By Mary Reitano

“A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.”  Federico Tesio, horse breeder.

Speed. Beauty. Strength. These are positive qualities of horses–amazing creatures many spectators will admire at the FEI World Equestrian Games this fall in Tryon, NC. Strong horses have served mankind for centuries—plowing fields, transporting families to church, and carrying soldiers into battle. Horses exhibit power by jumping fences or thundering around racetracks. Some demonstrate a champion’s heart when overcoming obstacles. Movies celebrate exceptional horses—Secretariat, War Horse, Seabiscuit, and Hidalgo. They inspire us to draw upon our strengths, to rise above challenges and become champions in life.

Horses demonstrate strengths like resilience, courage, and interdependence. A familiar resilience metaphor is: “Life is like riding a horse. If you get bucked off, you’ve got to get right back out and ride!” Former President Teddy Roosevelt was famous for courageously leading the Rough Riders volunteer cavalry unit in the Spanish- American War. He wrote: “Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” And horses teach us interdependence. They demonstrate service to others. Amber Senti wrote: “The horse, with beauty unsurpassed, strength immeasurable and grace unlike any other, still remains humble enough to carry a man upon his back.” Horses also rely on community–they gallop together in herds.

Some therapies emphasize strengths and resources, rather than problems and weaknesses. Positive Psychology, founded by Martin Seligman and others “is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”  Their free survey of strengths is found at https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register. Ask yourself or others these questions: What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What have you been successful at? What strengths have others shared about you? Also, assess external resources—people you can count on (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, medical professionals, religious leaders, counselors, community resources). Ideally, these relationships are mutually beneficial. We are not designed to live in isolation. Interdependence, the ability to give and receive help, is essential for a good life.

Another therapy is Strength-Based Therapy, created by American psychotherapist Donald Clifton and others. It focuses on how people discover their inner strengths through adversity. During challenges, some people perceive their position to be one of strength (positive focus), others see deficit (weakness focus). According to Psychology Today, “The goal is for you to recognize that you already have the skills and strength to survive and can use those same strengths to deal with tough situations in other areas of your life.” To be the best we can be in life, we have to exercise the strengths we have been given. As former President John Adams wrote “Minds are like…horses, you must exercise them to if you wish to keep them in working order.”

Mary Reitano is a licensed Professional Counselor Associate practicing in Lake Lure. Her focus is positive psychology with a holistic approach addressing emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health. She can be reached at 704-858-2926 or maryalisonreitano@gmail.com.