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#94 Resolving Workplace Conflict




Hi, my friends, I can not wait to share this episode with you.

Every so often, an animal communication session takes on its own life, and things develop in astounding ways. 

I love sharing those stories because they show how much can be accomplished when things align.

Ok, let’s get started. A few months ago I was on a barn tour in Connecticut. Barn tour means that I stop at different barns to meet different horses and other animals in person to facilitate communication and resolve any quirky, unexpected or undesired behaviors. 


My second stop was at a program that empowers veterans and first responders to build healthy relationships through purposeful engagement with horses. The equine herd at this farm plays an important role in co-facilitating those sessions.


It was late afternoon when I drove into the parking lot adjacent to the large pasture.

My eyes fell on the donkey first. Right, they now had a donkey I had forgotten about that part. I had looked forward to seeing some of my furry friends, Dutch, an Arab cross, who in a prior session taught us that fences don’t determine herds or who belongs to a herd. 

And I was excited to see Tango—one of those special quarter horses. Calm, cool, collected. Tango is a pinto horse with a medicine hat. To describe him more specifically, he is a primarily white horse with a few brown markings across the body. The medicine hat part is unique to only a few horses. It means that the brown makings, including the ears, cover the top of his head. 

Native American legends say these rare horses have magical, almost mystical powers. Legend says they protect the tribe and the warriors.


And then there was Doc, a chestnut Quarterhorse, and babe, a stunning red roan draft mare.. 


As I called out to the herd and said hello, the donkey began marching toward the fence. Doc lifted his head to greet me while the rest of the herd kept their nose in the grass. 


The donkey, Pedro, greeted me by the fence. I told him I was happy to meet him, the newest member of the herd, and then I parted to visit with their person, Jane, in the house.


Jane and I have been colleagues and great acquaintances for several years. I have expressed her furry family's thoughts, wishes, and needs for years. And when we get together semi-casually, we always have more to talk about than time allows. 


While catching up on her work and the book she and her business partner are writing, we also touched on how her herd was doing. We had plans to see them in person after our chat. 

Sitting in the living room, Jane raised a concern about Tango, the pinto with the medicine head. 

Tango was not doing so well.

“He never lies down,” Jane said. She continued, “He’s always lied down in his stall overnight. But he stopped that altogether. And he also rubs his hock on the wall. It is a serious wound. We wrapped his leg at night and tacked a yoga mat on the stall wall so he couldn’t hurt himself further. But we are concerned and don’t understand what is going on.”


I stored that concern in the back of my mind and told Jane we would investigate that further when we went out to see the herd. 


Jane and I continued our chat, and I inquired about Pedro, the donkey, about whom I had yet to learn more. Jane wasn't entirely sure what the donkey offered yet. And before we could take that topic further, Dutch hijacked our chat and said, “The donkey is a distraction!” 

As always, when an animal storms into an existing conversation, I do an internal doubletake, looking down two conversation tracks and questioning which one to respond to or follow, human or animal. 

Jane,” I interrupted her, “Dutch has something to say about Pedro.”  

Then, without more explanation, my voice was taken over by Dutch, who explained it like this:

“The donkey is a distraction. The work we offer is deep. It takes people places.”


I explained to Jane that those words were accompanied by a visual of Pedro standing first in line near the gate, greeting people, clients, veterans, and first responders who came to do deep work with the horses.  The horses, Dutch, Tango, Doc, and Babe, were standing in the second line behind Pedro, who was posing for selfies with people while the herd had no clients to attend to. 


Jane looked at me and said, “I get it. Dutch is right. People are in love with Pedro. They do like to take pictures of and with him.”


“Yep,” I said, “and the horses, Dutch and Tango specifically, are not happy about it.”


I continued, “They say that they are the founders. They are holding the foundation of your program in their body, mind, and spirit, and having the donkey here is a distraction from the real work you all offer. “

 

At that point, I realized it was time to check in with Pedro. What was he thinking about this situation? Curious enough, Pedro was undisturbed by the opinions of the herd. He felt he offered a friendly greeting, similar to a Walmart greeter. 

That was an interesting point, and so I brought it back to Dutch and Tango, posing the question if Pedro could be considered purposeful as a greeter. As the one. easing people into the program or sessions, preparing them for the master equine facilitators Dutch and Tango.


Neither Dutch nor Tango had a strong opinion about needing a greeter. And when I asked Doc and Babe, both stayed out of it as they were not part of the founding herd. 


“Well,” I said to Jane, “I just offered Dutch and Tango the idea to look at Pedro as a purposeful herd member who greets people and creates a bridge into the deeper work. Maybe giving Pedro a job description will ease Tango’s restlessness.”

“Hopefully, it will stop him from rubbing his hock,” I added.


Jane nodded, and we resumed discussing horses, books, and collaborations within the profession. Eventually, we headed out to the barn, followed by the pack of dogs. The horses were in their stalls. First on the left was Doc, next to him Dutch, then Tango. Across from Tango was Babe in an extra-large stall. And with her was Pedro. Jane explained that Pedro would much prefer to stay outside. He felt uncomfortable in the stall. Hence, he was with Babe for comfort.


It was curious. Just as Babe had shown me earlier while we were sitting in the living room, Pedro, who was barely up to the top of her leg, was walking around in the stall. Babe had given me the sense that Pedro’s antsiness was below her sight line. It was happening beneath her. She kept her attention above the unsettledness below her chest.  


After greeting each horse, I turned my focus on Tango. I saw the yoga mat nailed to the back wall of his stall. “Hi, my friend,” I greeted him and asked, “can we come and hang out with you?” 

Jane opened the stall door, and we stepped in. Tango sniffed my hand, and I took a couple of deep breaths. 

Jane was concerned about Tango's back leg, which he had rubbed on the wall. This caused a slow-healing wound that was wrapped up to prevent further damage.


My first question for Tango was if he was in pain. He didn’t answer. He made a face toward the stall door, ears slightly back. He looked at the dogs hanging out in the aisle, watching us through the gated door.“Don’t worry about them right now,” I said. Tell me how you feel. Are you in pain?”

Tango didn’t answer. He lowered his head toward the dogs again and pushed his muzzle toward them as if to move them out of the way.” 


Jane,” I said, “he is aggravated with the dogs. Can they wait outside?”

While Jane sent the dogs to the other end of the barn aisle, I focused back on Tango, wondering why he was so edgy. It seemed unusual. Wasn’t he the chill one? 

I asked Tango again if he could give me any information about the leg situation, and instead of answering, he asked for Jane and me to simply stand with him. 

I said, “Jane, I am not sure why Tango doesn’t want to talk about his leg right now. Maybe he doesn’t want to share it in front of the herd? We can always talk on the phone and see if he is more open.” 

I continued, “Right now, he simply wants us to stand with him.” 

Jane and I took a breath and relaxed into the space. As I quieted my mind and sank into my body, I suddenly felt an unrest in my chest and upper stomach. A sense of unease. The same feeling I get when background music suddenly becomes grating to the point of unnervedness. Similar to when my dog Scout licks his paws. When the rhythmic noise of smacking and lapping and smacking and lapping becomes a Chinese water torture experience for me.


I looked up and around, feeling myself into the space. I noticed Pedro walking circles around Babe, dragging his hooves through the shavings on the rubber mat. Around and around he went. Shush, shush, shush, shush, the hooves dragged through the shavings on the surface of the rubber mat.

I looked at Babe, eyes closed; she stood like a statue in the center of the stall, seemingly unaware of the circles drawn around her.

  

“Oh, my gosh,” I turned to Tango, “I get it. This is nerve-wracking!”

I looked at Jane and explained that Pedro dragging his feet around in circles was similar to someone in a neighboring cubicle clicking their pen all day. Jane nodded, “A nervous habit, like biting fingernails.” “Exactly,” I said, “it is driving Tango crazy.”


We discussed a few ideas on how to remedy the situation. Pedro didn’t like being stalled therefore, one option was to let him out into the barn aisle at night. Another option was to give Tango access to the barn aisle to hang out at the other end of the barn. 

Ideally, we concluded the donkey should live outside in a home with other donkeys.


As we walked back toward Jane’s house, I suggested we invite the equines to help manifest a solution that would benefit everyone. 


Two days later, on my drive home from another barn call, I saw that Jane had left me a voicemail. In it, she said, “Nicole, you’re not going to believe it, well, of course, you will. I had a massage today and told the massage therapist about our conversation with the herd and that Pedro is not a perfect fit for us and our work here. The massage therapist jumped right in and offered to take Pedro. She has a few horses and one donkey and thinks it will be easy to integrate Pedro into her herd. Isn’t that something?” Jane’s voice sounded surprised and also not. “Call me when you get a chance,” she ended the message.  


Five days later, Pedro, who had struggled to get on the trailer when he was headed to Jane’s place a year earlier, stepped on the trailer without hesitation. At his new home he entered the pasture in a confident stride. He met the other donkey; they sniffed, turned their butts toward each other, and sent small kicks in each other's direction, then they each walked to a pile of hay and began eating. Integration complete. Just like the massage therapist had predicted.   


Tango, who had not laid down in his stall to sleep in over six months, took a full-on snooze three days later. Jane knew because he had shavings in his tail. He did it again a few days later.

 

It might be a surprise that Pedro walking around in circles could cause such disruption to another herd member. Yet, when we see it through the equine’s eyes, we see that Pedro’s anxiety to be stalled affected Tango’s nervous system. Just like someone consistently clicking their pen could set me - and maybe you - off. We can resolve an issue by focusing on what has changed. Once Tango rubbed his hock and didn’t lie down to sleep, it was time to look at the five areas that can cause ease or unease. Was it a people issue? No. 

A herd issue, for sure. Was it an environmental issue? To a degree because neither could get away from the other.

Had it become a health issue because of it all? For sure.                                                                                

These equines told, showed, and proved that we can figure out unexpected or undesired behaviors when we use our senses and see the world through their eyes. 


I love how a complex issue can be solved by seeing and hearing what the animals experience. 

This particular herd has a big job. They help many people come into balance. For one of the equine facilitators to be out of balance affects the entire herd and was important to sort out. 


Once again, asking the herd to help manifest the best solution for all involved was a great way to get things moving.  


Exhale … I love this kind of story. I hope it inspired you to think of these stories when you try to resolve a puzzling animal behavior.


Until next time, goodbye and Auf Wiedersehen!   


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