Am I safe, or am I not safe? That’s the primary question residing in the mind of a mustang. When the question is present, they look at you — the human, the predator — with one eye, while the other eye is always on the escape route.
Referred to as ‘land dolphins’, mustangs are intelligent and have the capacity to both read energy and love humans in a deeply connected way. That energetic presence that we emit must be pure and authentic though. If we’re scared by the sheer size and perceived unpredictability of the animal, all we need to do is be honest about it. They’re scared too. But if both parties are honest from the onset that there is some combination of fear and willingness despite that fear, trust begins to take shape.
In any relationship, uncertainty exists. Based on experiences in our pasts, we have fear about getting hurt (again). That’s precisely why most of us do not or cannot be honest, be our true selves, or show up fully.
What would happen if we chose to have those kinds of conversations with our colleagues or in our personal relationships?
With wild horses, you don’t have a choice. Just being in their presence commands a level of respect that can best be shown by dropping ego at the corral gate, releasing self-doubt, and stepping into their space in your purest form. If you’re unsure of what that means, learning happens fast around large, powerful animals for some reason.
“The Windhorse is the energy of basic goodness symbolized in the center of Tibetan prayer flags. A magical horse representing the inner strength of the human soul, [they teach us] to let go of worrying about our own state of mind in order to begin thinking of others.” — Chogyam Trungpa
The first time, I stumbled. At Windhorse Relations in Ivins, Utah through the Nomadic School of Wonder, I stepped into a round pen with a stallion named Barrel. It took him some time to stop walking away and turn toward me, but I learned quickly that patience is good medicine.
Barrel paused and became present with me. I pointed left and also moved my body in that same direction — confusing him and displaying my own internal self-doubt simultaneously. I regrouped. I pointed right, moved my body left, and he began to trot around the ring.
In natural horsemanship, you don’t move wild horses with anything other than clear intention and energy.
As I stared at the back of him with more intensity, he felt it and quickened his pace as requested. My idea became his idea, so he willingly followed through. We reversed direction, I pulled my energy way back, and he slowed to a handsome walk. I stepped backwards and stopped to release all pressure, and we stood facing one another from about twelve feet away. With both eyes fixed on me, he didn’t feel the need to find a way out. I walked toward him, put my hand at the base of his mane, and leaned in to hug him. This is what trust looks and feels like when both parties engage fully.
A horse’s heart is thirteen (13!) times the size of ours. You can actually feel that basketball-sized beating when you press your chest against theirs. I knew that my signals were imperfect, but Barrel also let me know that he trusted me as his leader in that ring. When I started to walk the perimeter, he positioned himself right next to me, eye to eye. We walked together, and the confidence it instilled in both of us was indescribable.
In his latest book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek says, “True trusting relationships require both parties to take a risk… In an organization, it is the leader’s responsibility to take the first risk, to build a Circle of Safety. But then it is up to the employee to take a chance and step into the Circle of Safety. A leader cannot force anyone into the Circle.”
The time came to practice everything we’d learned about natural horsemanship one-on-one. Each mustang chose the human of their energetic match, and “Hickory” was mine. A beautiful, sensitive, fawn-colored stallion with a thick black mane and tail with a white marking, the size of a baseball, at his third eye. He stared at me for a long time before breaking his deep attachment to his B.F.F., “First Star”. They go everywhere together, and Hickory is quite protective of his buddy because even though they’re both intuitive and vibrate at the same high frequency, First Star is reactive and neurotically unfocused. Needless to say, we never veered more than a few feet away from First Star because I respected that the proximity made them both feel safe.
Hickory allowed me to put a harness on his head. I never pulled it when I asked him to come or when I asked him to back up. My requests became his ideas, and the partnership took shape. I would rest against his chest and he’d drop his head over my shoulder. I’d reach my arm around the other side of his neck and pet him under the area where his beautiful black mane fell. As I groomed him for an hour or so, I paused from time to time to wrap my arms around him, and he would lower his head to touch it to mine.
The unconditional love I felt from this animal was transformative. It was the first time in my life that I had allowed another being to see my truest, purest self. No ego. No desire. No expectation. No begging for love, or feeling the need to earn it. No attachment to any particular outcome. And in those surreal moments together, I had a deep knowing that the love emanating from this horse was because he could feel who I was on a soul level. In fact, who I had always been.
Hickory accelerated a remembrance of the love that I embody.
”Our inherent nature is pure. All we have to do is rediscover who we really are, and that’s what the path is for. It’s very simple. It’s not based on faith, but rather on experiments and experience leading to realization.” — Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
That night, as I was reflecting on the magnitude of this realization, I wondered how different I would have been as a friend, partner and leader had I come to this discovery sooner.
If more of us can begin to show up fully to and for others — by being genuine, by trusting at the onset, by communicating honestly about our fears and our willingness equally — how would the world start to change from an energetic perspective?
Could we create environments and cultures where people don’t have to wonder if they’re safe to express their ideas and feedback without getting slammed, and to be able to rely on their leaders to care for, support and trust in their ability to execute upon a vision?
”The process of building trust takes risk. We start by taking small risks, and if we feel safe, we take bigger risks. Sometimes there are missteps. Then we try again. Until, eventually, we feel we can be continuously ourselves. Trust must be… actively cultivated.” — Simon Sinek
The entire experience through the Nomadic School of Wonder was essentially a combination of leadership development and a discovery of the love we already possess at the soul level, cleverly disguised as bonding with beautiful mustangs. What I learned from these Windhorses was that fear can either prohibit or promote trust; the difference is all in how honest we are about being afraid and how willing we are to step into the Circle anyway. And ultimately, giving and receiving love can be quite magical if we simply show up as our truest selves, as often as humanly possible.