The following opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the blog owner. *BEG* (I’ve always wanted to use that line, plus it’s a true statement. I still stand where I stood in the discussions of Tao of Equus.)
First off, thanks so much to Mercedes for letting me blither a bit about a topic that is very near to my heart!
Let me introduce myself; My name is Stephanie Hart (MA, for those who like to know these things, and heck, it looks good on a business card ;)), and I am an Equine Psychotherapist.
I usually get asked at this point, “Like for kids with disabilities?”
Well, no, that’s physical or occupational therapy (which is also super important and tends to have many emotional benefits). What I do is take clients who struggle with all sorts of mental and emotional illnesses including anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, addictions, attachment difficulties, and many more, and I bring them into a space with my equine partners where we promote healing and the development of new relationship and life abilities. If you want to learn more about what I do (or check out our blog and hear from the horses!) our website is www.svetc.webs.com.
Horses bring so much to the table that, to be honest, sometimes I feel like the horses are the “therapist” part of the equation (so remind me what I went to grad school for…). Horses bring many, many (many, many…) things to therapy (for more info see the website [‘scuse my shameless self promotion]), but today I would like to talk about the one that drew me into this work to begin with: Unconditional Acceptance.
Vicky accepts my ridiculousness and I accept her refusal to pose for pictures.
– Horses have few expectations of humans, nor do they hold prejudices against them, making the human-equine relationship a place of emotional safety and trust
– Through biochemical feedback and subtle body language horses can sense tremendous amounts of emotional information, and they will react to it accordingly. It is impossible to hide emotion from a horse, and as a person comes to realize this they find that the horse’s acceptance is not conditional on their projecting a certain front, as the horse sees through the mask anyway.
I’m going to tell you about the coolest experience I have had with acceptance. Back during my rather less secure days (aka my teenage years and on into my undergrad) I was very anxious and had little inner source of self-esteem, which eventually came to a head in a fairly nasty depression. A lot of this was rooted in my inability to accept myself and my actions, constantly expecting more of myself and being totally crushed when I inevitably failed to measure up.
I’m sure this sounds familiar to plenty of people.
This is when I met Sally.
Sally is a very sweet black and white pinto mare; she was born a wild mustang in Alberta and was rescued from a meat lot at age 9 (yes, she’s Mustang Sally. I had nothing to do with it, I promise). I have never ridden Sally, nor done any work with her beyond giving her a pat in the field. Horses don’t need much of an opportunity to work their magic.
One day while feeling particularly rotten I went out to get my own horse and stopped to pat Sally. It was winter and getting on into the evening so the air was crisp and clear, and together we paused for a moment to look out over the adjacent hay field. As we stood there I got the sense she was scanning me. Being born wild Sally has remarkable instincts and reads people even better than most horses do; she also tends to take a little more careful of a look before relaxing in any given situation. She heaved a big sigh and lowered her head, and as she did I felt deep in my heart that she saw all of me, every little thing that drove me crazy or made me so sad I had to push it down, and that she was perfectly fine with what she saw.
And if she was fine with it, then I was fine too.
In that minisculte moment of connections she lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. In 10 minutes she had done what therapy can take months to accomplish: then she moved off and went back to the usual business of bossing her herd away from her hay.
This is what they do. They take our troubles and carry them for us just enough so that we can heal and do it on our own.
They are truly remarkable, these animals that we love.