I boarded the shuttle with 4 strangers and our guide, Lucinda, all masked up and curious about what this equine encounter was going to be about.
A corporate lawyer from Wisconsin turned wrangler in Tucson, Lucinda oriented the group by sharing some of the research that affirms the therapeutic nature and healing capacity of horses. One of the reasons is that horses have a keen ability to sense energy and can even detect a change in heartbeat a split second before it registers on a device. Miraval had been hip to this for decades and developed a signature program that allowed guests to take advantage of this opportunity during their stay. This was why instead of using some of my resort credit for a treatment at the spa, I decided to apply the balance towards a one-of-a-kind experience which immediately jumped out to me in the program booklet. It was called “Unbounded.”
We circled up in the shade and shared our names, geographic locations, and what made us choose this workshop over all of the other ones on the menu. People immediately opened up about the burdens and challenges that were keeping them stuck. Our group included a middle-aged woman serving as a caretaker for an elderly parent who was used to putting herself last, a millennial who had just left a long-term relationship and a miserable corporate job with no clear plans, an ER doctor depleted from being on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, and a woman trying to heal from the trauma of a parent’s sudden death.
When it came time for me to share, I paused and really let the question soak in. I said that I had always struggled with body image and self-esteem, which over the years had often left me feeling fragmented and fractured, incomplete and inadequate. I shared that I had spent decades just going through the motions of what I thought was expected of me: to be a good daughter, a good student, a good worker, a good wife, and a good mother, but that that wasn’t really working for me anymore. Although I had never thought about things in these terms until this very moment, I shared that I had worked diligently over the past handful of years to bring my mind and spirit (back) together, which had rekindled a fire and gave me the confidence to make a big professional pivot. As a result, I was enjoying a deep sense of contentment, fulfillment, and satisfaction in my work, however, I was aware that my body continued to be out of alignment with the other two pieces. My intention was that by doing things that were outside of my comfort zone and exploring the elements that contributed to my armor, I would be able to find integration with all three of these components. In doing so, my hope was that I might truly, finally, feel a sense of wholeness.
After introductions, we practiced approaching one another from different angles and noticed what physical and emotional reactions were elicited. We played around with intentionally shifting our energy to see how it felt when we were really dialed in to the other person. We noticed how setting boundaries can feel both empowering and terrifying. We laughed at our own awkwardness. We cried when something hit a raw nerve. We admitted how hard it was to let our guard down with others. And, this was all before we even stepped into the horse enclosure.
Once we reflected on what our experiences were like in taking on the assignment with people, we were invited to follow Lucinda into the corral where 13 horses were roaming free. Immediately, the biggest horse of the pack started to walk over to the group to check us out. Some people stepped back instinctively, intimidated by the large untethered animal approaching us. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm my racing heart and was greeted by a big muzzle in my face when I opened my eyes. The horse had come right up to me and nudged me to pet him.
For the next 30 minutes or so, we split up and wandered around the stable approaching horses (or not). While some of the other participants really struggled to even get within close proximity of the animals, I found that my coaching training and capacity to quickly drop into deeper levels of presence had equipped me with the ability to connect with the horses very easily.
I started noticing that when I was able to be open, grounded, and calm, it signaled to the horses that I was safe, and they would almost immediately move towards me and nuzzle to get some affection. However, the second I started feeling impressed with myself for being a horse whisperer, they promptly walked away.
When I turned my whole body towards a horse, took some deep breaths, and stood in a relaxed stance with my palms open, it approached me. When I tried to wield my newfound equine-connecting power to telepathically will a specific horse to come to me, I was met with indifference.
When I thoughtfully and purposefully made my way towards a horse, acknowledging and respecting its space, the horse moved in my direction and met me halfway. When I made my approach with intensity and conviction, the horse got spooked and bolted.
When I felt vulnerable, awed, and curious about these magnificent creatures, two horses strolled right up to me. When I took out my phone to take a picture of this special moment so that I could post it on social media, they lost interest and sauntered away.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time as a group to process our experiences in the corral before piling back into the shuttle to return to campus, but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in Equine Science to translate these takeaways to life beyond the stables. The horses – like people – could sense when someone was open or guarded, when a connection was sincere or manufactured, and when an approach was couched in fear or curiosity. Unlike people, however, they responded appropriately and were not influenced by the fear of risking social capital, which is the reason we often push through undesirable situations by tolerating a whole lot less than what we deserve.
Although I always assume otherwise whenever I enter into a situation, it turned out that what the horses didn’t care at all about was my dress size or how much weight I had gained during COVID. They moved towards me when I felt most content and at peace, and moved away when I was anxious, self-conscious, or motivated by ego. They only responded to my presence when I genuinely felt most grounded, not when I pretended to be. They approached me when, and only when, they sensed my energy was anchored and embodied.
Above all, the horses taught me that it was possible for my mind, body, and spirit to be in total alignment, and that when I was able to be in that place of integration and wholeness, that I, too, was unbounded.
If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.