PIAL experiences fullCIRCLE coaching with horses

Our everyday lives are busy and hectic even without a global pandemic. So, how do we slow ourselves down to put our best foot forward at work? That is Kim Gratny and Cindy Kool’s specialty at fullCIRCLE creative + coaching. Kim and Cindy use some unconventional, four-legged learning partners to help share their message. That’s right, fullCIRCLE is located in Earlham, Iowa, on a beautiful farm with lots of animals and nature to observe. While the scenery is impeccable, the stars of the show are the majestic horses. Kim and Cindy use horses to coach ordinary people to transform perceptions, mindsets, and ways of being by equipping them to become more useful leaders. Our learning time at fullCIRCLE was not your typical professional development day, and, luckily, the PIAL team was able to experience all fullCIRCLE has to offer.

On a crisp October morning, our team arrived in Earlham not knowing what to expect. We knew horses were going to be involved, but we weren’t sure how these creatures could teach us to be better facilitators. fullCIRCLE’s approach is specific to each group they coach. Our day started with a thoughtfulness activity. Cindy and Kim encouraged us to think about how we are being versus what we are doing. This allowed us to enter into the coaching with an open mind and an open heart. Next, we were allowed to go anywhere in the pasture with horses and spend a few minutes observing. The purpose of this activity was to help us think about our thinking and be thoughtful of how easy it is to turn observations into judgements. As we reflected on this activity, Kim showed how many of our observations were actually judgements, or projections. We discovered that when we’re too busy, we’re not aware of the stories that we create in our heads about ourselves and others. Team member Hannah mentioned that a horse didn’t like it when she got close. Kim responded with a smile and a question, “How do you know that?” The point is all people see through their own lens, and when we interact with others, we should keep in mind that everybody’s lens is different and valid.

Activities with our team and the horses gradually grew more intense. For our last activity, we engaged in an Awareness Leading challenge. Each team member was instructed to lead a horse after creating a physical connection to it using a halter and lead rope and encouraged to “show up” with several different behaviors. The first “way of being” was to lead with clear intent – looking and walking to a specific destination. The horses responded to this style the best; they were calm and confident like the person leading them. Next, we looked at the ground while leading the horses. This resulted in the horses stumbling and being confused. They were hesitant and moved forward tentatively. Third, we were asked to lead the horses while looking at their noses. Again, forward movement was strained and sometimes required extra coaxing by the humans! Last, we were asked to think of something frustrating, grit our teeth or tense our bodies while leading the horses. This was the most interesting result! The horses reflected our emotions and, in a couple of instances, came to an abrupt stop and refused to move forward. In one particular situation, one of the PIAL team members pulled on the lead rope, to no avail. In another case, one of the horses stopped and pooped. That elicited some giggles!

We enjoyed the activities and the takeaways were stellar. We learned how essential it is to slow down and notice what’s transpiring around us and that horses read what’s within us and reflect back to us how we’re showing up. They read our emotions and respond to the behaviors we exhibit in each moment. This tied into our classroom work perfectly. Our actions impact students, and this experience taught us to be thoughtful of how we are "showing up" to every presentation, every meeting, and with every task we do for PIAL.

Cindy and Kim are passionate about what they do. They facilitate training in hopes that every person will leave their farm with new mindsets and new approaches to relationships. Kim wants to empower people to step into discomfort or pressure, rather than avoid it. She believes, because she’s experienced it firsthand, that this is how people learn to overcome obstacles whether those obstacles are within them or outside of them. “It’s so easy for humans to keep avoiding what makes them uncomfortable,” says Kim. “When we allow that, we trade living life with our eyes wide open for a life that’s limited and monotonous,” adds Kim. Cindy says her hope is for people to think about their relationships and be thoughtful of the different lenses we all have. Horses can teach us so much about ourselves and how we show up for the people around us, both professionally and personally.

About the author:

Catherine Russell is an undergraduate student worker with the Parenting: It's a Life Program. She is majoring in Political Science at ISU.