By Yvonne Monahan, Human Horse Harmony, Ireland
If you could not connect with people……
My first ever International client came from Europe. I found it so exciting that someone would actually get on a plane and fly to Ireland to experience the work that I was doing! Exciting …. Yes, and also terrifying, because my co-facilitators are horses. Would they just keep their eyes and stomachs focused on their daily routine of eating grass or would they want to interact with the client?
There were seven clients attending this workshop. The first day was about meeting the horses and experiencing the energy of these horses. This initial meeting of the horses is done without either the horse touching the client or the client touching the horse. The clients and / or the horses could choose who they might like to interact with.
The next interaction involves a one on one meeting of horse and human. The learning here is to connect through the energy field of the horse and to learn how to set an appropriate boundary should you feel that the horse’s energy is simply too much for you to manage at close quarters. At this stage the horse and human could also meet at a physical level.
The clients had a fun time learning this connection and the affect they might have on the horses from a sizeable distance. Everyone that is except Francine. The horses did not see her or to acknowledge her existence. She was crying, the other clients were sad for her. I felt like I was failing miserably as facilitator. I couldn’t understand it.
That night I reread her registration form only to realise that she had written that her problem was connecting with people. That is exactly what the horses were showing me. I felt relieved and curious.
The next day dawned and throughout the various exercises, although Francine picked different horses for each different exercise, the horses simply did not connect with her.
The last exercise was ten minutes spent with a horse to explore what you wanted to learn from the workshop. Francine admitted that she wanted to simply connect. She chose Jimmy my oldest and very reliable gelding. For the first five minutes he simply gazed out of the arena looking at the other clients, who were there as observers whilst holding the space for each experience.
Then something shifted and Jimmy turned around and headed straight for Francine and put his head into her heart space. They stood there together and time simply stood still.
It was important to check in with Francine as to what exactly changed for her in that moment when Jimmy turned around and went to her. It was such a pivotal moment. She told me that she had invited him in. It was very important to remind her to really feel just what that invitation had consisted of and how she felt once the horse saw her.
Afterwards she told me that she had been severely bullied in school and that she had retreated behind this invisible barrier. She did not realise that it was still in place and that as a twenty-six-year-old, not only did this barrier not serve her, but that it was causing an enormous block to her developing any sort of a relationship with other people.
How much her life has changed now because of her interaction with a horse!
If you keep repeating the same behaviour….
My first “Private” client was an equally exciting and terrifying experience especially as (apart from her registration form) I had very little information to go on. This beautiful girl, Jen couldn’t find the words to communicate with me. I simply suggested that we go meet the horses.
Jen came for 10 sessions once a week. The horses made the choices for what experience we would explore each day, with little respect for what I might have prepared for that session! I trust the horses in their innate knowing of what needs to happen.
Coming up to Jen’s last day with me I set up an exercise which involved Jen and the horse together negotiating a simple course of walking around various markers scattered around the arena.
The horse and Jen had already been through the course together albeit with a halter on the horse and with Jen leading him. The next time they were to complete the course with no halter on the horse and he was free to go wherever he pleased. The first part of the course went well with Jen guiding him as she had already been taught. However, when she reached a certain part of the course Jen decided to walk in front of the horse thinking he would follow her. But this he did not do. He walked off to the gate of the arena and stood there waiting patiently. They repeated this exercise at least 4 times with the same outcome. Jen was getting frustrated.
In this experiential learning session Jen firstly had to acknowledge that she had to ask for help and then she had to ask herself this question; “Why in the middle of the task did I change from what was working to something that obviously did not work?”
The next time Jen and the horse completed the task right through to the end! That time she kept to the process that she knew was successful.
Jen acknowledged that many times in her life when she knew what worked, she would persist in repeating what she also knew did not work. The horse had shown her, in his own most definite way, that this sabotaging of herself was not only a total waste of time but that it was frustrating and fruitless.
How do horses help?
This learning is based entirely on being with and interacting with horses. It is a non-riding experience and no previous horse knowledge is necessary.
Horses live in the present moment so they experience and repeat back to the client in real time what they perceive as the truth of a situation. Horses are non-verbal and non-judgemental, so it’s not like some human (with whatever titles or qualifications they have) giving you feedback! And though you might be upset when horses reflect back their experience of you, how can you feel annoyed with such an amazing creature who is just telling you how it is?
My role as facilitator is the setting up of the many experiences of experiential learning, making sure the client is safe and also that they have a witness to their experience and human feedback!
There is a lot of learning that takes place in the conference room where the horses are not present! But what is learnt in the room is quickly taken out to the horses to get their feedback! Being truly present in your body and learning how to listen to it is so important when interacting with the horses.
Listening to emotions and learning that these emotions have a real purpose in our lives is immensely important. Horses feel the emotion in its purest form, get the message behind it, change something in response to it and then get back to grazing! This is without doubt a tool for life, which is readily transferable to humans. So rather than stuffing those emotions down until they explode we can feel it, get the message, change something in response and return to living a balanced and fulfilled life.
Exploring the amount of space that someone needs to be present will be brought out to the arena where horses, who are highly sensitive prey animals will tell you exactly when you have entered their personal space! Are you present and aware when someone’s body language is telling you to back off? Are you even aware when your own body is speaking to you? What are the ways that it can communicate?
Setting appropriate boundaries is also explored in the conference room before room being experienced with the horses. We often think that setting a boundary and saying “No” will upset others. With horses, they are happy when a boundary is set to honour the space you feel is necessary to remain present. And then equally happy to approach once more if the client feels that it is a good idea!
Horse see and respond to your authentic self. People who want to see just what their True Self is like well they have a pretty decent mirror in a horse! With this exercise we will also explore what your Inner Critic might sound like. If you are incongruent with the horses, they will simply not interact with you.
Horses spend a certain amount of the day in a mindfulness state. It is fun for clients to join them in the huge open space of a field to experience these Taoist masters at work. And time really can stand still if you can believe it’s possible in this crazy fast-paced world that we live in!
The client’s names are fictitious but their experiences are real.
Yvonne Monahan, an advanced Eponaquest Instructor, is an experienced equestrian, who has ridden for Ireland in 3 Day Eventing. (www.humanhorseharmony.com)
Yvonne trained in America under Linda Kohanov an internationally recognised author and innovator in the field of Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (www.eponaquest.com).
Yvonne offers, alongside her co-facilitators, the 10 horses who live with her, personal development, mindfulness, teamwork and leadership workshops in “Rogerstown House”, Lusk, Co. Dublin Ireland