The capacity for healing is a two-way street. The more we come into a true and trusting partnership with our horses, the more open they are to their own progress.
I’ve known Dorian for six years, and owned him for four of those. We've worked through a lot together--his extreme spookiness, the year he wouldn't take a bit, the year he got banished to the "bad boy's" pasture. . . .
Given all that, looking back on what happened that blustery, cold day in the round pen, it doesn’t seem so surprising. But at the time, I admit I was caught off guard and not sure how to navigate the trauma.
Like people, horses hold emotional and physical trauma in their bodies. Through massage, they can slowly release tensions, anxieties, past and recent negative experiences, and stress.
In the early years with Dorian, I noticed he had two hard lumps on his neck--one on either side in the same position. Not knowing much about horse anatomy then, I thought they might be bones--that's how hard they were. But they didn't seem to bother him, so I left well enough alone.
Only after I took massage lessons did I realize those were knots of tension and stress.
I’d been massaging Dorian for over a year when his trauma came to the surface. Dorian loves his massages. His eye blinks, head nodding, licking and chewing, yawning, and releasing stress in a myriad of other ways has come fairly effortlessly for him.
When I put a steady, sustained pull on his tail, he leans forward, loving the stretch. When I lift and extend his front or back legs then stand back, he goes through a healthy sequence of release after release.
For a while, the entire experience was nothing but pleasure for him and for me.
The day that changed we stood in the round pen under a cold sun with a stiff wind kicking up and engaged in our usual equine massage protocol.
A light hand along the bladder meridian left and right from the poll to the tail garnered a lot of sighs and release signals. I breathed deeply and he breathed deeply. We were in sync.
Things were going well as we moved through our usual routine.
Then I moved to the left side and ran my fingers deeply along his neck. He began tossing his head. The tossing grew higher and more vehement. I continued, though with a lighter pressure. But something had risen to the surface and it wasn’t going away.
He pinned his ears, shot me a whites-of-the eye warning and barred his teeth as his head came around to bite me.
In our years together, he’d never done any of these three ominous preludes to trying to harm me. In fact, he’d always been a perfect gentleman, even slowing or stopping if he felt me unbalanced riding bareback.
I wanted him to know he was loved and safe.
I stepped back and he turned to the rail, nuzzling it frantically. This wasn’t a contented nuzzling, it seemed more an unconscious act he didn’t seem able to control or stop.
I stood there in the wind, not understanding what was happening.
As I stilled myself in body and mind, I invited any image or message to come to me. I wanted to understand what Dorian was going through so I could help him.
The image of his neck twisted came clearly to mind. Not his physical neck—he hadn’t moved from the rail—he was reliving the memory of his neck being twisted.
He was in anguish, obviously re-experiencing some trauma that had occurred.
I remained still, hoping to see more. And the image of him as a colt and a man with a hard rope around his neck, flinging him around and throwing him to the ground appeared instantly.
I don’t know when this occurred. I can’t imagine his breeder or trainer would allow this to happen. But it was undeniably there in Dorian’s psyche, deeply embedded and clearly traumatizing.
I went to his side, trying to run my hand lightly down his neck to reassure him, but he flattened his ears again and continued his frantic nuzzling. I stood by his side and laid a light hand on his withers, murmuring my reassurance to him that no one would ever harm him again.
Then I was quiet, connecting with him at a deep level outside of words, letting him sense my love for him, my presence, my protection. I knew he could be healed.
After a time he allowed me to move up next to his head. His eye was still terror-filled, but he let me lay a hand on his neck and my other hand on the front of his head. I whispered over and over the truth that he could let that memory go—it was a past he’d never have to endure again.
He lowered his head and curved around me, staying there quietly for the longest time while I continued to silently reassure him that he was safe. That he'd always be safe.
We were there a long time like that. Finally he slowly raised his head, and his sweet, soft eye took me in. I sighed deeply. He sighed deeply. Then I haltered him and we left the round pen for the barn.
I was enormously dizzy. I was glad of it because it meant I’d taken on a bit of that burden, shared it with Dorian and helped lead him out of it into the light where that horrible pain was—I hoped--washed away.
I sat in the shavings once I’d gotten him back in his stall, not saying a word. Just being there with him without asking anything from him. I wanted him to know he was loved and safe.
Once every so often he’d come over to me and lower his head, gazing at me with those eyes I love so much—such deep wisdom, compassion, and understanding are always there. Then he’d go back to munching his hay, relaxed and content.
After quite a long time, I decided to head home. Dorian seemed secure and busy with his food. I silently asked him if there was anything else I could do, or anything he wanted me to know before I left. He slowly turned and came over to me, lowering his head again. I felt thanked. And loved.
I gave him his carrots, kissed each of his eyes, and left.
Oh, and those hard lumps? I can still feel their slight, raised presence, but for all intents and purposes, they've pretty much vanished.