September, 2010 News

An Update from Epona Founder Linda Kohanov

So much has happened over the last six months it’s been a constant challenge to find a spare hour or two to gather the latest news from Epona into a single coherent document. In the midst of it all, I’ve been trying desperately to grab blocks of creative time to write my fourth book, which has now gone into overtime as I’ve been granted yet another extension by my publisher New World Library. While the relentless pace has not let up, I wanted to take a moment to at least outline the most significant happenings to keep you informed of the amazing changes in place, and the ways that the work is expanding internationally in the midst of the challenging economic times. So please excuse this outline of major events in no particular order of importance. And I hope you enjoy an excerpt from my new book at the end of this newsletter.

The Epona Herd has a New Home!

After moving all over Southern Arizona during the past decade, operating out of small corners of boarding stables to the ultimate equine retreat center at Apache Springs Ranch — and everything in between — we have finally settled on a private, scenic yet immensely convenient property in Amado, Arizona, about 30 minutes from the Tucson airport. While the economy worked against us in sustaining the ambitious multi-faceted international study center at Apache Springs last year, it worked in our favor when it came time to consider developing a more easily manageable, recession-proof home for our headquarters. Ironically, my husband and I, as unconventional as we are, were able to secure a conventional loan on a property we probably would not have been able to afford just two years ago when real estate properties were at their peak.

The new Epona Center at Eagle Way has stunning mountain views, plenty of room for the horses to live in family herds, and a warm, spacious room for presentations, making the indoor/outdoor accommodations for workshops both inspiring and immensely comfortable.

I for one would have a hard time leaving the place — if it weren’t for the fact that we’re now located near some of the best restaurants and shopping in Arizona. Heading toward the border, the historic arts community of Tubac is 15 minutes away, offering some of the finest galleries and shops specializing in Native American and Southwestern art, jewelry, furnishings and clothing. (Yikes! I probably NEED to stay home!) And the varied accommodations nearby cover the gamut of charming, affordable inns, bed & breakfasts, RV parks, and two historic guest ranches (Rex Ranch and Pocket Sanctuary at Kenyon Ranch). There are also conventional chain hotels 15 minutes in the other direction, heading back toward Tucson, as well as a handful of more exclusive desert resorts. There are lots of options for hiking, tourism, and even spa treatments/acupuncture/yoga etc. (Photos of Epona at Eagle Way will be featured in an upcoming newsletter, as the horse facilities are still under construction.)

Limited Schedule of Events

The only draw-back is that I must severely limit my fall/winter workshop schedule in order to finish my fourth book by spring (to meet the deadline for fall 2011 release). Even without time for any promotional outreach or news updates, the workshops are filling fast. There’s one space available in an introductory, three day version of The Tao of Equus: Mindfulness Through the Way of the Horse September 30 through October 2. Pioneering Spirit and Black Horse Wisdom, both featured in October, are the only other workshops I will be leading this fall. Both have two spaces left. (These two workshops will be held again in January, and are expected to fill quickly, so it’s not too early to secure your space in those seminars.) Contact the Epona office at or call 520-455-5908 for registration and additional information.

The Power of the Herd

For me, writing a book is an adventure in self discovery, necessitating an ever deepening articulation of how and why horses make such profound teachers, invariably leading to research in unexpected areas. My latest project, now officially titled Power of the Herd: Building Social Intelligence, Visionary Leadership and Authentic Community through the Way of the Horse has already been a most intense education spanning cutting-edge research into the role that emotional and social intelligence play in achieving any goal — and, more specifically, how we must learn to boost these long-neglected, largely nonverbal skills in solving the challenges of the future, not only to reach our full potential but to literally save the planet in the process. With such ambitious, long-term goals in mind, however, it was the ultimate surprise to find myself deciphering long-neglected elements of the past, finding immense inspiration in little-known facts about the importance that horses played in shaping the lives of several key historical leaders.

Did you know that the Buddha, Winston Churchill, and George Washington were exceptional horsemen? Until six months ago, I had no idea that George Washington started the vast majority of his own horses, and was considered not only the best rider in the colonies, but one of the best horse trainers on either side of the Atlantic. This intriguing fact led me down a road of historical research that reinvigorated my faith in our country’s original vision. Yet, it also brought forth the ultimate challenge in my mind: As I boldly concluded in Chapter 3 of my new book: “True democracy can’t possibly thrive in this country until the abilities that Washington modeled become the rule rather than exception, not just in politicians, but in the population at large!”  I’m talking about widely neglected, largely nonverbal abilities that the man honed to a high degree on horseback.

I’m so excited about sharing this information with you all that I’m compelled to include excerpts from my chapter on Washington at the end of the newsletter. And I will be sharing complete early chapters of the book, including some amazing new scientific research into emotional/social/nonverbal intelligence, with workshop participants this fall and winter, as the new book, though incomplete, has vastly influenced my work with the horses, allowing me to consciously articulate and teach experientially what was previously a vague yet still powerful nonverbal aspect of the Epona Approach.

Epona Worldwide

I truly wish I had a twin who could write full-time, and another who could teach full time, as I can’t wait to get this new information out. But since I find myself in the predicament of acknowledging that I’m only one, aging, very human, being, I must learn patience in working within these limitations. I am, however, more excited than ever to recommend workshops around the world that our Epona Approved Instructors are offering. See the website for more information and listings. I’m also very pleased with the ever-evolving work that the Epona senior faculty members here in Southern Arizona are providing at their own operations in the region. We are currently fine-tuning the Epona Apprenticeship Program in some exciting ways that we will announce in the next few weeks.

And, if that’s not enough excitement for one year, I’ve also had the honor of working with other major innovators in the fields of equine-facilitated therapy and experiential learning to create the EponaQuest Foundation, a new non-profit that has just been established to fund research and program development, outlining best practices and standards of excellence nationally, while also bringing this work to populations who would not otherwise be able to afford it. We are currently working on grants to bring the non-predatory power and wisdom of the horse to mainstream schools, Native American tribes, returning soldiers and their families, and the leaders of the future through developing well-researched programs that teach emotional and social intelligence, nonverbal communication, relationship and leadership skills. More information on the EponaQuest Foundation will come during our official launch in early 2011.

What Would George Washington Do?

As promised, here’s a condensed version of an excerpt from Chapter 3, “Hidden Wisdom,” from my upcoming book The Power of the Herd. Copyright 2010 by Linda Kohanov.

Imagine if a supervisor asked you to complete a project with only ten percent of the information available to you, if schools were only committed to teaching ten percent of what you would need to succeed in life. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening as we overemphasize the spoken and written word in business, education and relationship. Once we realize that only ten percent of human communication is verbal, telephone/computer/text messaging innovations all too easily become convenient, deceptively seductive tools that limit human potential, creating voluntary learning disabilities in the realms of emotional and social intelligence, ultimately fostering a kind of de-evolution if left unchecked over generations….

In his book, The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Potential for Leadership and Life, Robert K. Cooper actually predicts that the “dinosaurs of the future will be those who keep trying to live and work from their heads alone. Much of human brilliance is driven less by the brain in the head than by newly discovered intelligence centers — now called ‘brain two and brain three’ — in the gut and heart. The highest reasoning and the brightest ingenuity involve all three brains working together.”

Physiologists now know that sixty percent of the heart’s cells are neural, and there are more neural cells in the gut than in the entire spinal column. As a result, both areas can act independently of the brain in gathering information and adapting to the environment. “Gut feelings” are real, as both the intestinal track and the heart have been shown to generate neuropeptides, molecules carrying emotional information. In this way, the body serves as a magnificent tuner, receiver and amplifier for all kinds of information. It feels, learns and has definite opinions that sometimes contradict the brain. As author and researcher Candace Pert, Ph.D. asserts, your body is your subconscious mind. Imagine the edge, the power and insight, the sheer genius available to those who make it conscious!

While science is finally embracing this concept, we already have a term for people who tap the wonders of those other two corporeal intelligence centers: we say they have “horse sense.” The expression, dating back to the 1800s, refers to sound practical wisdom, a combination of finely-tuned awareness, common sense and gumption. People with horse sense pay attention to that “other 90 percent.” They “listen to their gut” as well as their mind when making decisions and really “put their heart into it” once they commit to action. There’s also an element of intuition involved, as in “She’s got too much horse sense to believe his story.” For this reason, it’s often thought of as a mysterious gift certain lucky people possess from birth.

You can develop horse sense at any age, most efficiently through actually working with horses. In fact, it was that first spirited mare who taught me to stand up for myself and read the true intentions of others. I was in my 30s at the time, dealing with an aggressive yet secretive supervisor at the radio station. As I learned to motivate and set boundaries with a 1,000-pound being, my 200-pound boss suddenly seemed less intimidating. I not only found that I could effectively challenge unreasonable demands, I was able to gain greater cooperation and respect as a result.

The practical applications were useful, of course. But something even more exciting began to happen. The training my horses provided encouraged me to gaze ever more deeply into the limitations of my own socially-conditioned mind, allowing me to glimpse “civilized” human behavior through a wider lens. Staring at historical and current events from this new perspective, I realized that whether I was a left-wing democrat, a right-wing republican, a fundamentalist Christian, a radical feminist, a gay rights advocate, a communist, fascist, creationist or scientist, my effectiveness in the world was likely to be impaired by the exact same unconscious habits. Our ancestors had sailed across a potentially hostile ocean to escape the ravages of persecution and tyranny, hoping for a fresh start in the land of the free and the home of the brave, only to build wildly hopeful structures of democracy on the same faulty foundation of long-buried, largely nonverbal assumptions and behaviors. For this reason, I doubted technology would save us; neither would liberal and conservative agendas based on the same worn-out neural pathways meandering through our fearful, body-phobic, increasingly dissociative, egotistical, machine-worshipping heads….

For thousands of years people explored the world on horseback, charting territory they would have struggled to traverse on foot, reveling in a primal experience of freedom, strength, and speed so exhilarating that we still measure our most sophisticated engines in units of horsepower. But there was something much more profound happening in those interspecies associations. Learning to form effective, working partnerships with horses provided the most elusive yet important education a human leader could acquire — that “other 90 percent” exercised at a wholly nonverbal level. Now that the entire planet has been mapped, consciousness itself is the new frontier. Twenty-first-century pioneers are looking for ways to tap the vast resources of all three of their brains — those interconnected sensory/intelligence centers in the head, the heart and the gut. In this respect, horses, once again, provide the ultimate shortcut…..

With modern education over-emphasizing intellectual and verbal arts, people who somehow manage to train all three of their “brains” become more influential, downright irresistible to populations who lack this full-bodied charisma. Take Ronald Reagan, whose firm yet congenial, focused, larger-than-life presence is, in fact, the mark of a rider capable of harnessing power and intelligence without repressing the spirit that brings it to life. He so swayed public opinion that the phenomenon of “Democrats for Reagan” was cited by Barack Obama as an inspiration for cultivating cross-party support.

Photos of Reagan on horseback — heading across the range in any number of old Western movies, mounted on his regal gray Arabian at the ranch, and later, riding English-style with Queen Elizabeth — are plentiful on the Internet. Most people would consider this a colorful, perhaps elitist, pastime. Yet the fact that Reagan loved to ride speaks volumes about what kind of intricate, nonverbal training he received to become the noteworthy leader history has since proven him to be….To Reagan, ranching was no publicity stunt. He’d ride El Alamein, his feisty Arabian stallion for hours through the high desert outback, leaping over fallen trees, so immersed in the experience that he’d rarely speak to his mounted secret service agents on the trail….

If Reagan had simply wanted to relax, he wouldn’t have chosen a challenging horse like El Alamein. The president was accessing something in that relationship, something elusive yet essential. Trotting off into the desert on a horse ready to bolt at the drop of a hat or the rattle of a snake, gaining the animal’s trust and cooperation along the way, Reagan wasn’t just clearing his mind; he was literally exercising abilities that would prove useful in the international political arena…. Not that there weren’t some close calls during the nearly ten years the president rode El Alamein. But Reagan’s poise and athleticism, combined with his love of a challenge, saved him on more than one occasion. Nonverbally, he could conjure up a calming presence under pressure that was simultaneously firm and reassuring, focused yet agile. It’s a skill that anyone who likes to ride a spirited horse develops through experience — or dies trying….

In the election of 2000, I couldn’t help contrasting the former president’s engaging presence with the stiff, tentative, overly intellectual style of Al Gore, a candidate whose ideas and policies I did, in fact, support in several key areas. While he has since gone on the win the Nobel Prize, Gore’s demeanor was unduly skewed toward the brain in the head. The “other 90 percent” was missing, at least in his public appearances. Whether or not the election was rigged, the race itself was close. Bush’s style of engaging with the public involved a bit more heart and gut, and that gave him a palpable edge in the nonverbal communication department.

Over time, however, the winner of that controversial vote did not demonstrate the level of horse sense that Reagan possessed. The most telling example was Bush’s response to the news that NYC’s Twin Towers were falling — caught on film while he was reading a story to some blissfully unaware school children. George W. had that deer in headlights look, which means he wasn’t actively creating a calming presence; he was dissociating. Had he slipped into a similarly disconnected state on the back of a panicking horse, he would have ended up on the ground temporarily unable to remember that he was the President of the United States….

At this point it’s important, downright enlightening, actually, to appreciate the sophisticated combination of intellectual ability and horse sense possessed by our country’s very first president. George Washington was a prolific letter writer with progressive views on education and leadership, even by today’s standards. It wasn’t nearly so easy to document his considerable nonverbal talents, of course, but many of his soldiers and colleagues wrote home about him, capturing intriguing anecdotes and observations of his particularly striking effect on others. Washington not only commanded respect, he moved people deeply, inspiring loyalty during periods of extreme hardship, mindboggling uncertainty, and dramatic change. And he accomplished all of this with a reputation for being a man of few words, at least in public.

When I began studying Washington’s career in earnest at the end of 2009, the country he fought so long and hard for was struggling with Wall Street betrayals, record unemployment, fear-mongering pundits, and hostile relations between, sometimes even within, the two political parties. Scared, angry people were burning the current president in effigy over healthcare reform, shouting racial slurs, bemoaning the end of civilization itself. Uncompromising, red-faced fanatics on both sides of the issue were threatening to move to Canada or Costa Rica if they didn’t get their way. Like many people caught in the middle, I was disgusted with the greed, egotism, irresponsibility, manipulation, and extremism running amok in the name of patriotism. To say I was becoming jaded would be an understatement.

And then the spirit of George Washington rode up on his powerful steed. Little known facts about the man’s life captured my imagination, not only invigorating my research on leadership, but renewing my faith in the sanity our country’s original vision. I was, for a time, filled with such sincere and fervent feelings of patriotism that friends and family members would stare at me wide eyed, leaning backward, glancing toward the door. “We were cheated by the public school system,” I’d declare. “Our naïve yet well meaning teachers were making us memorize dates and names and superficial facts when they could have been teaching us the process Washington went through to become the ultimate leader and citizen of a free society. True democracy can’t possibly thrive in this country until the abilities that Washington modeled become the rule rather than exception, not just in politicians, but in the population at large!”

Then I’d practically shout, pounding the dining room table, “This ambitious yet essential goal cannot be achieved exclusively through verbal oriented education!”

I’ve since calmed down considerably, but I still believe I was onto something. While my high school history teachers were devising coolly objective multiple choice tests involving dates like 1776, names like Benedict Arnold, and events like the Boston Tea Party, essential facts about George Washington’s true genius were languishing in obscurity, information that would have given me a road map for becoming a more courageous, adaptable and insightful leader. I would have understood the hardships, mistakes and betrayals he endured, how he rose above these challenges without losing his heart and soul. I would have glimpsed the power of charisma balanced by integrity and empathy. And perhaps, most importantly, I might have understood the extent to which visionary leadership in particular demands qualities a lot more sophisticated and mysterious than passion, idealism and a talent for risk management. Innovators charged with transforming society must develop a paradoxical combination of conviction and adaptability, demonstrating a level of endurance so high it’s contagious while consciously engaging in the lesser-known, largely nonverbal art of fear management.

The Presence of Power

In the winter of 1777, George Washington somehow inspired a ragged group of soldiers to not only stick around for the Second Battle of Trenton, but to actually win it. John Howland, a young private from Rhode Island, lived to tell the story. In an account published 54 years after the event, he struggled to remember what the general said, but never forgot how it felt to borrow the man’s courage.

“Lord Cornwallis was on the march from Princeton with, as it was said, ten thousand men to beat up our quarters,” Howland reported, estimating that the “whole army of the United States” at that time was “supposed to amount to about four thousand men.” And that wasn’t even the worst of the news. The odds were against them in so many other, thoroughly demoralizing ways: “If any fervent mind should doubt this,” he emphasized, “it must be from not knowing the state of our few, half-starved, half-frozen, feeble, worn-out men, with old fowling pieces for muskets, and half of them without bayonets, and the States so disheartened, discouraged, or poor, that they sent no reinforcements, no recruits to supply this handful of men.”

As the British and their fierce allies, the Hessians, marched on Trenton, New Jersey from their garrison in Princeton, Howland was one of a thousand troops assigned to delay the enemy’s advance through a gutsy attack and retreat/ambush across Assunpink Creek. “The bridge was narrow,” he remembered, “and our platoons were, in passing it, crowded into a dense and solid mass, in the rear of which the enemy were making their best efforts.” Yet in that moment of utter confusion and desperation, Howland touched a vision of power, gaining, in the crush of battle, a sense of steadiness, renewal, and awe: “The noble horse of General Washington stood with his breast pressed close against the end of the west rail of the bridge, and the firm, composed, and majestic countenance of the General inspired confidence and assurance in a moment so important and critical. In this passage across the bridge, it was my fortune to be next the west rail, and arriving at the end of the bridge, I pressed against the shoulder of the General’s horse and in contact with the boot of the General. The horse stood firm as the rider, and seemed to understand that he was not to quit his post and station.”

Washington alone did not create that transformational effect. It was the dedication and poise his mount exhibited that inspired the same in young Howland. Yet to fathom what an outrageous achievement it was for Washington to find and train an animal capable of enduring such a scene, you have to appreciate, first of all, the horror of the sound alone. For thousands of years, warriors fought with swords, spears, and arrows. The Revolutionary War seethed with musket fire and canon blasts. And something else: “Horses were screaming on the battlefield,” historian James Parrish Hodges, Ph.D. reminded me during an interview on Washington’s leadership abilities. Riding a prey animal, a vegetarian, a species that much prefers flight over fight, anywhere near the scent of blood — let alone the din of absolute chaos and unmitigated agony — goes against every hard-wired impulse the horse possesses. If the General’s mount was a machine programmed for survival, incapable of transcending instinct, such an act would have been impossible. Luckily, the General didn’t believe this, or he wouldn’t have been able to ride the same two trusted equine companions through the entire revolution with the odds stacked against them all, horse and human alike.

“It was a miracle,” Hodges says of the colonists’ success. “Washington tapped more in his people than they themselves thought they could give.” And he never would have lived through the first of those battles if he hadn’t inspired similar acts of heroism in his horses. After all, a good 20 years earlier Washington received promotion to the rank of colonel when Joshua Fry, commander of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War, died after falling from his horse.

The Silence of Power

While brief, eye-witness accounts of Washington’s impressive riding skills were commonplace, historians past and present have failed to recognize the importance of his distinction as one of the finest horse trainers on either side of the Atlantic. To be sure, Thomas Jefferson characterized him as “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.” Yet few politicians and writers at that time understood the equestrian arts well enough to fathom the General’s true genius in that arena. Our only glimpse comes from the Marquis de Chastellux, a French nobleman, military officer, and philosopher who served as liaison between Washington and French forces that ultimately helped defeat the British during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. Chastellux published his complete recollections of the American War of Independence five years later, including his subsequent travels through the newly formed United States. Because of his literary talent and acute sense of observation, he captured what are still considered the most vivid descriptions of George Washington as an effective yet profoundly human leader in wartime. A peacetime visit to Mount Vernon gave Chastellux a still deeper understanding of his former comrade in arms.

Two crucial aspects of Washington’s life and personality made it difficult for anyone to know him intimately, let alone write about him effectively: his preference for silence over casual conversation and the vast amount of time he spent in the saddle, for business as well as pleasure. As an accomplished equestrian himself, Chastellux was simply able to go where few men had gone before — riding with the Revolutionary War hero, on one of his immaculately trained horses no less.

“The weather being fair,” Chastellux wrote, “I got on horseback, after breakfasting with the General. He was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode on the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended. I found him as good as he is handsome, but above all well broke and well trained having a good mouth, easy in hand, and stopping short in a gallop without bearing on the bit. I mention these minute particulars, because it is the General himself who breaks all his own horses, and he is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild.”

Washington could not have used abusive dominance techniques to create a mount of this caliber. In equestrian terms, he taught the horse to “carry himself” with the utmost grace and responsiveness. The General rode with a light yet persuasive touch, creating an agile, thoughtful partner rather than dissociative, machine-like mode of transportation. And Chastellux, a man who’d visited the stables of European royalty, was impressed.

In addition to a longstanding, vigorous devotion to horse breeding, racing, and fox hunting (an athletic equestrian sport that involves racing cross country and leaping over fences with packs of barking hounds in tow), Washington’s post-war and post-presidency “retirement” routine at Mount Vernon involved rising with the sun, literally rousting many of his own workers. After providing meticulous instructions on a variety of farm tasks and repairs, he ate a light breakfast at 7 a.m., and then spent a good six hours in the saddle. In His Excellency: George Washington, Joseph P. Ellis describes him riding around the farm, “ordering drainage ditches to be widened, inspecting the operation of a new distillery he had recently commissioned on the premises, warning poachers that the deer on his property had become domesticated and must not be hunted, inquiring after a favored house slave who had recently been bitten by a dog.” What historians consistently fail to mention about his daily schedule (no doubt because Washington himself didn’t discuss it much) concerns when and how he trained his horses, who would have needed years of careful development to reach the level of expertise under saddle that Chastellux reported, let alone exhibit the courage under fire Washington’s favored war mounts possessed. The General trusted those horses with his life, and they proved worthy of his confidence in so many subtle yet remarkable ways. Returning to the mansion around two o’clock each afternoon, Ellis reveals, “no one needed to take the reins off his horse. Washington simply slapped him on the backside and he trotted over to the barn on his own. (Horses like men, seemed disposed to acknowledge his authority.)”

That authority rested to a great extent on Washington’s instinctual understanding of the leader’s role as educator rather than dictator. He cultivated trust, courage, and devotion as much as he commanded it. It’s a crying shame he didn’t write a book on horse training, but the art form, being almost exclusively nonverbal, probably eluded his efforts to describe it in the brief journal entries he had time to record at the end of the day. Washington was too busy building an agricultural empire, fighting a revolutionary war, and negotiating the parameters of the very first U.S. presidency. Still, his success in all of those realms was, without a doubt, tied to his profound mastery of the human-equine relationship. As Thomas Jefferson later complained when he and Washington became political rivals, the persistent image of the elder statesman on horseback always seemed to trump the most eloquent speeches and persuasive intellectual arguments anyone else devised in opposition. The man simply reeked of power.

And there was no arguing with him. Not because he wouldn’t listen — Ellis describes a crucial element of his presidential style as “leading by listening.” He’d spend hours, even days, letting people speak their peace, sometimes to the chagrin of younger, more action-oriented members of his entourage. Once he considered the options and came to a strong conclusion, however, he had no problem herding large groups of people around with the infectious combination of poise, courage, energy, and conviction he exhibited launching his twelve-hundred pound war charger into a bloody battle with a thousand shoeless, half-dressed men running behind him.

This frustrated intellectually-based idealists like Jefferson and James Madison to no end. The fact that Washington didn’t talk a whole lot made them even crazier. As Ellis observes, “he possessed a nearly preternatural ability to remain silent while everyone around him was squirming under the social pressure to fill the silence with chatty conversation. (John) Adams later claimed that this ‘gift of silence’ was Washington’s greatest political asset, which Adams himself so envied because he lacked the gift altogether.”

Washington’s influence would forever remain a mystery to men with little horse sense, men who sat in chairs debating ideas while their colleague became “first in war and first in peace” literally riding through the richly nuanced, wholly nonverbal realms of that crucial “other 90 percent.”

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