Jack and Simon
a New Perspective through Equine Assisted Coaching
As Jack walked toward the round pen his head was down,
his hands shoved in his pockets. He had just finished a phone conversation with his wife, who he is now divorcing after 18 years. This is not how he wants his life to be.
I have been coaching Jack, a mid-forties business man from Canada, for over a year. We have been working in person and over the phone; focusing on business. A funny thing happened on the way to making his first million. He is beginning to discover himself-whatever that means.
This is part of our coaching exploration.
From the beginning, I have used multi-level systemic coaching with Jack. We have combined ‘basic’ coaching; a systems perspective–to look at how behaviors create patterns in Jack’s life; and, what I learned from working with horses, intersubjectivity–or ‘the sharing of subjective states by two or more sentient beings.’ I refer to this work as ‘energy’ work as well-going beyond the intellect to inform our situation and lives.
This approach has brought us to a place where the words and energy between us no longer hold the power of learning they have in the past. What better time to bring in the horses!
We began the experiential learning with an agreement to explore the concepts behind working with the horses and clarify what Jack might expect from his experience. Once that was done, we made our plans to go to the barn. We began the session with our ‘regular’ coaching. Once we clarified what we wanted to work on and how the experience with the horses could help give some insight into this, we went out to the round pen. But first, Jack needed to call his wife.
At the round pen.
We began with a body scan. This is an exercise in awareness of what is going on in the body and an exploration of feelings and sensations based upon Linda Kohanov and Karla McLaren’s work on the Messages behind Emotion. Jack can’t feel much of anything at first, but eventually began to feel his feet on the ground and numbness in his head and behind his eyes. When asked to go deeper into the feeling for any information his body had for him that his intellect was unaware of, he said “What I see isn’t always what is there. In other words, the way I see my world may not be the way it actually is”. I asked Jack to connect with his heart’s desire for his time in the round pen and as he faced Simon, a recently gelded 6 year old TB, he shared that what came up for him was for Simon to, “Show me the way”. The way to what? We would see…With that, he opened the gate and breathing deeply, walked into the round pen.
What followed is 20 minutes of work with Simon that would have taken 6 months of coaching with me. Boundary issues began immediately. Being recently gelded, Simon had no patience for ambiguity of roles or power plays. Systemically, this illustrates the relationship with Jack and his wife as well as his clients. Who is in charge and what does that look like? Jack got the message after Simon nipped at him. As they continued this silent boundary dance, Jack sometimes leading and sometimes following, all seemed well-until Jack ‘checked out’ and was no longer present. He stepped into what he later described as his ‘ego or false-self’.
Losing Connection to Self
During the debrief this gave us the chance to explore how often it happens that when he feels like everything is going well from his perspective, he ‘checks out’, leaving the present and going to the future. We also discussed how that affects his life and relationships.
At the time, Jack interpreted losing the connection to himself as losing the connection with Simon. As I silently watched the experience, holding what Kathleen Ingram calls the ‘sacred space of possibility’, I noticed another systemic insight into Jack’s life …how is he interprets other’s feelings toward him. Is this accurate? The air was full of despair and giving up as he walked away from Simon toward the gate to leave.
Making the Unconscious – Conscious
Experiential work with horses involves them bringing to consciousness that which is unconscious for us as humans. Their sophisticated sensory capabilities allow them to ‘reflect’ these unconscious feelings that are not yet in our awareness. Simon had not lost his connection with Jack. On a deeper, unconscious level for Jack, they were still connected. Jack’s message from the body scan that “what he sees isn’t always what is there” is reflected in Simon following him to the gate and very clearly asking him not to leave. Rekindling a kind of hope, Jack began to re-engage with the dance. This time, it was a powerful dance of consciousness and awareness for both; as individuals and partners.
In silent agreement, the session was over. Jack turned and stroked Simon on the neck. No nipping or wondering what role each should play. They are clear about who they are and what they are feeling. As Simon licks and chews, Jack looks up and says, “Ok, I’m done”.
As we debriefed the experience, we drew deep insights that offered Jack a perspective and an embodied knowing that were completely new to him, and yet, somehow familiar.
This experience took our coaching relationship to a new level that Jack and I would continue to explore as we moved forward toward his coaching goals. We ended the session with a fragile glimpse into the possibilities of who Jack is and could be along with small next steps to nourish those possibilities.
And of course lots of carrots for Simon–the real coach.