The sun is shining bright on this beautiful day but the brisk coastal breeze still sends a chill through my many layers of protection. Today I am attending a one day EGE clinic at Ariana Strozzi Mazzucchi’s Skyhorse Ranch in Point Arena. Note to self, when in Point Arena one must wear wool, not unlike the many sheep that I passed in route to my destination. As I make my way towards the barn I pass by the baby lambs resting peacefully under the mindful watch of a Great Pyrenees amid a clutter of happy hens all with beaks to the ground while the red tail hawk soars high overhead. Nature is alive and well and with me on this journey.
This is the second time that I have had the opportunity to participate in a one day Equine Guided Education Clinic. The first time was a year ago and it left me wanting for more. Equine Guided Education has been offering programs in leadership development, coach training, and consciousness shifting programs with horses since 1989. More simply stated, Ariana uses horses as oracles that speak directly from their hearts to ours. But first we must learn to listen and stay open and curious to the possibilities, like we used to be before we became closed, cautious, and quick to judge.
As we sit in the classroom high atop the barn, one has a view out a large picturesque window of the vastness of the valley dotted with sheep, goats, and a burro or two. There is a mix of men and women in the room, all with a common cause. They are hoping to find answers to the many questions that have guided them to this safe place. For me it is about self-care, self-love, and self-discovery. The nature of my work, though most rewarding is at times exhausting, and I am exhausted. I find myself asking why? I, like many in the room are in a place of transition and need some clarity to help me chose my choices and find the ground that will keep me grounded. Who better to act as a consultant than that which has four legs, and a tail and is grounded in what is real, and really important in life. From the heart of a horse I hope to find the meaning of life.
Ariana is talking about stories. We all have them. Some, most are old and no longer serve us well. Ariana talks about intuition and our intuitive selves and the need for us to get out of our heads and into our bodies. That is where our hearts are, and that is where our horses live, in their bodies; unlike people who spend far too much time living in their heads. Ariana talks about our inner judge who sits on our shoulder and is (too) quick to pass judgement that sets us all up to fail. Ariana talks about transition and our fears around change, a fact that we can all identify with. Ariana talks about authenticity, mindfulness, and somatics, all deep subjects that our horses help bring to our surface of understanding. Next step has us heading out to walk, talk, but most importantly listen and learn from Ariana’s herd of equine psychoanalysts.
Once in the arena the horses are aware, but quietly at peace with our presence. Ariana has us take time to breathe and thank the beauty that surrounds us. She talks about first space, second space, and third space as it relates to our proximity to the herd and how we can both negatively or positively affect them through these proximal layers of space. Horses intuitively sense our energy and emotion and mirror that which we feel. Ariana reminds us that this is a good place to let go of any unwanted negativity, ie old stories that don’t serve us well as the horses will wear that which we wear on our insides, on their outsides.
We are about to embark on our first exercise; it is about communication and leadership styles. Ariana explains how over 90% of all our communication is non-verbal, leaving less than 10% of what we say to the spoken word. In other words, our actions speak (much) louder than our words. A group of three join hands in a (not so) silent agreement to share space with a horse of mutual agreement. The goal is to move in silent unity towards the selected horse’s first space. Immediately, those of us who are spectating can see one of the team of three take charge and lead. There is no negotiation hence the other two are left to reluctantly follow. Upon arrival, the horse does not invite the group into his space, no doubt because he sense’s their space is not a safe place for him. After a few minutes go by and the horse has still not invited the humans to partner, Ariana calls the group back to debrief and discuss what transpired and why.
There is a lesson here for all of us. How effective is our communication style, both with and without words? Do we talk when we should be listening, and when we talk does our body language support our words, or betray them? What type of leadership style do we have and is it productive, or counter-productive? Are we passive or aggressive, when our goal is to be assertive? Are we cheerleaders or fear leaders, or do we lead at all?
Horses respond accordingly to our individual leadership style, or the lack thereof. As herd animals, there is a hierarchy to the way of their world. When we prove to be competent leaders, they will happily follow as they know we will keep them safe. When we are incompetent as leaders, their survival instinct will either drive them away from us, as we are not a safe place, or they will lead us back to the barn, the herd or the food source (their safe place). If you have ever found yourself a passenger on a 1000-pound prey animal with a strong flight instinct you will know this to be true. Horses teach us how to be confident, competent, and capable as leaders. All we have to do is listen (with our ears and our eyes), to what they have to say, and learn from the heart of a horse that never lies, and knows not how to judge.
The next lesson was a round pen exercise. It was with great trepidation that I decide to volunteer for this one. Ariana asked me to go into the round pen with Sky, a lovely buckskin gelding. I was to pose a problem or challenge that I was struggling with to Sky and wait for his response. I shared with Sky (and the group), that as Director of The Pony Express Equine Assisted Skills for Youth, I have worked as an advocate for kids and horses in need for over three decades, and as much as I love what I do, I was exhausted. After 36 years, I wasn’t sure if I was doing right by them or myself anymore. Was it time to take my life in a different direction? Immediately after making that statement, Sky who was standing next to me, moved away from me and towards the gate reaching his head out as if to say I need to get out of here, now.
I heard his message loud and clear. With tears running down my face I sank to the ground, literally leaning on Sky for support. Sky reached his head around and nuzzled me offering his huge shoulder to cry on. It was a beautiful moment between horse and human where I felt a deep connection and much needed unconditional love and support. That moment of clarity is still with me today. I am certain that the work that both Ariana and I are doing, using horses as teachers and healers and agents of change, though at times exhausting and overwhelming, is necessary and needed now more than ever. Even our horses know this to be true.
The message that Sky shared with me was about balance. As I was drawn to the ground next to Sky, Ariana saw in that moment my need to find my ground and my safe place, which for me has always been beside my horses. Learning to find and balance our passion, purpose, and profession is one that many of us struggle with. Who knew that the one possessing the answer to all of life’s questions could be found in the (horse) barn?
I walked away from that day with a renewed passion, a new purpose, and a slightly different approach to my profession. It is with high hopes and eager anticipation that I am planning to participate in the upcoming EGE Training 1 Seminar at Skyhorse Ranch that takes place Oct 16-27. Sky answered my question and now the question is, can he answer yours?
For more information on Skyhorse Ranch please visit their website at casariranch.com
The Pony Express is celebrating 36 years of making a difference in the lives of kids and horses in need. In addition to serving as Director of The Pony Express, Linda has completed her Master’s in Education at Sonoma State University and is currently finishing her MA in Counseling. For more information on The Pony Express Equine Assisted Skills for Youth please visit our website at www.theponyepxressrock.org.