My heart was pounding. I thought, “I’ve got to let this tension go. I’ve got to relax. Focus on controlling your breath. Try not to get hurt. Breathe.” The moment that thought connected with my chest, the large white Brazilian Lusitano horse laying at my head let out a cleansing breath in that wonderful way that horses do. The five other horses laying in a circle around me quietly continued to hold this space. Guided through three or four more breaths and I was at the edge of a trance. What held me back from completely submitting was the excitement, awe, and trust of the moment working conflicting with a heightened awareness that I might have to move quickly if the horses got up. “Am I really lying down in the dirt with 6 large horses laying in a circle around me?”
After several minutes of holding this moment, one of the horses did get up. Keeping my eyes closed, I couldn’t see which. I continued to lay on my back and leaned toward trust. My arms at my side, hands facing downward I worked at keeping myself calm. With persistence, I returned my focus toward my breath and releasing the excitement. The horse held its distance where he stood at the circle around me. I let another deep breath go and thought to myself, “Okay, I’m ready.” I turned my hands over and upward.
With my eyes still closed, I heard and sensed the standing horse walk over to me and then reach down to see what was going on with me. He carefully grabbed my pants and tugged them a little bit. He sniffed at my upturned hand and I super gently pet his sensitive nose. I opened my eyes and was stunned at the sight of 1500 pounds of dark bay Appendix Quarter Horse silhouetted against the New Mexico blue sky. This was Cisco. His hooves right at my side, his chest towering above me, his regal head looking outward. He stood calmly, watching over me, and waited. Was this more than his curiosity? Was he guarding me? Was he just done lying about and breathing in a circle? What in me, was he connecting with?
A lot happened after I carefully got to my knees, petting Cisco, and stood up. I went over to Coach Scott, who seemed quite moved. Even somewhat amazed. Scott said that he hadn’t seen all of this from the herd before and for the first time, this kind of interaction from Cisco.
I learned that Cisco had been bought by his previous owners as the centerpiece of a stud farm. He had been locked inside a typical stallion “proofed,” closed-off barn stall. Here he was cut off from any sense of “herd,” even though he likely heard them on the outside. Inside this stall, he was fighting to keep his spirit alive as well as his life. Nobody could get near him as he bit and kicked. Like all horses, he wasn’t built to be isolated from nature and others. This treatment disconnected Cisco from every pillar of the horse herd wisdom developed over 56 million years. These pillars of connection, peace, freedom, joy and safety were not accessible to Cisco.
At the center of these pillars is “thrive.” Cisco is indeed a caring, connected, and courageous being. “Rescued” and at EQUUS, he was now learning to thrive as part of the herd again; learning from the herd itself to tap back into these core pillars of herd wisdom. Here, under the New Mexico sky, not far from where horses first came to humanity at the Polecat Bench and where they made a promise to each other, Cisco is much less “owned” and much more “Horse.” With this context, to this day, I viscerally connect back to that moment of lying on the ground, with my hand facing upward, and the gentle nuzzle of Cisco’s nose, whiskers, and breathe from his powerful lungs. When I do this, I notice that I sink into grounding – that I sink into presence. It’s powerful to practice “presencing.” And I learned so very much more, down into my core.
A few months later I was back in L.A. at an ICF LA chapter meeting. I was having a bit of social anxiety, something that can be nearly debilitating for me. I took a deep breath and spontaneously had a powerful sense of huge Cisco standing over my right shoulder. His shoulder firmly holding me in place and guarding me in such a way that I felt quite protected. And what mattered at the moment, was no longer my anxiety. It was my focus toward the experience at hand. I lightened up, my excitement went from zero to supercharged! I nearly jumped out of my chair in the middle of this buttoned-up professional meeting. For a moment, I didn’t know if I should call Kelly and Scott at EQUUS right then, jump up and yell, “Oh YES!!!”, or yell out “Go ahead, bring it on!” This was about getting myself present, connecting into my values, and the integration of two powerful coaching sessions. My experience with Cisco and years before with Coach Sara Smith who had once said to me, “Dan… Be brave here. Be brave now.” And I think I positively lit up for the rest of the evening as I participated, felt good in myself, and made a choice about what is now.
Presence, choice, connection, gratitude continue to be thematic for my clients and me this past year. Among what we’ve explored were creativity, curiosity, hope, and possibilities for what’s coming for us all.
Woven through my direct experience with the horse herd, was learning more about something called Kanyini. Kanyini is the ancient indigenous Australian people’s term for the connectedness that we share with the world – with nature – around us:
Learning this shifted more within me and I was finally beginning to understand so much more dimension, the connectedness I’ve felt, and the responsibility I have felt throughout my life. When I reach down and touch the earth now, it is with reverence. When I reach out and touch a tree, it is with honor and curiosity. When I pull a drowned bee from the pool, I will continue to whisper, “blessings on you, little one.” When I walk along a path it is with care and service. And the whispers I hear on the breeze as they pass by are the whispers of all the natural world that have come before us. The message I hear is that in the moment, what I do now matters – in every way.
What I’ve learned here deepens presence in ways that clarify my connection, my place, my belonging, my responsibility and life’s meaning that I had not experienced before.
As we begin to move out of the long pandemic pause, as we rebuild our connections, I hope that what’s possible is that we take with us all that we have learned about ourselves — and appreciate every responsibility we have in connection with others and our responsibilities to the world we travel through.
I hope that we take with us a renewed sense of presence — about what’s powerful, about what’s equitable, about appreciating diversity, and about a deeper, connected sense of care.
Coaches continually get coached themselves and evaluate where they are in their process all in service of their clients.