Grounded in Values
As a pioneer in equine facilitated coaching, I have intentionally built my business model on my values. My fundamental premise is that in order to include horses in our learning, we must be prepared to work with them from their perspective, and on their terms. We must walk the talk with them just as we would in all our relationships. Working and playing with horses is an inter-cultural as well as an inter-species experience. They have their own language, culture, rituals and behaviours, which are distinctly different from the language, culture, rituals, and behaviours of humans. This difference has made a ground-breaking shift for me, and it has informed my work in a profound way.
Allow me to try to explain it like this:
Imagine your business is taken over by a foreign-owned company and you get a new boss. You like the look of him. He comes with a great resume and seems to have all the right stuff for your industry and company. He doesn’t speak your language very well though. In fact, there is something about his body language that puts you off a little, but he seems oblivious to this. Still, he is a good solid guy who means well and is apparently very knowledgeable about the business. You get to know him a little better and think “I just need to give him the benefit of the doubt”.
As the weeks go by, incidents accumulate where he is borderline rude to you in your one-on-ones and in front of others. He says one thing but his body language signals something completely different. You aren’t really sure what he wants. He has made some rude gestures along with his broken English that left you feeling that you can’t really trust him, he doesn’t understand you, and he doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart. The other members of your team are feeling pretty much the same way. In fact, most of the original members of your company are feeling that this foreigner really don’t get it and he may be a liability to the longevity of the business.
You decide to speak up and try to tell your boss that there are some serious communication problems and that he needs to learn more about your language and culture, but he doesn’t listen. Instead he becomes more insistent and authoritarian, telling you to just do what you have been told to do and everything will be fine. Over time you start to feel trapped and unhappy, misunderstood, under-appreciated, and resentful at work. You don’t show it though, because you can’t afford to get fired and there just aren’t any openings for you anywhere these days. Occasionally you have outbursts of temper and your job performance suffers. You try to suck it up but it is pretty hard. Your health is suffering a little as well. You decide all you can do is maintain a positive outward appearance and wait for your chance to move on to something better. Meanwhile, you know you have to look out for yourself because you can’t trust your boss.
You also know that this state of affairs is the opposite of what is required to achieve real results for the business. You know that under these circumstances your business will never produce high-performing individuals or teams. Instead, competition will flourish where collaboration is required, disdain replaces respect, suspicion instead of trust.
In this story you are the horse and the boss is the human. Domestic horses live for the most part as prisoners in our care, and we expect them to understand us but we are not aware enough to know that we are failing in our obligation to truly understand them and their needs. Once I discovered, through following my intuition, that it is possible to understand and speak their language the way they speak it, I knew I could not ignore their need to be understood. Just as we must do as parents, leaders, managers, friends, and citizens, we must walk the talk.
A Student of Venerated Horse Teachers
The honouring of this core value required that I find my equine teachers. I have studied the methods of many – through riding, being in the round pen, reading books and online resources, and by watching video. However, the teachers that have informed my work the most have a single defining characteristic – they learned about horses directly from the horses, not from other people. Learning the unique perspective of these “horse whisperers” created a ground-breaking shift for me. In my experience it informs learning with horses in a profound way: when we take the time to build a bridge of understanding between us and the horses, we can trust that we are not just projecting idealized Walt Disney fantasies onto them. We can instead venture into real communication with them, from a place of respect. As a result we encounter ourselves – and them – in a very real way.
Learning Equus – the Language of the Horse
In the pursuit of this ideal I have invested a great deal of time and effort in becoming a fluent communicator of ‘Equus’: the unique language, rituals and culture of the horse, which I have integrated into my coaching practice. I am a translator, and promote true understanding of the horse. While my clients are not expected to become speakers of Equus, over time they become attuned to the basics. A consistently surprising and important realization that clients have, is the fact that horses assume that we are conscious, fluent speakers of Equus. Horses do not know that we do not know their language. However, we are speaking to them all the time with our body language, although we are usually unaware of this. The client’s realization that they need to become conscious of their communication in relation to the horses translates into every other area of our lives and leverages the learning available in this unique form of coaching.
I am an interpreter in a three-way conversation and provide safety, structure, and support in an incredibly rich learning environment. I help clients to experience shifts and modulation in their energy and body language, which fosters clear communication, transparency, and trust with the horse. Clients report that they are able to take this learning into the rest of their lives, and become adept at responding to the requirements of different circumstances, in the moment.
Integrating Horses with Executive Coaching
In the pursuit of developing further competencies for this work, I completed the Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching at Royal Roads University in 2008. The basis of this program is entirely consistent with my values and the approach I have taken throughout my career as a leader, manager, and teacher: the belief that we are whole, complete, fully capable, and do not require fixing. This widely-respected program taught me the skills of pure coaching, with the focus on how to assist people to find their own truth and to create their ideal lives.
While other practitioners use horses in therapeutic and healing work, my goal in coaching with horses is to stimulate an immediate and transformational connection to our deep inner selves. Over the last ten years I have honed the ability to move masterfully between pure coaching, and facilitating my client’s relationship with the horse so that they encounter themselves in an intimate and powerful way. This ultimately opens them to actualizing their ideals and desires.