Recently I was invited to do a talk for a psychotherapists’ group entitled ‘How horses help us to heal from loss, separation and endings’. In introducing the session I recalled how it was in the midst of grief (when losing my mother in 2004), that I caught the first glimpse of my horse, Winston, as my healer.
The healing from him and my wider herd hasn’t always come in the form I might have expected, sometimes the lessons have been hard to take. Yet they have always come when I am ready to receive them, bringing me closer to knowing myself and loving who I am.
When we are separated from someone dear, often we lose a part of ourselves for a while. Perhaps a part of us which was brought to life by them, which they saw and others didn’t. Or the part of us which cared for them, invested in them, nurtured them. Or the part which shared the dreams which can no longer be.
Amongst the herd a safe place exists to find these lost elements of our soul and reintegrate them gently into our wholeness. We can give full snot-dribbling, chest heaving, angry expression to the terror, the sadness, the utter awfulness of how we feel, when we are ready. We don’t have to be polite with horses or shield their feelings. Horses are most comfortable with the truth, that is what they seek, and they offer us a place to explore ours. They also don’t need words, we don’t have to explain – anything. And they don’t judge the more difficult emotions which might be wrapped into our grief – like guilt, relief, rage, resentfulness. We don’t need to pretend we are OK, in fact things go much better with horses when we don’t. They are not holding a timer over our bereavement either – ‘hey, it’s been years now, shouldn’t you have got over it?’ They are alongside us, in the moment, however we are.
At the end of the talk one of the psychotherapists attending asked me how horses had helped me through my own times of bereavement. It was difficult to answer that in five minutes, having written two books about it. Suffice to say that I expressed my gratitude to my horses for the healing they have given me over the years.
Grief has been a guest at my table more often than I would like. Often I have turned to the herd for comfort and companionship on the road to recovery. The greatest lesson of all during these most challenging of times is that in experiencing great pain, I am capable also of experiencing great joy. That feeling sadness doesn’t have to mean being unhappy. That when the heart cracks open it makes more space for love and compassion and kindness. So, instead of reading sorrow here, see in my message love and hope, gratitude and grace, strength and courage as we await the new Spring, new life, new colour, new ways of being in this year 2022.
My work and the life I now live, were borne of the pain of losing my mother. Somehow as I fell apart my horse stepped in and lifted a veil, revealing little by little a path of which I never could have dreamed. Perhaps a better title for the talk I gave would have been ‘Loss, separation and beginnings’. So if you are hurting right now, feeling bruised, I wish you comfort and that somehow, sometime, what might feel like an ending right now, will transform into something new, and something beautiful.