This is OTTB, Coach Casey, aka Snuggleberry with his new partner Ioana.
We rarely know what kind of life horses have had at the track and before they become ours, just like we often have no idea what people have been through. Humans, animals, we all have a past.
In meeting new people or new animals it's important to remember this, and it is imperative that we don't make assumptions. Practice staying soft, practice patience. Invite connection and work on staying open when you are met with defensiveness.
Snuggleberry was laying down napping when we arrived to the barn. This is the most volnurable position a horse can be found in. Notice Ioana’s bellybutton turned away and eyes gently turned down. Her hand slowly reached out to offer a hello and an invitation to connect.
My guess is this guy was treated with a lot of kindness and respect at the track, as he welcomes humans into his space.
The world can harden us if we let it, but it can also create the sweetest moments of connection.
Let yourself be moved, be touched. Slow down and find the beauty and awe in every day experiences.
No matter your past, make today the day you choose connection, make today the day you forgive and move on. If you need support around this, we are here, and so are many others.
In the infamous words of Ram Das “we’re all just walking each other home”
The Last Salute
I knew the first time I saw his picture on the FB sale page that he was meant to be with me. It took a couple of months, vet checks, conversations with his trainer, and convincing my husband that driving 5 states away to try him would be worth it. But I knew from that first moment that Daiwik would become family.
What I didn’t know was how short our time together would be.
I guess you don’t think about the end in the beginning.
He was never easy, I threatened to sell him many times, but his eyes were deep and my heart was his.
Daiwik means “by the grace of God” in Hindu. During our time together I would often joke, “by the grace of God he hasn’t killed me yet” or “by the grace of God, he’s still mine”. But maybe what his name means is that to be in his company is to be touched by the Grace of God.
Daiwik, Mr. Handsome, my boo boo bananas, I can’t thank you enough…
You had multiple homes my friend, and you are loved by many. I am not sure why you choose me as your last partner, but I know that the lessons you taught me will live with me forever. I promise to keep working on patience, and to practice trusting more.
I wish we had more time, there’s so much more for us to experience together. I had such grand plans for us.
Please stay close and keep an eye on me, I need you to kick me in the butt sometimes, but more often I need you to remind me of who I am and what I am capable of. Oh, and peek in on Wizard and Jiji once in a while, they could both use some guidance from you, especially Ji. Stella will miss you as well, you are definitely her favorite.
Uff… this isn’t good bye, this is see you in the next one buddy.
Enjoy your endless pastures and shaded nap spots.
“No heaven can heaven be if my horse isn’t there to welcome me” ~ unknown
Burn Baby, Burn
Sand pine, a common pine in dryer climates, have cones that remain closed for years. It’s not until fire burns the mature trees that they open and reseed the burnt ground.
In many ways I feel like one of those cones, currently being torched, starting to open up and allowing my seeds to find soil.
Starting a business is challenging, running a business is even harder.
I’ve never been one to step down and give up, and I was taught at a young age “it’s the follow through that makes the difference”. (Golfing parents)
I have a lot of trust and tend to jump in, before considering if I have everything in place. That’s what’s made me who I am though, and that’s what’s created this company.
The Institute for Equine Assisted Practices is growing into more than I could have imagined. This entity is creating opportunities for others to explore the healing of the horse-human connection, both as clinicians and clients. The population we serve will triple in the next 6 months, and while I experience this time in my life as hot and scorching, I know that every little seed falling into place, will settle and grow into something new.
I am humbled by what is unfolding, and I am doing my best to remain standing while the new trees have an opportunity to take hold.
When Fear Takes Over
Riding fear is real and more common than most people think. You would be amazed at how many people I work with that haven’t admitted to anyone that they are often scared. Trainers, competitors, weekend trail riders, doesn’t matter, it can happen to anyone.
Having a bit of fear is good, after all, we are climbing onto of a 1000 pound animal. The problem is when the fear gets so big that it gets to make decisions for you. Maybe it convinces you to stay out of the saddle, maybe it just causes a death grip on the reins. No matter how the fear shows up, it can become a major problem and take the joy out of your horse time.
How many times have you heard someone say, “get over it and get back on”, or something like that? The idea most people have is that we have to push the fear away and just get over it. This is wrong on so many levels.
As a therapist I specialize in trauma where the goal is to feel safe in their bodies and secure in the world. How we get there is through allowing physical sensations to arise and properly respond to them. Our bodies are constantly speaking to us; an example would be your stomach signaling that you are hungry. The better in tune we get with our bodies, the quicker we can respond to our own needs.
Pushing feelings away does not make them go away. I will say this again, PUSHING FEELINGS AWAY DOES NOT MAKE THEM GO AWAY.
In my work with equestrians I help them get more in touch with their emotional world, and then give them tools to face whatever arises.
This is not necessarily easy, but it sure makes a difference in how they do life.
Is 2019 the year you decide to dig deeper, and do something really good for yourself?
Contact us to book clinics and one on one sessions.
When the Horse is Done
For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with making a very hard decision. One of my four legged loves started getting mean and aggressive towards clients. None of this behavior was seen when he was just doing a riding lesson. His voice was strong and clear. “I don’t want to”. My answer to him, “you don’t have to”. He's currently on vacation, meaning, no therapy sessions.
I watch our herd carefully and do my best to hear them. It’s important to me that they have a voice and are voluntary participants in our program. As a human being, I can quit a job whenever I choose to, so my horses should have the same choice, right?
If you’ve been in the horse world for some time, you have definitely seen some unhappy and/or checked out horses. They exist in lesson programs, on ranches, on the show circuits as well as in Therapeutic Riding and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
I started The Institute for Equine Assisted Practices with one major goal; To create opportunities for human and horse to connect. We have a busy psychotherapy program and host horsemanship trainings on and off site. I love this work, and believe in the power of the horse/human connection. It is my responsibility to make sure my herd is happy, which is where this blog started. One of my horses isn’t. He’s a trauma specialist, truly, he is. For the past 4 years he’s consistently chosen to work with the most challenging trauma cases and always been a rock for these clients. He’s offered them safety in a world where every pair of eyes was a possible threat. He’s stood, solidly, underneath them, and carried them when they questioned their own ability to move. He’s showed them how to breathe, and how to stay, when all they want to do is run. When no one else seemed to understand, he said “I see”.
I love this horse with all my heart. He came to me angry and broken, and together we found a way to heal. He gave me wings when I thought I was too old to fly, and he showed me what is possible when we truly trust.
It’s my turn now. My turn to give him what he wants.
He’s lucky, this one. He’s got some young riders that adore him and he could happily continue showing for many years. His work with me and my clients may be over though. 2019 could be the year he retires from therapy. It's not what I want, but maybe it's what he wants. If the two week vacation doesn't do it, we'll go from there.
I’m not sure this is an ethical decision, although it falls under that as well. For me this is about relationships, and hearing a “no”. It’s about putting health and well-being before money, and honestly, it’s about doing what is right.
I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I can share Wizard’s story and hope it inspires others to listen more. Whether you work as a therapist, show jump, or simply trail ride, let your horse be a partner with choices, let them have a say. They give us so much, give them the option of deciding when they are done.
7 weeks ago we started this adventure together. 20 years ago I began the journey that would eventually lead me to this.
In those 20 years I collected a few degrees, and more certificates than I could fit on my office wall. I like learning, and I've been passionate about turning 15 years of destructive behavior into something that could help others.
Creating my own certification program was a challenge. Not in regards to material, I had more experience and knowledge then I could possibly cram into a six week course. The difficulty was found in trusting that what I had to share was important, meaningful, and actually life changing. To put it simply, I was scared.
Now here I am. Having my morning coffee the day after 8 amazing women received the first ever certifications in Embodied Equine Psychotherapy™. I find myself tearing up as I reflect on the trust and the willingness these women showed. I know that this work, my work, is not easy. It demands that we dig deep, that we show up, and no matter what arises, we stay, we breathe and we allow ourselves to be seen.
I am honored beyond words that these 8 women chose me, chose this. And more than anything I am grateful for my rocky times, my consitient family, and anyone and everyone who have crossed my path and added to who I am today.
Deep bows to you ladies, you did it! Blessed are the horses and humans who's lives you will touch.
Fear in the Saddle
In 2009 I fell off a horse and broke my pelvis and tailbone. I remember laying on the ground begging the bystanders to wait on calling 911. They didn’t listen, thankfully, since I had no use of my legs.
I stayed away from horses for 3 years after that. If you had asked me then, I’d say it had nothing to do with the fall, but I know now, it had everything to do with it.
As a therapist I’ve spent most of my career working with clients who have experienced trauma. I didn’t choose that specialty, it chose me via working in addiction and eating disorder recovery.
Trauma is tricky. It reminds me of Lyme Disease in how it hides in our cells, and lives in our body. Working with trauma isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy.
I know I’m not the only one who has taken a bad fall, or started getting scared of riding. I also know that for a lot of us, having fear of what we love is really hard.
Working with equestrians who struggle with nervousness and anxiety about riding has become a passion of mine. Whether it’s show nerves or fears from falling, there are ways to work with the body and brain to help you feel more confident and find more joy in riding. Bucking up and pushing through is not the way, neither is giving up.
If you want help, contact me through our website. You deserve to feel good, and truly enjoy your ride.
Teaching and Vulnerability
I love teaching AND, putting myself out there is not easy. Anytime anyone steps into the role of teacher we open ourselves up to criticism and questioning. Teaching is such a vulnerable thing.
But here I am, working on a new training. I am putting together 20 years of learning, studying, apprenticing, practicing, applying, and combining all these teachings/experiences into a 6 week course.
I am thrilled and petrified to be sharing this work.
My comfort zone is stretched and anytime that happens, I invite fear and doubt. Just a few years ago this discomfort would have made me step back, shrink a bit, and put whatever created this unease on hold.
The 2018 version of me doesn’t stop when I get nervous though. I acknowledge my feelings, but I have learned to distinguish between the voice in my head that will always tell me “I am not good enough”, and the part of me that experiences fear just before the moment of growth.
Brene Brown says “You cannot have courage and comfort at the same time”, and these words have guided me and inspired me for some time.
I know that all of us feel fear. I’ve worked with hundreds of people who stop themselves from truly living because that voice in their head is loud and they don’t have experience trusting themselves.
I do what I do, not just because it feels right and my crooked path has led me here, I do this to support others in living BIG. Life is uncertain, but this moment doesn’t have to be.
So today, as I sit here writing, planning, envisioning, I give myself a pat on the back. I acknowledge how far I have come, and I am aware of how much more there is still to learn.
Humility and strength. Diving in knowing I may struggle, I may need support, but somehow I’ll find the shore, wiser and older. Ha.
Recently I’ve been spending time in cafes, working on new trainings and doing some writing. I mostly get absorbed in my world, but sometimes I can’t help but overhear conversation at the tables next to me.
For some reason I’ve found myself next to “business men” on a lunch break quite often. They are not discussing work, but they are also not saying anything. The conversations are insignificant, fillers of time, and lack any depth. Their brains are speaking to one another, but their bodies and emotions are tucked away, maybe until they get home, but most likely for much longer.
This observation is not meant to come across as judgment, I am simply highlighting how often we miss opportunities to connect, to be seen, to be heard.
I realize how fortunate I am to work with a team that see lunch (when we get one) as a valuable time to check in with one another.
Humans are herd animals. We need connection.
If sharing the truth of how you are feeling, and asking for what you need feels terrifying or impossible, get help. Find a person, therapist, coach, whatever, that can help you disassemble the walls you have built. Living in a fortress may feel safe, but trust me, life is way more exciting when you are riding the rapids of your emotions with a crew of other adventurers.
This is the fourth and last installment in a series I wrote on trauma. The inspiration came from Bessel van der Kolk’s “Four Concrete Steps for Working with Trauma”. Read the first three articles here: http://www.instituteforeap.com/blog.
The fourth step, “Integrate the Senses Through Rhythm”, is extremely powerful and sometimes challenging for a regular talk therapist to do with a client. In Gestalt Equine Assisted Psychotherapy we have many ways to incorporate rhythm into sessions. The obvious one is mounted work which is amazing and definitely healing, and honestly deserves a whole article which I will write soon. But sometimes a client is not ready or willing to ride, and even though we do a lot of mounted work at The Institute, I’d like to speak to other options.
Horses know and appreciate rhythm. It's part of every gait, and even a horse swatting flies out in the pasture will move his tail with rhythm. When we work with horses, whether it is grooming, or lunging them, keeping a steady rhythm, is speaking their language.
One way to create this experience for a client could be doing groundwork. After the client establishes contact with her equine partner, she could work on teaching or asking the horse to disengage his hindquarters using rhythm. This could be done with swinging a rope or tapping his hind with a dressage whip. You’ll notice that most client’s will be challenged by keeping a steady rhythm and you may need to support them in this. You can suggest using other body parts to help stay consistent, like tapping a foot, or counting out loud. If possible, adding music to this can be helpful and also add a fun element.
"Put one organism in rhythm with other organisms and is a way of overcoming this frozen sense of separation that traumatized people have with others"- Bessel van der Kolk
Rhythm is a way to connect, to feel a part of, to become fully aware of how you move and who you are in relation to others. It is the final piece in once again becoming whole.
For more support or questions, please contact us. We offer webinar and on location trainings as well as supervision and mentoring.
To learn more about horsemanship and using rhythm to work with your horses, check out Lindsey Partridge (pictured above), winner of the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover with her beautiful mare Soar. Lindsey has a great webinar training and will also be at Crystal Lake Farm in Maine on August 5th, sign up here.
Asa Woodman is the founder of the Institute for Equine Assisted Practices and a passionate student of life.