WRITTEN BY Sara Sherman
In truth it was the horsemanship aspect of NL that hooked me first. I didn’t grow up with horses. I didn’t grow up in barns with trainers, no competitions or shows, no one telling me how it should be or what is the ‘right’ way. In 1998, I was a sophomore at Prescott College and I met a woman named Barbara Rector. I don’t remember the name of the class she was teaching, something about horses and healing … it caught my attention and that was the beginning of something great. Barbara opened a window in my heart and gave me a glimpse of what’s possible between horses and humans. However . . what I found outside that environment was confusing.
After I met Barbara I dove head first into the field of ‘Equine Assisted’ services. I pursued the field academically and practically as I started to develop my own thoughts and ideas in the world of horsemanship. What I found in that world was that there were a LOT of opinions. And most of those opinions required me, the human, to take care of the horse. To manage the horse. To tell the horse what to do. It never made sense to me and yet it seemed like it was the only answer… clearly horses couldn’t take care of themselves. And so my journey began. Because I didn’t feel I had enough knowledge or experience, I decided I needed to learn as much as I could from other equine professionals. I met some absolutely brilliant ‘horse people’. I stayed on that path for many years, trying to make sense of something that never felt quite right.
In 2015 my partner, Matt, and I purchased Dandelion Farm and moved Discovery Horse and our herd of 8 horses home in the late fall. I had been anticipating this day since 1998. I was terrified and excited. I was committed to find a way to live and work with my horses that felt good for everyone. That encouraged us all to grow and be accountable. That felt safe and equal. That fostered connection. I was committed to listen, to make mistakes, to apologize and I was committed to showing up.
Slowly but surely, I started to see how this new way of being together was affecting the herd. I saw more confidence, less reactivity. They ran TO me when I went to the pasture. They couldn’t wait to get up to the arena when people were here. When people came to the farm I allowed space for them to step into that sort of relationship experience with a horse and amazing things were happening. I really started to question how one form of training could work for every horse. I was seeing in my own herd instances that defied that logic. I started to understand that being with horses is more about the relationship than it is about knowledge and rules. A relationship that invites each person/being to be their own expert in needs, wants, boundaries and connection. This was an incredible revelation but one that left me feeling weak in the knees . . because being in this sort of relationship with the herd required me to trust myself, and to see myself as an expert, a task I have spent years working on but by no means have mastered.
So here I was. Armed with this new revelation, finally feeling good about how I was showing up with my horses, yet still feeling isolated in my belief systems. I struggled to find language, confidence and community to foster what I was practicing.
Enter Natural Lifemanship. In June of 2017 Discovery Horse hosted a NL fundamentals training at our farm. Our trainers for the weekend, Reccia and Claire, presented the attendees with a challenge . . . a request . . . they asked us to believe, for the weekend, that horses could make choices. I’m not sure . . but I think I might have actually ‘whooped’ in agreement. As the weekend progressed I felt as though Reccia and Claire were speaking my language while at the same time opening my mind to a whole new way of supporting my clients, my animal partners and myself, from a place of science and principals that made absolute sense and fell in total alignment with how we had been operating at Discovery Horse. And I found a community that honors the horse as an equal partner and views our connection with horses as not only foundational to our work, but as real and vibrant relationship in its own right. I left that weekend feeling empowered by the fact that I wasn’t alone.
At the time of this writing, I am nearly done with the process to become dually certified as a Natural Lifemanship Practitioner and Equine Professional. As a practitioner of the Equine Gestalt Coaching MethodⓇ my scope of practice is coaching and equine-assisted learning. I am a consummate seeker of knowledge and experience and have been certified and trained with some of the best individuals and models our industry has to offer. The NL model has provided me with a framework that beautifully encapsulates all of my background and training while the principles tie it all together. Since June I have attended a mustang intensive in CA, attended the first NL conference in TX and I participated in a group consultation as part of certification. I have been consistently impressed and inspired by the staff of NL and the individuals that choose to embrace their work.
I have been very impressed with the depth and professionalism the certification process provides. I am a business owner, coach, horse professional, mom and spouse and the flexible learning platform made it possible to add this to my already full life in a successful way. The community itself is exceptional. The conference was one of the best I have attended, providing staggering amounts of information and representing all facets of equine-assisted professionals. Tim and Bettina truly foster a non-competitive environment focused on growth and learning. The word ‘authentic’ rings true at a deep level. It is clear that this is a community committed to doing the kind of work that changes lives.
Ultimately the principles of NL require us to take responsibility for ourselves while in relationship, which of course requires connection. I have integrated the NL model into many of my client sessions and have consistently seen results that exceed expectation. I like to imagine a world where this happens as the rule and not the exception. I am so stoked to see the impact NL is having on our industry and the relationships we have with our equine partners. I believe that the power of their principles reaches far beyond the field of trauma. . . .it is really a recipe for life as their name so beautifully implies!
As a student of Barbara Rector’s we were asked to make a safety agreement as a group before we began our work. The agreement Barbara used was:
“I agree to be responsible for myself today, thus contributing to the safety of this group”. Not until the moment of writing was I aware how full circle this statement would come in my life. After 20 years of searching, Natural Lifemanship has helped me access my ability to trust myself, allowing me to confidently embrace and facilitate the horse and human connections I always knew were possible.
Experience the Natural Lifemanship principles for yourself and find the pieces you've been missing as well by signing up for one of our trainings in your area. Also, be on the lookout for our trainings coming up in 2019.