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 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  

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