Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Horses are my Therapy, A Follow Up

Lauren is a fantastic human and blogger who wrote the Plaid Horse post, "Horses Can't Be Our Only Therapy". It's good. You should read it.
a world in contrast

I wanted to append her thoughts just a little bit because they're a topic that strikes very close to home for me. 

I loathe the "horses are my therapy" sentiment. 

beyond side eye
Horses are amazing. Many things to many people. I've invested years of my life into them and I will 100% tell you they (and the people I met through them) shaped me into the person I am today and I will forever be grateful for that. 

I'm going to be very personal for a minute and tell you I was raised in a shitty environment where there were a lot of unhealthy expectations and that I was never allowed to think for myself or have an emotion or respond to anything and as a very young human, I learned to choke everything down. By the time I turned 18, I literally didn't have emotional responses to anything. Ever. If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is. 
smoosh weird
You know why I kept that fucking hellmare for so long?

Because I literally didn't know how to feel fear. Couldn't process it. Didn't have a space in my head for it. 

It took three deeply unhealthy years of me trying everything and doing everything and being unable to process a goddamn basic concept like fear before I was able to be like "ho shit the reason my stomach feels weird every time I go to get on this animal is an emotion called FEAR and that is a normal and rational response to being wildly overhorsed and hey, it's an important red flag that your brain is trying to keep you from actually dying". 
hellmare glory
If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is. 

And if you think it might have been smarter/safer/cheaper to address all that in the confines of a therapist's office, you're probably right. If you think it was unfair to drag a horse along with me through that particular puddle of shit, you're also right.
when does this story get a zb?
I'd like to say the story has a happy ending there, right? I learned that fear is a thing and that life is better without fear and that fear means you might actually die and you should pay attention when you feel fear. And then I met Cuna. And everything was great.

From him, I learned another super-elementary concept: love. For the first time in my life, there was someone I couldn't wait to see. Wanted to be with all the time. This connection that no one else got but it was just the two of us against the world and I never cared that he was this goofy old red horse and he never cared that I was this weirdly damaged oddball who desperately tried to look normal. 
As you all know, the next step after that was learning to lose him. 

And then Courage, with every cheesy implication you can think of. I think the most important thing I learned from him was that no matter how far down I thought I'd stuffed my emotions and how hidden every response was, I still had to acknowledge them. They still mattered. 
it was a complicated relationship

I still fucking mattered. 

It didn't matter one iota if no other human on the face of the planet knew I was a fucking wreck who was going through hell. 

He knew. 

He called me on it. 

It was zero fun. Do not recommend.

If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is.  
and yet we still looked magical

Because see. I vividly remember showing up to ride because y'know horses are therapy or whatever bullshit. The moment I stepped out of the car, he knew what was up. 

I literally couldn't catch him in his stall. 


Standing there. Crying. Because the one thing that was supposed to be "my therapy", the "fun thing" in my life, was no fun at all. 

I learned a lot. I learned that I have emotions. That those emotions matter. That sensitive creatures can call us out on those emotions even when humans can't or won't or don't care.

But you know what else I learned?
a better way
Horses have emotions too. They respond to us on a very innate level. It is completely and totally unfair to them to show up and dump our stress and our shit and our negativity into their otherwise placid lives and then blame them for their responses. We are responsible for their well-being, not the other way around. 

If I can't meet my horse in a calm, understanding frame of mind and be in that moment with them, I need to not be there. 
I cringe when I watch people take their shit out on their horses and their dogs and their kids. It bothers me on a very visceral level when I hear people assign intention to an action by an animal. The horse isn't being a jerk. He doesn't care one way or another about your right leg or your left rein or the jump in front of him or whatever stupid bullshit you're blaming him for. 

All the horse is doing is responding to what you don't even know you brought with you. 
Some are like Zoe and they're golden through and through and will tolerate a lot more. Some are like Courage and won't. 

It doesn't matter though. 

It's still our responsibility to be better than that. 

We owe it to them. 
baby mare
I spend less time with Zoe on a weekly basis than any other horse I've had. 

Every time I'm with her, I am able to breathe in and breathe out and be part of that moment. 

Not dragging my shit behind me.

Not blaming her for what I brought with me. 

Not taking out on her things she has nothing to do with. 

sunshine and grass
And you know what? 

We're stronger for it. Time spent together, no matter what we're doing, is positive for both of us. 
also bareback dressage


  1. "It bothers me on a very visceral level when I hear people assign intention to an action by an animal. The horse isn't being a jerk."

    I want to print that shirt on tshirts and shoot it at people with a tshirt gun.

    I was at the barn, and someone's horse peed in the aisle. and the owner was like "UGH HE HATES ME HE DID IT ON PURPOSE" and I was like no

    he didn't

    he just peed.

    He's a horse. Horses don't do shit like that. They just pee. There's no other implication besides bladder relief.

    1. I was just about to copy that exact part and say GIRL PREACH. But you already did.

    2. 👏👏👏👏
      So. Much. This.

  2. Love this.
    Glad to see you blogging again.

  3. "If I can't meet my horse in a calm, understanding frame of mind and be in that moment with them, I need to not be there."


    And this post (imho) is the best thing you've ever written.❤️

  4. I totally understand what you mean and why using the horses -in that way- is absolutely unfair to them. Concur, fully. Also, I can guess as to the home life. My spouse was raised similarly. I am protecting my kids from such an environment. Hugs to you for dealing with that and coming out the other side, despite it.

    For me, horses are therapy in that if I'm with them, I'm calmer, less anxious about the stress in my life. It's time I can take to care for them without thinking of all the other crud. So in that sense, horses are my therapy. I don't dump my emotions on them, I just use my time with them to allow myself to release that and just exist. I'd like to think that's healthier. I recognize that not everyone would approach it in a similar manner, however.

    1. That sounds like a healthy, balanced place to be. :)

  5. This is without a doubt one of your best posts ever <3

  6. I love this post. The honesty, the truth and the guts. Thank you.
    “It's still our responsibility to be better than that.” Yes.

    1. I definitely debated posting it for a long time.

  7. "Horses are my therapy" can certainly apply in a few different ways. We can either 1) bring all our baggage TO them or 2) leave that shit at the door when we step out of the car at the barn. I choose option 2. They are my escape from all that is going on in my world. It is MY time to disconnect and be in the moment with them. Much more enjoyable there.

  8. LOVED this post (read for a long time, first time commenting). Have you read the Tao of Equus? It was a book I kept going back to as a damaged grieving teenager and young adult. I would add to your comments..."Every time I'm with her, I am able to breathe in and breathe out and be part of that moment." And this doesn't mean pretending I'm NOT sad or angry or frustrated or overjoyed. Because horses can spot emotional incongruence from twenty-seven miles away and I think it drives them nuts (maybe because they are evolved to spot things acting one way but meaning another?). But just standing there with a horse and feeling what I feel without any action being needed as a result of that feeling is healing and doesn't ask anything of the horse they aren't happy to give. And sometimes the bitchiest mare in the herd will walk up and put her smooshy nose in your hair and that is magical.

    1. Yes. The incongruence was the problem for me. I'll have to check out that book.

  9. This x100! There are definitely times where I skip the barn because I'm not in the right frame of mind. It's not fair to expect my horse to perform when I'm not performing myself.

  10. Ugh YES. Making anything other than a trained professional your defacto "therapist" is just asking for trouble. Horses don't owe us mental health. If anything, we owe it to them to come from a place of mental calm as much as possible.

    I do think it is a very dangerous sentiment for anyone that is suffering from a mental health issue. If you are unwell - go see a doctor. (your horse isn't going to heal you mentally anymore than it's going to heal your broken arm)

  11. Horses are my therapy in that they center me. They live in the moment, and so I must do the same. But at the same time if I'm pissed off I won't ride. That just isn't fair.

  12. This post gave me chills. I've never thought about it from this perspective but it's so true! I'd always feel guilty for bringing my sh*t to the horse paddock and it took me a long time to learn that sometimes it was best to just stay away.

  13. Awesome post!

    I think, though, one way in that which horses CAN legit be therapy is that as part of interacting well with them- ie, being in the moment, focusing on positive interaction and with your brain in the right space for it to be a good interaction- is that it forces you to carve time out of your life to DO those things- to shut the other stuff out of your head and just be present DOING something. And that is a net positive, whether the thing you are setting things aside to focus on is horses, or gym time, or yoga, or whatever.

  14. I've read your blog for years and always loved it. This, though, is pure fucking genius. Thank you.

  15. Very well put. Life is a process of learning about being in it & it's complicated & hard. It's taken me 40 years before someone finally showed me that what I feel is VALID & I have a right to stand up for that feeling.

    One of the hardest things about working with horses is that they require us to both be present AND to leave all our shit at the door. Otherwise we just make our baggage into their baggage. It's good for me, but also very hard for me (and just about every other human). And as we've learned, it's also very important that when we can't do that, we walk away.

    1. Horses bring a fascinating element to our lives if we let them.

  16. Amazing true and yet so complicated... I find if I'm not in the best state of mind to ride, I do chores. Shovelling, raking, sweeping, etc seem to help me more. Although, when I do ride, I tend to be able to block out everything that is troubling me and focus on what I'm doing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...