A few days ago I held the inaugural Syzygy Equine Vision Journey – a self-exploration retreat grounded in equine guided education principles. Five women came for an afternoon of self-exploration in the roundpen. Dakota, my gallant 20-something year old gelding had somehow been very clear that he was ready for this work, and so I had known for sometime that he’d be the one to take the lead. He proved himself well. The Syzygy herd all seemed to know that something new was in the air this day, and were alert to the new happenings of their day-to-day surroundings.
We started the afternoon off with a grounding exercise – with goal of slowing our busy minds and lives to be more aligned to the horse’s world. Horses – and my horses particularly – live at a wonderfully grounded pace everyday. They take in life as it comes, in tune the mountain surroundings in which they live. We call this quarter-time in the EGE world, and it was good to see and feel everyones’ minds slow from the earlier pace of the day. I then asked them to take time to meet the Syzygy herd. To come into their world, to go where their bodies wanted and spend some quiet time with whichever horse called out to them.
I had asked each of them to bring an inquiry to the day to ponder upon. Some of the women knew what their inquiry was, and some of them hadn’t really honed in on this quite yet. We moved into a Medicine Wheel exercise, an ancient ritual that provided space for each of them to consider this inquiry a bit further. Throughout this exercise, we took time looking to the four directions: East, South, West and North to ponder new beginnings, their child-like state, the inner wisdom and what their elders bring to their life stories, and particularly to this day. Finally, they moved into the center – the heart of the scenario – and they each considered how they might integrate the thoughts that came forth from each direction. This proved useful in helping either to define or further refine their inquiry for the day. It also continued to help ground each of them in this quiet mountain valley, as they all came more into their bodies – letting the tensions of life wash away.
Dakota stood ready in the roundpen. My two paints, Sugaree and Zip were in the pen adjacent to the roundpen, clearly curious to where this work was taking all of us on this journey-filled day. Destiny, my Swedish Warmblood mare stood looked on from the pen just behind where we sat. The following shares some of the amazing roundpen explorations that took place that afternoon.
Katherine volunteered first. After she spent some time walking the perimeter of the roundpen – she shared her inquiry with the group. She felt like she was always writing life stories for herself that were never fulfilled, which always brought new disappointments and sadness to her life. She had written this life story in her mind that she would be married, have the white picket fence and it hadn’t worked out this way. Her inquiry was based around how she could stop writing life stories that brought disappointment. So I asked her to ponder this question with Dakota and see where this took her. He guided her to the edge of the arena looking intently to the north. After standing quietly with him, Katherine commented that she feels like she needed to turn to her inner strengths, and she shared that when she spent days at the barn living passionately with the horses in her life, that she felt very alive. Perhaps she should focus her heart toward these places that brought her passion instead of creating stories in her mind, she shared. She spoke of being a single parent and the joy her son brings her. Dakota guided her to the center of the arena, and she commented that perhaps her lesson was to stay in touch with her inner passions and joys – living in the moment – grounded and with peace. Dakota gently touched his muzzle to her as she spoke, reconfirming – and nudging her – as if to say that, yes this is the way.
Next Jax found her way to the roundpen. Jax has been fighting (yet winning) a lengthy and difficult battle with one of the worst types of breast cancer. She’s still in the midst of her treatment, yet is incredibly strong and active. Dakota joined Jax immediately upon entering the roundpen, positioning his heart close to her. He would turn his body toward her and seemed to be wrapping his big energy around her. Jax expressed her anger at cancer, and indicated that she believed she was experiencing cancer to help others. She shared that she had been unsure of her inquiry for the day when she arrived, but it became very clear to her in the Medicine Wheel that the day had to do with her impending visit to her mother’s home the following week. As she talked about her relationship with her mother – who like Katherine who went before her – had been a single mother. Jax found it interesting that her mother had come to mind several times throughout the day so far – when she had not been expecting this. After a bit of conversation with this group of women who had not really known each before (a bond was clearly forming amongst everyone), Dakota pulled Jax away from the group, and placed himself strategically between Jax and the rest of us. She continued to speak about her relationship with her mother, and each time she tried to take a step forward around Dakota, he would step forward and keep her separated from us. This little dance happened 5 or 6 times, Dakota insistently setting his ground that she was to stay near his heart and ponder in silence, as he would turn his nose back toward her to offer comfort. So Jax took time, and posed several questions to Dakota. Could she yell and be angry? Dakota stood his ground. Preaching to the choir, she silently asked him? Dakota stood still. Perhaps holding her hand and listening? It was with this thought that Dakota stepped away. Yet, he stood behind her with his nose very close. She later shared, “He started by shielding me in front, but then ended up supporting me from behind, nudging me forward.”
Samantha volunteered next, and as was the case with each new entry into the roundpen, he took on a different presence in the way he positioned his body and interacted. She shared that she had recently discovered a real passion for animal communications and had always known her love of writing. As Samantha spoke of her passions, Dakota was instantly engaged with her – and he muzzled her from the side as she spoke to the group. She started to share her concerns about making money in this career path – and he instantly became disengaged and walked away and turning his backside to her. He had tapped into her authentic passions, but found no interest in the story that concerned money. In fact, as he moved away, he promptly deposited a pile of fresh manure in the center of the roundpen. She laughed at this, and went back to talking about her passions and he promptly returned. In pondering what she was to learn from this, Samantha shared that she believed the message was to follow where her passions led her and to believe in that path.
As Jodie entered the roundpen, it’s quite important to note that throughout the day, Zip and Sugaree had been intently engaged on the side of the fence – yet quietly standing. Jodie started to share her inquiry – the fact that she spends most of her time being very analytical, and had recently sought out some ways to take her out of her analytical mindset by joining the church choir. But her analytical side was being very cautious – after all she had no formal training in singing and maybe she should be learning the proper technicalities behind singing – while another side of her was wanting to just play in the music and have fun. Almost simultaneously with Jodie stating the words “play and fun,” Zip and Sugaree went into a 5-minute round of romping and bucking and kicking – partaking in a good solid round of happy horse play. As I asked Jodie what she thought this might mean, Jodie could only stand there and laugh out loud, that it was obvious how she should approach it – in play and fun. The group sat in wonder of this outburst of horse play, and gave Zip and Sugaree the time to frolic. As it seemed that we had received their message, they came back to their place at the edge of the roundpen and returned to their quiet stance. Dakota came to Jodie and each time she thought about “Just sing,” he would nudge her with his muzzle reinforcing her thoughts.
As always, I was fascinated by the day, and humbly aware of how powerful this work is. Knowing my horses like I do, I was fascinated by their own transformation while they engaged in this work. Dakota was so caring and loving, and engaged in ways that I have never seen him engage with others. He can sometimes be standoffish, and not want to be hugged on and doted over. In this work, he transformed to a caretaker, offering muzzles and nudges and walls of protection and his heart. He brought different messages to each person in his own way, and even turned it over to the others with grace several times. I was right in hearing his requests very early on – his enthusiasms that told me it was about time that I found my way into this work and that he was ready to show the others. I recall the day I returned from EGEA training in California, he met me at the barn door with such a strong interest – his kind eyes saying he was ready. And he was. A lesson in listening for me.