“Not so close! This is such an annoying animal, really tiresome! Here Wim, you can take him. He seemed to be a cute pony, but he is way too pushy.” Wim takes over the lead rope from Els. He lets Djohar – the little four legged tyrant – smell his hand, calmly looks around, gives Djohar a matey look and starts to walk self-assuredly. Djohar sighs, relaxes and starts walking with him. Head low, licking and chewing, at more than one meter distance from Wim. At the same moment they come to a standstill, at the same moment they start to run at full speed, at the same moment they become quiet again.
Els is watching them, amazed, and laconically says: “So, apparently it was not the horse’s fault… That’s a painful insight.” “And also a chance…”, I add.
These are key moments. I take Els along the five core elements that I’ve learnt from the horses in the last couple of years.
They have become the cornerstones on which my organization Equoia is built: Els becomes aware of the power of attention, of the importance of direction, of the difference between power and force, of the distinction between thorough en cautious, of the meaning of authentic assertiveness.
Djohar has shown Els a way to find answers to a basic question: ‘How do I become meaningful?’ ‘How do I invite the other to genuinely say yes to my message?’ Els’ eyes mist over. “This is a theme of my life”, she says. “Stupid horse”, she lovingly adds. “Who would have thought that walking around with a horse could create such a stir?!”
Becoming meaningful through Unencumbered Communication
This is only one story. Meanwhile, I have many stories to tell, and every time again they touch me. Horses bring about a lot, and they help you to give direction to it. That is where I step in. I observe and give ‘subtitles’ to what I see that is happening in the interaction between human and horse. In doing this, my starting point is that horses must be given the chance to stay who they are in working with people.
I am not going to correct them in their behaviour, since their behaviour in a moment tells something about the interaction in that moment. I am not going to unlearn Djohar’s pushy behaviour. He would be easier to walk with if he wasn’t that obtrusive, it’s only: I don’t want ‘easy’, ‘good’ horses.
I want horses to be their authentic selves and hence invite people to do the same. And, very important: ‘becoming meaningful’ is not about winning or losing. It’s about who takes the initiative, about who provides the most powerful invitation out of true togetherness. Thát is the one who – in that moment – becomes meaningful.
In providing ‘subtitles’, I wield two basic elements: factuality and solution focus. I am not looking for ‘What would the horse mean?’, nor for ‘Why is the horse behaving that way?’. What I work with, is exploring the moment (What is happening here?), in order to arrive at the fundament of meaningful communication: what is your message? What do you want? And do you really mean it?…
The language of the subtitling I give is Unencumbered Communication. Underneath the load of emotions, judgements and stories, everything is information, coloured by the pair of glasses you are looking through, realizing that the pair of glasses somebody else is looking through, is different from yours. Not better, not worse. Different.
This acceptance is needed to do what (mainly) leading animals of a herd do: taking good care of yourself in order to be able to be meaningful for the other. Sounds simple. Is simple. And that’s what makes it so difficult…
Everything is for real
I’m not ‘using’ my horses in individual coachings and team coachings. I don’t expect them to take up a role. There’s no experimenting with what doesn’t feel all right, nor with what someone does not want anymore. So, no ‘Look at the difference in reactions of the horse between when you chase him away or when you are clear about your own personal space, in an unencumbered way’. Actually, for a horse ‘pretending’ doesn’t exist. For a horse, everything is for real. If you chase him away to find out how he will react, it is no experiment. For a horse, everything is a real experience. And I want that to be dealt with thoroughly in everything I do with my organization Equoia: my horses are no perk in the individual coachings and the team coachings, they are full-fledged authentic partners.
Themes that are often dealt with in individual coachings are assertiveness (dare to dare, in a constructive way), clear communication (is what you say also what you mean?)) , gaining visibility (because I’m worth it!), powerfully inviting out of an authentic togetherness (I contribute). In team coachings we often work around ‘Purpose’ (what is our joint direction?) and roles (what can I expect from you? And you from me? How can I create ownership? And what is needed to really take up ownership?) . In all team coachings we work towards a more dynamic balance within the ‘herd’ (the team).
“Who would have thought that walking around with a horse could create such a stir?!”… I am grateful for the fact that it keeps on amazing people and I’m glad to contribute to that, together with my horses.