This is the third year that I’ve had the privilege of introducing my equus coach community to wild mustangs. I first experienced gentling wild horses over ten years ago, and it was one of the most profound encounters I’ve ever had. Gentling a wild mustang is a slow and often tedious process through which a wild horse becomes tame. There are many ways of doing this, but the more traditional approach usually involves tying the horse up, confining it, and limiting its natural expression until it gives up its need for self defense and becomes docile enough to be around humans. This can be traumatic for the horse and often takes months of training.
I was taught a different way — to allow the horse’s natural expressions, to be present to the dangers we present each other, and to build a relationship on a foundation of mutual trust. While it requires deep internal work, if you are open and present, this process allows you to create a profoundly genuine connection with the animal in a matter of days.
Working with wild mustangs is a visceral experience. Each mustang is unique and each moment is unique. One moment can be very calm and feel like a clear and generous bond, then one slight shift in your emotional state or intention and the horse can take off at full speed or come inches away from kicking you in the head—it certainly gets your attention! The encounter is an invitation to presence like nothing else I know.
Working with wild mustangs allowed me to quickly see the places where I had an attachment to an outcome or where I wasn’t being fully authentic, even when I genuinely thought I was. My inner landscape was broadcast back to me in the literal and often dramatic behavior of the horse. This pivotal learning curve took me from a competent horse person to an exceptionally good listener. It taught me how to build relationships from a place of honesty and openness and to trust each moment, allowing myself to accept my emotions. It doesn’t mean I get it right all the time, but it gave me a new level of desire and respect to continually listen for what is needed.
When I started training other equus coaches, I knew it would be too much to ask a new student to interact with a wild mustang. It would be like asking someone to defend a PhD dissertation on their first day of high school. But when I put together my Master Facilitator Equus Coaching Apprenticeship Program, which prepares equus coaches to run group workshops, I sensed the mustang training would be an essential component and I felt that the apprenticeship would enable my master coaches to have enough experience and time to really receive its gifts.
One of my dear coaches, Lori Moskal, offered to let me shared about her recent experience working with wild mustangs for the first time. Lori is a talented equus coach who specializes in mind-body work, teaching people how to use the body’s intelligence to inform their awareness and cultivate genuine connections. The word that came to mind for her in describing the mustang experience was presence. She said, “Working with the mustangs brought the whole idea of moment-to-moment into the clearest focus I’ve ever experienced. Koelle talks about feeling into what wants to happen. When you’re with the animal, you’re feeling into what wants to happen. There’s no other way. It’s a master class in what’s really in front of you.”
Since there is an element of danger present in each moment, this work really keeps you on your toes. I asked Lori and the other coaches to feel the presence of the moment and to use feeling states to discern what wants to happen. This gives them a good indication of how they might go about building a connection to the wild animal, in a way that our fixed ideas and expectations just can’t. Day by day, I watched their ability to read energy and create authentic connections improve dramatically. This carries over into their work with clients as well as into their relationships with themselves and others.
During our intensive, Lori explored her relationship to anger. Not only her ability to express anger, but also to understand what the emotion was bringing her and what it was there to teach. She shared her reflections on one particularly poignant interaction: “Koelle asked me if I was ready to go in the pen. I was thinking, No. I just got off the hot plate. I’m not feeling grounded and present. I’m feeling frustrated and angry. She challenged me to ask, how do you move in the world and find presence and still be able to feel what you feel? I was thinking I needed to be in a certain place of inner peace. Once I got in the pen, that anger brought clarity and focus. There was no other thought in my mind expect being with that horse. I felt so clear and confident. It was strange. My body felt like it was being held. I just felt really clear. Anger can provide that when it is able to move through you. It was a beautiful, brilliant moment. I learned that I can do this and be present and have my feelings. That was big learning.”
It was an incredible gift to witness Lori’s process. Without her willingness to fully feel anger, she wouldn’t have been able to build a genuine connection with the mustang. At the moments when she went into a pattern of trying to be calm and center herself, she disassociated from the anger and thus from being fully present with the horse. As soon as the animal can feel a blockage in the emotional energy, it won’t trust you. When Lori was able to find an internal place of total acceptance, she was able to be fully present and trust the moment. Within that level of awareness, the connection took care of itself.
Each time I work with these incredible animals and equus coaches, I always learn something new. But what continues to emerge is the state of wonder and awe at the intelligence of the animals, revealing to each of us the greater intelligence of life. Lori’s final remarks mirror my own sentiments perfectly. She shared, “I have a lot of gratitude for the experience. Not only for my practice as an equus coach, but first and foremost for my practice as a human being. What a gift to be able to have the space held for that exploration. Working with the wild horses was really the gift of a lifetime.”
The wild mustangs have shown me the importance of building a connection to others and the world around me by heightening my personal awareness of the genuine feeling state that permeates the environment. Although you may not have a wild mustang at your fingertips, I’d like to encourage you to try playing with your own level of awareness. A few times throughout your day pause for a second or two in order to draw your attention to your own inner feeling state. Ask yourself the simple question, “What am I really feeling right now?” Then trying drawing your attention to your external environment and ask, “What does the emotional feeling state of this overall environment feel like to me?” Lastly, see if you can give yourself permission to trust what you feel and while finally asking yourself, “What wants to happen at this moment?” These three questions:
“What am I really feeling right now?”
“What does the emotional feeling state of this overall environment feel like to me?”
“What wants to happen at this moment?”,
may just be a powerful access point to your own relationship with presence.