Tag Archives: coaching

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

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.