So, you’re a horse whisperer then?

Clarifying some misconceptions about the work that I do

Often, when people hear what I do, I get asked this question, but for me it’s not so much about whispering, it’s about listening.

Another misconception is that I offer Equine Facilitated Therapy.  This isn’t strictly true either, at least not in the traditional sense.

So, I thought that it might be a good idea to explain a little more about my work, or at least a part of it.  In this post, I’m going to look at one of my favourite aspects – where the horses and people come together.

My aim is that this should be a mutually beneficial experience, that is, that both the horses and the people should be supported by their time together. 

I often see animals used in therapy or assistance roles and I wonder what, if anything, they get from this.  Sometimes they have a particular role to play, a ‘job’ if you will, for example a guide dog, and they provide a much-valued service, but when do they get something back?  Guide dogs, I know, are well looked after and they’re given regular health checks, but their role can be stressful at times. 

Things are shifting and there are many programmes out there now that are seeking to come from a more heart-centred and animal-led perspective.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all assistance and therapy animals were given more support in their roles?  This could be offered in the form of massages, Reiki and self-selection sessions, for example, just like we might take a ‘spa-day’ if we’ve had a tough few weeks at work.

I used to volunteer with a group who gave horse riding lessons for people with disabilities.  This offered many benefits to the riders, but the horses were often stressed, which came out in ‘unwanted’ behaviours.  Some of these horses had to be retired as they were no longer suitable for the role.  I struggled with this and wanted to find a different approach, one where both parties felt better after their sessions.

So here at Equenergy I’m exploring a different way.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that we have 2 horses living here.  Both have had challenging experiences in the past.  Dakota (Dax) was taken from his mother at 1 month of age and left to starve.  When he was rescued, he was riddled with worms and had to have extensive veterinary support.  Thankfully he is now a very healthy 8-year-old, however his tough start in life has left him with some emotional issues.

‘Rika was a brood mare for many years.  She was used for breeding and all of her foals were taken from her to be sold on.  When she didn’t conceive after being put with a stallion, they decided that she was no longer of any use and put her out for the meat wagon.  She is the most beautiful, gentle soul you could ever hope to meet, but she was considered ‘worthless’ if she couldn’t produce any more foals.

‘Rika (left) and Dakota (Dax)

These 2 beautiful animals support me in my work, and I want this to be something that benefits them too and supports them in becoming happier and healthier individuals.

I believe that for anyone to offer a therapeutic space for another, they should have the space and opportunity to have that support for themselves.  As a therapist and coach myself, I need to have worked – and be continuing to work – on my own issues in order to be able to hold a healing space for others.  I think this is also true for animals who are involved in this field. 

All of us are still ‘works in progress’ and there is much to be gained by travelling the healing path together. Take, for example, the programmes in America where offenders are paired with rescued dogs or horses and together they learn how to create a healthier, more balanced life for themselves. 

I’d love to see more opportunities for mutual learning, creation and growth of this kind.  We might not have the perfect answers yet, but with time and an open, curious mindset, hopefully we will find a way to walk alongside our animals in ways where they benefit from the partnership as much as we do.

I recently wrote about ‘rewilding’, and I believe strongly that our animals have much to teach us on this subject, too.  But in order for them to be able to do so more fully and authentically, they must be allowed to be as ‘wild’ as possible themselves.  I know that this is a real challenge, on even a small scale, with the resources that most of us have available, but I think that the more we can give healthy freedom to the animals in our care, even when it challenges us, the more we can learn and grow.

So how do I bring people and horses together?

A session with the horses here at Equenergy means that you get to stand just outside the field and start by getting grounded and tuning in to the energy of the place and all the living things around you.  Horses are naturally curious animals so often they soon come over to meet with us and may spend some time in this shared space.

I encourage people to be ‘mindful’, that is, to be fully aware of their surroundings: the sun, breeze or even rain on their skin, the sounds, sights and smells around them.  This helps us to get present, and when we’re fully present it helps us to release anxieties and tensions as these generally relate to memories from the past or worries about the future. 

When we can be in this ‘present’ state and hold that energy / vibration, it encourages those around us to enter this same state.  It’s rather like a tuning fork that causes other things to resonate with the same frequency.  Calming our breathing and our heart rate, through getting present, supports others to do the same.  It’s a phenomenon known as ‘entrainment’  and you can read more about it in the work of the HeartMath Institute and Dr Ellen Kaye Gehrke.  Horses are particularly sensitive to this, so when we can enter this state in their presence, it supports their wellbeing as well as our own.  Not only that, but their electromagnetic field is much larger and stronger than ours, so when they enter into this state it strengthens the energy for us – this creates a wonderful healing circle with the energy flowing in and around and bringing benefit to all within the space.

Another aspect of this for the person / people in the session is that I ask them to observe and take note of any feelings and thoughts that are coming up for them.  I might also ask them to see what they can feel from the horses: can they get a sense of their energy? Do they pick up anything when they tune in to either / both of them?  These are things that we can then explore if they would like to work further with me, using a tailored wellbeing package, looking at any issues they wish to address, or objectives that they would like to achieve.

If this is something that would interest you, or you’d like to have a taster session with the horses to see if it resonates with you, I’m happy to have a no-obligation chat.  Just give me a call or drop me a line:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980669303

https://equenergy.com/contact-location/

what is self-compassion?

I was recently having a discussion with a small group of friends and the term ‘self-compassion’ came up.  One member of the group was unfamiliar with this word which made me wonder how many others are in the same situation?  It’s a fairly self-explanatory concept, and one that’s very common in my field of work, but perhaps it’s incorrect for me to assume that it’s part of everyone’s vocabulary.  And if you haven’t come across it in any specific sense, is it something that you would consciously apply in your life?  I therefore thought that I would post something to make self-compassion more explicit and also maybe to say what my thoughts are on what it is, and what it is not.

To start with, I thought I’d look at some definitions.  Compassion itself can be defined as:

“a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them”

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/compassion

Synonyms: pity, sympathy, feeling, fellow feeling, empathy, understanding, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, gentleness, tenderness, consideration, kindness

According to vocabulary.com Compassion “is a word for a very positive emotion that has to do with being thoughtful and decent… When you feel compassion for someone, you really want to help out.” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/compassion

The literal meaning of compassion is “to suffer together”. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition  Its qualities are “patience and wisdom; kindness and perseverance; warmth and resolve.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion

Self-compassion then, is when we show these feelings towards ourselves.  If we’re experiencing feelings of inadequacy, failure or suffering of any kind, instead of being critical of ourselves – a very common response – we can choose to be warm, understanding, sensitive, gentle, considerate and kind.

So why, you might ask, would we want to do this, and isn’t it a form of selfishness and self-indulgence?  If I’ve done something wrong / foolish, don’t I deserve to feel guilty / stupid?

Well, firstly I would say that if any – even small – part of you resonated with that last sentence, I would like to gently invite you to notice your self-talk.  Using labels like ‘wrong’, ‘foolish’ and ‘stupid’, I believe, is unhelpful.  They put us into a state of shame which is deeply uncomfortable and only adds to our emotional suffering at a time when we’re already feeling pretty lousy.

I also think that there is very little to be gained from feeling guilty, other than to notice the emotion and to learn from it, by which I mean to observe the discomfort and to explore what triggered it and what wisdom that holds for you about who you really are and the choices that you make, so that you can make choices that are more authentic for you in the future.  Beyond that, I feel that guilt serves only to make us feel bad, and how can we be our best selves from that place?

Image from Jennifer Petty Psychotherapist

I would also like to reassure you that self-compassion is not selfish, or self-indulgent.  It’s an important part of self-care.  I’ve written about this before https://equenergy.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/positive-thinking-is-it-always-a-good-thing-part-24/ so suffice it to say that I believe it’s necessary to take care of ourselves, and to practice self-compassion first, before we can truly offer this to others.

In fact, if we don’t do this, we can end up experiencing burnout and ‘compassion fatigue’.  This is basically when we’ve exhausted our inner resources, leaving ourselves ‘running on empty’.  This is not sustainable and can result in becoming ill and unable to function fully for a time, until we can rest and recharge.  If we’ve allowed ourselves to reach a very low point, this recovery could even take years…  so much better to learn how to look after ourselves now. 

Also, a phrase that really hit me a few years ago when I was pushing myself too hard and not taking time to replenish my resources, was:

How then do you recognise if you’re experiencing compassion fatigue?  According to goodtherapy.org the main symptoms include:

  • Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of self-contempt
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Poor job satisfaction

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue

You can help to avoid this by:

  • Developing greater self-awareness, eg through journaling, mindfulness or meditation
  • Practising self-care and self-compassion
  • Setting – and holding – good emotional boundaries
  • Spending time outdoors, in nature with fresh air and natural light
  • Cultivating healthy relationships with people who boost your mood

If you would like to explore self-compassion further, please get in touch.  I offer bespoke wellbeing packages which address this, and I also run workshops helping you to develop self-awareness and learn strategies for self-support. 

(My website is currently ‘under construction’ but hopefully will be back up and running by next week)

Diversity

Last week I wrote about the importance of Keeping It Simple & Straightforward so, on the surface, the title for this week’s post might seem a bit of a contradiction.  And maybe this is one of those fabulous paradoxes that I love!  But as well as valuing simplicity, I also feel that diversity is essential and should be celebrated.

This world would be a dull place indeed if we were all the same – and we don’t really want that… or do we?!  In many ways we like variety.  It offers us lots of choices, and when it’s about food, clothes, holidays, jobs, even breeds of dog(!) it seems our view is that ‘the more the merrier’.

But when it comes down to ‘our neighbour’, it appears that we’re sometimes less flexible.  Even here in the UK I see signs of some people being uncomfortable around those of a different colour or religion; or those who have made different lifestyle choices; or who express themselves in a ‘non-binary’ or ‘atypical’ ways.

In a way, I ‘get that’.  I grew up in a society that was almost all white.  My family was middle class.  Gender was much more clearly defined – at least in my little corner of the world.  This was my norm, my comfort zone, and these were the values that I subconsciously absorbed.

Sometimes, now, I notice my mind throwing out thoughts that come from these unconscious values.  Or I find myself judging, or feeling uncomfortable, in certain situations or with particular people.  But I’ve learnt that I can look at these thoughts and feelings and decide whether or not they are how I choose to respond.  Generally, they come from ‘voices’ that I have internalised, and not from what I actually believe.

Subconscious conditioning runs deep, and lack of experience can make us feel awkward in some situations but, as everyone is an individual anyway, I generally find that it’s ok to ask questions about how people wish to be referred to, or what their needs, beliefs or choices might be, as long as this is done from an open and non-judgemental mindset.  In fact, it shows that we’re taking an interest, we’re open to learning, and that we care.

The biggest ‘difference’ that I saw when I was young, was that of age, as I was fortunate to have regular contact with my extended family.

I was fascinated by ‘other’ though, and how experience might differ when viewing the world through other eyes, or from another perspective, be that cultural, religious, experiential, or whatever.

Going to secondary school brought it home to me that for many in my part of the world (Belfast, Northern Ireland), I was ‘other’.  Being a Catholic in a mixed (mostly Protestant) school and as a girl from a single-sex primary who went on to do Physics, Chemistry and Biology A levels with mostly boys in the classes, I was the one in the minority.

Later I moved to Manchester and then greater London, before settling for many years in Bristol.  I’ve also been fortunate to travel round much of Europe and to have visited the States a couple of times, and it’s true what they say – it really does broaden the mind.

In addition, I’ve worked in the Deaf Community and become fluent in Sign Language.  Now there’s a way to really explore a different way of perceiving and interacting with the world!

If you follow my social media posts you might be aware that I’m a fan of Abraham Hicks.  I love what they say about difference and not resisting the things that don’t align with our own world view.

The misunderstanding we often make is to feel threatened by difference, but in reality there is plenty of room for us all to co-exist and no-one else’s life choices can have a negative impact on us if we just allow them to do their own thing while authentically, and gently, holding our own boundaries.

Nature is a great example of this.  Each species finds its own niche.  They live in ways that are authentic to their needs and don’t demand that other species change to be like them.  Some are predators and some are prey but, when left to live in a natural way, a balance is achieved that benefits all.  As conditions change, plants and animals have to adapt.  To resist this change is to risk extinction.

Here at Equenergy, we had a visit from someone from the Gwent Wildlife Trust.  He came to survey the land and to record its flora and fauna.  It was exciting to see the range and variety that we have here.  We should receive a report later in the year, with suggestions on how to maintain, and even enhance this diversity.

Here in the UK it’s currently looking like it might be a lovely summer, so if you’re looking forward to some holidays – either abroad or more locally – I encourage you to notice how you respond to being in a new environment and enjoy this opportunity to see things from a perspective that differs, even slightly, from your day-to-day norm.

I’d love to hear about what you notice and I invite you to post about your experiences in the comments below.

It’s a rich and beautiful world out there!

Let’s celebrate all its colours and flavours 😊

Simplicity

Did you know that next Friday, 12 July is National Simplicity Day?

I’ve been a fan of simplicity for a long time, believing that we as humans – and certainly myself as an individual – can have a great tendency to overcomplicate things.

I think this is at least in part due to our brain’s negative bias – its need to always be on the lookout for things that could potentially do us harm.  As a result, it comes up with all sorts of scenarios of what could happen, or why something is happening or why that person is looking at me that way…  Our imaginations run riot with complex and convoluted permutations – not just one, but several for each scenario.  It’s no wonder that we think life is multi-layered and difficult to understand!

But when we relax and go with the flow, it usually turns out that things were actually much easier – and simpler – than we’d thought.  At the very least, it means that there is only one way in which things play out, not the many possibilities that we’d imagined in our heads.

So I’m all for getting back to simplicity!

I love Nature and what it can teach us about keeping things simple.  On the surface it might look complex, but in reality it’s often a simple pattern that repeats itself many times.  The deeper we look, the simpler it becomes.

Animals too can help us, because they generally live very much in the present, concerned with the basic needs of eating, drinking, finding shelter and the continuation of their genes.  They don’t worry about tomorrow or last week or about what their herd or pack mate is thinking about them.  They mostly go through their day just Being.  This allows them to be mindful and grounded because their minds aren’t distracted by anxious thoughts and worries.

Of course it also means that they aren’t as creative as humans and our brains obviously have an important role to play in this tapestry of Life, but I think we often get too caught up in thought patterns that don’t support our wellbeing and so it’s a good idea to take stock from time to time in order to check in with how we’re feeling and to make sure that we’re keeping a healthy balance.

This is some information I found on why this National Day was started:

National Simplicity Day was founded in honour of Henry David Thoreau, who was born on July 12, 1817.  Thoreau was an advocate of living simply and wrote a number of well-known books on the subject.

In the complicated world that we inhabit today where mobile phones, laptops and other modern day gadgets mean that we very rarely experience true peace and quiet to gather our thoughts, what better excuse to leave the technology at home and experience the feeling of truly being in the moment.

https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/national-simplicity-day-2019/

Synchronously, earlier this week I came across a post on Instagram that really resonated with me:

The simplicity in simply being is quite complicated.

But not really complicated at all.

It simply is.

But isn’t at all.

byraa_a

https://www.instagram.com/byraa_a/

I wish you a beautiful Simplicity Day, and hope that you can take the chance to get outside and appreciate the wonder of simply being present.