Horsemanship and mindfulness, the Epona approach
Ever since I read The Tao of Equus, I have been very interested in the Epona approach to horsemanship and Equine Assisted Learning. Recently, I had the good fortune of attending a three day Epona workshop near Dublin with Yvonne Monahan and Rosie Withey.
One of the most interesting concepts introduced during the workshop was an emotional feedback chart which aims to decode the messages behind our emotions, enabling us to ask ourselves relevant questions in response to whatever emotions we might be experiencing so that we can then act skillfully.
Having read Linda Kohanov’s The Power of the Herd (in which she introduces this chart), as well as Karla Mc Laren’s The Language of Emotion (from which this chart is derived), I was already familiar with it, but Rosie presented it very clearly and then expertly wove it through the rest of the workshop, clearly demonstrating its usefulness through practical examples. This was the most useful part of the workshop and I will continue using what I learned when faced with strong emotions in myself or others.
I find it somewhat surprising, however, that the chart we were presented with did not include any positive emotions such as Joy, Contentment, Happiness or Compassion (especially considering that some of these emotions are actually included in Karla Mc Laren’s book). While learning to work with “difficult” emotions is, of course, an essential life skill (regardless of whether we are dealing with horses or with humans), for many of us, positive emotions are equally difficult to navigate. One of the many reasons we have such difficulty is that inevitably we want to hold on to sensations, feelings or experiences we deem pleasant. This clinging pulls us away form the present moment and creates discontent in ourselves when the positive experience is over. Indeed, in the first chapter of her book “Riding between the Worlds”, Linda Kohanov recalls an encounter with her old gelding Noche, in which he points out to her that “great beauty is too wild for her”, and that trying to capture joy and chase away sadness is a suffering horses have never known. The suffering the old gelding is referring to is at the core of Buddhist teachings, and finding a way out of suffering is, of course, what Buddhist and yogic practices are all about.
Another important aspect of learning to deal adequately with our emotions is to learn to recognise them for what they are, rather than be carried away by them, or trying to ignore them or suppress them. This is where mindfulness training is invaluable. And while the workshop included some mindfulness meditation, particularly an intriguing use of the body scan, I found the exercises to be too rudimentary to form the basis of a daily practice.
This is, of course, where I see Sati yoga and natural horsemanship as so complementary. This Epona workshop helped me to clarify this complementarity further, and I will incorporate many of the insights I had on this workshop into our own Sati yoga and horsemanship retreats.