Category Archives: The story

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.