I’m going to talk today about my first experience with Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
So I have been looking for a while for ‘alternative’ therapeutic styles as opposed to typical ‘talk therapy’ that I’ve been in for quite some time. I am finding that things like play therapy and art therapy have worked wonders for me in the past, and started looking for something else to embark on to help in my own healing journey. I found a therapist in the city who provides equine assisted psychotherapy, and decided to go for it and see how it felt. I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience. Just for the fact that this blog is public, I’m going to refer to the horses as their real names, but I’ll refer to my therapist as “A.”
So when I first got to the equine centre, I was very nervous. I felt my body shaking all over and I couldn’t really control it, so I just decided to get out of the car and go meet A. The first thing she told me is that for the session, she wanted me to try to stay in my body. This is something that is tough for me on a daily basis. I have done lots of good trauma processing before, but it still kicks my butt regularly. A was very kind and looked really interested in helping me and starting a therapeutic relationship. I felt really good about her and about the session, but I was still really nervous. The first thing we did was meet some goats. We did lots of talking about body language and energy. What kind of stories can I come up with about the energy and body language that these animals are showing me, and how are they reacting to my body language? It was a really cool thing to think about, because I don’t usually pay such close attention to body language - especially from anima<Next, we met Fluffy the miniature horse. The first thing I noticed was he had long hair in front of his face, and said I thought fluffy needed a guitar and he looked pretty badass. A asked me “how do you know in your body that you like Fluffy?” It was such a hard question! Actually, most of the questions I got asked today were hard, but I worked through most of them. Fluffy at one point, we noticed, was really anxious and upset that the goats were really close to him. He even nipped one of the goats in the leg with his teeth, and that made me really nervous that maybe if I got too close to him, He would do the same thing to me. I stepped back a bit and didn’t want to get too close to start out with. A went over to Fluffy and he quickly sniffed her, then turned to sniff me, and then walked away. The first thing that went through my head was that he didn’t like us, because he walked away. A was CLEARLY reading my mind, because she asked me what I thought about Fluffy’s behaviour. I responded honestly (and that was really hard for me to do!) and said I didn’t think he liked us. The first thing I thought of was rejection. That kind of sucks. But A told me another theory about why he left, and it was kind of cool to see a different perspective. And one that I actually took to heart. It was different than speaking a cognitive distortion (eg, everybody hates me) and having to change it. This time, I actually EXPERIENCED something, and it was more tangible and believable. Fluffy is a cool dude. He taught me a lesson about cognitive distortions and mind-reading. Often, if I invite someone to do something with me and they say they are busy, I will assume they just don’t want to do anything with me or that I’m not likable. Fluffy taught me that maybe I’m assuming too quickly and need to think of other stories that could be going on.
The next big thing that happened was my interaction with Dee. Dee is a big, scary, red coloured horse in a big fenced-in area with 3 other horses. He’s second in command in their little horse club. Pretty much the vice president. He is in with a bunch of other males, because when the females get around him, he turns into a jerk and doesn’t like the other male horses. He’s girl crazy. My first reaction was “I don’t like him, he’s mean to the other horses.” But A suggested that maybe Dee is not a write-off, and that he just acts a certain way in certain situations. Dee reminded me a lot of my abuser. I was really scared of him, because he was really big and I was afraid that he would bite or hurt me. At one point, I was feeling really “floaty” and not feeling completely in my body. A caught it, and I caught it too. I stepped back, put my feet really firmly on the ground, said “I’m good” and we kept talking. A asked me about my anxiety, which was at a 6 at this time (out of 10). She asked what I wanted to do with my anxiety - leave it and respect it as it is, or challenge it. I wanted to challenge it. Slowly, and through lots of conversation, we moved around Dee and A showed me how he reacted when she did certain things (touching him on the back vs face vs neck) and easing me into the process. Eventually, after many steps backwards and forwards and being really conflicted, I decided to “Jump in” and try to touch Dee. At this point, my anxiety was jumping up and up and up and I was losing track of my breathing. A stood between me and Dee’s head, and I reached out and carefully but quickly touched a piece of his mane. My heart was racing and even though A kept reminding me to breathe, it was hard to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe that I just touched this big, scary horse that was so intimidating. At one point, he moved his head really quickly and I jumped back. But I jumped right back in, and stroked his neck gently. I learned to push my boundaries and that A is going to be there to protect me and help me to push myself. I felt like I started to trust her more, trust myself more, and MAYBE trust Dee a bit more. I’m still not sure about him.
Then, there’s Rooster. Rooster is my guy. Almost immediately when we went to meet him, I noticed how much calmer he was and how relaxed he seemed. He made me completely relax. I had no problems touching him and even scratched between his ears on his head. That made him drool and put his head down. I guess I’m a good horse masseuse. I felt really confident with Rooster, and really comforted by him. I had just had a really emotional experience with Dee, and Rooster was the calm after the storm. I breathed and rubbed him and even gave him a hug. I really liked him, and he reminds me a lot of myself. He’s the low-man on the totem pole in the horse club. He’s the guy who has to stand at the gate and say “no girls allowed” so that Dee won’t get pissed off. He’s the guy who nobody wants to play at recess. He’s the one they say “you go hide, and we’ll come seek you” and then nobody ever seeks him. (and yes, those things all happened to me as a kid). Rooster was really comforting to me, and it was very odd to have such opposite experiences in such a short time.
This session was very eye opening and very overwhelming. I’m still stirring on it and not really 100% sure how to feel. I want to keep exploring this therapy and exploring myself. I am so nervous because I know A has it in her head that Dee and I will have a very interesting relationship. I still think he’s a bit of a jerk and don’t trust him as far as I could throw him (which is not very far, he’s like 1200 pounds).
I think I learned some cool lessons, and can’t wait to see where this takes me. Rather, where I can take myself.