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Fostering Connections In Your Work and Community

High Lonesome Ranch at sunrise
High Lonesome Ranch at sunrise. Photo credit: Christy Wycoff.

In my previous blog post I talked about the role of connecting with the land and people in the work that I have started through Refontê Ventures, my company through which I am accelerating regenerative agriculture through grant writing and funding. In keeping my word, I am thrilled to paint a picture for you of what truly connecting can look like:

Last month I had the privilege of attending my first ever Women in Ranching (WinR) Retreat, which took place at High Lonesome Ranch in De Beque, Colorado. These gatherings stemmed from an experience that WinR founder Amber Smith had that awakened her to the power of fostering deep connections between those who strive to care for our land and providing opportunities to reconnect with the land itself.

From my experience this past October, I can attest to the power and lasting impact that fostering such connection creates. Before I dive into this story, I want to speak to the lasting impact part. Just last week, I attended the Regenerate Conference (I’ll save my explanation and reflection on this event for another blog post) where I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the wonderful, passionate, and intelligent women whom I had just met and spent three wholesome days with exactly one month prior.

Having had the opportunity to get to know the genuine character of each of these women through walking the land with them, learning new skills with them, and hearing their stories during the Women in Ranching retreat made that conference feel all the more like being in the presence of family.

How then did we breach the surface level where many acquaintance relationships stay? And why is that so important?

Meaningful, lasting ACTION only comes from truly understanding the other human beings in your space with whom you must consider the experiences, perspectives, and needs of in all of the decisions that you make. I often think about this in my own new hometown of Colorado Springs. Everyday we face the reality that we are one small fish in a sea of millions of fish going in every which way. I cannot possibly get to know everyone, and even if I tried the majority would not care to know me. When we this about this conundrum juxtaposed with the necessity of developing deeper relationships to make meaningful, lasting improvements in our communities, it quickly feels overwhelming and defeating.

Building Blocks activity. Photo credit: Christy Wycoff.

That aside for a moment, let’s return to my experience in De Beque, Colorado last month. One activity that each participant had the opportunity to partake in was "horse work". Having never been to a WinR retreat before, I had no idea of what was the end goal here. I venture to say, I do not think I am alone in having a tendency to want to know the destination and have a clear set of instructions for how to get there - humans want certainty and proven process. However, such was not the hand we were dealt here. Before I knew it, I was standing in a round pen with a horse and not a clue in the world of what I was doing there. Perhaps I missed the memo (the point of this exercise), but I believe that was exactly what I needed in order to walk away with the lessons that I did - I needed to be clueless.

Earlier that day we had acquired knowledge of three key concepts in building a connected relationship, which not only apply to working with people, but which horses respond quite well to. Those are: Regulate, Relate, and Reason.

So there I was, in the circle. The horse that I chose could care less that I was there. I was lost and clueless. I thought to myself, "I know I’m not here to force the horse to do anything, but even if I tried, what am I even supposed to be getting him to do?" I looked to the facilitators. “What do I do?” One of them named Beth gave me a hint, reminding me of the tools that I had at my disposal, including them - the facilitators. So I asked Beth to step into the ring with me. We got the horse moving, rather than standing along the edge of the ring ignoring me. I remember Beth saying to me, “Nobody likes to be ignored. Show him that you want his attention” [again, without being forceful]. Gaining and maintaining his attention took utilizing what I had learned about regulation. I picked up a lead roap and spun it like a lasso while making myself heard with a repetitive clicking noise. Despite feeling slightly awkward, I kept up the motion in addition to testing a few other motions and noises. Eventually I had garnered enough of the horse’s attention that we had some constant forward motion and the facilitator stepped out of the ring. Now I was walking with the horse at his shoulder around the ring. Okay, this is something, I thought to myself. Then, Beth encouraged me to now step ahead and take the lead, trusting that the horse would follow me - so I did. The next thing I knew as the sun shone behind me casting my shadow stretched out ahead, I realized there was another shadow moving forward in unison with mine. That was the moment that I felt it…the warmth that suddenly rushes through your body when you truly connect with another living being, not through demand, expectation, deception, or force, but by simply asking, persisting at making yourself seen and heard, and then being patient to letting the other being respond.

Ever since that unforgettable moment Regulate is the concept that I have seen and reflected on the most in several areas of life. With the lack of a daily routine as a result of some major transitions in my life, my mind and body had been unable to regulate. As a result, everything was out of wack, I couldn’t think straight. Without some sort of structure that a daily routine can provide, we are easily worn out and broken down. Another reflection of regulate that I have seen in life is through babies. Babies need a repetitive, rhythmic motion to calm their crying or keep them asleep. The bouncing on a knee, patting on their back, or the rocking motion of their cradle. Oh, and dare I forget to point out the MOST obvious and essential example of regulate - our heartbeat!

Regulate: this is literally where connection begins, whether that is connection with the land, animals, or other human beings. Once you understand it and start looking for it, you will begin to see it everywhere in forms of rhythms and consistency. For example, by simply showing up to a weekly meeting or hosting a monthly dinner with friends, you can suddenly begin to develop and deepen relationships. You see those who show up, and likewise, others see that you are also serious about showing up.

Teamwork activity with the horses through Women in Ranching. Photo credit: Christy Wycoff.

Your feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm will persist until you start regulating. You will find that relating and reasoning are soon to follow. I also must add that our quick-fix culture that demands immediate gratification does not preach this. You probably will not see results even after several attempts to regulate, but people are watching, and your heart and mind are listening.

As the age-old saying goes, “What is the only way you can eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” To this, I will add, “one consistent bite at a time” - that is the only way we can overcome the overwhelming feelings when it comes to making lasting change for the better in our communities.

Next month, be on the lookout for a link to my podcast interview where I will be interviewed by Holly Rustic, founder of Grant Writing & Funding and host of the Grant Writing & Funding podcast! We will be discussing why building connections is a vital step for your land-based organization or non-profit farm BEFORE you even consider applying for funding.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear where you have seen regulating play a vital role in your life or organization. Share in the comments below or write to me about it at! How has that simple step - regulate - helped you begin to create community and inspire positive action with others?

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