Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Becoming a Student of Horses
Written by Beth Thomas
The way we work with horses is to develop connection and relationship, which requires self mastery rather than mastery of the horse. Developing relationship requires us to listen to the horse as much as we speak, thus building a pathway of reciprocal communication. To make the horse do something through domination relies on fear, whereas to ask the horse to do something through connection requires a process of self-enquiry in relation to the horse. In this way we are working with horses rather than horses working for us. They are not our servants and neither are they our tools. They are horse beings equal to human beings, and it is through respectful and reciprocal relationship that learning is possible.
Working with horses in this way has the potential to teach us empathic leadership; a way of leading grounded in humility and service. They help us to find a middle path between unassertive, timid leadership and overly dominant, demanding leadership; thus helping us to step into our power as authentic, sensitive and strong leaders.
The reason horses as so powerful to work with is because they are highly sensitive to body language and respond with incredible accuracy to how we really are, beyond pretence or mask. In this way, they can become an enlightening (and sometimes painful) mirror onto our humanness, and particularly the congruence of our intentions. To be a strong leader, the clarity of intention needs to be held at the core of one's being for it to be expressed in the subtleties of body language. The horse will pick up on falsity.
“The horse listens not to the participant’s agenda, status, or outer persona, but to their inner story, body language and commitment to what they really care about.”
Horses can help to deepen our commitment to the world by highlighting incongruence between our values and our being; demanding us to bring conceptual commitment into embodied living. Horses can shine a light upon unhelpful narratives that keep us blocked, and through reflection and fresh eyes we can form new narratives that serve our ability to offer ourselves more boldly to the world. They are also natural teachers of mindfulness without knowing it (or perhaps they do know it, who can say!). Working with the horses helps us to be more fully in the present moment, paying attention to what is - both internally and externally, and noticing how the two worlds relate. Being with horses has the potential to bring us into deep states of peace and inner stillness.
Horses are our teachers in this work. They are not like the teachers we are used to in a traditional classroom; rather they are like very good spiritual teachers. Like a good spiritual teacher, horses draw out the wisdom and resources that already dwell within. In this classroom there are no rights or wrongs, only levels of engagement. How much you choose to engage yourself or even challenge yourself is your choice; sometimes it can be a scary or painful process to meet yourself in such an honest light. However, the light shone is a gentle one since it is a non-judgemental and uncritical honesty that the horses offer.
The space held by the facilitators is also very important in the process. Facilitators create an environment of safety, trust, confidentiality and openness, and like the horses offer a non-judgemental space in which to explore and play.