ onto the conveyor rolling beneath the open trap door in front of his stall.

Beads of sweat trickled mercilessly down my forehead and pooled in my eyes while particles of pine shavings floated in rogue waves through the sunbeams, landing as a scratchy film on my damp flesh and drifting up my nostrils.

I had for some time felt the whole situation to be absurd, even surreal, wondering what on earth I was doing at my age and stage of life, shovelling horse hooey and wishing for a career with horses. I felt invisible; invalid; small. I felt I had somehow let myself down. My dream of horse ownership so buried in disappointment I had no idea where to search for it.

Why had I allowed my promising career in corporate communications be derailed so unceremoniously? Why was my marriage failing so miserably? Why was I feeling so aimless? Why?

Relief came by way of a song …

Because music lives so deeply in me I have a wealth of songs stored who-knows-where that pop into my head and onto my lips in moments of stress. Interestingly, the songs usually reflect my state of mind or emotion at the time without me realizing it.

And so it was between forkfuls in the midst of my mucking nightmare that these immortal words, made famous by the iconic Doris Day, tripped melodically from my lips:

When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be. Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me …

(Altogether now … )

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.

Once I really started listening to these simple words I somehow felt permission to let go of any worries about my future. A burdensome chore evolved into a mindful meditation. I became the rhythm of the pitching fork and learned to revel in the experience of “cleaning house.”

It was my first conscious lesson on the importance of expelling the detritus of life to make room for new growth.

The truth is, positive life changes require this of all of us. If we aren’t willing to fork over the hooey in our lives we are doomed to continue watching it pile up and then wallow in, and complain about, it.

From that moment of clarity forward my experience as an intern changed dramatically. My mind opened; I began to embrace the journey; … and I stopped whining.

Bird buddies

Fast forward 16 years …

So, the other day while at the barn visiting Bear and just 10 days after getting married, I grabbed a pitch fork and spent a few minutes tidying up his stall. I didn’t have to ~ the boarding agreement includes daily stall cleaning ~ but I wanted, needed some grounding.

With fork in hand I picked through his bedding, scooping up the missed poop balls. I dug out the ammonia-laden shavings in his pee spot, which sometimes gets missed, and banked the walls a little with a mix of old and new shavings. I smoothed and plumped up the bedding so it would cushion Bear easily when he slept at night and, just as in days gone by, sang Que Sera, Sera. … but not with angst of not knowing, you understand ~ with the conviction that life unfolds as it should.

ForksWe are the masters of our own destinies only in so much as we become awakened to our state of being, consciously aware of the choices we make, and grounded in the effort required to live the changes we seek. As well, we need to accept that at any time we could be unceremoniously dumped in a more challenging scenario which, though it’s painful at the time, might actually be the making of us.

My experience as a coaching intern rocked my world. And little did I know, as I was mired in the angst and confusion of the time, that it would open the door not just to my understanding of the world of the beautiful horse but to the amazing, complex and awe-filled world that resides in me.

For me clarity began with a pitch fork and a song.

What about you?

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy πŸ™‚
Horse Mom


Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

90 thoughts on “Confessions of a Coaching Intern: Finding Clarity with a Pitch Fork and a Song …

  1. Clarity has only come recently to my life through the chronic pain condition I have. And only in the last week have I finally started breathing again. Finally things are making sense.
    Super blog! Hope married life is being kind to you all, including the lovely Bear x

    • Thanks for reading my loooonnng post and making a comment. This one rather ran away from me but I went with it because I needed to share. … Chronic pain is certainly another one of those clarifying tools. It forces us to be present, doesn’t it? I have found this to be so with adrenal fatigue. It has taught me to pay attention to my health and take care of myself. … Breathing is good. I wish you continued strength and recovery. … Now, give your horse a hug πŸ˜‰ … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  2. I honestly love how little things like doing dishes, mucking, gardening, or the like, can actually be moments of enlightenment.

    Beautiful life lessons shared, your writing is impeccable, I felt like I was right there with you, seeing, feeling, smelling everything! πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks, Mike. … I firmly believe our passion is our greatest teacher, however to learn the lessons we must, indeed, listen. Took me a long time to figure that out, but I’ve never looked back. Horses have been my greatest teachers, especially my boy, Shakespeare. … Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment. Much appreciated … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  3. Wonderful….loved it…how if i could to do so….have some more cheers with !!!!!!! thanks for sharing …

  4. Thank you. I am ironically writing about the same thing– pitch fork meditation and music are what changed my life! Failing first marriage and all. I appreciate knowing that I’m not the only one out there who threw out the poo, and kept a song in my heart… thank goodness for the horses.

    • Yes, thank goodness for horses and the clarity they bring, if we’re paying attention. … Horses have so much to teach us about being our authentic selves. Their responses to us can show when our lives are out of alignment. It’s an inexplicable magic that leaves me in awe. … Thanks for stopping by … Dorothy πŸ™‚

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  6. Thanks for sharing – this was really inspiring. I’m at the point where I’m attempting to learn how to follow my own passions (one of which includes my horses) and this really underscores how important that journey is. And what a perfect sentiment to end your post on. Words to live by, for sure.

    • Thank you so much. … I wish you well on your chosen path, whatever that turns out to be. Whatever you do, do it with heart; do it with the full knowledge that no matter what challenges the journey presents it will be for your best interest. And sing “Que sera, sera … ” occasionally, just for good measure. πŸ˜‰ … Be well and enjoy the ride, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  7. “The truth is, positive life changes require this of all of us. If we aren’t willing to fork over the hooey in our lives we are doomed to continue watching it pile up and then wallow in, and complain about, it.”….
    Love, love, LOVE this!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. That story could easily be mine… only I haven’t had the courage to do anything about it yet.

    I too grew up with horses, they were my everything and when I moved away I said goodbye to them and instead started a career in corporate comms!

    I’m now 28 and miss my horses every, single, day. I can’t even watch horses on TV without feeling such a deep sadness. I know I need to find my way back to leather saddles and lucerne hay but it’s so scary to give up the career I’ve built but by no means love and follow my heart.

    To make things even more complicated I now have a 4 month old daughter ( While I so desperately want her to have the horsey love I did, I want to provide her with the best of everything and for that I need money and security.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It has definitely given me plenty to think about, like… what’s hard work, really, when it means living the life you meant to?

    • Thank you so for stopping by and leaving such a heart-felt comment. … I hear your distress, but just remember, it’s never too late to do what you love. When I was away from horses for those four years I was much the same as you ~ didn’t want to look at them let alone be near one. It was just too painful. And then one day life told me it was enough already. It was time to re-adopt my passion and let it speak through me. This can happen for you too. Just be open. And it doesn’t have to be drastic either. I simply put myself back in riding lessons for a few months before I took the plunge into the internship. … As I’v learned, denying our passion means we are denying a part of who we are and only serves to cause us misery. I hope you will find a way to allow horses back into your life (even if it is just stopping by my blog occasionally πŸ˜‰ … ) so that you can begin to feel whole again, and both you and your beautiful daughter can grow in that passion together. … All best wishes, Dorothy πŸ™‚

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is a wonderful feeling to let go and all the universe to unfold as it should. I’m so happy for you that this has opened the way for you to find yourself again. Horses are amazing teachers. I hope you get to spend some time with them. … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  9. I love this! “Nurture what you love!” I’m doing just that! By the way, I have been yearning to take horse back riding lessons. And when I do…I definitely will look out for the inspiration!

    • Thank you for visiting and leaving your lovely comment. I checked out your blog and see that you are involved in transformational change, team building, leadership training and conflict management. If you are interested in the equine-assisted side of these things I recommend reading best selling author Linda Kohanov’s “The Power of the Herd: A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership and Innovation.” Her website is She runs equine facilitated experiential learning programs. Wonderfully inspiring life-changing stuff. I don’t know why I mention this, but I felt this might interest you based on the work you do. … And I hope you do get some riding lessons, one day, and to spend time with the horses. They truly are the most amazing window to the soul. … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  10. Very well written! My clarity has yet to be developed but I think it was born the day I ran away from an arranged marriage and took control of my life… Thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

    • I have just visited your website. You are a brave soul. Congratulations on being able to tackle your issues this early in your life. I was in my 40s before I finally saw the light and was able to start dealing with the effects of abuse in my own life. Incidents like the one described in this post served as one of many wake-up calls that in the end lead me to therapy. … Thank you for stopping by and leaving this thoughtful comment. I wish you well on your healing journey and much happiness in our life … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  11. This was such a refreshingly honest post to read. Very, very well written and such an inspiring story. We all can learn so much from each other. Thank you for sharing, Dorothy and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed πŸ™‚

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  13. An amazing post! Thank you for sharing such an inspirational chapter of your life…and thanks for mentioning the song “que sera sera”…I had never heard that song but now I know it by heart….and I know what to tell myself the next time I worry about the future πŸ™‚ Thanks Dorothy

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  15. You had me at your headline and I’m definitely attracted to the storyline – being a horsey person in my past life (my youth)! I am following you now so that I can read later (when my finals projects are done!). I shouldn’t be procrastinating and reading blogs so I will return when I have no other things competing for time so that I may slowly read and enjoy! Thanks!! –newest follower!

  16. Beautiful post. It is so so hard to take that leap – it is something I am struggling with myself right now – and commendable that you did, and stuck with it. My son started riding last year and I enjoy going out to the stables as much (or more!) than he does. There is something serene about the open expanses and I find it so comforting to be near the horses. I am often inspired to write when I’m there. I look forward to reading through some more of your blog.

    • Thank you. … Sometimes it’s a matter of push comes to shove. This was a wake-up call for me that created a domino effect leading to even more incredible changes in my life. The only way I can really describe it is as giant re-alignment. If we are not aligned with our true purpose we are not happy; we can’t move forward. It’s like riding a horse. If we do not align a horse to go straight he cannot move forward freely. Horses have so much to teach us. … I’m glad you have a chance to be with the horses. I know many parents who began riding after their children took up lessons. Maybe you’ll be one of them. πŸ˜‰ … Be well and thanks for stopping by. Dorothy πŸ™‚

  17. Very inspiring and wonderfully written, thanks for this! I can relate to your “epiphany” during cleaning the stall – I often have insights like this when gardening πŸ™‚ pulling out weeds or roots has reminded me that we have to let go of bitterness and resentment, for if not, these things will poison our heart – and nothing good and healthy can grow in such a place (please forgive me “simple language”, I’m Swiss and normally write in german πŸ™‚ ). I will certainly come back to read more!

    • Hi Claudia! Thanks for visiting and sharing. Yes, gardening is another wonderful metaphor for purging and you expressed yourself most eloquently. πŸ™‚ … I’m glad you enjoyed the post. … Be well and come back soon, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  18. I’m another person who finds peace with a pitchfork.

    People aske why I keep my horses when I’m not riding. I tell them I need the exercise, but the truth is, I love the work involved. It gives me time to clear my mind and get centered.

    When I’m mad at my husband, I have the cleanest stalls in the county. LOL

  19. Many years ago I worked with horses, and I had the chance to do what you’ve chosen to do. I chose differently. I wasn’t sure my body could take the rigors of such work. But I never gave up my saddle, bridle, and boots. I still have them twenty years after I sold my horse and reluctantly moved on to other things. Just the other day, I said to my husband, “When I’m finished with my Masters, I want to ride again.” He thought it was a great idea. I’ll be around 55, but that doesn’t concern me. If anything, I believe I’ll have a deeper appreciation for what horses and their world offers.

    • Yes, I believe you will. … Reading the works of Linda Kohanov and Chris Irwin during the past few years has helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for horses and my relationship with them. Changed my life in many amazing ways. … And I know many women, and a few men, who have taken up riding after 50. You’re in good company. … Be well and thanks for visiting. … Dorothy πŸ™‚

  20. Wonderful story—it had the effect of clarifying my own desires for change–and how much control we have and don’t have over such change. It also reminded me how lovely it is to do horse chores. I even miss cleaning stalls! Thanks!

  21. I love stories of people that tell us an important line for our own story. Thanks for sharing! Your story is truely inspirational! πŸ™‚

    And keep the music in your heart! For where is music, there is love.

    Have a great day!

  22. thank you for sharing this..
    your words really gave me a push forward and a belief that one day after all this confusion and sufferings we face through life i’ll look back and just like u did i’ll wonder how i did it, how i passed through all this..
    so thank you again for giving me a power to handle the situation and to let me know that tough times do really pass
    good luck πŸ™‚

    • Honour your truth. Follow your heart. Believe that where you are will lead you to where you want to be. Live in each moment. … and smile … πŸ™‚ … Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  23. I take to the woods when I need to find clarity. The hike to my favorite spot is hard and I’m usually out of breath and sweating by the time I get there. I suppose that helps, because I have to let go of everything else and focus on the climb. Otherwise it’s hard for me to let go of my thoughts. I’m a worrier by nature, but Nature helps, especially when I have to work for it πŸ™‚

    • Engaging mind, body and spirit is really the only way to clear the cobwebs that obscure our view. Hiking and communing with Nature will definitely do that. πŸ˜‰ … Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  24. What a great story! Thank you for sharing your journey. I have been mucking stalls at a large (medium in comparison to yours) barn for almost two years now. It is both hard and at times back breaking, but it also has a way of allowing you to take stock in life, to slow down, to mull things over. Horses are such a blessing in our lives, even if I am not always fond of cleaning up after them!

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