Jody Raven is in my dreams this week. I see her smiling at me. Jody is and will always be a big part of my story with horses. I met Jody as an instructor when I was completing my FEEL™ (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) certificate in 2013. I respected and liked her communication and presentation style. It was direct and honest. She challenged us to get out of our comfort zone, be authentic and be open to new experience. “We can only assist our clients to the extent that we’ve gone ourselves — our own personal work. This process is also about us,” she said.
An unforgettable shared experience is my session with a horse named Rosa that Jody facilitated. It was the ‘experience’ part of a lesson focused on working with the Emotional Message Chart – a model for seeing emotions as information.
Most people have learned to repress and deny emotional information as a life pattern. When people work with horses, emotions often arise. The Emotional Message Chart provides FEEL facilitators with a way to speak to our clients about what is happening in the moment. Horses provide clients with reflections about their emotional states of being and this information can be a key to deeper connection with the horse and themselves.
We had randomly chosen a particular emotion to work with. I chose vulnerability. For a variety of reasons and life experiences, I struggle with vulnerability. I was to go into the round pen with Rosa and act this emotion out while I was with her. It was not an experience I looked forward to.
Before going into the round pen, Jody checked in with me to ask how I was feeling about the experience. “Fine,” I said. As I said it, Rosa released a big poop in the round pen.
“Rosa doesn’t think so,” Jody replied, calling me on my ‘shit.’
As I entered the round pen, Rosa walked to the fence and stood directly in front of the other six observers who were taking in my experience. “You are not making this easy for me Rosa,” I thought as I cautiously approached her.
I looked at Rosa and then I looked at Jody and said: “I can’t do this. I can’t be vulnerable in front of an audience.”
“Share that with Rosa,” Jody replied.
“Rosa, I can’t do this activity when you are standing in front of the rest of the facilitators,” I said to this horse standing between me and the completion of my task. Without hesitation, Rosa looked at me and then looked at the other facilitators. She stepped forward and reached through the fence to take a ‘wand’ that was leaning on the outside of the round pen into her mouth. With intent, she began to wave the wand vigorously from left to right while directing her focus on the other facilitators sitting before her.
I was without words (and feeling a bit vulnerable in that moment). “What is she doing?” one of the facilitators asked. “She is telling us to get out of the arena so Jennifer can experience vulnerability,” another replied. So they left me alone with Rosa. Within this space, I experienced vulnerability.
It was a defining moment for many reasons; it is a moment I will never forget. It was the beginning of my personal healing journey with horses. It is an emotional journey that continues to leave me feeling open and vulnerable.
Following the completion of my FEEL certification, I booked a few private sessions with Jody, a trained therapist, to explore some the recurring themes in my life that might interfere with my future intentions. She helped me explore some of the areas in my life that required a little more illumination. She helped me explore my ‘dark side.’
Jody’s presence in my life prompted me to explore Raven symbolism a little deeper. “The Raven is a keeper of secrets, and can assist us in determining answers to our own hidden thoughts. Raven represents our ‘shadow self’ or dark side of the self – by acknowledging this dark side, we can effectively communicate with both halves of our selves. This offers liberating balance and facilitates tremendous wisdom. Areas in our lives that we are unable to face, or secrets we keep that harm us, the Raven can help us expose the truth behind these (often distorted) secrets and bring us back to health and harmony.”
Shortly thereafter, a black yearling Clydesdale filly also found her way into our herd. Her previous human was dying of cancer and could no longer support her. I took her on and named her Raven. She is a reminder to me to embrace and welcome experiences that leave me feeling vulnerable. She invites me to acknowledge my ‘dark side.’
When I booked my first group at The Mane Intent, Jody and her partner Henry, were here as co-facilitators. Their presence helped me stay grounded on a day when Mother Nature gave us everything she had – rain, snow and high winds – and when my own emotions were all over the map. Both women were also present to support the first few groups we hosted from Bellwood Health Services. Both practicing shamanism, they had gifted me with a crow feather smudge wand created by Henry to recognize and celebrate these early milestones.
I appreciated Jody’s professionalism and expertise. I also trusted her and valued her advice. Jody and I had plans to deepen our professional affiliation as FEEL facilitators and The Mane Intent’s programming showed promise of growth at a very early stage of the business because of that.
But life intervened as it sometimes does. A little over two years ago, Jody was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She released herself from any professional commitments while she focused on treatment and healing. With our professional relationship on hold, I continued to see Jody as a friend. I participated in a workshop she and Henry hosted that summer and kept up with the occasional Facebook post or email. Life pulled me in different directions and the space between us grew.
Not long ago, I received a note from Henry letting me know that Jody’s cancer had spread. She is currently in that sacred space of ‘in between’ at home surrounded by the love of family and friends.
This past weekend, I participated in my first FEEL Alumni Conference since gaining my certification. I was there largely because of Jody and my need to honour her in some way. I participated in a session with FEEL facilitator Tori Poe that focused on creating sacred space, belonging and love. Tori also co-facilitated with Jody and shares the affection for her that many of us have in the FEEL circle.
As part of her offering, Tori created space for us to recognize and share the sadness and grief created by Jody’s absence in our circle. Jody had gifted Tori with her personal drum. With this sacred instrument symbolizing the heartbeat of Mother Earth, Tori drummed and invited us to sing the “journeying song” for Jody in a field full of horses. I embraced my vulnerability and welcomed the open release of tears that represent the loss and sadness I am feeling for my mentor and friend. I was and I am grateful for this ceremony. It was an opportunity to show and share my love for Jody with others.
So I am sending you Raven love dear Jody. You have been “the wind beneath my wings” and you will always be a special part of this journey I am on with ‘horse people.’ Find your wings and fly high my friend Jody Golden Raven.
About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses and humans together to explore new possibilities, getting you out of your comfort zone and giving clarity of voice to your leader within. She has over 25 years of leadership experience in communications, cause-related marketing and change management. As a strategist, facilitator and effectiveness coach, Jennifer has provided counsel and support to senior leaders from all walks of life to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. She is a ‘socialpreneur’ who values the art of living life fully with intent.