• vslachman

We Can All Be Healed

It occurred to me that after Dorian's trauma was healed, he was able to express his true nature. He’s become such a playful, happy horses, both with his gelding brothers and with me.

After that momentous equine massage session, his nuzzling began, and when he began trying to play with me as he does other horses (which, of course, we dispensed with). Now when he's turned out, the playing he does with all the horses is so vastly different from his previous behavior. He has friends. He plays. He’s happy and affectionate.

I think part of what made Dorian’s journey out of trauma possible is that he had something so many of us don’t, is a partner he trusts.

And so, he’s no different, really, from any of us. That sweet, happy boy was always in there, intact and unharmed. It was overlain for a long time with the effects of the violence done to him. But once that lifted, once he released that, the joyous being that was always there came forward.

Sweet boy,

I can’t say I’ve made as rapid a progress as he has. It seems harder for us humans, doesn’t it?

During my equine-assisted learning certification training, one of the last activities our class did together involved a lovely grey horse at liberty in an enclosed arena and the group of students who were tasked with getting that horse to move into a designated box in the middle of the arena. The box was outlined with four white poles. As an added challenge, we couldn’t speak to one another or to the horse; the exercise had to be done in complete silence.

The only way we could successfully accomplish the task is if we each subordinated our own idea of how to “get it done” to a silent connection with everyone there—including the horse.

What followed was an experience of oneness, harmony, non-verbal communication that, after the session, left many of us in tears.

This was the end of an emotionally grueling and energizing week for everyone. So many personal issues came to the surface for each student. Like Dorian, through this process we learned to trust each other, let go, and allow the issues blocking our progress to lift. It took empathy and openness or we’d never have come together as the working team we exhibited in this exercise.

When we began this activity, we instinctively opened our arms and connected with each other, facing the gelding.

What followed was an experience of oneness, harmony, non-verbal communication that, after the session, left many of us in tears. No one was the leader, no one pulled or strained the person beside her, and everyone kept a soft eye on the horse before us.

As one, we speechlessly knelt in the arena as the horse moved toward us. As one, we slowly rose and gently moved toward the side of the enclosure away from the horse.

It was as if he was connected to us by invisible bonds; as we moved, he moved. Like Dorian in our massage session, he felt our genuineness, our desire to partner with him.

We gently led him toward the box and he never once took his eyes off us.

Our movement with him became more of a dance than anything—a graceful, quiet, focused, gentle dance.

Our last EAL certification exercise.

And he stood in the box with his soft eyes turned to us as we knelt one final time before him. I’ve always thought of that moment as one of honor; him honoring us and us honoring each other and him.

The communication was completely non-verbal and I don’t know that it was even intellectually intentional. It simply was us moving as one via some instinctual connection and communication that every being in the arena experienced simultaneously.

I know of other instances where this sort of unified, unspoken communication occurs between humans and horses, in an atmosphere of presence and trust. Certainly “horse whisperers” engage in it.

But even adolescents, in a specific case I know of, who had not known each other previous to the one-day workshop, simultaneously and without discussion all grasped hands and raised their arms together, stepping forward and, in unison, saying “Whoa!” to effectively stop the advance of a herd trotting toward them.

It happens. We do communicate and connect on a level beyond rational explanation. And this is always healing. I know this is true, because I experienced with my fellow EAL students, as well as those participating in my EAL workshop pictured in the three photos above.

But most prominently and consistently, I experience it with Dorian.

As we each find our way, like Dorian, we’ll likely encounter hard knots of resistance to our progress and authenticity. They seem so real, so formidable, so impossible to change. I thought Dorian’s tense knots were a “natural” part of him, when in fact they were the antithesis.

Happy boy--literally kicking up his heels!

And even when I realized they were the result of stress or some adverse experience, my first response was to assume they’d never go away. They were so hard, so pronounced, so obviously unchangeable. Yet they yielded without me even being aware they were dissolving.

I no longer accept these aggressive suggestions as unresolvable—in Dorian, in myself, or in others. They’re not. We can all be healed, no matter how challenging the situation seems as I’ve proved in my own experience and seen in the experience of others.

And I'm not the only one. The field of Equine-assisted learning and Equine-assisted therapy is exploding. Epona is one of the leaders in the field, but by no means the only effective group doing this work. Practitioners are popping up all over the country and the world.

My own work—unlike the traditional psychotherapeutic model—stems from a clear conviction that we’re all whole and unharmed. I’ve seen too much proof this is true to buy into our culture’s idea that there’s something horribly wrong with us that needs “fixing.”

I think part of what made Dorian’s journey out of trauma possible is that he had something so many of us don’t--a partner he trusts.

I doubt that without the bond we’ve built over time during my “education”—it took a long time for me to really listen and hear him—he’d have been willing to so swiftly let go of what had occurred and was so painfully focused in his body. I’m grateful I persisted with myself so that I could be that safe presence for him.

Bottom line? The horses are our healers. But only if we let them.

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