Tag Archives: Leadership

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!

 

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

The Future of Leadership or Future Leaders?

I had a discussion with a colleague about the expression “Future Leaders” the other day and as  it often is the discussion centered around our subjective interpretation. Her point was that we shouldn’t be waiting for some “future time” to become leaders, we are all potential leaders now. The seeds of leadership are in all of us, it is a matter of realizing them, not waiting for leadership to be bestowed on us sometime in the future.  That is the philosophical view that sits at the heart of what we do with the horsework at Horsanity. Providing an experience that opens people to their own internal  leadership capability and how that integrates with their outer world.

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My interpretation was not about bestowing leadership on someone in the future, but about generational change. Who will be the leaders we see “in the future” in both formal and informal positions of leadership, those at the helm of organisations , professions or social movements. The highly visible leaders. To become those visible leaders, these leaders of the future need to be opened to their leadership capability now. A reason for working not just with today’s recognised organisational leaders, but also with those at the beginning of a career, in junior positions, at University, at school. It is why I am so excited to be working with the Future Leader Ignite program of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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And then there is the question of what is required to be drawn forth from leaders “in the future”. What new as yet un-dreamt of challenges will they need to meet? It is thus with great interest I read a report by the World Economic Forum from the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership :

Tomorrow’s leaders will need to go beyond the limits of the system within which society operates today to perceive what those systems might become”

A new leadership space is opening that

will require a profound leader journey. At the heart of this journey is an inner and outer journey. The inner journey describes how the leader learns through reflection, mentoring and practice. The outer journey describes the crucible experiences in which leadership is forged and includes challenge, risk and working at the edge of the system“.

Enter Horsanity stage right!

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Building strength through self-compassion

In my former life I was given an assessment by my peers that my greatest “skill” was compassion. I reacted very negatively to this feed back. Compassion after all did not seem to have any direct correlation to boosting our revenue, to giving clients accurate and timely results, to being able to advise them from a position of knowledge and business acumen or even to being able to transfer my (apparently non existent) skills to other in the business, Clearly they could not  think of anything nice and businessy to say about me so they came up with something that seemed nice whilst backhandedly giving me a slap about the chops. I almost spat, like cat.

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And I continued to beat myself up about being a waste of space, a failure as a good little worker bee, as a human being, if the only thing I was good at was being compassionate.

Do you see the hole here?

I may well have been perceived as being compassionate to others but there wasn’t a whole lot of self compassion going on. What was going on was a whole lot of repression, of just push it down, keep a lid on it, ignore the pain, grin and bare it. Write out those to do lists,  repeat a few affirmations, but above all do not under any circumstances acknowledge the pain.

The truth is that I did have those other skills; except perhaps for being timely, that has always been a struggle for me. Not being “on time” to get somewhere, I’m generally pretty good at that, it’s a simple goal, but to weave complex threads together to finish in a timely manner without getting lost in a maze of side roads and rabbit holes as something attracts my interest.

In the end I could not contain it any more. I had to do something and that something was to leave my business and enter a new one where my outward focused compassion was perceived (by me) as a more positive attribute.

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And along the way I started to develop just a little bit of self compassion. Wow, you mean I can be kind to myself as well as to others! Surely not. Does that not mean I am just giving my self a bit of self pity, or an excuse to slack off, to be a wuss? Not at all. To be have self compassion is first to be aware of the pain you are feeling, to be mindful, to acknowledge with no judgement and to accept and be self comforting in order to be resilient. Not to hide the pain, suppress it, try and make it go away.  Rather like the description of courage as being afraid but doing what has to be done anyway.

Recently I have been following the work of Kristen Neff and finding it is helping to build a process to rely on around what was developing ad hoc.

 

 

Innovation and Creativity – A beginning

I was doing a bit of musing about some low-tech innovations that I am the beneficiary of but first need to take the photo that explains it, so when an article appeared in my inbox about creativity, innovation the neuroscientific understanding of the process, I thought I’d talk about creativity and innovation in general.

So lets get clear on what I mean by creativity.

I feel the need to do so because for many years I had a very narrow definition of what creativity meant. Where or how I picked it up I don’t know but it  is so deeply seated that it tries every now and again to steer my thinking. In my little universe I divided people into two types, those who are creative and those who aren’t. Those who are creative are artistic, and those that are artistic do one of two things, paint (and draw) or play music. So if someone said to me “you are so creative”, I’d bemusedly deny it as both playing music and drawing are way out of my skill set. And besides, I’m a scientist I’d say. (Even though it is many years since I have worked in any scientific capacity, I still identify myself that way which is is why I get so excited about Neuroscience articles). So sorry all you photographers, writers, film makers, dancers, cake decorators, knitters of the world according to DjD you are neither creative nor artistic.

How silly is that! I probably got told in an art class at primary school that I had no future as an artist and from then on art meant painting and I was hopeless at it.

Here are a few definitions of creative garnered from almighty Google

  1. Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative
  2. The tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others
  3. Any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one
  4. Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something
  5. Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas
  6. Generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed.

I particularly like the one from this mornings article “the purposeful generation and implementation of a novel idea”. Within an organisation that becomes valuable when it “results in a measurably useful outcome”. In fact we can all be creative (regardless of our ability to wield a hog bristle filbert) and we can develop our creativity given the right conditions.. Our organisations, our world, is crying out for us to increase our creativity in response to the ever increasing complexity of life. We need creativity to pervade everything from the response to how to improve customer service to tackling climate change and species extinction.

The first step –  Idea generation

A fallow field

After the rain

In traditional agriculture a field was left fallow (no crop) one year in three. A period of rest for the soil, that led to a stronger and more productive crop the following year. In order for creativity to flourish we need a fallow mind. Not an empty mind, a fallow field is not devoid of life, but one where there is space for new ideas to generate and be noticed. To put it another way, an open mind, a mind that is not overly constrained by rules. From a Neuroscience perspective – lower cognitive control. A playful mind

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When we take people out of their normal environment and into the paddock with our horses, we give them an opportunity to open their minds, to be a bit playful, to be unconstrained by the usual clutter of their work day mind. We offer them a fallow field in which to open to their creativity.

A Journey to Horsanity

Chances are if you are reading this, if you are not yet a horse owner, you are at the least someone who’s dreams resonate to the to sound of galloping hooves or the distant neigh on the wind. As horse owners, riders, lovers, dreamers  we are all, to some extent, aware of the almost mystical hold they have on us. In our horses we find something that talks to us without words, that binds us with emotion,  that both calms and excites our energy. It is not an accident that the horse has accompanied humans in their journey through the ages from wandering hunters to cubicle dwelling knowledge workers .

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Those ancient hunters did not have our sophistication of language, of tools, of machines to do some of our thinking for us. Rather, like the horse, they survived by being able to absorb and interpret the subtle changes in the world around them, to know without needing to analyze, to connect without having to explain. As we have flooded our bodies with the energy of our thinking brain, of our worry about the past, our concern about the multiples possibilities of the future, of the endless what if’s we have lost touch with being fully in the present with our bodies. We have silenced the messages of our emotions in response to everyday life and decisions, sidelining them into a small part of our lives, distrusting their power, their ability to trip up our rational, dispassionate, logical thoughts. Yet thoughts that do not listen to the messages of our energy, that rely purely on words, miss the largest part of what both others and our own bodies are trying to communicate.

Those of us lucky enough to have horses in our daily lives, even if not consciously aware of it, are able to take that metaphoric walk alongside the horse to that place where we can live in the now. By tuning into them, we tune out the maelstrom left over from our day at work. By joining the horse in the now, we find our own sanity.

Thus three women, corporate warriors all, were brought together through their knowing, from their horse sponsored sanity, to designs journeys for others to embark on; reigniting the creativity and innovation and leadership so much needed in our, doing, striving, busy corporate world. To bring together the wisdom of the horse and the creativity of the human. To open the doors of self-knowledge and awareness and to build paths to understanding and working with each other. To look not just at the individual but to look at the whole system in which they operate. To look at an organisation not as a machine which works like clockwork, each part meticulously carrying out it’s predetermined function, but as an organism that must always adjust and accommodate in order to reach peak performance. To take people out of their four walls into the paddock where they can reconnect with a forgotten or hidden self, but also take that approach back into the design of long term cultural change and leadership development initiatives.  To create Horsanity.

Love is 2

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I was going to say “got to love your job” but that would have been wrong on at least two counts. For a start I don’t think of what I do as “just a job”.  Having been able to meld my passion for my horses with a way to reach people and allow them to access their own passion for life through leadership, it is my life. Or part of it. The other part that has been keeping me away from the keyboard, and hence this blog, is my love of travel.

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Its been a very busy few weeks. It started with a seminar we,

Horsanity, facilitated at the magnificent

Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains. Its an extravagantly scenic location and 5 star facilities.

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From there I traveled to Daylesford in Victoria to attend an Equine Psychotherapy week long intensive. This was my final seminar leading to my accreditation as an Equine Learning Practitioner, Foundation Level based on a deep understanding of Gestalt principals.

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Then after all this forced time in gorgeous locations doing something I love I just had to take a holiday! I know, its a hard life but as they say, someone has to do it. The thing is though, its about choice. I remember the day I sat in front of my coach in my former business with the tears yet again streaming down my face saying “I have no choice, I can’t leave, I have loans to pay, obligations to people, I’d be letting people down” but he didn’t let me off the hook. There is always a choice, even doing nothing is a choice.

It took me awhile but to bring it to fruition but that day I finally made the choice to live a life that fills me with joy. Well most of the time, there are somethings you just have to knuckle down and do whether you like it or not, but as long as they are in service of your real intent then that’s ok, you can survive.

So where did I end up in my travels. Well after freezing my freckles off in a cold snap in Daylesford I melted them off at the other extreme in Kakadu and Kununurra taking in the scenery and wildlife.

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Just because ….

Its a bit hectic at the moment. Big workshop coming up and have been busy preparing all the materials, packing the car with all the extra equipment (there is just enough room left for me) and trying to get all the things done that need to be done (that for some reason I have left till the last minute) before you go away.

We are off to introduce a group of people to “horse time” and here I am wondering how to find some for myself.

We called the business Horsanity for a reason as it is the horses that bring the sanity to our otherwise hectic busy working lives and it pains me to be sitting here (supposedly typing up materials) instead of outside sopping up a bit of that. So just to indulge myself I’ll share a few photos of my therapists.

 

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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.