A horse does not care what you’re feeling as long as you’re honestly feeling it. There are no “bad” feelings where horses are concerned. There are just safe and unsafe situations.
~~ A. Taylor
The longer you’re around a horse program of any kind you are bound to hear the phrase “A horse does not lie”. A horse’s natural behavior is to always express in its body language what is going on in its brain. There is no deceit in horses. It simply does not exist in them. Being completely authentic is what helps them to survive.
Although we have domesticated the horse they still carry those basic needs for safety and survival. Once a horse notices danger, it responds quickly and purposefully to communicate to the herd. At that point they can flee to safety. The herd relies on its many members for safety and a level of obscurity in a large group. There is no place in the herd for deceit, manipulation or selfishness. Those things would equate to a breakdown in the safety system, ultimately resulting in less horses and eventually no horses.
In Equine Therapy we bring people face to face with authenticity. A horse may not be able to read your mind, but your body shares all the information a horse needs. Hiding a feeling or pretending you’re not having a feeling is not authentic. In the horse’s world that is not honest. The horse will put that in the “unsafe” category. Not honest\unsafe to a horse is the same as a predator pretending to be something it’s not. A lion will hide behind bushes or try to blend into tall grass. A bear will stay down wind and try to blend into the landscape until it can make a run at the herd.
If our insides do not match our outsides we are not authentic. Trying to hide feelings is like trying to put one over on the horse. The amazing thing about that is your horse probably knew you were having a bad day the moment you stepped out of the car. In working with a horse we are able to see exactly how not being authentic affects our relationship with ourselves and the relationships in our lives. They will simply reflect back to us what our body says to them, honest\safe OR not honest\ unsafe.
Their forgiving nature and eagerness for relationship make them a perfect fit for us to practice being more authentic. It does not always come easily, yet they are eager every day to be that mirror of truth. The more aware of what you feel and how you feel it, the closer your relationship with the horse will be.
Dusty - 23year old -Strawberry Roan - Quarter horse - Gelding
Boundaries are one of the most requested issues that Participants want to work on at Equine.
So where can you find a safe and reliable place to practice noticing and responding to boundaries? A place where you can literally see and feel boundaries?
Dusty is that space. He is amazing in that he is consistent, honest and clear in his expression of personal boundaries. He is not what you would call cuddly. We affectionately refer to him as our "Grumpy Old Man." With Dusty you always know exactly what he wants. No question. He makes no excuses and never second guesses himself. If he wants to be close that day you know it. If he wants space that day, you know it too. Groups have begun only to have Dusty lay down and fall asleep or take a nap. The photo above is Dusty napping during a group.
Dusty created our Boundaries experiential all on his own. We would watch Participants approach him and see him begin setting boundaries. Often the more subtle cues were missed and so he would be more obvious with ears and making a face. If these cues were also missed he would move away or move his head up and down in the air. So the question posed is always the same "Do you ever find yourself in an out of control situation but have no idea how it got that way?"
By moving toward Dusty and then away Participants can see exactly when the Boundary is being set and also FEEL when the Boundary is there. Dusty sets and holds boundaries with an almost tangible energy. It's a very confident feeling. To Participants who chose to work with Dusty it becomes very clear; that in learning how to recognize the boundaries he sets, they were also better able to see other boundaries being set around them. Boundaries that, before would have been totally unrecognized, are now easily seen.
Even though he is a horse that clearly prefers the predictable black and white of life, Dusty willingly stands in the grey messiness of us trying to figure out human Boundaries. With Dusty the more you lean into the Boundary the clearer and more obvious it gets. He is a horse that brings things into focus and gives you a look at life through eyes that see things in a much simpler way.
A question posed by a group member during an Equine Therapy session.
By: Ann M. Taylor, Equine Specialist at The Meadows
We hear all sorts of questions at Equine; some of them make you stop and think. Either you simply don’t know the answer or because you want to be sure that you’re giving the most accurate information. This question however never required a second thought.
"Of course they can!"
The first time we had the privilege of working with RC was eye opening. As I led him out of the stall I was told by a fellow Equine staff that "RC really loves deeply". Looking at him I tried to see what she saw. In the breeze way stood this older, rough looking horse that seemed to me to have seen his best days and none of them were this year, or the year before. Branded on his left rear quarter a large letter R and on the right a large letter C. Hence the name "RC".
RC has a disease called Cushing's that affects his pituitary gland. A symptom of Cushing's is that he can't shed his winter coat. So, being summer, he was sporting a body clip. It was similar to something you may see after your youngest gets hold of dads beard trimmer. His eyes looked dead tired and I was not even sure he would make it down the hill to the round pen.
He sighed heavy as we walked down the hill and he managed three breaks before we were at the round pen gate. He eased his way through the gate and closing it behind him I was genuinely concerned that RC may not be the horse for the job. Although the activity was pretty easy for a horse I doubted that he had enough life in him to really be effective during a session.
The group arrived and checked in. The whole time RC stood with his nose against the fence dozing in the shade occasionally his tail would toss to one side or the other. He reminded me of an old weathered frame of a house gently blowing back and forth in the soft breeze, and I wondered if he may decide to just collapse under his own weight right there.
When the group was ready we opened the round pen gate and they went inside. Lazy eyes opened and considered the group from across the pen. Idle brown ears now perked up and watched the group with intent. He turned to face them completely and there was LIFE! What was a geriatric case of a horse shifted into a curiously intent and animated creature. He rubbed up against the members of the group and took time to explore each person.
The entire session his eyes only asked one question "What do you need?". He stood closely behind a group member in strong silent support as they shared around a difficult topic. He pressed his head gently into another Participant who struggled with intimacy. I watched this horse decide what each person needed and then be that for them. There was no doubt that RC LOVED the people in that group, and every group for the rest of the week. Over and over we were amazed at how he could identify just exactly what someone needed in the moment.
When the group would end RC would watch them leave through the gate. That big brown head would drop back down and there was that old house frame blowing in the wind again. At the end of the first day there were smiles, laughter, Ah Ha moments and some tears. It was a good day. When everyone was gone I slipped the halter over his graying muzzle and scratched his neck. Once again I was worried that the walk up the hill to the barn might be too much for him. Opening the gate I could hear his old hips pop as he moved that heavy frame out of the round pen.
Suddenly there was an unexpected tension on the rope. Spinning around, I found myself staring at RC's rump as HE led ME up the hill! I could have skied behind him! That was the best laugh of the week.
So can a horse love? I don't think there is anyone better who can teach us about love than an old brown horse.
Special thanks to Philly and Cindy at Remuda Equine for your willingness to share the gifts that you call horses.
By Ann M. Taylor, Equine Specialist for The Meadows
Breed: Running Quarter
Have you ever met a person who you intuitively knew you just wanted to know better? They have that heavy weight of wisdom earned by walking those long miles of life, someone with so much to offer but who hides behind walls?
I know a horse like that.
He is a horse that would make any rider look good. At one point in his life he was a professional dressage horse, with an extended trot that is a delight and a rhythmic cadence. The kind of horse an up-and- coming would delight in until their talent surpassed his endurance and they found a brighter prospect. Years of professional performance work and lack of a steady riding partner have affected Casper. He has a very hard time with intimacy. Ask him to do a task and he is more than willing. Ask him to stand with you and just be... there is where things become interesting.
Loving hugs and pets are often tolerated or avoided all together. A subtle cue from a rider is so much easier for him to understand than the subtleties of intimacy. Even in the herd with the other horses Casper is mostly alone, he chooses to be. So isn't it curious when you look over your shoulder and he's nuzzling someone from behind? Ears perk up and an inquisitive lip starts playing with a jacket or hat. A great grey head wraps knowingly around a person for a brief time or he lowers his head just long enough for a scratch on the ears.
More often than not the people who are drawn to Casper are those who can relate to his story. Casper isn't asked to do anything other than just be Casper. In this, he changes lives and those lives change him. He can explore relationships for the first time. He can have boundaries instead of walls now. He can play on cool days and nap on warm sunny ones. Casper can just be a horse.
His gift to our program is that we get to see these things grow and unfold as Casper, in his time, explores them. A purposeful turn of his head, an easy languid blink of an eye and suddenly you know so much more about the person who is in the arena with him. He is more than willing to share what he knows but you must be willing to listen.
Casper is truly a gifted therapy horse and amazing teacher.
By: Molly Cook, Meadows Equine Therapist
(Photo: Cinder and Dusty - Meadows' equine therapy horses)
The "Western Experience" is a 5th week patient activity and is an opportunity for the patients to learn the biographies of the horses they have worked with while sharing their own stories and memories. After we strolled through the barn, shared trivia about horses and a few horse jokes, the patients practiced roping a fake calf and made s'mores in the outdoors, all the while, discovering fun facts about some of their favorite Meadows staff - like Ray. Did you know that Ray never had the tasty experience of eating a s'more until this week?! Amazing!
A common question asked about the horses is what makes up a good equine therapy horse? Are they specially trained for this kind of work? The horses are not specially trained although it takes certain characteristics to be voted the horse of the month.
From my perspective Cinder is always ready for his job as he waits at the gate in the morning tugging on the rope and halter waiting to greet everyone. He reflects what is going on in individuals or the group by walking away from uncertainty when approached with doubt about their ability to do the task at hand. He encourages participants to say affirmations and breathe before he is willing to let himself be haltered. He will stop in the middle of the arena when someone is leading him because they are either not in the present moment or they are not being direct when communicating their needs and wants. He respects boundaries when others demonstrate them and picks up the tools used to physically show boundaries during sessions to remind us that our boundaries should be flexible. He demonstrates setting boundaries as he moves the other horses by pinning his ears and giving them the stink eye without worrying about whether they will like him or not. He knows they will respect him.
Cinder lets the group know when someone is stressed out by grinding his teeth and he nudges the patients when he knows they need to use their voice to speak out. He initiates a relationship with others as he rubs his head against them to let them know he is present for them and wants to connect. He demonstrates self care by standing in the shade and deciding not to move when he knows the group has issues they need to work out.
Cinder gives subtle hints through his body language about what needs to be done to maintain recovery and will move around the recovery circle when in session when there is no reason to do it except that he wants to guide patients to a lesson they need to learn. He is a great mediator and demonstrates leadership abilities as he runs interference between the patients and the other horses when there is an unpredictable situation that could result into something hazardous. The other horses want to follow him especially his closest friend Dusty. He enjoys his companionship and takes care of himself, he negotiates his relationship with Dusty as they swat off flies from each other's face with their tails and nicker to greet each other.
Cinder maintains good relations and doesn't surround himself with dysfunctional situations. He just walks away from it. These are a few of the characteristics that are significant to his personality and make him a precious horse of God and that are unique to him. If you have had the experience of being around Cinder than you have an inner knowing about it, however if you haven't then this might be an opportunity you can't pass up to come meet him.
This capstone experience allows bonding and sharing under the desert sky, with passing visits from local deer, and learning what sober fun is all about. Happy Trails!