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Attorneys turn to 'barn therapy' to clear minds

August 10, 2016
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Five influential women in the Indianapolis legal community share a common bond as dedicated horse riding enthusiasts. From left, Tory Castor, Marilyn Moores, Cheryl Wendling, Laura Briggs and Patricia Polis McCrory met up recently at the Select Show Horses stable in Sheridan, and here are the thoughts they shared with Indiana Lawyer about why they ride, in their own words.

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Laura Briggs
Clerk, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

What I get from riding my horse is an absolutely quiet mind — another form of mindfulness meditation for me. Rather than thinking about calls to be made, schedules to be developed, projects that are due — my mind focuses on what I am feeling from my horse.

Horses are reactive — so even a quiet trail ride can turn into a tear through the woods with little notice. If I’m not attentive to tiny sensations of movement from my horse — a twitch — I could miss the warning. So I focus only on what I am doing and how my horse is feeling. It’s the same when grooming — pay attention or risk a hoof in the head when a horse tries to remove a pesky fly. Being with my horse is the best stress management tool I’ve ever found.

There is a camaraderie among “horse people” that is hard to top. We hear the word “horse” being spoken by a stranger, across the room in a crowd, and are attracted like bees to flowers. Our common ground makes for fast friends. And let’s face it, non-horse people find hearing about my horse’s health issues/supplements/saddle pad as dull as watching paint dry!

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Tory Castor
Vice president of government affairs, IU Health

I actually call it my barn therapy. When you’re working with horses, all the thoughts of work, the stresses of the day, just sort of fall by the wayside because you’re so focused on what you’re doing. It rejuvenates me. The other piece of it to me is it’s a sport or passion I share with my daughter, Evelyn, 14. She rides saddle seat, strictly Arabians.

We just bought a new horse in January, and it’s definitely been challenging, but it’s a good challenge for her and me. My mom rode a little bit, and I started riding when I was about 5. I think every Christmas I asked for a horse or a pony. I was that little girl who would rather clean a stall than her own room.

I firmly believe that you’ve got to take care of yourself in order to be the person you need to be in the workplace and at home. All too often we get swept up in the activities of the day and forget how important emotional well-being is. “Barn therapy” resettles the soul and puts you in the right frame of mind to think clearly going forward.

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Patricia Polis McCrory
Attorney/mediator, Harrison & Moberly LLP

I started doing this when I was 3. Mom took me to the Riverside Amusement Park for pony rides. When the Indiana State Fair came to town, I talked Mom into taking me to see the horse shows. There I saw beautiful creatures jumping fences and gates in the ring at the Coliseum. I fell in love and dreamed of sailing through the air. At the ripe age of 12, I convinced my Mom to take me to Grand View Riding Stable for a lesson. 

When I walk into the barn and saddle the horse (especially my favorite, Phil), I feel a great deal of peace come over me. The cases I have been working on — the strategies that have my mind humming all day — are pushed to the “back.” For the 45 minutes I ride, there is nothing else that matters. I have always been a “one horse girl.” I need to be “one with the horse.” I need to feel what he feels and anticipate the moves he will make.

Riding has brought my daughter Katie, 13, and me together with a mutual love of animals and a great sport. I am so proud to see her compete and win ribbons. It is the best “mother-daughter” experience ever. We don’t have to win a ribbon — we just want to have fun.

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Marilyn Moores
Marion Superior juvenile court judge

I am an animal lover from way back. While other girls played with Barbies and had tea parties, I was out catching crawdads to put in my dad’s tropical fish tank (not a good idea). I have always had a dog and frequently cats, and frankly can’t imagine my life without them. But horses bring an entirely different dimension to people/critter relationships.

First of all, horses are extremely intuitive animals. Secondly, when a human is riding a horse, it is a partnership like no other—in a very real and tangible sense, each’s survival and well-being is dependent on the other. This necessitates a level of trust and understanding in each other that is amazing because it is across species and often unspoken. Dancers and battle buddies have such relationships, but it’s human to human.

I have an extremely stressful job, which involves interaction with humans nearly every minute of the day. By the end of the day and especially at the end of the week, the most relaxing and life-reaffirming thing I can possibly do is to ride my horse. His belief in me reaffirms that I at least do some things right. His beauty and nobility remind me that there still are some good things in the world and his trust in me humbles me that I should be worthy of such confidence. It may not be for everyone, but that relationship makes all the difference to me and lets me go back to my not-so-pretty weekday world.

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Cheryl Wendling
Senior vice president, Christel House International

Why do I ride? That’s a question I’ve never even considered, because it is such a fundamental part of who I am. I ride for the spiritual connection with my horses that can’t be explained, only experienced. I ride to compete — not so much with others as with myself, to be the best I can be.

I ride for the total, in-the-moment experience that forces exclusion of every other thought or concern from my mind. I ride to problem-solve, to figure out each horse’s individual personality, and what works — or doesn’t work — to get the desired response. I ride because it keeps me strong, focused, determined, goal-oriented and competitive.

Very simply, I ride because horses have been my passion for as long as I can remember (and that’s a LONG time!) and without them, there would be a void that could never be filled.•

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