9 posts

Team Huddles versus Herd Huddles: safety in numbers in isolation

What has all of this got to do with Equine Facilitated Learning, I hear you ask.

Interestingly my reflection on ‘huddles’ started with the horses.  However, this was only after the Legal, Risk and Compliance team that I work in in the City of London, shortly prior to working from home, diarised weekly Team Huddles to be held first thing on a Monday morning.

efl huddle

This has since become a daily 10:00am Virtual Team Huddle during this period of physical isolation.

I also understand that the management team are holding a daily early morning Virtual Leadership Huddle to keep management coordinated, focused and efficient while in physical isolation.  This information flow then filters down to the individual Virtual Team Huddles helping each team within the organisation be kept informed, more effective and collaborative.  I understand that Team Huddles generally are a great way of fostering a positive culture with open communication, improving morale, motivation and productivity in the workplace.  I understand that some teams have even been having Virtual Quiz evenings.

I am so fortunate that during this period of isolation for many, I live in a beautiful property surrounded by approximately 17 acres of land and can gaze outside the windows during my virtual working day and experience nature and animals.  What I mean by experience is that I am not only able to see nature but also hear the noise of birds, the neighboring lambs and Cockerels.  Smell the cut grass, the spring flowers, even the animals .  I am virtually working in the City yet physically present and noticing nature.

efl horses

I have seen many people referring to our animals during this time as being unaware of this pandemic.  Whilst I believe that maybe our animals are not aware of the pandemic per se, they are living in the presence of many of us establishing a very different routine in uncertain times.  Life in our household today is somewhat different as well as being the same.  I am fortunate to be able to work from home, our little boy, up until this week, has been carrying on with his school work at home.  We are very grateful that the people that help us with looking after our horses are also with us in isolation.  This has meant that myself and my husband have been able to carry on with our day jobs, Thomas his schooling and all of our animals continue to be cared for in exactly the same way.  There is something about, at least in our household, safety in numbers in isolation.

As mentioned above, what I have found interesting about my reflection on ‘huddles’, both Team Huddles and Herd Huddles, is that it was the power of the horses that really got me noticing and thinking about all of this after observing the Athena Herd of horses last week end.  We opened up a new part of our Equine Track System here at Athena Herd (see athenaherd.org.uk for more information about how our Athena Herd of horses live).  The horses grouped together investigating their new space (a disrupter in their routine).  The horses here at Athena Herd live in a sense in isolation in the form of a settled herd living as naturally as possible on an equine track system.  The herd seems to take a kind of safety in numbers approach when faced with uncertainty and change.  They all huddle together (picture below taken when we opened up this new space).  Some of the horses interestingly displayed sudden behavior change due to the changes that we made to their environment and routine.

EFL horse huddle

If you compare the above picture with the picture below taken just three days later, aside from that amazing blue sky, the overall need for a Herd Huddle seems to have diminished.  Gradually each herd member has worked out his/her own safe space, amounting maybe to a form of social distancing, making daily choices around where to hang out and with whom to interact.  At times there may still be a need for a Herd Huddle: keeping each other informed of important information through the sharing of collective intelligence even routine i.e. look the humans are out filling up the hay supply, its time for breakfast, lets scratch each other’s backs to get rid of that winter coat, lets move to the barn for shelter as it is going to rain, lets spend some time socialising.  Horses are highly aware of their surroundings and live very much ‘in the moment’.  They live in the now, are present and connect with nature.

EFL Relaxed

So moving back to where I began: Team Huddles versus Herd Huddles: safety in numbers in isolation and what is the significance of Equine Facilitated Learning? Experiential learning if you like with horses.

My understanding is that holding “huddles” on a regular basis can create a sense of unity and positive culture with open communication.  As is the case with any meeting, both in the corporate and Equine Facilitated Learning space there is the importance of having a ‘facilitator’ to keep things on track and on time.  There is an element of routine required in both for example in the corporate space it is good to start and end a huddle at the same time every day, first thing in the morning often works best as it gives members a chance to share their priority for that day.  Clarity is of great importance in both: understanding who is doing what and how it fits in with the vision of the organisation, in managing expectations for example.  Being present is another important factor in both, either physically or virtually, having the opportunity to contribute to the vision.

When ‘huddles’ are used correctly they can really help to drive results.

Have you considered preparing your team for change through experiences with horses?

EFL Corporate workshop




It’s in our nature

It’s in our nature………..

Jennifer and Thomas Geach

Our little boy was born September 2012.

Why is this significant?

Katarina Felicia Lundgren from the MiMer Centre during the recent training that we hosted at Athena Herd talked about and recently shared a post on facebook called the “Imitation Game”. Reminding us that we are all minds in motion and when we enter this world (both humans and animals) we use imitation.

Becoming a parent can give us an amazing opportunity, if embraced, to be reminded of this process of imitation that we may find ourselves doing throughout our lifetime either consciously or subconsciously depending on the position we find ourselves in.

Have you ever thought or said out loud, gosh I sound like/I am becoming my mother/grandmother/father? I know I have.

I acknowledge that I am a reflection of my own experience gained from those that have been in my life both personally and professionally and wow that is a very profound consideration.

The significance, therefore, of becoming a parent back in 2012 is of huge significance here.

We have embraced parenthood. Our child is very much part of our lives, we haven’t, in the most part, changed our life to fit in with him. A dear friend said to me not so long ago, you come as a three. Whether this is because we had our child that bit later in life or it
has just been a conscious decision, who knows. Our approach to parenthood has meant that we have been fortunate enough to really observe, reflect and embrace the experience.

The day our child was born, I wondered how I could ever love anyone else as much. I thought to myself, how do people go on to have multiple children?

Myself and my husband have had quite a few chuckles along our journey of parenthood because of the imitating behaviour. Goodness how aware am I as a parent of our child imitating, mimicking if you like, both mine and my husbands behavior. Experiencing each stage of development and learning has been and continues to be a gift. This “Imitation Game” as described by Katarina really does seem to be ….in our nature.

Whilst considering that written in Katarina’s post and my own experiences of observing this so-called “Imitation Game” as a parent, it is notable that this skill, if you like, seems to be something that we are born with and either consciously or subconsciously stays with us throughout our lives.

…and beyond…..

Considering this further, I am amazed by every unique interaction we have with our horses at Athena Herd. Having
multiple horses I am also very aware that I love each one so very much just in very different ways. I also recognise just how powerful the work we do with horses really is. Whether that be an individual or group learning and
development interaction. Whether that be “labelled” as “Equine Facilitated Learning”, “coaching”, “counselling”, “psychotherapy” “hypnotherapy” or even “leadership” work. Isn’t this an engrained “Imitation Game” that comes into all of our life experiences, given that it is in our nature?

Labels: “Equine Facilitated Learning”, “Coaching”, “Counselling”, “Psychotherapy” “Hypnotherapy” or even “Leadership” work……

Delving, therefore, a little more into this “Imitation Game”, is there really a fundamental difference?

Why do we look to “label” the learning in a horse environment as “Equine Facilitated Learning”, “Coaching”, “Counselling”,
“Psychotherapy” “Hypnotherapy” or even “Leadership” work? I am not considering the specific training required to becoming a Counsellor or even a Lawyer. I am talking about tapping into those core skills that one looks to learn from birth, which we have considered here as the “Imitation Game”. This is our rationale at Athena Herd for our accredited Equine Facilitated Practitioner training.  Part of this journey could then well be going on to specialize through choice and further studies to become a mental health professional, a coach, a leader in a corporate environment. Isn’t this how we progress through our GCSEs, A Levels, Degrees, Masters Degrees?

Is it fair to state that even if you are a “Coach” or “Legal Counsel” or have run your own business your team and/or
colleagues and/or employees and/or suppliers may face mental health and wellbeing challenges? Being able to connect with, build a relationship with, offer support and guidance presumably could well be a life skill derived from the “Imitation Game” right? Or do we absolutely need to be a qualified “Counsellor” or “Psychotherapist” to recognise and support such a colleague/individual? As a Senior lawyer I often work with business people looking for legal support but ultimately the decision to go ahead and sign the contract is a business/commercial risk decision.  Not a legal one.  One of those identified grey area. Having said this, even though I am a qualified Solicitor where do my commercial, relationship building, resilience, brand protection/approach skills
come from? Does it all come from my legal training?  Or the so-called “Imitation Game”? Or both?

What about “coaching” someone to realise their dream job/career? If you do a quick internet search “Top tips” can include appearance, personal brand if you like, posture, looking the interviewee in the eye, smiling, good handshake, connection, be authentic – again does this come from specialized training or is it the learned behaviour gained through the “Imitation Game”? Or both?

Athena Herd Equine Facilitated Practitioner a combination of the “Imitation Game” and a qualification…its in our nature……

Cuddles with Marzipan at Athena


Magic Mirror

The Evil Queen in front of the Mirror
Mirror in a 1916 illustration

The Magic Mirror is a mystical object that is featured in the story of Snow White and used by the Evil Queen in order to find out who is the “fairest of them all”.

So why am I writing about this Magic Mirror in the context of Equine Facilitated Learning/Psychotherapy work?

This topic came up during a recent discussion at Athena Herd.

I read and hear so many people referring to a horse as a mirror. So are we saying that a horse is an object that we use to determine who is the “fairest of them all”? Or is there more to it?

So it would seem that some of the real life influences around Snow White have come from for example Maria Sophia Margaretha Catherina von und zu Erthal. Her step mother was domineering and greatly favored the children from her first marriage. The upper right corner of “The Talking Mirror” contains a clear reference to self-love. Is this what we mean by referring to a horse as a mirror?

Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Magic Mirror contained an imprisoned spirit. How does this fit into Equine Facilitated Learning/Psychotherapy work?

The Magic Mirror also appears in Snow White and the Huntsman. Moving to the prequel/sequel of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the Magic Mirror is revealed to hold darker forms of magic. Freya learns the truth about her sister’s role in the death of her daughter. Ravenna, her sister, becomes the mirror spirit so bound to answer Freya’s questions truthfully prompting Freya to aid Eric in destroying the Mirror at the cost of her own life The final scene, however, shows a golden raven flying away, suggesting that a part of the mirror, thus Ravenna, may have survived.

So why do so many people refer to a horse as a mirror in Equine Facilitated Learning/Psychotherapy work?

Is a horse an object? Or is a horse more than that? A Magic Mirror maybe? A Magic Mirror that is not just about objectifying external beauty but really looking within us to bring out our potential ……. making us the “fairest of them all” or quite simply ……the best that we can be……

Why is the authentic origin linked to whole health and well-being at Athena Herd so important?

Health and well-being can be described as the achievement and maintenance of physical fitness and mental stability. A more holistic definition can be health and well-being as the result of a combination of physical, social, intellectual and emotional factors.
Our origins at Athena Herd have focussed on the achievement of the physical and mental stability of our herd of horses through the encouragement of movement and choice. We encourage and promote natural movement in all that the herd does whether that be the ability to continuously forage for food and eat. Living as a herd member and having access to paddocks, a sand school, surfaced and natural tracks here at Athena Herd provides that all important mental stability for the herd.
Why is this authentic origin linked to whole health and wellbeing so important?
This engrained origin is now being recognised by the growing number of people that are becoming part of this community, part of our herd. The natural environment created initially only for the Athena Herd horses, is proving to be such an important nurturing space for the people through the ability to be immersed in nature, be part of our community, be supported in all that you do here with us and reach your true potential.
Why not visit athenaherd.org.uk to find out more?


apple and hea at athena
Kinsky Henna at Athena Herd
Athena Herd
tents at athena
yoga at Athena Herd

The Art of BEING

Time for another guest blog, this time from Graeme Green of The Mindful Horse who explores the value of being present. Graeme teaches presence and embodiment, wellbeing and mindfulness across various personal and professional locations. He will be co-hosting our wellbeing event on 7th September.


Actors say that one should never work with small children and animals. Why so? Well there is congruence and honesty about them. There is no act or pretence. And this establishes a presence, which we all intuitively recognise, and subconsciously we gravitate to that.

As adults too often our presence is lost, as we are consumed in tasks, (relative) status and function.

Presence facilitates relationships, when someone is present with us we have their attention, we are connected, we feel acknowledged and valued. When someone with great presence enters our space they shift the energy, they light up the room. Our attention is naturally drawn to them.

But what does being present mean?

Our modern lives and work bombards us with distractions. Demands on our attention. Phones. Email. Social media. You name it. Submitting to the distractions draws us away from the present. Our attention ceases to be in the same place as our bodies. Mind dislocates from our bodies.

Throughout most of the human journeys we have been active – whether seeking shelter or food, or communal activities such music or dance. Now we are passive or at best sedentary. Our entertainment is external, often projected before us; our work facilitated by technology, be it scanning bar codes or constructing and completing complex spreadsheets. Our minds might be busy but our bodies most certainly are not. But we have not evolved to be like this.

Somatic learning acknowledges an equal contribution from minds and bodies. Like all mammals we are hardwired to move. Sustained immobility is a stressor.

These days though, we have to create special time for that, for the gym or for a morning run. We do not need the intensity, we just need to be active. 20 minutes walking for example is enough to strengthen our memory creating capacity.

And when we move we engage a more holistic consciousness. When we move we connect with space and place. We are present. Our mind might wander sometimes, but where we go is where we are, and so we need to invite it back.

To be present for others we must first be present for ourselves. We must be in our bodies. We must notice when we have been drawn away and find the means to bring ourselves back, to ground and centre ourselves within our being,

How do we establish presence?

The Art of BEING is about learning to recognise our distractions, or at least to effectively recognise when we have been distracted. To notice that our attention is no longer where we intended it to be.

It is not so much about fighting the distractions, but knowing they occur, recognising them and then returning our attention to where we intended it to be. Sometimes through our breath. Sometimes resting quietly back in my own physicality. Sometimes through a sensory moment, stopping to touch and really feel, or to focus on a sounds around us. Simple tools that facilitate a stillness within us. Simple tools that we carry with us at all times.

The Art of BEING shines a light on awareness of our own presence. It offers different ways and means of returning. In this work we create a safe and non-judgemental space to experiment and explore.

Life in the learning machine

Another guest blog from Graeme Green outlining the highly beneficial power of coaching from an embodied perspective, join Graeme at our forthcoming wellbeing retreat to find out more.


Every moment of every day we are practicing something, albeit often unconsciously. Getting a little better all the time. Not just our hobbies or professions, our emotions, our behaviour our reactions, to name  a few.

Like it or not we are learning all the time; not just when we pick up the text book or sit in the seminar room. Nobody tells our consciousness that “now” is the learning time. Nobody tells the neurons when to fire, the mind to instruct or the muscles to write to memory. They all save us the effort, they do it for us. Howard Gardner wrote about multiple intelligences in the 1990s, highlighting the different learning modalities with us all, including the more embodied ones beyond the linguistic and logical. These intelligences do not lie dormant until we instruct them, they are in their way gaining experience with each action.

Our intelligences are generally learning in parallel, or to think of it a different way, our learning is more like holistic. It is what we call somatic – a whole body experience – From the Greek soma. Our contemporary emphasis on cognitive learning has taught us generally to overlook this.

Somatic teachers talk about the active connectivity between mind and body. One greater consciousness, if you like. They acknowledge an implicit memory which is stored within our bodies, often an emotional memory which might reflect itself in an spontaneous physical response – for example, an often punished child flinching when a hand is raised, regardless of the raiser’s intention.


We are learning machines that in essence permanently have a “write” function switched to “on”. The combination of mind, emotion and action constantly creating routines and habits. This helps us to ride bikes and to play tennis, or develop our professions.

The problems come when the habits obstruct us. We can engage all sorts of mental planning and reframing but when the obstruction is a somatic (embodied) memory we will never quite seem to deliver change that we seek. We need to look within. We need to face that physical memory or behaviour.

We need to develop an objective and non-judgemental somatic awareness. A real consciousness of the what out body is doing and what it is telling us. And what effect that pattern has upon us.


We need to nurture an embodied awareness awareness. This awareness invites us to act.

To be curious. To face what-ever it is and explore it. To share kindness, not to battle with it. To accept and so release it. The act of accepting frees us to envision the shift that is needed and from there to grow. And as we grow into the new form or shape, or the new feeling, we learn a new behaviour. A new character which grows from the old.

With practice we become the change that we need. And we know it, once again we are.

The key through this is to work with the body. Let the body lead the mind. The body speaks to us and to others, we can see people’s impatience when they fiddle with pens as we talk, we can see their muscles tighten or their skin change colour as we offer difficult conversation.

Again the body is telling us when we need to look. When we need to pause and be curious. Asking ourselves where that action came from. And the process begins.

In developing the tools to sharpen awareness we can act on the clues and sign-posts that our bodies offer, and in so doing we might open and re-write the habitual.

We can be the change.

What is a cacao ceremony?

In our latest guest-blog Hannah Carr of The Nourished Body talks about the benefits of the Cacao ceremony. Hannah will be co-facilitating (and hosting a ceremony) at this summer’s Well-being Retreat.


The cacao bean is what chocolate is made from, but the product that most of us know and love has very small amounts of cacao, lots of milk and sugar, and is highly processed.  

You will be introduced here to ceremonial grade cacao, which is not like consuming dark chocolate, or even raw chocolate.  Our cacao is sourced from small farmer co-ooperatives in the Peruvian Andes, it’s very bitter (we add a little sweetness to balance it) but the depth of flavour is truly amazing. 

You will start to feel excited just by the smell, and it will be prepared for you with love and intention.

What I love about this as a nutritionist is that it’s naturally high in iron, magnesium, B-complex vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Cacao has been used in ceremonies for thousands of years and is used as a heart opening medicine.  It is used to help to heal the mental, physical and spiritual body.  Physically it increases blood flow to the brain by 30-40% when taken as ceremonial dose and also increases the oxygen levels in blood by around 20%.

It’s effects are subtle and profound people can safely experience awakening, revelation and inner healing.  Intentions are set and once consumed, euphoric states are unlocked, negative emotions are released and we are able to connect to ourselves and the loving energy in our body.

Come and experience the magic of the ceremony at the Athena summer well-being retreat. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said that Summer is related to the organ of the heart, and bitter flavours support the heart, so this is perfect timing. 

Together we will be supporting the heart at the optimal time of the year, a time when consuming cacao delivers it’s most powerful effects. 

We will sit in a circle and set intentions, listen to heartfelt music and share as a group together. It is the most wonderful way to connect, release, uplift you and realign you with who you truly are.


To find out more about Hannah Carr and her work; click here to visit her website

To book your place on our retreat please click here.

Wellbeing Retreat

We are looking forward to hosting our Wellbeing retreat this August – with Graeme Green and Hannah Carr.

Join us for a relaxing and rustic weekend, near Paddock Wood in the West Kent countryside, where we will explore:

  • work with the 5 ways of wellbeing;
  • mindfulness;
  • yoga;
  • traditional drumming;
  • developing self-awareness and connection alongside our herd;
  • learning new healthy eating habits;
  • traditional Cacoa ceremony.

We are offering a stay on site package of GBP 275.00 which includes:

  • join us from Friday evening, when we will welcome you with a glass of Prosecco and nibbles;
  • continental breakfasts;
  • vegetarian lunches;
  • on site accommodation.

Alternatively you can arrange your own accommodation or travel to us each day for a reduced price of GBP 225.00.

To book your place please visit the event page.



Why not come and stay?

We are really pleased to announce that we can now offer onsite accommodation to support those visiting us for forthcoming events and retreats.

Stay in the Athena Tree House

It is a great opportunity to spend relaxing and refreshing time in the West Kent Countryside. It is a great opportunity to unwind and to watch the horses moving around and playing on our track system

We have the options of a beautiful tree house (pictured right) and three bell tents (see featured image).

Click here to visit our accommodation page or email us at info@nullathenaherd.org.uk for more information.