This summer we were out on the trail at Dawson’s Butte, Colorado with a big group of horses and, as usual, some of them had minor disagreements with their riders about how the day was going to go.

It was a brand new trail for most of them, a group of fairly hyper Thoroughbreds and warmbloods and one laid-back Quarter Horse, so the high-strung among them were staring suspiciously at every rock jutting out of the mountainside, every vista across the foothills and every unpeopled bench we passed.

For some reason, those benches and rocks looked ferocious—at least at first. And then came the jumping part: diverse types of cross-country jumps both in and out of the trees…

Whatever your lot when you find yourself here, in a new and risky situation, remember one of Tara’s favorite horse riding lessons learned: Meditate, don’t marinate.

Meditation means that you focus; you hone in on the matter at hand in a way that diminishes anxiety, rather than feeds it. You reach down deep for an inner calm and you radiate it to your mount. You breathe deeply and quietly and settle into your seat.

(And even if you don’t exactly feel calm inside, your horse can’t always tell you’re faking it.)

Meditation allows us to calm down, which in turn enables better, more confident and purposeful riding. It focuses rider and horse on what they can control rather than what they can’t.

As we meditate, we communicate to our horses that everything is OK—that bench may seem scary, but really it’s only an inanimate object. Plus, a meditative attitude helps us to let go if something hard does happen. If we get thrown, we get back on and don’t hold a grudge or lose our cool.

Marination, on the other hand, is fixating on what we can’t control—all of the fearful things that could happen, like the facts that your horse is nervous and could spook and toss you into a bush and/or take off galloping down the mountain at any second.

When we marinate we sit up there and stew about risks—and then we end up jumpier than our horses! Trust me, it doesn’t help the situation. Our horses can feel our nerves and either take comfort or fear from us.

In LIFE as in riding, the rule applies. Marinating does nobody any good. Often, marinating leads to a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophesy. We can’t let go, we can’t move on, we’re fearful, angry or in some way unsettled about way too many things.

Meditating, on the other hand, helps us hone in on what’s important and manage life’s challenges with more purpose and less anxiety.

Our trail ride was eventful! Some of our horses were cross-country geniuses. Others didn’t love the water. Some refused the tires. Others wished they could gallop the whole thing. Some tried to kick other horses. About half of our rider group got tossed off or very close to it. But it was fun, because everyone made it that way. We dusted ourselves off, got back on and went for the next bit.

On the way home—tired, sweaty and happy—not one of our horses wasted a moment of angst on a bench. Or a rock. We walked by hikers with a dog without incident. Because horses, very much like people, respond well when we live out of confidence rather than fear.