Last November, I attended a 4-day onsite for Equus Coach training. I can’t begin to describe the transformative power of time spent with horses – every time I experience Equus I fall more and more in love with this work.

This time was no exception, but it was different. Very, very different.

Prior to this, I’d participated in 3 Equus workshops. Although each session was as unique as the horse that I worked with, I’ve always been secretly proud of my ability to co-create my desired experience.

There is simply nothing like standing in the middle of a round pen, watching an untethered horse move fluidly around you in response to your non-verbal cues.

Equally, there is nothing like watching the same horse gently approach in response to your soft invitation and begin walking in step with you – not because he is trained to but because, in that moment, he’s chosen you to lead.

I had every intention of creating the same magic this time, surrounded by my fellow Equus-coaches-in-training. This is not what happened.

Instead, in two separate sessions, I stepped into the round pen and was met with stillness.

Now, I know how to get a horse moving. I’ve done this enough times, and have experienced the feeling of my internal energy aligning with the horse’s to create movement. (If this sounds woo-woo to you, it kind of is. It’s also backed by a helluva lot of research and science that I’ll talk more about in future posts.)

However, in two separate sessions, despite everything I tried, two different horses refused to move. Instead, they stood stock-still, hooves planted firmly in the Arizona soil, gazing at me with their liquid eyes, simply watching.

I flapped coils of long line against my jeans. I flicked the end to create the energy of movement. I stared into their brown eyes, trying to communicate clearly, willing them to move. I stomped my feet, waved my arms, clicked my tongue, and made kissing noises. I moved in close, stepped back, then moved in close again.

And… Nothing.

I wish I could say that I handled this well. Instead, I stood in the center of the round pen, a tide of self-doubt and frustration welling up in me, tears filling my eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Why wasn’t this working?

Fortunately, I was supported by a coach holding space for me throughout the process. Through his coaching, he helped me to understand what the horse was so elegantly and wordlessly communicating, which was that, somewhere along the way I had disconnected from myself.

Although my mind wanted to create movement because that’s what was “supposed to happen”, my body and heart, and spirit were craving stillness. When these internal forces are at odds with one another, the natural result is disconnection, confusion, and stuckness. This is what the horse was mirroring back to me.

Horses are beautiful for this work because unlike humans they are not tied to social rules or expectations. They don’t aim to please and they don’t tolerate incongruence. Also, they simply cannot lie.

There in the round pen, I was being shown that how I was showing up wasn’t aligned with how I was feeling. In that moment, I had an opportunity to continue flailing about trying to force something to happen, or I could choose to pause and relax into stillness.

Despite my deeply ingrained pattern to keep pressing forward and “make something happen”, I choose to accept the horse’s invitation and soften into the stillness.

And in that pause, I discovered a well of emotion that needed to be processed. I’d been going non-stop for months, moving from thing to thing like a shark that never stops swimming.

When I stopped for a moment there in the round pen, I could finally feel the small, gentle tug on my heart, and finally hear the quiet voice of my soul, asking me to pause and be still.

So much happened there in that pause, I could go on and on. For now, I’ll skip to the most important bit — By simply stopping and allowing the stillness, I was able to process some deep emotions and release what was no longer serving me.

And that’s what we all need. Permission to pause in the hustle and bustle of life. A bit of space to breathe, to relax into the stillness, and check in with ourselves to see how we’re REALLY doing.

It’s hard to do this when we’re racing to the next meeting, or pushing to meet the deadline, juggling carpools and emails and soccer games, or rushing to get the kids dressed and out the door.

But if we pause even for the smallest of moments, and allow ourselves to receive the gift of stillness, a deep well of wisdom reveals itself to us, one that we would never otherwise have access to.