A couple of years ago, on a whim, I began volunteering as a horse leader in a local therapeutic riding program.
I had ridden horses a bit as a child but had no practical experience to offer. They gladly took me in and trained me on the ins and outs of horse leadership. My job was to groom, tack and lead the horse around by a rope so that the riding instructor could work with the client.
I quickly became infatuated. I am now a perpetual nine-year old horse-crazy girl.
Horses, like so many other animals, are very in tune with the emotions of those around them. In particular, they are prey animals, so it is in their best interest to be highly attuned to the pace of the heartbeat, the inner thoughts and the tension level of any creature around them.
Being in tune with emotions has helped them survive for eons. If I have the slightest bit of tension, a horse will pick up on it and respond. Most horses will become tense and wired. Some will be completely unfazed, like the horse I describe in this poem. I call these special ones “babysitters.”
They’re rare and wonderful.
When I find you,
your big brown eyes betray no emotion.
you look at me unconcerned.
I lay across your
broad warm back.
I close my eyes and feel my body relax;
My bitter tears disappear into your soft hair-
It absorbs my fear and sadness.
You shift, then lean into me.
My heart begins to slow,
aligning itself with your rhythm.
The banging in it quiets.
It is just us,
and you have taken my burden.
I stop and look up
and you turn around, sniff my face and nibble my cheek
not knowing you have saved me,
But you have saved me.
This is what makes horses fabulous therapeutic partners.
I was very surprised to find, in my training, that horses are paired with clients who have similar vibes or personalities. For example, if a client is a recovering meth addict, she will be paired with a horse who is a little jumpy. In this way, she is required to regulate her emotions in order to regulate her horse’s behavior.
A horse will generally mirror the mood of its herd-mates, including its rider.
I have watched the “magic of the fur” work over and over again in recovering drug addicts, kids with disabilities, veterans, people with Alzheimer’s, kids who have lost loved ones—the list is never-ending.
My favorite memory is of an elderly woman who had Alzheimer’s. She began touching, petting, poking in the nose and speaking in an unknown language with a horse who had previously been very naughty and jumpy that day. I didn’t understand the words she was saying, but he sure did.
And he wasn’t threatened a bit by her seemingly erratic behavior.I cry every time I think of it.
I have had first-hand experience with the magic in my own heart and life. There is something simple and easy about connecting with animals.
There is no drama and no emotional need on their part. It’s pretty simple—as long as I’ve got horse cookies, hay, shelter and a belly scratch, they follow me around like ducklings. I can bury my face in a soft, fuzzy neck and release all of the stress, allowing the warm body and rhythmic breath to steady me.
They take it, no questions asked, and bear the burden for me. I don’t have to feel guilty about feeling too much or being too little. My horse friends and I refer to the distinctive smell of horsehair as “redneck aromatherapy.”
For me, this magic finds its way to me in horses. But I have seen the “power of the fur” work with many of my friends as they are loved and cared for by their dogs, cats and even hamsters.
Just yesterday, one of our cats planted herself on the chest of my sick daughter and wouldn’t budge the entire day (one might theorize that her fever was a perfect heating pad for the heat-seeking missile that is a cat).
There’s a reason the Internet is filled to bursting with pictures and videos of animals. They hold a very special place in our lives that cannot be filled by anything else.
I find, now, that I cannot go a single day without connecting with a furry creature of some sort. We are so blessed and lucky to share our lives with animals. I don’t understand why these intense connections occur but I am forever grateful.
*Postscript: If you are interested in becoming involved as a supporter of therapeutic riding, or think you might benefit from it yourself, I encourage you watch this short film trailer and find a riding center in your area.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Deborah Linne
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Ferdi Baba/Flickr