Archive Post: Active Presence

Dec 09, 2011

Yesterday I completed the second block of my advanced coaching certificate. It is an extraordinary course, taught in part through “equine assisted learning” i.e. working with horses to learn about yourself and your relationships with others. This week I learned very powerfully the importance of being actively present, that is, being with whoever you are with fully in that moment, without distraction or interference.

I was in the small arena with one of the horses and he was standing by the gate, stamping his feet, focused completely on his pals in the adjoining area. I had set myself the task of moving him quietly round the arena (no halter or rein). When I approached him, he tolerated me for a few seconds but took every opportunity to head back to the gate and, when I tried to move him, he cantered away kicking his heels and returned to the gate. As I moved back to talk to the rest of the group at the end of the arena he continued to stamp and trot around, clearly unsettled and agitated.

I was then reminded of the importance of being present. So, before going back to him, I stopped, concentrated on my breathing and started a “body scan”, consciously relaxing each part of my body from head to feet. By focusing on the physical, I was able to still my mind, allowing me to be much more actively present “in the moment”.

What happened next stunned me. As I approached the horse again, he came to me and stood with me, lowered his head and leaned into me. There he stayed for the next 10 minutes, completely relaxed, completely connected, happy just to be there with me.  When I asked him, he walked with me, calmly moving with me across the arena. It was an amazing feeling.

Thinking back, when I had first approached him, my head had been full of anxieties, interference and, dare I say it, ego: would I succeed? what would the people watching think? would he connect with me? how would it all work? what was I going to do? None of it was about him! It is not surprising that he freaked out – he was embodying the state of my head at that moment. Only when I let go of this and simply focused on being with him in that moment, was he able to do the same. And once there, completing the task was easy!

Being actively present is important for people as well of course. There are studies, for example, that show that children do better with a physically absent parent than with one who is physically there but not actively present with them. It certainly makes me wonder how much interference gets in the way when I am with my dogs. I am going to practice being actively present with them and see what changes.


ARCHIVE POST: The original Canine Confidence blog was active from 2011-2014. In April 2016 I resurrected it here but there were posts in the original blog that are still relevant. Rather than repost as new material, I am including them here as Archive Posts, along with the original publication date. This avoids the need to edit to remove references to time for instance.

This post was first published on Canine Confidence on 9th December 2011.

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