Transform The Way You Come To Others

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When we first moved to the farm I had a much more regimented process for bringing the horses into the barn for feed and letting them back out. That’s often how we start new things – with great purpose and intent and perhaps even some caution. 

Sometimes we’re a bit uncertain or inexperienced and so there’s a bit of awkwardness too.

I had handled horses for years, sometimes bringing upwards of 35 horses into and out of a stables every day. But this was different – this was my grand experiment. My chance to do things the way I had always wanted to.

And you know what I did? I repeated what I already knew thinking I was doing it differently! That can be part of a new thing too – believing you’ll do it the ‘right’ way, eliminate all those old habits and practices you never liked when you worked under someone else’s system.

But habits are powerful things. They drive A LOT of our decisions and behaviours every day and for the vast majority of that, we’re not conscious of what we’re doing.

Just think of the last time you drove to a familiar place (or took the bus or biked). How many of the turns and stops were you consciously making and how many happened and then, you were there?

One of my first big lessons from Orion, a gorgeous paint horse who came to us after being gelded at 20 (he was rescued from a very abusive situation as a stallion, as many domestic stallions endure). Orion was a gentleman – strong, certain, drop dead gorgeous and full of an aliveness he was very conscious of. He always let the mares eat first, he let them be groomed first, and he loved young Pearl when she arrived at only 7 months old.

I had just moved to the farm and was settling into caring for the herd and working virtually as an executive leader of a tech start-up going through a private equity purchase. I LOVED being on the farm, it was a dream come true. So each morning you can bet I was pretty happy going out to greet the herd. I had a lot to do each day, but I was so thrilled to be doing it all. 

I started by preparing the feed dishes for the herd in the barn (they had hay outdoors in their field and they came in once a day for soaked hay cubes with some minerals and nutrients to boost their health and for this, they ate in their stalls to avoid jostling and competition). Then, I’d open the barn doors and walk the few steps to the field gate and one by one lead the horses into their stalls and then fetch another.

And, in truth, it was ‘fetching’. Oh I was happy about it but that phrase describes the way I came to the herd. I’d open the gate a bit, walk through, halter the first horse, lead them through the gate, shut it, bring them in, then proceed on down the ‘line’ (in those days, I still thought there was a herd hierarchy I had to respect to have order).

Orion was so sweet, he’d wait until last. And then it would start. He’d be at the gate, I’d open it, he’d step back a few steps, assess me, and mostly then he’d walk away in a circle. At first I tried to go after him – he wasn’t running. It was more like, “nope, try again.”

I tried being quieter, talking softly. I tried moving to put on his halter so that I wasn’t shoving it up and into his face (energetically pushing his head up and away instead of down into the halter). I tried putting the lead rope around his neck first, down by his withers. Sometimes I’d catch him. After the first week this little routine was getting pretty tiresome.

I’d get so frustrated with myself, “What am I doing wrong?”

As though it was about right and wrong, about technique, about horsemanship.

Then, finally one day, I heard him. “I’d like a real invitation.” Real as in genuine. It mattered to Orion how I came to him. And, in hindsight, although I was happy to see him and trying to make the right moves, what Orion was picking up on more than anything was the felt tone of my coming to him. And I didn’t have a practiced idea of what that meant.

What I was expecting was that by coming to him with a smile, a happy attitude, with correct haltering technique, that he would comply and come. Much like when we approach someone with a hand outstretched or a smile, we expect those to be returned out of social nicety. Or, like the way we say our dog’s name in that high pitched voice and pat our hands on our legs and say ‘come boy’ and expect them to come. 

What we’re mostly not aware of, that horses especially are VERY tuned into, is the energetic, electromagnetic field that stretches out all around us and conveys important information about what’s really going on inside us. That’s why working with horses is so powerful – you just can’t lie to them. They are experts at reading this field and they trust it implicitly. Not your tone of voice, not your body position, not the look on your face .. but what’s really going on inside.

In his brilliance, Orion was teaching me to pay attention to the felt tone of how I came to him. And, I will admit that once I understood what he was asking for and did a bit of reflection, I could feel the undertone … my desire to stay on schedule. I had an agenda to keep and even though I was happy to come to the horses, I REALLY wanted to keep that schedule!

This little insight has prompted a lot in my relationship with the herd. At first, I offered Orion to come into the barn without a halter or to remain in the sand ring (only about 15 feet from the stalls and well within sight of the mares). And if he chose not to come in, I simply brought him his food where he was.

Then, I started a new morning routine, getting up a bit earlier for meditation and yoga before going to the horses. This helped me to ground, cultivate my inner field and pay attention to what was going on in my body and mind so that I could come to them more consciously.

If I had to take an early meeting, I simply waited until after or got up earlier, so we weren’t rushed. Over time and with a lot of practice, I learned to care more about nurturing my energetic field and reading each of theirs. I learned about boundaries and respecting them so that we could come together at a distance that respected the space our bodies needed for our mind to be present with each other.

Now almost every time I greet someone – human, animal or tree – I see Orion’s face and make an effort to come to them consciously and respect how they are coming to me. And because of Orion’s lesson, I have a whole different experience coming to another. On the whole it’s more gentle, genuine and more respectful. I manage the space between us to ensure I listen to their body and mine, they may not be aware of what I’m doing, but their body sure is!

Now your invitation … imagine Orion (or one of the other herd members, or a dear one to you), asking the same of you. Quietly and without any fanfare, play with how you come to others. AND, share what you learn! Send us an email at info@thecourageherd.ca or leave a comment. Let’s keep this practice growing and evolving, together. Because it takes a herd.

Christina Turner