A woman draws an inspirational card and walks to stand alone in a round pen. Empty space save for the mare who stands in the background, watching silently. Her life coach stands outside the rails and begins to ask questions as other women sit in a semi-circle watching.
The session begins as a casual conversation between the two women. The coach looks down at the card that the client had drawn and handed to her. Cards were selected by looking, not at the message, but at the pictures on the front and letting one draw you in. This particular card is about compassion. The coach asks questions and the woman answers calmly but as the conversation begins to delve deeply and become more personal, the client’s voice begins to tremble.
As the emotions escalate, the mare moves in closer and the woman reaches out, seeking the comfort of her presence. She does not go into details but speaks of the missing element in her life. She has always shown compassion to others but has never received it. Tears roll silently down her cheeks as she stands with her hand on the mare’s shoulder and she can not speak.
The horse has the choice to walk about and pick at the sparse grass underfoot but she chooses to stay with the woman. “Just stand there in her compassion,” the coach instructs. She begins to read from the card: “Only be present and don’t worry about finding a solution to a problem at this particular time. Just accept today.” She is silent for a few moments, allowing the woman to simply stand and be. Neither the mare nor the women watching from the circle are judging her. They are all caught in the moment, watching as the pain seems to draw forth from her, floating into the air to dissipate into tiny particles, dust motes falling to the ground to mix in with the sand of the earth, where they can do harm to no one.
“What do you want to do?” the coach asks.
The difference in the woman’s voice is almost a tangible element as she answers. “Just love on her. Enjoy the moment.” Her voice is still quiet and shy but the pain is gone. It had felt incredible, she explains. “It was not what I had expected,” she admits. “I was apprehensive about stepping out of my comfort zone…to just go in and receive acceptance.” She lifts her hand to her chest. “I felt something move…here,” she says. “Something was blocked and I felt it move.” She strokes the mare’s neck one last time and murmurs a thank you to the animal as she repeats the words again. “It was just incredible.”
Lisa Martin of Bethel, NC runs the Trotting Forward program. She is certified in the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method. Gestalt is a German word meaning wholeness and it envelopes the concept of making complete, finishing unfinished business.
Martin trained under Melissa Pearce, a core founder of the human-horse healing movement. The ECG method uses the extreme sensory awareness of the equine partner to assist the client in redefining their life and transforming their thoughts and actions to motivate a positive future.
We are all familiar with the old saying the eye is the mirror to the soul. The eye of the horse is one of the largest of all animals. Horses mirror our deepest emotions.
Being an animal of prey, they have a very large vibrational field that allows them to sense the energy of their surroundings. This enables them to determine if the environment is safe or hostile and how to react.
Martin gives an example of this. If a mountain lion comes to a stream with a full belly, wanting only to drink, horses may watch him for a moment and then return to grazing. But if that same cat is hungry, the horses sense this and flee. The same principle applies to the human-horse relationship. Equines are so sensitive to other living and environmental energies and they respond to them in a very natural way.
Horses reflect the feelings of those around them. In the wild, or even in the pasture they perceive emotions such as fear or confidence. If a single horse sees something that frightens him, he usually simply stands with his head up for a moment and stares. He does not have to whinny or gallop away for the feeling of restlessness to spread through the herd. The other horses snort and look, head up, ears forward and begin to tremble, ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
The same principle applies to the ECG method. If a handler is nervous, the horse knows and it becomes nervous too. It may prance about and snort, the whites of the eyes showing. But if the person is calm and self assured, that same horse will usually lower his head and pick about at the grass underfoot. He will approach the person and allow himself to be scratched and caressed, often closing his eyes and cocking a hind foot to rest it.
As the program progresses, each woman takes her turn in the round pen. They speak of their innermost thoughts and concerns: relationships, self image problems, career and social issues, the list goes on to vary with each person, all from different walks of life. One horse responds to three women in three different ways. With the tearful woman she is loving, with a happy woman she pulls her lip back in a relaxed equine grin and with an angry woman, she pushes back against her. As Martin changes horses, she goes through a spectrum of emotions and reactions.
But above all, the horse is an honest creature. It lives only in the “now” moment. Even though it has learned things from the past, it does not dwell on them, does not fret and worry about what happened yesterday. It only knows to go forward. They also require us to be in the moment, fully present and aware. Horses are large and powerful animals and you must pay attention to what you are doing around them, otherwise it could be dangerous. You become naturally focused and grounded.
This can be very unusual for busy women in today’s world. They are constantly multi-tasking as they strive to balance families and career. Even during the brief time they may take for themselves, thoughts race through the mind, vying with each other for the person’s attention and the task of prioritizing these ideas prevents them from focusing on their own identities. The presence of the equine assists in being able to concentrate only in where I am right now, what I am doing at this very moment. It provides the client with the ability to savor the experience and open themselves to the possibility of transforming their lives.
An example of this concept is portrayed when a woman draws a card on energy. An appaloosa enters the pen with her, big brown spots interspersed through his white coat. He circles the pen as she comments on her thoughts. It seems that she is going in fifty different directions all at once, she explains. She feels fragmented and uncertain, wondering how she can do all the things she wants.
She begins to speak of the women’s center she has dreamed of creating. A place to nurture women in all facets of life; personal growth, infertility, menopause, massage therapy. Ideas are spurting forth as fast as she can speak and her passion for the project is very evident.
“But it will take time, training, money,” she explains. She wants to already be there.
“What does your energy look like?” Martin asks.
“Just…I don’t know. Fragmented. Here and here and here.” She points around her in all directions. “I don’t know how to connect it all. It just flows everywhere.”
Martin slides a bag under the fence. It contains plastic noodles, the kind children play with in a pool. “Use these to show me,” she instructs.
The client throws the noodles in all directions, scattering them about and the horse sidesteps out of the way. “This is how my thoughts feel,” she explains. “I don’t know which direction to take.”
The horse returns and nuzzles one of the noodles, finally picking it up in his teeth. Suddenly the woman bends to pick up a noodle, then another and another, bringing them end to end. Faster and faster she works and her excitement grows. Now she adjusts the noodles to form a circle. Standing in the center, she smiles and throws her arms wide. “I need to bring it all to me,” she says. “And that makes it easy. It is all within my sphere.”
When Martin asks if she feels different, she answers, “Oh my gosh, yes. Now I can see it all. I can do it.”
The Trotting Forward program is open to anyone who desires to participate but the greater percentage of clients is women. Martin specializes in the complex relationship between mothers and daughters. Group workshops or private sessions are available. For more information see her website www.trottingforward.com or contact her at trotting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story by Lenn Roberson
Photography by Betsy Moore