This blog will focus on the psychological aspects of our lives with horses. My work as a psychologist moved outside of the traditional office and into the barn with several therapeutic horses when the healing potential of the human relationship with horses became unavoidable to me. Since that realization I have not returned to the “office,” but join with our therapy horses Jake, Orion, Holly and Ice towards helping children, adolescents, and some adults tend to their emotional and psychological challenges.
The best example of the healing nature of horses arose during two sessions with a teenage girl suffering from severe Bipolar Disorder. One day, after I had been working with this girl for over a year, she shared painful feelings about wishing she had never been born, feeling like life for those around her would be better if she wasn’t alive, and having no sense at all for her worth in the world. As she was sharing these painful feelings she was standing close to my therapeutic horse, Jake, as he stood on the crossties. While she spoke Jake did something I had never seen him do in the many hours of therapy he had joined me in with this child and many others. He rested the full weight of his head on this young teenager’s shoulder and kept it there. She stopped talking and was flooded with emotion as he held his head there. I remained silent, aware of the profound nature of this moment, and we all (Jake, the young girl and I) stood there quietly for several minutes.
The power of Jake’s action was incalculable. There was nothing of the complications of human interaction in this interchange. No one had trained Jake to do that. He simply found a way to comfort her as though he knew something about what she needed in that moment. She could not distort Jake’s action into something negative or self-serving like she might if a human being had offered it. Jake’s comforting weight was spontaneous and pure, and she could not find a way to reject her impact on him, or his on her. Over many years of meeting with her I would return to that moment with her and it would remind her of her positive and unique relationships with all the horses she came in contact with at the barn. When she felt at her lowest she always had that moment to allow her to feel the weight and importance of her life in the lives of others.
Then, recently (but years after the first time this happened) when she was moving to a different state, we walked out to Jake’s large paddock so that she could say goodbye to him. He was grazing at a distance, but freely walked up to us as we came through the paddock gate. She began to recall some of her memories over the years she shared at the farm and then, once again, Jake rested the weight of his head on her shoulder.
Again we stood there in silence taking in this transcendent moment. And then she hugged him goodbye.