May 12, 2012
I approached the horses and I was with them. One chewed on my watch. We were close to each other. It was so cool! When I started questioning, "What do I do? What am I here to learn?" they walked away. When I was indecisive and trying to figure it out (whatever it was I was supposed to be doing with them), they stopped being interested. When I was present, we were connected.
When I wasn't clearly communicating, the horse left. When we were engaged and I trusted my instinct, I was able to lead and the horse followed me. When I started to worry and waiver, the horse went the other way.
As a leader, I am hard to follow when I worry and doubt. It is hard for me to lead when I'm not clear about what I want.
Where does this show up? All the time. Making dinner, making plans. I'm so worried and concerned about taking care of others that I take myself out of the picture. I disappear. Maybe it's in the service of others, but underneath is a belief and a sense that I don't really trust my instincts or my wants. The horse knows. My beliefs and intentions are powerful.
(an excerpt from Karen's personal journal)
On a sunny Saturday in May 2012, I got to see myself through the eyes of a horse under the guidance of the team at The Reflective Horse in Topanga Canyon.
I didn't come for therapy, healing, a second chance or to "find myself." I had to discover if equine leadership actually worked. Nothing, and I mean nothing, replaces the learning you gain from experience and I was all in to figure it out.
Here's how the day went:
First, we observed the herd. Seeing how they interacted as individuals and in a group dynamic, we were asked to make assumptions - if this were an organization, what are their roles? What do you see? Who are you drawn to? What might be happening here?
I watched one horse who seemed young and filled with of energy and determination. It reminded me of me in every workplace that employed me in my 20s and early 30s when I was headstrong, confident and oblivious. Seeing how the other horses responded, I had an immediate sense of how my impact probably wasn't what I'd intended. This was going to get interesting.
As animals that are preyed upon in the wild, horses are extremely sensitive to what is in their immediate environment and out to the horizon. They sense what we (humans, predators) feel before we might even put words to the feelings to know if they are safe or in danger.
Communicating with a horse originates from feeling. Are you honest with yourself? Do you act like you’re not afraid when you are? Horses know the feelings beyond the words and sense if your energy is congruent with your intention?
What words matched my feelings? Nervous, excited, curious, and anxious. I am comfortable around animals and trusted the team and the program (even with the information kicking around in my head of, "Oh my god, these are giant animals and I'm a tiny human, what am I thinking?!"). For the opportunity to interact with these magnificent beings, I was willing to be real. I’d begun to know it was okay to be real and not always act like I had it all together when I didn’t.
Though I didn't know how to say hello to the herd, I knew I wanted to be calm and as present and available as possible. It was a thrill! The horses were also calm, present, grounded and available. As I stood with them, in awe of the connection, I looked at the lead mare, and questioned: what's the big learning here for me?
Receiving feedback from a horse is different than your typical 360 evaluation. Unlike other reviews, the horse in front of you is not your boss or your client, can’t fire you, and won’t determine your next raise or promotion. The horse is not there to buy into anything you're trying to sell.
The moment I began to analyze my experience to see how to make it more meaningful and relevant – instead of being in the actual experience with the horse – she turned and walked away from me.
She fricking walked away?!
I’d never before received such precise, deep and immediate insights into my impact.
When I felt confident, playful, and open – relating to the herd as I would my dogs - it was easy. When I got all in my head about my significance and projecting into the future, I saw where I still had work to do.
I was struggling to figure a lot of things out when I went to The Reflective Horse and the horses gave me feedback I desperately needed to hear. When I became aware of what had been a blind spot in my leadership, I was able to change it — when that changed, everything changed.
I left The Reflective Horse and on my way home, I pulled over in town, bought a journal, dug for a pen in the bottom of my bag and wrote as much as I could about the experience.
A few hours later, Rafe and I met up for dinner. Over fried plantains and black beans, I recounted my experience. I kept shaking my head, knowing someting I couldn't possible know. People need this. We need this.
Two years later (in 2014), Rafe shared this on Facebook before my first equine leadership retreat at our own ranch.
As some of you may have noticed, my posts in the last few years have turned a little horsey. In my grand plan, I expected to share my life with exactly zero horses. Definitely a wife, hopefully two kids, at least one or two dogs, but never any horses.
We've been on this horse journey for almost two years now. Along the way, I didn't really know why were doing it and I admit that I didn't look very hard for answers. It just felt right for some odd reason. Our family grew to include Nickels and Fleur, then Penny and Trigger, and then Stella and Caliente.
In January, we had an opportunity to join our herd with Angi and Seth Murray. We began Wrong Turn Ranch on 20 acres leased in Santa Ynez wine country. The Ranch is currently home to over 30 horses, 9 dogs, 2 Nigerian dwarf goats, a couple of cows, 14 chickens, three ducks, and any number of wandering cats, squirrels, deer, and birds.
So here's the thing....it was just in the last two weeks that I realized why I was on this path. The horses remind me of something I had forgotten with all of the hours of work and commitments. They remind me that there is still magic and adventure out there in this world. And now I just want to share that with anyone who will listen.