July 13, 2015

Why I Do This

It’s all about learning. 


I am an inveterate learner. It is one of my top 5 StrengthsFinder talents. Although I am naturally an introvert, I love to communicate with people through learning and the growth that occurs from continuous learning.

Throughout my career as a leader, manager, and teacher I have been drawn to find ways to assist people to identify their niche, improve their skills, overcome barriers, and to discover and achieve their heart’s desire. I am strongly motivated to make a contribution through my own learning, as well as seeing others learn, achieve, and grow.

Discovering the power and phenomenology of horses

My journey with horses began in 1998. I had always wanted to take the fabled horseback vacation in the Rockies, and decided it was time to learn how to ride a horse so that I wouldn’t spend the whole experience scared beyond enjoyment.

When I dismounted at the end of that first lesson and my foot touched the ground, I was overwhelmed by the sensations of having exercised parts of myself that felt like they hadn’t been engaged for years. It was like having a deep tissue massage of my psyche, my spirit, my intuition and whole physiology. I was aware that although I could not put into words what had happened to me, I knew that I wanted to be able to share this experience and recreate it for others. In this moment, my new career goal was set:  to aid the development of human consciousness and self-awareness through being fully present with horses.

It took many years to be able to articulate that experience, and to able to fully understand the comprehensive range of learning that took place during that pivotal experience. In 1998 equine-assisted learning was a little-known field and there were few references to help me find my path. I was guided by my innate understanding that the horses were helping reconnect me to my intuition and that by following this inner magnetic north I would find my teachers and my way. Over the course of the following years I learned as much as I could from everyone I encountered who claimed to have expertise with horses. As I paid close attention to my own inner voice and developed my skill as a rider and horsewoman, I learned to trust my intuition.

Finding the horse masters

Learning to speak horse to horses was very difficult for me. I didn’t yet own a horse and did not have access to the right spaces and facilities to practice. As a result I had to do most of my learning in public – in front of my ‘colleagues’ who were much more adept than I was. They all had horses, round pens, and fields where they practiced with their horses. I was merely leasing a horse in a boarding barn where this kind of equine activity was viewed askance and was largely not possible.

After I had been studying the language of horse for a few months I was in a clinic in Vernon BC.  I witnessed a horse bowing to the instructor, Chris Irwin, out of respect. It was a stunning realization to see with my very eyes how this physical communication worked. It was a very rich and complex language, reminiscent of dancing a sophisticated tango.  I suddenly remembered that my horse Harold had bowed to me and I had missed it. I simply had not known that he was telling me something. The feeling of loss was profound. I felt all the more motivated to learn this intimate and strange language so that when he had something profound to say I would be witness to it and understand.

The two teachers from whom I felt I could learn the most had one unique credential: they had both learned what they knew directly from the horses, instead of from other people.  It is a known phenomena that “so-called” amateurs or outsiders can make revolutionary discoveries that the professionals miss, simply because they are unable to view the facts from a new and different perspective. Carolyn Resnick and Chris Irwin are just such outsiders. They are both however internationally acclaimed masters in the world of equine training but they came from non-traditional backgrounds. I learned from them to let go of the traditional methods that didn’t make sense to me, such as pulling and kicking a horse to get him to move. That kind of force didn’t sit well with my values, and yet most of my teachers used pulling and kicking as fundamental ways of communicating with (read controlling) horses – they became bullies when necessary.

When I discovered that there were a small number of teachers who didn’t use force because they had figured out a way not to, I became an avid disciple. At the same time I saw that most teachers were mouthing the same non-violent concepts while continuing to bully when, in their eyes, it was necessary. I saw that people were being told an untruth and were believing it.

To miss the whole is to miss the truth

We humans have difficulty living in the moment; we seldom see what really is. Our language and sophisticated brains inform us more about what we expect to see than what is really there. Just as in the famous gorilla experiment, (http://bit.ly/1LgtG3H) our minds can trick us into missing what is right in front of our noses. We are all too often told that distasteful things are necessary, when in fact it is important that we connect with that inner feeling that recognizes wrong and not stop searching until we find the way that feels right, and validate that feeling with evidence.

The training of horses – and bending them to our will – is part of a cultural heritage that has been handed down over thousands of years, from generation to generation, from ancient sources. Both Carolyn and Chris have a uniquely different approach that is derived from the brilliance of the untrained open mind and direct observation. They also share the assertion that the horse is a sentient being with its own perspective, and that there is tremendous value in the horse’s innate skill to “be in the moment”.

Over the years, the benefits of being with horses, learning from them and other people have been enormous for me. I love having a part to play in what happens for people who come to this work, and I love what happens to horses when they experience that rare thing – a human who can speak to them in their language. In fact, “wild horses couldn’t drag me away”.