My Workshop Experience by Cynthia Cooper
For many years I have read books about Equine Assisted Learning and Psychotherapy, finding the writings of Linda Kohanov (Tao of Equus and Riding Between the Worlds), Kathy Pike, Barbara Rector, The McCormicks, and Wyatt Webb, fascinating and heart-warming. I understood that horses could help people who were depressed, damaged and mentally broken and I knew instinctively that horses were good for the soul, but I’d never experienced a workshop myself.
So when Cheryl Cruttenden invited me to her ‘Authenticity through The Way of the Horse’ 2 day workshop at Allens Rivulet in August, things aligned and I had every reason to go. Looking forward to finding out more about who would be there and what we’d do, I turned up on the first day to find 5 others in a wood heater warmed room especially built for such events. We could see a half completed arena, the horses in their paddocks and yards, and a peaceful rural scene that included a few alpacas on the next door property. It was peaceful and private, just the place to connect with like-minded people and the five horse herd belonging to Lesley Rogers, who is also offering Equine Assisted Counseling and Coaching through her ‘FullGallop’ business.
With a combination of indoor and outdoor sessions dictated by the weather, which offered showers interspersed with some sun, we were guided through various exercises in self-awareness, being present, ‘reading the horses’ and our emotions, to eventually choose one horse to work with for the next day. While sharing our observations of the horses, who were mostly grazing calmly, it was interesting to find that several of us came up with similar descriptions about who we felt they were. We then worked as a group to connect with the horses, who by that stage were so used to us standing in the shed adjoining their paddock, mostly ignored us until the rain sent us scurrying for the warmth of the fire and more indoor discussions on the physiology of awareness and emotions.
We explored energy and emotions with a partner prior to putting our skills into practice with approaching the horses. I had a lovely connection with the big boy of the herd, a retired dressage champion who at 24 looked still looked and acted like a 4 year old at times. He invited me to scratch his itchy spots under the rug, and nuzzled and nibbled my hat and hair like we’d known each other for some time. It was a nice feeling to be accepted after my first instinct which was to mirror his grazing.
All our interactions with the horses were at liberty which pleased me, as I knew the horses could then choose to be part of an exercise or just go about their business. I had been a bit worried that we would have to do certain tasks with them, and when we were given the task of moving the herd as a group I thought ‘oh here we go’, but then Cheryl said to think about doing it embodying a different way of being, maybe the opposite way to what we’d normally do. So, while others were thinking, I suggested we do the exact opposite which would usually be to walk calmly towards the horses then bring our energy up to move them from behind – my idea was to run away from the horses (who were then level with us) with high energy, skipping and leaping! So we did, and the horses responded with the same energy which sent them into 5 minutes of lovely late afternoon energetic play with rearing, kicking, bucking and running to their hearts content. What a joyful sight we witnessed, and when we stopped laughing and encouraging them with ‘wow look at that’ and ‘woo hoos’, bringing our energy back to focus on the group, the horses did the same. Cheryl commented: “the most amazing, joyous and integrated group process of moving the herd I’ve ever witnessed”.
The next day we all shared more of our personal stories as the cards and stones we drew with messages about different emotions and states of being, gave us reason to look at our lives. We learned the four steps to the present, how our emotions affect our heart rate and physiology, and how to do a balanced breathing process to relax and move into a state of alignment and coherence through guided imagery, led by Cheryl’s soothing and almost hypnotic gentle voice.
Discussing the ‘Nine Essential skills for Authentic Community Building’ revealed how horses respond and react in the herd, and how people can follow their examples to enjoy more authentic relationships and connections with others. The connections between horses and their way of living was a catalyst for seeing how we can change and get more from our lives by being present and listening to our emotions that come from the body’s multiple centers of intelligence, the ‘brains’ in the gut, heart and head.
The best part of the day though was individual time spent with the horse we’d connected with emotionally the previous day, in a one on one arena session preceded by individual help from Cheryl to become centered and present through a guided Body Mind Breath process. Again the horses were at liberty with their herd mates just over the fence, quietly munching hay so it was a very calm, relaxing scene where the group watched the interactions and were able to comment on what they felt from their observations and ‘body scans’.
While our time with the horse was unlimited, most found the answers to the questions and emotions coming from within, happened in 10 minutes or less. It seemed the horses did very little, but by interpreting their actions and responses to us, we each found some valuable information and realisations about ourselves and the things in our lives that were bringing up the most emotion at that time.
In a very sublime way, the horse becomes a vehicle for allowing us to look at issues that may be holding us back in our lives, without us needing to ‘work’ with them in a specific way. This is the form of Equine Assisted Therapy/Learning that I think is highly beneficial for both the people and the horses because of the freedom and expression encouraged, and the expert guidance of Cheryl who is an accomplished horse person. We left the workshop having enjoyed a special sense of connectedness as a group, and I very much enjoyed the calm guidance of Cheryl and the beginning of new friendships with other like-minded horse lovers.
If you are looking for another dimension to your interaction with horses and the people around you, I can highly recommend this workshop which is based on the teachings of Linda Kohanov’s highly successful Epona methods woven with and integrated with Cheryl’s training and knowledge of Body Mind Breath coaching and mindfulness techniques, along with the most up to date findings in the field of neuroscience and head, heart and gut intelligence.
Cheryl has teamed up with a long term colleague in the field, Cindy Jacobs, to provide the first Australian based facilitator/practitioner training for those interested in facilitating this process with Module 1 being held Nov 15-19th, Module 2 in Feb. 2014. Their unique and powerful model of human development with horses draws on ancient wisdom supported by the most recent neuroscience findings. In addition to their combined experience of 19 years in EFEL working with hundreds of diverse clients, they have the professional expertise of program development, instructional design, assessment, adult learning theory, experiential learning, and group processes. Holding qualifications in behavioural science, education, facilitation and numerous coach training qualifications and certifications along with RTO Cert IV in Training and Assessment, training is designed around specific learning objectives supported by comprehensive manuals and other tools, all delivered in a manner that is appropriate for all adult learning styles.
They are unique in the field of Learning, Training, Coaching and Development with horses as they are the first and only program in the world that is grounded in peer reviewed research that draws on interpersonal neurobiology, which includes cutting edge tools and techniques that aligns and integrates the head, heart and gut to live from the highest expression of each center of intelligence.