My first interaction with Chester, Laura's horse, brought me to tears. I approached him and he shied away. B, who I affectionately refer to as the horse whisperer HW, asked me gently, "Do you know why he did that?" I shook my head.
"You weren't sure of boundaries, and your intention wasn't clear."
I immediately began to cry at the truth of this statement. I knew it without knowing it. I'd spent the past year learning about how my weak boundaries had caused me trouble in interpersonal relationships for years. I had made some great progress, but now, Chester was indicating I still had a ways to go. The realization felt heavy. The tears helped me take in all of this information explained in such new terms.
"It's okay. That's why you're here. These horses are here to help."
HW and her friend P helped the four of us Haven Retreaters--city dwellers and horse novices--learn about the amazing gifts horses were created to offer to humans. They are deeply in tune with energy fields and mirror what they perceive. That's why Chester shied away from me as I approached him. I WAS hesitant no matter how hard I tried to play it cool. I could fool myself, but not him.
They pointed out the particulars of what we were observing among the horses in the herd. Fascinating and big and divine. Those are the best words to describe it.
HW and her team led the horses we would work with into the arena. A melancholy and sleepiness washed over me as we observed the horses and prepared for our one-on-one time with the animals. They were huge. I'd never stood so close to horses before and their size was overwhelming.
HW gave us a chance to get used to the horses' presence and to watch them interact with each other and with her. Finally, HW looked at me and said, "Julie, which horse would you like to choose?"
I immediately wept. "I clearly have more work to do when it comes to standing up for myself and establishing my boundaries." I turned and pointed to the bigger horses. "I don't do things the easy way, so to learn what I apparently need to learn, I will choose one of the big horses." I made this speech through my tears. "I'll take Luke because that's my nephew's name, but what I'd really like to do is take that smaller horse. He scares me less."
HW looked at me with gentleness and said, "That is great self-awareness, but I would like to suggest that maybe sometimes you don't have to do things the hard way. If choosing Star makes you feel safer, choose Star." I appreciated her permission to be gentle with myself and agreed that Star was the horse for me.
I asked a question and HW asked me to walk away from the horses and humans to demonstrate her answer. After she was finished with her demonstration, I stayed in place.
And then THIS happened:
Suddenly, Luke, the horse I had first identified and then decided not to choose, chose me. HW reminded me to stand my ground, be firm in intention, which originates from the gut, and to breathe. Luke walked straight toward me and stopped inches away. We communed for what felt like a long time. And then as suddenly as Luke approached me, he turned and walked away confident that I had gotten from him what I needed.
HW beamed and told me she was proud of me and that it was time to approach Star, the smaller horse.
My time with Star was instructive too. He tested my boundaries and showed me what it looked like and felt like when I did not reinforce them for myself or others. He continued to test me, and I continued to be a willing student.
The other photos taken by HW's friend, Becky, capture my mellow, introspective demeanor in my hour with the horses. I was overwhelmed by what information the horses were mirroring for me. I was weary from the weeping. I was on sensory overload. But I was also proud of my accomplishments and ready to put them in practice when I returned to my regular life.
While equine assisted learning wasn't on my 4040 list, I know that the list has created internal space that makes me willing and open to experiences like this. I am blessed beyond measure for the opportunity to learn about myself on the page and away from it. The instructive moments provided by Chester, Luke, and Star will not soon fade.