As a coach, I often work with other coaches to get clear and stay connected to my bigger heart visions. I’ve been wanting to do some kind of coaching, to push me out of my comfort zone, to poke me in places where I’m feeling stuck, to identify some old patterns so that I can create new ones. But I didn’t want to do the same kind of talking coaching work that I usually do.
I had heard that coaching with horses can be a powerful way to learn things about yourself. It’s not about riding or horsemanship, but about interacting with the horse’s energy. So when a friend announced that she was facilitating an Equus Coaching Day just 45 minutes from home, I signed up.
I have very little experience with horses. I’ve gone horseback riding a handful of times but I’ve never been one to dream of horses. In fact, the only thing I knew about horses I learned just last year when the man that owns the hill next to Paradise Park got a new horse.
My then-neighbor Muriel showed me how to greet him at the fence. “If you hold your hand in a fist, the horse thinks it’s an apple. And if you point with your finger, he thinks it’s a carrot. So always approach with your palm open.”
And so I showed up for the day of Equus coaching with an open palm and an open heart. I had no expectations, no big fears, just a knowing that I would not be an expert, and that this was an opportunity to learn some really wonderful new things about myself.
There were ten of us, all women, sitting in a circle of camp chairs under the partial shade of some trees. I positioned my chair so I could see a pair of horse pens where two horses were nosing each other over the metal bars, whinnying back and forth and tossing their heads to shake off the flies. I could smell their strong horsiness as Beth and Kasia, the two facilitators, explained some basic horse information. That horses are easy prey and so they are always alert, that each eye sees independently, that right in front of their nose is a blind spot, and that their ears indicate where their attention is.
Kasia led us in a simple grounding exercise to get us in touch with our own energy. We stood in the grass and breathed into our bodies from our feet to our heads, eyes closed, feeling our breath, hearing the bird calls and the horses nickering.
“Remember how this feels,” Kasia said. Then we carried our chairs down to the two round pens for our first encounter with the horses.
Kasia entered one of the pens where a tall brown horse was casually walking around the edges of the pen. She held a 25-foot long nylon lead that was coiled up like a hose, with just the end unfurled. “First I’m going to ground myself, like we just did,” she said, “because the horse responds to my energy.” She stood in the center of the pen, tall and still and relaxed. The horse walked up to her.
“If you want to move the horse,” Kasia explained, “you get behind the horse. And you create energy.” She moved about six feet behind the horse and slapped the coiled end of the lead against her thigh. The horse raised his head. Both of his ears swiveled to her direction.
She slapped the lead again. The horse began walking away. “Energy moves from behind. If you stand in front of the horse, it blocks their energy.”
The horse walked along the perimeter of the pen. “And you want to visualize what you want the horse to do.” The horse continued circling the pen. “Now I want the horse to turn around and go in the other direction.”
It was like a ballet – she moved, the horse moved, there was no talking, no touching, just an energetic conversation and the horse turned and walked in the opposite direction.
And then it was our turn to spend some one-on-one time with a horse in a pen.
I walked into the round pen with Beth and she handed me a coiled lead with a shiny gold clip on the end. “Use this to create movement, energy,” she said, slapping her own lead against her thigh. The horse looked up, attentive. Beth walked behind the horse and the horse moved forward, a few feet at first, then easily around the pen. She did this a few more times, slapping, moving, talking me through.
“Are you ready to try it?” I walked into the center of the pen and Beth moved to the edge of the fence. The horse followed her, then sniffed the other participants sitting outside of the pen.
I slapped the lead against my thigh and the sound felt like a whip used to break a horse. I slapped it again and the horse did nothing. I walked around to get into his field of vision and he still ignored me. I felt invisible. Like no matter what I did, I’d never get it’s attention. And I started to cry.
Beth came over and I explained that crying was a good thing. She asked me what I was feeling. I shared that I felt invisible and she asked if I feel this in other places in my life. I thought about it but it didn’t resonate, so I said no. Then she asked me if I had a clear vision of what I wanted the horse to do. I checked in and no, I didn’t.
She asked me to stand still, and breathe, to ground myself in my own energy like we had done before. And then she hooked my arm around hers and we walked behind the horse’s right hip. Beth extended her free arm and slapped the lead against her thigh and the horse moved. We stepped further back and pivoted around and the horse did the same.
We stopped to talk and the horse, Jessie, stood with us. Her shoulders were just a little taller than mine, her coat a sleek brownish-black. She had white on three of her hooves and a swipe of white down the front of her face. Her dark eyes were right at my eye level. I scratched and stroked her neck as Beth reminded me to stay grounded in my own energy, be clear with my intention, and allow the horse enough space to move. “Create the image in your mind, then ask for it energetically.”
I stepped back into the center of the pen, held the coiled lead in my left hand and the clip end in my right and I closed my eyes. I grounded my feet in the dusty dirt of the pen and breathed space into my heart and torso.
Jessie slow-circled the edge of the pen and turned toward me. She bowed her head and tipped her ears in my direction. I moved to the right to get behind her, about six feet back, slapping the lead on my leg. She started walking in the desired direction and I moved forward with her.
“Stay behind her shoulders. You’re getting too far ahead,” Beth called from the fence. I stepped back, still slapping the coil to keep the horse moving. Several times I was too far forward and Jessie stopped, or turned.
Beth reminded me again that I needed to drop back, and then I knew it before she said it, and I was able to self-correct, staying further back behind the horse and still focusing my energy in the direction I wanted her to go. Jessie’s ears were perked in my direction, I was staying in position, and for a few minutes we were moving together.
It was awesome to feel that physical, palpable energy of intention and connection, to experience the power of being behind the horse to move her forward. It’s like anything I want in life. I need to get behind the idea, the desire, with excitement and energy in order to move it forward. Because if I stand in front of it, trying to pull it or force it, the energy gets blocked.
I sat in the shade and journaled while the other women took their turns in the round pen. I observed their movements, their hesitations, and listened as they worked through their own stories about goals and play and how they show up for others but not themselves.
After lunch we did a team activity to build on the skills we had practiced in the morning exercises. Each team of two would work together with a horse in the bigger arena with a simple obstacle course of areas for the horse to walk through, or around. Without speaking, we had to choose an obstacle and use what we had learned about the horse’s energy to move the horse through it.
The first team worked with a sweet, gentle horse. The women used their body language and the slapping of the training lead on their thighs to stir up some energy and move the horse around the arena. It took them a few tries to get the horse to go where they wanted, but you could tell that the women and the horse were having fun.
I volunteered to go next and Carol, a woman with many years of horse riding and horse facilitating experience agreed to be my partner. We walked into the arena, each of us holding our coiled lead. The trainer brought in a very tall black horse. Instead of casually entering the arena, he took off, galloping in circles, snorting and running full speed inside the fence line.
Beth asked if either one of us was experiencing any fear, and I checked in and I was totally fine. WOW!!! I was standing in the middle of the ring, grounded, holding space, not at all worried about this fast-moving horse, just thinking, wow, how wonderful it must feel to run like that.
Carol put her lead down and said “We’re not going to need these.” But I held onto mine. The horse finally settled down along the fence next to another horse’s pen and Carol stood in front of him, snapping her fingers. I didn’t understand why. It was exactly the opposite of what we had been taught earlier, that to stand in front of the horse blocks the energy. And because she and the horse were up against the fence, there was no place for the horse to go.
I put my lead on the ground and slowly walked toward them until I was about 10 feet out from the back of the horse, in the middle of the arena. I spread my arms in a T and felt like I was holding a buffer zone for the horse to move into. His ear turned toward me and he backed up slightly, then took off at full speed around the perimeter again.
I held my arms wide, my fingers spread, palms open and facing the horse. I slowly turning as he turned, staying connected with his pace, his movement, until he slowed down again. I was completely in tune with the horse, oblivious to Carol’s whistling and clapping attempts to get my attention.
She motioned for me to move behind the horse as she walked parallel to his neck, waving her hands to guide the horse toward our chosen obstacle. But she was too far forward, I knew, from my morning time in the round pen. And so of course, each time we had the horse almost lined up to walk between the posts, the horse ran through the open space between us.
Beth called us to the fence for some coaching. Carol looked at me and said, “you’re not doing what I’m asking you to do.” I said, “I don’t understand why you’re snapping your fingers in front of the horse.”
Beth talked about each of us standing in our own energy and bringing our best authentic selves, not trying to control the other person, but working with them. I shared that I felt like Carol thought I was doing it wrong, but that when I checked in with myself, yes, she may be the “expert,” but I knew that I was connecting with the horse, and with the energy. But, no, I wasn’t connected with Carol’s energy. And then Carol said, “You are just like my husband.” And then she was able to talk about what was really happening in the arena for her.
How wonderful that I could show up and help Carol see some things more clearly about her relationship. And how wonderful that I didn’t take it on as my own.
That, in that moment, I was able to see and feel how strongly I am connected to and standing in my own authentic self. That when I show up, confident, not necessarily in what I am doing, but in who I am, and I bring that energy to the moment, then I am full and light and powerful. Not power over anyone, but it’s as if I become part of the energy itself. And when I combine that with a clear and true intention, I can move horses.
But of course, it is not about the horse.
It is about how I respond and interact with the horse, with life. Am I trying to control it, force it, get ahead of it, or am I able to connect with and simply be with it, move with it, engaged, active, aware, with ease and flow and complete presence.
Carol and I walked back to the center of the arena. She acknowledged that she was working with me, not her husband, and I promised that I would look at her more so that we could work as a team.
The horse ran a few fast circles around the arena, then stood along the fence near the closest obstacle. I nodded in the direction of the wooden platform at the other end of the course and Carol moved behind the horse’s right side. I held my arms wide in the middle ground as Carol and the horse moved slowly around the fence toward the platform. I remembered to watch Carol, so when she pulled back, I pulled back too, opening up space for the horse to turn toward the obstacle. He was almost there, and then he ran through an opening in the energy zone and we had to start again.
I was hot and tired and it was hard to run in the dirt to keep up with the horse. On the third try we got him to run alongside the platform and I felt like we had accomplished enough. Carol and I high-fived each other, then joined the rest of the group so that the next pair could take their turn.
Later that evening, as I was going over the day, I went back to the question that Beth had asked me in the round pen when the horse wasn’t paying any attention to me.
She had asked me if there was somewhere in my life where the same feelings show up. My answer then was no, because I am usually in situations being and doing what is pretty easy and comfortable, where things literally come easily to me. But the deeper I connected with how it felt to be ignored, to NOT have the horse immediately respond, yes, I do sometimes feel like that in other places in my life.
But if I do what I did in the round pen, and begin by connecting with my own authentic self and my own energy, then I can envision what I want to create, and connect with it energetically.
It becomes less about controlling external things and all about connecting from the inside.
WOW! If you ever have the opportunity to do some coaching work with horses, I highly recommend it. Because sometimes we need to stretch into new places without words, so we can unravel the deeper stories we tell ourselves and reconnect with what is true and authentic and what we really desire.