by Laura Schonberg
From a small child who was crazy about horses, to becoming a full-time owner of The Horse Fellowship, Janet Phinney has come full circle in the joy of horsing and a commitment to putting the relationship first.
Why I Horse: I think I came out of the womb wanting to horse; it is a deep, DNA sort of love that I fostered all by myself. I lived in the city as a child so my contact with horses was limited and mostly consisted of watching horse related television shows and playing with Breyer models. When I was 9 I began working at the Woodland Park Zoo helping with pony rides. I would get up at 4 in the morning and hang out at the gate until 7 when they opened so I could claim my favorite horse. At the age of 12, after much pleading, my parents paid for half a horse for me. On the weekends I would take a bus from Seattle at 6 a.m. to Redmond so I could ride all day with my friends. We never had a lesson. If I remembered to pack a lunch, I’d often have it for breakfast and then not eat for 10 hours. I didn’t care if I went home starving.
What Horsing Represents: I love the idea of solving a problem I’m confronting with myself. Before getting into horses full-time, I was a software developer hired to assist personal businesses with their internal applications. It was just me and the computer and I thought through problems like it was a game with myself. Horses are actually similar: they reflect the problem and then it’s up to me to figure it out. The difference with horses is that I can have a relationship—a connection, and that is both powerful and gentle.
How Horsing has Changed: It has come full circle. As a kid, it was simply about joy and pleasure. As a young adult I learned how to perform by paying a lot of money and taking a lot of lessons. I was an accomplished rider, but lost my joy in the process because it was all about the outcome. Now that horsing is my full-time business, people could say I “teach horsemanship.” Instead, I would say I teach people how to create the relationship they most desire with their horse. When I teach from my heart versus just teaching a skill, it makes me a better horsewoman. I do teach horsemanship, but I also teach trust and this reflects back to me. The more students grow, the more I grow. Until I found the joy again, it was difficult to learn. Now that I’m teaching it’s come full circle as I’ve rediscovered my own joy.
What I’m Proud Of: Ruby is one of my accomplishments. When I bought her, she was a very pushy one-year-old and well over my ability at the time. Through our initial journey together she became pretty fearful because I was pushing too hard and demanding too much. I had to recognize that I needed to change; she actually didn’t need to change at all. It’s incredibly humbling. Ruby tries so hard! She has helped me realize that horses are appreciative of the opportunity to try when you believe in them and use calm repetition. I’m proud of creating a trusting relationship with a horse that was once fearful.
Advice to Myself: Always find joy in the moment because the connection with the horse happens within that joy. As a teacher I can pick my perception: I can worry about doing something wrong, or if my client is having a good time, or if I’m saying all the right things, but this takes away from the joy. And when joy disappears it takes away from intuition and the ability for me to support my student and the horse in the moment. The horse and the human can enjoy challenges when they are doing them together.
Advice to Others: Accept, believe in, and love yourself and your horse right where you are. Know that the horse is honest and always tries 100%. If something isn’t working look first at yourself and find new ways to communicate to make it easier for the horse. Start small, trust yourself and have fun. All of that learning has to be fun!
Thankful to call the Pacific Northwest home, Laura Schonberg is an educator in a local school district and is outside at her place when she isn’t inside at work. Summers are spent cow-girling at a friend’s ranch, with forrays into the Cascade Mountains as time and weather permit year-round. Winter finds her at a local barn doing dressage lessons to support her ranch riding, and re-starting horses through the county’s equine rescue program.