Monday, October 11, 2010

Greening in the Desert

Somewhere I read that the Sonoran Desert is one of the greenest deserts in the world. And this is probably true. I was there once years ago in the springtime. The desert was a-bloom; life in relief against what was greening at that time was visible to me in abundance. On a recent re-visit to the area outside of Tucson, late September, still officially the tail end of the extremely hot summer season, I had to work harder to orient to the environment; to find a little “green” in the midst of so much taupe, ochre, mauve, and rust . Even as I fled a Midwestern drought, I longed for the lushness of my Indiana home during the first 24 hours at the White Stallion Ranch.

I arrived prickly; resistant to the landscape, the moisture evaporating from my own body, and initially, I was unable to settle. The "watch for rattlesnakes" communique at the front desk didn't help matters. I’d gone to attend a strategic planning, communications, and leadership workshop and partake of Dude Ranch hospitality. I went because it seemed that my life and my work required it of me and I knew we’d be doing something with horses. This part was a mixed bag for me, since having been a girl who welled up with longing at the sight of horses from the window of our Rambler station wagon on the back roads of rural Ohio so long ago, I carried both that longing, and some trauma from a spill taken on a runaway mule 40 years ago that forever after made me completely anxiety-stricken around horses. I knew by now that the horse-sense I’d acquired as a kid (when I woke up in a rocky ditch in Southern Colorado bruised and bewildered), had something to do with humility. I actually thought I could ride the animal only my cowboy cousins rode successfully and in no uncertain terms, I learned that I was nowhere near as tough or steely in the saddle as they.

Fast forward to the round pen exercise we did at the workshop. This was the “horse sense” part of the week where, as aspiring leaders, we were each invited to go one-on-one with a horse in the pen, show our leadership moxie in the unspoken language of horses, summon the alpha mare inside of us, and convince, in my case, the fabulous, feisty 1200-pound A.J. to move her feet per my instruction. I’m skipping the talk beforehand, when twinkly-eyed Frank, the horseman told us about herd dynamics, alpha mare leadership –always-and the unspoken dance that happens in horse world and in the relationships between horses and humans. In horse language, the horse that gets the other horse to “move its feet” will be the lead animal. Once you prove yourself the alpha mare, once you assure the animal you will lead it and mean it no harm, the horse will believe you, will trust you, and will follow.

Against a dusty backdrop of the livery, a memorial cactus garden, grey hills in the background wavering dully in bright desert light, something happened in the round pen for me. Something greened in me as I brought gentle but clear intention into the pen, moving , dance- like, but with so little effort and not a single word, first one way, then another, turning A.J. first left then right around the perimeter, marveling at her pirouettes as I pointed a short crop at the ground to guide her movements. People watching told me afterward I was smiling, beaming with joy and purely focused on A.J.. I wish I could say I was completely in my body, but I felt my energies encircling the whole pen. No fear. I was barely there anymore; though my observers all told me what they saw was a kind of pure presence. To say I got out of my own way is a massive understatement.

Near the end of the exercise, the instructions were to completely withdraw your energy, put your head down, withdraw any eye contact with the horse and wait. Theoretically, at this juncture, the horse would stop moving and might make its way over to you. You could also choose to walk around the horse, close in behind –even into the dreaded kick zone and, with eyes still downcast, move to the horse’s head, keep walking, and she might follow.

I made my way to the gate with A.J. walking just behind my right shoulder. The desert bloomed inside of me at that moment.

While I was soon shaken back into my body as I left A.J. in the pen, I shed tears for time gone by and the girl who wanted to ride like a boy. Tears for greening the women, the Alpha Mare who would continue to lead and mean no harm.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

For more information about the workshop Dialogue in the Desert, led by Joe Williams of Joe Williams Communications visit the website.


  1. I'm so intrigued by this. Great piece, super interesting experience. I hope we hear more!

  2. Wow - I am full of admiration and longing to go, too!