(Shep)Herding

or how to integrate ancient wisdom with new approaches.

In the last few months, I had the unique opportunity to see one of my – admittedly quite outside the box – ideas spark to life. Credit for the first sparks being ignited belongs to Linda Kohanov, a great thinker and writer in the world of horse-assisted education. With her book on the 5 Roles of the Master Herder, she put together many of the loose ends I had been thinking about for a while and I absolutely love the theory she has put together in this latest book.

Her thoughts on how the herding of animals can be transferred to good leadership skills in humans might be surprising to someone who is not used to being with animals, but it is not a new consideration by any means. For me, as a horse-assisted Life-Coach and a Christian, her theory carries a special beauty and meaning, as we have heard it all before: God uses the image of the Good Shepherd in the Bible over and over again: to show His love for His people, the sheep, to draw a picture of the fierceness of His dedication, to explain what makes a good leader and what doesn’t.

not yet a convincing leader

It is the image of  leader we all want to be led by and the leader we wish we all could be – no matter whether you believe in Jesus Christ as our Good Shepherd or not.

The Bible uses the image of the shepherd because it was an image people were incredibly familiar with in their geography and times. And while we still like and appreciate the images, it is not something that has practical meaning for us nowadays. We don’t really know what the daily life of a shepherd or a sheep look like, we don’t know what skills are necessary and we certainly can’t go and practice shepherding as a training for life.

And this – curtain opens, tadaah – is where my horses and my work come in! While you might not be able to practice your herding skills with sheep any longer, you can observe and practice with horses.

outdoor education at its best

So, with the background knowledge of these two books, the Bible and Kohanov’s 5 Roles and a couple others, we (that is my husband Todd and I) have developed a few workshops, each a bit different and geared towards the specific groups we had coming out to work with us. Todd has a PhD in Theology and currently works as a Campus Minister here in Kelowna and therefore acted as my expert consultant in matters of biblical interpretation and as a natural connection to the groups we hosted. One group was a groups of Elders from a nearby church, a group entrusted with the leadership of that congregation by its members and interested in working on team-building and their vision. The second group was a student group focusing on bringing their Christian faith to their campus and the third was a group of Christian medical students and professors who wanted to focus on their presence and communication while being with patients.

Each of the groups spent very special and unique hours with us and the four horses and we all really enjoyed the opportunity to explore our faith and our skillset from such a different angle.

horses as metaphors

If you think this is a workshop that would be fitting for you and your colleagues, employees, friends, please contact me to find out more – I would love to hear from you and explore how we can specify this workshop exactly to you or your group.

Here are some of the reviews we received:

Dear Annika
Thank you so very much for a fabulous experience with your beautiful horses.   I arrived to meet you the day before and instantly felt comfortable because of your calm, quiet and confident manner (explanation from Annika: this member of the group had mentioned a fear of horses, so I invited her to meet me and the horses shortly before the actual workshop, so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed in the group situation).  
When I met the horses I felt that I was accepted by them and felt no fear.  Because I had been very afraid of horses since I was a young girl, this felt like a miracle!! The next day when our group was working with you, I was excited to be touching horses, feeding one by hand and encouraging them to follow me.  What an amazing experience that was for me. I was very impressed to see you working with the horses, getting them to follow your commands without touching them or having a lead for them. You spoke nicely to them.  I was impressed that you were aware of how each of us was responding and acting around the horses, even our body language. I learned many things that day.  I learned that horses are very intelligent and that they respond to kindness and also leadership. It was an amazing experience for me.  Our group discussions were reflective and interesting.  Thank you for a wonderful day!!!

This was just a quick response from the pastor of the group on Sunday morning – not meant as a review but I loved the authenticity of the comment so much that I wanted to add it in:

 O my gosh, that day was ridiculously, extraordinarily good.  I couldn’t be more pleased.  It was hard and peaceful and wildly constructive.  I praise God.  I am so grateful for you and Todd and your children.
Yes, much more that could be explored and likely more for us to debrief!  But I’m going to return my attention to preparations for this morning’s worship.
THANK YOU!!!  Dang, what an honour to learn alongside of you and your horses.  It is profound for me.  You have such an amazing gift and I am so glad you are using it.

team-building and protective leadership

  And here is another review by one of the medical students:

 The equestrian shepherding workshop was unlike anything I have done before and was more than I expected. Using the horses both as a model of the shepherd and of the sheep, Todd and Annika guided our group through various exercises to demonstrate the various essential aspects of leading/shepherding. Not only did I get past my fear of horses, but the experience strengthened my awareness of the importance of observation and being attentive to the environment in my future medical practice. During the workshop I was challenged to listen in a new way. In medical school, we are trained on how to take a proper history of the presenting illness, gather past medical information, and observe the patient’s current mental status, but we aren’t trained on how to LISTEN to patients beyond their words. We are trained to create a list of possible diagnosis as soon as we hear the chief complaint, and then use our questions to narrow down the differential diagnosis before we move onto the physical exam. Because of this, we need to be constantly analyzing, sorting, and rearranging in our minds as we ask each question, rather than fully listening to our patient beyond the words they are saying. We don’t learn how to just sit with our patients, how to read their body language, or how to listen to them on a physical level. Working with the horses really challenged me to listen in a different way and I hope this experience will help me to listen to my future patients in a  new way.

talking about a calming presence – it always has to go both ways!

I


Mindfulness

Or what does mindfulness have to do with horses?

One of my offers for a workshop with me and my herd is a workshop on Mindfulness. If you have had anything to do with Health and Wellness, you know that Mindfulness is THE state to go for at the moment. Even though I am normally a little sceptical of hypes like that coming up, I absolutely love the idea of Mindfulness that has slowly made its way into the western realm. Not that I think the concept is a completely new one, but Mindfulness is a great way of describing it and bringing it together under one roof. And the best of it is: it describes perfectly how a horse lives!

But before I get ahead of myself, what actually is mindfulness?

Mindful.org

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

White Wind Zen Community

“Mindfulness is wordless. Mindfulness is meeting the moment as it is, moment after moment after moment, wordlessly attending to our experiencing as it actually is. It is opening to not just the fragments of our lives that we like or dislike or view as important, but the whole of our experiencing.” 

 

Daniel J. Siegel

Mindful awareness actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.”

Sharon Salzberg

“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others. It is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” 

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/what-is-mindfulness-definition/

So, why do I think that has something to do with horses? I believe horses are true masters of Mindfulness. And I actually also believe that the idea of having Horse Sense has a lot to do with Mindfulness – just an older and more colloquial expression.

To explain, I am going to pick out a few of the essences from the definitions above and review it in a horse’s perspective:

Being fully present, being in the moment

For horses, there simply is no other time than the present. Yes, they can remember very well and they also learn from past experiences, but they always think and act in the present. While in many circumstances our human ability to think head and make plans is a true blessing and advantage, when we try to handle the present and our feelings and senses in the current experience, this is the ability that often stands in our way. It also is a real hindrance in working well with horses. When I think of something I am going to do, my body already subconsciously sends signals of this plan. The horse, reading us much better than we do, already gets this and acts accordingly. We then tend to think the horse is making a mistake because it is doing something we didn’t ask for. And on and on goes the cycle of misunderstandings…

What we often don’t realize is that we all have this ability of reading others somewhere hidden under a lot of words and theories. It is there, but we are not very apt at using it consciously and thus we don’t really trust it. I believe we all could save a lot of words and misunderstandings if we were all able to be in the moment with each other and to perceive each other’s reactions as they are in the moment as well. It’s a matter of training and who could train us better than real Masters at it?

Being wordless

Yes, sometimes being wordless is a huge advantage. It makes room for the 90 or so other percent of our communication and creates room for thought and feeling. Welcome to a horse’s world! In many different religions, silence plays an important part in making room for „the other“. We all know that silence is really good for us, but we don’t always get there. One of the reasons why we don’t have silence very often, I believe is the idea that nothing happens and nothing gets done in silence. Horses teach us a different silence. Not just a meditation or a blocked off room somewhere but silence in the midst of everything happening. Horses work silently, they play silently, they connect with you silently. You have to experience it to really get it, but it certainly works!

Without judgement

We all know how great it feels not to be judged – even by yourself, but we all have a very hard time to let go of all our judgements. We don’t need to get rid off our moral compass and tolerate everything to get there, horses wouldn’t do that either. I think the important thing is to focus on the intention. Horses are amazing at that. As long as your intention of meeting them, of being with them is a positive one, they don’t think twice about how you look, move, smell etc.

We just have to remember that getting reactions from the horse is not personal either! If we have a lot of spring in our step because we are really looking forward to working with a horse, that might also prove too much for a certain horse. It doesn’t mean we were wrong to be energetic and happy, it just means that we might have to ease up a little to get a connection first. We tend to take reactions as a judgement that are purely circumstantial or part of a ancient survival instinct. Get over yourself and try to imagine thinking like a horse – it always helps!

With balance and equanimity

I had to look up equanimity, I admit. But I loved the definition: to be calm and composed, even in difficult circumstances.

That is the essence of a good leader in the horse world. Being able to analyze situations and creatures in it calmly and being able to make good calls in difficult circumstances. Which brings me back to the definition of Horse Sense. Wouldn’t it be awesome if all had a bit more Horse Sense in our daily lives? I love how being with my herd reminds me of that every day – they always get me back to the basics from wherever I might be at that time. Come and join me at my barn if you want to get some of that for yourself!!

And finally, here is what one of the participants of my Mindfulness Workshop had to say about it:

Annika is very well organized when it comes to her workshops. The atmosphere with her and the horses is calm, open and inviting. The program was structured very well – each activity that we did built on the previous and ultimately concluded in an activity that put our new skills to the test. As a university student, I am constantly reminded about mindfulness from every aspect including professors, guidance counsellors and advisors, peers and parents. Through Annika’s workshop I was able to “practice what they preached” and seeing mindfulness reflected in an entirely different species so independently really solidified everything for me. The horses provided the ultimate lesson in mindfulness and it was truly special to be able to spend the time to create connections with them and to have them teach me how to be more mindful as well. The horses help you to become more aware of not just your surroundings but yourself and your inner energy. Annika really knows her horses, their lifestyles and their behaviors and is therefore able to effectively apply everything to the workshop activities. I came away from the workshop extremely calm and satisfied. Annika knows how to tailor the experience so that her clients get the most out of the workshop. I look forward to putting the skills and knowledge I have developed through Annika’s workshop to use in every aspect of my life.

Winter

Mio and Caspian cuddling and relaxing together.

I am in the midst of surviving my first winter with my very own horses in a barn that has no protected inside space…

There were lots of times, when I was thinking about how I would survive that while I never had any doubts that my boys would survive it just fine.

Annika enjoying some herd-time with her four boys.

Apart from hacking horse poop out of frozen ground, dragging wheelbarrows through knee-high snow, shoving snow off my shelter roof to keep it from making everything wet and soggy and other not too delightful chores, it actually hasn’t been that bad!

And a nice massage for Caspian…

Having two volunteers around to help with the chores certainly helps, but it has also been fun to try out all the different ways we can keep the horses mentally and physically busy while giving them enough peace and quiet to keep their energy levels up.

Our first trials to put some live weight on their backs – obviously not too shocking!

And apart from the fun, it has been another great learning opportunity. I learnt more about the natural ways horses keep themselves warm, about how to enable them to manage that well, about how different winter must feel like to former wilds in comparison to barn-raised horses, about all the things horses and people can still do outside even when it is bitterly cold and snowy. Not that I have been an indoor wuss up until now, but this has been a new challenge for my creativity.

Enough talk, here are some pictures telling about our winter adventures!

One of my volunteers had the greatest experience with one of my horses today: When she took Dobby out for a little excursion in the neighboring field, they were both happily stomping through the snow when Jamie was suddenly stopped in her tracks by Dobby who pulled her back on the lead line. When she turned around, this is the picture she was met with! Her tuque must have unnoticed fallen out of her pocket and Dobby behind her had seen it, stopped and picked it up! Unbelievable – what a character!!!

Dobby in beautiful winter sun.

While the four are mostly preserving their energy in the cold, there are some definite playtimes where they simply enjoying being young and rowdy!

I would call that a head-to-head race!

Our giant dog Bruno doing a good job integrating himself in the herd!

Bruno trying to impress Caspian…

Möchtest du dabei sein?

Falls du daran interessiert bist, auch aus der Ferne an meiner Arbeit teilzuhaben, möchte ich dir hier ein paar Ideen unterbreiten, wie du genau das machen kannst. Ich freue mich unheimlich, wenn auch Menschen aus meiner alten Heimat  mich weiterhin unterstützen möchten.

Sponsere Einen Klienten

Wenn du jemanden kennst, der davon profitieren würde, mit mir zusammen zu arbeiten kannst du sie oder ihn einfach sponsern. Oder falls du jemanden in Kanada sponsern möchtest, kann ich das natürlich gern vermitteln. Falls das für dich allein zu viel ist kannst du ja vielleicht noch ein paar Leute motivieren, das gemeinsam mit dir anzugehen? Auf lange Sicht gesehen wird ein solches Geschenk unglaublich viel mehr wert sein als ein paar Weihnachts-oder Geburtstagsgeschenke!!

Sponsere ein Pferd

Auch falls du gar nichts mit mir oder meinen Pferden zu tun haben möchtest, aber findest, dass meine Arbeit Sinn macht und unterstützenswürdig  ist, kannst du Pate eines meiner Pferde werden. Lies dir einfach die Beschreibung meiner Pferde durch, such dir eines aus und schreib mir, wieviel du pro Monat oder auch gern als Einzelspende geben möchtest. Pferde kosten eine Menge Geld und damit ich mein Können auch weiterhin einer möglichst großen Gruppe von Menschen zukommen lassen kann, wäre es unglaublich wertvoll ein kleines Netzwerk von Spendern zu haben. Du bekommst natürlich regelmäßig Nachrichten von deinem Pferd und meiner Arbeit und bist natürlich herzlich willkommen, jederzeit selbst vorbei zu kommen und selbst zu sehen und erleben, was mit deinem Geld gemacht wird!

Mein Angebot an dich

Und noch einmal muss ich meinen deutschen Leser enttäuschen… Da ich das Coaching mit Pferden nur in Kelowna, Kanada anbiete, gibt es auch diesen Punkt nur im englischen Menü. Das kannst du natürlich gern lesen, indem du einfach die Flagge oben rechts änderst!