Codependency and Horses

This is part 3 of a series of contributions from Annette

This week’s Healing Through Christ meeting was on codependency, and I wondered how it could possibly apply to my horse situation.  I will begin by sharing a definition of codependency inserting “my horses for people.  “The prefix “co” in the word codependency refers to the connection between [me and my horses.] “Co” is attached to the word dependency to convey the understanding that [my] mental and emotion health are directly connected to and dependent upon what [my horses]….are or are not doing.”  I thought, if this is true I should feel different emotions depending on what my horses are or are not doing as they work with my horse trainer.

The next lesson for my horse Tomie was to learn to yield to the bit which means teaching a horse to put their head in a position where there is no pressure or pulling on the corners of their mouth by the bit.  It looks like this. 

Notice how loose the reins are; this is very comfortable for the horse. My trainer explained how we would teach this to Tomie.  First we bridle and saddle him, tie the reins to rings on each side of the saddle and then allow Tomie to freely wander around the corral as he figures out where to place his head.   My trainer told me in the beginning it might be frustrating for Tomie as he works to figure out where to place his head so the reins hang loose.  We then bridled and saddled Tomie, tied the reins to the rings and let him loose in the corral.  My job was to watch him as he wandered around the pen. As I watched I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I felt inside. Instead of lowering his head he raised it up high which created pressure on the bit in his mouth.  Tomie was uncomfortable as he fought against the bit instead of yielding. I didn’t like watching Tomie work to figure things out.  The longer I stood there watching the more upset I became.   I knew where his head needed to be and wanted to go and lower his head to speed up the learning process.  Even though it had only been a couple of minutes I could hardly stop myself from jumping through the fence to help him.  As I stood trying to work through my feelings a voice inside my head said, “Annette, you are acting codependently towards Tomie. You don’t like your feelings as you watch your horse discover and learn the lesson your trainer is teaching him.   You want to go in and force Tomie’s head to the correct position in order to stop your anxious feelings as you watch him learn on his own.”

I was shocked as I realized the truth of what the Spirit was teaching me.  My mental and emotional health was directly connected to what my horse was or was not doing.  I couldn’t feel happy until Tomie was “doing the right thing.” I wondered how many time I had interfered with lessons the Lord was trying to teach my children because I couldn’t stand my impatient feelings as I watched them work through the learning process.  Finally I had to walk away from Tomie and find someone else to watch him as he figured out where to put his head.  Within minutes I was called back to see that Tomie had discovered where his head should be and the reins were hanging loose.  My trainer was right, Tomie had figured it out on his own.

It was a day to celebrate Tomie’s progress but also a day to celebrate what I learned about myself.  I discovered my impatient and anxious feelings as I saw others go through the lessons God has arranged for them.  I realized my uncomfortable emotions often cause me to control and manipulate others instead of letting them learn by themselves. I hope in the future to choose to trust in my Heavenly Father’s lessons for others just as I am learning to trust my trainer’s lessons for my horses.

My Feelings About My Horses

In Healing Through Christ we learn that emotions are always a part of life’s trials. We are also taught the importance of really listening to our feelings as we work through recovery. My horses are currently a big trial in my life.  Could listening to my feelings about them make a difference?  I was surprised by what I learned as I had the courage to face my emotions and learn the lessons they could teach me.  I will list the 5 emotional stages I went through with my horses and what each stage taught me about myself and my relationship with them.

Shock and Denial

The situation really began about 6 weeks ago when my daughter discovered my horses had broken into a back pasture.  It was dark and nearly impossible to see the galloping horses as they circled around her. With added help from my husband, my daughter soon had the horses back safely where they belonged.  When my family told me later about the incident I was “shocked” the horses had broken through the back fence and certainly in “denial” as I convinced myself the actions of my horses was really no big deal, a problem that could be handled sometime in the future. 


Then just 2 weeks ago when my horses started constantly breaking fence lines and going wherever they wanted I got really “angry.”  How could they do this to me; I feed and take care of them; I spend tons of money on them? I wanted to get rid of them. It was my horses’ fault I was feeling so angry. In Healing Through Christ we learn that getting angry “doesn’t solve anything…but it can destroy everything.” At the same time anger “can be a voice inside of us that says ‘Enough! Something has to change.’” I began to process my anger by talking about it with friends and writing in my journal.  I prayed for guidance from the Lord and He sent help and understanding through a horse trainer that “just happened to move into my church congregation.” As I started to work on the problem it also helped me continue to move through my angry feelings.


Even as I started to take responsibility for my problems I felt deep sadness at the loss of my dream of perfect horses, a beautiful farm and the easy country life I had always imagine.  This life was hard and always would be.  I felt everything was hopeless and just wanted to give up.  But Healing Through Christ tells us to remember “feelings aren’t facts.”


Bargaining is when I think I can bribe my horses into cooperating with me.  I have learned there is no reward or special treat I can give my horses that will permanently keep them in fences that aren’t working right.  A bribe is only a temporary band-aid until they next time the horses decide to wander through “unhot” fences into better pastures.

Acceptance and Resolution

Finally I accepted the truth of the situation.  I could see things as they really were, not what I just hoped them to be.  Unlike denial, I see clearly what actions “I, Annette,” needed to take to change things.  I reorganized my pasture situation, I bought a new fence charger, cut down the brush under the fence lines, and worked hard to change the things I could.  There was a new kind of peace and serenity that grew in my heart as things slowly started to get better. I am happy now as things are changing for the better. 

Through this trial with my horses I am learning the lessons my emotions can teach me.  The Lord is bringing me to the right solutions as I listen to and process my feelings. As I have gone through the emotional stages I learned how to find peace with all my different feelings, even anger.  And I am learning that my emotions are a gift from God if I allow Him to use my feelings to teach me

The Answer to Unmanageable Horses

Over the next several weeks, Annette will be sharing her experience of applying the 12 Steps in an unexpected area of her life. The Twelve Steps of Healing Through Christ can help us meet and overcome many different challenges in our lives, including “unmanageable horses.”

On Tuesday I gave the prayer in my Healing Through Christ meeting and said, “Help us find something in our lives we can use the 12 step program to overcome, as we start again at the beginning of the steps.”  This plea was indeed inspired, though I certainly didn’t want the answer the Lord would personally give to me. 

 It came later that morning as I went out to feed my horse Ally and her two sons Dusky and Tomie.  I walked passed Ally eating peacefully in the lane and out to the pastures where I found Dusky and Tomie in a section that was fenced off to them.  I quickly realized they had broken the fence line and gone into a section of pasture they thought contained better grass.  I led them back out to where they belonged but then to my horror saw them just look around for another pasture with beautiful grass and break through another fence line.  I was so angry—so out of control angry.  There was nothing I could do to stop them.   They had learned the fences were not hot and with their immense horse strength they could do whatever they wanted with no respect for me.  In my anger I vowed right then and there to get rid of them both to the next Amish family that needed a buggy horse.  I was done with this life in the country.  I would sell my place and move to a condo where I would never have to do “outside” again. 

I stormed into my house to tell my daughter what had happened and my decision. I raged about my feelings toward my two horses until I finally calmed down enough for the Lord’s spirit to add some insight to my situation. The words of Step One from our group meeting ran through my mind with a little variation.  “Come to understand and accept that I am powerless over the actions, behavior and lack of control of my horses and that my life has become unmanageable.”  I was shocked as I realized the Lord had already answered the prayer I gave earlier in the 12 Step meeting.

I indeed had an unmanageable situation and was ready to give up on my farm, my land, my home, the horses I love and the country life that is in my blood. Could there be another answer? Did God want to teach me that He not only cares about each hair of my head and each sparrow that falls, but that He cares about me and my out-of-control horses? I’ve used the 12 Steps to overcome addictions, co-dependency, a troubled marriage and difficult relationship with friends and family. I realized the Lord now wants to teach me that these eternal principles can apply even to my horses and my relationship with them. Over the next weeks and months I have felt impressed to write about this journey to discover God is the healer of all things, even a broken relationship with my horses.

My Broken Toe

by Annette

Ten weeks ago I broke my toe, stopping all my ambitious plans for the summer.  When I returned to my doctor last week I was certain I would be cleared to go back to my normal activities and finally begin my “to do” list from June.  To my dismay my doctor handed me an x-ray of my foot with the break still clearly visible.   He told me to continue buddy taping my injured toe to its strong neighboring toe, wear a shoe to protect it from re-injury and to listen carefully to how my toe, foot and leg felt as I “slowly” began using my foot again. My doctor then informed me it would be a year before the bone would be completely healed. I was devastated.  This was not what I had hoped he would say.  Frustrated I went home, called into my 12 Step meeting and reluctantly wrapped my injured toe to one next to it.

God heals me toes

I sadly looked at my toes taped together as I listened to the people on the meeting.  The participates shared of people whose examples of faith, courage and determination had helped them in their early days, weeks and months of learning a new way of life.  They talked about the importance of paying attention to their feelings as they worked recovery to prevent relapse.  They shared how healing takes time and the importance of being patient as we come to understand that healing is a process that requires time to “regain, reclaim, and regroup all that was lost while we tried on our own to cope.”  Lastly they encouraged everyone on the meeting to stick with it because it’s worth it.

I stared at my injured toe and its buddy next to it.  I realized my broken toe was in recovery just like the people in this meeting.  It needed the strength of the neighboring toe to keep it straight and protected, just like the people starting the 12 Step journey.  Though frustrated by the x-ray my doctor gave me, it revealed the invisible break that was still there.  The truth was my toe was still in the beginning stages of healing.  I realized the wounds many of us in 12 Step meetings carry are also completely invisible to ourselves and others as we struggle to keep up appearances that all is well and normal in our lives. And now I understood healing my toe would take a full year just like the emotional and spiritually healing can take a long time for the people in our group meetings.  Healing does take time, a long time, sometimes a year or more.

But the most important thing I learned that day was though the doctor could show me pictures of my toe in recovery, give me advice on how to keep it protected and safe, and help me realize the length of time complete healing would take, my doctor could not heal it.  Only God can heal my toe through the amazing body He has given me.  Likewise, though I can attend 12 Step meetings, listen to stories that can encourage me to patiently walk the road of recovery, or work with a sponsor, I cannot heal myself.   Whether it’s the miraculous healing of the bone in my foo,t or of my mind, heart and spirit, it’s God who heals me.  “Christ is the healer of [my soul].” And Christ is also the healer of my broken toe.