Ever wondered what an equine facilitated group is like?

Duke and Becky.jpeg

This description provides a feel for what a therapeutic group with horses is like:

At the close of a group that met several times over the summer, one of the participants said that our final meeting felt like just the beginning. It was a beautiful late summer evening and even though horses moved restlessly in the pastures around us, the three geldings we had chosen to work with gathered in close. The horses knew each other well and they also felt comfortable with the participants whom they had gradually been getting to know over the summer. We had become a herd.

As the women checked in one by one, the horses stepped forward to respond in some way. One woman said that she had recently begun a demanding new placement and that she noticed the challenge and the thrill of staying present even when she felt a desire to be shy, to retreat, or to run away. She found herself at times lost but at other times feeling her power and ability to simply be herself. In turn, all three horses paused to stand behind her until finally Duke, the smallest but most dominant horse in the herd, came to rest over her right shoulder, where he stayed for nearly an hour, drawing deep breaths in and out. A smile spread wide across her face.

Another woman shared that life in this time was like a roller coaster and that she was playing with the idea of leaning into the anticipated drop of the next loop, even as her stomach churned with mixed excitement and fear. Eighteen-hand Goose boldly crossed the circle to her, towering above her. My radar flashed—should I intervene and ask him to step back? The woman leaned in energetically (her own words) and Goose stopped at a safe distance. I relaxed and so did she, now able to enjoy the horse’s attention.

The third woman said she was tired this evening and really working hard to be more comfortable in her own skin. Goose barged forward again, now directing his focus toward her. Chance—ever reserved but always spot on in his observations and timing—stepped into the circle, pushing the other horse out of the way. He swung his hindquarters around to directly face her and halted, as if on cue, a few feet from her chest. What would it be like, we wondered, to feel connected and safe? The woman’s body relaxed. Goose circled around and settled in at her side, respecting the same distance Chance had established.

A fourth woman spoke now. The gathered horses blocked her view from anyone on the opposite side of the circle, but we could all hear the emotion in her voice. She shared how she had unexpectedly lost her beloved dog after our last meeting. As she talked about how much her dog had meant to her, the ever-playful Goose was uncharacteristically still. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. His lips began to quiver and his body began to sway: he had fallen asleep in the middle of our circle! He let out an other-worldly cry and then his eyes flashed open again. The speaker wiped the tears from her eyes.

We sat in silence, soaking in the deep stillness and presence of one another and the horses. For the moment, it seemed, each of us had found that special place, that home inside of ourselves where we could simply be—listening, accepting, allowing. It was a good place to begin, a good place to return.

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