Spring/Summer 2021 | A conversation with Lisa Murrell
In this episode, Lisa Murrell shares all about her practice of leadership and coaching, horses and getting started with horse wisdom, and the four-step process of horse wisdom.
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A conversation with Lisa Murrell.
Today’s Exclusive Guest.
Who is Lisa?
Lisa Murrell, founding partner of Equine Alchemy and Meta System Consulting Group, has spent the last 20 years working globally to help her clients achieve breakthrough results in business development and team executive coaching. Lisa has developed the only International Coach Federation approved coach-specific training programming for Equine Assisted Coaching in the world, which utilizes her extensive experience in both coaching and business development with horse wisdom. Lisa’s work in executive and team coaching, life coaching with and without horses, and leadership development with horses are guides for integrating the wisdom of horses into personal and professional transformation. Lisa provides workshops, mentorships, and coaching in Arizona and Georgia, in-person, online, and privately.
I’ve definitely had several careers. That is possible. Finally, I found the purpose of my life. I started out in New Mexico. My mother wanted me to be a model, and so I went to New York and became a model. I did that for 15 years if you can believe it. I lived in Paris, I was there for quite a while. I worked all over the world. I put myself through undergraduate at New York University in Psychology and then later, I did my graduate degree at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Organization Development and Human Resource Management.
At the time when I was modeling, I was looking for a way to get out of it. From the moment I started, I knew that it was some sort of a conduit. I just knew that, but I don’t know that I could have articulated that. I just knew I had to get out of dodge and I think my mother knew that too. That’s why she wanted me to go. After doing that, I stumbled into consulting, which is kind of a strange thing, to go from being a model into consulting. Just after I had my daughter, saying a lot of prayers and saying, “Okay, what’s next? I don’t know!” It was my spiritual guide. Just wanting to be open to what’s possible, but not really knowing how that works.
Spirituality in Finding Purpose
That was, I think, one of the big turning points. It’s interesting, I’ve done this exercise. I’m sure many of you have done this. You draw a line in a timeline of the big moments in your life, and maybe the lowest valleys. So there are specific and significant times in your life where it changes the course of your life or determines the course of your life. My spirituality was one of those things. In any case, my prayers were answered and all of a sudden, this man from Paris that I met through somebody else, called me. He had a consulting firm in Paris and he ended up financing me to start the North American version of his consulting company. These things don’t just happen. They are destined or it is just written or whatever. I think that that’s what happens when you open yourself up to possibility.
Navigating Through the Mindset
There was a big transition when I became a mother. I thought, What do I do now? I don’t have many friends. I built my consulting business based on the model that I used on myself, which was, ‘Let’s put on one side of the page’, ‘What are your assets and your resources?’ and on the other side of the page, ‘What do you absolutely not at all have any resources for or wish to do, or that you need to study?’ That was pretty clear. So I put together workshops, and they were called Beauty from the Inside Out. I was trying to heal myself, although I didn’t know that I was consciously aware of this at all. I went to different places where adolescent girls had been taken out of the homes as a result of abuse, all kinds of different abuse. They were in a terrible state. I was trying to heal my own childhood trauma, I didn’t know that this was true but I knew I had the same experience, so I could relate to them. Going through all these years of modeling, I also knew that it didn’t have anything to do with what I looked like on the outside, it was all inside. That’s why I was struggling to live inside of me. By the way, I’m still trying to do that.
No magic pills. I really enjoyed that. I really had some of the most amazing experiences doing that. Again, just meeting people and doing this and doing that, because it was outside of New York City, I met somebody in the fashion business who asked me to do a communication workshop. It just started unfolding. I think that’s what happens when you work really hard.
Working and Giving More, but Unhappy
I didn’t find my purpose. I was just finding a way to take care of my daughter. I had gone from making tons and tons of money, that’s kind of how I described it. Actually, CNN interviewed me a couple of times, and they asked, “What is your favorite part about modeling?” I said, “The money!” No doubt about that. But I didn’t have that, because I had not managed it well. I had spent it well. So I needed to do something with women.
Here I was doing this work, and all of a sudden, I was building this huge consulting practice. Not huge, but very extensive and very lucrative consulting practice. I was just getting burned out. I was in such a place in my life that I knew what I needed to do, in terms of taking care of my family, taking care of me, and plus, my work ethic is just very, very driven anyway. Then I just became more and more and more unhappy. It was just vacuous. I would give so much and what I wanted to do was create reciprocity. I wanted to be grounded first, and be in a relationship – second. I didn’t really know how to be in a relationship. I was married, but I didn’t know how to be in a relationship.
Back to the Horses
So my daughter got into horses when she was about 12, and I got around horses again. I thought, Oh, this sounds familiar, this feels very familiar. So I thought, there’s something going on here and I just started riding again. Then I started feeling something very, very different. I had been doing work that was very deep psychologically, with all the organizations that I worked with. Looking at the system and looking at how one part of anything is, you can find the hole of everything in it. So I said, “I really want to find out more about what this is.” I was still on my path to healing, still on my path of trying to understand who I was.
I went to study Linda Kohanov, an incredible writer who authored The Tao of Equus, writing between the worlds. She is one of the first women who wrote about this process of total transformation through having a relationship with the horse. She called it the Way of the Horse. I went out and studied with her and it changed my life completely. I learned so much about myself. It was about a year-long apprenticeship. I don’t know whether I didn’t cry every single day. It took me a while to understand what actually happened. Everything Linda was doing, and everything I did, even though I still ride and jump and do all of that stuff, is all on the ground.
You didn’t really have to have a background in horses at all. There was just a connection. First of all, I was with like-minded people. Before, I was with a bunch of models and from the beginning, I was trying to leave that although I’m very, very grateful for all the experiences that I had. It was really an amazing opportunity. Then I was around a lot of corporate executives. Interestingly enough, I was kind of doing the same thing. It wasn’t that big of a shift from modeling to being around these corporate executives, because they were mostly men and I was still quite young. I still wasn’t getting to the heart of me even though I knew I had studied and I had these degrees, I still wasn’t taken seriously for that.
The Horse Wisdom of a Healer
Since I was pretty good at how to put together workshops and facilitate experiences, I’d made a living doing that. So I decided to start what is now Equine Alchemy. The parent company was Meta System Consulting Group. I was kind of moving between the two and that was bizarre, because although I would bring what I call the horse wisdom, things that you can learn from horses into any situation, I still felt somewhat incongruent, which is one of the main things that you learn when you are working with horses. Being prey animals, if they see an incongruent, it’s a red flag for them. It’s their fight or flight. Their behavior is different. They are incredible and have a huge heart.
Heart math is about heart coherence and about being aligned and congruent. At the time I was studying, research was being done on horses, but it wasn’t out yet. Why I bring up heart math is because heart math talks about the electromagnetic field of our hearts, being something that has been there in our reptilian brain forever. Because we have this huge thing up here, this frontal lobe and the neocortex, we often live from here up rather than the rest. It’s funny the brain is like that. The fact is, it’s still there. So there’s a lot of work done with remembering that aspect of yourself with horses because horses don’t have that huge brain in the cognitive capacity to reason: – I don’t know if I like this person. What do you think? Do you think they like me? There’s none of that going on.
Horses have an additional limbic system. Their survival depends upon knowing what’s going on in their environment, sensing it, discerning whether it requires action, and then what we call going back to grazing because they’re economists of motion. There’s no burnout for horses. They’re in the human dimension because they naturally conserve their energy for when it is needed. So what I learned, first of all, was that all of these things that I had been feeling, I was able to put words to. I was able to say, “Oh, right, yeah. Okay. This is very validating.” This is very validating that what I feel is actually real. It’s not something that I made up, I wasn’t a drama queen. I wasn’t too hypersensitive. So many of us who are healers are known as very hypersensitive, or high sensitives, and we don’t know how to manage that. We can’t recognize it so often as anything because when we were children, we were always told there was something wrong with us. Loud, there was too much. So I totally bought into that.
When I was in that space, I would get connected to the horse. How I knew I was connected, is the most obvious, they would come to me. If it wasn’t so obvious, they would neigh, “I see you,” because they know what’s going on in their environment. They would look and chew, they would just breathe out, they would roll, they would do specific behaviors that I’m quite aware of now. As compared to when I wasn’t there when I was in my head, I don’t know what I’m doing, I have performance anxiety, thinking, wasn’t performing. There was a group, it wasn’t just me. They would not even acknowledge that I was there. And it’s not because they were ignoring me as the human in the human sense, but there was actually no signal. It’s kind of like a radio, an old analog radio that doesn’t tune in. I wasn’t tuned in through here. This was overriding this connection. So that’s the thing about being with the horse, and when feeding you know immediately when you forgot to be present in there veering off here or whatever they’re doing.
Horses – Sensitive like Children
As children, we are so unable to articulate. Our brains haven’t even formed enough. We’re just getting so full of whatever is coming at us. We’re being culturalized. We’re also getting our awareness of what we’re feeling and our trust in it, culturalized out of us. So we’re just pushing it and pushing it and pushing it. The only way horses communicate is through that. They’re so sensitive, some people may not know that they can sense subtle things like little changes in blood pressure. People say horses can smell fear. It’s not that they can sense. It registers on them when your heart starts beating really fast, or your blood pressure changes. To them, that indicates there’s a possible threat.
Horses are very healing. For those of you who have experienced or are interested in energetic healing and alignment, that’s what they do, because they need you to be aligned, in order for them to feel safe to interact with you. I’ve had many horses start at the top and go all the way down on my feet, like, “Oh, honey, we got to clear some of this stuff out.” And then they’ll look and chew afterward, like, “Oh, that’s so much better.” So they do what they need to do to feel safe, however, they’re so aware of what they need.
Nonverbal Healing – Equine Assisted Coaching
I know that one of the reasons why nonverbal healing is so powerful for veterans is because, first of all, it is a culture of not talking. You don’t talk about this stuff. Second of all, there is a huge process to shut down all of these feelings, so that you have a different mindset that’s needed in warfare. I’ve had many veterans come and of course, nothing is said. They come out and they’re smiling or crying, but something has really been touched. Since I do Equine Assisted Coaching that comes from all the executive coaching and all the stuff that I did then, people can have these really incredible experiences like you did when you were a little girl, or when you were a teenager, that you didn’t know. There probably wasn’t anybody around that you could talk to, to say, “This happened or that happened.” “What’s really happening here.” “I’m feeling this.” That’s what the coaching is.
Equine Assisted Coaching as far as I define it, is creating that safe experience for people, but holding the space for the intellectual part as well so that you can support whoever you’re working with, to understand and integrate the experience into whatever their challenges are, what it is they say that they would like in their life.
For the healing process, one lays down and allows the system to activate what is needed, the intelligence and the consciousness within the body to heal. One of the things for the practitioners that’s so important is to know when to get out of the way. For the horses, it’s a partnership and I consider myself the lesser part of this partnership. I can make sense of it. The important thing is that the body processes what you do. It’s not going to be beneficial during the process if you ask the person to come back in their head again and talk about what just happened, because the body hasn’t finished doing whatever needs to be done. That’s the same with horses. I do energy work on horses too, and I love it. It is my favorite thing to do because I can do the energy work and all the other kinds of stuff I’d studied. They are so responsive because they don’t get in their heads. Horses who have never done the work before, or had that work done on them, turn around, and they’ll look at me and they’re like, “You’re not even touching me. You’re over there, but I feel all of this here.”
We all interact with each other out here before we cognitively process it. That’s what the heart’s electromagnetic field is doing. It’s connected. The gut and the entire nervous system actually is more powerful than the electromagnetic field of the heart. So all of this is so under-acknowledged, if not underused, and people are just burning out like crazy because they’re using all this. If they can get into their bodies, the body is just a divine source of so much that we can’t access it unless we pay attention to it.
I started doing this work by getting on the horse’s back. I realized that what was happening was not just happening on his back. It was all over the place in my life. So it took some years to understand that and put it all together. It’s a journey. It’s always a journey.
Leadership Development and Coaching
I like that there are different aspects of this because I like working with different people. And then, of course, there are the horses themselves too, because I like to take care of them. They take on so much of what we’re doing. I don’t want them to experience burnout. The corporate work is about leadership development, but I think one of the things that differentiates what I’m doing from what many people who say leadership with horses, is that they don’t have the background. I know a few people who did beautiful work, they have PhDs in organization development and leadership, or they have great experience and training, I think that is a gift to organizations. I feel that one of the downsides of anything like this, it could become quite trendy. And people just have the experience, but the richness is not of the mind, they have no way of applying it, or whoever is offering it doesn’t know how to support them or it’s not even part of the deal.
I did this job with Amazon. I started with the leader. He wanted to have a leadership team development kind of thing. So I went to him and had the same intake I would have if I’d done an off-site, with an executive team, without the horses. We did an online assessment and I did some interpretation. So I used all the skills and tools that I had when I was doing corporate work. Then I brought them in with the horses with that whole context. It was a blended seamless experience and a real wake-up call for him. It’s been a year since then, and he’s replaced almost everybody on his team. He realized that he hired people that were just like him and that wasn’t who he needed to hire. Then he had some coaching with me being promoted. He still says that that was such a great experience for him. What I’m basically saying is it’s within the context of the work that you’re already doing. It’s not a one-off, like if someone came to you and said, “Oh, I just want to try this,” but they haven’t done the work on themselves to prepare for the opening, I’m sure it’s a very different experience.
I do work with people in leadership development, and because I have the background and a leadership development certification course, I teach other people how to work. It’s like Cliff’s notes version of all the work and experience that I’ve done, and I teach them how to blend it together because that’s just what I feel is the most valuable with this work. Then there’s the Equine Assisted Coach certification program. When I first started doing this work, I was already a coach with the International Coach Federation. I was coached before they even had that certification. That’s how long I’ve been coaching. I said, “You know what, this whole experience with the horses has made me such a better coach.” I felt like I needed to apologize for the last 10 years because I had learned so much from horses. I said, “I’m going for people who want continuing education credits and people who want to learn how to coach. I will create this program.” But then people started asking me, “I want to learn how to do the whole thing.”
Along with my sister, who was an educator, she’s passed now, we put together a proposal that made us the only organization in the world that has this level of approval from the International Coach Federation for Equine Assisted Coach training. It’s quite a robust process to become approved because there’s no licensing for coaching. So you want to be able to have some kind of accreditation.
Horses and Business
The interesting thing is that anyone can do this by just having access to horses. You may ride at the nearby stable. Some people are great consultants, other people are great with horses. One has horses but doesn’t know anything about business, and they could partner together. Sometimes there are people who don’t have either one. They just know they’re just drawn to it. You just need to have access to horses. You don’t have to have your own and that’s great. Some people come to this course simply for their personal transformation. They don’t necessarily want to be any kind of system coach. It’s like when I always wanted to do yoga teacher training. I don’t want to teach yoga, but I want to immerse myself in it. So several clients have done that. Then there are the individuals who find me. A lot of the people who go through the course itself, continue coaching with me for a long time, with and without the horses.
Tips on Starting out with Horses
When I started out, I thought I had to have the whole thing like a retreat center, so to speak. I kind of did but because life happens, I have not had my own barn for probably 10 years of doing this work, for 15 or 16. So I learned how to adapt and work in different people’s places. Why I liked that, was that then I could play with the different horses. The responsibility is not the same, the cost is not the same at all. So there’s ways to do this. People who come to my class have no horses, yet by the time they’re finished, they have three.
Four-Step Process of Horse Wisdom
As I said, you don’t have to be around the horses to be able to benefit from horse wisdom. There’s one thing called energetic agility and emotional agility. There’s a four-step process that I learned from Linda Kohanov. The first step is about being able to be aware of what’s going on around you. That’s what horses do. They’re very hyper-vigilant. Not like those people who are always on their phone and they don’t even know what’s happening. It’s one, be aware of what’s going on around you.
The second step, notice what’s happening in your body, as you experience that. For example, if you’re walking down a dark alley, first of all, you know you’re in a dark alley. But wait a minute, how does that feel? Are you cool because it’s your neighbor’s alley, and you just go into their house? Or is it someplace in the city? Or you’re sitting next to someone, ‘when we used to be able to do that and you have this very strange feeling about this person? So you need to be able to recognize that you’re feeling something and pay attention to it. Is this okay? Or is this not okay?
The third step is to either act or don’t act. Do I need to move? Do I need to leave? Do I need to say something? Or am I just fine? That’s his stuff, not mine. I’m not in danger. I am fine. Or it could be the same as, I’m noticing that perhaps I said something that I wasn’t as sensitive to this person’s sensitivities, and I noticed that, so how do I feel? I feel kind of bad. I feel, maybe a little embarrassed, maybe a little bit of shame. What do I need to do? I don’t know. I’ve learned that I can say, “Jessica, I’m so sorry. I don’t know if this is me or not, you let me know. I feel like I might have said something that was inappropriate or hurtful or something, and I didn’t mean to do that. But if I have, please forgive me.” and then it’s gone.
The fourth step is to go back to grazing, which is the economy of motion. You’re not anxious. You’re not worrying, you’re not waiting, you have been in an authentic relationship with the person. That is emotional and energetic agility.
Number one, pay attention to what’s going on in your environment. Number two, pay attention to how you’re experiencing or what are you feeling? Number three, is there something you need to do or not? And then number four, let it go back to grazing,
People don’t realize why they’re so anxious, that they watch the news all the time. I don’t have a television. I have my NPR when I’m in the car and the New York Times in the morning, and that’s it. My scene is so calm because I’ve taken those four steps and used them to navigate the last 12 months.
There’s another easy thing that people can do when you’re, if you’re, in that process of healing. What does this feel like? Do I need to do something, ask yourself the question, Is this for me? Or is it for them? It’s whether I need to tell you the truth about something. You don’t need to know this whole thing. It would just be for me. Or I need to give you a Kleenex because you’re upset? No, you need to just be able to sit in uncomfortable emotion. If you ask me for a tissue, I will give it to you. But allowing yourself to recognize what feelings you are feeling and owning them, is a very, very big step. In this work, we learn not only to recognize those feelings but beginning to integrate them without fear. We learn about, what are emotions? What are the messages behind emotions, the language of emotion so that we can align ourselves more fully?
How to Find Me
www.equinealchemy.com There are a lot of people who don’t know or are not familiar with the term equine or alchemy. Alchemy was the anxious way or attempt of turning lead into gold. So I came to alchemy because it was a total transformation of who I was. We do a lot of shadow work and I think that’s where a lot of the gold is.
I’m starting to have in-person workshops in the fall. I’ve been doing everything online, and it is fitting so beautifully. I still have some workshops online. I’m really looking forward to all of that.
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