This month I have had the opportunity to experience an Introductory Workshop in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy & Learning (EFP/L) and begin a Practitioner Training Programme at LEAP in Gloucester.
On arrival I was greeted by Jo Saunders and directed to a welcoming yurt which upon entering was even more welcoming when I discovered it was full of refreshments for the day. The teaching itself was conducted in a tipi across the other side of the field. Wandering freely in between the two tent structures was a good sized herd of mares and geldings of various shapes and sizes who belonged to Jo and she was now busy tending to their needs. In the tipi sat Ella Jones, Mike Delaney and Sarah Watson ready to welcome our group and begin our training programme.
One of the exercises I experienced ‘Journey with the Horse’ left me reflective for a week or so later. In the exercise there were four obstacles which could represent four things to you, such as childhood, adolescence, present and future. There were two horses in the arena, one to go on your journey with you and the other to represent your interrupter (something that interrupts you/your journey). As I went on my journey, I thought about what the obstacles represented and felt the emotions that went with them. My companion horse picked up my energies and reflected them for me to experience behaviourally and energetically. After the exercise I interpreted what I had experienced and Ella who had observed my session, fed back on observations I did not pick up on. Some fellow trainees started off sceptical as they observed ‘normal’ horse behaviour, but as the same two horses journeyed with all members of our group and ‘behaved’ differently each time, their scepticism faded and their amazement came to the fore.
Even knowing what I know about horses and working with energy myself, I can’t fail to be in awe of how connected horses are to subtle energies. Yes, having a degree in Animal Science I could explain how horses have adapted to survive their environment (Dr Eddison if you are reading this I mean genetically not individually of course!), as a prey species those that are more alert to subtle changes in the herds energy and to the energy presented by predators are the ones more likely to survive to breed – passing on their genetic traits. It is the adaptation of being able to pick up on subtle energies that makes horses especially good at equine counselling/learning/psychotherapy. Population genetics is absolutely fascinating in itself, but add to that their natural ability to connect on the spiritual level to access another kind of knowing leaves me quite dumbfounded. Horses pick up on our thoughts or energies, they know when what we present on the outside is different to what is on the inside – even if we don’t notice it ourselves, and they even know that too. They will either be our medicine or our mirror in this kind of work. And by mirror I mean some sort of reflection, response or reaction to our energy. We can often be so lost in our thoughts that we spend more time in our heads than in our bodies. Our bodies often have a lot to say, but we sometimes either forget to, can’t or won’t listen. Horses notice this too.
It’s hard not to compare Equine Counselling to Gestalt therapy, a counselling model that brings the client into the ‘here and now’. You can still experience the past, and plan the future with this model but the idea is to express the emotions coming up in the present moment. Fritz Perls the founder of Gestalt suggested in our patterns of behaviour we have 5 layers of resistance protecting, hiding or burying our ‘real’ self:
As the horse can sense the real you the experience of this type of counselling can be very powerful and profound, as it has the potential to peel back all the layers of resistance to reveal the real you, the wholeness that is you.
Two things occurred on my equine journey that really stood out for me; a mare not involved in the exercise (outside of the arena), came as close as she was able to support me as I was dealing with the obstacle that represented my marriage breakdown. It was a time in my life where I became more aware of my spirituality and tapped into the inner and higher wisdom, wisdom that we all have if we connect. The other thing was my interrupter who played ‘masculine’ energy suddenly reacted as I was just about to finish my journey. He came over to my companion mare, stood over her back ‘intimidating’ her and she moved away. He chased her. My arousal level increased as the circling and chasing got bigger. I focused on my breathing to bring my arousal level down and decided to walk her out of the circle and to an area of the arena she felt safe in. When I got there I turned around to face him and I realised he wasn’t following anymore. This reflected an incident in early childhood, earlier than I had even chosen as my first obstacle. I had suddenly found myself intimidated and in the grasp of an 18 year old boy when I was 9 years old. I managed to get away from him and ran home with him chasing me, upon reaching my door I looked back and realised he was gone. My interrupter had pinpointed the moment where my fear of men came from, so now I could address it and change it to stop attracting more of the same. Finally. In the words of Sarah Williams, from one of my all time favourite films Labyrinth (1986)…
Thank you Maisie, Holly and Milo for this experience and this insight. Horses truly are counsellors in their own right.
Photo: George and Merlin by C. McBurney