I recently had a great opportunity to train with two EAAT professionals that I greatly admire, Tim and Bettina Jobe of Natural Lifemanship (http://www.naturallifemanship.com). I believe that if you have a chance to study with your mentors, you should go to their home base so that you can have a deeper understanding of their process. So in the middle of April, I headed down to Austin, Texas, for three days of intensive experiential learning.
Part of the training involved working with an American mustang...a wild horse who in the prior five weeks had been captured in Nevada, castrated, and transported thousands of miles to Texas. Thanks to the work of the Mustang Heritage Foundation (http://www.mustangheritagefoundation.org/), he will soon be adopted by a veteran. Needless to say, it was an incredible and rare opportunity.
I spent the next three days in the round pen trying to build relationship with this extremely skittish horse. I would advance, and he would retreat. He would curiously extend his nose, and I would hope that I was releasing pressure at just the right second. We played out this intricate dance of "Can I trust you?" in front of floating staff facilitators, who coached me in much the same way that I try to support our clients at the farm.
It was scary to enter that round pen with my heart on my sleeve and hope that this horse would give me a chance. I wanted to prove to him that I could keep him safe, but I also knew that our time together was short and I fought the greedy impulse to push him outside his comfort zone...
It was also humbling and uncomfortable to be vulnerable in front of the facilitators and feel the performance anxiety of knowing that my horsemanship skills and personal "stuff" were on display... The mustang's exquisite sensitivity showed exactly where my technical and emotional gaps were. Some of the lessons that he had for me were expected, old variations on a theme, but there were new revelations for me to absorb as well. Oh, good--a big, fat helping of personal growth... :/
Throughout the weekend, I was constantly reminded of the courage that it takes for our clients to arrive at the farm and trust us with their emotional and physical safety. It is so easy to stand outside the round pen each day and forget that sensation. I really try to never lose touch with the uncomfortable feeling of being a client and my hope is that everyone in session at the farm trusts us to keep them safe while they are here.
On our final day together, that mustang let me stroke his neck...just for a second. And it was a privilege.