Horses are Natural Teachers
As summer winds down, and my 12-year-old and I are getting ready to settle in to a new school year, I have been thinking about the role of teachers in our lives. I realize that I have had some wonderful teachers, both human and four-legged. And I am grateful to all of them.
I grew up as an only child on a large and somewhat remote ranch in southern Oklahoma, and also on our summer range in Homer Alaska. This may seem like an odd or lonely childhood, but to me it was almost idyllic. Animals were my friends, my companions, and some of my earliest and most influential teachers. Since I can remember, I have loved horses, and lived closely with them. Elegant, powerful, and intuitive – horses were some of my earliest teachers, and they have provided profound learning experiences throughout my lifetime.
Most girls probably go through a “horse-crazy” stage, and I was no different. I believe horses reflect to girls the power, grace and beauty that they inwardly long for, while external social forces are presenting complex, confusing, and often dis-empowering messages to girls approaching womanhood.
Horses are uniquely gifted in that they have no agenda for us: yet they instantly give us feedback regarding our inner lives and struggles. If we are frightened, distracted, excited, bored, uncomfortable, self-conscious, or joyful – this energy is instantly reflected back to us. The horse is a perfect mirror to our inner lives.
As a therapist, I have always been interested in the inner lives that we all experience – the running dialogue that is almost always churning inside our own heads. The conscious and sub-conscious stories that we tell ourselves. Often, I have observed that there is a profound “disconnect” between the narration going on in our heads, and what is the truth.
When I meet a new client, it may take weeks or even months for us to establish “rapport.” That is, for a client to feel a deep sense of trust for me, the therapist, and to truly believe that I have something to offer. It takes awhile before we can get down to honest self-observation, so we can begin re-working negative old stories (“I’m too bossy,” “My sister is the smart/pretty one,” etc.) It often takes quite a while just to learn to recognize what we’re really feeling.
But this “rapport-building” is almost instantaneous when people engage with a horse. When a person enters a space with a horse, they know that the horse has no agenda and no judgement. The horse can only be authentic. It responds automatically to a person’s energy. It always shows us the truth. I learned that what may take months in the therapy office can happen in moments in the arena.
Horses have an incredible ability as healers, and also as mentors and teachers. As herd animals, horses are highly social, and are always relating to other horses and to us in terms of partnership – being a part of the “herd” – and leadership. Are you a competent leader? Can you keep me safe? Should I follow you? Horses are an ancient species, and their survival has depended upon their ability to accurately perceive and work out these relationships.
There is an almost magical, yet tangible connection between a human and a horse, when they are united in a common goal. It feels amazing. And once a person has experienced this, she realizes that she has tapped into her own innate power and grace. She has given the horse the very best she has to offer, and the horse is responding in kind. This is the essence of leadership.
I am so excited to be hosting the equine-assisted Women’s Leadership Weekend Oct. 7 and 8th here in McCall. To fully experience this, it is best to work in smaller groups, so the event is limited to 12 participants. Be sure to let me know right away if you are interested.
I wish you all a glorious autumn – and I am looking forward to seeing you again soon.
XOXO – Shawn