People often ask me how EAGALA model EAP/L works. It's not so easy to describe; I find a story is the best way to illustrate the concept. Here is a personal reflection from a recent EAGALA training.
He was striding around the arena with long, slow steps. His elongated but refined head spoke of his noble Thoroughbred ancestry as it hung gently from his long, slender neck. He carried his neck straight and level in the loose and relaxed manner of a horse that is comfortable with himself and his surroundings. His withers protruded well above his back which dipped very slightly before it rose up and connected with his boney, angular hips. His spine protruded from his poorly muscled loin (equivalent to the small of the back) as if his skin were stretched over the ridges of a rocky mountain range. His legs were long and slender making up much of his nearly 17 hand frame as they stretched up into a gaunt and rangy body.
He was lightly muscled and his angular features made him appear too thin although he was of a light but healthy weight. His tail was thin and wispy and swung gently from side-to-side as he moved. His coat was white with thousands of bay-brown flecks throughout from his face to his rump and down his legs to his grey-shaded knees and hocks. At one time he was likely a stunning steel grey colt with a noble fire in his eye and hard, sleek muscle over his impressive frame. Today he is what horsemen call a flea-bitten grey (referring to the brown flecks over the white coat); his hard, sleek muscles have given way to softer flesh stretched over his now gaunt frame. But the noble fire is still there, not in his eyes which have turned a cloudy blue with cataracts but in his very presence and the impressive, gentle energy which he exudes from every fiber of his being.
I could not stop watching him as he moved easily about the arena. He seemed to float gently and effortlessly over the ground with long, slow, purposeful steps. Each time a front hoof landed, he kicked a bit of dirt up from the soft arena surface creating a tiny dust cloud. The other horses followed him as he slowly circled the arena. Sometimes he was in the lead, other times another horse led the small group but his powerful presence never changed. The facilitators asked us about the new horse. “He is a strong, quiet and gentle leader.” I said aloud. There was something about his spirit; his energy which commanded respect without fear. He didn’t need to make a lot of noise and draw attention to himself to lead effectively. He knew when to step back and let the strength of others shine. He didn’t need to be in control of everything in order to be a strong leader.
As we stood in a circle and watched the horses I was so drawn to him. I wanted to see him up-close and feel his energy. As if he heard my desire, the large, Thoroughbred gelding stepped into our human circle, walked over to me and stopped. I put my hands on his neck and stroked his beautiful face. “Thank you” I whispered as he turned and strode away.
My story took shape as I watched Monte. When I was able to be closer to him I could see his body bore many scars; they weren’t noticeable from a distance as they were well camouflaged by the multitude of brown flecks in his coat. The inside of his left foreleg was looked hard and lumpy and I suspected there was much scar tissue under the skin from an old injury. He looked like he had been through a lot in his life. Perhaps not always cared for in the way that he deserved; he had worked hard and given much of himself to the people in his life. The facilitators asked us to journal about our experience. This is what I wrote:
September 15, 2012
I have really connected with a horse named Monte. He makes me think of me. He looks like he’s been through some shit in his life; he came out scarred, tired but still alive on the other side. He is wiser now than he was. He has a story to tell. He knows (now) how to keep himself safe (do I know yet how to keep myself safe?). He is gentle but not always understood. Sometimes people look at him and think he is broken but he is not. His spirit is strong and vibrant.
The Facilitators asked us to use the horses and demonstrate the learning which had taken place for us over the weekend. I knew Monte had to be a part of this activity as I felt the most significant self-discovery had taken place for me in those first moments I saw him and realized he was a reflection of what I saw in myself. Not the part of me I try so hard to project to others; the “normal,” undamaged woman who knows just who she is and where she is going, but rather the real me. The Cheryl who was traumatized as a child, had suffered through depression, anxiety, self-hatred and fear; the woman who bore the scars of her life, both visible and hidden deep inside the dark crevices of her heart. In Monte I saw what I could be. He knew who he was and where he had been and owned it. Monte exuded a quiet strength which naturally drew others to him and he was comfortable in that leadership role.
I took a lead rope and slowly walked across the arena to Monte. He had his head over the gate and was looking out across the rolling green fields to the tree-line far in the distance. He flicked an ear toward me as I approached. I spoke softly to him as I placed the rope around his neck and led him toward the center of the arena. I stood with Monte in a group of three other participants and we discussed what had taken place for each of us over the weekend. As we talked it occurred to me I should release Monte so he could do what he wanted; in this activity he was a representation of me and I knew I do not like to be stuck in one place with no freedom of choice to go or to stay. I let the rope slip gently from Monte’s slender, grey neck. Our eyes met briefly as he turned and slowly walked away.
Later, as we all came together to discuss our final activity and our experience as a whole, I made one last connection between my life and Monte. I thought about how I had released him so he could go where he pleased. I thought about how I felt about the gifts God has given me and how I wanted to share them; to perhaps help others. However, I am afraid to put them out into the world. I am afraid of being rejected or humiliated. Sometimes it seems too scary to show the world my light. I thought about how for a time I held Monte close. When I finally let him go I realized he was fun to watch from a distance as well. He interacted with other people and horses and I realized by keeping him close he could not touch the lives of others. Monte became an illustration of why I need to share what I have learned, my gifts and my talents. Because I can help others; and because it is fun to watch.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!