Who knew how much a horse could teach a person? As a long-time dog owner and animal lover, I was always aware of the powerful healing potential animals can have. I always knew instinctively – and now I know it to be true based on my knowledge of the brain – that mammals have an ability to feel, connect with and care for others.
What I didn’t realize was how much a horse could teach me about myself – and in such a short time!
After spending half a day today at Riding Far Farm with my friend and colleague, Paul Haefner and his partner, Elizabeth Siegert, I am awed by the incredible capacity a horse has to reflect back to me my own “stuff” – fears, limiting beliefs, ways of relating to others, and strengths. Horses are incredibly intuitive and therefore provide a non-judgmental mirror; and in that mirror, I was able to see patterns (some effective and some not so effective) that I use in my life.
In the first “exercise” (all of the exercises are done on the ground; no riding involved), we were instructed to introduce ourselves to each of the three horses in the ring. The first one was easy – I stretched my hand forward, used my high-pitched “it’s okay sweetie” voice and let the horse come to me. We bonded. The second horse was pretty much the same thing. (Paul wondered if this is how I usually get people to respond to me – sweetly rather than more assertively…hmmm, good question).
But the third – ah, not so easy. I saw that big horse with one missing eye who showed no interest whatsoever in me, who kept eating his grass when I used my tried-and-true techniques, and I was stuck. I felt the fear (“he’s dangerous”) rise up in me and after a minute or two of “trying,” I backed off.
In the second exercise, we were asked to work as a team to put a harness around one of the horses. As the “leader” of my team, I, curiously, chose the “dangerous” horse. And each time we approached, he walked away, over to another patch of grass to continue his lunch. Again and again and again. I wanted to give up. (Same thing as earlier – who wants to be rejected over and over??!). I was “sure” that this horse would NEVER allow us to harness him. And, I feared, if we kept trying, he would certainly attack us.
Luckily, I recognized this fear as irrational. I recognized a pattern in myself of wanting to “give up” when the going gets too tough; when I am faced with something I decide is “too scary”; or when I’m afraid I’ll fail (or be rejected somehow). Having that awareness allowed me to say to my team, “let’s approach him with confidence. No more beating around the bush; no more giving him the message that we’re ambivalent and unsure of ourselves. Let’s let him know we mean business here!”
And guess what? On that turn, the horse responded. He let us put the harness on him and he even stood there for a while with us once it was on.
A huge lesson for me: My reaction to this horse represented some of my own reactions in life. When faced with opportunities or goals, it’s so important that I get clear about what I want and act with intention and purpose. When my thoughts and actions are in alignment, I am much more likely to achieve my goals and move toward my dreams.
So often, many of us go about life not acting in “alignment.” We may say we “really” want something (to lose weight, have a more fulfilling career, or spend more quality time with our kids), yet we don’t act with intention and with purpose. We don’t commit to it and we don’t go for it full-on. We go for it in a wishy-washy, maybe –this-will-happen-if-I’m-lucky sort of way. Our actions don’t reflect what we say we want. Our minds – with our fears, our ambivalence or our mental blocks – “trick” us into thinking that we can’t do it, or stop us from going for it for some reason.
I’m so grateful to this beautiful, one-eyed horse for teaching me – not just in my cognitive awareness but with a “body” experience – such an important lesson that will continue to instruct me as I move forward toward my hopes and dreams.