BY JONI TAKANIKOS
August 3, 2016
He’s of the colour of the nutmeg. And of the heat of the ginger…. he is pure air and fire; and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him, but only in patient stillness while his rider mounts him; he is indeed a horse, and all other jades you may call beasts. ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V
What is it about horses that fascinates humans of all persuasions? Could it be that we intuitively feel the horse has the ability to teach us how to harness our own innate power and wisdom?
At the age of nine, having just barely recovered from a bout of measles in which my temperature had flared to such a degree that I felt like I had visited other realms, my stepfather led me outside from my sickbed and presented me with a palomino horse! She was a tall, beautiful Tennessee Walker. Her name was Blondie and, for the next five years, she taught me how to be in relationship to my strongest sense of myself.
Anyone who has spent time around horses will tell you that they read people extraordinarily well. You cannot fool a horse and, if you try to, you may be in for trouble.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with someone who has approached horses from the perspective of completely trusting and honoring the wisdom-teachers that horses are. Yes, they are beautiful, can make you feel like you’re flying when you ride them, but what if you allow them to give you even more of themselves?
Peggy Gilmer has done just that. After her diagnosis of cancer in 1992, Peggy started a horse farm, something she had always longed to do. She successfully reshaped her life and her career. Peggy is a professional executive coach. After her own experiences with the horses, she decided that it would be more powerful for executives to work with these archetypal animals. Peggy is a gentle guide who can lead you through the gate, into the arena, and then let the horse do its job.
I experienced this work over the course of a couple of hours and it has left an indelible impression. Although I’m no stranger to the amazing beauty and power of horses, the time I spent with Peggy and her horses was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Peggy picked me up in Langley and we drove to the farm in Coupeville where she boards her four horses. In 2014, she relocated to Whidbey after selling her horse farm.
Peggy explained her approach to working with humans and horses as we drove up the island. Her work opens the gateway to developing the qualities of presence, connection, open heartedness and authenticity. I was already inspired by our conversation, but it did not prepare me for the profound experience of the embodiment of these principles in relationship to the horses.
When we arrived, she introduced me to her four horses: Reba, a 23-year-old mare, Sun, an 18-year-old gelding, Dewey, a 13-year-old gelding and Luna, a 16-year-old year old mare. All of them were born on Peggy’s farm except for Reba.
After showing me how to physically move the horses both away from and toward your body using your own strong physical presence and a light touch of a lead rope (if needed), I was already impressed and knew I was in capable hands.
Peggy asked me which horse I was drawn to work with. I immediately zeroed in on Reba, the matriarch. Reba has a presence of wisdom and calm that is palpable and, I admit, I was tired after a day of work, and not ready for the youthful energy of a big animal. Peggy had me lead Reba to the arena and, once there, began showing me how she could walk and stop Reba, guiding the horse using her mind and body. Peggy made it look easy and, though my first attempt didn’t work in the same way, Reba certainly appeared patient with my attempts to guide her.
Peggy explained the most important aspect was to embody my full presence and intention. She had me look ahead and decide where I would want Reba to stop and then envision it for myself and Reba. It worked like magic, but it’s not magic; it is synergy and horses are well suited for exactly this type of partnership with humans.
After walking and stopping with Reba for a while, I was feeling changed in a way that I could perhaps explain through my lens of yoga practice. One translation of the word yoga is “ a union of mind and body,” in other words, a synergy that changes your field. My fields definitely expanded during my time with Reba in the arena.
Peggy asked me if I felt ready to ride Reba. Peggy makes sure her clients feel ready each step of the way. Some clients may never even need to ride as the other work will inspire and empower them enough.
Riding Reba with Peggy guiding me was extraordinary. Perhaps in the past I had intuitively used my body in the ways she teaches, but I had never done so with such clarity, intention and full embodiment of each action I wanted Reba to perform.
Peggy put a lead around Reba for reins but asked me not to use them! Instead I was led to use my body and mind, completely focused on how and where I wanted Reba to move. It works and, more than that, it teaches the power of focusing in relation to another being.
The nature of Peggy’s work is directly gleaned from her own experiences with her horses; because of this, her horses have also become wonderful teachers. They know her methods through her own impeccable relationship to them.
Peggy and her horses invite all people to their arena. As Peggy says, “I have worked with children from four to 74.” She also signs her emails with this tag line: “Nothng develops our abilities as quickly as TWO great coaches, one equine, one human.”
I think everyone can benefit from this profound experience, and perhaps take it much further than just one afternoon. Peggy’s four-year-old client says it best, “I used my voice and body to tell the horse just where I wanted it to go, and when I said it like I meant it, that big horse did it.” —Anna Chandler, age 4
Joni Takanikos lives, works and plays here on beautiful Whidbey Island. She practices and teaches yoga at Half Moon Yoga studio in Langley. She frequently takes the stage at Ott and Murphy Winery Tasting Room and Cabaret, also in Langley. She is delighted to report both venues are in walking distance from her new home.
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