Messages of Hope

Equine Therapy Key4Life Portland Juniper Natural Therapies Paintedhorse EFL LEAP

I was invited to join a team of EFL/P practitioners and equine specialists this month to deliver the Equine Therapy part of charity Key4Life‘s pre-release programme for young offenders at HMP/YOI Portland. Livvy Adams from Paintedhorse headed the Equine Team and organised a 2 day programme suitable for the young men at the prison and we headed in with 4 amazing horses from Portland.  Amazing because they never failed to get their messages across to the young men, whether they acted out behaviourally to mirror the energies presented or gently stood close to the men, some of whom had not seen a horse up close and personal and calmed their anxiety levels.

Equine behaviour can of course be explained based on what we know, having a degree in Animal Science, the behaviour unit was fascinating and hooked me into the world of animal behaviour and welfare.  In recent years, I have had this knowledge challenged by something far more connected, on a deeper level altogether, and its this new knowledge that always leaves me a little open mouthed and shaking my head in slight disbelief as I realise how our animal kingdom has remained connected whilst we humans have isolated and disconnected ourselves. Horses tap into the very energy we carry with us, they let us know what it is if we don’t know; they respond to us with immediacy, they are incredible Gestalt therapists and can detect incongruence a mile off.

Some of the heart felt comments made by these young men have sat with the equine team and brought tears to eyes when recalling them. You see it can be easy for us horsey people to forget what it is to experience a horse for the first time, that we receive unconditional positive regard from one of our long standing animal allies on a daily basis. We know already that horses don’t care about what has been done in the past, they only respond to who has turned up today.  Imagine experiencing that for the first time?

After the programme the young men wrote messages about hopes for the future on ribbons which were tied into the manes of the horse that connected to them the most. The horses then carried them out of prison and they are now hung in a special tree in the orchard at Glastonbury.

“No tree it is said can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell” – C.G. Jung


Juniper Natural Therapies Phoenix

When the phoenix shows up it indicates a new beginning, a fresh start, the ability to create a future different from the past. The phoenix showed up at the start of the year for me and with it came the message that a part of me has to die in order for it to be reborn. I didn’t have to wait long before I discovered what part that was. I was going through a bit of an intense time emotionally, something felt wrong with my lungs and eventually I woke in the dead of night with pain every time I breathed. I recognised the symptoms as a panic attack and managed to calm myself down by counting my breaths. If the body never lies and we listen to what that part has to say, we can help ourselves. It is amazing how and why we override this information with our busy minds and our busy lives at the detriment of our bodies.

My lungs indicated sadness, disappointment, hurt, rejection and despair. Having worked hard to release my suppressed anger this year, underneath that protection layer was sadness and disappointment. I felt a crushing feeling on my lungs, like I was under rocks. More and more rocks were being placed on me and it got heavier and heavier. What did the rocks represent? Other peoples responsibility. Why did I take it on? A script learnt from childhood perhaps? With a strong link of not being left alone? If I looked after ‘this’, that would stop ‘that’ happening and I would still have a family. In trying to keep a ‘family’ around me I have taken on a lot of responsibility. What would happen if I gave the responsibility back to its rightful owner?  I imagined a rope which pulled me up and out of the responsibility rock pile until I was above it looking around at the panoramic view breathing freely. I then knew what I had to do, and consequently what I would have to face. You see under my sadness was fear, fear of being alone.

There was a shift in me as I stopped taking other people’s responsibility. My mantra ‘I am responsible for myself, not responsible for others’. They were responsible for themselves. It did leave me with conflict with my niece I was looking after as my foster child, I was responsible for her. On a soul level however, she is responsible for herself, I am only there to guide her for as long as needed. Anyone who has brought up teenagers probably knows, there is a shift in them at some stage that pushes away the parental guidance as they know their rights, and you just have to hope you have guided enough that they can take responsibility for themselves.

Fundamentally, as hard as it may be to accept, it is their journey, not yours. Just as your journey is your own and not anyone else’s. Journeys are how we can evolve spiritually and hopefully by the end of our lifetimes we achieve all the growth we set out to achieve when signing up for the deal down here. As part of that deal, we ticked boxes for experiences, some that test our resilience and adaptability to change greatly. We are all evolving at different rates, sometimes our paths line up with others and run together for a time, and other times we walk alone. I was trying to keep a ‘family’ around me for fear of walking alone. I think its more the fear of something, rather than the reality of it that makes us clutch to the chains that bind us (see Mary I do listen to you quoting the bible at me). To those worrying about me right now, try not to. Empathise with me instead, then you get to see the world from my perspective. Its empowering for someone to get that understanding from another. If you sympathise or pity, it is more likely you are dealing with your own fear projections about what you would do or how you would feel in my shoes. Dealing with that can be quite exhausting for a person who takes other peoples responsibilities on. Thankfully I don’t do that anymore. Being ‘alone’ allows more energy to go on self development and figuring out where and what next. I can see in time there will be other peoples paths lining up with mine as we all continue to evolve on this journey called life. Right now I am happy walking alone.

“True initiation is a response to an inner calling; it requires that you face personal challenges heroically and experience a genuine rebirth into a new way of being” – Alberto Villoldo

Equine Counselling

Juniper Natural Therapies Equine Counselling Equine facilitated Learning Psychotherapy EFP EFL LEAP

This month I have had the opportunity to experience an Introductory Workshop in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy & Learning (EFP/L) and begin a Practitioner Training Programme at LEAP in Gloucester.

On arrival I was greeted by Jo Saunders and directed to a welcoming yurt which upon entering was even more welcoming when I discovered it was full of refreshments for the day. The teaching itself was conducted in a tipi across the other side of the field. Wandering freely in between the two tent structures was a good sized herd of mares and geldings of various shapes and sizes. In the tipi sat Ella Jones, Mike Delaney and Sarah Watson ready to welcome our group and begin our training programme.

One of the exercises I experienced ‘Journey with the Horse’ left me reflective for a week or so later. In the exercise there were four obstacles which could represent four things to you, such as childhood, adolescence, present and future. There were two horses in the arena, one to go on your journey with you and the other to represent your interrupter (something that interrupts you/your journey). As I went on my journey, I thought about what the obstacles represented and felt the emotions that went with them. My companion horse picked up my energies and reflected them for me to experience behaviourally and energetically. After the exercise I interpreted what I had experienced and Ella who had observed my session, fed back on observations I did not pick up on.  Some fellow trainees started off sceptical as they observed ‘normal’ horse behaviour, but as the same two horses journeyed with all members of our group and ‘behaved’ differently each time, their scepticism faded and their amazement came to the fore.

Even knowing what I know about horses and working with energy myself, I can’t fail to be in awe of how connected horses are to subtle energies. Yes, having a degree in Animal Science I could explain how horses have adapted to survive their environment (Dr Eddison if you are reading this I mean genetically not individually of course!), as a prey species those that are more alert to subtle changes in the herds energy and to the energy presented by predators are the ones more likely to survive to breed – passing on their genetic traits. It is the adaptation of being able to pick up on subtle energies that makes horses especially good at equine counselling/learning/psychotherapy.  Population genetics is absolutely fascinating in itself, but add to that their natural ability to connect on the spiritual level to access another kind of knowing leaves me quite dumbfounded.  Horses pick up on our thoughts or energies, they know when what we present on the outside is different to what is on the inside – even if we don’t notice it ourselves, and they even know that too. They will either be our medicine or our mirror in this kind of work. And by mirror I mean some sort of reflection, response or reaction to our energy.  We can often be so lost in our thoughts that we spend more time in our heads than in our bodies. Our bodies often have a lot to say, but we sometimes either forget to, can’t or won’t listen. Horses notice this too.

It’s hard not to compare Equine Counselling to Gestalt therapy, a counselling model that brings the client into the ‘here and now’. You can still experience the past, and plan the future with this model but the idea is to express the emotions coming up in the present moment. Fritz Perls the founder of Gestalt suggested in our patterns of behaviour we have 5 layers of resistance protecting, hiding or burying our ‘real’ self:

  1. Phony layer (the roles we play, or script we act out)
  2. Phobic layer (fear of rejection or pain, avoiding self acceptance)
  3. Impasse layer (fear of changes/challenging beliefs, avoiding personal responsibility)
  4. Implosive (a habitual ‘safe’ life, no energy, a ‘deadness’ to life)
  5. Explosive (emergence of hidden self, expressing that which has been suppressed)

As the horse can sense the real you the experience of this type of counselling can be very powerful and profound, as it has the potential to peel back all the layers of resistance to reveal the real you, the wholeness that is you.

Two things occurred on my equine journey that really stood out for me; a mare not involved in the exercise (outside of the arena), came as close as she was able to support me as I was dealing with the obstacle that represented my marriage breakdown. It was a time in my life where I became more aware of my spirituality and tapped into the inner and higher wisdom, wisdom that we all have if we connect. The other thing was my interrupter who played ‘masculine’ energy suddenly reacted as I was just about to finish my journey. He came over to my companion mare, stood over her back ‘intimidating’ her and she moved away. He chased her. My arousal level increased as the circling and chasing got bigger. I focused on my breathing to bring my arousal level down and decided to walk her out of the circle and to an area of the arena she felt safe in. When I got there I turned around to face him and I realised he wasn’t following anymore. This reflected an incident in early childhood, earlier than I had even chosen as my first obstacle. I had suddenly found myself intimidated and in the grasp of an 18 year old boy when I was 9 years old. I managed to get away from him and ran home with him chasing me, upon reaching my door I looked back and realised he was gone. My interrupter had pinpointed the moment where my fear of men came from, so now I could address it and change it to stop attracting more of the same.  Finally.  In the words of Sarah Williams, from one of my all time favourite films Labyrinth (1986)…

“…you have no power over me”


Thank you Maisie, Holly and Milo for this experience and this insight.  Horses truly are counsellors in their own right.