Open Mind: Follow your fire

I grew up on a small family farm, where our main enterprise was suckler farming. 

I have always been fortunate enough to have horses in my life, whether it was our family pony as a child or now with my heart horse, Barney. They have been and continue to be a big part of my life. 

I relied so heavily on horses growing up to provide me with the unconditional and seemingly endless love that they so readily offer. Our family farm and my upbringing, like many others, is the reason why I am who I am today. I have a lot to thank my family for, not least the privilege of having access to a farm, beautiful land and of course the privilege of having ponies over the years. I have also gained a great deal of learning from my upbringing.

For as long as I can remember, I recall feeling what I described as a “fire in my belly.” I remember telling my mom that exact quote, at a young age, while I tried to make sense of the big emotions I was experiencing. I was a very emotional child, and in turn I am a very emotional adult.

Upon reflection this “fire” I felt, presented itself when I felt passionate about something. Usually at times of wrongdoing, injustice, if someone’s voice was not being heard, or if my voice was not being heard. As a child however, I could not identify this feeling, which I now understand to be determination, passion and ambition. It was confusing, and at times concerning for me. This “fire” led to many disputes with my parents as I grew up.

These big emotions were often seen in a negative light. I would express my emotions and they were immediately met with a lack of understanding, and often anger. I felt as if it was expected that I refrain from showing these big emotions and I began to learn not to express any emotion. My fire could not continue without someone to encourage it and unfortunately, this was not available. It wasn’t long before it began to fade and it took with it my voice, and often my happiness. 

I did not feel understood or loved how I needed to be, and for such an emotional child this was difficult. Bishop T.D. Jakes said, “We are 10-gallon people, but we have been born into families of people who have pint capacities”. Neither is better than the other, just simply different. 

I spent much of these confusing moments, running out to the farm to be with the horses. I spoke with them about these big emotions I was feeling, and arguments that were ongoing. Without fail every time my horses walked with me through each emotion. Thankfully, spending time with our horses kept the fire inside me flickering. There is something magic in horses and they let me borrow some of their power to see me through those years.

In the untangling of these confusing moments in more recent years, I was repeatedly drawn back to the following questions, which I now put forward to you:

– what if we were to view being emotional as a strength? 

– what if being vulnerable was seen as a superpower? 

– how many fires have been put out within people that could have been nurtured into something spectacular? 

I aim to combine my strengths, such as my ability to be vulnerable, empathic, understanding and of course my love for our horses, to help empower others. 

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Eadaoin O’ Connell is the founder of Siúl Liom, (“Walk with Me”), an equine learning centre, based in County Limerick, in Ireland. 

The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Eadaoin O’ Connell