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"Dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately, he didn't teach me everything he knows."
– Al Unser  
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 6 June 2018  

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Janice Tollini

  Perspectives Column
  What I learned from a horse named Stella
  By Janice Tollini

   Janice Tollini has worked in the health care industry as a clinical psychologist for 15 years. She is now a Talent Management Consultant, and is completing additional graduate training in industrial/organizational psychology. In 2017, she will become certified as an executive coach through the World Coaching Institute.
   Check out Janice’s website at


   “Let the horse teach you about yourself, for you may be at the age where no one else can.”
   I am not sure where that quote came from. I only know that I read it at some horse barn, stuck on a bulletin board among photos of horses past and present.
   As a coach and former therapist, I am big on self-awareness. It fills offices of therapists and life-coaches everywhere. People buy self-help books and attend workshops. The most I have learned about myself came from a horse named Stella.
   Stella is my horse. She is a challenge, a source of frustration, what keeps me awake at night and what brings me great joy and understanding. As any horse owner will tell you, horses are a big investment. While Stella’s upkeep is impressive in financial terms, my emotional investment has been far greater.
   I acquired Stella shortly after the death of my beloved Harriet. I was not looking for a new horse so quickly but this snarky mare with very little training since the end of her career as a racehorse chose me. She cuddled me as I was hosing off her legs after my first ride on her, and her then-owner said, “Wow! She never does that! She doesn’t like people.” I was sold.
   I brought her home and quickly discovered that all my experience with horses meant nothing to Stella. She never –- I repeat never –- tried to get me off her back, but she was quite clear in telling me what she didn’t like and what she felt I was doing incorrectly.
   I was forced to push my ego aside and gain the assistance of Carrey Gunderman, a trainer who works with young and problem horses (and is amazing!). I’d known him for a few years as he is also my farrier. When I described Stella as “not very confident but tries to be in charge and tries not to show when she is afraid. She’s had some bad things happen and really struggles with trust, but she is smart and kind and really wants to do well,” he laughed and gently pointed out that I had just described myself. Huh?
   No wonder I couldn’t find “the fix” for Stella. She mirrors my every fear and weakness, but also my strengths and the good in me. In working with her, which is still very much a work in progress, I had to rethink my definition of “strong” and reconsider my views on fear. I had to confront my own fears of imperfection and let myself learn through making mistakes, rather than merely avoiding them.
   We all know Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote; “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” You can’t fool a horse. Ever. Stella hasn’t allowed me to pretend to be brave. She forces me to face my fears and be braver — and to be more genuine and true to myself. If I go to her stall on a mission and with an agenda, she tends to be a bit uncooperative. If I go to her stall crying, showing my fears and pain without trying to color them into some more acceptable emotion, she comforts me and gives me her heart.
   I tend to be a fairly competitive, mission-focused person. My plan for year three with Stella was to be accumulating ribbons and going to a variety of horse shows. Not one show, not one ribbon. But what I have gained in my time with her outweighs all the ribbons and trophies I can imagine. I know myself far better than I did before Stella entered my life. I know I am far less brave than what I wish I were. I know that my need to be perfect only leads to disappointment, while embracing imperfection helps me find what is really important. I know that my “weaknesses” allow me to be a better person to others.
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  No-bake cheesecake bites (after-school treats)

   8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
   4 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
   1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (crushed)
   4 cups powdered sugar
   10 ounces chocolate chips
  1. In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese and butter together until combined.
  2. Add in the graham cracker crumbs and mix well.
  3. Add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until it is all mixed in.
  4. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. I usually let it sit overnight.
  5. Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and remove batter from the fridge.
  6. Scoop into balls and roll in between palms if necessary. Place on wax paper
  7. Place in fridge for 10-20 minutes if they are too soft to dip.
  8. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds to make sure it doesn't harden up. It should take about 1 minute for the chocolate to completely melt.
  9. Dip balls into chocolate, covering completely.
  10. Place back on wax paper and let cool until chocolate has hardened.
  11. Store in the fridge for the best taste.

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