I don’t think I’ve ever done anything in my life that leaves me quite as tongue-tied as the work I do now. In fact, every time someone asks me to explain what I do with horses, it’s like I forget how to speak. This is turning into quite a problem for me, especially as I have a huge desire to spread the word about this life-changing work! So today’s post is an attempt to really try to articulate with words and pictures, what happens when a client comes to work with me and the horses.
The first thing to know about the work I do is that it requires a round pen. Some of you may know what that is, but just in case, I’m attaching a picture. A round pen is simply a large round circle, made up of metals panels that hook together. Round pens are used for training horses, and starting horses. A round pen can also be used to exercise a horse. The round pen is important in my work because it gives my clients a safe place to interact with a horse. When I’m working with a client, they will stand in the center of the round pen. The horse has no restrictions and can move about wherever he wants. Once inside the round pen, a client will start to interact with the horse. Some clients may be nervous and want as much distance as possible between themselves and the horse. Other clients love to walk right up to the horse and give it a few pats. I don’t instruct clients what to do. There is no list of tasks they must accomplish or outcomes we are looking for.
As the client and the horse start to interact, I can start to notice small things that are being communicated between the horse and the client. For example, a horse that bows its head as it moves around the round pen is indicating that he feels comfortable with my client’s leadership. A horse that won’t move away from a client may indicate that this client has trouble setting appropriate boundaries in their life. To make this all easier to understand I’m going to give an example of a recent client’s work in the round pen.
Jennifer (name changed) was not sure why she was drawn to this work. She had no experience with horses at all. In fact, she’d never been around a horse in her life. But something about it intrigued her and she asked to come out and work with me privately. When she entered the round pen she was quite nervous. I asked her what her intention in this work would be. She told me she didn’t know, so we agreed to just allow the interaction between her and the horse to begin.
The horse was very curious about Jennifer. He came up to her and put his nose in her hand. Jennifer lit up, and started patting his long neck. The horse began to nuzzle her shoulder. He stepped in a little closer. Jennifer was still really enjoying the feeling of being close to the horse. This went on for a few minutes. What I started to notice was that the horse began to encroach more and more into Jennifer’s space. He was now nuzzling her hair, and her face. She kept stepping back to create a little more room, and he kept moving in to fill that space.
After watching this for a bit, I asked Jennifer how she was feeling. “Great,” she said. “Really?” I asked. “Because it seems like he is all over you. Are you sure you are comfortable with that?” Jennifer looked a bit stricken. “Well, I guess I don’t love that he is kind of in my hair,” she said. “Ask him for some space,” I told her. She stepped back and help up her arms, asking him to back up a little. Her body was almost curled onto itself. Her request was completely ignored by the horse, but to be fair, the request packed very little energy. I asked her to do it again and we had the same result. This happened over and over and over. I could tell she was getting frustrated. Finally, I stepped into the round pen and asked the horse to move off her so we could talk. She was experiencing frustration that her request wasn’t being honored, but there was something else happening as well. I put my hand on her shoulder and asked her to tell me where in her life she had trouble creating space for herself. Jennifer burst into tears. “Everywhere,” she said. “I really love most people, and I want them to like me, but sometimes I feel like I don’t have any of my own space.” I asked her why it was hard to ask for space, and she immediately replied that If she asked for space, people wouldn’t like her anymore. This was a profound moment of realization for Jennifer. The fact that she was putting everyone else’s needs ahead of her own, and felt like she lacked the ability to set a boundary was affecting all areas of her life. I asked her to take a deep breath, and see if she would be willing to experiment with a few things. I stayed in the round pen with her and we worked on creating the energy she needed in order to move the horse off her. She found it really hard to step into her energy at first, but as we played, it became easier and easier. By the end she was sending the horse off and then inviting him back in with a huge smile on her face. Her belief that asking for space meant people would no longer like her had been shattered. This is the power of the horses. My colleague Beth Killough, says that the round pen is a truth laboratory. The horses are always authentic and truthful. They show us exactly where we are not being authentic in our own lives. And the experiential way we experience this allows us to really understand and shift some of our beliefs. I hope from this post to have given a better understanding of what I do. Given enough time I am always able to convey the magic of the horses, but it’s certainly a challenge to summarize in a blurb. If you have any thoughts or questions about this work, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Beth Anstandig-Killough and I are offering a NEW horse workshop. If you would like to learn how to better lead your life, how to create better direction and clarity, and how to really learn who you are as a person, we invite you to experience the magic of the horses. We will be meeting in Morgan Hill, CA (just south of San Jose) on November 15, 2014, from 9:30 - 4:30. Check out our website for more details. http://connectwithhorses.com/
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