Kate Naylor, LMFT, NLC-C, EP, Natural Lifemanship trainer has written a thought-provoking blog piece: https://naturallifemanship.com/deification-still-objectification/ . Ever since the emergence of this field of work with horses there has been a continuum with horses as objects on one pole and horses as sentient beings on the other pole. Lisa Baugh addressed this continuum in her Master’s Thesis distributed in 2005 at the Eagala Conference and still available at http://www.sagrising.com/ For Purchase.
Master’s Thesis: Equine Assisted Therapy: Striving for Balance In a New Form of Psychotherapy by Lisa S. Baugh. The complete wire bound 128 page master’s thesis is available for purchase: $46 includes shipping and handling.
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Obviously many things have changed since 2005, but the continuum still exists, and Kate has addressed it in 2018. As a horseman, I pondered it beginning in 2003 when at an Eponaquest training. At that time my tagline became “Horses Being Horses Help Humans Be Better Humans.” I agree with Kate about looking at horses as sentient beings and a different species with much to teach us by simply being who they are. I then attended a Harry Whitney clinic and became grounded in that tagline. I understand her premise of authentic relationship with an actual live horse, not just a metaphor, an objectification or a deification.
The thing is, there is so much we do not know.
To explore this, a good place to peruse is an article by Angela Dunning: Body-Soul Work through Horses. She writes, “How is it, we ask, that simply being around horses, transforms us and enables us to access hitherto unknown feelings, emotions, memories and insights? After a decade practicing in the field of equine facilitated learning (EFL) it is a question that still alludes a definitive answer. Yet on re-reading one of my favourite author’s books, Dancing in the Flames by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson, I glimpsed another layer of possible explanation to the healing that takes place around horses…the authors suggest that metaphor is crucial to real transformation taking place, and that metaphor resides in the “subtle body”; the energy that holds spirit and matter together. It is through the process of transforming the metaphor’s energy that real change occurs in us…it seems that being around and engaging with horses can also transport us into the realm of the subtle body energy-field where we then access images, memories and feelings that we are blind to in our normal daily lives.”
At one point in my own journey, prior to learning about the equine assisted field, I was breeding horses. I wondered what was driving it because I had always been one to partner with one horse, yet here I was with 22 at one time. I went to a Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship Christmas potluck where a platform medium did a program for us. She would ask a person’s name as Spirit directed, and the person would state her name, bringing her vibration. I trusted my host so was not as skeptical as usual, so when the medium selected me I was open to the experience. “I see a lot of horses,” she said. People who knew me chuckled since I HAD a lot of horses. I was also involved in planning an all breed horse show with lots of horses. I started to say that, but the medium, Rachael, held up her hand to stop me and tilted her head to understand what she was seeing. In a flash she said, “Oh, now I see, there are horses standing behind your horses. They are in spirit, and they are being healed.” I burst into tears, a deep knowing of truth spreading through me. There is so much we do not know.
I did not get all woowoo and hunt for those horses. I simply kept loving my own. People would visit the farm, the mares would pinwheel around them and gently sniff them. “Your horses are so peaceful,” people would say. And they were. They lived as horses were meant to live, outside with a shelter, in a herd, with water, feed and pasture. They continued to teach me their ways and their language.
Years passed, and one day I was in the shower washing my hair. As the water washed over my closed eyes, an image began ebbing and flowing in my mind, its mane flowing like the waves of an ocean, coming and going. I greeted it in silent communication, asking “oh, are you my ideal horse to breed?” With a sudden shock, I realized that this was its own being, not my imagination. It was a horse deva, and it asked,”Will you help us?” Immediately I silently agreed, and in a flash, it was gone. Wow, I wondered. What was THAT all about? I just continued taking care of 22 horses. It was several years later when I learned about the equine assisted field.
I stumbled along learning how to do it by trial and error, taking trainings and hosting trainings, working with therapists. My twenty year horse breeding stint ended with a broken leg in 2004 and, on the same leg, a badly broken ankle in 2005. For seven years I co-facilitated with an excellent therapist working with her clients and doing horse workshops.
I was driven by my passion for the work and grounded by the horses being horses. I still am.
Yet it was what happened at Epona in Tucson in 2003 that has me responding to Kate’s blog. I had read Linda’s book. I got there, and as a breeder was not drawn to any of the horses. It was a bit ho-hum for me, so when we were sent out to meet the horses, I stopped by a cute Arab named Max. I got no vibes, and realized I needed to visit all the horses. I moved on, rounded a corner and got a repulsive vibe at the old horse ahead of me – droopy lip, eyes watering, old and unattractive. I felt a deep yuk. This shocked me because I have always loved all horses. I went back to the inn and thought about it. Sometime in the quiet of the early morning the answer hit me. It was the “old.” I didn’t want to see the old. My husband was old, my first foal was old. I didn’t want to think about what old meant. So I chose to work with Noche the rest of the time.
Nothing profound happened for me in the round pen work. I pulled a chair into the shade and watched my teammate finish working with Noche. She left the round pen and he ambled over to me. He stood quietly, foot cocked, lip drooping, watery eyes closed and dripping. I gazed at him with love and respect. “Oh, Noche,” I thought silently, “how did you make it from so much pain to so much dignity?”
Suddenly there was a little “poof,” the words came, “Remember the lovely places.” With those words, I literally became the horse. He galloped up a mesa, feeling the wind. I could feel his joy through his muscles. Then he was galloping through the snow. It was a dry, powdery snow, he reached down and scooped it up with his nose, then “woof” he blew it off. With the woof, I was in my chair again, stunned. Blessed. He had shown me his lovely places. A true gift. Once again the horses had expanded my experience, and I truly believed there was legitimate shamanic work going on at Epona. Good work. It is not work I claim to understand or define. I simply know what happened to me.
There is so much we do not know.
So Angela Dunning’s words resonate with me: “…that metaphor is crucial to real transformation taking place, and that metaphor resides in the “subtle body”; the energy that holds spirit and matter together.” We are star dust and star light. Change weaves between soul and matter. We are “riding between the worlds,” and there is so much we do not know.
So while I agree with the real relationship with the sentient horse, I do not dismiss the change woven between soul and matter. I do not dismiss the work of Heart Math with the horses because I see it happen. I do not pretend to understand it all. And, as for “feeling peaceful while sitting with horses may feel nice, but it is not therapy” well, that is why I am not a therapist.