Building Healthier Kids & Families

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Connection and Healing

Horses Helping Humans Heal.

A client battling severe anxiety arrived to session, visibly anxious. The clinical team asked the client what they needed and they said, "I just need to see my horse." The team quickly moved into the arena where the client's horse was patiently waiting and before walking into the arena the client immediately changed and they appeared stoic, anxiety was not existent for them. As the client approached their relationship horse, the horse would walk away, nudge and even a few times make gestures as if they were going to bite the client. As this took place, the team began to explore what was taking place and the response of the equine friend. The client and clinical staff walked through the events of the session, noting the anxiety upon arrival and then the shift at the entrance of the arena. The client then shared that they "turned off" their anxiety upon entering the arena because they did not think it would be OK to be anxious around the horses. The clinician and client began to explore the discrepancies in how the client felt--still anxious versus how the client was presenting toward the horse. The team discussed that when the emotional state and the physical presentation of the various emotions do not align, the horse will view the individual as a predator. Discussion was then had around being "authentic" with their friend because that is what the horse needs. The client began to show visible signs of emotion. They buried their head in their hands and began to cry. The client shared that this has been what they have been taught their entire life.

"I'm supposed to pretend everything is OK when it is not" the client shared. In that moment, the client began to share some of the things that were currently causing their anxiety to be high. The team discussed what that might be like for their horse if they just shared those things with their friend. Through tears the client said, "I think it'll be too much and they won't want to be around me." The clinician encouraged the client to give it a try and to simply tell their friend about what was making them anxious.

The client stood alone in the arena with their equine partner on the opposite side, facing away from the client. The client began to share their genuine emotional state and even apologized to their equine friend for trying to hide what was going on. As the client shared, it was as if a light switch had been turned on and their equine friend turned towards them and began making their way over to the client. Eventually, the two were standing right next to each other, calm and connected. The client then shared "I am not sure I have ever been real in my friendships because I was worried they couldn't handle me. This is the most amazing experience I have ever had! I feel free to be me."

Horses Helping Humans Heal.

Austin came to Gateway Family Services of Illinois shortly after a number of difficult losses. He was
quiet, reserved and very uncomfortable showing emotions. One emotion he could show was
excitement to be around the horses. He didn’t want to attend therapy but agreed to do so only because
he would get to be with horses, a longtime love of his.
Austin chose Bogie as his relationship horse. The two became fast friends and seemed to build a deep
One day, a few weeks into Austin’s time at Gateway, he became frustrated with Bogie. Austin attempted
to push his feelings down, not wanting to show anything but happiness or excitement. Bogie picked up
on this and, as if he knew exactly what Austin needed, pushed back, resisting Austin’s demands. Austin
became angry with Bogie and the clinical team.
Austin crossed his arms and stomped his feet. He fought back tears. The clinical team, and Bogie, held
space for Austin. This would be a chance for Austin to learn that feelings, no matter “good” or “bad”
have a place here – it just might take a bit. Austin snapped at the clinical team and Bogie, stomping out
of the session.
The next week, Austin returned to therapy, and said he was ready to talk about his feelings. There
seemed to be new found and felt safety in that previous session for Austin. He seemed to realize he
could be scared, sad, angry, happy, frustrated, excited and mad and space would be held for him no
matter what.
It was that day that Austin shared with Bogie and the clinical team so many of his feelings that he had
kept bottled up inside of him for so long.