"Relax," Koelle says. "There's no hurry, and you can't 'fail.' You're just exploring a relationship."
Avery tries to replicate what Koelle has just done. She fumbles at first, rushing the horse, then accidentally causing him to turn, then pulling back until Ernie speeds up in alarm.
"That's okay," says Koelle whenever Avery missteps. "Now you know." I've used this simple maxim on clients who've gotten parking tickets, and on others who've lost millions investing in Ponzi schemes. I've learned from Koelle to see the outcome of any effort as either success or education. Both are invaluable.
After five minutes, Avery's breathing deepens, her gait becomes more fluid. Ernie slows to a walk, comes in closer, drops his head.
"He's interested!" says Koelle. "How do you feel?"
"Fabulous!" Avery fist-pumps the air.
Ernie bolts. Oops.
But Avery is no longer frightened by his anxiety. She hangs back, eyes locked on his. Soon Ernie slows his pace. This time Avery reads his energy perfectly. She turns, stops, walks away. Ernie tentatively comes to stand behind her, snorting softly. His presence behind her is mighty, his breath warm. She reaches up to rub his forelock, touching his sweat-dampened neck, his wiry mane.
"Why don't you try going for a walk together?" suggests Koelle.
Avery takes a few steps, and Ernie follows—until Avery tenses up and looks behind her. Then Ernie stops, snaps back his head.
"Were you afraid he wouldn't stay with you?" asks Koelle.
"Your fear scared him. And your need for him to follow feels icky-sticky, clingy. If you're going to lead, believe that he'll follow."
Avery nods again, closes her eyes. Her head rises, her shoulders drop back, and she walks away smoothly. Ernie stays at her shoulder. Avery turns. Ernie turns. She stops. He stops. She runs, he jogs.
Avery comes to a stop, turns around, reaches up to pet the beast that terrified her an hour ago. She walks back to Ernie's shoulder and leans her forehead against it. As Avery lets Ernie's weight support her, he chews quietly on nothing, a gesture that says, "I feel safe. I am well. Be with me." He turns his head and gently enfolds Avery between the barrel of his torso and his solid trunk of a neck.
"Horse hug," Koelle says. "Best thing ever."
Next: The effects of a single horse session