I have a habit of picking horses that my trainers think are “unsuitable” for me. First, there was Rupert, the Goth-Rock pony that stole my heart the instant I met him. He was barreling around the arena, black mane flying, tail flicking, and head tossing, clearly disgruntled at his rider for daring to ask him to lower his head and collect his stride. When he came sliding to a halt in front of me, he stuck his muzzle in my hair and sneezed. I was smitten.
Rupert was a jet black Fell Pony, solidly built, and only 5 years old at the time. He had been trained as a driving pony, and was about as inexperienced as I was, so it was understandable that my trainer had reservations when I insisted that I wanted to work with him.
I worked with Rupert for about three years, leasing him after about 6 months of meeting him. He taught me so much, not only in terms of horsemanship, but also about forgiveness. I would fall off, get back on, rinse and repeat. Each time I fell, he would realize I had disembarked, and slowly walk back over to me as I lay on the ground, lower his muzzle, and breathe on my head. I was not aware at that point what it was that kept drawing me back into the relationship, but this simple gesture touched my heart, and despite my trainer’s concerns, my gut told me to hang in there with him.
As it turned out, about a year into our relationship, there were times when I couldn’t ride due to medical reasons. Instead, I spent time watching him in his paddock while he was out grazing, mesmerized by his antics with his herd. He was a playful boy and full of energy, so it was not unusual for him to gallop around the field bucking and kicking to get attention from his pasture mates. When I entered into his space, he would come and greet me in his usual way by sticking his muzzle on my head and breathing on me. I would walk around the pasture with him following me, and when I needed to rest, I would sit under a tree, and he would stand or lie down next to me. I treasured those moments of connection, and it changed my relationship with horses into one of being with rather than doing to.
My experience with Rupert gave me a taste of the joy and depth of love and connection that was possible between horse and human. I grieved the loss of him for a long time when we moved to the United States. It took me a while to even begin to want to connect with another horse. When I eventually started to think about leasing another horse, I realized that I couldn’t go through that process again, so I decided to take the leap and buy one of my own.
Reba was the 25th horse I went to see. That’s how careful I was about picking the right partner. I wanted a horse that was quiet, soft, and gentle, who would be open to connecting with me and with whom I could partner with in my equine facilitated therapy work. I wanted a horse that was steady enough to withstand the unpredictable nature of clients with cognitive, emotional, and physical challenges so that I could build on my therapeutic riding instructor experience. I wanted a horse that I could take on trail rides and just hang out with. Most of all, I wanted a horse that would enjoy doing all those things with me.
My first glimpse of Reba was of her standing quietly, cross-tied in the barn aisle. As I walked up to her, she looked at me and dropped her head onto my shoulder. I stroked her, patted her, lifted up her feet and she welcomed me into her space with a soft, gentle eye. I was hooked.
My trainers were shocked at my choice in Reba. While they had been advising me to buy a been there done that, broke and finished, gelding to fit with the hunter/jumper and dressage environment I was used to, I chose a broodmare with a reining and cutting pedigree, who had never seen a jump. On paper, Reba was completely “unsuitable” for me, and yet I experienced the same sensation as I had with Rupert. I felt my body soften, relax, and open up towards her. There was no question in my heart that she was the one. Over the years, others have tried to persuade me otherwise, and I came close to believing them. And yet, as with Rupert, I listened to my instincts and stuck with her. I now understand our journey to be one of Trust: in myself, in her, and in relationships.
So often, we are taught to value evidence-based, statistical, rational, and logical analyses over innate sensations, emotions, and inner wisdom. Whether we are working with corporate teams or individuals, couples, or families in therapy, placing an emphasis on the need to search for answers outside of themselves, would neglect our clients’ own sense of value and intrinsic knowledge, as well as their felt experiences. From an existential-humanistic perspective, it is precisely these felt experiences that we focus on in order to illuminate what has been kept hidden from the world and ourselves. Our aim is to support the embodiment of our authentic way of being in the world that allows us to expand our horizons. Sometimes, the noise that surrounds us makes it hard to listen to our own truth; other voices of authority, and echoes from the past, clamor for attention to dilute the message from within. That is not to say there is no place in the world for evidence-based and scientific knowledge, but it is not the only way.
Challenging our philosophical foundations by asking, “How do we know what we know?”, and “How does that impact on how we interact with each other?”, is an integral part of the process in any relationship. This is how we release long held restrictions or beliefs, and expand into authenticity; and it is how we facilitate the meeting of our hearts and minds.
Listening deeply to the emotions that Rupert and Reba stirred up within me allowed me to recognize my embodied experience of being seen by another. Sometimes, it’s like a lightening bolt that shocks and brightens up the dark sky. Sometimes, it’s a smoldering fire that refuses to be extinguished. Often, it is felt as the uncomplicated, undemanding, and patient unearthing of the parts of us that have been deeply buried. When experienced repeatedly over time, this feeling alerts us that we are in the presence of authenticity, and we name it Love. This does not mean that the relationship is smooth and without challenges. It means a commitment to staying in relationship with the other, and willingness to work through the sticky parts, while holding space for the other’s truth to emerge. It allows us to trust ourselves, our instincts, and felt sense to find meaning in our lives for ourselves.
This is the type of space we aim to hold for our members at The HERD Institute. We believe wholeheartedly in the potential for each person to be their own leader, and to forge their own path towards whatever fulfillment, or success means to them. So turn down the noise. Which path feels right for you? What does your heart say? Feel it, believe it, trust it, and allow us to journey with you.