Since attending Suzanne Clothier’s and Dr. Kirby Wycoff’s outstanding workshop on the ethical considerations of animal assisted therapy two weeks ago, my mind has been a whirlwind of information and ideas.
In reflection I sense layers of learning that will continue to unfold but for now one thing stands out. It is an assessment tool developed by Clothier, a renowned author, speaker and dog trainer. This tooldistills down to the root of what it means to be in relationship with six elemental questions. The most important of these being: how is this for you?
When we open with this question to another being whether a horse, a dog, chicken or human, we allow for an opportunity to understand the other’s perspective. We show that their opinion matters.
But with any question we have to be prepared for the answer. And this is not always easy. Hearing the answer to your question requires not only patience and understanding but an open heart to withstand vulnerability, fear, anger and confusion. This question and all its richness has been front and center for me this week.
A few days ago, I trailered three of my horses to Matway Farms. Although Anam Cara is still my home and the centre of my business, this new barn has a covered arena … at Matway I can offer year round coaching, training and programs. The issue, however, is that Babs, Shady and Jake, the three horses that came with me, did not have a choice in this move. It created an intense internal struggle for me. Although I knew they were the best choice, based on personality and adaptability, and that it was a good business decision, I also knew they would feel stress and anxiety with the move.
With my new tool kit and years of experience of walking the herd through transitions I asked them: how is this for you. I listened deeply and felt their wavering sense of safety. I saw their longing to be close to one another and the confusion it created when I separated out one of them to work with a client. I told them I heard them, that I know it is difficult and that I am asking a lot.
This transition will take time as anyone who has ever moved house will know. But the real beauty of this experience has been with my clients. I have walked and talked with them to bring them to awareness of the horses’ discomfort. With joy, I see my clients respond with compassion.
When we see Shady lift his head and whinny for the other horses we talk about how he is feeling. I encourage them to ask him questions, to listen to his response; to feel into his fears. The result has been nothing but rewarding. Although we may feel frustrated that Shady may not do as we ask, an understanding is created and his need to feel safe is prioritized. All of our “should bedoings” fall by the wayside as we focus on deepening the relationship between us and them. My clients have opened their hearts and the herd is responding.
And all of it stems from one simple question: How is this for you?