A good friend asked if he would get a hug from the horses when we told him about what we are up to with Hugging Horses.
My first thought was to refer to what horses do in the wild. Horses show affection by grooming each other. Frodo and Pippin often nibble at each other’s manes and necks, giving each other scratches as an act of kindness. Shorna and Hatta will stand very close to each other, side by side looking forward, being very still and quiet. I think Hatta gets a lot of comfort and validation being so close to the leader of the herd. And on sunny days this winter, all four stand side by side facing the sun, heads drooping as they doze to store up energy for warmth.
Being still and watching, there is a depth to these interactions between them. Real meaning and generosity behind their movements.
When I stand beside Shorna facing the same direction as her, and she turns her long neck towards me…most of the time there is no physical contact at all, but I feel she has seen me and has reached out to acknowledge me. I feel love from her.
In those moments I want to touch her. I want to expand what she has given me. My own discomfort with being still and receiving, has me want to add to or change the moment. When I give in to my impulse and try to touch or pet her, Shorna normally walks away slowly or turns her head back to eating and I lose the moment. I leave feeling a little empty or disconnected. When I resist my impulse and I can simply stand there and let it be enough…I feel love from her. And my cup is filled.
Franklin Levinson teaches beautifully about horse affection and human behaviour. In his Horsemanship Essay called How Do Horses Show Affection?, he explains how horses express affection to each other, how humans can receive affection in the same way from horses, and what there is to gain for us by doing so.
How is this important in therapy?
Understanding how horses show affection and connect and what is required of humans to connect with horses is a direct parallel with the client-therapist and the success of any therapeutic process.
In order for the horse to lead me into the deeper place and connection I long for, I have to be willing to give up thinking I control the process or outcome. Therapy is the same thing.
Many clients want therapy to be a fix, a relief from one or more pain points in their lives. Many people approach the process and the therapist looking for suggestions or solutions they believe are plausible and doable and which fit their existing framework of life. In essence, these clients want to control the process, inside a framework they already use in their lives. This limits their expansion to occur within their existing framework.
A good therapist spends much of the therapy journey building trust with the client. Trust becomes a foundation for the client to gently go into places and feelings that may be momentarily uncomfortable, yet that deliver sustainable change and deep healing. By doing so, the client creates a new framework for themselves and expansion happens.
Therapeutic trust happens much faster for a client with a horse. As an assist to the therapeutic process, horses are non-judgemental, non-verbal and vulnerable animal mirrors, revealing to clients what being open and vulnerable looks like and feels like in the moment. A horse will reflect a client’s emotional state, openness and intention back to them, as they happen. Therapists and Clients can safely witness together, comprehend and process what is revealed by their horse assistant and use this knowledge to begin, deepen and acknowledge the client’s therapy journey.
Feeling is Healing