I was feeling down, sorry for myself. I didn’t want to go. It was cold, dark, rainy and wet…I simply wanted to stay home. For days in a row. I went anyway. I put on layers, I psyched myself up, I went out of guilt. Each morning I would show up with a smile on my face and stand at the stall door. “Good morning, Floyd”.
I followed the exact routine I had for nearly 2 years. I grabbed his halter and stood at the stall door and waited for him to engage. He walked to the door, he looked at me, allowed me to halter him and quietly walked behind me as I led him to a round pen. Day after day, it was always the same. Then one day, all the sudden…. he reached out and bit me, HARD, seemingly “out of nowhere”. I was frustrated, it continued to escalate for days, the ear pinning, chasing and open mouth. With all my knowledge and tools, I couldn’t seem to understand this sudden behavior or how to correct it without punishing him.
One day a stranger said to me, “Floyd is being aggressive because you are not standing strong enough in your own light”. At first, I dismissed the notion, that sounded silly. Then, I thought about that. I realized that my lack of authenticity was more visible to my horse than it was to me. After all, in the wild, horses must be masters at studying intention by small seemingly invisible ways–their life depends on it. The incongruence between my words/face/body language and my true feelings and thoughts did not match. In Floyd’s mind, I was a liar, not a leader. As much as I smiled and tried to ACT normal, the more domineering he became. Why? Floyd’s idea of leadership is that of what any toddler human child would be…young and inexperienced. It’s at simple as that. Until I could let go of my baggage and be authentic with myself, I couldn’t lead this horse without a fight.
After the realization of it all, it caused introspection. What was it that I needed to let go of to become more authentic and at peace? With myself, him, family, friends and co-workers? For me, it was letting go of some emotional baggage that had been weighing me down and focusing on four simple things (which I will discuss, keep reading).
Horses like to mirror their leaders. They do it in the wild and they often do it with humans they are connected to. To redefine my role, I used intention and my breath to see if he would mirror me in agreement. This short video is the “conversation” we had. Standing away from him and giving him free will to walk away, I took one soft breath in and exhaled softly as I stood relaxed. My head looking down and one hip relaxed. He came closer. I took a big loud breath in and exhaled loudly. His reaction was to do the exact same but with a more dramatic release of energy. From this point on, I have tried to stay authentic.
Like horses, people are intuitive. They can see through an act, a script, a fake smile…. trust me, as good as you think you are at hiding your true feelings, people feel it. The good news is there are several reasons to practice authenticity.
Authentic leaders have a realistic perception of reality and are accepting of themselves and therefor, other people too. These same people often use a sense of humor and are thoughtful when expressing emotions with others. Good leaders who are themselves know that learning comes from making a mistake here and there. When your words and behaviors are congruent with your inner thoughts and feelings, leaders (of horses and humans) tend to be more accepting of their own and other’s mistakes.
Things are magically perfect with Floyd, or any relationship, but practicing these things consistently has improved my connections and continues to do so every day.
• Be self-aware, in a good way. Do you know when you are in your comfort zone and when you aren’t? Often, when we are out of our comfort zone, authenticity becomes more difficult. When you’re aware of this, you can draw more from your true self and act accordingly.
• Seek true understanding of those around you. Are you a good listener? Do you read body language easily? Are you keenly focused on the present moment and understanding connection with others?
• Abandon perfection. In fact, sometimes abandon the outcome in your head entirely.
• Be present. Turn off your phone. When I ask Floyd to work with me, I am essentially asking him to turn off his cell phone. To focus on me and not his friends, the food in his stall, the tractor going by, to focus on the present moment. If I lose his focus, most likely it’s because I lost my own. Stay present.
For most people, authenticity is a practice, not a destination. Sometimes, we just need a little reminder. From a horse.
See you around the neighborhood �!