Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Horse Spending Compulsive Disorder and other horse related mental conditions.

I realized yesterday after talking with my farrier that I have had unrealistic expectations in what would be involved in rehabbng my horse.  Of course.  Don't we all as horse owners know that most of our horses are the money pit equivalent of a ticking time bomb?  At any moment some major health or horse management event will suddenly arise in spite of our near compulsive efforts to make sure e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is perfect for them and huge amounts of money will fly from our hands and out the window???  Of course we know this.

Horses have been part of civilization for a very long time.  In order to survive as a horse owner, we have adapted to the dichotomy of our big, strong animals being one of the most high maintenance,  fragile creatures by using the mental defenses of denial to push those thoughts far, far away.

I began to informally study horse and human behavior and propose a new field in the mental health therapy field.  It's focus is on treating horse related disorders in humans and their many variations.

The perfectionism compulsion I just described happens to be called Horse Related Perfectionism Disorder (HRPD) in which the sufferer (me!!) is constantly looking for the perfect fix for their lame (or feared to be soon lame, marred, ill horse).  This relentless drive for equine perfection in diet, grooming, training, management, facilities, and accessories creates a mental barrier between the reality of 'horse as ticking time bomb' combined with the fear of missing something essential leads to the compulsion to SPEND money thinking we are SAVING money in the long run.  This ultimately can lead to Horse Related Financial Disaster if left unchecked.  Husbands and boyfriends usually counteract the actions of the HRPD sufferer which can be helpful or, on the other hand,  may lead to the need for Horse Owner Couples Therapy.   How couples learned to handle this chronic disorder determines the chances of success in their marriage.    

This was such a fascinating subject I continued to delve into it and found that HRPD is related to Horse Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with its many variations:

Horse Hoarding Syndrome- a horse person either hoards horses or horse supplies horse tack, or some aspect of horse paraphernalia.  My horse hoarding symptoms are showing up now in my vast collection of horse supplements.  I am on a quest to collect and know all about horse supplements.  I know it but I can't stop it!  I am helpless to stop collecting horse supplements.

Horse Owner Hypochondriac- This is a dangerous condition because it often involves vets and expensive emergency after hours farm calls.  The owner (often a new to horse ownership person who still has faith in horse vets and the money to spend on them) has the vet out for every little bump or scratch.  They pour over horse medical books and imagine as they read of different illnesses or diseases that THEIR horse is developing it.  This condition, although dangerous in the beginning is usually self-limiting as the horse owner runs out of money and so the vet calls slow way down.  What happens is their horse friends gladly diagnosis and offer treatment plans for their horse.   As we all know every horse person has an opinion and are very willing to share it with you- especially if it means telling you that your opinion is wrong!  If horse friends are not available than farriers, feed delivery people, tack store clerks or your hay supplier will be glad to diagnosis and offer treatment suggestions for your horse.

 Horse Owner Hysteria/Paranoia - can be quite debilitating as it is an anxiety disorder in which the horse owner fears the worst or in some cases fears everyone is out to get her horse.  This can be directed at the barn owner where she boards her horse.  The person who suffers from this can become quite anxious, fearing the barn owner, behind her back, takes food out of her horses mouth when she is not around.  You can imagine the horror she must feel at the very thought!  The sufferer of this disorder can not see the fact that her horse is fat and healthy and so must be getting enough to eat.  This is closely related to Horse Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Horse Owner Eating Disorder by Proxy.   Horse Owner Hysteria/Paranoia can for example, be directed at the horse trainer who she believes beats and tortures her horse in between training sessions.  Who has not suspected as much themselves???  A closely related condition is Post Traumatic Horse Professional Disorder in which a horse professional is blamed for all that is 'wrong' in the horse.  The hallmark symptom of PTHPD,  the horse owner is not able to take any responsibility for their own horse's poor behavior.   I can not relate to this because my horses do no wrong and are always perfect angels.  :)

As you can see these disorders often over lap and co-exist.  Treatment is usually about getting the owner to see reality according to a non- horsey person.  This can mean Extended Non-Horse Person Exposure or 12 Step Horse Addiction Programs but mental health professionals complain it is hard to get clients to comply to these treatments.  It seems they prefer to stay at the barn with their horses.  These horse related disorders (previously known as 'horse-crazy in a less politically correct time) is so wide spread it is almost always necessary to go outside of the horse community to find someone not affected in some way, shape or form.  The treatment can be prolonged and refractive and some, if not most horse owners also suffer from Horse Owner Denial Syndrome in which they see nothing wrong with how they act!   Scientist are now in the process of studying horse dander and barn environments to see if there is something in the air that causes these disorders to develop on a physical level.  One thing is known for sure- the more time spent in a barn the higher your chances are for developing a horse spending compulsive disorder or other horse related disorder! So beware and stay tuned as more if found out on these conditions!   Pass along to your horse friends-- they also are likely to be very deep in denial!

Stop by Horse and Pony facebook page for your horse disorder support group.

Free Rein Art Studio for your away from the barn horse fix!

Thanks for stopping by!  Sue Steiner

PS  Just to cover all bases this blog post was written tongue in cheek (satire).  The seed for this came after my time in the barn with my farrier on Dec. 11, 2012 in which we were talking about horse related illnesses and I realized after caring for horses for 20+ years I of course, know deep in my heart they are all ticking time bombs of some health related major incident!  And so this blog post came to be.  I have since been told there is a serious article out there about real life mental health conditions in which I am not far off from describing.  If any of you come about that article please send me the link!  I would love to read it.  Take care and happy trails to you!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

You are the BEST!

There is something about helping others that lifts a person spirit.  I have the privilege to work at a nursing home in addition to my work as an equine specialist.  At the nursing home I do visits with the residents and help with activities.  The activities on the surface may look like 'child's play' or unimportant but they have a very important purpose for the residents.  It gets them out of their rooms and face to face with other people besides nurses and aides.  We laugh and chat and bond.  We become like family many times.  On my days off I miss them!!  Even this morning my mind is on the wonderful seniors I have gotten to know.

My work day at the nursing home is filled with tender moments that touch my heart.  It has been a blessing also in how it is helping me grow beyond a very difficult past year for our family.   I told several of the residents that THEY are my heroes   I know they can't see themselves as I see them (who of us can??) but I see people who little by little are losing mobility, cognitive skills, health and family ties but they continue to reach out, connect -  and love.   I see them loving life in what, before this job, I thought of as a depressing situation.  They give me hope with new eyes to see how life, in all its stages and challenges is to be lived to its fullest.

Yesterday I assisted an elderly gentlemen who walks with a cane but becoming more unsteady, to a soft chair by a sunny window.  He had told me before he LIKES that chair!  I am sure for his achy bones a nice soft place to sit and just watch the world is something he has earned and should rightfully be enjoyed!  As I helped him to this spot he told me with great enthusiasm -  you are the BEST!  I laughed and enjoyed that he appreciated me - just doing what I love doing!!

In my heart I really think God brought this all together in the amazing way He does to take us both just a bit further down this journey of life with new eyes and appreciation for the little things, a soft chair, a kind word, a hand to hold.

The tender moment I just described came at a time in which not many kind words were being said in our nation.  This past week was a big week for our country as our presidential election took place.  I have read and heard some of the nastiest comments and so called 'facts' thrown around that are meant to do nothing more than tear us apart.  I think our country can rise above the political ploys and religious manipulation to not be the pharisees of our time!  Let's not be blinded to how God connects to us best- by helping, caring and loving each other!!   That means getting face to face with people in need and holding out YOUR hand!  Put into practice what it really means to be our brother's keepers.  Live in their world for a bit and see their struggles!  It takes the focus off our 'self' and puts it more in line with how Jesus lived.  I hate seeing God and people good intentions being used in such a destructive way because of greed on some politicians and corporations part.

Poverty, racism, abortion, the break down of marriage are symptoms of a broken world that needs love, care, guidance - not condemnation, judgement, ridicule or most of all hatred.  Speaking as one Christian to others- this means getting out of the pious mindset that someone else's sin is worse than your own.   (Hey, I'm guilty of it too!!)   Homosexuality is not contagious.  Gay people should not be treated as the lepers of our time.  Perfect love drives out fear.   People are more than their nationality, skin color or race.  And believe it or not- poverty is SO much more than someone being lazy.  Get out face to face to get to know the impoverished as PEOPLE!   Get your hands dirty and live their lives for a bit, THEN come back with ideas and solutions on how to fix it.  I bet you will come away seeing things in yourself that need fixed as well.  Over the last few years I have worked closely with an outreach program with our church helping the impoverished in our community.  It was an eye opener on so many levels.  I saw people really struggling for just shelter and basic necessities. I saw very little laziness- I learned it is HARD WORK to be poor!  I saw desperation, hopelessness, untreated disabilities, untreated health issues, obesity due to limited access to real food, self medicating with drugs or alcohol when it all gets to be too much.  Depression, family violence, limited options and abuse issues with no access to mental health services drives the feelings of despair and hopelessness.  I saw generational child neglect due to all of the above issues and seeing no way out.  Poverty is exhausting!  I do not know if I could face the challenges any different with the options they have.  Oh yes, abortion is a terrible thing but is it really pro-life to look past what kind of world these babies are brought into?   Yes, adoption is an option but adoption is not without its own kind of pain and struggle for the mother.  Adoption also takes a maturity and trust not easily found in desperate people who are just struggling to survive.  Where does the insight come from for the mom-to-be if she can't see and isn't shown any other way?  Voting pro-life but against social services is non sense!  How many of you reach out in a real, physical, face to face way to an unwed, poor, pregnant mom and offer her YOUR hand to let her know there is another way?  Or to the men who feel so beaten down by life are destined to absent and living a lost life of desperation as well with no role models.  How many gay people have been driven away from God by Christians obsessing over homosexuality to the exclusion of so much else?   Add now to our society the veteran suffering from PTSD due to our country being at war for so long.

Its going to take a whole lot of something for those of us who have something to give to turn this around!  And I KNOW in the process the giver will be blessed.

Lets put our energies into brainstorming on how to work together- not against each other.  In the end we are only hurting ourselves.   I believe we are capable of being the best.  The best in a better way.

Love and peace to you all!



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Riding Out the Storm!

Desert Horse by Sue Steiner

I just spent a good part of yesterday and today listening to reports on SuperStorm Sandy.  My heart goes out to those hit hard by this storm.  Weathering storms of all kinds goes best when you are prepared.  How in the world do you prepare for calamity?   I will leave the hurricane preparedness advice to the weather experts but use this as a time to talk about riding out the emotional storms in life.

Trauma survivors or stressed out people often spent a big chunk of life waiting for the next disaster to strike.  People raised in chaos and abuse learn to never really feel 'safe' inside.  Deep inside they know things are always calmest before the storm so they are continually preparing for the worst to happen.   In a life of chaos this is necessary but what happens as this goes on long term is your body and mind wear out always trying to prepare for the worst.  Our equine friends help us to see how this trauma response can be redirected so as not to always live life on the edge.

One of the reasons why horses are so helpful in EAP (equine-assisted therapy) is they only deal with what is in front of them.  I know sometimes we horse people like to think our horses hold grudges and plot how to manipulate us in our horseback riding efforts but that is not how a horse thinks.  It's easier on our ego to think like that so in our minds WE aren't to blame.  In EAP and EAL sessions we do not ride so that is not even relevant to this discussion other than to say we need to own what WE bring to the horse relationship.  Horses as a rule deal with the here and now.  They are greatly influenced by instinct and herd dynamics.  They have a need to feel safe within a group which enables us, as people, to learn how our behavior, thoughts, actions affect group dynamics and relationships.   This is the gold nuggets in EAP work.  Horses pick up on our emotions, body language and intentions and react in an honest, non-threatening way.

Last night when the storm was really beginning to pick up I went to the barn to check on my horses.  My horses usually are out in the pasture 24/7 weather permitting.  We have run in sheds so they usually are fine to be out but with the high winds I didn't want fences to go down and end up with loose horses!  In the barn there was all kinds of banging and flapping going on.  The horses were stressed obviously by the winds and racket.  One of the things I am looking forward to doing as soon as I can is letting them out so they can run off their stress!!  Horses learn to not hold on to stress (that living in the moment thing again) and shake it off with physical movement.  It allows the nervous system to readjust and let go of the tension and stress.  This morning as the winds die down my horses are fine.  I can see they are ready to be turned out but they have let go of the past bad night and are ready to get on with today.

I compare that to the way untrained or unresolved trauma survivors live in their bodies.  Many are  trained to hold it all in- to not show emotions on the outside and stuff it away in some dark recess of their being.  What happens then is the nervous system never really gets to 'release' the stress.  By holding on to it it can wreck havoc on a person's emotions, perceptions, health and quality of life.   I met a sweet elderly woman not long ago who is struggling with some dementia and poor health.   Her mind is stuck much of the time in a very stressful period of her life from several years ago.  In essence what she does is continually relive the worst time in her life.   I really feel for her and can see how difficult this is for her.

How wonderful a gift it would be to be able to shake the bad times off and live in the present of what is going on in life right now.   By shaking off I do not mean shoving away and denying but feeling and expressing what needs to be expressed, processing and learning, and then applying that wisdom as you  look to now and the road ahead.

As I have gotten more involved in EAP I am more aware of how the horses 'shake off' the stress they encounter if allowed to move freely and socialize in as natural an environment as possible.   Restricting them in ways that suit us better sometimes can hinder that process.  It reminds me of how we restrict ourselves and limit what we innately know what is best for us.

To prepare for the storms in life I am learning I need:

Stay close to my creator- this gives me perspective.  ~My~ problems are not the end all and be all of everything.  How is my behavior affecting my 'herd'?  What do I need to do to keep healthy relationships?  I have control of me but little else. Ask for help.  Do not feel like I have to go it alone.   Let go of the idea I have to control what is out of my control.  Trust in a bigger picture that I may not fully understand that things will eventually work out as they should- not necessarily how I think it would be best.   Love as fully and freely as possible.  Plan and hope but don't get too attached to the outcome because it may not go as I think it should.  Cultivate healthy friendships and relationships.  When I have my head all fuzzy and scattered , in the clouds, I am not relating well to others or able to see what is in front of me well.  Help others but maintain good boundaries. Let others have their grouchy days- their grouchy days don't have to rub off on me.  Feel compassion for others but do not get overwhelmed with thinking I can fix the problem.  I can't.  Pray.  Play.  Ride.  

This is my recipe for riding out a storm.    

blessing to all of you!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Everything's Gonna Be Alright!

Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.~

I had the pleasure of holding someone's hand yesterday who was scared, hurting, suffering from dementia and in need of some distraction and comfort. I held her hand and told her everything was okay. She thought she was doing something 'wrong' but I told her everything was fine. She could relax and rest. She kept fighting 
to keep her eyes open so I kept speaking this over and over very softly until her breathing deepened and she stopped fighting sleep. I picture that is how God is with us even though we can't or don't always hear or listen. We fight for control or understanding of things we don't have the ability to control, see or understand. How beautiful it would be instead if we could just let go and know that in the end everything is going to be okay!

Have a great day!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Divine Equines - Equine Assisted Spiritual Growth and Development

Some call this time here on earth a time for character development as God allows and gives his children opportunities to try on His heart for our own. Horses are one of God's best-kept secret "weapons" for growing and deepening our spirits in this life-long journey. My name is Beckie Boger and it is my great joy to partner with horses through Divine Equines, LLC (Equine Assisted Spiritual Growth and Development) to help women experience God's presence in the midst of their busy lives.

Who would have thought that God would/could personalize a spiritual mentoring session this summer at Hope Rising in Fredericktown, Ohio through a sky full of crows and red-tail hawks and the smell of Skin So Soft on a horse? "Grief" was embodied in a slightly chubby chestnut pony, and my client wanted to start by observing her grief and loss at a distance on a green, grassy slope- gaining some much-needed perspective. To quiet the mind and create space and awareness in the body we practiced what I call Eph' pha' tha' ("Be thou opened") breathing, then a relaxing Temple Scan and an energizing Son Salutation stretch. Cue the summer sky full of floating, circling birds, messengers from God in her eyes. We eventually moved to the pasture with the horses when she was ready to "touch grief" and make friends with it, especially when she was comforted by the scent of Skin So Soft that her deceased sister used to spray on their horse. When she finally felt "grief" gently leaning into her while they stood quietly together, she experienced the wisdom of gently leaning back into “grief” for peace and support. I couldn't have orchestrated or modeled a more intimate reflection of the presence of God for her that day.

How do we open our eyes to see God dwelling among us? I believe He is in our midst while in the pasture and the presence of horses! If you are a soul-weary and/or spirit-seeking woman, the horses and I have a unique, relaxing, companioning experience to share with you at Hope Rising! I can be reached at info@beckieboger.com 740-625-5661, or www.beckieboger.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Staying Connected!

Day One 
Scanning the horizon!  

I have been implementing some of the ground exercises I learned at http://www.naturallifemanship.com  this summer with some really exciting results in our EAP program.  I won't talk about actual sessions but instead will talk from the horse side of things (as an equine specialist) and why I am so excited about this way of facilitating trauma-focused equine-assisted therapy sessions.

I have owned an 18 yr Arabian mare since birth.  Her dam was a rescue that I stumbled across in terrible shape.  The poor mare was heavily pregnant but skinny, wormy and caked with manure.  She was confined to a filthy stall, with no food or water.   I brought her home and nursed her back to health just in the nick of time.  The foal was born healthy and full term 2 months later.

I was able to watch this foal being born which has stayed in my mind as a very special memory.  Considering I was having babies myself right about this time I also marveled at how silent, peaceful and fast this birth was!  I know as a prey animal that is what they must do in order to help protect themselves from predators but none the less it was a wonderful visual for me as I labored.  Maybe that was the beginning of horses giving me a visual representation of a particular character trait to use in my own life.

Fast forward to my life now 18 years later.  My husband and I are in the 'downsizing' phase of life as we are becoming closer to an empty nest.  I have always had horses at home and in my backyard but as part of the plan of moving into a smaller place that requires less maintenance I needed to reduce the number of horses at home.  I always imagined Abbey to be with me her whole life.  It is not often a person, or horse, has that opportunity and I thought I could give this to her.  But another opportunity came up.

As I became more involved in EAP I saw the qualities in her as an excellent therapy horse.  She is sensitive, smart, pretty :), an easy keeper with no health problems and is very. very people oriented.  I think most Arabs are very people smart.  I had gone to the Natural Lifemanship clinic and loved what they were doing.  Our program had minis and a donkey which fills a need but the minis, in particular, pose a bit of a problem when trying to 'connect' with them - especially for someone who is just learning how to do that with a horse, due to their size.  Our body position in relation to the horse is important and with the minis, we have a much smaller area to work.  When someone is learning, the subtle body language shifts of just millimeters difference may be harder for a person to pick up.   Abbey was saddle trained by a good friend when she young using natural horsemanship techniques.  That in itself was amazing to watch because 'drill', dominance and repetition was not part of her experience.  She caught on quickly because of her level of trust and retained what she learned even though my friend was only able to come by sporadically.   I can honestly say this horse has only seen the good side of people.  That also is a rare thing for most horses.

Abbey was very instrumental in my healing from PTSD several years ago when she was a green broke horse.  I learned how to be brave in spite of my fears.  I learned how to 'feel' the tension in my body and release it in order to calm her in the face of new challenges.  What I was learning in therapy played out on horseback and I learned how to overcome my anxiety and fears in my life due to a trauma history.

The equine program that I work for was interested in her as a therapy horse and she was integrated into their herd and practice.  We have begun using her in individual sessions and it is so very exciting to see this at work with actual clients.   All our work in EAP is on the ground at this point even though Natural Lifemanship has a wonderful riding portion that helps with self-regulation.  That is what Abbey was teaching me years ago I just never had a name for it!  Abbey, as most horses do, has a desire to connect with a person but the person needs to give her the correct body language and cues.  She is sensitive and expressive so it is easy to read her body language which becomes helpful for the clients in recognizing the somatic symptoms of anxiety and stress as well as comfort, releasing tension and calmness.  Abbey will connect (which is similar to what some people know as 'joining up' but without using a round pen or driving the horse forward to the extent it is done in actual joining up) easily since she is a very people oriented horse and like I mentioned above has only seen the good in people.  In the horse herd, she is a follower and by nature not dominant.  She is gentle and has a very maternal side to her which comes out when with timid, young or fearful people.  She also does NOT like a heavy hand and will react strongly (although not aggressively) to someone who is too 'in your face'.

Clients relate to that desire to find a 'safe place' they see in the horse to relieve their anxiety.  The experience of having a horse connect with you can be a major milestone in a person's healing.   It touches on that need in us to find safety and comfort in a connection with others.   The basis of the Natural Lifemanship technique is to use the principles of a healthy relationship to help a client do that with a horse that can then be applied toward human relationships.  Attachment, autonomy, boundaries, respect, focus, direction, intention, purpose, safety, control, anger, detachment all come into play and make for a non-threatening way to talk about and process how a person goes about having healthy, balanced relationships in their life.  The horse brings to it their own immediate, in the moment, feedback which the client obviously sees is a result of their approach to the relationship.  As they change their approach the horse changes its reaction.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.   Although there is a touch more 'horsemanship' in this model than EAGALA it is still very much focused on the client's needs.  It just so happens that good relationship building principles that work in people relationships also work with horses.  I think that is another gem in this model-- the horse's needs are taken into consideration.  Anyone who knows a bit about equine-assisted work knows there is a spectrum of models ranging from using the horse as a 'spiritual guide' (very horse directed ex. EPONA) to the horse as a means for people to project meaning on to the horse's behavior (very people directed ex. EAGALA).  I like that Natural Lifemanship has found what looks to me at this point the best of both worlds in the middle.

Now that I have gotten to see Abbey in actual sessions it feels very healing to know that she can have a life-changing impact on so many people.  This brings so many things full circle in my life that is so much better than just having her in my own backyard.   I love learning more and more about this work and am energized as I see people benefiting from it in significant ways.

Update:  I remain very interested in horse-human interactions and how horses are used in equine assisted therapies but now work in a pediatric hospital as a mental health tech and am an equine artist.  I continue to own and ride horses and blog here and at A Multi-Colored Life .  I specialize in horse paintings and pet portraits.  Please consider referring me to anyone you know who may have an interest in this kind of art.  My website is at http://www.horseartonline.com and also sell my art and horse and dog themed gifts at https://www.etsy.com/shop/FreeReinArtStudio  Thank you! 

What Do You Say to Yourself?

We all have a running commentary in our minds of things we tell ourselves.  Things we heard as a child seem to rerun in our heads for the rest of our lives unless we are able to tap into those thoughts and examine them.   Are they words that build you up or tear you down?  How does this self talk  effect your thoughts, emotions, habits, behavior and actions toward others?  

One way in which our therapy donkey was able to help in an equine-assisted therapy session recently was to be a walking billboard of sorts to these destructive thoughts which then bring on destructive emotions.  

The donkey is so wonderful as a therapy animal because they often have a naturally, low keyed personality and can be so expressive with those lovely long ears and big eyes.  They also form strong bonds with people and want to live in harmony in a herd.  Having them as part of the interaction in the sessions brings a richness, depth and, quite honestly, humor to our sessions.   

As the equine specialist I help with the activities and interaction in the sessions as well as watch the horses' (and donkey's) behavior and comment on that when it is appropriate.  I also got the non-toxic and washable paint to be used in a group session exploring negative self talk.   The clients words were written in large letters on the donkey as examples of negative self talk and the resulting emotions.  Frustrated, alone, helpless, aggression, bitterness, depression are emotions that often result from what can be for some a relentless barrage of hate, disrespect and disregard we heap on ourselves.  

Thankfully that can be turned around.  The first step is often just being aware that this type of talk is there in our heads.  It is not the truth of who and what we are.  

The donkey played an important role in helping to get those thoughts out in the open so they could be examined and discussed as to their validity.   The donkeys expressions and body language in relation to the group dynamics is also very valuable.  And one of the things I love, as a horse person, is that all that we ask of the equines in our sessions is to just be themselves!  

I washed and groomed the donkey afterwards for which she thoroughly enjoyed!  We got some nice bonding time together and her coat once again gleamed with a healthy shine (until her next dust bath).  Just beyond the pasture in the picture below is a large, round, bare spot this donkey has made as her designated dusting spot!  

It is an honor and a privilege to be able to be a part of equine-assisted therapy sessions and to see the growth and change in people.  It is truly inspiring to see people overcome obstacles and struggles when they have the right support and willingness to learn.  It is also fascinating as to the depth and sensitivity the horses (and donkey) brings to our interactions.  I marvel at how very tolerant horses are in our treatment of them.  I think back to some of the horse shows I went to when my daughter was young and showing horses. It was not uncommon to run into the mind set of a very domineering, controlling type of behavior toward the horse as a way to 'train' them for whatever event they were participating in.  Of course not all people who show horses are this insensitive but as I spend more time with horses in this therapeutic I am appreciating how much they can teach us!   

There is a wealth of information coming out as to the effectiveness of equine assisted therapy and experiential learning as this field opens up to bigger audiences.  It is not just for horse person.  I am using this blog as a way to share some of what I am learning and also to share the many different ways this type of work looks and feels.  Please consider following along as I continue down in this fascinating journey! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fear vs Courage

My Remmy

It's a challenge walking that tightrope between pushing the envelop to get out of your comfort zone but not becoming reckless.  Anytime you sit upon a 1000 lb. animal you take on the risk of injury.  To dwell on the injury part can bring about tension, fear and hesitation but to block it out can mean veering toward risky behavior and carelessness.    

I have never been a daredevil on horseback but am finding a sense of empowerment as I take calculated risks on my horse.  I have a young horse that I am transitioning from track to trail.  I end up most often riding alone so we have had to work thru all the new sights and experiences we encounter on the trail.  My mare has a great temperament but she can be a little hot sometimes too.  So the question is how do I keep moving forward in spite of the risks?

Horses teach a person real quick how to think ahead and be alert to potential problems.  But the other side of the coin is horses also pick up very fast if a person is afraid, feels insecure or is timid.  So it doesn't work to  try to fake your way thru it.  They know!

I was riding the other day along the road past my neighbors house to get to my normal trail riding spot.  Remmy was uncharacteristically unfocused and jittery.  She had caught sight of the neighbor's laundry hanging out to dry which included some large white sheets billowing in the breeze way in their backyard. She continued to want to stop and stare.  You can know a horse is entering into their reactive bran when they stare and not blink.  They are thinking 'is this thing going to eat me?' I am thinking, 'You better not spook away from this because a large ditch and road is on the other side!"   I let her stare for a moment and then urged her on.  It becomes part of the relationship building when you learn when to 'urge' and when to just allow them time to think.  Each horse is different and each horse brings to each ride their own natural fluctuations, moods and opinions!  Yes, horses have opinions.  Remmy, being Remmy did NOT bolt onto on coming traffic trying to get away from clean laundry.  Thankfully.

As part of my experiences with riding Remmy, I am trying to tell the difference between moving forward out of fear and moving forward courageously.   You would think it would be easy but it is not always so clear cut.  Both come from a feeling of movement but fear is moving away from something while courage is moving TOWARD something.  As a childhood trauma survivor I have spent a huge part of my life moving AWAY from something out of fear.  As a middle aged adult I want to be proactive and move TOWARD something.

Horses have the natural ability to sense our emotions and body reactions, under saddle and on the ground.  For many years now I have learned how to relax and control my breathing and body on horse back to help calm and reassure my horse for times like above that I have to confidently reassure her that she won't be eaten!  I also have experienced the good, calm feelings that come as a result of spending time with the horses- even if it is just cleaning out stalls.  I learned at a Natural Lifemanship Clinic a couple months ago about somatics and horses.  It was fascinating.  They, in my opinion, are putting all the right pieces together to help trauma survivors heal - in body, mind and spirit.

During this time I also was receiving Somatic Experiencing sessions with Elizabeth Whirlabout .  These sessions were to help release tension and stop the physiological trauma response I was experiencing due to a recent, traumatic loss.  My body was stuck in essence in a flight, fight or freeze mode and I needed unstuck.  During my very first session with Elizabeth I was able, for the first time in my life, connect with the feeling I learned on horseback to calm my horse, in a setting other than with the horses. Elizabeth is an excellent practitioner as well as a kind and wonderful person.  This may not sound like much to some of you but believe me it was a huge jump forward for me and gave me a tool I had not had access to before.   As a trauma survivor my body would keep me on high alert for danger and then set me up for anxiety, depression, racing thoughts and a whole variety of not so pleasant or productive ways of being or thinking.  In this state it is really only possible to move out of fear.   Your whole motivation is about how to get safe, release 'pressure', get relief because in your gut it is all just about survival. Long range plans or goals are not in the forefront when your body is reacting to trauma.  To move forward with courage takes being able to feel empowered and a sense of safety (or at least trust that safety is POSSIBLE).  I am very grateful to Elizabeth for her help in this process.

I urge you, whether you are a mental health professional, a trauma survivor, a horse person or someone curious about how and why horses are used in a therapeutic setting to look into the links above and explore.  Equine-assisted therapy and learning is growing by leaps and bounds as we learn more about the biological response to trauma and horses natural abilities.  

By the way, I LOVE comments!  If a horse has helped you in some way feel free to share.   

Monday, June 11, 2012

Facing Forward

Time spent with my horses is very therapeutic for me.   I have a new, young mare named Remmy that in particular has given me a wealth of insight and healing as I transition her from a racing harness horse to a saddle horse.  In riding, just like in my art, I am a process person.  By that I mean I derive pleasure in the activity.   The end goal is not as important as allowing the process to unfold.   When I paint I have a general idea of what I want to do but I am open to the process and love to allow the painting to evolve and flow.  I am doing the same thing with my horse.   I allow her to be a part of the process by taking in consideration what she is telling me.  I don't profess to be any great horse trainer or any great anything for that matter, I am just enjoying my time with her.   That's not to say we don't work or progress.   That happens.

One of the things that came up in our process lately is Remmy's reluctance to go down a narrowing of a path or  wanting to take a sudden turn for the barn when we got to a certain spot.  This is the kind of stuff that happens with horses- especially young ones.   I had done the firmer cues and the more alpha mind set of do as I say and don't ask any questions... which can lead to an argument.  Yes, horse and rider can and do get in arguments on horseback.   Sometimes the firmness is what the horse needs but other times it leads to a bigger fight.   Thankfully we had what might be consider more of a spat than a fight.  And I certainly didn't want to get in a brawl with her either!   

Lately, I've been doing something else.  All I ask is that she face forward.  That's all.  And then I wait for her to relax and give the big exhale that horses do when they let down their guard.  Then I ask her to move ahead.  It is interesting to watch horses as they do this.  At first their heads are usually higher, their ears tensely forward and their eyes staring and unblinking.  If you watch you can see the changes as they begin to relax and process their fears.  Their ears will loose their tension and the head begins to lower.  The eyes become less intense and the horse starts blinking again.  Then they give a big exhale and release the tension completely.  While she is doing this I take off the pressure and wait for her to be ready.    When she is done holding her fear and tension and gives the release I know she is now ready to listen and I ask her to move forward.  And she does.   

 It occurred to me while riding I have been trying to force the issue of finding a way to move forward in my own life.  I have felt frustration on many levels and thought I could just barrel thru it so things could at least get moving somewhere!!  That had the same effect on my life as it did on Remmy!  Balking, going nowhere or circling around and around the same issues were constant themes as the frustration continued to build.  I also have had a lot to process and was not ready to move forward because my head was too clogged up.  So literally and figuratively all I am going to ask of myself is to just stand and face forward.  I am going to focus on what is ahead and not what was behind.   I am releasing the pressure (off myself) to perform and am going to wait for the big sigh that lets me know what was holding me back is now released.  I think our family has collectively had the big exhale after a particularly difficult winter.    People have asked what we need and all I could say was prayers and time.  Time and prayers.  Face forward.  Release the fear and tension.  Take a step forward.  

So again I thank Remmy for providing this visual example of what is needed to let go and move forward.   

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pressure and Release

Pressure and Release

"...while anger needs to be transformed into creative energy, sadness needs to be befriended. 
Sadness I will always carry with me to a certain extent. I need to open the constricted channels of my heart so it can flow through me to the heart of God." ~Susan Classen, _Vultures and Butterflies: Living Life's Contradictions_

I love this quote I read on a friend's facebook status.  It brought to mind what I have been trying to do in my own life in dealing with sadness.  I have discovered the more you fight and wrestle the strong emotions, the more they fight back!   I have been trying to learn how to just allow the feeling to surface and be expressed in the fact I can acknowledge it, listen and then let it go.  So often in the struggle to control and fight down the negative and stronger emotions, you get into a wrestling match that keeps the emotion unexpressed but still greatly influencing you. 

Saddness in and of itself is just another emotion that adds dimension to to our lives.  Without emotion our world is flat and disconnected but at the other extreme, if our lives are ruled by our emotions, without an understanding of what the emotions are trying to tell us, our world gets chaotic.  We react but don't know why.  We also lose the capacity to learn what our intuition is trying to tell us.  

Horses are taught to give to pressure and this is taught by using the 'release'of pressure as the reward.  Beginner or heavy handed riders can mistakenly train their horses to be dull and unresponsive by not giving the release as the reward.  It takes some finesse and timing to do the release right but once the rider gets the hang of it, it becomes a wonderful way to communicate with gentleness and sensitivity to the horse.  

A dull, unresponsive horse is made when they feel the pressure, of leg or hands, but when the horse responds, the pressure is not taken away.  In essence the horse is then trained to ignore the pressure and NOT respond.  It takes stronger cues and more force to get a reaction.  In the end, you have a horse that gets heavy on the bit and is dull to the leg aids.  It becomes a chore to ride because the rider is tempted to apply heavier and stronger aids to get the desired response.  The energy and strength it takes to keep the horse responding becomes too demanding and you end up with a resistant horse and a worn out rider.  The horse and rider just irritate each other.  

I thought of how my own emotions respond in a similar way.   The more I fight and push down, the more they resist and push back stronger.  I get an initial 'flattening' of emotions which I had mistaken as the release but that was me becoming dull to my own emotional needs.  As I learn how to NOT resist and to just let it  flow, I am discovering the emotions come out, sometimes pretty painfully, but as long as I don't fight it, they express and flow out!   I am trying to seek out the message or lesson in the emotion in order to become more responsive to.... me!  Imagine that??  The emotion is just a feeling and it will pass but it also is there for a reason.  God has created us as beautifully emotional beings and in order not to be ruled by an undercurrent of unmet emotional needs, I have to learn to be responsive.   This is where the richness of life can be experienced.   

As often is the case, horses provide a beautiful visual of this process.  When the rider and horse are in sync there is not a fighting of control - no straining, bracing, pulling or fleeing but a symphony in motion with communication and responsiveness.  The maneuvers of horse and rider can be strenuous and remarkable because the energy is apply in a forward thinking mode rather than repressing and holding back.  The more skilled the horse and rider are in being tuned into each other, the more complicated the moves become because they are not locked up in a fight!  I don't feel I am there yet but now that I know the process and can have in my sights the desired result.  I can focus on seeing feelings as information to be evaluated rather than just reacting.  I no longer have to be fearful that feeling feelings will cause all hell to break loose!

No, I believe the opposite happens because in the true release are the bits of heaven and the open communication that God wants for us in order to experience a richness of what it means to be who you were created to be.    

Pslam 139:14- 16 

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Equine Demo Report Part II - Extraordinaire!

Hope Rising Retreat

I arrived at location of the demo to find a picturesque farm and retreat nestled in the rolling farmlands in Central Ohio.  Hope Rising is a bed and breakfast retreat and horse farm.   It was a brisk, early spring day as Terri Kucera of Heartland Farms was in a round pen with the beautiful creature pictured above.  I am a bit of a drive away and arrived late so just picked up in the middle of things as I found a place at the round pen.   I was able to learn she had determined the horses personality type and was working in specific ways suited to this horse's mind set.  She talked about horse body language and her process of getting the horses attention on to her.  The unique thing with this demo is that it was Christian based and as she worked she began to show us about how we relate (or not) to God.  Her goal in working with the horse was to use its personality traits and build a trusting relationship.  What became fascinating was how this also became a beautiful visual example of how WE react in our relationships.

The group watching consisted of youth camp counselors, mental health counselors and just curious horse people as well as and non-horse people.   The over all theme had to do with Boundaries and how maintaining proper boundaries is so important in relationships.  Terri worked with two horses with very different personalities.  The first horse (above) was more extroverted and dominant in her behavior and so tended to challenge boundaries in a different way than the other horse (below) which was more passive and timid.  They were seeking similar things (guidance and a leader) but needed different responses to build the relationship.

After Terri worked with the first horse we relocated into an indoor arena to watch her with a grey arab gelding.

    The horse was loose and an unfamiliar object (blue plastic wading pool) was put in the arena to represent a challenge or trial in our lives.  This is where things really got interesting for me.  The horse was very expressive (as most are!) and you could tell he wanted to please and trust but was frightened.  Not only did he have this strange thing in this space but all of us watching him too!  There was lots of snorting and tense body language going on.  A horse is naturally on guard in new or strangle situations but the key to helping the horse overcome those natural tendencies is by building a trusting relationship.  Terri beautiful interweaved how to build a horses trust with how we need to trust in God to help us thru our challenges and trials in life.   Horses are naturally claustrophobic and at one point Terri moved the 'scary thing' toward the wall and worked at having the horse move willingly between the object and the wall.  She compared that to situations in our life when we also face challenges and feel up against a wall!  I could definitely relate to this!  The horse showed clearly with his body and expression how uncomfortable being 'pressed' into this situation was for him.  Terri used tact and guidance and built his confidence in her as the leader to maneuver thru this unpleasant feeling.  I could very much relate to the horses reaction and also the NEED in the horse (and the feeling within ME) of wanting that reassurance from God that He is with me in these challenges of life.  There were moments in which Terri asked the horse to respond and there were moments when the horse was allowed to 'regroup' and process.  This also was related back to our human need to step back and process or digest our own challenges.  And when we do where do we find our comfort and strength?  How do we proceed or how do we trust when we are afraid or unsure?  How do we gain confidence and insight to face hardships and trials in our life?  Where do we seek relief from the pressure?  In what situations do we flee, shy, avoid or bolt?  Its amazing how watching this demonstration brought up so many things that I do and feel!  I know I was not alone either because it was something we discussed as a group afterwards.  Terri did not use force, cohesion or even much in the way of tack (a loose long lead and a rope halter) to communicate with the horse.  What was very apparent with the horse was a sense of confidence as the relationship was built and respected (the horses free will and spirit was not forced) and how the horse sought out this guidance in Terri as the leader.  It was a beautiful demonstration of how we also have an ingrained desire for God (even if it is not recognized by us) and how when the correct relationship is built the sense of peace and reassurance is there for us in the trials of life.

To be perfectly honest I did not expect the huge impact this demo had on me.  I have seen natural horsemanship demos before and have dabbled in it myself so the basic round pen concepts were not new to me.  What was new was how this touched me so deeply during a time in my life when I have been seeking spiritual guidance in a very trying situation. This demonstration and the conversation that followed was a direct answer to prayer for me.  What was also interesting when talking with the group afterwards how different people picked up different comments or horse behavior and how it touched them so deeply too.  I don't even think it was because I am a horse nut either... people were there that were only interested in seeing boundaries explained with horses and were not particularly interested in horses like I am.   I don't know if it was just being able to see the physical and honest 'in the moment' reactions of the horse as he worked thru this exercise or if it was Terri's natural way of relating this back to God and our own relationship needs or some wonderful combination orchestrated to be just what I (and others) needed to see/hear).  Whatever it was, it was nothing short of amazing and something I will never forget.  I think it is even safe to say this was a life changing experience for me.

Terri has a blog at http://lambsend.wordpress.com/ with some beautiful stories of horses and healing.

 I went to this demo on the invitation of Beckie Boger  who is also an equine specialist and a musician.  I will be having an equine session with her in the near future and will report on my experience here.  Please consider signing up for updates on this blog.

Mike and Susie Baird are the owners of this picturesque bed and breakfast and can be contacted at 1-419-768-2866 or susiebaird@rocketmail.com  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Light Thru the Darkness

Light Thru the Darkness

Yesterday was one of the darkest days I've experienced outside of the first awful days/weeks since the suicide of a young person close to us.  It very much hit me by surprise.  I seem to be entering into a time where the numbness and unbelief that fools you in the beginning is dropping away.  I am now periodically hit with the realization, the sheer weight, of what happened and how it has effected everything.  Its still way too early and raw to even try to explain the range of emotions, fears, anxieties, sadness and black hole this has created or to even talk about it specifically here but want to say is I pulled out of the pit that was yesterday in a large part due to wonderful friends and prayers.  And a trail ride!  First I'll talk about my friends.

God was continually brought people in my life to carry me when I have lost my way in this journey.  I did  have the presence of mind to tell myself I need to write down those times.  I need to journal and record each and every one because they have been nothing short of supernatural.  I know God sends earthly angels to be at the right place at the right time if we allow ourselves to be open to it.  He has definitely done that for me in some very personal and special ways.  I need to REMEMBER the times I was given a hug from heaven, a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on.  God IS love and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.   Why God did not supernaturally intervene on that awful day I do not know. So many questions - believe me I have had them swirling around my head since this happened but now am tired of trying to figure out what I can not change.  I would go back in time in a nano second if I could and change it all but I can't.  All I can do is get thru this moment and then the next and the next.  I know He gives us free choice but I have dealt with depression in the past so I also know how distorted a person dealing with severe depression thinking changes due to brain chemicals that is beyond personal control.  It  can't be 'cured' on its own just like any other physical disease without treatment.  Asking for help with depression is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is NOT a sign of weakness or a character flaw of some kind.  It is being human and let's just be honest- we live in a broken world with extraordinary ugliness as well as beauty.  Its easy to get overwhelmed with the struggles of this world.  We all have tough things to deal with.  That's when we need each other so we can know we are not alone.  But you have to ask and sometimes even wait.  Wait for the emotions to pass, things to shift, a person to sit with you, God to speak or the quiet to listen.  Ask and wait and ask again if need be.  I know the hard emotions feel like they will last forever but they DO pass.  Things change and get better.  Seeking treatment is a sign of strength not weakness or shameful.

I can say grieving a suicide has stripped away so many things I thought were important.  My main focus now has been on drawing close to God because in the end I will have nothing else.  But I also know with God I have everything.  

Since this blog is titled Horses and Healing I will add that being able to ride my horses has been a tremendous tool and gift in all of this.  My horses quiet my mind and without fail put me in a better place mentally.  Why horses?  I've been reading and studying equine-assisted learning and therapy for a while now and read the theories and personal accounts as to the whys and hows.  I don't know if any of us have those answers yet but lets just suffice it to say they can and do often help people in this way.   For that I am thankful.  I had lunch yesterday with an amazing friend who has been a consistent prayer warrior for me since this happened and shared stories of God's faithfulness.  She prayed with me and set me on my feet again.  I had facebook friends praying for me too and just to see the list and know someone thought enough to say- "I'll pray for you during this tough day' meant the world to me.  I came home and went on a trail ride on a beautiful day with a young friend who lost a mother a few years ago.  We both know the benefits of horses and got to enjoy them together and it was a blessing.   Please don't ever be afraid to reach out in your distress.  If the people around you are not able to comfort for whatever reason keep reaching because that is the lifeline in which God works.   



Thursday, May 3, 2012

Equine Demo Report

Equine Assisted Leadership Training

I mentioned last week I would talk about my experiences at a couple of equine -assisted demos taking place this past weekend.  I went to an equine-assisted team building and leadership program on Friday.  Saturday I was at a demo put on by a Christian based group to use horses to demonstrate proper boundaries and relationships.   Some of the other observers were counselors and youth camp directors.  

I'll start with Wager's Way  Team Building and Leadership Demo located in Ashland, Ohio.  The facilitators were professional, qualified and experienced with a friendly, straight forward approach.  The demo was a mini workshop to give us a taste of what an actual corporate workshop would be like which meant we actually got to interact as a group with the horses!   My group consisted of 4 woman in various management positions in non equine related businesses.   Our facilitators gave us an overview of why horses are used in learning team building and leadership skills as well as their own background in the corporate world.  Ginny, the president of Wager's Way introduced us to the equine members of the program next.  Wager is a tall, elegant older appendix QH who oozes wisdom and patience. Dia, is a young, energetic paint mare that adds her spark to the herd.  Ginny then brought out 3 over sized minis and turned them out in a paddock where we were going to do an activity.  The minis were well grooming, sassy and adorable!  I particularly loved a pretty black mare with an over abundance of mane and tail!   The minis pack a lot of personality in those little bodies so you don't feel like you are missing out on the 'total' experience working with the pint sized crew!

We were given 1 minute to plan how to do a task the facilitators gave us.   The task was simply take the loose minis from one corner of the paddock to the other,  wait for the facilitators to count to 5 and then take them back to the other corner.   The group looked to me to come up with a plan since I am a horse person.  I gave what I thought was sufficient  instructions to what seemed a simple task.  Famous last words, right??  We had some initial success and then our plan fell apart.  Oh, and did I mention we were NOT allowed to talk after the 1 minute planning?  We encountered during this 'project' initial movement from our horse team  in the right direction but then we all lost of focus, had to deal with distraction,  fragmentation, bulking, resistance and disruptive behavior in our equine and human team!  One of the minis just flat out told us in horse terms but plain as day-- I'm not gonna and you can't make me!!  LOL!  We eventually completed the task but it looked nothing like I had envisioned it when I came up with the plan.  So much for executing our project!  The facilitators did a great job afterwards talking about human correlations in the workplace and how the workshop uses what comes up in these exercises to discuss work related issues and how to handle them most effectively.

It was great fun and a wonderful learning experience.   It is amazing how quickly the group dynamics and personal leadership styles of the group show up!  I have heard of people using this type of model for hiring employees also.  I can very much see how that would quickly give you SO much information on how a person is in the workplace and in relationships.  I loved also how the focus was always SO positive.  It is about finding strengths and solutions.  I would not describe myself as much of a corporate person since most of my work has been either as an independent contractor or small business owner but I did not feel inadequate or intimidated by the people.  The horses do that all!  LOL!  Quite effectively too I might add!   The horses provide this wonderful, living, breathing, thinking and reacting example of behavior/attitudes that can be discussed in ways that make learning so much easier.  At one point I was seeing a pattern of negative reactions in the minis that made it possible for me to see the unnecessary pressure I put on myself when given a task.  That pressure sometimes keeps me from seeing the bigger picture of what I am doing and effects how I approach things.  I got this beautiful concrete example of how stepping back, taking that unnecessary time pressure off myself to get it done 'NOW' and just be more purposeful gets the results I am after. My communication becomes clearer and the sense of urgency is replaced with better focus.  If someone would just tell me that is what I need to do I do not think it would have the same effect as it did as I discovered it myself while dealing with a rambunctious mini!

I can see how businesses could really benefit from these workshops!  I am positive the money for the workshop would more than be recouped in smoother operations.  And it is all done relatively painlessly and without any feelings hurt.  :)  The horses provide this wonderful concrete, dynamic visual and since the focus is on the horse and their reactions/behavior it is non-threatening and very empowering to the people.   My equine specialist experience is in the therapy model so this was very interesting to see the horses used in this way.  Wager's Way offers individual coaching as well and I am seriously considering going back to help refine my own personal professional vision.   That is also the beauty of this type of horse -assisted experiential learning- it is easily adapted to pretty much any situation.  

I will talk next about my experience with the Christian based program teaching Boundaries on my next blog. Please consider signing up to follow me or share this with your friends.

To contact me I can be reached by e-mail at artbysuesteiner at gmail dot com or comment here.  You may also want to find me on facebook on my Horse and Pony community page