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.