I’m a go-go-go person. As a journalist, deadlines tend to drive my days. But more often than not, my sense of hurry is driven by fear. Much of that comes from a medical predisposition towards anxiety and depression, and I’ve ticked nearly every box in an effort to ‘fix’ myself – therapy, medication, deep breaths, mindfulness exercises, Pilates. All of these have been excellent tools, but none have ‘fixed’ me. Throw in a global pandemic and trauma on top of this, and it is easy to feel helpless.
So, when I tried equine therapy earlier this year, I was afraid. Equine therapy – the practice of therapeutic or psychological treatments that involve horses – is said to enhance people’s social and emotional wellbeing. Evidence shows it reduces stress and builds confidence, on top of a myriad of other benefits.
I have loved horses for many years and experienced their healing effects firsthand (or firsthoof?) when I was diagnosed with severe depression as a teenager. At the time, I would visit an old grey horse named Storm. And while I rode and groomed him, he would nurture me.
Today, I am a far cry from the little girl who used to ride that horse. But even with high-functioning anxiety, I still live with an irrational sense of fear. And as I drove 40 minutes to visit my new equine therapist in April, I was equal parts excited and apprehensive. Would equine therapy work for me? Was I too broken to heal? So, I prayed and asked the Divine to do the work in me because I had nothing left.
When I stepped onto the paddock and smelt the scent of horses, those questions began to fade. And when my therapist led me through a grounding exercise, encouraging me to be present, I was able to live – and heal – in the moment. You see, horses don’t think about the future with a sense of fear or trepidation. They move with a gentleness and security that comes from a deep awareness of themselves and everything around them.
I met Kit first – a tall black horse who is equal parts gentle and sassy. He came right up to me and asked for pats. As the leader of the team, I was moved by his sense of confidence. Then there was Astrid, a cheeky, white, two-year-old pony with an underbite. I watched her live in the moment, fully trusting the older horses to lead the way.
Most of the time, it’s Roisin, a mature brown pony who grapples daily with the little sister she somehow inherited. I observed Roisin exercise a quiet confidence, setting up clear boundaries while still nurturing her charge. And then there is Lilly – the dappled, white and brown rescue horse, who always stands at the back of the herd, watching everything. By week five, she walked up and allowed me to groom her. She had just lost a foal, and I felt the immense grief and bravery that co-existed in her.
Over the weeks I have participated in equine therapy, I have experienced a deep sense of healing that I don’t fully understand. Research tells us that the heartbeat of horses and humans can get in sync due to magnetic fields, and as horses have a coherent heart rate most of the time, this helps us mirror their sense of calm when we are in an emotionally and physiologically coherent state. I’ve realised that this has healed my soul and mind, and all I’ve had to do is show up.
I thought I was too burdened to rest, let alone heal. But as I’ve met these horses, I’ve experienced grace as these large, powerful animals accept me as I am. It’s important to do the work when you are in recovery – I have spent years unravelling unhealthy mindsets, coping strategies and irrational fear. But there comes a point when we have to open our hearts and let the healing happen. In those moments, we just have to come as we are – and that is what these horses have shown me.
This article was written with the help of Equi-Tribe Equine Assisted Learning in Meredith, Victoria. Equine Therapy isn’t a service that WatersedgeCounselling provides, but we are happy to refer you to this wonderful practice (and their group of four legged friends). View a flyer about what Equi-Tribe Equine Assisted Learning has to offer here (Link to attached pdf). For more information, call Sarah on 0415 226 723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you experience anxiety? Would you like a safe space to begin your journey toward recovery? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how Watersedge can best help you or book online now.