Stories from the Heart

The Gift of Manure

“After years of avoiding my truth, fears, and inner desires, the universe made me listen to my heart.”


A dear friend and intuitive healer used to say that adversity, sorrow and suffering are actually gifts of manure. She explained to me long ago, that in times of hardship, the universe presents us with great opportunities to create magic. She chose the word “manure” as her metaphor, hoping that I, an avid horse lover and equestrian, would appreciate and grasp this concept. Without manure, she said, gardens cannot grow.

In theory, the idea of positive change evolving from a negative experience cognitively makes sense. But negative experiences cause pain and the powerful human mind will often do whatever it can to eliminate suffering. And so, our pain festers and grows like a manure pile, until the day arrives when it all comes tumbling down.

For the past 25 years, I have been a competitive equestrian. I was horse-crazy as a child but began riding seriously with my mother in my early twenties. We competed together on a national level and for my mother, our success was paramount. She was a perfectionist in all areas of her life and the show arena was no different. She bought the most competitive horses and attended the highest level of competition. My mother loved her horses and provided the greatest of care for them, but her focus was always on the prize.

©Alex Carlton
©Alex Carlton

After my mother’s death, I bought my own horse and switched riding disciplines. I chose to start jumping, which had been a lifelong dream. Initially, despite buying a show horse, I had no plans of competing. I spent every day at the barn and concentrated on my new discipline and developing a connection with my new equine partner. I was stabled at a show barn, though, and it wasn’t long before I felt the pressure to compete. My own need to compete. My horse had a wonderful show record and was a perfect schoolmaster. I was confident we would be successful.

The first year of showing my new horse in a new discipline went surprisingly well. We won blue ribbons and championships. I was new to jumping and was fortunate to ride a horse that knew a lot more than I did. Yet as I grew more proficient in the discipline, things began to change. I started to expect and demand more of myself. When I fell short of these expectations, I became frustrated, angry, and defeated. I constantly felt I was taking one step forward and three steps back. I changed programs, trainers, and tack. I tried therapy, hypnosis, and meditation. Nevertheless, this vicious cycle continued for almost ten years.

I was physically losing control of my greatest passion, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Fifteen months ago, I was given a gift of manure. I was diagnosed with a rare, benign tumor and a life-threatening build-up of cerebral fluid in my brain. I was fortunate to survive brain surgery and recover completely. I was blessed with supportive family and friends. At the time, however, it was difficult honoring my good fortune. It was necessary to lease my horse for a year. The months leading up to my diagnosis had been foreboding. I began losing my balance in the saddle and I started falling frequently. I began having trouble mounting and dismounting. I was physically losing control of my greatest passion, and there was nothing I could do about it. My family and friends told me I could eventually do other things with horses besides riding and competing, but their words fell on deaf ears. I shut myself off from the world and fell into a deep depression.

(Courtesy of the author.)
(Courtesy of the author.)

My isolation and initial descent into darkness left me alone with my authentic self. For the past year, I have had the opportunity to explore and envision the life I truly want, not the life I thought I wanted. I was convinced that I loved competing, yet it was not until the universe took it away that I realized how unfulfilled I had become. Competitive riding was stressful and unenjoyable for me. Anything less than perfect had become unacceptable, and I realize now that a part of me was still seeking my mother’s approval. While it is more than likely that the brain tumor added to my frustration in the saddle, I know in my heart that I was living a life that I didn’t really want. I had been taught to believe that competing at a high level was right for me and I supported that belief by listening to an old soundtrack of ideas that were not mine. I was stuck on a never-ending hamster wheel, striving for an impossible ideal.

After years of avoiding my truth, fears, and inner desires, the universe made me listen to my heart. I am riding again and it is without agenda. I am having fun. Connecting with horses and experiencing their magical healing power has now fulfilled me in a way I could never have imagined. Discovering and accepting the life I want is leading me on a journey to help and heal others with the horse as my guide.

A gift of manure?  Yes, indeed.

About the Author

(Courtesty of the author.)
(Courtesy of the author)

Victoria Bleeden has been a competitive equestrian for 30 years. She began riding and showing American Saddlebreds but found her true passion was riding hunters and jumpers. She is a certified Animal Communicator and is training to be an Equine Assisted Coach. She lives in Los Angeles.

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