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“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.” ~ Sharon Ralls Lemon ~

Humans and animals have always had a strong bond. How many of us have returned home after a bad day and found comfort in our pets?

Jean-Jacques Joris, who holds an MA in Transpersonal Counselling Psychotherapy from Naropa University and is an upcoming guest speaker at the Authentic Leadership Program this summer explores how his symbiotic relationship with horses continues to be an enriching and rewarding experience.

Throughout his former career as a diplomat, Jean-Jacques’ assignments took him around the world to high conflict areas, where he was confronted with stressful situations on a daily basis. While working under these conditions, Jean-Jacques took comfort in working with horses in his personal time. This eventually led him to a new career when, with his wife Isabelle, he founded Twin Oaks Farm, a holistic life and leadership counselling and coaching centre that offers a mindfulness-based equine-assisted psychotherapy in English, Spanish, French and German.


But why horses? Jean-Jacques recognizes that many people are afraid of them because they are big animals. However, we often fail to recognize that horses have a highly developed instinct to recognize fear and balance it with curiosity. If we are afraid of horses, Jean-Jacques advises us to just acknowledge that fear, take full ownership of it and even speak to the horse about it. Why? Horses can seem intimidating if we are not used to them, but by acknowledging our fear, we take the first step towards owning it, and having acceptance for our experience. When in contact with actual or potential predators – such as humans – horses need to feel that what they see is what they get. No emotion is unacceptable to a horse, but a predator’s lack of congruence is threatening. By using words to describe our emotions, we realign our cognition with our affect and overcome dissonance. This can also help us realize that perhaps fear is not the only emotion we are feeling and that we are also feeling a little excited about leaving our comfortable boundaries and exploring new horizons.

Jean-Jacques emphasizes that humour as a resource is important when learning with the horses at Twin Oaks. He acknowledges that very serious work is being done at Twin Oaks, but he and his team believe that serious work is done best when done with humour in a playful environment.

In his workshops, he shows us how to apply our behaviour with horses in a leadership context. As he points out, the workshop is experiential, so we are not just talking about how we perceive or react to what our resources and challenges are. We are actually physically and emotionally experimenting with it outside of our comfort zone. He encourages us to participate in working with horses with an open frame of mind. Letting go of our preconceived notions and engaging with curiosity, humour and even a bit of respectful fear can be transformative. The experience can be joyful, fun and enriching. It can be a blueprint for how we choose to live our lives on both a personal and professional level.

As leaders, we may not always have to take ourselves fully outside of our comfort zone, but taking the occasional step or two away from it is often a daily part of a leader’s life, and it is good practice. By overcoming our fear, we learn how to move beyond our uncertainty towards the excitement of engaging in new challenges and opportunities.

Jean-Jacques Joris is a co-founder with his wife Isabelle, of Twin Oaks Farm, a holistic equine-assisted life and leadership counselling and coaching centre established in 2009, which offers a mindfulness-based equine-assisted psychotherapy.

A native of Geneva, Switzerland Jean-Jacques, who is fluent in five languages, spent 15 yeas in the Swiss foreign service, working and living in war-torn countries and high conflict areas, where he witnessed the power of human resiliency in the face of great suffering.

After leaving the diplomatic service, Jean-Jacques graduated from Naropa University with an MA in Transpersonal Counselling Psychotherapy. He is currently on the Naropa University Adjunct Faculty.

Jean-Jacques is an EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) practitioner, was trained as a mental health specialist with the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), is a Naropa-certified mindfulness instructor, and a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis

Jean-Jacques Joris

Director, WiseActions


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