What is healing, and how does it happen?
From a physiological perspective, healing is the return of the body to homeostasis, or balance. This definition works for our discussion here, and supports my observation that bodies like to be in balance, and have an amazing capacity to right themselves when supported to a place of greater balance.
One part of the healing process involves helping the body to shift into the Parasympathetic Nervous System, aka rest/digest/relax, where healing and learning take place. There are many things that help bodies get there. When working with a horse, I start by making sure that I am grounded, really present in my body and not so busy in my mind. I pay attention to the horse’s body language to (attempt to) understand what they are telling me. Sometimes, they are a bit worried about what is going to happen, so I go slowly and quietly into their personal space and in how I touch their body. I observe their responses at the same time as noticing what my hands feel. If I breathe slowly, it helps, too.
Which techniques do I use for this particular horse?
Here is where the intention/agenda can become a slippery slope. If I am honest with myself, I want very very much to help this beautiful equine in front of me whose lovely person has called me to work with them. Touching horses, offering them bodywork, making a difference in how they their bodies feel—I feel deeply called to do this work.
And I am a human being with a strong, fast mind, and an ego. I love having a plan, doing a good job (however that gets defined), and seeing results so I am invited back. This is a great recipe for an Agenda. It feels good to make another person happy.
I have also learned, thanks to some horses who objected, that Agendas are not always appreciated, even when we are trying to help them. Have you been there, too? It kind of sucks.
But it is also a chance to learn. And this is why I say with total conviction that horses don’t care what training you took or what license you earned. They are feeling beings (they survive through their acute sensitivity to their environment), and they care how it feels when you stand in their personal space. Too much mental energy, moving too fast, having a plan . . . an Agenda is about the person, not the horse.
So what’s a well-meaning bodyworker to do?
Take a deep breath and let go.
Then we have the opportunity (and open mind aka humbleness) to become really curious about THIS horse in THIS moment. And that is where magic begins to happen—in the present moment where horses live. This is the place where deep heart connection happens that is also part of healing.
Do techniques matter? Yes, they do, but probably more to the people than the horses. The horses care how you feel and how you touch them. With kindness and awareness, any bodywork or massage technique can be miraculous. It is the How instead of the What, and it can release tissue, flood the body with endorphins, and bring the horse’s body into its parasympathetic nervous system where a whole lot more healing and balancing can happen through the Wisdom of the Body. Training in various bodywork and massage modalities helps people understand different ways to work with bodies and how/where to focus our minds (intention), which is certainly valuable, too. It gives us actual things to tell our human clients about what we are doing, because sometimes there are no words.
What CAN you do?
Hold fast to your intention to listen to the horse, to be quiet and curious. Back off and pause. Step out of their space. Exhale.
Observe how they express themselves. Listen to your own feelings and intuition. Filter for what you know is your story, and for what sounds like it’s not yours—that is probably the horse.
Go slow. Try something or two things. Step back, breathe, and listen some more.
Intend (however you pray, ask your guides to help, send Reiki, etc.) to act in the highest good of this beautiful equine being in front of you. Exhale, and receive the support to be present with your horse.
Go slow. Try another thing or two. Step back, breathe, observe and listen again. Rinse, repeat.
When we are called . . .
I recently had 5 complicated horses show up in my practice in one week. Lovely horses with wonderful understanding owners trying to unravel the causes of their tension and physical issues. A couple were off-track Thoroughbreds, a couple had early halter and performance pressures, and one was injured as a youngster and left in a field for too long.
I connected deeply with each of these horses, and they lit a fire inside me to pursue the next level of equine craniosacral training because the class structure will keep me learning more about anatomy—including the nervous system—and practicing to master what I have learned, and hopefully, to make a difference to them, or other horses like them.
Helping horses to feel better in their bodies is also why I teach bodywork clinics—for the horses, for the people connecting with their horses. There are so many small ways we can touch and interact with our horses with greater awareness—mindfulness you could call it. I believe it makes a big difference to our horses when we slow down physically and mentally, when we breathe more deeply, and pause to listen to them. It’s not even a separate ‘thing’ to do, it’s engaging with your horse doing what you normally do, but through a different lens.
photo by Michelle Pendergrass