It was a beautiful morning. I sat on the bench, comfortable in the silence of the company of my favorite Teachers, the Horses.
Since the drought had dried up most of the pasture at the back of our land, the Horse Teachers found contentment in the simplicity of their hay. But there was something they didn't know...or did they?
At the top of the land, about 800 feet from the back paddock where they currently live, and completely out of sight, is a one acre pasture where they had been before...but given the beauty of the Horses living in the present moment, it was out of sight and out of mind for them. But not for me.
Every morning I walk out of the house I see the front pasture and it was becoming more and more evident that something was holding me back from bringing the Herd up to the top. It was FEAR. This realization was very profound for me as it reflected how this powerful emotion can hold us back from many things in life...and the Horses wanted me to FEEL this lesson in the wisdom of my body.
You see, my horsemanship mentor was in Ireland for 2 weeks and she is who typically helps me bring the Herd to the top paddock so that we can bring two horses at a time, allowing them to remain in sight of one another and feel safe and comfortable. Horses, as most of you know, are Herd animals and our horses live outside 24/7 together in a bona fide herd environment. In order for them to feel completely comfortable out of sight of each other, they must be in the company of a confident, compassionate leader. I had fallen into the habit of having this leader be my horsemanship mentor. Well, my cast was now off and my mentor away for 2 weeks....
Every day I was faced with this reality that I had green grass up top to offer to the Herd of Horse Teachers but my own fear was holding me back from facilitating their increased contentment. Snickers has lived in a Herd type environment since he was a yearling and came into our care. He had never lived in a barn (only for a short period of time) or went to shows etc. He was raised in the FEEL (facilitated equine experiential learning) environment and honored as a Teacher since his birth. Needless to say, he is a great Teacher of "emotions as information".
Back to the beautiful morning on the bench. My cast had just come off a couple of days prior and it was just the perfect morning. I was feeling content, my bare feet on the grass. I was in a meditation and I saw it so clearly in my heart....the Herd encouraging me to step into my power as a Leader and lead them up the hill to the acre of green grass. I embodied this vision so deeply that I couldn't walk away without bringing a Horse with me to take this walk. You see, as Linda Kohanov so eloquently explains in her latest book "The Five Roles of A Master Herder", there are five roles of leadership. The Dominant, the Leader, the Sentinel, the Nurturer/Companion and the Predator. I must say, I had mostly frequented the Sentinel and Nurturer/Companion with the Herd and had only dabbled in the role of Leader. Today was the day that I would truly embody the essence of the role of Leader.
So I started with Malachi. No sweat for him. He is an elder Horse with whom I have a deep soul connection. We have taken many a walk away from the Herd together and I have never encountered the feeling of fear in his presence. He is a true gentleman. He thanked me for the walk to grass while the Herd became increasingly anxious in the paddock below. They could no longer see him and this made them feel uncomfortable.
Next up, Snickers.
I took a deep breath and made a heart connection with him. He stood so quietly as I placed the halter over his head. He showed me in his body that he was relaxed and ready to gift me this very special opportunity for self mastery in exchange for some green grass!
He remained relaxed until about 500 feet away from the Herd. At this particular spot, he cannot see the upper paddock nor the lower paddock. All he can sense of his Herdmates are the loud hoofbeats and calls as they pace anxiously. If I gave into my own anxiety it would be game over for us on this walk. Things could escalate and I was the only horse handler on the farm at that moment. I called on my meditation practice to stay present in the moment. All of the external impressions became merely representative of the thoughts would enter the mind during sitting on the meditation cushion. What we refer to as "the monkey mind".
Deep breath. "Stay with me" became my Mantra. I kept repeating it and repeating it as Snickers came up into a panicked full rear. "Stay with me"...deep breath... In retrospect, it was so interesting that this Mantra came to me. In my heart I know I was not only asking Snickers to "stay with me" but asking my authentic Self to stay present so that I don't go into a place of panic or fear. "Stay with me..." Snickers is the youngest of the Herd and he was more or less born into this work, where he will live in a Herd 24/7. He has never been formally trained or ridden. It is a different life for him. He is a true raw horse spirit. This is the horse that will lay down with his head on my lap, he is so pure. Well his realness also shows when he is challenged and plays with the role of Dominant. He is not afraid to all out rear up on his hind legs in protest, where a "broke" horse may have some hesitance in doing so for fear of being punished by his handler. While I would never consider him "dangerous" by any means (he is the sweetest soul), he definitely brings us closer to the spirit of his Horse Ancestors.
All of a sudden, everything stopped. He faced me head on, breathing hard and heavy. I took a deep breath, landing briefly in the role of Dominant in order to set a firm boundary around my space. I checked in with myself and looked right in his eyes and calmly said "are you ready?". He nodded and up we went...gracefully and uneventfully to the grass paddock.
The other two mares were a breeze compared to what I experienced with my great Teacher, Snickers. The sight of all four horses enjoying the grass they so much deserved and standing with my own Self in knowing I had made leaps and bounds in overcoming my fear was one of the most empowering and liberating feelings I have ever embodied. When we accessed the emotion of fear as merely passing information, we were able to stand in our authenticity and all of us able to enjoy going "back to grazing".
It was my connection to the role of Leader, Sentinel and Nurturer/Companion that helped me to define which order the Horses would be led up the hill. In reflection, I chose Malachi first because we have shared many a walk away from the Herd and I knew he was fully confident. Snickers second because he is a young horse and I knew the longer he stayed behind, the more energy he would accumulate resulting in more dramatic antics. Isa third because she is a highly spirited Arabian mare and also the last horse to enter the Herd. She struggles with her place in the Herd and I felt it fair to leave a more confident Horse to last. Penny as the final horse as she has great confidence and knows I will never leave her behind for long.
That was about a week ago. We have since taken this walk up and down, every other day. Up to the grass in the early morning hour and back down to the dry lot at the day's end. For the most part, the walk is completely pleasant and uneventful. A two heart harmony where the Horses actually seem to enjoy this bit of one on one time with me outside of the Herd. Even Snickers. Completely calm and connected. We have even encountered things like my son's large green tent lodged right by the path shaking in the wind, and my brother's big truck parked right at the path at the top of the hill. The Herd is absolutely comfortable and confident in my being in the role of Leader and didn't even flinch at the sight of new objects in new places. The Herd is displaying little to no anxiety when their members are leaving their sight, but rather showing excitement about our new adventure together.
The Herd and I have come to an entirely new level of connection. I can FEEL their confidence in me to make sound and reasonable decisions for them as a Nurturer/Companion and as a Leader.
They showed me during the walk, especially during that little space where it was just me and the Horse...no sight of the Herd, that they had the utmost faith in me as a competent leader and partner all along...perhaps it was just something I had to FEEL for myself. This is what the Horses do. They facilitate our embodying of such empowerment, rather than simply offering us the idea of it. They bring these ideas to life through experience.
I stand in such gratitude to incredible researchers, observers and writers who devote their life to decoding the wisdom of Horses; notably Linda Kohanov who has brought the concept of Horse as Teacher to an entirely new level filled with unlimited possibilities for human and horse. If you haven't already, I encourage you to explore her incredible writing (The Tao of Equus, The Power of the Herd, Riding Between the Worlds, The Five Roles of A Master Herder and Way of the Horse).
And, as always, I honor the incredible Horse Teachers for their ongoing lessons in self mastery and their guidance to this present moment where we can acknowledge our emotions as information, explore the various leadership roles and, finally, we can all go back to grazing!