“Buck,” a documentary about a man who inspired Robert Redford’s 1998 movie “The Horse Whisperer,” is a movie that moved me deeply.

Buck Brannaman holds that there is no reason ever to “break” a horse; that a horse’s fears and mental processes can be gently listened out and neutralized with no need for confrontation.

Reading this, it occurred to me that the necessity to break a wild mustang for its own good was an assumption in our culture that many of bought. Similarly, I grew up with the paradigm that the high anxiety around speaking in public must be confronted head-on through will; that the wild, fearful mustang within need be vanquished to restore order.

Many people come to Speaking Circles having punished themselves with that mindset for years, and it doesn’t make sense to them at first that having the gentle space to experience the anxiety and have it witnessed is far more effective and empowering than trying to learn behavioral strategies to control it.

What we learn through Relational Presence training is attunement with audience, an effortless state of being from which doing–speaking–arises naturally and articulately.

Recently I’ve had the extreme pleasure of providing public speaking training to practitioners who channel the healing power of horses as transformational agents for at-risk youth, people in overwhelming grief, and other applications. Many of the animals doing this work were rescued from lives lived under the old paradigm of control, and when I stand next to one I can profoundly feel their relational presence with me all the way down to the center of the earth. Horses do this without eye contact, so my work with the practitioners starts with the understanding that the ecstatic attunement they have with their horses can be replicated with human audiences through a certain non-effortful gaze.

My promise for the rest of you is that when you learn this gaze of attunement and practice it with groups you become an audience whisperer, and your listeners will follow you anywhere.

For information about equine-guided education and healing, see Medicine Horse Ranch.

© Copyright 2011, Lee Glickstein. All rights reserved.