Recently, I was watching the inspiring Netflix series Queer Eye, a heartwarming reality show that focuses on supporting people in reconnecting with themselves. This year Queer Eye filmed in my hometown, Austin Texas!Double joy!
Not only did I get to see humans being good to humans, but they were my dear Austin humans!
Imagine my excitement when on episode 7, “Snow White in Central Texas”, the Queer Eye team introduced us to an incredibly selfless woman named Jaime who runs an animal rescue, “Safe in Austin” – and lo and behold, one of the wonderful opportunities presented to her in the episode was a chance to participate in Equine Assisted Learning with a Natural Lifemanship trained professional!Let me explain.
About the cast of Queer Eye
On Queer Eye there are five cast members, each responsible for a different aspect of the makeover process.One of the cast members, Karamo Brown, a former social worker, always helps the guest of honor get in touch with the emotional aspects of the makeover.
In this episode, Karamo took Jaime to a resort called Miraval, for rest and relaxation, as well as an equine experience with the talented Leigh Wright! Leigh has been learning with Natural Lifemanship since 2019 and her understanding of our approach is made clear in her facilitation of Jaime’s session.
A quick recap of what Natural Lifemanship does
At NL, we teach professionals a principle-based approach to Equine Assisted Services, based on the science of relationships, that can be integrated into their work with clients.
At the beginning of her session, Jaime was introduced to several horses and encouraged to feel into choosing which horse she wanted to work with. This is an approach NL advocates for, as it allows a real connection to begin to unfold between horse and human that is fully of their own making.Rather than Leigh choosing a horse for Jaime, Jaime got to experience the emotional process of choosing for herself.
Once chosen, Jaime and her horse entered a round pen in order for both to move freely while the two got to know each other.
Freedom of movement is so important for both the horse’s and Jaime’s regulation, as well as a part of freedom of choice – a fundamental principle of Natural Lifemanship.
Jaime and the horse both needed to be able to move into and out of proximity of one another in order to take care of themselves, regulate, and make choices.Jaime described how in her life she cared for everyone else, often putting herself last.Leigh encouraged Jaime to practice “making a request”.
What makes this unique to NL?
In Natural Lifemanship, making a request is the crux of the work. While it is enjoyable and often soothing to be near a horse and ask for very little (except perhaps allowing petting!), it is when we decide to make a clear request that vulnerability enters the equation.This is when we begin to really feel the sensations and emotions of what it means to be in a relationship.
When we ask for something, we are allowing the other to have an impact on us, we are communicating a need, and have to wait for the response.To do so, without assuming control of the whole dynamic, can feel daunting and bring up powerful feelings.
As I watched Jaime navigate this truth for herself, I was struck by how impactful this moment can be.Leigh offered kind and empathic support, while also observing Jaime’s difficulties to bring them into her awareness.As they continued, Leigh also suggested that Jaime might try asking for space – using the word “detachment”.Considering what I learned earlier in the episode about Jaime taking on the weight of the world and leaving her own care at the absolute bottom of her list – I thought this was another powerful insight from Leigh.
Diving deeper into “connected detachment”
Jaime really did not want to ask for “detachment” – the word coined by Natural Lifemanship to describe the aspect of a relationship that requires some structure and separation, while still maintaining an internal sense of connection (rather than constant nurture and physical closeness).
Detachment is often difficult for people (and horses!) because when we create space between us, we have to trust that our connection can still be strong.Jaime bravely practiced this in her session, and with Leigh’s warm support, she was able to ask for space and still maintain a connection!Confidence lit a smile on Jaime’s face afterwards!
In this small amount of time together, Jaime felt, in her body, what it meant to make a request of others and ask for space when needed – all without hurting the relationship she had begun with her horse.It was eye-opening for her.A beginning, of course, but a good beginning!
While Leigh has studied other models and uses her own blend of approaches, her integration of Natural Lifemanship principles into her work was a pleasure to see.
Way to go, Leigh!!!
You can integrate the NL approach into your life and practice
What we teach at NL is not a specific series of techniques or activities or interventions. Learning Natural Lifemanship means learning principles and the science of relationships so that you can integrate it into your practice in the way that best serves you and your clients.
Want to learn more about Natural Lifemanship and the principles used in Queer Eye? We would love to connect with you!Registration for the Fundamentals of Natural Lifemanship opens soon!
Thank you, Leigh, for your poignant demonstration of an Equine Assisted Learning session!
Thank you, Queer Eye, for bringing the power of Equine Assisted Activities to the public!
Want to support the incredible work of Safe in Austin?
Idioms about the importance of being congruent in both speech and behavior abound.
Our spoken words, no matter how sincerely we mean them, become untrustworthy when they are not supported by our actions.
Similarly, our actions feel incongruent and insincere when they are not consistent with our intention and motives.We have all been on the receiving end of an interaction that appeared or seemed intended to be helpful or friendly, but instead felt empty at best and manipulative or exploitative at worst.Both our actions and our words, no matter how well intentioned, can leave us feeling confused and disconnected from each other if they are not congruent with our internal state of being, and can result in relational rupture.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “embody” in this way: to be an expression of or give atangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).
Embodiment entails a sense of internalizing and integrating a way of being in the world that moves beyond our way of doing or behaving.Beyond acting as guidelines for behavior, embodied principles and beliefs become woven into the fabric of our identity and sense of self, and flow naturally into the ways in which we connect with self and others, both human and animal, and the larger world, including nature and our conceptualization of the divine.
We can sense the difference when someone is “acting kind” as opposed to “being kind.”Kind acts can be done for a variety of both honorable or self-serving motives. However, experiencing true kindness from someone who embodies the truth of their character in serving and caring for others because this is who they are engages our limbic system in an entirely different way and offers a rich relational opportunity for connection on a level so deep and healing that it is felt at a cellular level.
This kind of connection requires genuine presence, being in this moment and being with yourself and the one who is in front of you. We try in various ways to derive “being” from “doing,” but “doing” actually flows from our “being.”
WHO we are shows up in WHAT we do and HOW we do it.
A society of task managers
In our task-focused, accomplishment-driven society, our obsession with productivity and output leaves little room for the rich, satisfying, deeply healing experiences of connection that are only possible when we slow down and focus our complete attention on this interaction at this moment with this being, whether horse or human.
When I work with a client in the round pen who is asking for their horse’s attention while preoccupied with the outcome, so focused on the task of getting the horse to look at them, or turn and walk to them that they have reduced the interaction to a project whose success is measured by achieving a certain behavior, the principle of embodied connection is completely lost in the transactional nature of this exchange.
When the client shifts to a more genuine, present state, connecting with their deep longing to be seen and felt and valued, and sees and feels and values their horse as well, the change in energy is palpable.The quality and depth of the connection available in this type of relational exchange defies language, as it is felt on a somatic level between the two as an energetic exchange.
Embodiment requires breathing and processing space. . .
As a trauma survivor, I learned to “behave” appropriately in relational interactions by accurately assessing expectations and how to meet them in order to avoid rejection and abandonment.When I was first introduced to the Natural Lifemanship model of Trauma Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, I approached it the way I did everything I wanted to learn about: in a cognitive manner.I studied the model, memorized the principles and then practiced applying them in the round pen with horses in a task-focused, outcome driven way.
It soon became clear to me that I could ask a horse to attach and detach from me without any true connection whatsoever.I did not feel the warmth in my chest, or energetic exchange between myself and my horse that other people described when their horse connected with them.I spent hours in the round pen practicing making requests for interaction and felt despair about ever moving beyond the behavioral stage of it “looking right” without it ever “feeling right.”
Then I took the Natural Lifemanship Intensive Training, which focuses even more on embodying the relational principles of this model.I learned that the healing work we do with humans and horses is a way of “being” in the world, not only a way of“doing.”Embodiment requires breathing and processing space, which is why Natural Lifemanship trainings are designed in a combined video and live learning format that offers not only plenty of time to learn and master essential principles but also skilled and knowledgeable instructors to guide your learning by giving personalized feedback on the specific ways to practice these principles.
To read more about my experiences early on with Natural Lifemanship read here.
The secret to success
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule” in his book, Outliers, based on a research study that found it takes about 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials like playing the violin or learning computer programming.A surprising nuance in this discovery revealed that it is not simply the amount of hours spent practicing but how you practice and who guides you in deciding what to focus on during that practice time that determines the level of success achieved.This idea of “deliberate practice” under the guidance of a skilled teacher who is able to assess each student individually and outline specific steps to help them improve then tailors the time spent to focus on what would be most helpful for that student’s growth and development.
How you use your practice time and who guides you is what matters most.
I spent hours in the round pen doing the same thing over and over, getting the same results, until I received the personalized attention and guidance I specifically needed to let go of my task driven focus and learned to embrace and embody the principles and nuances of true, heart-felt connection.I discovered the power of presence from trainers who embodied this with and for me so I could hone in on what was missing in my learning and start practicing in a way that actually led to transformational change.
How the NL Intensive training can help you embody connection
The Intensive Training is set up to enhance your learning with guidance and support specifically tailored to the areas you want and need to grow.It helped me refine my understanding of connection in relationship and led to powerful shifts in my perspective on my relationship with self and others, both horse and human.
This is a powerful opportunity to take the next step in your journey of personal and professional growth!
Practice Embodied Connection at Home
To practice feeling a sense of embodiment through connection, try taking a walk with a trusted person.Orient to your environment and do some mindfulness and grounding to become fully present in your body as you walk beside each other.Then start to notice if you can fall “in sync” with your partner, matching their stride by sensing their movement without looking at them.
Take turns lengthening your stride, speeding up and slowing down, and changing direction.Can you feel these shifts without looking at your partner’s legs or body with your eyes?Can you sense the energetic exchange between the two of you as you become entrained in your motion and your connection deepens through this rhythmic shared movement?Be playful with it!You can also try this with your horse or dog.