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Dance Like No One is Watching

Dancing with a horse is the final activity of the Eponaquest Instructor apprenticeship. My dancing was a complete failure, as I experienced it. I had chosen to work with a horse that I had great experiences with during the week, expecting that the bond we had created would lead to a beautiful dance together. That was not to be. The horse connected with me, but would not follow me. Instead, she herded me. I did not have the energy to stand up to her and set a boundary. Without a boundary, there can be no connection. As Linda Kohanov says, “A boundary is the space that our body needs in order for our mind to be present.” I could not claim my own space.

As I thought about this later that evening, I realized that I had already mentally left Eponaquest and was thinking about home and what I had to return to. For 8 days, I had left all the stress of our business behind, but now that we were coming to the end of our training, all the stress burst back in. All this impacted my dance with the horse. She showed me that I couldn’t set a firm boundary to protect myself and my own needs (just as I had not been able to get my needs met at work before I left for training). Therefore, I couldn’t connect with her. She could easily herd me, push me around.

My ‘failure’ at dancing with horses has stayed with me for the past two years. At home, it only got harder. We went from a multi-year recession straight into Covid. Work disappeared and the stress of trying to run a company was overwhelming. It seemed that my only respite was the time I spent with my own horses. With them, I could leave all my worries behind for a few hours, while I curried and brushed their soft coats, and combed their manes and tails. Riding allowed me to be in my body and present to what was happening in the moment, through the connection between me and the horse.

When lock-down ended, we began rebuilding our company. It has been an incredibly difficult time to be the money-person. There is never enough. I have lived in a culture of scarcity.

But throughout all of this, I have continued to do my own work of healing. Connecting into the vacant parts of my body, parts that I could not access because of long-standing trauma. It has felt like I am coming alive again, bit by bit, ever so slowly.

And this fall, something shifted. As I connected into the areas of my back that have been frozen and inaccessible for so long, I also found the courage to stand up for what I need. I feel stronger and more alive. There is more of me, it seems. This has translated into a much deeper connection with my horses, especially in the riding. As I feel more into myself, I can feel the horse underneath me more.

It was time to dance again. The video shows the first time I have danced with Faraona, my 8 year old PRE dressage mare. She is such an expressive horse and I felt the urge to be as ‘alive’ as she is. You can see that she starts to follow me, but we then lose the connection. At times, I choose to follow her. There is always an undercurrent of recognizing when there is ‘too much’ stimulation, and then backing off. Dancing is not about chasing the horse around the pen, but it is about bringing the energy needed to allow the horse to express themselves in safety. Faraona is my most dominant horse. She can chase the others away from a hay pile from a distance of 5 feet just by pointing her nose at them and shooting some sort of laser beam of energy in their direction. She could have easily herded me around if she didn’t respect my boundaries. I see none of that in the video.

Dance is a metaphor for life. Sometimes there is connection, sometimes not. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. In psychological speak, we call this ‘rupture and repair.’ It is the rhythm of life, the ebb and flow of connection.

For some, it seems effortless. But for those who have lost connection with themselves, it is a journey, a journey of reconnection to self and to others. The horse is an amazing partner in this work. Their ability to be fully in the present moment and to be aware of themselves and the other – what we call ‘intersubjective mindfulness’ – allows them to show us what connection truly is.

So I can finally begin my dance. I suspect that this is just the beginning of a deeper connection between Faraona and me, a connection based on mutual awareness of each other and a desire to play together. And even though work is still difficult, my perspective is changing. I am moving from a culture of scarcity to a life of fullness and wholeness.

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