Healing with Horses

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Last weekend I went to an introduction to Equine Assisted Therapy. Given my love of horses and mental health background it’s something I’ve thought of doing for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a growing field with an increasing evidence base for lots of human problems, including addiction. There were 4 of us on the training and we did exercises with the horses in the same way a client would. The idea is that horses being emotionally attuned animals who live in the present and seek connection, reflect back our inner states thereby helping us make sense of ourselves.

After some breathing exercises and a body scan the first exercise was simply ‘meet the herd’. We were told to go and meet the 6 horses in silence and notice what we experienced. The first horse I approached continued to eat grass as if I wasn’t there. ‘You’re ignoring me’ was my first thought – something I often say to C. The next horse greeted me with a nuzzle of my hand and I felt happy. She stayed close to me eating round my feet and I was comfortable with her. The 3rd horse turned his back to me 3 times – ‘you’re rejecting me!’ went through my mind. Boy do I need to be seen and accepted! I persisted with this one, slowly coming closer until he allowed me to stroke him. I’d no time left to do more than quickly say hello to the others. I thought about how I am attracted to the difficult people at work; people who don’t easily engage and who others don’t want to work with. Afterwards we learnt a bit about the horses histories. The one I’d spent the most time with had a very traumatic background.
The next exercise was ‘the journey’. There were 4 obstacles and we had to pick 2 positive areas of our lives and 2 negative to be represented and a horse from the 2 left in the field to come on our journey with us. The 2nd horse was ‘the interrupter’. The first woman who did the exercise was sobbing by the end of it and shared she rarely cries, let alone publicly. Another woman had the army as her interrupter, as her husband wants to join and this could disrupt her pursuit of her goals. As she moved from one obstacle, representing her current job, to the next, representing her future study plans, the 2nd horse came over and got in the way! She too was emotional at the end.

I picked family (as in all the people and animals I love) and sobriety as my positives; smoking and anxiety/stress as my negatives. My interrupter was my own mind. As I was trying to catch my chosen horse another was running up and down the fence in the next paddock asking to be picked so we let her in and she accompanied me. As we tried to get going she was nuzzling my feet and turning circles and I found myself leaning into her shoulder to direct her but not very successfully. When I stepped away that didn’t work either – I was too far away. This got in the way through the family obstacle somewhat and the other horse let out a big squeal as we progressed. This made me think about boundaries; how I can get too involved with my girls issues and clients and how that makes me ineffective; then I distance myself to correct it and that doesn’t work well either. When we stopped in the box representing smoking both myself and the horse were comfortable and could have stayed. The other horse let out a couple of loud squeals. The horse didn’t want to go near the stress and anxiety but when we got there we negotiated the obstacle with ease. As I got to the small jump representing sobriety I whispered to the horse ‘let’s do this’. I had a deep feeling of joy and freedom as I jumped the jump and the horse followed. I set her free but she followed me back to the group and we shared a meaningful hug. I then learnt she’s never done the jump before. Afterwards I felt every cell of my body tingle. ‘You’ve embodied something” the instructor said. This simple exercise had enacted aspects of my psyche in a clear easily understandable way. I expected it to be powerful but it blew me away.

I don’t think it’s unrelated that I watched the football that evening and did not smoke cannabis, even though several people I was with were smoking. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever turned a spliff down in my life and I was more than ok with it. I’ve not smoked cannabis since though have been around it again and although there’s a little part of my brain that’s anxious I could be tempted, the bigger part is saying I’m done with it and I recall that feeling I had of joy and freedom.
On a different note I’m actually glad England lost the final. The racist abuse of the players and the behaviour of the fans was appalling and if we’d won then that nationalism would have been rampant. As it is the players and a lot of the public have denounced both the racism and the government for their part in enabling it. These young men are essentially the only opposition we have to our corrupt, racist, selfish government at the moment and they make me feel hopeful for the future and immensely proud of them. Young people are essentially unrepresented politically in this country and the England team and their manager are stepping up and using their position for the greater good, challenging the government narrative when no one else is. Well played lads!

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