Category Archives: The story

Chapter 2 Brendon

Brendon

He woke up quickly as always, out of bed and half-dressed before his eyes were even fully opened. His mind playing catch-up with his body he started to think about the day he had planned with Andrew, his executive coach and leader of the Leadership development program Brendon and instigated. They worked well together. Andrew understood Brendon’s leadership philosophy. In fact back in school days they had played in the same football team though Andrew had long since given up football whilst Brendon still needed that hard physical outlet to clear his head and prove to himself he was still alive. Nothing like being ground into the dirt to make you realise you were a living breathing red blooded male! Brendon is a big believer in the benefit of team work, strong leadership, encouragement and engagement. His approach seemed to work well with most of his male managers, though not all, but he was perplexed at why the same approach was not working with his extremely capable female managers. He was particularly concerned about Gemma. She had come into his section as a future star. Bright and capable she had an excellent record and fast promotion but she seemed to be floundering. Brendon frequently threw her opportunities in meetings to show what she knew, what she could do, but she always backed away from the openings he gave her. The more he encouraged her the worse it got. She had also started to get some adverse ratings from her direct reports. It wasn’t that she was unhelpful or rode them too hard, it was that she could be moody and unpredictable, suddenly coming down hard on someone for some minor thing.

When Andrew had first suggested Anna and Lex and their Equine Leadership Workshops he had thought it sounded like a good day out for a bit of team building but Andrew convinced him there was more to it than that. That in fact working with the horses had been deeply transformational for Andrew himself and he knew the power of it. Brendon just hoped no-one got kicked, bitten or trampled on in the course of the day.

Cloud hung back at the edge of the herd as the morning feeds were dispensed. She let them jostle and push before she moved up to the last remaining bowl Unfortunately it was uncomfortably close to Ostara as none of the other horses wanted to be in striking distance, but Anna had made sure there was plenty of room between bowls so whilst she could never relax, her concentration always on the chestnut mare, Cloud was able to eat most of her feed before Ostara, having finished her own, chased her away from it.

As they had got nearer to the farm, Brendon’s excitement and worry and increased equally. He really relished the idea of being outside instead of stuck in a huge air-conditioned building like a million others but for slight difference in décor and design and doing something new was always interesting. On the other hand he needed to get to the heart of the problem with Gemma. He had been told if her ratings didn’t improve quickly she would be moved out of his department and he knew he needed her expertise. If only he could “fix” what was wrong with her. He knew she was dedicated and put in long hours, but her team were losing faith in her and the whole sections engagement scores were suffering. He looked across at her and saw her gaze out the window and a small frown came to his face. She glanced his way, seeming to feel his look so he turned way quickly to look out his own window.

It was good to see Anna and Lex again. He had met them briefly in the city when they had scoped out the day but this was the first time he had seen them on the farm. How capable they both looked. It gave him a lot of confidence.

The horse milled around in the arena for a while, they hadn’t been in there for a while so first they needed to check it out. Cloud was interested in the group of people under the awning, she knew Anna was there and she could smell the slight hint of liquorice coming from Anna’s direction. Lost in a licorice dream she failed to notice Ostara until she saw the teeth coming at her, then the wheel and kick. One hoof caught her squarely in the chest before she was able to get out the way. The two young geldings, excited by the circumstances started a mock battle, running and rearing and generally taking up space so Cloud moved away to the edge till things had settled down and she could slowly re-join the herd.

Chapter 2 Brendon part 2

After fiddling around with the halter (how could such a  simple bit of equipment be so hard to deal with) for about ten minutes, putting it on and off the patient old gelding, Brendon finally had it mastered. His job was to approach one of the horses, catch it  and put the halter on and lead it back to the group. He was glad he was going first, leading by example. He watched Anna when she had caught Ostara and led her away and again when she had collected Hunter and brought him over for the halter lesson. He was confident it would get this done quickly and give the others something to aspire too. Nothing like a bit of rivalry to bring out the best in the team. He’d had his eye on Jelani from the start.

Muscular and gleaming, a haughty look, he looked like a man’s horse. A horse that people would be in awe of and would thus know his master was also a person to be reckoned with.

Lex selected the grey mare Cloud for him to work with,  however, and that was ok too. She looked a sweet gentle thing and he was sure she would respond well to him. He set off confidently the way he had seen Anna do and as he got close he held out the halter and rope to Cloud expecting her to turn her head into him and allow him to slip it  over her head. Hunter had responded to his offering the halter and he saw no reason the mare would behave differently. Of course Hunter was already caught and just standing there having the halter taken on and off, but that was a minor technicality.

To his surprise instead of turning to him, Cloud turned away and stepped just out of reach. She didn’t run from him. She didn’t seem scared of him, she just stayed outside of his grasp. He moved round where he was sure she could see him, remembering the safety lecture and the discussion about how horses see and where their blind spots are but again she just stayed outside of his reach. He turned to look back at Anna for guidance and as he did so he felt rather than heard a movement behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Cloud had moved closer to him so he turned to her thankfully to catch her and dammit if she didn’t immediately move away from him.

Perplexed as to what to do he nether less kept trying. He  was patient, he knew about waiting for the right moment but they continued in their odd little dance around the arena. Eventually Anna came up to help.. “What are you offering her Brendon?”  I’m giving her the opportunity to see I have patience and I am not going to hurt her, I’m just offering her the chance to let me catch her so we can stop all this walking around. “What have you changed since the beginning? “ Well nothing, I am just being patient. “ Was there any moment when things were different?” Well yes when I turned my back on her, she almost came up to me. “So what do you think she felt that was different at that moment”. Brendon thought about it for a while but still could not quite see what it was so Anna explained to him again about how horses are very sensitive to the energy we put out and that they can perceive energy as pressure. Brendon didn’t  think he had been putting out a lot of energy. He didn’t wave his arms like he saw Anna do when she was getting the whole heard to move earlier. His step had been slow and measured, he hadn’t raised his voice.

“What about your intent and your focus?” Anna asked.

Brendon thought about it and realised he has been intensely focused on what he was doing, In fact other  than he and the mare nothing else had existed. He had forgotten about the others, even about the other horses, all his attention had been focused on the mare.

“Your energy is pushing her away “ said Anna. It’s not that she is running away from you, but she is not comfortable being near you. She  is just hanging out where it feels safe to her.

With Anna’s help he went back to his task but this time being alert to slight changes in the mare and giving her opportunities to come to him by giving her room rather than always putting the pressure on her. When she finally let him catch her he felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Not that he had caught her, but that he had earned her trust. In the following debrief he was very interested to hear Gemma say how she often felt like the mare when in meetings with Brendon. He got an insight into why she seemed to be getting worse not better under his encouragement and started thinking about what he could do to change his approach, not just to Gemma, but by looking for the small signs people were giving him so he could modify the amount of energy he was directing at them.

Later he watched Gemma working with Jelani and was shocked when she suddenly exploded and yelled at the horse. Now I understand the problems with that team, he thought. This is something Gemma really needs to work on, how to stand her ground, not be pushed around till she feels she has to lash out to make room for herself. I shall have to talk to Andrew to see is he knows of a program she could do to learn to firm up. It’s not a problem I really understand, as firming up has never been an issue for me, it just feels natural.

On the bus on the way back to the city Brendon is deep in thought. He really felt the horses cut through all the head talk. It was one thing to be told something or to role play it but the reactions from the horses were real. And he was still quite taken with the image of himself astride a great black horse like Jelani. Perhaps he could take up riding as a new sport now he wasn’t so fast on the football field any more. He watched the cross country jumping at the Olympics and that looked like a really exciting sport that took guts and determination. His daughter would be delighted, she had been pestering for riding lessons for a year, It would be something they could do together.

As the sun set Cloud enjoyed the last of her dinner. This time she had managed to get a bowl well way from Ostara so she could relax a bit more. It felt good to be just hanging out with the herd.

Chapter Three Anna

Anna

“I had a dream”. Anna wonders how many times Martin Luther King has been misquoted. I had a dream suggests something finished. Either the dream has been realised or not, but the dream itself is past tense. “I have a dream” is so much more powerful. Something is being created in the now. When Anna was a young girl, she had a dream. There were variations that ranged from Olympic Glory to living on the vast plains of some unnamed country sat bared legged, almost centaur like, on a wiry little pony. No matter the setting the heart of the dream was always anchored in the connection between her and her horse. The link that bound them together and surmounted difficulties like language and species.

Of course that was a little girls dream.

Boarding school, University, marriage, a corporate career, all the usual mundane tasks filled Anna’s days for years. Horses were always a part of it, sometimes fleetingly, a stolen glance when driving past a paddock full, sitting glued to the TV in the early hours of the morning watching others sail over fences or dance around the arena in Top hat and Tails. Then more permanently culminating in the founding of her own small horse stud.

But there was something missing.

During her career seemingly chained to her desk, Anna’s horses were her solace. Whilst she was careful not to go straight from a particularly frustrating day, the sort that left her angry and brittle, to the horses, she found that once she had taken the edge off herself with something physical, just by spending time with them it calmed her and enabled her to think more clearly. The refrain from “Drift Away” played in her head but  it wasn’t just the beat of a rock and roll tune that could carry her away it was also the beat of galloping hooves and the strong hearts of her horses.

Day after day I’m more confused;
I look for the light in the pouring rain.
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose.
I’m feelin’ the strain; ain’t it a shame?

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul;
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.
Give me the beat, boys, to soothe my soul;
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.

“Drift Away” by Mentor Williams, 1970


I need something different she had thought, something more. Something where I can really make a difference not this endless round of petty politics, pressure to produce without the proper resources or structure to support us. I feel trapped in a box I can’t break out of and its walls are getting closer and closer, squeezing me. What a relief it was then when Anna’s company launched into a coaching and development process. Anna’s mind latched on to this, for her, new field like a magnet, irresistibly drawn. Ever the researcher, the seeker she decided to take the jump out of her well-worn groove and take up a new career.

But still there was something missing.

A chance meeting with Lex changed all that. They met because of a horse Anna had for sale and as she was checking Lex out to see if she was a suitable candidate to take on a young horse, Anna discovered Lex was a gifted development coach of many years’ experience and part of her motivation in bringing horses back into her own life was her interest in the developing field of Horse Assisted Education and Leadership Development. It was one of those moments where you feel a jolt. This is “it”.  It wasn’t the first time Anna had come across the field, but she wasn’t ready for it at that time. She was only newly out of her old career and feeling vulnerable, not ready to take her relationship with her horses out of the private realm and turn it into to something shared. Sure she bred and sold horses but that was a completely different dynamic.

Hunter wickers softly, waiting for the answering calls. The sun is starting to creep above the horizon and the small herd is restless, waiting for a sign the humans are one the move and soon to deliver the morning feeds. One of the youngsters, impatient, starts to bang a stable door with a hoof, while the broodmares jiggle the gate of their paddock. Foals, oblivious to the timing of delivered feed, are content to butt their dams in the flank to get the milk flowing more freely.

Anna works her way efficiently through the morning routine. Everyone standing on 4 legs? Check. Pump not running constantly. Check. Everyone fed. Check.

The mixed herd to be used for the days’ workshop are given a quick brush and then let back out in to the holding paddock. They bicker a little amongst themselves. Ostara, always the bully makes her presence felt, but knows better than to take on the patriarch, Hunter. He may not throw his weight around the way she does, but she won’t mess with him. Funny how despite his higher position in the herd pecking order than her own, the young ones are content to hang around with him but give her a wide berth.

Most of Anna’s clients are not horse people and Ostara is only used in the initial observation exercise, but occasionally there is someone who has a lot of expertise with horses and runs through the basic exercises with ease so Ostara is a useful to offer them a bit of a challenge and get them out of the “horse person” space.

Anna turns her mind to the day’s workshop. She met with Lex, Andrew and Brendon a month ago to work out the general plan for the day.  She has been working with Andrew for a while and knows he is well versed as to when a client is ready for this type of work. There needs to be an openness and awareness though there is nothing wrong with a bit of skepticism. Until people have actually worked with the horses it is difficult to conceive how the process works. Brendon came across as a force of nature. Elemental even within his sombre business suit. He was enthusiastic about the work he and his team have been doing with Andrew but Anna could feel his energy beating at her in waves, much like a young colt bouncing around on the end of a rope. As Andrew was describing some of the issues in his team Anna could already see how that intenseness could be felt as intimidating by some, despite its positive intent.

She gives Jelani and Khan a quick stroke as she passes them and holds her hand out to Hunter, who drops his heads and rests it against her chest and she tips her head so they are forehead to forehead.  Drawing on the peace of that moments she centers herself, ready for the day ahead.


Chapter 1 Gemma (part 2)

Gemma waits till the others have filed off the bus, then follows them out into the sunshine. At first she is a bit dislocated, not quite able to determine what is different, then realises that she cannot detect the constant hum that seems to surround her in the city, even when in one of the many green spaces where she takes her run. In fact she was not really aware that the hum even existed until now when it isn’t there. Instead she is conscious of how loud the bird calls are, how she can hear the slight rustle of leaves in the almost imperceptible breeze and the scent on the air that is part fresh cut grass but underlayed with something more earthy, more pungent. The others have already moved over to a group of chairs sat under an awning. In a familiar ritual they are helping themselves to coffees and teas, chatting, a bit nervously, and waiting for the introductions to start. Andrew the consultant who runs their Leadership program is talking to Brendon but she cannot see anyone else, or in fact anything else other than a largish enclosed area of grass, a shed and a smaller timber round shaped yard. What are they going to be doing? Not a hike up into those hills surely? Then she notices two women approaching from the shed, just as Andrew does and raises his hand in greeting. The women join them. Good morning Andrew, Brendon. You are a little early, clearly the traffic out of the city was good this morning”.

Andrew turns to the group and introduces the two women. “I know you have all been wondering what today was about but I am not the best one to explain it. I’d like to introduce you to Anna and Lex. I have been working with them and their team for a couple of years and have been excited by the impact their work has had on leaders.”  Lex goes onto explain that their “team” comprises a bunch of horses.  She explains why they are part of the process and that it is not about ability to ride or train the horses, but rather how the horses are an integral part of the process in partnership with the human coaches and the participants. Gemma doesn’t quite get it, she thinks they are somehow crediting the horses with human qualities, anthropomorphising them or something. Expecting Mr Ed to be on the scene, but it’s a lovely day and she is prepared to enjoy the respite from the unrelenting pressure of the workplace.

Anna and Lex are well aware that many of the participants, despite a show of bravado, can be quite intimidated by the large equines. The morning activities start with observational exercises with the group of horses and the group of people separated by a sturdy fence. Gemma is surprised at how quickly they all lose themselves into the activity. The skilful questions of the coaches, Anna and Lex, about what they are observing and feeling and how it relates back to their organisation draws them into spirited discussion. Whilst there is much laughter it is also obvious that there is great insight.

Jelani stands resting one hind leg, watching the group of strange humans. The mornings pattern was familiar. He had been let into the arena with the rest of the small herd and they had explored and settled before being asked to move around by Anna. He made sure he didn’t get too close to Ostara but he’d nipped Khan on the leg to  make him move and then had a mock fight with him rearing and snaking his neck. It was all in good fun and now Kahn stood next to him, head over his wither. Hunter was mutually grooming with Ostara and Spock was stamping at a fly that was annoying him. Cloud was hovering on the edge of his sight. Ostara had chased her off and she was clearly feeling a bit nervous about coming back close. He pricked his ears as Anna approached with halter but relaxed again as she placed it on Ostara and led her away. Ostara was good to have in the observation exercise but as the other horses were a bit hyper wary of her things went much better for the rest of it if she was not part of the activity. The herd was able to relax a bit more without the feisty mare present.

It is now time for a bit of hands on and Lex, after assessing the group called on Brendon to undertake the first task. “I want you to catch and halter the grey mare and bring her over here.” Brendon confidently strides out halter in hand. They have been shown how to put it on and practiced with Hunter, so he knows the mechanics of it. He’d enjoyed the feel of the horses hide under his hand and likes the look of the pretty mare, This is going to be easy. Cloud watches him intently and as he gets within a few feet of her she turns her head away and moves off just out of reach. Brendon follows her, moving round so he is not directly behind her in her blind spot, as he has been instructed, but she keeps moving just out of reach. He stops, frustrated. She stops and looks at him. He moves towards her again, this time a bit more slowly but still just as he seems within reach, she moves off, keeping just far enough away. He turns frustrated and steps towards the group and Cloud, behind his back, turns and takes a step towards him. He senses her closer and turns back quickly and she hops away. He sighs. He is frustrated but full of good intention. He embarks again up their little dance but always she remains just outside his grasp. Anna goes out to talk to him but the group cannot hear what is said. Anna stays with him and talks him through and eventually Cloud stands and lowers her head for him to slip on the halter. She follows a beaming Brendon back to the group. Lex then debriefs Brendon and the group on his and their observations. Being very careful to let them explore both what was going through their minds and what they were feeling in their body. Particularly of course Brendon. Gemma volunteered that she felt herself being in Cloud’s shoes. That often Brendon, made her feel a bit insecure so that in meetings she would not volunteer her thoughts. Brendon looked at her quizzically and became thoughtful but she was not sure if he was thinking about her reactions to him, or his effect on her.

A few more of the team worked through some exercises with Lex and Anna. Sometime the others just observed one person, other times there were activities going on simultaneously. Gemma was content to just observe, She was feeling just a little in awe of the horses, a bit nervous, so when volunteers were called for she let others step in ahead of her. Once she went to volunteer but as another team member raised their hand she put hers down. Plenty of time, she would wait her turn. After the next coffee break Anna turned to her and said “Gemma, it is your turn to work with Jelani” “Oh, can I work with Cloud?” Gemma asked. She really felt a bond with the pretty grey mare that she identified so much with during the exercise with Brendon. “She is a lovely mare, said Anna, but I think today it is Jelani you need to work with”. Gemma gulped. She had been watching the big young black gelding. He was not the tallest horse in the group but he was by far the most imposing. She admired him greatly but found him a bit intimidating. She remembered him wondering off to find a patch of grass quite oblivious to the person holding his lead rope, ineffectually trying to get him to follow them over to the group of people. Anna passed her the lead and Gemma stood trying to calm her nerves. Jelani turns to look at her and tenses ever so slightly. “Stroke him” says Anna. Gemma puts her hand up tentatively and lightly touches him. His skin shivers and she jumps back half a step. Jelanis’s head goes up and he shuffles on his feet. “A bit firmer, you tickled him like a fly” Says Anna.  This time Gemma just places her hand on his shoulder, leans into it just slightly so she can feel the warmth of his skin. Her heart is racing a little so she just slows her breathing, gradually relaxing and as she does so feels his corresponding relaxation as he lowers his head and cocks a hind leg. They stand like that for a few moments, both just savouring being.

“Come round and stand directly in front of him” says Anna. I want you to stand looking at him at a distance that feels comfortable. Not touching him. Gemma takes up her position and waits for the next instruction.  Jelani takes a step and moves in closer.  Gemma takes half a step back. “Keep the same distance”  says Anna. Gemma takes another half step so she is now the same distance from Jelani’s head as she started. He steps forwards, she steps back and stops, he steps forwards, she steps back. Suddenly she feels the fence against her back, she cannot step back any further. Where can she go? Can she slip under the fence? Go sideways perhaps, bring him round so they go along the fence. While she is thinking about how she can obey the instruction to “Keep the same distance” Jelani takes a step forward and nudges her in the stomach with his nose. She panics. She is pressed up against the fences, she has nowhere to go and she feels she is literally going to be crushed so she throws the rope in his face and yells “Piss off, get out of my face!” Jelani, shocked, jumps back and snorts at her. One minute she was submissively giving way to him and he was just about to use her  to get a really good scratch for his itchy forehead and then out of nowhere she exploded. He didn’t even feel the energy build up till it was too late. Lucky he was just a step ahead of her and already jumping back when she attacked him with the rope! “What happened there?” asks Anna, “What could you have done differently? Where else does this happen. And it hits Gemma that this exactly the pattern she experiences with her team at work. As she feels the pressure building up from the demands on her time she retreats and retreats until she cannot stand it anymore and it explodes. Sometimes it is at her team, which at least buys her some space, though it can be a bit hard after as they walk round her on eggshells but other times it is Jack or the children that suddenly get the tongue lashing after the small infraction that just seems the last straw in the load that has been building all day. And it makes her feel horrible, drained.

Anna takes the rest of the afternoon working with Gemma on firming up with Jelani. About holding her bubble of space by the strength of her will, by early correction. About recognising that he would still test her occasionally to see if she was still of the same mind, but that that was alright. Jelani, like her team will , gets more focussed and comfortable as he learns she will be consistent, that he can do his job, secure in the knowledge she will do hers. As Gemma rides home on the bus she replays the feeling of being in control of herself that she experienced with Jelani and knows that it is feeling she can cultivate back ‘in the real world’ . And she wonders if she get hold of some DVDs of Saddleclub for her daughter! She never knew how much you could learn from horses.

As the sun sets, Jelani chases the last grain around his feed bowl with his top lip, then scrubs the bottom with his tongue, trying to find a few more bits of goodness. It’s been a  good day. His belly is full and nothing ate him.

Chapter 1 Gemma

Gemma tips her head forward and rolls her shoulders back and down, feeling the stretch temporarily relieve  the ache in her neck. Lifting her head she flicks her eyes to the clock. 6:45. She feels the beginnings of a panic but it is subsides when she remembers that Jack is picking up the children tonight, along with getting the evening meal under way . When she gets home it is her turn to just flop into the chair with a glass of wine. 6:50. Another hour and she will call it a day. And what a day it has been. Though nothing unusual there. Every day these days seems to be just a long ordeal of competing urgencies. When she took on her first management role she was so relieved to be free of the seemingly mindless repetition of her job. She knew what a bad manager was, she seemed to have been managed by every variant at one time or another. She was going to be different. She knew it in her core. How long ago was that? What happened to that young woman full of hope. The one who now catches herself acting and saying things just like those “bad” managers of the past, the same way she hears her mother’s words coming out of her mouth when she talks to her children.

Part of the reason she is still sitting at her desk tonight, trying to get the last report finished now she has the building to herself, or at least her small corner of it, is tomorrow she is off on another leadership development offsite. She’s been involved in a company wide program for a while and it has brought a great deal of awareness but has also added to the pressure. When she was numb she could  ignore the lost ideals and deal with the expediencies required to just get the job done. Gemma is aware she is floundering in this new awareness. She can intellectualise what she is learning, she can even feel it deeply when involved in session with the others in the leadership team, but she has trouble holding onto to it when back in her  own space, faced with her team who do not , as yet, speak the same language. How can she “be” with them in the same way she is with her coach when they have no common language? Maybe tomorrow will be different. There has been some secrecy about what is in store. Hopefully not another rope course!

Jelani chases the last flecks of grain around the bowl with his upper lip until he positions it just so and can finally get it in his mouth. He hopefully scrubs the bowl with his tongue but eventually convinced there are no more joys to be found there, he lifts his head and listens intently before moving off to find some new tips of grass to pinch off with his teeth. Today has been a good day. His belly is full and nothing ate him. Not that he consciously thinks about being eaten or is aware he hasn’t been. He just knows that he has been as vigilant as required to keep himself feeling safe. He walks over towards Hunter, intent on a mutual scratch, sidestepping quickly when he walks to close to Ostara an she flicks and ear in his direction, all the warning he needs. He knows the speed with which that ear can be backed up with hard quick feet. Content he drifts into a doze, the comforting sounds of his little heard around him.

“And that was a blast from the past, Dolly Parton and the classic 9 – 5. Coming up next News and Weather” Gemma snuggles down under the covers for a few more seconds. Milking the half-awake half asleep moment for as long as she can. 9 to 5? Whose cruel idea of a joke is that on breakfast radio? More like 5 to 9. Again the automatic flick of the eyes to the clock. 4:30. Has she got time to fit in a quick run? No, she has to be up and out before she gets caught up with lost homework and missing shoes or whatever other small drama that is sure to happen if she delays. Not even out of bed yet and already the pressure she feels like a palpable force replaces the magic of sleepy oblivion. What will the activity be today, when demands will it place on her?

The sun is warming on his back and he leans into the feel of the coarse brush that is so much gentler than Hunters teeth but still make his skin feel good. Anna looks at him and quickly raises her fingers slightly and he steps over obligingly to allow her to walk around to his other side to continue the rhythmic brushing. “Going to work your magic today?” she asks. He doesn’t understand her words but he feels the slight difference in her voice that tells him today is not a day of standing around in the paddock, flicking at flies with his tail, searching out the most succulent bits of grass and keeping out of Ostara’s way. Today something different will happen. A slight thrill of unease goes through him. Different requires a need to be more consciously alert. Different is the warning, the leopard moving through the dappled sunlight of the forest, the Lion waking with an empty stomach and scenting the wind for prey, the wolf pack circling on silent feet. Not that he, Jelani, or any of his ancestors for hundreds of years have encountered large predators intent on making a meal of him and his kind, but still the environment and the beings in it must be constantly scanned. Who knows what dangers lurk in the blowing plastic bag or the deep shadow beneath a bush from where small scratching noises come.  He takes his cue from his herd mates and the strange two legged creatures that share his life. Both those like Anna who is a daily part of his life and those others that visit from time to time. He can read the energy pulsing through them even when he does not know its cause. He can feel it like a physical forces as it ebbs and flows, the difference between determined intent or trembling fear. It is not his unique talent. Every member of his herd, of his species, has the ability, the need to live in that way. Some react by trying to shut it out, unable to cope with all the sensory information, like an autistic child, developing repetitive patterns to close out the world, or become dull and unresponsive. Others become hyper alert, so called “difficult” cases, unsafe for people to be around unless they are very skilled. Others, like Jelani, live with human energy as part of their world, just another element process and react to accordingly.

It has been a long drive out of the city. As the familiar streets  and surging traffic fall behind, the roads narrowing and the houses giving way to fields Gemma’s heart starts to sink a little. It is another rope challenge or some other activity involving them all becoming a team for the day to work out some challenge quite unlike anything they encounter back in the office. Yes there are skills to be tested and some of them are directly transferable but in the end ropes are not people. They do not have minds of their own (even if it feels like it sometimes).  A rope is just a tool, something you work on, not with. And, of course, Brendon is here.  Brendon the organiser, larger than life. Always ready to help a team mate but somehow always intimidating even in his concern. A natural athlete, seemingly without fear, and her bosses boss. His very presence makes Gemma want to curl up and hide, she can feel herself shrinking.

The bus turns into a driveway lined by black painted fences behind which a few large black horses stand, heads raised, ears pricked, looking at the bus. Small foals scramble to their feet when one of the horses snorts loudly, and in an instant all of them turn and run  a few meters from the fence before turning and looking back at the bus. Then dropping their heads to start grazing again, the foals burrowing  under their mothers for a quick drink, before staring a game of chase.  Gemma is fascinated.  Somehow the pony stage passed her by. While her school friends were glued to the Saddleclub on TV or being run around to riding schools by their parents, Gemma was immersed in her music. Learning scales and fingering had been tedious but as her skills had developed she had found she could escape into the music in ways she could not without it vibrating through her body. She didn’t play anymore, who has the time to keep up the practice needed for effortlessness, but she can still be transported by the music of others. Horses however remain a mystery. A little unnerving in the way Brendon can be in fact. Their very large physicality somehow threatening, even if dosing half a sleep. Half a ton of muscle just ready to leap into action and equipped with hard hooves and big teeth. She looks over at Brendon, expecting to see the usual “bring it on ‘ look on his face and is surprised to see the slight tenseness of the wrinkle in his brow. Brendon is the only one who knows what is planned for today and it does not fill her with courage to see him look the way he does before a particularly hard meeting when he knows he does not hold the strongest position.