Horse wisdom

Kingfield resident Lynn Baskfield uses horses to help people overcome problems

Horses are noted for many things: competing in derbies, hauling loads, adding a touch of country to fenced-in yards and transporting cowboys through Hollywood back lots. But have you ever heard of horses participating in counseling sessions?

Lynn Baskfield of Kingfield has always harbored a fondness for horses, as well as a desire to help individuals achieve their potential, whether at work or in their personal lives. As a certified personal professional coach, Baskfield has counseled hundreds of executives, entrepreneurs and creatives. But the thought of pairing her love of horses with her therapeutic approach didn’t occur to her until Baskfield was introduced to Equine Guided Education (EGE) some years ago.

EGE is a form of experiential learning that uses horses as a means to mirror clients’ behavior back to them. Most of the training is done on the ground and starts with the client alone in a pen with a 1,200-pound horse that, depending on the client’s goals, may represent a project at work, a boss, a family member or a behavior pattern needing revision.

The facilitator, Baskfield, then asks the client to talk about the issue and perform tasks representative of the issue. A nonassertive manager might be asked to nudge a horse out of her personal space — a task easier said than done when dealing with a mass 10 times the client’s own weight.

When a horse has no desire to stir, a person can shove all day and not get very far. And sometimes that feels a lot like life for Baskfield’s clients.

“Why use horses?” Baskfield says, echoing a common question. “For many reasons. Horses are just big animals. Often we have things in our lives, like we’re trying to write a novel or work through our mother’s death. Those are big things, too. The horse gives us a way to see that the problem we’re dealing with is just as big as a 1,200-pound horse.”

Using a horse in therapy is nothing new. Hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding have been around for years. What makes Equine Guided Education cutting edge is the belief that the horse, a prey animal sensitive to the minutest change in its environment, can attune itself to a client’s internal states and then communicate a response to those emotions through body language.

Yet one person’s cutting edge can be another’s over the edge.

“When I first started doing this work five years ago, I thought [that communication] was coincidental,” says Baskfield, who, along with coaching partner Ann Romberg, runs Wisdom Horse Coaching in Hudson, Wis. “But it’s not. Horses aren’t actually trying to speak to us. They just reflect like mirrors because they operate mostly through their limbic system, which is the emotional or intuitional body. So they pick up what we’re giving off.”

On a windy morning in late May, Baskfield invited a writers’ group to Hawk’s Ridge, the 40-acre ranch where she and Romberg hold their Wisdom Horse sessions. The three writers and Baskfield, also a writer, started the session strolling behind Moon, a chestnut quarter horse.

“Get grounded in your writing,” Baskfield urged. “Bring in whatever’s working and not working for you. Whether you’re going 100 miles an hour or you’re stuck in place and can’t move the pen. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel whatever’s going on in your body.”

The participants were quiet. They waited for Moon to halt and then circled the horse, stroking his head and flanks.

Laura D’Ambrosio, St. Louis Park, has been working with Baskfield for three years. She was the first writer to enter the pen with Moon. Country music played in the background. A rooster crowed.

“What’s up with your writing?” Baskfield asked.

D’Ambrosio had been creating a performance piece, but since her last visit she had developed an outline for a novel. “I think what’s up,” she said, “is to write from my core truth. To be naked and honest.”

Baskfield asked her to walk to the middle of the pen. While D’Ambrosio takes root in the middle, Moon remains at the pen entrance, nibbling a rope, his back to her. But as D’Ambrosio expands on her need for truth, the horse’s ears perk and in a fluid motion reverses and trots over to the writer.

“You just got really truthful there,” Baskfield said. “Yeah, Moon walked right over to you. It’s the unvarnished truth you’re talking about.”

The next writer was Mary Amel, who’d been stalled in her writing because of personal troubles. Her mother died last year. Recently, she’d locked horns with the city of Woodbury over a garden that Amel is maintaining.

“What’s stepping on your foot?” asked Baskfield, as Moon’s hoof glances the writer’s foot.

“Life right now. Yeah, doing that alone,” said Amel.

“You’ve been doing a lot alone. That’s pretty heavy.”

“When I walked up to Moon before, I leaned into him. I started hearing that Bill Withers song ‘Lean on Me.’ It’s the first time in a very long time I’ve been able to lean [on anyone],” said Amel.

Again she leaned into Moon. As the writer exited, Baskfield asked her to remember how it felt to lean into Moon and to refer to that body memory whenever she needed to lean.

Last up was Diana Swanson, Lake Elmo, a mystery writer who hadn’t been able to get past her book’s beginning. Baskfield had her set up two cones, representing the book’s beginning and end. Moon immediately walks to the beginning.

Baskfield asked: “How do we get Moon to move from the beginning to the end?”

Swanson tried to coax Moon, but he was not going anywhere. So the author talked about her book. Coincidence or not, as she got excited about a possible plot thread, Moon headed for the end cone.

Afterwards the writers discussed what happened.

Amel sums up the group’s mystification. “I don’t know how [EGE] works,” she said. “But today, I feel like I have this enormous weight [on me], and words, oddly enough, don’t cover it. So, the horse, he understood, and I didn’t have to say or write anything.”

FYI

Also called Equine Assisted Learning, Equine Guided Education is a relatively new practice in the personal and leadership development field. Ariana Strozzi, owner of Strozzi Ranch in California, is credited with coining the term in 2000. To become an EGE educator, coaches must be certified through the Equine Guided Education Association or another certifying organization.

Lynn Baskfield and Ann Romberg facilitate Wisdom Horse Coaching sessions at Hawk’s Ridge Ranch in Hudson, Wis. Watch a short video on Equine Guided Education at their website: wisdomhorsecoaching.com.
 

Contributing writer Britt Aamodt lives in Linden Hills.