What You Are Thinking Matters

Kristi Smith – 4-Star Senior Parelli Professional

In 2005 I took my first long term campus course with my beautiful Paint mare, Maxi. It was a 10-week program called “The School.” This course was designed for folks who had professional aspirations but didn’t yet have the horsemanship skills to be accepted into the professional level course. I signed up for this course because the literature I had read stated that it could “accelerate your results.” It was exactly what I was looking for! I had decided I wanted to become a Parelli Professional and I had talked my husband into making the finances work. I was all set! Except, I had a mare who had not signed up for this adventure and was not particularly interested in helping me.

Innately and through childhood conditioning, I had become a very direct, focused, determined and intense person. Those are not necessarily negative qualities unless you were standing in between me and my goals. If you were unfortunate enough to be in that position, you probably felt like I was bullish, incentive and uncooperative. That is likely how Maxi felt. Lucky for me, she was not going to tolerate me trying to just bully her into doing what I wanted. At the time, I felt like I was being punished. Now, I realize she is one of the single greatest partnerships to ever happen to me.

I was 30 years old when I took this course and had never considered evaluating my thoughts. I knew I had an inner monologue running. I knew that my inner voice was not always saying nice things. I didn’t know that that conversation was hurting me and restricting my relationship with Maxi until the day she pointed it out to me.

One Saturday morning (a day we were meant to give our horses a rest) I was eating breakfast in the lodge while I read my Level 3 theory guide. I was contemplating the standard for what was then Level 3 freestyle riding. I had been told that it wasn’t “really” Level 3 unless you could do it with your arms folded. As I ate my breakfast, I was making a plan to attempt Level 3 freestyle with Maxi that morning. I decided we were going to work on Cloverleafs at the canter with my arms folded. Never mind that I had not tried to get them good at the walk using all the aids available to me. Arms folded and at the canter was the level 3 standard and I wanted to achieve Level 3.

While I ate my breakfast and made my plan for Maxi and I that morning, I read the passage in the Level 3 theory guide that tells us to be careful of our thoughts. You know the one. Be careful of your thoughts because they become your words. Be careful of your words because they become your actions. Be careful of your actions because they become your character. Be careful of your character because it becomes your destiny. That passage really stuck in my brain that morning. I don’t know why. But, it was a niggle that I could not get rid of.

I finished my breakfast and headed out to achieve Level 3 Cloverleafs. Needless to say, a huge argument arose between Maxi and I. It wasn’t long before we were both sweating, breathing hard, and actively working against each other. All while this was happening, that passage was swirling around in my brain. Be careful of your thoughts! Finally, I stopped Maxi in the middle of the honeycomb, and a bit like a crazy person shouted “Fine! What are my thoughts?” What I know now is that inner monologue had low-frequency thoughts. They were egocentric and focused on me and not the needs of my horse. At that moment, I began to retrain my inner monologue. I realized the thoughts I had identified with up until that point were no longer serving me. And, for the sake of Maxi, I let them go.

Several years later I had the opportunity to watch a presentation by a long-time Parelli student named David Ulloa. He is essentially the “Pat Parelli” of sharks. He travels the world studying sharks and shark behavior to help protect and support them. What he told us was that sharks have a sensory perception that is not sight, sound or even sonar. They can detect when an animal is in distress and that is how they chose their meals. They are not the indiscriminate killers that you see depicted in movies. They deliberately go after the weak, sick, stressed or dying. This helps to ensure that that that don’t get injured in the hunt.

I found it interesting that it seems that sharks are able to detect the frequency of the organisms around them. David is also a Parelli student and he followed this conversation up with the hypothesis that horses likely have a similar sensory perception. I would go so far as to say that humans likely do too.

Since that day in 2005, I have been obsessed with all types of behavior and personal growth. I have studied countless resources and they all seem to point to one thing. What I am thinking matters. There have been huge advancements in the science of “reading thoughts.” There is a machine called a functional MRI that can locate in our brains where different thoughts live. They literally “light up” different parts of our brains depending on what kind of thought you are thinking.

I found this image online by googling “emotional frequencies.”My hypothesis is that if I am thinking high-frequency thoughts like love, joy, and acceptance, my horse has an easier time perceiving me as a partner and will actively seek out harmony with me because it feels good. When I think low-frequency thoughts like anger, fear, pride, guilt or shame my horses likely perceive pressure or perceive predatory behavior from me. This will cause her to try to dominate me if she is left brain or will cause her to get afraid if she is more right brain. Either way, they will look for a way out of the situation.

In Parelli the goal is harmony. I want to do more than just teach my horse to move away from pressure. I want her to want to do what we are doing. I want her to seek it out. For her to be able to do that, doing things together has to feel good. If all we do is teach our horses to yield to pressure, they will also look for the conversation to be over. They work to try to shut us up or put them away. They look for a way out. “What do I have to do for you to stop doing that?” That is a good place to start, but it is not the goal. The goal is high-frequency harmony and what you are thinking matters.

Horses and humans are both social species. We are both hard-wired to want to find our “herd” and harmonize with them. Doing so ensures our survival. I believe that the opportunity to learn to harmonize with another species moves us beyond survival into evolution. We learn to evolve beyond our instincts and create partnerships that have the potential to change the world. High-frequency harmony is the goal.


  1. Anne Cistoldi

    Kristi, I got a jump start on your blog from my inquiry from the Savvy Summit. I am really experiencing something new in response from my horse with this practice. Fascinating that sharks are thinking of their survival as they hunt…. My LBI usually wants to run the show. He does have some great ideas, and I try to use them when it’s appropriate. When he’s Scared or worried and turns RBE, I’m trying to be a more confident and stronger leader for him. It’s starting to come together!!!!! Thanks for your blog! You have great ideas and philosophy.. SAVVY!!!

  2. Martine Liefstingh

    Just what I was looking for. I was searching a topic about ‘how can I get my horse to have a positive attitude’, as she is such a ‘no-sayer’. Your story helped me realize I should look for ‘how can I find harmony with her’. It’s all in our minds….

    My little Icelandic, with whom I did my level 3 auditions, is a RBI, very co-operating horse. Sadly she has PPID and laminitis now, so I am spending more time with my big 20-year LBI/LBE Irish Cob/Hunter, who has such a different attitude, which is more difficult for me, but as said before, I must change MY attitude….

  3. Christine Danielson

    I am a HeartMath®trainer. Although we don’t refer to emotions as higher versus lower (People then place judgements on them) we have tons of recorded data on how emotions like appreciation or joy affect the human body, intuition, and the people and animals around you, even trees. The data is amazing. They did a study called “Heart to Heart Communication with Horses” (all free in the HeartMath resource library ie heartmath.com) Linda and Ryan did a study measuring heartrate variability (which is a measurable thing emotions affect) of the rider (Ryan) using it to improve his performance. Learning to control emtions while riding and using the HRV biofeedback moniter to see learn how to improve also visibly improved the horses performance. Appreciating emotions (higher frequency, positive emotions) allow better synchronization between your thoughts and your horses behaviors and motivation. Works on people too, its natural.

  4. Dan Rexroad

    Kristi, we bring so much of our daily lives into the pasture/barn and never realize it. Finding yourself distracted readily becomes a point of frustration . Not just for us,for our horses as well.
    A while back in my professional life I learned that if i mentally contradict myself. Say when I do something wrong or catch myself thinking of something not relevant to the moment and i think thats just like me or there i go again. Instead i learned to say “That’s not like me. I can do better. Plan for the future. Have a goal. Meditate on the action, or one of several other actions that turn lost moments with your partner into a very different experience.
    More in support of your point. The mind is a very maliable computer and like an ipad, laptop, iPhone garbage in and garbage out. How you program and use it makes or brakes your success.

    Sorry, rambled on.

  5. Bob McKean

    Thank you. What a great article. I needed to read that as the light just turned on or became a lot brighter. I now can move on and become a better horseman and partner.

  6. Wendy Sood

    It has been challenging and amazing the change that can happen when you change the dialogue with yourself and your horse. I struggle with even my outward emotions and it is even more challenging to control you inner emotions. Challenge accepted!

  7. Beatrice Sibley

    I liked your article, as it is true for humans as well as for animals. Setting goals must work for both equally, otherwise they will not work. Glad you have found your way!

  8. Cathryn Collings

    Kristy, thank you for a VERY interesting blog! How do you think this idea works with other emotions/states of mind? I have had a major back surgery [one in a series] in the past year and I am realizing that when I am in a lot of pain and/or feeling ‘stuck’ with my physical condition, my horses do not treat me as a leader. My LBE mare will comfort me, my RBE will still do what I ask, and my most recent acquisition gelding [LBI i think] doesn’t seem to ‘hear me at all and we have not formed a good bond. He is obedient but not a partner and I really want to have our hearts together, not just a robot horse ( he is a retired dude ranch horse I rescued from a slaughter auction). Would your theory be that I should work him only when I feel strong/positive? This has been quite a challenge!

    1. Kristi Smith

      I do think that physical pain has the potential to affect how our horses read us. We are hoping to create partners who are calm, smart, brave and athletic. I believe it is unfair and unrealistic to ask them to be any one of those things more than we are. I am always working on myself so that I can be at my best for my horses. Hang in there! Healing takes time.

  9. Sabine Andrea Kaufmann

    Masaru Emoto wrote the book ” the hidden messages of the water”. He is a Japanese scientist who shows how our thoughts, words and feelings (and much more things , like TV, microwave, music etc.) have an inpact on molecules of water. Using high-speed photography, Dr. Masaru Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them. And our bodies are made up of 70% of water! And I guess so are the horses. It’s a very beautiful and deeply engaging book. What you are thinking matters…

  10. Jeanette Hayhurst

    I was at the Summit this year and heard you tell this story. It resonated with me then and is just as powerful now. Great conscious raising. I am going to print out a copy and read it when I need this powerful reminder. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Billie Toupin

    You discussed this at our recent 5 day event and it was really quite interesting – playing around with it to see what seems to affect Remsi the most as far as her perception of what I am asking for and how I can improve our partnership! Thank you for bringing this information to light! Appreciate all you do. 🙂

  12. Summer Kline

    I have had an inkling that a lot of animals have this sensory. One night I lay, watching TV, in my bedroom with my dog and the bedroom door closed. My recently adopted dog was always happy-go-lucky with people, so when she started pacing in the room slowly with hair standing up and growling low and deep I didn’t know what to think. She had never looked like that before and moved slow like she was prowling with head down, pacing back and forth. She didn’t have a regular bark/growl either; it was low and more quiet. I called my husband who’s a police officer but doubted if it was anything. When he and another cop came over running hot, I almost felt embarrassed I had called. They had me sit in their car while they searched. Sure enough there was a window at the very back of the house far from my bedroom where the screen had been cut wide open and some stuff left on the ground under it. I was shocked. I hadn’t heard anything (TV on) and that window was far away from the bedroom. I never saw her act like that again and she always greeted people at the door friendly, and wasn’t a barking alert type of dog. I really feel she sensed the difference by somehow feeling that guys vibe.

  13. Allison Conley

    Hey Kristi!! This was so good I love it !!….& of course so glad you always knock it out of the ballpark with your wisdom of many things to think about and to improve upon!!… you are such a BLESSING

  14. Margitta Lindenberg

    Wow, this text really made me think about my own thoughts. They creep up every now and then when I’m out with my pony and scream “Be afraid!” and they are holding me back and it’s annoying because I know it’s just in my head. But this text is really helping me pinpoint the origin and gives me hope that I can one day say to that inner voice: “Shhh, I am having fun here, don’t say a word! I can do this!”