By Judith Freilich, MD
Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a Spirit Workshop at The Meadows. It was wonderful and I want to tell you about it.
As a 74-year-old woman physician and psychiatrist, I probably am not the workshop’s typical attendee. My lack of experience with horses was equal to my fear of large beasts. But, I still fully recall a horseback ride I took at my eighth grade picnic when I was14. It was a wonderful moment; the memory prompted me to say “go for it!”
Releasing Trauma Through Somatic Experiencing®
On the appointed morning, I showed up at Buddy’s ranch without cowgirl clothes —no fun hat, boots or jeans—for a 5 day, equine-assisted, somatic experience® (SE) workshop. What I did bring with me was a history of profound trauma that began at a very young age. I also arrived with positive, hopeful feelings about SE and its ability to help me release old trauma.
I was not a stranger to myself. I had worked diligently in all kinds of therapies for decades. I’d explored healing modalities far afield from my training and practice in western medicine and psychiatry. I’ve experienced and studied bodywork and energy work in many forms. I have a strong faith and spiritual sense that had kept me alive and caring for others well, in the face of my own immense loss and trauma.
These modalities were all helpful; I have no doubt they kept me functioning and fairly healthy. But, although layers of trauma had been peeled back through this work, there was still trauma frozen in my nervous system and body.
I viewed my remaining trauma as a huge iceberg, all of it intertwined in ways that made it difficult to tease out any one issue without flooding the whole system. I had not yet experienced trauma work through The Meadows.
Finding the Right Horse
Yet the horse knows the way, as the old song goes; especially if the horse has wise steerage by Colleen DeRango and Buddy Uldrikson. These two gifted human beings are trained in Somatic Experiencing® and in horsemanship─ deeply trained. I trusted them from the start. When Colleen and Buddy saw my trauma list, they were surprised but not daunted. They said the horse would know the way.
And they were right! There were five of us in the workshop and we formed a cohesive group of support. On the first day, it poured chilly rain. We were asked to walk past all the horses in their stalls and find one we connected with. We were to sense each horse’s response to us and ours to them. This seemed impossible to me!
I walked the line of 12-15 stalls three times, mostly scared and bewildered. I did not feel a sense of connection with any horse. At the far end of the third pass, I approached a huge horse, one that had already turned its butt to me the other two times I’d passed by. That I did feel!
As I approached him this time, he turned his face toward me as a huge tear came out of his right eye. He put his head through the fence gate, sniffed at me and nuzzled me. I felt his warm breath and I felt warmer. To my surprise, I instantly felt grounded. And a huge, healing breath went all the way through my body, naturally!
My energy had re-aligned itself in the presence of this beautiful, soft-eyed horse. He was very tall, the largest horse there. He was a rich brown with a black mane and tail, a white line on his face and white on his lower legs─ it looked like he had on knee-high socks. His breed is German Warmblood, with a fine pedigree. He had not been getting along well with the other horses, so he was in a pen by himself. He was expected to become a fine jumper. He was at Buddy’s ranch for some training.
And I fell in love! We called him Jumper. As Jumper and I worked together through the week, our bond only got stronger. Everyone could feel it. Jumper was calm and extraordinarily gentle with me. This was more than I could have imagined.
Beginning to Heal
Each day, as I drove to Buddy’s ranch, I felt stronger and better. As soon as my car got onto the ranch, I relaxed and loved every moment there. To me, the land at the ranch has a sacred quality. The horses add their presence. I loved the sounds and the smells and the earth and sky and the old mesquite tree we sat under each morning to check in and do a meditation. And all around us was the snuffling of these wonderful beings.
I learned that research done by the Heart Math Institute in California shows that the heart energy field of a horse is nine times larger than our human heart energy fields. I believe it! Under the expert guidance of Colleen and Buddy and in the warmth of Jumper, a huge piece of frozenness left me─ simply left. I felt it go! And no flooding…
I was not the only one to notice. One evening that week, I went into Phoenix to see the cranial-sacral osteopath who has treated me off and on for almost 10 years, ever since I broke a leg. Back then, my whole system was locked in ‘freeze’ from shock. It was not simply shock from the fall that broke my leg; it was deeper shock that went all the way back to a tragedy more than 20 years earlier. She has treated me throughout all the other good work I have done on myself for years.
She put her hands gently on my head. Almost immediately she said that whatever I was doing was making a remarkable change in my nervous system, more so than anything I had done to date. No question. Change, even partway through the Spirit Workshop, was already palpable. That change has been maintained and has even deepened since.
Since the workshop ended, I have been able to continue working with Colleen and Buddy. (I live nearby.) Jumper had to go back to his owner and we parted lovingly. I am fond, very fond, of the other horses, but … a first love is always a first love!
Buddy’s ranch is still a special place for me. Now I have a cowboy hat and jeans; I’m working toward boots. I continue to see the docs taking care of me. They continue to see progress in healing my nervous system at a deep level.
I am grateful!
Register for Spirit: A Somatic Equine Workshop
The Spirit workshop has a 5-day and a 3-day option. The next 5-day workshops will be offered on Sept. 7-11 and November 2-6. The next 3-day workshops are October 2-4 and Dec. 4-6. Register today as spaces are limited. Call 800-244-4949 for more information.