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Report on Eagala Workshop and Round Pen experience (continued) -


"Those facts were very important. This setting allowed for the presence of two or three horses almost all of the time, during this three day workshop.

I have a friend who loves horses and who introduced me to helping out at Riding for the Disabled. She tells me that she simply feels more peaceful when she is around horses. I think it is exactly that feeling which made this workshop so memorable.

Furthermore, I believe that it is that experience, that feeling of peace, which could very well make therapeutic work with these animals, for children, adolescents or adults, very powerful.

I am not a therapist, although I am currently doing some courses in transpersonal psychology, nor am I an experienced horse person, although I did ride in my native Ireland and think horses magnificent animals. In being neither a therapist nor a “horse person” at this workshop, I was very much in the minority.

But I am a lawyer and during those years when I specialized in divorce work and later, worked with abused women, I met many people who were in the middle of some of the darkest days of their lives. Some people turn to therapy at these times and for many this can be very helpful. But just as many, no doubt, shut down emotionally and live much of their lives running. Running from fear, from anger, from the terror of being hurt again. When one is a child and hurting, it can be a double whammy. Where to even find the words to acknowledge the feelings, even to oneself?

And it may well be that it is just that sort of emotional paralysis that the “horse therapy” could best address. Horses are beautiful, powerful and often, very gentle. A winning combination. But above all, they are simply themselves. They do not pretend, they do not dissimulate. In the time honoured phrase, what you see is what you get. A

startled horse will shy, a curious horse will wander up to join the humans and a bored horse may nibble at a picnic bench (as did the fabulous Borak!).

My experience and, I believe, that of the other participants, was that in dealing with such honest creatures, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid one’s own feelings and one’s own reactions. Some of the therapists found that some theories had to go right out the window and some of the “horse people” found that their long held horse theories had to go out the same window. And I realized that in dealing with some 1200 lbs. of horse flesh, there is not a great deal of time for negotiation!

The philosophies and principles of EAGALA will no doubt have been covered elsewhere, so I will refer only to those exercises in which I took part.

A group of us were instructed to guide a horse over a jump, without the use of any lead ropes or halter. We were informed that we could not communicate verbally once the exercise began and we were to decide on a consequence should anyone break that silence rule.

We began by discussing suitable consequences. There were five of us in this group.

Now, I normally consider myself a pretty reasonable, democratic person. In fact I do recall suggesting a vote when we were at an impasse! But I was startled at how irritated I became when the “consequence discussion” continued at length. I believed this section of the exercise was not a priority and we should get down to the real work!

But clearly, some of the others did not feel the same way. I came face to face with some less than patient traits of mine, also with my discomfort at being too passive or

of having no control. Nobody pointed any of this out. We were all allowed simply to become aware of our responses to the exercise.

Incidentally, we did a record breaking job of getting the horse over the jump!.

An exercise in which two colleagues acted as my “hands” while I could merely be the “brain” and instruct in the saddling up of a horse was more comfortable for me. It reinforced my belief that I do enjoy team work. However, my regard for safety was on the shaky side. The horse, Penny, had a sore back and was not at all sure she wanted to be saddled. One of my “hands” Anne, was in danger of being bitten and I was blissfully unaware. Perhaps the fearlessness of my twelve year old, snow boarding, son has infected me more than is wise!

In these exercises and in the many which I witnessed, it was clear time and time again that the horse would not be manipulated or cajoled or fooled into being anything other than honest. It was clear that communication with the horse had to be on a very basic and deep level. And the lessons one learns about oneself are not always the most comfortable.

But through it all, time and again, I felt how privileged I was, how wonderful it was, to spend days in the company of these superb animals who, for so much of our history, have been a vital part of our lives and our survival.


I had read a little of Monty Robert’s (the “horse whisperer”)work before going to Kentucky. While his beliefs and philosophies were inspiring, my impression remained that the training and work that he tackled with the horses was strictly for very experienced horse people.

But then I watched Bruce Anderson at work, watched his ease of connection with the horses and saw a young girl, with whom he had worked in the past, apply the same principles when she stepped in the round pen.

Keeping in mind that horses are flight animals, one positions one’s body at an angle to the horse’s head or rump to control the direction in which the horse is moving. Keeping in mind that horses are flight animals, one makes a noise or movement to increase the pace at which the horse is moving. Throughout one must maintain focus, must pay attention to the horse.

I was exited and enthusiastic about trying this ....and it really went very well for me. I worked with Borak, who is a fantastic horse, very spirited. He had, of course, done round pen work before and helped me out! But what I was not prepared for, what I had not been truly aware of, was the close attention that these animals pay to us and the immediacy of their response to any action on a human’s part.

When I quit looking at Borak, which in effect means “taking the pressure off”, he slowed down, he stopped running. When I turned my back on him, he approached me and nuzzled my back. For me, that was a wonderful moment, a moment of real trust. I felt very honoured, very privileged. This was unquestionably the most memorable experience of the entire weekend.

Much has and will be said about the effectiveness of this kind of work in teaching co-operation, either in personal or business relationships; in emphasizing the importance of non-verbal communication; probably even in dealing with some personal and deep emotional issues and I am sure that there is a tremendous amount of truth in all of this.

For my part, I can only say that the experience was very special, even joyful.. I wish the same to anyone who has the good fortune to try it."

- Honor Desmond-Tetlow, July 2002.


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