How Horses Make Us Better People
You do not need to know how to ride to enjoy the many benefits of working with horses. In fact, so much can be done on the ground without ever having to put your foot into a stirrup. The growing field of Equine Assisted Learning & Coaching (EALC) offers opportunities in personal growth and leadership, with the horse as your co-coach! The horse is a part of the learning process and offers us a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves in an efficient and expedient manner. Open to everyone and anyone from all walks of life, EALC simply put, provides an opportunity for life coaching while working with the horse.
Just what is EALC and why the interest. I have been in the horse industry for 25+ years, wearing many different hats during that time, to include that of the student, the instructor, the trainer, the proprietor, always as a life-long learner, and more recently as an equine-assisted life coach. During this time I have worked with hundreds of kids and adults who continue to amaze me in terms of their insights and epiphanies that come as a result of working with the horses. While too, I am inspired by the subtle wisdom the horse brings to the equation. Of course, you have to be willing to check your ego at the barn door and open yourself up to the life lessons if you are to benefit from the horse’s input, but once done, the lessons are endless and priceless.
My AHA moment came unexpectedly, many years ago, as all AHA moments do, when I was in the arena one day going about my business. As I stood there alone quietly taking in my surroundings; the majestic sierra mountains looming over my property; the sky so blue and all-encompassing; the landscape beyond looking more like a painting than real life; and my horses dotted across the pasture quietly grazing; I thought about all of the kids who have come to my ranch to learn about horses, only to discover they learned more about themselves as a result of working with the horses. I thought about those kids whose confidence soared with each ride on Winston, Big John, or even the feisty Koda. Koda, a dun paint full of spunk, who seems to ask the student for absolute integrity when working with him. Or as one young student put it, “He holds my feet to the fire asking me to be more than I think I can be.”
As my thoughts continued to flow, it dawned on me that the real reason these horses are in our lives, is not only so we can enjoy the ride, but too so we can learn to be better people. As if on cue, several of my horses lifted their heads in agreement. I poked at this thought further as I reflected on the many students who have come and continue to come to the ranch to learn horsemanship and riding. The blank canvas for my thoughts began to take on a spectrum of brilliant colors as words flew into my mind … self-esteem, empowerment, responsibility, compassion, ownership, growth, joy, freedom, friendship, love, camaraderie, respect. This is what the horse teaches us, this is what they are here to show us. It was in this moment that I stepped across the divide of the human/horse relationship and stepped into an open field without fences venturing forth onto this bigger plane of perspective that holds far greater possibilities in the partnership with horse and human. Armed with this epiphany I set out to learn more, to become more, and to teach more … and life with my horses has never been quite the same.
Why horses? The horse has an uncanny ability to reflect back to us who we are in a given moment based on our body language and energy. For example, if we come into a situation harboring anger yet act as if all is well, the horse will pick up on the incongruent energy and in turn may react to it. If we read the horse correctly, we have the opportunity to change the energy by honoring our true feelings, and moving beyond them. It is in this moment that we recognize that we have the ability to manage our emotions effectively verses being captive to them. That is empowerment.
Another good example deals with the art of being mindful and present. How often have you found yourself working with your horse while your mind is busily ticking things off on your to-do list? Although you are mechanically moving through the motions of your ride, how effective are you, how present is your horse? How can you expect your horse to be connected to you when you have disconnected from him? Does this lack of being present show up in other aspects of your life?
It is experiences like this that allow us to take a closer look at ourselves. After all, we cannot always see ourselves for who we are in a given moment, but our horses can. And bearing no ill-will or judgment they certainly let us know by their reactions towards us. If we dare to listen and see, we in turn choose to change and grow.
One of my esteemed students takes her life lessons, as taught by the horse, to heart. “I have been riding since I was 10 (now 12) years old. I have learned many things from riding different horses. But Shar gives me my most challenges and has helped me with similar challenges I have found in life. At the beginning, I started our unsure, nervous, and frustrated. In time I learned to work with the horse’s personalities which gave me strength and courage. Once I became more confident I was able to stay in control and work with any of the horses. As my character began to build I learned to be patient. I have taken all that I have gained from the horses and used it in my everyday life at home and in school. I have accepted that sometimes we (people) cannot get along. I have learned to stay focused, be myself, and not give up. I realize that in time things can get better with communication and staying focused. I feel stronger when I stand up for myself but find this challenging. I know in time I will get stronger and develop more character. Taking ownership and responsibility allows me to be more open-minded to people and horses. Riding helps me find my voice, makes me feel free of everything, nothing can stand in my way, and I feel grounded.” (Dru, 2013)
If a child can come to these realizations as a result of partnering with the horse, imagine what you could learn. And once again, experiencing the horse can happen on the ground or in the saddle. With two coaches to guide you – the human and the horse – you can take personal growth to a whole new level!
Kim Chappell © 2013, 2021 All Rights Reserved