Coaching with Horses… A New Kind of Horse Power
by Carol Marriott
“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.” ~ Sharon Ralls Lemon
Horses have worked side by side with humans for thousands of years. They have enabled us to farm the land, transport our goods, fight wars, and carry us and our supplies as we hunted for food and travelled about. They have provided fun, sport, and entertainment with their beauty, power, and grace. They have served us generously with their strength, courage, and servility. Horses have many delightful qualities that encourage the horse and human bond.
Although many of the ways that horses have assisted humans in the past have changed, there is a large, varied, and growing practice of horses helping humans called Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL), Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT), and coaching with horses, among other terms as varied as the programs and therapies themselves. Interacting with horses through these types of programs and therapies are proven to benefit humans in areas such as relationships, communication, confidence, self-esteem, personal awareness, healing from trauma, addictions, grief and loss, cancer recovery, team building, and more.
Equine-assisted learning, therapy, and coaching can be powerful and effective modalities and are helping people of all ages and abilities, worldwide, to gain personal awareness, learn new life skills, increase their resilience, reduce stress, heal from grief and loss, and respond more effectively to challenging life experiences.
Debbie (not her real name) was 34 years old when she first experienced equine-assisted learning at Ravenheart. She loved and was drawn to horses but had always been somewhat afraid of them. Coming from a farming community, she decided to keep that fact to herself when she called to book a session. Debbie explained that she had heard about equine-assisted learning and mentioned her interest in exploring it to her mother and grandmother. Together they decided to gift her with a certificate for a few sessions.
It somewhat surprised Debbie that Sarah, the largest and boldest horse in the herd, was the first horse who “volunteered” to engage with her. She mentioned afterward that she felt like she wanted to change her mind at that moment and head home, however, she felt safe and supported and so we began.
Authentic connection and present moment focus is at the heart of equine-assisted learning. How we approach and interact with the horses, and how they respond to us, can give us insights and a mirror in to how we approach our day-to-day life, relationships, challenges, and purpose. As Linda Kohanov writes in her book, The Tao of Equus, horses can help us, “Feel the emotion in its purest form, get the message behind the emotion, change something in response to the message, and go back to grazing. In other words, let the emotion go, and either get back on task or relax, so you can enjoy life fully. Horses don’t hang on to the story, endlessly ruminating over the details of uncomfortable situations.”
Our sessions with the horses begin with a body scan and grounding and/or breathing exercise. We then demonstrate staying safe around horses and provide a brief orientation to the grooming tools and how they might use them.
Debbie started with a reflective grooming exercise with Sarah. This is an opportunity, with the horse at liberty (not tied), for participants to spend time getting comfortable with the horse, and the horse with them. They are encouraged to stay present, breathe, pay attention to their thoughts, body sensations, and feelings, and to carefully and thoughtfully observe the reactions of the horse. Does the horse seem comfortable, relaxed, or anxious and uptight? Are there areas where they seem to like being groomed, and areas they prefer not to be touched. Absorbed in the task of grooming, Debbie quickly forgot about her fears and was soon talking softly to Sarah as she brushed and stroked her. Both seemed comfortable, content, and easy with each other.
This was enough for one session. The connection had been made. The next time Debbie came she was calling Sarah’s name as she got out of her car, and Sarah was waiting at the gate. After a catch up, a body scan, and grounding, we began with a walk in the pasture with the herd. Debbie shared that while very nervous for her first session, this time she had been full of excited anticipation all week.
I had placed key words on post-it notes in a number of areas around the pasture prior to the session, based on her current life situation and challenges. One of the words was “duty.” Debbie had shared in her first session about how she was always looking after everyone, always on the run, and never made any time for herself to relax and enjoy activities that she loved, or to be in solitude.
As we quietly walked among the horses, watching them graze, and practicing an awareness tool called NORA (Notice, Observe, Release, Allow), she stopped suddenly and teared up. Sarah, the horse she had groomed and connected with the previous week, stopped grazing, left the herd, and walked right up to Debbie. Sarah so very gently placed her chin on Debbie’s shoulder, and just held it there. Debbie shared that she felt seen, supported, and nurtured by Sarah’s strength, confidence, and presence. A deep bond of care and respect was witnessed in that moment.
As we stood there in the pasture with Sarah, we explored various steps she could take to help her find more time for her own self-care. Debbie talked with openness, confidence, and resolve, making a plan of action for positive change, with Sarah standing next to her yawning, blinking, chewing, and back to grazing.
Coaching, with the gift of interacting with horses and nature, provides a unique and powerful way to help you discover your authentic self, recognize and change self-sabotaging patterns, experience well-being, embody a deeper connection to your passion, purpose, and focus on where you want to go!
Carol Marriott is an equine-assisted learning (EAL) facilitator and owns Ravenheart Equine Learning Centre & Retreat located near Duck Mountain Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. She and Ravenheart are celebrating their 10th anniversary in 2017. She is also a Certified Life Coach, Reiki practitioner, and voice dialogue facilitator, whose mission is awakening hearts and inspiring potential. To contact her and/or learn more about Carol and her work, visit www.ravenheartfarms.com, phone (306) 542-3557, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, see the ads on pages 11, 18, and 23 of the 22.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.