Temple, The Summit, Lessons Learned

BHPS director Maddy Butcher

Best Horse Practices Summit director Maddy Butcher writes:

I’m not a big believer in personality tests. If forced, I’d call myself an introvert: I like to write and be outside. I commune most easily with dogs and horses.

While directing the Best Horse Practices Summit is an extremely joyous and inspiring affair for me, it’s also rife with tension. My stress manifests quite clearly in:

  • how many times per day I lose and find my backpack during the conference
  • an inability to absorb the very presentations I worked hard to produce
  • an inability to sleep for more than four hours without busy-brain interruption

If I can remember what Randy Rieman said to me years ago, I tend to function and feel better:

“If we’re not expanding our circles of comfort, we’re shrinking them.”

Challenges enrich our lives. I embrace that theory and work hard to put it into practice. And then there’s always the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ mantra. I find that one helpful, too.

Over lunch before the Summit welcome reception in the Strater Hotel Theater, I visited with Temple Grandin about her comfort circles and trepidations. Believe it or not, public speaking was once a source of discomfort for the best-selling author and livestock-handling pioneer. This is a woman who fills her calendar chock-full of speaking and teaching engagements.

Ever the student, Dr. Temple Grandin shows newspaper article of interest

The Colorado State University professor said she’s worked tirelessly to expand that particular comfort zone. And as Summit attendees will surely attest, Grandin has turned her trepidation into triumph.

She also said she had a fear of flying. Since I do, too, I asked how she had conquered it. “Knowledge,” was her matter-of-fact reply. Grandin learned about flight and studied the science. When the spoilers (plates on the top of the wing, engaged to reduce lift) went up surprisingly in the middle of a flight, Grandin queried the pilot when they’d landed. Knowledge empowers.

As luck would have it, the Summit week gave me whopping dose of discomfort, er, opportunity for personal growth.

No sooner had we finished hauling trade show inventory back to my garage than I learned my son was hospitalized in Panama (where he works). Within a day, I was on an international flight headed to Panama City. (He’s going to be okay.)

Over these weeks, I learned some things.

Lesson One:

Panama City, where there are parrots in the trees.

When the sh*t hits the fan, we have a great chance to rise to the occasion. Crisis moments have a way of channeling our energies into necessary actions. Those might be conquering a fear of flying, but it could just as easily be rescuing a horse from peril, or getting safely home after a trail wreck.

Gaining knowledge and pushing comfort zones are clever partners in progress. You can bet your experiences will be uncomfortable, but they will be less so next time. Just ask Temple.

Lesson Two:

Don’t be afraid to take things seriously.

Even at an educational conference, there’s a great temptation not to take things too seriously. You might be called out for being overly-passionate. Passion = emotion. And emotion is just not something we cop to at a science-oriented events.

Also, and unfortunately, we humans attach weakness to ignorance. We rank each other’s value by how much we know.

If we’re quiet and smile politely, no one will judge us, we say to ourselves sheepishly.

But where’s the gain in that strategy? Invest in your own learning by speaking up, taking notes, and asking questions.

Lesson Three:

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

We all mess up. We’re all works in progress. Our lives are full of slip-ups and steps forward. There would be no steps forward without setbacks.

Be kind to yourself and understand that imperfection is okay. In fact, it’s golden. We learn better from mistakes than we do from our successes (as long as we’re not repeating the same mistakes over and over).

I had to laugh when recent anxieties rebooted dreams I’ve had off and on for decades: that I’ve actually never graduated from college and was an epically-failing individual. Year after year, I’m never able to pass the classes. Year after year, additional, confounding obstacles get in my way.

Talk about involuntary mental self-torture! Picture me, a 50-something with dogs and horses in tow, trying to figure out how to live in a dorm and attend calculus and chemistry classes.

Again, knowledge empowers. Dr. Steve Peters helped me understand theories and science behind them:

Anxiety dreams tend to occur during “Rapid Eye Movement” or REM Sleep.  They usually have recognizable and recurring themes of embarrassment or frustration. These are not nightmares, but may be even more disturbing as the feelings of distress and stress can endure long after the dreamer has awakened.

Some researchers suggest that these dreams may be a biological defense mechanism at work by repeatedly simulating a threatening situation in order to somehow downregulate the nervous system. But this is only one theory. Perhaps they alert us to a current more generalized anxiety and use those reoccurring themes to manifest underlying emotions. 

[On a different note, most recent neuroscience research suggests that normal dreaming fulfills the adaptive function of consolidating learning free of external stimuli. That kind of dreaming helps solidify learning and memory circuitry.]

Bottom Line: Brains are funny things and sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

Lesson Four:

Seek the Silver Lining.

If it weren’t for a crappy horse expo experience I had several years ago, the Best Horse Practices Summit would have never seen the light of day.

If I hadn’t acquired a difficult mule, my horsemanship wouldn’t have improved.

If it weren’t for my son’s scary hospitalization, I never would have seen Panama, a country rich with varied cultures and topography, where I spotted green parrots in city trees and experienced a wealth of warmth from total strangers.

Panama City, Panama

Posted in BestHorsePractices Summit, Humor, Reflections.


  1. Wow oh Wow! Maddy that was beautiful! Perfectly said and perfectly written. Thank you for opening your soul and sharing your thoughts. We all need to do that more often. As much as we need to look inward and examine ourselves, too. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Yes I enjoyed the conference so much. I love stretching my learning. So happy that your son is ok. That stuff is always scary. You do a great job at your conference and I am so glad that you are doing it. Now I need to be able to access the videos of it and last years. Go Maddy!! Keep it up! Stretch and expand all our lives.

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