Learning Healthy Coping Skills With Horses

Learning Healthy Coping Skills With Horses

Coping Skills With Horses

The horses are fabulous teachers of all sorts of coping skills. The general way they live embodies the function of coping skills. Namely, they are very good at honouring themselves. They don’t try to be someone else. When I look at each horse at The Equine Connection, each of their ten personalities jumps out at me. Each and every one of them is so distinctly always being her or himself. This is the primary function of coping skills – to support us staying grounded, connected to our own inner worlds, to who we are. If each of us had three to six healthy coping skills that we had practiced so diligently that they had become habits, we would be much closer to living our lives authentically, like the horses.

A simple coping skill that all the horses live daily is the paying attention to our senses. By truly taking in what our eyes are drawn to, we can feel how the here and now is impacting us. By noticing the smell, sound, taste, or touch of the moment, we are having a relationship with our own inner worlds – with our feelings, thoughts, imaginations, and with our sixth sense, our intuition. How often do we two-leggeds miss out on fully experiencing the present because we are chatting away to ourselves, and completely in our heads, disconnected from the rest of ourselves and the world we are a part of? (Unfortunately, for those of us living in a Western culture, we have been trained to over use our heads.)

Recently, my neighbor began fostering two starving horses who had been rescued by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When I went to meet the two new equines, what jumped out at me was their absence of life force. They almost looked like stone statues. I realized that every time I allow myself to become a ‘talking head’, I disconnect from my essence.

Being in their bodies had become so unpleasant, life threatening in fact, that the horses were largely dissociated from their senses. I realized that this is what I do to myself when I allow myself to go into chatter mode. Imagining that every time you get caught up in senseless inner chatter is like being a starved horse is an effective strategy to remind us to take a healthy horse as a role model. Every day I remind myself to notice what my senses are experiencing. I feel it makes my everyday living richer. The horses role model this to me.

Coping Skills With HorsesAnother healthy coping skill that the horses teach us is to ‘pause’. Horses are excellent nap takers, and sunset gazers. The herd at The Equine Connection actually has a sunset gazing spot. Interestingly, it is right in front of a gazebo with very comfortable chairs! Do you think they could have given me a clearer hint!

Healthy horses understand that pausing re-energizes us. Horses know that being still and doing nothing is necessary to staying connected to our unique creativity, and thus, to our personal self expression. To have new ideas and new bursts of energy, ‘pausing’ has to be something we do every day. My European husband knows this. He probably has it genetically encoded in him to take breaks. Every day he has a morning and an afternoon coffee break that he sits down for. And, like the horses, he knows how to nap, falling suddenly into sleep on the couch!

An important coping skill I am always trying to learn from the herd is to take care of my body. Horses are expert rollers and massage givers. Landor takes advantage of any opportunity he gets to massage one of his herd mates, and to receive a massage. The horses help each other look after their aches and pains, and to enjoy the sensation of touch. Looking after their bodies is not a chore, it is an act of love. They do not rush through the experience, they relish in it. Watching them, you can almost feel the wonderful massage they are giving each other.

Similarly, all the horses make good use of the sand in the arena to have a luxurious roll. Sadie, the mule, makes very satisfied vocalizations when she rolls. Another wonderful way to release tension from the body is via the vocal chords, and Sadie knows this. She is so in her body that she has harmonized the sensation of touch, the body touching the sand, with the production of sound, her groans. Again, watching this is so satisfying. You just know it is the healthy and right action for your body. I actually get the drive to go lay down on the earth. I can feel the longing in my body.

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About the author

Wendy Elrick

Wendy Elrick has worked as a counsellor for 20 years. Ten years ago she and the herd at The Equine Connection began offering equine-assisted learning and therapy sessions, both individually and in groups. Clients bring whatever they want to a the session. Common topics offered in workshops include intuition, energy transference, boundaries, feelings, beliefs, self-worth, leadership and much more. Wendy continues to be humbled by the teachings of the horses and is continually deepening her relationship with the herd on the property. www.wendyelrick.com

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