Through the Eye of a Horse

 

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So how am I going to learn about myself as leader from a horse? What do they know about working in teams? They don’t have to juggle a family and a job!

Horse people love taking photos of horses eyes. There is something fascinating about their size and depth. The real mirrors they are when the light hits them right.

We are drawn to them in other ways. The gaze of a horse is never judgemental. Curious, alarmed, kind, gentle, happy, sad perhaps, they can convey all these emotions, but never judgement. That peculiar human manner of thought. Judgment comes from a place of fear and blame. We judge others but we also judge ourselves – often even more harshly. We can judge others for what we fear in ourselves – how much easier to blame someone else than accept responsibility  for our own contribution. Its not hat horses don’t have fears, its just their fears are based in real and potential threats, or the possibility of them. They fear being eaten, being ostracized, being left alone and vulnerable to be eaten. So they are alert but carry one with life in a normal manner. Just as we did when we were co- evolving with them.  Most of us living comfortable lives in an affluent western society don’t have to be fearful every moment of the day of what might jump out and attack us whilst we sit at out office desk, but our body still reacts to perceived threats in the same way. So when our thoughts and ruminations flood our bodies with the physiological responses threats we develop behaviors to manage how we feel. One of those ways is sitting in judgement. Horse come from a place of Acknowledgement rather than judgement. They acknowledge there is a threat or a possibility of threat. They take responsibility for a response – be curies, investigate, get to a safe distance, relax, back to grazing. Their behavior comes from a place of love, of being connected, being part of the social system of the herd, even a herd that has members with only two legs each instead of four.

When we take our ingrained habits, our way of being at home, at work, in our team, into the arena with the horses they look on us as a conundrum to be solved. How to be safe with us”? How to connect? When we see our our actions laid out in the relationships of the arena, those between horses and humans and humans and humans, we get the opportunity to be different. To get the immediate non judgemental feed back the horses are so adept at. Can I be less threatening? Can I stop my fears being played out as aggression, can I remain soft and gentle but still be assertive. Can I hold firm the boundaries that matter and let go of the shields that are not necessary? How do I be more vulnerable and thus stronger. Allow myself to trust and show my true nature?

All these questions and more are present in the arena with the horses. As we work through them in the present moment, in a mindful fully engaged way, we work towards building teams and relationships based on open and honest communication. Where conflict is not a threat but a creative way to approach opportunities. Where we can concentrate on working towards a common purpose without the distractions of judgement and blame.

The “eye’s” have it!

 

Building resilience – March 2017 Newsletter

sun moments 20161125-06-36-57-Fiilies back paddock-IMG_4176 It’s not what life throws at you but how you respond – how many memes are there floating around based on that sentiment? What does it really mean though? To me, it’s about resilience.

If you look up the definition of resilience what pops up first is:

  • the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  • the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I wasn’t sure at first about the word toughness as it conjured a more unyielding response, but with reflection about the sort of toughness that is still elastic, my opinion changed. You can for instance look at the difference between one of those big fit balls and a party balloon. Both can move and flex to pressure but one you can sit on the other you cannot. One is tough, the other is not.

Another example that the weather over the last couple of months has brought to mind is the toughness and resilience of grass. Just the normal soft grass that grows in my paddock. Its toughness is not because of its thick skin but its deep roots and its ability to go from dormant to full life in a very short period of time. In February my paddocks were dry and cracked and the grass looked dead. By the middle of march those same paddocks were knee deep in vividly green grass.

So how do we cultivate resilience? One of the ways is mindfulness. When we operate from a mindful perspective, we are fully present; and when we are fully present we don’t become mired in the past or lost in the future.  We are able to respond, not react.

Books we love

The books that support our work in Horsanity, where we gain inspiration and learning and which we think you would find valuable.

Mindfulness is a topic that has been around for quite a while now and there are lots of schools of thought about how it should be approached. Should you immerse yourself in a spiritual practice such as Buddhism, or at least take your instruction from that tradition? Should you enroll in a more secular course and be guided through an intensive course in a group environment? There are plenty on offer to choose from. Should you take the time to immerse yourself in the now with another sentient (horse) being skilled at being present (yes!)?

My personal belief is that if it works for you to achieve what you want to achieve then there are no wrong answers to how you go about finding your way to deeper practice. The problem is that often the barrier to taking such an approach is our over busy minds and lives that convince us we have no time to commit. And that is where books like the following two come in. They guide us through short practices of habit and get us started.

Before we launch into the books though, what do I mean by mindfulness? My thoughts are pretty main stream so this explanation from the University of California works for me.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

littel book of mindfulness

The first book is “The Little Book of Mindfulness, Dr Patrizia Collard, 2014”. For a start it is pocket sized. If you want to carry it around with you it slips easily into your bag or pocket and you can take it out if you need a bit of inspiration. After a brief introduction about the history of secular mindfulness practice and what the aims of it are, the books outlines a number of 5 and 10 minute practices for the everyday. The book is also beautifully illustrated, which always helps.

In the section on mindful eating: Food should be savoured for the mind as well as the body.

From the writer Peter Altenberg on a tea ritual: Drinking my tea at 6pm never seems to lose its power over me. Everyday I long for it as intensely as the day before, and when I drink it I lovingly embrace it into my being”

Midfulness practical guide

The second book is “Mindfulness, a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and Danny Penman, 2011”. The authors come from the same school of thought as Dr Collard, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn so much of the ground covered is the same as in the smaller book but in much more detail. It offers both practice and theory and the copy I have came with a CD of guided meditations which is a real bonus!

From the foreword by Jon Kaat-Zinn: While you are putting yourself into the authors’ hands for guidance, you are also, most importantly, putting yourself very much into your own hands by making the commitment to yourself to actually follow their suggestions, to engage in the various formal and informal practices and habit releasers, and put them to the test by seeing what happens when you begin to pat attention and act with kindness and compassion towards yourself and others, even if it feels a bit artificial at first.

In other words, remember, Mindfulness is a practice and our skill, and thus the benefit, develops as we persevere with that practice. These two books are a great resource in that practice.

Back in the saddle

February  was a month to remember both for the searing temperatures and St Ivans and Carwoola fires that affected many people we know, but also for me a trip in rural India where I discovered the delights of the Indian National Park system, which is quite extensive. Hence no February Newsletter.

March too seems to have just flown by but this time at least we have been engaged in honest labor. With both Public  and Organisational workshops it was a nice blend of emphasis. Of particular pleasure was to run the fifth “ignite Pharmacy Leadership” workshop in Canberra with our friends at Peakgrove. So far we have conducted the workshop three times outside Melbourne, once outside Newcastle and now outside Canberra. Participants fly in from all round Australia and are always highly engaged. If they arrive slightly skeptical, the skepticism soon vanishes as they work with the horses.

Meet the Herd

We have been looking at the new editions at Tashkent but time for a change of pace and a look at one of the more venerable members of the Yaroonga herd.

The big majestic grey mare Ladybird has been instrumental in much deep learning by participants at Yaroonga workshops. As Pam’s first born she holds not just a special place in Pam’s heart, but also in the dynamics of the herd. Very much the matriarch, she has her avid followers and communicates in no uncertain terms. Born during the EI crisis of 2007 (this was a complete lockdown of horse movements in much of QLD and NSW as a result of a rogue infection that escaped Australian Quarantine with potentially devastating effects on the equine industry) she was bred to be a dressage horse and had success in her early career. Some breathing issues combined with a lack of interest on her behalf put an end to her dressage career and instead she has embraced the role of People Whisperer with enthusiasm.

Our Calendar

Workshop 1 See with Fresh Eyes – Getting started 

Thursday April 6th  (Tashkent, Dungog) (limited places still available)

Saturday  April 22nd (Yaroonga, Blandford)

Workshop 2 Deepening

These workshops are no longer scheduled but will be offered “on demand”. They are designed to deepen the practices from both our Getting Started Workshop and one day Custom  Organisational Workshops. If you are interested in doing one please contact us

Save the Date

At the moment these dates are all designated as See with Fresh Eyes – Getting Started. We may change some to be new standalone modules or too a Deepening if requested.

  • April 29th Yaroonga
  • May 8th Yaroonga
  • May 15th Tashkent
  • June 3rd Yaroonga
  • June 10th Tashkent
  • June 23rd Tashkent
  • June 28th Yaroonga

Role Play

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Often we ‘train’ or prepare for leadership by role playing. Role playing certainly has some great benefits as it mostly only requires a  bit of imagination on the behalf of the ‘players’ and allows for specific scenarios to be practiced. In fact, at times people can be so caught up in the role they are playing that the emotions we encounter in real life are provoked. On the other hand it can become simply an intellectual exercise and you are practicing making decisions a ‘cold” state, whilst in real life you will often be making those same decision under pressure and in the grip of some level of emotion.

When we are in our rational intellectual ‘cold’ state you are not a good predictor of how you will react when emotions are raised – along perhaps with your blood pressure! The only way you can reliably know how you will respond under pressure is to be under  pressure.

When at Horsanity we ask you to be a leaders with the horses you are not being asked to play at a role, but to actually take  up that role. The situation may be different but we are challenging you a little, moving you outside of your comfort zone just enough, when you ask a 600kg animal to put their trust in you and follow you of their own free will. When you work with others and the horses as a team you need to be fully aware of your emotions, reactions or responses. You need to manage uncertainty, frustration, non verbal communication, ability to impart clear intent and vision, and to be emotionally agile.

We are often asked “What can I learn about leadership from horses?”. The better question is “What can I learn about myself whilst leading a horse?”

Welcome to Horsanity

Over the last couple of years my attention has been taken up by developing Horsanity (both as a mental state and as a business) and this blog has been out in the back paddock quietly grazing, waiting for the day I am ready to pay it more attention.

Now it is being brought in, given a quick brush and a bucket of oats and is ready to take up its role as the official Horsanity blog .

At the moment we are getting ready to welcome the participants in the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s “ignite Pharmacy Leadership” program to our venue at Tashkent Friesians, located in Dungog  in the Hunter Valley. We have been involved with this fabulous program since its inception but up till now the workshop has been conducted in Victoria. the purpose of the program is to “spark innovation and influence the future”. The eight month program commences with the Horsanity workshop where participants build an awareness of them selves as a leader, develop non verbal communication skills, emotional intelligence and emotional agility, They arrive as a group of individuals and leave as a team.

 

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The problem with Vulnerability

Like many people I first came across the work of Brene Brown through her TedEx Huston presentation (which at 13 055 030 and counting on the Ted platform alone is one of the most watched Ted talks ever) and have since dived in very deep to her work. There often seems to be two worlds in which knowledge operates. One if the academic world where a lot of rigor is placed around primary research, literature review and writing dry dense academic papers that are off-putting and intimidating for the large majority of readers, where the other is the free-form, largely unreferenced, highly anecdotal but highly accessible writing of various individuals who’s credentials are not always obvious and sometimes dubious.  What I love about  Brene Brown’s work is that it grows from her academic work, but it is so accessible to us all that it can touch and influence so many lives.

She does not run the Guru model. As someone talking to us about vulnerability she never claims to have beaten it, to have the the 5 tips to invulnerability, the 10 fail-safe strategies for overcoming imperfection, rather she makes herself entirely vulnerable and allows us to see her imperfect self. Good on her !

So what is the problem with vulnerability? Actually the problem is with our interpretation of the word, our confusion of it with weakness. As I am want to do, I googled the definition of vulnerability for its usage outside of the context of personal growth. Before I started the first phrase that had jumped to my mind was “the castle defenses were vulnerable to attack through the postern gate ” (don’t ask me why, perhaps because I went to school near a castle and I still carry a lot of baggage from my school years, fondly though I mostly remember them) which for attackers was perhaps better that the sewer! As we might also say something like the postern gate was a weak point in the castle’s defenses the mind goes “hmm they are vulnerable because there is a weak spot, therefor to be vulnerable is to be weak”.

So, Oxford Dictionary definition of vulnerable

“exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally: we were in a vulnerable position, small fish are vulnerable to predators”

Exposed to the possibility of attack! Wow. Every time you put forth a new idea, every time you are required to give or ask for feedback, every time you create something new or open your heart to someone you are exposed to the possibility of attack (or something that feels like attack) but if you do it anyway that is not being weak, that is being courageous.

I love this little clip about changing  language for better understanding “A new sign for Vulnerability”

And because new life is always vulnerable, young Renlyn TK, 3 days old 29 December 2013

Renlyn day three

New Beginnings

So 2013 is over and my facebook feed is full of New year Wishes for 2014. As it is also the year of the Horse again, a lot of those wishes are horse shaped. So ever hopeful my photoshop expertise would suddenly be enhanced by neglect I attempted to create my own Year of the Horse New Year Card.

This little guy is Renlyn TK, born 26/12/2013 photographed on 1/1/2014 and galloping into the New Year full of expectation.

New Year copy

 

I guess it is one of those “the only way is up” moments. The “if your try you may fail, but if you don’t try you have failed before you start” or perhaps “treat every failure as a lesson”.

My New years Resolution is (alongside the perennials that aren’t even worth mentioning)  to pay some serious attention to my post processing skills and source some one to teach me.

 

A Blank Slate

I’m a little distracted at the moment. It is that time of the year when my sleep is disturbed by the constant beep, beep, beep that demands I get out of bed, search around for my clothes, find the torch and stumble over to the yards. There I am greeted by a hopeful face (green eyes glowing back at me from the torch light) that was having a but of a rub and on hearing the house door open has been alerted to the possibility of a midnight snack.

Just occasionally the alarm has done its job and instead of the hungry hippo I am greeted by the shape of a grunting beached whale and it is on. I grab the iodine and settle in to ensure all goes smoothly.

The first of four arrived this week, at 1.00 am Monday morning to be precise. He has his whole life ahead of him, I wonder what will be written on his slate?

Djohari and Rozze (1024x942)