Last week during and Equine Facilitated Leadership program for a corporate group. Once again the horses and participants warmed my heart. We spent the morning meeting the horses and preparing for the afternoon sessions. During the afternoon we engaged with four different horses. A horse named Gypsy shined as a teacher.
Gypsy is the head mare of the Medicine Horse Program herd (located in Boulder). On this day she worked with two men and one woman. The sessions focused on establishing boundaries and respect in the relationship, and then asking the horse for movement and cooperation.
Gypsy sometimes is an aloof and strong willed horse. Our session was held in a medium sized arena with Gypsy at liberty to move about as she wanted. Each of the men took his time building a relationship with her. Each explored how Gyspy responded to him when he lacked clear intention or when he was thinking thoughts based in doubt and fear such as, “the horse isn’t going to do what I ask.” At these times Gypsy responded by not doing what was originally requested, but instead she did what the individual was currently thinking (‘she ‘isn’t going to do what I ask’).
I coached each man to increase his focus and intention and to eliminate underlying doubts to increase leadership. Each man also shifted his body into a more confident posture. More connection and communication unfolded. Gypsy gave a slight glance at her leader and complied with his request. Yet, she was unwilling to fully partner with either of them. Both men discovered how their unconscious thoughts affect their ability to connect with and lead others.
A woman named Sue was the last participant. Sue began her work with Gypsy. At one point I felt confused so I asked Sue what she was doing with Gypsy. She replied that she was actually not sure. We watched Gypsy walk away to the far end of the arena. I coached Sue to center back in her body. She told me she felt a lot of energy in her solar plexus area. As soon as Sue focused on this, Gypsy, from the far end of the arena, immediately lifted her head, turned her body and looked directly at Sue. I continued to coach Sue to explore her feeling state. She articulated that she felt fearful and anxious and that what she was most anxious about ‘being rejected’ by the horse.
As soon as Sue spoke her truth about her fear, Gypsy, still standing across the arena, began to walk directly toward us, her eyes never leaving Sue. Gypsy stopped right in front of Sue and let out a sigh. Tears sprung to Sue’s eyes.
Gypsy joined up with Sue when Sue was willing to be fully honest about her experience (thoughts and feelings. It did not matter what Sue was experiencing. What mattered most was her awareness and ability to own her feelings, verses resisting or ignoring her feelings. Sue got to experience the power of being fully present. She also experienced the power of being authentic and honest and how that created more intimacy and connection with Gypsy.
Sue’s willingness and ability to listen to the message in her emotion created connection. This “in the bones” or visceral experience supports Sue in understanding how her underlying feelings create her experience and her leadership abilities.
Horses respond positively to authenticity. An authentic person is body centered, aware of their thoughts and feelings, listens to the message behind their emotions and speaks their truth. The horse responds to the authentic, or relaxed state of a person by coming closer, yawning, licking and chewing. Horses will not do this unless they feel relaxed.
When a person is running on adrenaline, thinking false-based thoughts, or is in worry or doubt, it creates stress in the body. The body contracts and the nature flow of one’s true self diminishes. Horses respond to states of stress by moving away. A stressful situation indicates an unsafe situation for horses. In this way horses are powerful mirrors and teachers for people.
Each participant in the Equine Facilitated Leadership program evoked different levels of response from Gypsy. Each learned how their thoughts and feelings affect and influence their circumstances. The more aware we are of our thoughts and feelings, the more conscious we can be with our actions and interactions with others, and the more readily we can shift into our authentic nature.