Some people may think the only coaching I offer has to do working with horses. Not true, although they play a large in my work in the world. It’s really about connection…and the horses are a powerful partner in that regard. My work with people, whether that be teaching, coaching or group facilitation is all about connection and relationship. Here’s how my relationship-focused work began and the part horses play in my life.
My fascination with horses began in my teenage years, a time when most girls tend to fall in love with boys or horses—or both. I was sixteen, and the horse was Sarge. He needed care and regular feeding, and I was happy to take on that responsibility. Sarge belonged to a Nevada State Patrolmen who did not have time for the necessities of horse ownership. The patrolman was a frequent customer at the local A & W Drive-in where I worked as a carhop. In my conversations with him I somehow ended up volunteering to step in and help with his horse.
The first day I went out to Sarge’s stable I received a quick, one-hour lesson on how to catch, halter, and lead him from pasture—as well as a bit or two about how to ride this big, fifteen-hand sorrel quarter horse. Then the patrolman went to work, and Sarge and I were on our own.
Daily responsibilities included feeding, filling water tanks, watching for problems, and an occasional ride in the pasture on the backside of Reno, Nevada—a town famous for gambling, casinos, cowboy culture and untamed spirit.
Sarge was a gentle giant. I struggled to reach his high head and put the halter on. We would walk together as friends back to the gate. I told him about my day as I cleaned the stall and made sure his feed was prepared properly. He just stood there calmly and listened in a horse kind of way. I was a busy teenager and those moments with Sarge were the only quiet times in my day.
But one day he had other plans with our routine. I was in a hurry and had to get to my carhop job. I whistled for him so we could get on with the usual chores. He remained just out of reach. No catching him today. I was impatient and needed to go. I got angry. I swung the halter and lead rope at him, smacking him across his back and big rear end. He moved quickly this time—but in the wrong direction.
This uncooperative beast had stirred up some hidden anger. At the same time I felt waves of guilt wash over me for having been so mean. Sarge missed his meal, and I missed my time with Sarge. I drove off to work with many conflicting emotions.
The next day, full of remorse and sorrow for having struck out at Sarge in anger, I was looking for forgiveness. I approached; he looked up. His eyes were full of kindness, and he lowered his head for the halter, then walked easily beside me. Sarge never again resisted. And I vowed to never again in my life to take my anger out on him or anyone else in a physical way.
Up till then the only examples of rage and anger came from my chaotic home life, where hitting, beatings and screaming were all I knew. I did not want to carry this mindset with me through life, and my afternoons with Sarge opened me up to a quite different way of handling emotions in life. ~
“Sarge, I don’t know, man. These cold, blustery Nevada winters are getting tough. You feel that cold wind, buddy?” His thick, brown coat kept him warm enough, and the shelters broke the blasting wind—but it was getting cold.
“I’m cold. You know? And tired. These late nights working at the A & W are getting to me. I have more homework too. I don’t know, Sarge, I may not be able to keep coming out.” It was a very hard decision to make. I did not want to stop caring for this gentle teacher, but something had to give. My young life was getting more hectic with working many hours during the week to help the family finances and caring for younger siblings in a chaotic household with an alcoholic mom. I had to make the decision to save myself. I was balancing way too many things for a sixteen-year-old, and I had no one to watch my back or tell me to slow down.
This would be the first of many hard decisions I would have to make, and I felt that Sarge had given me the strength and support to make this one. I knew he would understand. I told his patrolman owner well in advance and made sure someone else would take over his care.
So, when winter gave way to spring, I gave up my duties with Sarge and left this important relationship. He had become a beacon of kindness and patience and had taught me to handle anger in a better way. From that time on, I felt emotionally safe around horses and experienced a powerful sense of connection with them.
——This summer, I’ll be offering my Creativity-Compassion-Presence sessions in Denver & Carbondale. These half-day mini-retreats offer time in the presence of horses and a creative Mandala centering process. If you would like more information, email me at [email protected].