Horses are prey animals and have a very quick fight or flight response to danger/stress. Their lives depend on the clear communication from the leader of the herd. Their communication is silent, as they rely on noticing the body language and intention of other beings. By so doing, they are able to assess the situation and respond successfully.
One of their strengths is to constantly evaluate who is in the role of the leader at any given time. When someone is leading, it takes a little of the pressure off the horse to be on guard for themselves enabling them to relax. This is helped by their acute ability to sense discrepancies in the energy and intention that is being communicated to them. They are able to make this calculation is an instant and react in that same moment.
Equine Assisted Coaching seeks to work with the presence and nature of the horses as an accelerant to learning. Their reactions to our energy and intention helps us to increase our self awareness and to learn more about how we respond to the challenges in our lives in a very inviting and easily accessible way.
Through Equine Assisted Coaching we help people learn to really notice how the receiver of our instructions is feeling, about what we have said or done or the way we came across – to get a better sense of ‘How we ‘Be’ in that moment.
We use the responses of the horse or horses to guide the coaches questioning about whether people are aware of the feelings in their own bodies, for example allowing people to notice their stress or anxiety and how to release them, so as to be a calm supportive leader.
This work then links to the Team Development as we ask the questions such as:
- What is the leadership the team or organization needs from you?
- What are shifts in the Team are needed for the Team to be fit for purpose of your leadership challenge?
- Therefore what are the changes in you, that will shift the team and provide the leadership needed by the organization?
The session is different to most people’s experience and in the style of ‘Serious Play’ it releases boundaries, accelerates awareness and stimulates new conversations far more rapidly than ‘thinking’ alone. Hence we call it an experience with horses.
Equine Assisted Coaching Process
The process is very flexible and can be adapted to the needs of the Team members and their level of comfort in interacting with the horses. Most of the work is alongside horses, touching but not riding them. We usually have 1 horse with a person, a coach and a ‘horse-minder’
Care and Safety points
All activities are non-ridden and do not require any prior knowledge of horses. Horses are carefully selected for their appropriateness for this work. An experienced horse handler will always be present to focus purely on the horses, their behaviour and their well-being. Activities will be stopped should a horse show signs of not wanting to engage in the activity and another horse will be invited to join in.
Whilst every precaution is taken to ensure the comfort, safety and enjoyment of all of our participants, there is an inherent risk in interacting with animals and it is, therefore, a requirement that all participants sign a disclaimer before any direct interaction with the horses.
In each version of the process we use the same fundamental pillars to operate safely, impactfully and to provide positive actionable outcomes.
Care and Safety for Horses and People
We simply run through a few things so people can relax about what they are going to experience, to understand different peoples thresholds about being with the horses and to identify any possible risks. We ask people if they are happy to sign a ‘Release Form’ so they know what they are responsible for in terms of their own safety and that of the horses.
Getting ready to receive – mindfulness activity
We use a mindfulness activity to help clear the mind and shift into a more reflective state embracing feelings and intuition as well as thinking which we tend to over rely on. This is important so that people can receive the learning more fully and faster.
Interactions with horses
Initially a simple activity interacting with the horse(s) in a field or an arena observed by a trained facilitator. This is not about the successful achievement of a task, but noticing happens with the horse irrespective of any outcome.
Some activities may involve observing a herd from outside a paddock or in an arena, others may involve more direct handling of the horse(s) on a halter or at liberty.
The activities are kept intentionally simple to avoid triggering team members back into use of intellect over feelings and intuition. There are a very wide range of possible activities which may be pre-planned according to known needs or created in an emergent way as team and individual needs arise.
These are held during the Session with a trained facilitator to help team members notice key moments during the activity and to help them seek out data, seeing it as feedback to learn about themselves and their approach to challenges.
After being with the horses there is a coaching session to help people reflect on their experience, draw comparisons to how this manifests in aspects of their work, to then explore those fully and look at how that awareness can help them to create strategies to increase their effectiveness, overcome challenges etc.
Personal reflection time
Depending on the design we find many people like to have some personal reflection time to allow further learning to emerge and to ground their conclusions. At Orchard House we have woods, pastures orchard sand walks and wide views providing ample opportunities to quietly be with ones own thoughts and experiences.
Example Session for a Team (3 hours)
- Coachees are given a safety briefing and a simple set of rules about interacting with the horses in a kind and respectful way to ensure the enjoyment of coachees and the horses. We see the horses as our partners not a resource.
- We first settle the mind to be ready to receive some different experiences, with pure attention, reduced or no judgement, through feeling and intuition more than thinking.
- In the field, alongside a paddock or indoor school we gently observe the horses in the pen in the arena without an agenda for 5 minutes. Just relax and enjoy this. You will be told when the 5 minutes are up.
- Now decide which horse you are most drawn to.
- That horse is now going to come with us to support you in a simple coaching activity.
- You are going to walk around the arena with the horse in a halter on a lead rein, interacting with a few props along the way.
- Take your time. Don’t pick up the props. This is simply an exploration for both of you. No rules, no tricks. Just focus on the experience of it and enjoy it, afterwards, we will talk though some questions.
- During the activity the coach will watch the body language of the coachee and the horse. They will make a note of the interactions and any particular moments of difference to help them support the coachee in the debriefs.
- Debriefs will then take place with a focus on helping the coachee discern as much awareness of what happened as possible. The activity can be repeated, adjusted, a different horse may join in or a number of horses.
- During the coaching conversation that follows, questions will depend on what was seen, heard and perceived and what the coachee wants to explore.
- Time is not specified just to provide enough space to reflect in which ever way suits them best.