Balancing a book and a water bottle on a white plastic chair, I made my way into my horse’s pasture where I would settle myself for some reading and quiet time. Acknowledging my presence, my gelding Cody lifted his head. He immediately lowered it again, satisfied that the chair was something he’d seen before and wouldn’t eat him; he went back to grazing. Making my way across the uneven ground of the pasture, I did my best to balance myself so I wouldn’t stumble or lose the items that were threatening to fall to the ground.
Once I found my usual spot in the pasture, I settled into the chair. I closed my eyes, felt the soft early summer breeze as it delicately blew the blades of green grass. I wore a hat on my head to keep the sun from burning my now bald head. I could feel its warmth, and I let out a sigh as I found comfort in knowing that once I disconnected from the world, Cody would join me. Sitting and reading in the pasture or in Cody’s stall became a routine as the days and weeks of cancer treatments passed. Sometimes I would journal or just sit and watch time go by, knowing that I’d feel better spending time with him. The healing presence of my beautiful red horse always did the trick of getting me out of my head and into the present moment. I say healing because there is magic to be found while in the presence of horses.
Horses are powerful in body and spirit, yet they can help us find peace in the chaos of our lives. My chaos was a cancer diagnosis and the treatments I faced. I was grateful for Cody! Having a horse of my own that I could rely upon to help me let go of the heartache meant the world to me.
I was a 59-year-old athlete who injured her knee only to find out months later that it was lymphoma localized to my knee joint. I hadn’t run in months. I could no longer go to the gym as my immune system was too low, and honestly, I couldn’t lift anything heavy with a PICC line (an intravenous catheter) in my arm and a knee that was ready to break at the joint.
Despite the knee, I made my way into his pasture as often as I could. The gifts I received from being with Cody outweighed the risk, at least in my mind. My orthopedic oncologist might not have agreed, but I knew something about horses that he didn’t.
As the cancer treatments progressed, my knee started to heal, and it got easier to walk through the pasture. However, I continued to spend as much time with Cody as possible while working through the many emotions and feelings I dealt with each day.
Horses have a heightened sensitivity to human emotion and can detect what we don’t even know—all the more reason for us to spend time with our horses. One study on equine-facilitated psychotherapy suggested that horses are “living, breathing biofeedback machines because they externally reveal internal processes in real-time” (Lentini & Knox, 2009, p. 52).
I know from experience that spending time with a 1200-pound horse brings you into awareness pretty quickly as it’s essential to pay attention to your surroundings. This tends to bring us into the present moment and get us out of our heads.
As a coach who partners with horses in the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method, I knew the benefits of spending time with my horse, and I can attest to the healing I’ve witnessed when working with my clients. Many have reported back to me how empowered they felt after a session was completed. They’ve also discovered the psychological benefits of decreased stress responses and reduced tension and anger through their experience in an equine session. In addition, the physiological interaction with horses is therapeutic—blood pressure and heart rate decrease, something I needed to help me through the cancer treatment process.
All too often, we are faced with daily tension from traffic, jobs we don’t like, relationships that aren’t serving us, decisions we struggle to make, a diagnosis that scares the hell out of us, or maybe a past trauma or grief we haven’t been able to rid our bodies of. The list is endless as to why people seek help from coaches or therapists who partner with horses to help others find happiness and healing.
In love and health,
You can find also find this featured story at NW Horse Source Magazine.