My Woollie Moment

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was something to do with sheep, or maybe knitting or crochet, but the story is about a donkey who taught me something important.

I was attending an Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) session as a client.  EFL is where the interaction between the person (client) and the equine (in this case – a donkey) allows gentle reflective learning.  The donkey acts as a mirror.  This happens under the careful supervision of the instructor / facilitator and a ‘watcher’ whose job it is to ensure that both donkey and humans remain safe and free from stress.

I was asked by Sally, my instructor, what I’d like to focus upon in my session.  This was easy to decide as I’d been finding it difficult to handle stress and pressure in my work and was consequently becoming increasingly reactive, which was hard to handle.

After being taken through a short mindfulness and grounding exercise, I was invited to observe the two donkeys who had joined us in the outside arena.  I was asked, “What do you think is going on with the donkeys?  What do you think they’re feeling?”

To me they both looked like they’d prefer to return to their paddock.  These donkeys regularly work in the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, where close human contact is the everyday norm, and I didn’t feel that they were particularly interested in engaging, although one of them did glance over at us a few times.

After a reminder about the health and safety aspects of staying within their field of vision and not standing right behind the donkeys where they wouldn’t see me, I was invited to approach whichever of the two donkeys I chose.  At this point Woollie, the larger of the two, appeared more interested than the other in that he was looking at me.  So I slowly approached being mindful of my pace and to ensure he could see me easily.  I went up close enough to say Hello and to stroke his neck, which he seemed to enjoy.  After a short while he moved away and I returned to Sally.  I was asked to reflect on the process.

Before the next step, I was reminded to go to a quiet place within myself, where I could be in the moment, to be with my awareness and to breathe slowly.  This time I was to go up to Woollie and simply stand nearby him without actually doing anything.

Again, slowly and mindfully I approached Woollie and stood quietly in his zone.  I stayed still, consciously bringing myself into what I call my neutral gear, reminding myself ‘to be’ rather than feel the pressure ‘to do’.  Woollie looked directly at me and then purposefully walked over to me, where I waited calmly, somehow knowing that all was well.

He came and stood right by me, so I quietly said Hello again and stroked him.  He moved around, walked off, and I stayed still.  He then came back, this time right up close, and then he gently snuggled his head into me, so we ended up in an equine / human embrace!  It felt incredibly special – he’d actually chosen to be with me – to share a few moments of mutual warmth and connection.

Afterwards, Sally asked me what I’d felt about that experience.  “I loved it!”

What had I learnt from it?  Having taken a moment, I reflected that it showed me how being in that quiet, calm, ‘neutral’ place in myself had allowed the special moment to happen.  Woollie hadn’t been put under any pressure.  It had just happened.

It taught me that I don’t have to keep trying to make stuff happen all the time; instead, I could put the pause button on, and simply wait – ready to respond if I chose, without being reactive.  This was a revelation to me!

Sally continued to gently question me. “How will you take this experience back into your work situation?”

“Well, that is easy – when I start to feel stressed, I’ll remember to press the pause button and have a Woollie Moment!”

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Later, thinking back on the session, I could only wonder and smile to myself at how a donkey had taught me exactly what I needed to learn about the importance of inner stillness and calm.  Thank you, Woollie.

Equine Facilitated Therapy

Equine Facilitated Therapy (EFT) is described as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you communicate, with the horses reflecting how you interact with others, affect other people and how others affect you. It all sounds good to me!

There was a nervous excitement in me as I turned up at the equine centre.  Ever since I had heard about EFT, I’d wanted to experience it, so here I was – ready with an open heart and open mind.

I’ve always sensed a depth of feeling in equines – no wonder they can form such enduring bonds within their herds, but also with those who care for them.  And I longed to get a bit closer in and to feel it for myself.

The weather that day was awful (following days of lovely sunshine) and not conducive to spending two hours outside in a field of horses. But there was no way I was going to be put off now that the EFT day was finally here.

The session started with a chat about how I was feeling, and what I hoped to gain from the session, and the obligatory health and safety check.  I confessed that I’d forgotten to bring my steel-toed work boots, but my instructor told me that my wellies were just right.  She explained that some of the horses are so big and heavy that if my foot was trodden on in steel-toed boots, the metal would be crushed into my foot.  Mental note to self: keep feet away from hooves!

I explained that the thing I hoped to gain from the session was a moment of deep connection with a horse; perhaps a soul connection.

I was taken through some preparatory exercises to sense what was going on in me and to slow everything down inside.  Having explained about how to approach each horse quietly and with respect for their personal space, and how to read subtle changes in body language, I was let loose into the field of horses.  They were all rather intent on eating, earnestly pulling at the grass or piles of hay, so they were not concerned or interested in my tentative requests to make contact.  But they didn’t mind me there, and I certainly sensed different emotions with the two I did approach.

The smallest horse was a young male.  I felt incredibly emotional in his presence, overwhelmingly so.  I found out later that he’d had a rough start in life.  The other horse, a magnificent Shire, gave me a totally different feeling – sort of quick and excited; he was altogether a more confident, mature horse.  But from both, I got the sense that they were very happy to be living there in that special Equine Centre.

Eventually the rain and cold drove us inside to the stalls.  Housed in here were two of the instructors own beautiful mares.  I had been drawn to them earlier, but respectful of their need for space and privacy as they each had a note to say they had only recently arrived at the Centre and were still settling in.  However, the instructor said that it was fine to greet them, as the signs were there to ensure they weren’t overwhelmed by attention from visitors.

So I quietly approached one of the mares – then it all changed.  I gazed softly at the black Shire mare in front of me.  I let her sniff my hand and gently touched her neck when I felt she was happy for me to do that.   Her long, thick fringe almost covered her eyes but I could see the gentle spirit that shone through.  My instructor explained that she had been through a very difficult few months, having been grief-stricken with the sudden death of her two month old foal.  I felt an incredible tenderness and gently stroked her.  “You can go in with her if you want.” I was told.  Without hesitation, I entered her stall – there we were – one small human and one beautiful and impressively huge Shire mare, together in a few moments of quiet understanding and exchange.  She was incredibly sturdy yet gentle – what a warm, loving spirit.

A lump formed in my throat – her grief was palpable.  I sent her healing thoughts holding my hands on her.  A little later I quietly withdrew, knowing that something had passed between us.

As I walked away afterwards, I reflected on her grief, and on the depth of feelings that these beautiful ‘other people’ have – often not recognised in our world.  But today it was recognised, respected and revered.  What an honour.

Saving Grace

graceIt was a normal sunny summer’s day as I made my way up to the local farm shop with my little dog, Rufus, trotting along besides me.  We both enjoy walking up the track to the farm house, for me seeing the sheep with their lambs in one of the paddocks on either side, and for Rufus to sniff the many enticing aromas and the occasional chance of eating sheep’s poo!

Continue reading “Saving Grace”