This week of internship I have felt the most confident as of yet. By confident I mean that I have an easy knowledge of what is expected, and how an average lesson might look. As the weather cools down the horses are friskier. I find that they are more inclined to walk faster, move around, get startled by sounds and play with each other. Since horses think that humans are another horse, they are also more inclined to play with clients. This looks like a lot of testing, nuzzling, play biting…It seems to make the clients feel that the horse is less safe, and in a way I suppose it is true. What also seems to be true is that the horse is more in tune with the client.
I think this shift in the weather and temperature is a good reminder that it not only affects animals, but it affects us, as humans too. I think it is important to acknowledge this and, I for one, often don’t. There are a myriad of other things I contribute my mood to, such as my sleep, amount of coffee, my son Oliver’s mood, my partner, traffic, encounters, my horoscope, the weather, money, time constraints and commitments… As I continue with this internship I am learning that the horse is a brilliant teacher. Seeing them shift with the season with such grace, I understand that we too are shifting with the season and it’s weather. Transition can so often be difficult when it needn’t be. To embrace the change and not need the reasons why, or how, but to just feel into it. What a gift it has given me to see this.
This week I would like to mention the transition of one of the client’s. I will call him Ryan. He is mostly wheelchair bound. This week was the first time that Ryan spent nearly all his time out of his wheelchair with his cane. It was amazing. Gus made a makeshift ramp and we tried it out to see if he would be able to get on a horse. One of the first things they do is let the client lay on the horse bareback and match breathing. It is really indescribable to see the calm wash over Ryan as he tentatively trusted us to get him on the horse, and then lay there, for at least twenty minutes. Gus and I just stood by silently and watched. I was wrenching, and it brought tears to my eyes. As Ryan left it was the first time he looked in my eye and shook my hand. The mere act of me witnessing his process connected us in a way that no amount of talking had. I felt blessed to witness it.
Another client, whom I will call Elaine, is the wife of a WWII veteran who accompanies her. I have never worked with her husband; he mostly stands and sings to the horse. I had never worked with Elaine before either, but this particular weekend I did. I came up behind her as I typically do when a client is on a wooden block that lends them extra height. She got really agitated and yelled at me not to touch her, over and over again. I was completely taken aback. I had not touched her, nor was I planning on it so I felt a wave of guilt and defensiveness, and then I felt at a loss of control, and angry. I assured her that I wouldn’t touch her and she calmed down. I took a step back and tried to take deep breaths without being noticed. The entire rest of the session she muttered, “don’t touch me, do you hear.” The main instructor had more of a longstanding relationship with her, kept smiling reassuringly at me, but didn’t intervene, I was thankful for that.
I watched the horse, Jack, for his reaction. Jack was the first horse I ever worked with and he is beautiful. He stared at me and was cautious. I felt betrayed by the horse; I guess I expected it to somehow defend me, move around and show the agitation that the client and I were feeling, but as I calmed my nerves, I realized the horse was very much responsive to Elaine, and never moved an inch. Elaine has a very hard time getting around, and if Jack moved at all she more than likely would have lost her balance. I thought it was so beautiful at that moment how much trust the two of them had, and for the whole session. It was a lesson and a reminder for me that there are no “sides” in therapy, there is no possession of trust or love. It is given and received openly and without judgment. The horse does not feel remorse, or guilt, only exactly what is happening in the very moment it is happening. How much we have to learn from animals and nature, a lesson that humans can merely talk about, but one must relearn it over and over, and it is given freely from nature and animals. We just need to remember to listen.
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