Much of the coaching work I do with people is informed by what I’ve learned from working with horses, especially from Dorian, the Thoroughbred racehorse I adopted in 2015 after working with him for several years.
Articles published in the “D & Me” category explore the ways that horses teach us about authenticity, leadership, and radical partnerships.
Things didn’t look good. Sunday the temperature had been in the upper 60s, then on Monday the bottom dropped out, and when I got to the barn around 9 a.m., Lily and I were pelted by a driving, sleeting rain that eventually turned to snow.
It was, literally, freezing; in fact, the temperature had dropped nearly 45 degrees. I pulled Dorian out of the dry lot, which by then was a mushy mess, and jogged with him to the indoor arena so I could get him dried off enough to throw on his blanket.
Lily in the parking lot. Pretty awful weather.
I’d had a rather unpleasant exchange with someone at the barn not too long before, so the emotional “temperature” was a bit chilly, too.
And in all the years I’ve known Dorian, I’ve never blanketed him. Blanketing messes with their internal temperature regulation system, but in this case, the freezing temps had come on so rapidly that he hadn’t had a chance to grow in his shaggy winter coat. When I pulled him from the paddock, he was shaking with cold.
Dorian and Reveille, who used to be less than friends. In fact, Rev used to go after Dorian a lot, and not in a pleasant way!
On Sunday, when it had been great weather, a client with PTSD came to the barn. It wasn’t a formal coaching session, more of a “meet and greet”–I’d suggested he come hang out with Dorian just to see what it might be like to work with me in Equine-Assisted Coaching to address his challenges.
He told me his two major issues were his incredible anxiety and that he couldn’t seem to communicate with people. Being in the service for 15 years, and doing some things he was deeply troubled by, had left him with symptoms of Moral Injury as well as PTSD.
This is from an earlier workshop with horses out at Kraus Farm. You can see how calm presence makes all the difference in communicating with horses.
He spent some time with Dorian in the round pen and then grazing him along the pasture line. I left them alone for about half an hour, and from afar observed how Dorian interacted with him, and how the client behaved around Dorian.
It seemed to me they’d known each other for years. Dorian was extremely attentive and the client was patient, moved slowly, and seemed primarily focused on what Dorian needed at any moment during their interactions. It was quite beautiful to watch!
Good advice from Tom Dorrance–for dealing with humans as well as animals.
Fast forward to Frozen Monday . . . I worked with Dorian in the indoor arena, running him around to get his body temperature up, giving him a massage, grooming him, and assuring him that all was well.
Yeah, horrible weather.
To make matters more challenging, he’d recently been pulled off the pasture and onto a dry lot, and put in with fairly aggressive horses he didn’t know. His whole world had changed overnight, and horses don’t do great with changes. Abrupt changes are the worst! I think we all can relate to that.
So he was having a really tough time all around. Every day I went to the barn, he seemed to have a new bite mark, and some had taken off his hide. Horses don’t mess around when sorting out herd hierarchy.
All in all, things looked pretty dark.
But . . . actually, as I came to realize, darkness was the illusion. Or, maybe it was the opportunity.
As I spoke to the client after he finished communing with Dorian on Sunday, it was apparent that the two issues he’d come to the barn with–anxiety and inability to communicate–were completely absent in his interactions with Dorian. He had effortlessly, and actually wordlessly for the most part, communicated so honestly and clearly with D., that my aloof big boy followed the client everywhere he went in the round pen like a little puppy. And I think I saw a bit of nuzzling to boot!
Having a bit of fun in the cold.
And, as we walked Dorian back to the dry lot, the client said “I can’t believe how calm I feel!” So, his serenity and his ability to communicate had actually never been taken from him, no matter what he’d been through. His peace and integrity were intact.
Good lesson for all of us, I think.
I hope I’ll have a chance to explore that further with this client . . . how he might take what happens when he’s with Dorian into his life outside the round pen.
As well, over the next week or so, in the recurring freezing night temps, I had so much help in people advising me about how to help Dorian get his winter coat in. And Shannon, his farrier, stopped by the barn several times when I was teaching to put on or take off his blanket.
It takes a village, or maybe it’s more apt to say, it takes a barn.
As for me, I’ll stick with, all it takes is one horse.
I’m grateful I have Dorian to keep reminding me that the light of goodness surrounds us even in the midst of this dark, chilly, winter coming on.
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