Happy New Year from The HERD!

The beginning of the year is always a time when I feel called to re-evaluate how I want to live my life. The new year opens up infinite possibilities, and as I reflect on the changes from the year before, I want to step into this liminal space with intention. This year, I have chosen “Balance” as my word for the year. With so many exciting developments on the horizon, I am recognizing the need to pace myself so that I don’t fall into my habitual trap of running as fast as I can without attending to some self-care.

Working with horses has taught me not only to be mindful of how I step into relationship with others, but also how I relate to myself, and how I make decisions. When working with 1200lb animals, it’s imperative that we pay attention to subtle nuances in our relational dance with them. Whether I am working with my horses on the ground, or in the saddle, I’ve learnt to ask myself four key questions in order to help me decide what my next steps might be. I’ve also learnt that these questions are applicable to any decision I might make in life in general.

Is what I am about to do driven by my ego?
Is my decision based on what others expect of me?
How does this decision fit with my values?
How does this decision fit with my mission or vision?

In learning to work with horses, many of us have been taught that we can’t let our horses “win”, and that we need to show them who’s boss. When I’m working with my horses, this might show up in ways that conflict with my commitment to being a compassionate equestrian. When I’m lungeing my horse and he refuses to move out and forward, I might tell myself that he’s being stubborn, and that it’s in his best interest to exercise, so I push him for more than he is comfortable with. I’m focusing on what I think he needs to do, rather than listening to what he might be trying to convey. The result is that we end up in a power struggle with me feeling like I have to “win” and not back down.

For me, that’s an ego driven way of working. I know when my ego is in the driver’s seat when I become defensive about a direction that I’m taking. Focusing on “winning” and task completion rather than on the relationship that I’m building is an ego driven process.

Looking at business opportunities in the year ahead, I’m called to consider whether expanding the business is coming from a place of competition, or genuine desire to offer additional services. In leading an organization, I want to make sure that the decisions I make are reflective of how I want to live my life, and not simply a means to an end. I know that my ego can easily succumb to flattery: invitations to present at conferences, contributions to articles, books, and other publications might be interesting and raise my profile, but I need to balance that with my awareness that I don’t need to (or want to) conquer the world. So I can be intentional where I spend my time and energy.

This leads me to my second question: Is my decision based on what others expect of me? When I first started working with horses, I was astounded at the expectations people had. I was expected to show my dominance with my horses. My horses were expected to comply. When I first bought my mare Reba, we struggled in our relationship because of the conflicting messages that I gave her. I was also told that because I was struggling, I should sell her and get something more suitable. When my non-equestrian friends heard that I had bought a horse, they automatically assumed that they now had access to a horse that their kids could have pony rides on. These experiences made me realize that this “horse as commodity” mentality was not one that I could subscribe to, but this also meant not living up to expectations others had.

Within a business setting, my unending curiosity leads me on exciting adventures that may not be directly relevant to my work. I get involved in projects, committees, and organizations with enthusiasm. This sometimes results in me taking on far more than I have the capacity for, and yet I’m often tempted to continue for fear of disappointing others. When I step back from making decisions based on others’ expectations, I can regroup and become clearer about my boundaries and turn my attention to things that I feel truly called to do.

My third question helps me to figure out what that is. By asking myself how a decision fits with my values, I can bring more attention to the areas of my life and relationships that I want to cultivate and cherish. When working with my horses over the years, I’ve wrestled with the conflict of applying a technique or method that feels incongruent to who I am, and how I want to relate with my equine partner. Being told to kick my horse harder, or slap them in the face if they come into the middle when being lunged as a way of negative reinforcement did not sit well with me. I realized that I needed to find a way to be with my horses that was consistent with who I am and how I relate to others.

My personal values and my organizational values also need to be aligned. As a trainer who espouses the importance of integrity, compassion, and authenticity, if I don’t walk within those values on a personal level, those inconsistencies will show up in my organization, and vice versa. As Brené Brown says, conflict in our lives show up when we have conflict in our values.

Finally, the question about how my decision fits with my mission or vision emerges from finding clarity in our values. My aim with my horses was never to enter into the show ring in any capacity. Like all of us in the equine facilitated world, I found solace, comfort, and joy in simply being with the horses. Riding is fun, and while I enjoy the connection I have with my horses in the saddle, it does not define my relationship with each member of my herd. My aim for my horses is for them to live in a healthy environment where they have choice to interact with the humans I introduce to them. If they are willing to partner with me under saddle, then that’s a bonus. My horses have taught me that being intentional in how I relate to them allows for more consistency. Holding my values of compassion and integrity within our relationships also allows me to model that consistency with my students and clients.

From an organizational perspective, The HERD Institute mission and vision is clearly stated on our website and in our student handbooks. We aim to offer an inclusive environment, embrace an attitude of abundance, and honor the potential of all our members. We want to support our members to develop the integrity of their personal philosophy, expand their knowledge and skills, and broaden their horizons through continuous learning and practice. In this way, we can collectively hold our vision to create a global community of equine facilitated psychotherapy and learning practitioners who are committed to furthering the work of the pioneers in our field.

Asking myself these four questions reconfirms my desire to uphold our mission and vision. So, how might these four questions impact you? I want to challenge each of you to reflect on these questions, and let us know your answers.

Email us at [email protected] or post on social media with #4questions #learningfromhorses #herdinstitute

May your questions lead you into 2020 with clarity, balance, and integrity.

Best Wishes,

Executive Director