Experiencing Coaching with Horses
When you look into a mirror, what do you see in your reflection? I see my face at first and then the lines in my face from aging. I notice sunspots of varying size and shape as well as silver in my hair. If I look for a couple of minutes, I start to notice something beyond the blueness of my eyes. I start to see me. There is a lot going on behind my eyes. They can convey many emotions such as joy, hurt, and confusion. When people ask me what I do for work, I tell them that I am a coach that offers my clients Equine Assisted Awareness as part of my program. I see their face and eyes change and understand that confusion is setting in about what that means. I know this before they even speak. So here in this month’s blog, I’m going to describe what it is that I do. Don’t forget the reflection part that I described at the beginning. It will come into play shortly.
Sometimes in life, we can feel stuck. Almost like standing at a crossroads and not knowing which way we should go. Indecision, lack of clarity, loss of focus, and not trusting ourselves to make the right decisions is often what has us stuck. When people feel this way, I can help by offering solid coaching skills combined with work with horses. This experiential approach works really well together.
First, in coaching, my role is to partner with clients in a way that supports them in discovering where they are at in their life, where they want to go, and how they want to get there. My role is to help my client find their own answers because they have those answers inside of them. It’s a matter of learning to become more focused. Being focused leads to clarity about what’s really going on for them and what might be holding them back from moving forward with confidence. From the place of clarity, clients can begin to trust themselves to know what they truly need and want. Further, they can trust that they are fully able to choose the right direction or make the right decision. Finally, they can step in the power of their highest potential with confidence. Good coaching does this for people. I have coaches in my life, and I believe that all people can benefit from coaching. I’ve seen what it can do for my clients, and people I know who have been coached. I have experienced first-hand in my own life, the power of coaching. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing coaches and coach mentors that helped me see how to trust my own intuition. Having this trust, led me onto this path of becoming a coach and having my horses share their wisdom with clients. As a result, I have begun to live at my highest potential. Even so, I will always have a coach periodically.
Remember when I talked about reflections in the mirror earlier? This is how my horses can add to the coaching process. I love that by combining coaching and work with horses, an experiential approach emerges. This approach works so well together because of the inherent nature of horses who live in the present because they have to have a strong focus on their surroundings and interactions for their very survival as prey animals. By engaging with horses, my clients can have a tangible way to experience this level of focus both outwardly and inwardly. Horses are able to tie into our behaviors and emotions and reflect them back to us. They can show us what we need to see and know about our inner selves. When this happens, we are able to become more focused by seeing how things really are in the moment. From there we can begin to see our lives more clearly and move into trusting ourselves. Horses provide us a path to see our internal selves and modes of operation exposed. They offer us the opportunity to experience humility, compassion and challenge in profound ways. These are critical elements to supporting our own self-growth as we move into living at our highest potential.
This process is nothing short of amazing but rather than go on with explaining the benefits of coaching along with working with horses, I’d like to share an experience below, that one of my clients recently had while using this approach.
A woman in my coaching program was having difficulty controlling her anger. By working one on one with me, she was able to identify what was underneath the anger. She shared that it was not anger at all, but only manifesting as anger. It was deep hurt, rejection, and low self- worth that came out in a way that drove people away from her. It was a way of protecting herself. As she continued her work with me and was making many positive changes in her life, she began feeling anxious because feeling happier and freer, was strange for her. Even though she wasn’t lashing out in anger anymore, she was anxious about making new friends and worried about those relationships ending badly as previous friendships had. She needed a way to see the anxiety and how it was showing up outwardly as well as learn to recognize how it felt as inwardly as it was coming on, so that she could understand it in order to take control of it.
I invited her to take her calming breaths that we had worked on in all her sessions and then step into the arena with my horses and just be there and connect with her breath and the horses. I encouraged her to do what felt comfortable such as sit, stand, walk, or approach one of the horses. As she stood breathing in the middle of the arena and became calmer and more focused in the present, one of the horses approached her freely. They stood together for a couple of minutes breathing together. This was a sign that the horse wanted to work with her on that day. I quietly approached and slipped a halter on the horse and then asked my client to face the barrel of the horse and place one hand on the shoulder (she would be able to push the shoulder if she felt the horse stepping into her space and this would cause the horse to move back out of the space), and the one hand on the ribcage so that she could feel the horse breathe.
When both were settled with me holding the lead rope for safety, I asked my client to close her eyes and breathe. I encouraged her to check in with her breath and notice what came up for her. When an anxious thought arose, the horse would fidget. When I saw this was just starting, I would invite the client to let the thought go as we had practiced other times before without the horse. The moment her thought would leave, the horse would become calm and drop into a semi-doze. This went back and forth several times with me checking in with the client about what was coming up for her during the times he was fidgeting. The client shared her fears and thoughts during this time. I questioned her about what it felt like in her body and where she felt it in her body during the times the horse was fidgeting. This information would be important for our processing and her focus. We ended the horse portion after just a few minutes with a grounding exercise that always ends with thanking the horse for their willingness to help.
We were able to take the client’s thoughts and fears that she shared during the horse portion back into our coaching session after the grounding exercise. From there we partnered as client and coach to process the things that had come up for her. All of these had been recurring fears and anxieties around her fear of rejection. She had not noticed the anxiety before, or at least did not understand it, but now had a focus as to what it felt like inside of her and how it showed up in the reflection from the horse’s fidgety behavior. By feeling the horse and experiencing the shifts between anxiousness and calmness, the client was able to start noticing when anxiety came up in her body so that she could apply strategies and tools from our coaching session that allowed her to get control of the anxiety before it took over in various situations within her daily life. After some practice with this between sessions, she began moving into more clarity around her anxiety.
NOTE: I teach horse handling safety lessons to all my clients and we talk about how to approach
horses in arching angles as opposed to straight on. Predators approach prey animals straight on but by working in arches and angles you are less threatening to the horses. It’s important that clients feel safe and know how to be successful with the horse work. It’s equally important for my horses to feel safe at all times with various people in their space which is why we always apply calming breaths and grounding before ever entering the arena. In addition, my horses can always choose whether or not they want to participate, and we honor that decision.