I’m standing in the middle of a dusty arena in the blindingly hot Arizona desert. Partially shaded by a sail, the steps we take into the sunshine are almost unbearable. We’re both frustrated and hot. My partner in the ring is called Magic and he’s a pretty boisterous four-year old sorrel. I’m here as part of an equine therapy session at Miraval, an American wellness resort which was described as life changing by Oprah Winfrey.
The resort is high-end and luxurious with calm and earthy interiors, turquoise pools hidden in shady spots and glass-front villas – all with the backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Sonoran Desert. As well as fitness, classes have a wellbeing theme – everyday there are sessions such as wellness counselling, gratitude meditation and quantum consciousness. This is where people decide to take control of their lives.
After an early rise, I was driven to a nearby ranch with very little instructions or information on what to expect. I was met by Julie, who checked that I was suitably attired and took me to meet my horse. When I walked into the ring, Magic wandered over to nudge me with his nose. I stroked his forehead to return the hello. Julie gave a disapproving tut. “He’s using you as a scratching post, what’s good about that?”. I felt we got off on the wrong foot.
My task was to give Magic instructions to walk, trot, turn and stop without voice or touch, I could only use my body language to influence his behaviour. We get off to an okay start. I approached him to his inside flank with my head held high and my open palms by my side. He noticed and started to walk. We made it to almost a whole lap of the ring when he stopped in the shade. There was absolutely nothing I could do to make him move again.
Julie took pity and gave me a whip (not to use on Magic but to hold in my hand and slice through the air if things got desperate). Magic began to pay attention again; I got him to walk and into a few short seconds of a trot. We upped our game and went for a turnaround. I stepped across the ring to approach him from the front and… he turned. It was a few tiny steps, but the sense of accomplishment was real. Until he heard a whinny across the paddock and stopped to check it out.
After a sweaty 30 minutes I relinquished the whip and took a seat in the shade. My husband ruffled his feathers, figuratively, and took to the ring. He was loud, he was bold. He went in to assert his dominance. There was no scratching post nudge. Magic went straight into a trot. They bounded around the ring until my husband tried to convince Magic to turn. Magic looked him in the eye, he flared his nostrils and refused to turn. There was a look of teenage defiance. Julie asked what my husband would do if he was challenged at work. “Fire them,” was his response. The session was as frustrating for him as it was for me.
Feeling like failures we retreated to a shady spot with a cool drink to discuss the session with Julie. We talked through my ‘gentle’ body language; we discussed how even after being handed a whip Magic had lost confidence in my leadership. She asked how this could apply to my relationships with other people. What happens when other people see how I present myself, do they write me off? My husband’s critic was the opposite, does his boisterous behaviour make people pull back?
As we left the paddocks and headed back to the spa, Julie admitted that she chose the horse. If she’s working with confident Americans, she chooses a quiet horse who will shy away from them. Magic is her spirited option, a horse who will challenge anyone who walks in the ring. Except her, of course.
Back home I still notice my behaviour. I’m aware how I influence others passively. Perhaps the horse ring, the hot desert and a boisterous sorrel changed my life, too.
This month’s favourite product: A few years ago a dermatologist recommended using a finishing powder with a high SPF so you can reapply during the day without having to re-do your makeup. Ever since I’ve used Bare Mineral’s SPF 25 Mineral Veil to protect my skin, especially useful during the summer months.