Part three, “From Ignorance to Bliss”.

If you’re just joining this series, I encourage you to start at the beginning…

Part one, “What We Did Right” – how it began and what we did in preparation for a safe, wonderful experience for a 2-day equine facilitated leadership training!
Part two, “The Gaping Holes in Our Plan” – is when we realized a few (horrible) holes in our plan and how all the preparation and planning very nearly fell apart!


Since my hindsight had beat it’s head against the wall most of the night I was feeling a little raw when our team met in the hotel lobby at 6:30am the morning of the second day.

We needed to pow-wow about how to address the instability of the horses with our host handlers. Although we recognized their enthusiasm and great attitude for the work and we didn’t want to make them feel ‘wrong’ for their lack of experience, there was no way we could have a repeat of Day One!

We went over the agenda and chose a couple exercises to practice with the horses and handlers before the participants arrived and set up some extra safety precautions. We also set the intention to hold everyone as ‘resourceful, capable and whole’ and that our example and this work was a great benefit to the horses as well as the local team.

Day Two Begins:
When we got to the barn the 6 of us gathered to talk about the plans for the day. Since I was ‘elected’ spokesperson, I shared with the local handlers our concerns from the previous day, particularly the well being of Golden and her experience of being at liberty in the group. The equine specialist shook her head and said she knew that Golden was fine, because if her PTSD had kicked in, Moon (another horse in the arena on-line with a group), would have broken away from her group to protect Golden. The therapist nodded in agreement.

WHAT?! My head nearly spun around on my shoulders. I think all 4 of us said, “Oh my God!” at the same time. We were completely shocked that they thought turning a horses with PTSD out into an untested group experience was perfectly fine. Not too mention the fact that they had another horse on-line with a group of participants, that they knew might break away to rescue her friend if she had an ‘episode’. This is when the second gaping hole in our plan became crystal clear!

Do you see it?

We did not get a psychological profile/history on the horses that were chosen to work with us.

We assumed that the equine specialist and therapist that work with these horses would know to consider the mental health of our equine partners. This was also a sign that the local handlers weren’t as emotionally fit as we had assumed. The horses arousal levels were extremely high and the handlers were not congruent (in alignment) with their own level of anxiety (high and low) and did not have the skill set to assess, acknowledge and adjust accordingly.

I’m not exactly sure what came out of my mouth, but my team said I was very diplomatic and made it known that what happened was definitely not good and we want to be very conscious about the fitness of the horses we work with for the day and feel comfortable removing a horse at the first sign of distress. (Which we had to do in the very first exercise of the day!)

Here we go again…
I was incredibly grateful for my own ability as well as that of our team to stay grounded, present and clear in order to create a safe learning environment for our clients because the very first group experience, a simple leading exercise sent one client’s anxiety level right out the roof! And for good reason.

The horses and handlers were waiting for us in the arena. As the lead facilitator and I walked in with the participants I got ‘the look’ from one of our teammates and knew there was already a ‘situation’ brewing.

The equine specialist had brought in a new horse that was totally unable to stand still. She had the horse by the halter and was leading her toward one of the participants as I was walking over. Before I got there she handed the horse (to a strong man, thank goodness) and instructed him to lead the horse with his hand firmly on her halter and elbow out so she can’t knock him into him and off they went!

One of the other participants in this group, who was already somewhat frightened of horses was flattened up against the arena wall, terrified by what she was witnessing and thinking that was what was required of her.

I assured her she did NOT have to do that and her instincts were correct in keeping her safe! After a little chat with the equine specialist she agreed that perhaps the horse wasn’t ready, willing and able for this experience. (Ya’ Think?!)

Once the participants in that group were reassigned to work with the other horses they all had a safe experience. Fortunately, the rest of the day went a LOT smoother!

It will all be alright in the end…
At the end of the event we were surprised (and delighted) by the feedback and gratitude we received from the local team. They shared some of the things they learned from us and how they will work to prepare their horses in the future! They were amazed by the transformation of some of the horses we worked with and realized they had been unfairly labeling them as ‘stubborn’, ‘love’ (that can be taken away), ‘naughty’, etc. They realized their own ‘labeling’ could influence the outcome of the experience they facilitate for others!

Our intentions from the morning were realized by the sharing from the local team. It was an incredibly gratifying moment ending with warm hugs all around.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of our take-aways from this event:

  • Never assume the skill level of your local handlers.
  • Practice with the horses and handlers to see if they are capable of participating in the experiences you have planned.
  • Ask about the psychological profiles of the horses.
  • Keep open lines of communication and contingency plans for diffusing any potentially dangerous situation.
  • Stay flexible, grounded and open to the learning!

Click the image here to download a PDF of the FULL Story for future reading reference!