We've been in the corral for five minutes and I am already so far away from anything resembling my happy place, I just want to run.
My shirt is stuck to my back, sweat beads and pools down my neck; I am acutely aware of the weight of every kilo of my body in this heat. Arizona: #hotterthanthesun.
Everyone else is standing next to a horse.
There is no room for me. I have to wait my turn.
This realisation creates a wave of grief that seems to rise up out of nowhere. It rolls through me and I'm shocked by my inability to control myself. I feel like I am being dramatic and emotional and I'm embarrassed by the tears that I now can't bloody stop. I breathe and try to pull myself together.
Moments later, Sherry the Equine Therapist asks if I'd like to walk one of the horses. Sure, I say. But I don't want to. I want to sink into the background and just watch. Hide.
Now everyone is looking as I stand awkwardly within a few feet of Roco, a thousand pound gelding, who clearly could not be less interested in me. Laurie is between us, calmly holding his bridle.
Sherry asks: 'What's happening in your body?'
I want to say: Lady I could quite happily die right now rather than be standing here. Laurie didn't prepare me for any of this and I am so bloody angry at her. And Roco clearly couldn't give a shit. I thought this was going to be a sweet Horse Whisperer kind of thing where my year of meditation pays off and the horses are magnetised to my zen-like energy. But it's so fucking hot and I hate that everyone is watching me as I get this completely wrong.
Instead I reply: 'I have no idea what to do. I don't think Roco wants me to walk him. I'm waiting for someone to give me instructions. Maybe permission'.
'Interesting. Do you want to walk Roco?'
'Honestly? No. I don't want to make anyone do anything they don't want to'.
I can feel my body unclench at the truth of this. And instantly Roco moves past Laurie to stand next to me. He is huge and smells of horse poop and musty oranges. He nuzzles my shoulder and I introduce myself awkwardly, as if we were at a management conference.
Laurie hands me the bridle and Sherry says: 'Just choose a place you want to walk to, and keep your eyes on it'. Roco wanders along beside me, as if we have been doing this for years. I am so wrapped up in going around the corral, I forget that everyone is watching.
'When you know where you are going and you decide to move, the horse feels calm, he's happy to go along'.
I belong. No one will be giving permission, or instructions. I don't have to wait. I can decide where I'm going.
After lunch we return to the heat. I immediately walk to stand in the shade of the run-in shed and I'm rewarded with a cool misty spray of water.
I can hear Sherry talking to the others; I close my eyes and lean against a post, dropping into a lazy peace, feeling the relief of the circulating air, thinking fondly of Roco and what he has taught me.
I hear the crunch of gravel and open my eyes. Standing in front of me is Cisco, the leader of the herd. I reach out to stroke his long neck and he moves a little closer, enjoying the scratches. Then he leans down to rub his face on his feet.
Is he BOWING? Don't be ridiculous. He's just dealing with the flies. He's the leader, and he just came right over. Maybe he wanted the shade.
My thoughts begin to absorb my attention and Cisco moves along, standing to face away from me, twitching his tail at the flies. Or annoyance.
See? Just worry about yourself. Go back to that lazy peace.
I shift the weight of my body, leaning more comfortably against the post. And within seconds Cisco returns to face me, bowing down twice more.
I get a shiver of the truth-bumps. Whatever this is, its beautiful. I feel humble and grateful and moved.
Take care of your own needs. Rest. Find peace. Trust your people will come to you. Appreciate everything.
I'm still processing the whole experience, the layers of it. How incredibly powerful it was to encounter these sensitive beasts who without saying a damn word, healed up a shit-tonne of hurt inside me that I wasn't even aware of.
When it comes to equine therapy, there is often talk of mysticism and energy which is completely understandable - I can absolutely attest to how magical this experience felt! I've been trying to make sense of the why and how and have found there is loads of very sound science behind this work:
- Like humans, horses are social animals with distinct personalities, moods and clear roles within the herd. But horses have a relatively larger limbic system (the emotional brain centre) and as prey animals, they have highly attuned nervous systems.
- This means horses are always present in the moment, with a primary need to feel safe - a horse will become fearful with anyone who is aggressive, noisy, disrespectful, controlling or angry. They do not judge or blame, they just take care of their own needs by responding to whatever our body language and energy is telling them - regardless of what we actually say.
- When humans hang out with horses, our oxytocin system is activated - this has the same underlying neurobiological structure as the attachment between a mother and newborn. Research shows that equine therapy can lower blood pressure and heart rate, alleviates stress, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Hello, I'm Sas Petherick. I'm a self-doubt researcher, coach and podcaster who helps thinking humans transcend self-doubt. If you'd like to receive these posts in your inbox please subscribe here (with bonus info and first notice of opportunities to work with me). PS: I totally ♥ Instagram - join me there?