If you know even just a little bit about me then you know that horses are a huge part of my life. I’ve spent the better part of the last 5 years working with them, and while I have taught them a couple things they have taught me many more lessons than I could ever teach them.
Over the past few years I have developed a desire to help others find healing through horses. To help them find that part of themselves that was missing or buried deep inside. To help them achieve something when they previously felt like they couldn’t do anything. To give them back control over their lives by providing them with a teacher and a friend that would never judge them or hurt them. By showing them that horses are so much more than just animals to conquer, but that they are creatures to build trusting relationships with that last a life time. It’s the extraordinary moments that I have witnessed between horses and humans that have helped me to realise that I want to continue to see people restored to themselves through the help of horses.
This desire has come out of countless days working with horses and seeing how much of an impact they can have on a person’s life. There are amazing things that can happen when you open your heart up to a horse. They have the ability to see what is going on in your life and to take it in stride. They don’t judge, they don’t push, they don’t offer advice. They are simply there, comforting you and helping you to walk through it in your own time. Now as you’re reading this I’m sure that there are some of you who are thinking that this sounds a little phony, or that it is all too airy fairy for you. And if I’m honest I was thinking that right along with you at one point. In the horse world we often take out the emotional connection of a horse and rider team and focus more on how you can get to the best end result the fastest. But when you remove that emotion and trust between a horse and its rider then you are removing a vital aspect of what makes working with horses so unique.
Working with is unlike working with dogs or cats in that it is not a predator working with predator; but rather a predator working with a prey animal. The trust that the horse must first place in you to feel safe around something their instincts tell them to fear is huge. However they cannot trust you until they feel that you trust them. Everything with a horse is a two way street, and they are able to pick up on even the slightest of movements or feelings.
It is this ability to be so in tune with what is going on around them and what you are feeling that makes them so great at healing us. Equine assisted therapy (or Hippotherapy) as we currently practice is has been around since the 1960’s, but horses have been helping people with chronic illnesses since the time of the ancient Greeks. During the past couple years I have had the privilege to see just how amazing it is when a person with either physical or mental disabilities has the opportunity to ride a horse or to even just be around a horse.
During the past three weeks I have had the immense privilege to participate in an equine therapy program put on by Equine Connection. The fact that we never actually ride the horses never stops them from teaching us, or prevents us from coming away a little bit stronger and a little bit more connected to ourselves. I’ve gotten just a little glimpse at the power that a horse can have on a hurting heart. Even something as simple as putting their head on your chest (something that we can often write off as being pushy or childish) can have a profound impact on a person when you view it as the horse trying to communicate something to you.
Often times we think that only people with troubled pasts or hard lives need therapy, but that is a huge misconception. We can all benefit from it. We can all use a little help in our lives; and horses provide us with that help when we are least expecting it. I have seen anxiousness wash away from a person’s face when they brush a horse, I’ve seen a child that doesn’t normally talk chatter on and on with his horse. I’ve seen horses help person after person, and heal heart after heart. And I’ve experienced it all first hand in my own life as well.
This last week when we went for our weekly session at Equine Connection, instead of doing a full program we simply got to spend time with our horse. We got to brush them, maybe lead them around if we wanted to, but mostly just be with them. As usual we got to choose our horse and this time I chose a beautiful Palomino named Pass who reminds me of many other horses that are near and dear to my heart. Normally I do not have a whole lot of time to just “be” with a horse since there are always trail rides to run or barn chores to do; but on this day I got the privilege to simply be with a horse. To find calming in the connection between us, to find comfort in each other’s presence, and to feel love in our actions towards each other. It is incredible the emotions that can come up when a horse that you only just met instantly trusts you enough to put his head into your arms, or to rest his forehead on your chest. It is in the quiet moments and the stretches of stillness that you realise that your hurting heart is beginning to mend.
These past months have been some of the toughest for me, and I never took time to take stock of how everything had affected me. I never slowed down enough to process it all, but instead I threw myself head long into projects to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t have to think about the hurt. However on that day in the arena with Pass I gave myself permission to slow down and to begin to feel the emotions that I had hidden away. I gave myself permission to be genuine with how I was feeling, and Pass allowed me to feel those emotions as they came and was there to comfort and reassure me through it all. He provided me with a safe space to come to terms with what I was feeling in my own time while being a grounding presence and a comforting force.
Horses have the amazing gift to remind you that you are loved even when you feel that you are unlovable. They remind you that you have a voice when you feel unheard. They remind you that trust can be rebuilt and forgiveness can be given even when the worst things have happened to you. So the next time that you think that there is nothing special in a connection between a horse and a human or that there is no merit in a horses healing abilities; remember that while horses are powerful animals their real power lies in their ability to see to the very core of who you are and to accept every bit of it.