this is my story with a horse, a herd, and their horse whisperer who initiated me into life through my felt senses. embarking on this journey i learned that: healing is an instinctive and playful discovery in self-care, self-compassion, and self-love. that healing is in being, and in holding still. healing comes in spirals.
healing is intimate, shameless and political.
four years ago, a former colleague of mine randomly called me to tell me that: “someone i know is looking for volunteers for therapy with horses, and i thought of you since you’re into trying weird healing modalities.” i was curious and signed up for three trial sessions of Equine Facilitated Learning and Therapy. on the third session, i had a close encounter with an Arabian horse named Billie. one that forever shifted my embodiment of the relationships i held with the world.
stepping into the arena, the instructions were clear: “do not allow Billie to come close to you.”, that shouldn’t be hard, i said to myself as i stepped into the circular area that was designed for the horse and i to be together. when the mare approached me, alone in the paddock, i felt a great sense of weakness taking over my body. i wanted to will the horse out of my space, but she repeatedly nudged her head against my belly. when i physically tried to reclaim boundaries, i placed my hands on Billie’s head and gently tried to get her to move away from my space. my attempts failed as the horse kept nudging me, destabilizing my core, and pushing me closer to the edge of the arena. the horse whisperer interfered, and in a gentle and assertive motion signaled for the horse to leave my space.
i could not find the words to describe what i was experiencing in my body and psyche. my throat tightened, my feet went numb and i froze. i was angry at myself and clinched my jaws until my temples hurt. i debriefed with the therapist and understood that i was unable to hold boundaries and protect my space. i had gone into a complete state of dissociative freeze. Billie’s nudges had opened up my very own Pandora’s vase of unresolved traumatic experiences. the beautiful long-haired brown horse pointed at the shame and hopelessness i had been holding in the space between my ribcage and pelvic bones and nudged me onto a crossroads: spiritual growth or soul-defeating inertia. Billie, who also had developmental trauma, mirrored the manifestations of the unresolved traumatic wounds that had occupied the many layers of my being. my curiosity turned into three years dedication to developmental and relational of somatic and energetic trauma healing with the horses.
before meeting the herd, i recall contacting a traumatologist for an urgent appointment. i ended up on 4-months waiting list. reflecting back on that time, i realized that i was seeking an intervention: one that would liberate me of the history of violence and trauma that were controlling my relationship with myself and with the world. what i had not realized then that an embodied approach to therapy was waiting to find me in the right moment: one that was more aligned with my intuitive, spiritual, energetic and holistic healing beliefs. one rooted in a world of magic and imagination. equine therapy allowed me to feel the tendencies and responses that my system engaged in. the years of equine facilitated therapy and leadership development, equipped me with an abundance of inner and outer resources that allowed me to reinhabit my body and trust my core. i now viscerally notice why, when, and how i expand and contract.
i realized that i was seeking an intervention: one that would liberate me of the history of violence and trauma that were controlling my relationship with myself and with the world.
with time i came to sense how my nervous system used to respond to stressful, manipulative, and abusive situations by shutting down; i needed to nurture and harvest resources that moved me out of restriction and into integrity. i needed to start with what i needed to restore the most: healthy boundaries. establishing intuitive, assertive, and guilt-free boundaries. boundaries that allow me to speak my truth and honor my sense of self. boundaries that embody delicate relational responsibility and interdependency. as an activist, i felt i was constantly faced and flooded with situations that had the potential to disturb my emotional body and to burn me out. i had to re-route my nerves and create new patterns that matched my essence. as a post-war child whose father fought for fifteen years in a civil war with no means for transformative justice, my body had accumulated developmental emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual injuries that left me thinking that i was resource-less with no hope for recovery. i was operating on survival mode and was not experiencing life. i accumulated scar tissue on open wounds and romanticized my suffering.
while writing this article, i went out with friends to spend time in nature hoping that it would soften an angst that had me locked up in my headspace and locking up my throat. being in nature is one form of healing, but on that day, it was just not serving me. i realized how blessed i was to be able to walk and access a green space, but somehow i could not get myself to experience pleasure nor to fully be. five hours into the walk, a friend who saw me mindlessly slipping and falling on a rock, handed me a stick to help me navigate the muddy and slippery trail. holding on to what once branched out of a Birch tree, i landed back into my body. my playful self took over my tornado head and brought me out of my spaced out head. i had discovered a new resourceful remedy to anxiety.
i realized how blessed i was to be able to walk and access a green space, but somehow i could not get myself to experience pleasure nor to fully be.
i mindfully stepped on the red and yellow leaves, wiggled my toes1, exhaled deeply, and wondered if horses ever roamed these indigenous lands.
i reminded myself to breathe.
healing is intimate, shameless and political.
1 i was standing by a horse whose foot landed on mine while it was moving away from flies. when i screamed from pain, the horse whisperer taught me a valuable lesson “when a horse moves, you move.”. later, i turned this equine skill into a grounding resource that i share with peers and in my practice.