Recently I had the great privilege of working with a teenage client dealing with severe illness. He had told me that he often feels detached from people. In the round-pen he found himself unable to cross the line to engage with the horse. This horse usually walks straight up to clients and connects, head on shoulder or nose on heart, and in fact had done so previously with this client in the field.
Watching the two of them in the round-pen, I saw him grazing and slowly, placing one hoof before the other, inch by inch, moving closer to my client. All the while keeping his eyes and ears focused on him. Once he was a metre away he stayed in this spot, grazing, both ears directed straight towards my client. Normally, a horse will direct one ear towards you – saying, “yes, I am listening” - while the other flicks back and forth, scanning the environment. Here the horse had both ears firmly trained on my client – saying “ready when you are” - whilst continuing to graze quietly, thus indicating he was relaxed and calm. They both remained like this for some considerable time, then my client left the round-pen without crossing the line.
Witnessing this, it took me a moment to leave behind the image I had of this exercise – client and horse interacting in some way – to understand and marvel at the precision with which this horse had respected my client's integrity. For every client and every horse, on any given day, “connection” can mean different things. Here the connection was “I am here for you. I notice and respect who you are today.”