It could have been a coincidence, the stillness in the sky, the way the clouds seemed to stop travelling in defiance of the breeze, the two red kites circling symmetrically above, and the entrance of the group of four men and women into the field where the two horses grazed. Or perhaps it was the resonance of the human and horse hearts as they pulsed together in rhythm which flowed outward into the verdant valley, orchestrating the beauty and stillness of the scene.
They travelled on their two legs, lightly across the grass, connecting one by one with their four legged partners, Ted and Brock, bulky, towering horses with the softest of souls. Gentle invitations were made to join together. No need for greedy contact, possession, control or dominance. Linking via hands here and a cotton rope there, together and then apart, sometimes sitting low on the ground or high on a block, whether walking alongside horse, alongside human or all alone it mattered not. For the moving scene before us flowed and ebbed like soothing waves lapping on a clean, smooth shore. Brock and Ted, their hugest of hearts, their desire to belong to this temporary herd, their acceptance, presence, power and spirit palpable. We all bathed, witness and participant equally, in the healing essence of what it is to be horse, what it is to be human, and what it is to be purely happy to our core, in the most infinite of moments.
Such can be the quality of pure connection. When we understand that we are not ‘separate to’ but ‘part of’ and when we are able to embrace the vulnerability which this implies. When shared purpose isn’t about goals and objectives but an exploration and celebration of humanity and what it feels like to be part of a herd (human and horse) where trust is the oxygen. When our bodies understand what our minds know to be true, that presence is a foundation to self awareness and meaningful relationship. This is when we begin to comprehend our interconnection with all who are, and all that is. This, now, is the work of leadership. This, now, is how we make a difference to our selves, each other, our teams, our families and the world around us.
My gratitude to the Senior Leadership Team of Verevo CCN for permission to share the above description of just one of the transformational scenes which played out during their recent development experience with Equest.
Photographs courtesy of Justin Featherstone and Verevo CCN.
On the eve of Solstice 2020 my menagerie, which until then comprised three horses and two terriers, grew to include a Siamese kitten. Through a small miracle I saw this little ball of cream and black fluff at the forest edge when driving past at dusk. Whether abandoned or lost she was starving and recognised in me the one who would feed her. For the first two weeks, all she did was eat, sleep and ask to be held. Then she would curl in my arms and press her purring little body against me. Whether it was what she needed, or what she sensed I needed, I don’t know. But it was the most magical Christmas present I could have wished for.
The distancing, separation and isolation which the current situation imposes is felt by most of us at a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Humans are creatures who like to touch and be touched. When someone first begins to discover horses the impulse to stroke, pat and be nuzzled by them is intense. But horses, like cats (as I am learning) don’t always want to be touched. They don’t need physical contact, or even nearness, in the same way as we do in order to feel validated or to cement their bond. For a horse, connection goes much deeper than skin and fur. It is something which is made heart to heart, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. Some of the deepest moments of contact which I experience with my herd are often characterised, in fact, by distance rather than proximity. When they look across the field at me, hold me in their soft gaze and something fundamental between us is understood. That we are far from each other is part of the wordless, touchless power of the exchange.
I have taken learning and reassurance from this equine lesson as I settle into remote working. I don’t need to be in the same room as those I am coaching, or the same field, or even on the same continent. Like I do with the herd, and they with me, I can connect from afar. I can be present, contactful and bring meaning in spite of the miles. When you bring the contact of presence to your seat and your screen it is felt by those you face. They know that they matter. Presence, whether you are meeting in person or not, is at the core of relationship. Having a practise of presence as we navigate the new channels carved out by the health crisis also helps us to stay connected with ourselves, balancing the alienation of isolation. By being present to those who face you each day you can create a space in which both of you will feel restored.
That does not mean, of course, that I don’t regret the temporary absence of my horses in my work. Unfortunately my office is not quite big enough to invite them in. However, I endeavour to bring the clarity, wisdom, grounding and calmness which they exude. And who knows, one day soon, when she is brave enough to leave the barn and enter the house, I and my clients may be joined instead by a small Siamese cat …
Contactful coaching is available remotely from the Equest team on request. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Contact of Presence - an open workshop exploring the power of presence in face-to-face and remote leadership is scheduled for Thursday 24 September subject to prevailing travel restrictions.
Pam’s second book The Spirit of the Horse, More Stories of Life, Love and Leadership will be published on March 16th by Blackbird Books. Available for pre-order from all good online retailers and from bookstores.
December blog and end of year wishes
The year has been and very almost gone, with the bruise of Covid leaving a mark on our lives, its hue ever-changing but never quite disappearing completely. There have been black days, blue days and then days when just the faintest tinge showed. Many days too when the kindness of people and the magnificence of nature brought great happiness. Hopeful optimism, adaptability, perseverance and creativity have come to the fore, too. And perhaps now we appreciate much which, previously, we may have taken for granted.
A phrase which seems to have punctuated many of the conversations I’ve been involved in is ‘… something to look forward to…’ Whether at moments when someone is sharing the bleakness of losing social contact: ‘I feel as if I have nothing to look forward to …’ Or when mustering positivity for the future, a return to doing what we love doing: ‘…that will be something to look forward to … ’ This fluctuation between feeling emptiness and hopefulness, has been one of the emotional signatures for the year.
What does this ‘something to look forward to’ mean to each of us? A rest? A reward? A goal? A holiday? A buzz of adrenaline? A change? Human contact? A family get-together? An achievement? It can be many things, varying for different people at different times. But whatever it is which we gladly anticipate, the implication is that it is better than what we are experiencing right now. And expecting it makes the ‘right now’ more palatable. The future desire brings us hope, strength, excitement, resilience, perseverance.
Awareness of this reliance on looking forward to events made me reflect, too, on those in the world for whom existence is about survival and there is no place for pleasure. A deepening sense of gratitude has developed over the year for what I have, even without being able to enjoy, right now, many of the things I cherish: seeing my family including a new great-nephew, carrying out my usual work, even sitting at a local cafe with friends watching the world go by. The suspension of planning the many ‘somethings’ which, ordinarily, I would have been looking forward to has made room for a more profound savouring of the moment, a rootedness in the right now, an acceptance of changing priorities and a need for self care and the care of others.
So, as we approach the holidays, whether you are able to enjoy what you usually might have done or not, I wish you peaceful, joyful moments in which you can immerse yourself, whatever the future might hold and however the year has affected you. May the New Year too bring a newness which refreshes and finds you restored.
Reflecting on this delicate process of ‘belonging’ within the herd, I was reminded how long it takes to build up real trust between two creatures or for that matter two people. That it grows organically with the seasons.
If you are doing a job which you used to love with a passion, but now leaves you uninspired and performing less well than you are used to, you might be feeling as if you have ‘lost your mojo.’
But where on earth do you start to turn things round?
Working experientially with horses you are on the fast track to mindfulness without even knowing it.
Ellie was old and died of heart failure which is not unusual in itself. What was rare was that she did so when I was with her, just a few feet away. Thus I was able to share both her final moments and those immediately following...
The first member of the team stepped out into the paddock to meet the horses he and his colleagues would be working with for the next two days. He had bravely volunteered to be the first, in spite of feeling nervous and knowing nothing about horses. I walked with him as he approached the first of the horses who was quietly grazing nearby.
Over the Easter holiday a good friend of mine came to visit me with her 9 year old daughter. Molly has just started riding lessons and was keen to meet my two horses and two miniature Shetland ponies for the first time. It turned out to be a magical day and, surprisingly for me, one filled with important lessons for not only leadership but adulthood in general.
Knowing that you want to change something, or reach for your dream is one thing. Getting on and doing it is another. One of my most inspiring lessons which helped was the gift of a young equestrian paralympian called Lauren Barwick seven years ago.
The advice I hear most in relation to that thing most of us are cursed with is “Silence the Inner Critic!”. But our inner critics have been on board a long time and it is easier said than done.
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