Cowboy Therapy

We all have our issues. Mine is balance.

But I’m not sure I really understood it, until a horse showed me how.

There are 8 of us sitting together in a circle of chairs in the warm desert sun, as Wyatt Webb tells us a little of what he knows of horses and life and why men aren’t wired to ask for directions. He has a big warm smile and a folksy, matter-of-fact way as he explains how a little horse sense can go a long way towards better living. With his cowboy hat, full white beard and round belly, he looks like a Western Santa..

When it’s time to meet the horses, I’m surprised to learn we won’t actually be riding them. Instead, we'll spend the next 2 hours learning to see the world from their perspective and trying to communicate with them without words or sounds.

As it turns out, horses are exceptionally sensitive creatures who respond to body language and energy. In order to get a horse to raise his foot so you can clean his shoe, you must approach from here, and squeeze his foreleg there and grab the underside of his foot like so. If you don’t project intention with each step, he simply won’t budge.

In fact, it turns out horses are best led from behind. Instead of pulling them from out in front, the its better to lead a horse from behind – pushing him forward using just your body language and energy. Turn your energy up from your core and walk towards the back of the horse and he walks forward with you. Turn that energy up a notch and he’ll speed up to a trot. Dial the energy down and he’ll slow down. Send mix signals and he’ll stop, or turn, or do pretty much anything except what you want him to.

Sitting on a bench in the outdoor arena watching Caitlin demonstrate how this works, I was skeptical.  Not only is this horse well-trained, but surely he’s used to having people chase him around in a circle. He just knows what to do, right?

Actually, no. To my surprise, each of us succeeded or failed at the task in our own unique and personal way. One woman gave mixed signals, another quit too soon, another got tired after putting way more energy into the exercise than the horse did. When it was my turn, I dialed up my energy and started to push the horse forward, almost immediately sending him into a full-on trot. Each time I slowed down, the horse came to a stop. Maybe it should have been obvious, but I was a little startled when Caitlin walked up and asked me quietly, “It seems like your energy is either way up or its almost non-existent. Do you find that to be true, that you’re either all in or your all out?” I laughed. It took 2 more circles around the arena before I finally found the right balance to keep the horse walking at a steady pace.

It's one thing to know your issues. It’s another altogether to see a horse holding up the mirror.