There is one big problem when it comes to learning about emotional intelligence by reading a book, going on a course, filling in a psychometric tool or studying. All these ways of learning engage the left side of our brain – the rational and thinking side. Yet our emotional experience lives in the right side.
To really become emotionally intelligent we need to not only understand the concept cognitively, we need to find a way of “feeling” what it is like to have it. In fact having a “felt experience” of being more fully connected to our emotions is much more important than a cognitive understanding if we really want “to get it.”
There is general acceptance that developing emotional intelligence enhances our abilities as a leader. It also helps us build more productive relationships in all areas of our life, as a parent, spouse, friend, colleague. It helps us to be more calm, more successful, and certainly more healthy mentally and emotionally.
But if it is so difficult to learn through traditional methods – what to do?
The embodied, experiential approach which Equest has evolved is a powerful and efficient way of understanding, building awareness of and mastering emotional intelligence.
In this article we tell you why and also offer some fundamental steps you can take towards emotional mastery, even without a horse!
Emotional Intelligence – in a nutshell
Firstly let’s think about what emotional intelligence actually is. Our emotions are a response to our environment – they are also there to protect us. They give our bodies immediate information about what instinctive response we might want to take depending on the situation in which we find ourselves. Coming from the right side of our brain, emotions are not rational. Because they are about protecting us they also arise very quickly and drive an immediate behavioural response. This can get us into trouble, lead us to make bad decisions or react inappropriately.
However when we master our emotions, we are fully aware of them as they arise, we are able to understand and interpret the message behind them, and pause long enough to engage some rational thinking to make an informed choice about our response, rather than being driven by instinct.
So – how can working experientially with horses help? Here is the science in simple terms.
How can embodied equine assisted learning help?
The innate survival mechanism of horses centres on their ability to understand their environment immediately, to know whether any threat is posed, to share that information instantly with the rest of the herd and to flee. To do this they need to be hyper sensitive to all information available to them.
Horses also communicate without words, in fact with hardly any audible language at all. They don’t ever really make that much noise. Compare the alarm call of a bird, or a dog, or a monkey for example, with a herd of horses which startles and sets to flight in silence. Making a noise alerts predators, so on the whole horses communicate silenty, energetically with each other. With us too, they tune into our energy as a way of knowing and understanding us.
Step 1 – Raise Consciousness
So, when we step into the world of the horse, and begin to build relationships with them, we step into a non-verbal realm in which the horse notices and responds immediately to the emotional, energetic messages we give. Often they are responding to emotions which are not even in our conscious awareness, so habituated have we become to feeling them. Or the horses will shine a light on concealed emotions which we would rather suppress or brush under the carpet, because we are afraid of them.
Thus very quickly the horse brings our full awareness, in the instant, to whatever our emotional experience is. This is the first step to building our emotional intelligence – building awareness and actually recognising each and every time our emotions kick in.
Step Two – Build Somatic Awareness
The second stage to developing emotional mastery is to really understand the somatic dimensions of our emotional experience. With every emotion comes a physical feeling – a felt sense in our body. One of the ways we can recognise and label emotions is because of how they make us feel physically.
This is where the human facilitation of your learning process with the horses comes in. As we work with you and the horses we help you to build your physiological awareness of the emotions as they arise and teach you somatic techniques to manage the emotion rather than let it manage you. By learning to engage our somatic response, we can lower our arousal level, become less volatile, more consistent. We dont have to suppress the emotion anymore, we can use it to our advantage.
Step 3 – Emotions are Information
As we become more calm and more able to manage the physiology of our emotions, we can in turn think more clearly when in the midst of an emotional experience. We enter the third phase of gaining emotional mastery. This entails decoding the information which our emotions are communicating to us.
Our emotional responses don’t just give us information about our environment, about the effects which others have on us, and about the implications of events in our life. They also give us information about our internal world, our self-beliefs, our values, our undiscovered potential, our dreams and our fears. In order to decode our emotions accurately, to facilitate choice making, we have to build honest self appraisal. But this also needs to come from a place of compassioante curiosity, not judgemental self-criticism.
The way in which horses are hard-wired helps us to do this. They illuminate the most subtle changes in our intention, in our confidence, in our purpose, in our way of relating, which all give us clues as to what is really going on in our hearts and minds. On what our emotions are really telling us. This level of profound self-awareness cannot be learned from a book, a self-report psychometric tool or a human coach. Horses too, are wholly non-judgemental providing a healthy model for us in this respect.
As we come to know ourselves better, and understand how to manage and interpret our emotional experience we can then start to demonstrate emotional mastery, to practise emotional intelligence. We can make a real and informed choice about how we behave.
Step 4 – Exercise choice
Here the word “choice” is what is most important and where the whole process of emotional intelligence leads. By raising our awareness of our emotional experience, by learning ways of interrupting our instinctual, “shoot first ask questions later” response to emotional stimuli, by considering the information which our emotions gift to us, we are able to make a choice about how we behave. We manage our emotions, they don’t manage us.
Equest’s embodied, horse-led approach gives us the opportunity to practise these stages of building emotional intelligence in real-time, in the context of a real relationship (with the horse). And each step of the way the horses give instant feedback – they are never too polite to tell us what they really feel.
As soon as we begin to make a change they respond to us differently. This immediate feedback loop reinforces our learning and sets us up for success.
But can you do this without a horse helping you? Of course! But it will take you a lot longer!
Because the experiential nature of our equine assisted process involves mind, body and spirit (by this I mean the fundamental essence of what is each of us) it isn’t just quick, it lasts a lifetime. It gives us a powerful felt sense of a new way of being. Which we embody. And we never forget.
What our clients have said:
• Learned so much about myself and how what you do / say / feel can impact those around you. Really easy to see the link in a visual way, with more of the senses aroused (i.e. touch, smell). Horse whispering is not your standard training activity yet it was the most powerful training and insightful time I have experienced.
• The learning created when I couldn’t initially create a relationship with the horse was amazing. This caused me to really consider my approach and become much more in touch with my physical, mental and emotional self.
• Such a different type of personal development event which tapped into deep thinking and reflections
• For the first time I truly understood the power of emotions and how, if I am not afraid of them, I can use them to enhance my leadership rather than detract from it. Equest has developed a fantastic learning experience