Embodied Leadership: Leading a Horse *To* Fire
I wrote this piece while taking/leading Flow Genome Project's "Leading Through Fire" course for a 3rd time. I've been training and working for FGP on and off over the last 7 years.
The course focuses on a tool kit to move through different relational difficulties that arise when leading the self and others in personal and professional situations.
If you are interested in training in these practices, please schedule a free call with me here.
I chose horses as my training partners my 3rd time through, just to see what would happen.
Horses see muscle movements in us that we typically can't pick up on, and they read body language like Jedi Masters.
They don't lie, and you can't lie to them (hence them being very useful w/ PTSD and therapy of all kinds). Well, you can lie, but they know you are, and it typically doesn't end great.
So all the subversive human things we do to mask the truth, be likeable by others, fake our way, sort of do the homework but not really...it just doesn't fly with horses.
They don't use words to tell you you're lying or hiding, they just won't: a) follow you, b) stand next to you, c) do what you want them to, d) try as hard as they could, e) open up and "join" with you, f) let you ride them. And a host of other things.
They also fall very easily into the Triple A trap, especially towards Accommodation or Avoidance.
They shut down, will do just enough to get by, and feel very "dull" around people when they accommodate. The less trained ones fall quickly to Avoid (running away), and as a specie they don't go to Attack easily, but they will if they need to.
A week or so after her arrival, Irish Music, the new OTTB mare I'm training, needed new horse shoes. She just moved here from Florida, and we don't know what she knows or doesn't. I had been working with her for 2 weeks, she's generally easy going, but definitely still young, uneducated, and prone to the horsey Drama Triangle and the Triple A trap.
With the hot forge burning, Irish got scared and went into Avoid mode (ran backwards). Not only the sound & heat, but also the fire was throwing patterns w/ the light on the ground.
I stayed in Support/Challenge/Create mode, and used my breathing & body to stay centered, neutral, and grounded. I also looked at my Postive No/Deep Yes tree, and sort of...became it.
No, you will not run backwards--Deep yes to being brave and curious. Yes? Try moving forward and let's see what we can create.
After about 2 minutes--I was able to get her to a place where she could listen, though frozen w/ her body and rigid. Internally, I said, "I am here to support you. I see that thing (the fire) is scary. I invite you to be curious and courageous."
She relaxed a bit, and tried a few steps forward. The fire roared, and she got scared again, but not as bad. I kept saying the above with my body, inside, and she got closer to the forge. I imagined growing the roots of Yes, holding my No trunk, and showing her our together branches.
As she tensed up again, I went deep inside to my center and thought, "I invite you to be curious." Almost immediately, she took a deep breath, lowered her head, and gave an investigative snort (sounds like a deer wuffing or a hard inhale), and took 3-5 steps towards the fire. She shook a little with fear, and I praised her for being courageous.
She tensed again, and I repeated the process, and then she stood next to me close to the forge. She licked and chewed (a sign of tension release, as well as an "ok I'm with you,") and lowered her head a bit (a sign of "it's ok" in horse land).
I was giddy with this--and I could feel a trust increase. In my teenage time, I would have been more aggressive--"you will and you have to do what I want," or more scared and in my head--"this has to work" or "I'm not good enough."
And though I've had the tool kit in the last two decades to calmly get results--the entire Leading Through Fire tool kit inventory helped me to offer something at each junction, embody it, and see a creative and fun way forward. I had access to all the tools at once--somehow they lived inside of me, ready to play with! And I didn't have to think of them, I just had to feel them.
As Jamie Wheal, founder of The Flow Genome Project suggests--I fell to the level of my training: because I have slowly integrated these tools, and played w/ them carefully over time, I was suddenly able to use them all at once when I really needed them (horses running backwards in a barn can go all kinds of scary, bad, and unsafe).
More to investigate for sure, but today I sat on her for the first time. A tentative trust--but it was easy and simple, and no fireworks on her end, or mine.
I hope this helps someone out there to really train with these lessons. They are priceless, fun, handy, and take on new levels with each thing. An eye opening, lucid, vibrant tool kit that has infinite uses!
I also used them with my father this weekend--and I can't believe where he followed me: into terrain we haven't traveled since my creation.
If you are interested in learning more about the tool kit I mention, please schedule a free call with me here and we can discuss training options.