The Naked Truth
I’ve always loved horses and bought my first horse when I was 14 years old and wanted nothing more than to become the main character from National Velvet. My horse was beautiful – he was a buckskin appaloosa which means he had a golden coat, black mane and tail and white spots on his behind. He was my best friend for my teenage years but when I was leaving for college I had an opportunity to sell him to another horse-crazy girl and that felt like the right thing to do.
I didn’t own another horse until I was in my mid-30s when we bought two horses and a couple of ponies for the kids. Fast forward several more years and we’ve downsized to just one horse, my mare, Sunny (that’s her in the pic above).
When Sunny and I first met she was a surly 3-year-old filly with strong opinions and a rebellious attitude. People told me to use harsh tie-downs, bits and other equipment with her, but somewhere along the way I found natural horsemanship and began a training regime that is based on developing a 2-way conversation, a relationship with one another. To me this practice has made the journey with Sunny much more interesting and rewarding than it ever could have been otherwise. In fact, knowing her as I now do it is clear to me that how much of a mistake following that early advice from well-meaning friends and trainers would have been (the ones who told me to tie her head down and show her who was boss).
Instead, over the years Sunny and I have developed a real understanding, a language of sorts, that has made us real partners. One of my favorite things to do with her is to work without any ropes, lines, halters, or reins – total liberty. When all the ropes are off there is only one thing left and that is the truth. Does the horse want to be with you? Does she understand you and is she responding to your cues? Is your energy attracting her or sending her away? I promise you’ll quickly find out all of these answers and more if you go and play with a horse without any artificial restraints or controls.
I recently interviewed a fascinating woman, Michele Gough (in the pic to the left), for one of my podcasts who uses the natural horsemanship experience with her corporate clients. I find this so fascinating. Michele used to be a high-level executive at the cosmetics company, Smashbox, until she left to do her own thing. Along the way she too discovered natural horsemanship and had similarly powerful experiences as the ones I described above with Sunny. If you haven’t heard Michele’s podcast I do recommend listening to it, but I also think you’ll be interested in hearing her talk about what happens when corporate clients allow themselves to be immersed in the world of horses. Michele explains:
We do an exercise with a horse at liberty to discover where tension lies in the client’s body. When you have no control of the horse and ask him to participate it requires you be in a certain energetic state for him to willingly engage. Generally, clients aren’t in that state and so they can’t engage the horse. They use “old” coping mechanisms which aren’t successful with horses. This brings up tension in the body, and at the root of that tension is emotion. An emotion from the past. This emotion forms a limiting belief (I’m worthless, I’m not safe, I’m not enough, I’m powerless, etc). So the horse becomes a barometer, a teacher, of your limiting beliefs about yourself which affect everything you do, business, relationship, life, etc.
These beliefs get in the way of your thriving, your success and fulfillment in life, and of knowing who you are and what your life is about.
I work with the client to release the tension, to shift their state and open to connection, joy, calmness and groundedness, which is our natural and authentic state of being. When that happens the horse suddenly wants to participate. Horses want to connect in harmony and unity.
When the client experiences an inner shift in her state and then a successful outcome with the horse, it’s very empowering and enlivening. She experiences all of this in her body. It’s somatic and it’s instant. And she made it happen, and she remembers how she shifted her energy when other tensions come up in her life. Like when she has a conflict with her colleague or husband. It has a stronger impact than something that is cognitive like therapy.