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Do You Know Your Herd?

Today invite you to a little chat I had with one of my mentee clients and the horses she works with.

This client has worked with me for a few years now. Through the animals in her life, she has learned a lot.

Communicating with them verbally. Connecting with animals from afar telepathically. She knows how to tune in to them physically, offering hands-on support and energetic balancing.

In the meantime, the woman has also gone through an equine facilitating program. Meaning she is certified to work with horses and humans therapeutically.

If you are unfamiliar with the topic, look up equine facilitation, equine learning, and equine therapies to learn more.

In this particular phone session, the client and I were focused on her starting a job at a new equine facility.

As we talked about the new facility, the client mentioned that she already met a few of the horses at the new place.

My client said, “There is this one mare, Novi. She is soft but demands respect.”

Immediately the mare popped in and pointed to my client, and said, “We are meeting eye to eye.” Then she added, “I can read a herd.”

We took note. The horse was introducing herself.

My client continued, “There is another mare. She is the leader. She comes across as the matriarch. I feel she holds a lot of space for everyone.”

At this point, I was impressed. My client had really tuned into these horses and felt them out.

She said, “Then there is Classy. I know him from another program, and I love to co-facilitate with him. He is a master.”

I knew what she meant. We had communicated with Classy a few times prior, and he was, indeed, the perfect horse for equine facilitation. He had no hangups. He was solid. He was patient with clients but didn’t fall fools when clients were incongruent.

As we talked about Classy for a moment, he chimed in.

“Wait till you unleash me, “ he said. I immediately saw that he meant to unclip the lead rope and let him work at liberty with people.

At this point, I want to take you on a short detour to explain what Classy is talking about. He is on a lead rope and gets led over or around obstacles during the equine session. I am a double certified life and business coach, and I had, many moons ago, a business called Equine Inspired Coaching. Together with my herd of horses, I facilitated workshops and 1:1 sessions to help people step into their truth with the help of the horses. I loved that job. And I had a master facilitator like Classy, my Appendix/QH, Okie.

In my case, I never used a lead rope. My horses were at liberty.

Okie was the kind of horse who would walk up to a person, nuzzle their belly, stop sense, nuzzle again, then move up to the chest, nuzzle the solar plexus, and then after a few more back and forth, starting with the root chakra, he tapped each chakra point all the way to the top of the client’s head to check if the Chakra balance was complete.

Okie was a genius. One day, David a workshop participant, peeled himself off the fence, hopped into the arena, and joined me near the center, Okie was standing next to me. And though Okie had worked with three other participants already. He appeared to be up for yet another interaction as he walked over to David. He looked him up and down and then planted his muzzle smack down on David’s lips. Okie’s teeth rested on David’s chin, while the upper lip took over David’s face from the nose down.

There they stood…horse and man attached by the mouth.

The other participants and I stood in awe. This was something beyond imagination. Though we all knew this was not considered appropriate according to ‘Horse Safety 101’, we also realized that there was no danger of David getting hurt. The connection between Okie and him was pure.

Okie did not budge. Even when a closing car door across the street caught his attention, he twitched his ear toward it, but he did not move away.

After what seemed like an eternity, Okie removed himself from David’s mouth. Following a quick breather, however, he went back for more. He started a serious nuzzle and grooming routine on David’s left cheek, nose, neck, and ear. That lasted about another 15 – 20 seconds, at which point Okie was done. He turned and walked away. After a couple of strides, he stopped, turned his head, and looked at David. His face expressed a clear question. Now it was my turn to make sure that David understood the expression. I translated the look into words.

“Did you get that?”

David answered, “Yes, I did.”

Now I asked, not sure what there was to be gotten.

“What did you get?” David answered…“That I am loveable.”

At this point, Okie slowly walked off to the other side of the arena. Fell asleep. The session was complete.

This horse was a genius at working with people. And here is why.

Because he had the opportunity to do so.

My horses were always at liberty.

Unless a particular situation called for a halter and lead rope, for example, one client took Okie on a ‘so-called date.’ Because her job was to take him out of the fence into the backyard, we needed a halter.

Otherwise, my horses got to do what they did best whenever they felt their best.

Before each session or workshop, I gave the herd a rundown on people and purpose, and once the people showed up, my horses got to be purposeful. Sometimes one horse took care of it all. Sometimes, each person connected with a different horse. The liberty of being a free agent and picking and choosing the person or purpose allowed patterns to emerge. Okie, Miniature Horse Kerrie, and my mare Shana were all Chakra balancers.

My other horses were unique and often specific about their facilitation style. I loved to learn from them about their skills and talents.

And, I thought, I knew my herd well. Well, well, well. The last official workshop we facilitated shortly after we arrived in Vermont.

My herd was small. Two horses and a goat, and we had eight participants. The animals, once again, created their one system. Shana picked the people, literally walked up to a person, or nodded at someone. Cutter was the main facilitator, and Sammy the Goat helped with two clients.

And though I had checked in with the herd after the workshop ended and made sure they were feeling good and our energy field was clear … the next morning, Cutter took it upon himself to leave the premises. Shana and Sammy followed his hot pursuit to seek the super green grass in our neighbor's vegetable garden.

Not only did they travel along a very busy road to get to her house, but when we arrived, Cutter took one look at me, halter in hand, and said, “No thank you,” and stomped through the beds of broccoli and onions away from me.

Once the horses were caught and we walked them back to our property, I knew why he had left. I still remember the deeply nutritious, rich earth and veggies I had just stood with. The grass was long and full of vitamins. In comparison, our rocky pasture felt barren, dry, and even depleted. Cutter had worked his dappled butt off the day before and needed more nourishment than our place could offer. So he followed his needs.

Now let me take you back to my client session, and you will see why I took you on this detour.

First off, going back to Classy saying, wait until you unleash me. He wanted to become a free agent, like my horses. He was already an amazing co-facilitator, but he knew at liberty, he could be more purposeful. Isn’t that a great thing to know about your horse?

Lastly, my client said, “There is one more horse in the bunch. His name is Harry. I don’t know him yet. I will meet him eventually.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it … Harry spoke up right then and there.

He said, “You need to know your herd members well enough to know how to prepare them for clients.”

Let me repeat what Harry said, “You need to know your herd members well enough to know how to prepare them for clients.”

He continued, “Who do you take care of in the moment when the client and the horse both have needs?”

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a great question.

Who do you take care of when the human and horse both have a need?

From what I have observed, and I have been in the field of human/equine facilitation for over two decades now, what I have observed is that the attention goes to the person. I have seen many situations when a breakthrough or a highly emotional moment occurs. Everyone gathers around the person while the horse stands off to the side, no one checking in.

And I get it. One might think the horse simply reflected the person, which led to a breakthrough, and with that, the job is done.

Nooooo. The horse is a living being who was privy to every emotion this person just went through … the ups and downs, the tension and the eventual release …

So when the breakthrough happens, the horse needs someone to stand with her or him and hold the space for the rollercoaster ride and the aftermath.

And, in case you are the only human facilitator, the challenge is even bigger. Who are you taking care of if both human and horse are triggered? Most likely, the human.

If you are savvy, you can quickly switch gears and invite your client to help care for the horse. But these scenarios are terrible and unnecessary if you know your herd members. That’s what Harry is talking about. Because when you know your herd members and you give them the freedom to show you their talents, then you can be more confident that your horse will offer what he/she knows best. And your horse will let you know where his capacity is at.

The day Cutter facilitated eight sessions, he did so with love. I feel he wanted to do them. Afterward, he realized he was tired. So he sought out greener pastures.

It is my job now to look out for Cutter and curb his enthusiasm if we were again in that situation.

Work with your horses responsibly.

Know your horses so you can communicate with them and advocate for them.

With a capable handler, healthy and well-balanced horses can hold space for themselves and others. But, even with a capable handler, horses who are recovering from neglect or abuse should never be asked to hold the space for people. People are unpredictable. Trauma can not be healed with trauma. A horse under duress will never recover in that environment, nor should it.

Thank you for listening. This is important stuff. Thank you, Harry, for the stimulating conversation.

Until next time … Auf Wiedersehen

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