guest blog ~ a participant’s perspective

Recently, I asked a few people if they would be willing to write up their equine experience so I could post them here. I have one to share with you! (Many heartfelt thanks to the author)

My daughter and I planned a trip to Italy in July of 2017. I was very excited for this opportunity to accomplish one of my bucket list dreams and a little nervous of taking my daughter to a different country by myself. As I expressed my enthusiasm of this trip to my friends, they shared their fears with me of the experiences of their friends and the potential of being pickpocketed and robbed. One friend shared how her friend had been robbed every time he had traveled to Italy. Due to my past experiences, and having PTSD, the idea of being robbed or pickpocketed caused my anxiety to increase dramatically. Kim asked if we could use this situation for a demonstration of applying equine assisted therapy to help with anxiety. Of course I accepted this offer.

We started off the session in the indoor arena. Kim had me design a “safe” place with whatever I wanted in the arena. I chose to use three ground poles to form a square against one of the walls. The wall would be used for me to keep my back to so I felt secure. The next step was to use the objects in the arena to denote “obstacles” for me to get to my “safe” place. The obstacles were representative of the potential pickpockets’ or robbers in Italy. I personally didn’t know where to start with the “obstacles” so Kim had the other individuals in our group to place them. Once we were done with the setup we walked through the pastures to find a horse who would be willing to partake in the therapeutic session. The first group of horses picked their heads up however, none seemed to enthusiastically want to join us. We then went into the second pasture and one horse in particular connected with me. He not only picked his head up but also wanted to follow me, thus agreeing to participate. Kim placed the halter on him and I began to lead him to the arena. Once we started walking, Andy (the horse), decided he would like to stay in the pasture for the therapy session. Instead of “forcing” him into our idea of what the therapy session should be, I decided to stay in the pasture with him. Kim had me think about the anxiety I had been experiencing around the idea of being robbed or pickpocketed. Thus my anxiety climbed to an uncomfortable level. I was then instructed to have Andy help me decrease it. I was able to spend some quiet time with Andy, petting him, just being in his presence and began to feel my anxiety lower. I wanted to keep a mental picture of this experience so I used as many senses as I could to “remember”. I smelled him, I closed my eyes so I could remember the sounds around me, I felt his breathing and warmth with my hands, and just stood with him. Another group member took pictures of Andy and me so I could pull those out when in Italy to help remember the peace I felt being with him incase anxiety took over me.

After the session was completed, the group and I discussed what happened in the session. As a group we noted some interesting connections. One that stood out for me was how as a group, we set up the arena thinking that is where the session would take place, when Andy decided it would take place in the pasture where he was. This made me think of how the arena was a representation of the people who shared their fears pickpockets and robbers. Maybe this is why I had a hard time setting up the obstacles that would be in the way of me getting to my safe place. My theory is Andy was showing me I would be safe and okay without all of my friends’ fears. I needed to have more confidence in myself.

So I did do the footwork of researching how to be safe in Italy, buying money belts, watching where my daughter and I were walking and who was around us etc. (setting up the arena and designing my safe place) but I was also able to quiet the fears of others and actually had a lot of fun on my trip. I did pull out the pictures of Andy and me for reminders of the peace I felt with him during the therapy session while in Italy. I am stilled amazed at how powerful the therapeutic was for this situation and how long the effects have stayed with me.

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