Rose was a 65-year-old woman who had a history of severe child sexual abuse and trauma. She had gone through life without being able to maintain healthy relationships and was single and felt lonely when we met. She had done a lot of work towards healing her childhood and was a beautiful wise woman, she was clear about what happened for her in relationships and on a cognitive level she understood why, however, she was unable to change the outcome and found that she kept falling back into the same pattern of isolating herself. She spoke about finding it very difficult to relate and be with people, she was comfortable alone, yet lonely, she had not allowed anyone close to her and she wanted this to change.
Together, we entered the paddock and Bono (a quarter horse gelding) approached her. As he came closer, she shut down, her body language closed in and she almost hid behind me. Bono is a beautiful, powerful horse and as he moved towards her she became frightened and almost childlike. She gripped my arm and started to talk about Bono, she said he looked angry and mean, she asked me what I thought he needed and what she should do, she was scared and she was in her head.
I encouraged her to take some deep breaths and to feel her feet on the ground.
As she started to deepen her breath, she started to cry, the four horses with us started to lick and chew and relax their heads. They were standing around us in a semi- circle. I spoke about allowing herself the space and time she needed to feel safe and ok. When she was ready we approached each horse, Rose practiced breathing, feeling her feet on the ground and staying in contact with herself as she connected with the horse in front of her.
We started with Jack, he has a sweet and gentle nature and he is the smallest horse at about 14 hands. Rose approached Jack and started to feel vague and found it difficult to feel her breath and her feet on the ground. She noticed how quickly she lost contact with herself and got absorbed with working out what Jack needed; Jack walked away.
We spoke about how Jack could sense that she was no longer present and therefore he left. We also got curious about whether this is what happened for Rose in relationships. We spoke about how relationships required 2 people showing up and risking being seen and having needs. When Rose abandoned herself to work out Jack’s needs, she was no longer available to make contact with Jack, so he left. Rose could see how this pattern related to many of her relationships both current and past.
We acknowledged how big it was for Rose to stay present and in contact with herself, she had lived in her mind rather than her body. She realized that she was often out of touch with herself, her pain and her needs. We spoke about how this was a useful tactic when you were dealing with trauma, however it impaired your ability to work out who you were or what you needed.
We then met the other 3 horses and practiced gently staying present and accepting whatever came up for Rose. Each horse provided new insights and gentle feedback for Rose to ponder and work with.
Equine therapy provides a gentle therapy for working through past relationship hurts and trauma.