I don’t know where to start. Back during the summer, a group in Galway called Horses Connect got in touch and asked me if I’d like to meet to see what equine therapy is all about. Between one thing and another I never got round to it, until this morning. I hadn’t much idea what it was about and really didn’t know what to expect, but never in a million years would I have dreamt of the emotion it brought up in me. I’m not sure I have the words to do it justice but I really want to try because honestly, this was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had.
I was working with an instructor/facilitator and two tiny ponies. We started by just bringing them into the arena, then I was told to take the head collars off them and let them wander freely. I was asked to think of two strengths that I have, and give those strengths as names to the ponies. We spoke briefly about what I hoped to get out of the session (a sense of calm), about mindfulness, and about the power of breathing to keep us in the moment. Then I was asked to use whatever I wanted from the arena to create calm. This threw me. There were poles, stands for jumps, and the two ponies. What could I possibly do to create calm? The control freak in me took over and lined all the poles and stands up so they were nice and tidy. Next task – bring the ponies into the calm space I had created. Again, what?! I was so self conscious, so concerned with being judged, with doing it wrong. I asked if I should use the headcollars and was told to use whatever resources I wanted. That made the most sense, so on went the headcollars, and the ponies quietly followed me in.
Next. Take off the leadropes and see what happens. Nothing at first, the ponies hung around for a minute or two, then wandered off again. I was told to try and bring them back into the calm space again, without using the ropes. Again, I was self conscious in the extreme. Should I try and herd them? Call them? How do you call ponies anyway?? I didn’t even know their names (this was deliberate as I later found out) I watched them for a couple of minutes, they were at the edge of the arena, heads stuck out through the fence to reach the grass on the other side. Lightbulb moment – use the grass! So I pulled up a couple of handfuls of grass and they followed me back into the calm space again.
Once they realised I had no more food, they wandered back out to the edge of the arena. I was encouraged to go over and spend time with them. Again, anxiety up. What did that mean? What was I supposed to do? Would they mind? As it turns out, doing didn’t really come into it. I went and sat on the fence beside them. I fed them grass. They stayed with me, wandered off, came back, looked for food, let me stroke them……..it was so simple, and so easy. No demands, no expectations, to pressure, just me and two tiny ponies hanging out together.
My words can’t even begin to do it justice. I don’t know what it was about the experience – being so close to the ponies, looking into their beautiful eyes and realising they were looking straight back at me, really seeing me…….the strength of emotion it brought up in me was almost overwhelming.
Talking about it afterwards, I was told that they were rescue ponies who don’t tend to trust people, and the fact that they came over to me and stayed with me was quite unusual. We talked about how perceptive animals are. I’ve always known it about dogs, but hadn’t given any thought to horses, but I suppose it makes sense. They pick up on body language and emotion just as much as we do, and their reaction to us, if we’re prepared to listen, can tell us so, so much about how we are as people. When I was with them I was making a really conscious effort to be calm as I didn’t want to scare them, and that in turn made me genuinely settle. The anxiety and fear of being watched, of being judged, of being found wanting – it vanished. I wasn’t even conscious of the facilitator once I with the ponies. There was no need for words, or explanations, we were purely in that moment.
I knew I’d have a lot to think about coming away from it. I was told not to think of them as ponies, but as my strengths, and to this about how those strengths stayed with me, sometimes wandered off, but came back again. I think I was 5 minutes into the drive home before the tears came. It wasn’t sadness, I’m not sure what it was, but I just cried and cried. I rang Hubby, tried to explain it to him, cried some more.
I can use all manner of descriptive terms to tell you about it – powerful, humbling, emotive – but they don’t come anywhere near doing it justice. Those ponies, one of them in particular, touched something in me that I didn’t even know was there.