Horse Sense for Life’s Challenges

“It’s now commonly recognized that only ten percent of human communication is verbal,” observes Linda Kohanov, bestselling author and founder of the Epona International Study Center. “And yet we’ve virtually become mesmerized by words as our social and educational systems teach us to ignore the nonverbal dimension of relationship. How many times have you seen a parent listlessly tell a child to ‘clean your room or else,’ with absolutely no result? How many times have you asked for space in a relationship and had someone become even more invasive? How many times have you seen that the so-called boss isn’t really in charge of a situation, no matter how logical or intimidating he tries to be? Understanding what we’re sayingto each other is icing on the cake compared with everything else we’re communicating.”

“Imagine if a supervisor asked us to complete a project with only 10 percent of the information available to us, if our schools were only committed to teaching 10 percent of what we would need to be successful in life. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening as we overemphasize the spoken and written word in business, education and relationship.”

True empowerment, Kohanov emphasizes, involves engaging that “other 90 percent,” that dimension of nonverbal emotional and social intelligence so grossly underdeveloped in modern society. And horses, she found, are remarkably efficient at drawing attention to the feelings, intentions, and perceptions behind our words.

Through a series of specially designed activities, participants deepen awareness of personal challenges, core feelings and areas of bodily tension that inhibit their ability to reach their true potential. A tremendous boost in self-esteem and confidence comes from learning how to establish boundaries and direct a thousand pound creature through mental focus, presence and clarity of intent. These skills, which can be difficult to teach in a conventional classroom, business coaching, or counseling session, have far ranging applications linked to increased success in personal relationships, career and parenting.

Kohanov has seen people’s lives change overnight from the skills they’ve practiced in a single workshop: “After all if you can set boundaries with, motivate and gain the cooperation of a 1,000-pound being, it’s amazing how much less intimidating even a 200-pound co-worker, boss or employee can seem, let alone your 10-year-old son or daughter.”

Kohanov herself accessed valuable skills in dealing with an aggressive supervisor when she bought her first horse in early 1992. “I not only learned how to stand up to unreasonable demands,” she says, “I was actually able to gain greater cooperation and respect as a result. I thought, ‘Wow! My horse was the one who taught me this!’ And so I began to explore how my growing herd could teach these same skills to others.”

In 1997, she founded Epona Equestrian Services, a collective of horse trainers, educators, counselors and coaches who explore the potential of the horse-human bond to teach advanced human development skills, including leadership, emotional fitness, social intelligence, parenting, conflict resolution, mind-body awareness, and creativity. Since 2002, Linda and her colleagues have also trained over 150 Epona Approved Instructors on six continents through a highly successful apprenticeship covering the practices she has found most beneficial in enhancing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being of people from all walks of life.

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people quietly ask or tearfully plead for respect, but their body language says ‘Walk all over me,’” she says. “When such a person steps into the arena with a horse for the first time, he or she may try to seduce, bribe, or even guilt-trip the animal into cooperating, but those empty words have the opposite effect. The inability to engage a confident presence through emotionally-centered, empowered body language creates a vacuum that unconsciously invites others to take advantage. The horse either ignores this person or moves him or her around, taking charge of the relationship, just like the person’s employees, spouse, and children are apt to do. Yet as participants are coached in how to set boundaries and motivate the horse, they find that this magnificent animal is just as happy to cooperate, and a real dance of mutual respect and co-creativity begins. All of this happens through safe interactions on the ground with specially trained horses, interactions that can be thrilling and deeply moving, a powerful way to learn.”

“The true pioneers of the 21st century,” Kohanov insists, “are those who figure out how to tap the vast resources of nonverbal intelligence. In this respect, horses provide the ultimate shortcut—as they always have. For thousands of years, these sensitive yet powerful beings carried our bodies around the world, allowing us to explore terrain we would have struggled to traverse on foot. But there was something much more profound happening in these interspecies associations. Learning to form effective working partnerships with those horses provided the most elusive yet important education a human leader could acquire—that ‘other 90 percent’ exercised at a wholly nonverbal level. And that ‘other 90 percent’ is precisely what we need to develop, consciously, if we’re serious about finding solutions to the challenges of our complex, now global society.”

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