A couple is sitting on my love seat in the office. They talk of the ups and downs of their week, how they got some insight in this conversation, triggered by that one, found they started to play “find the bad guy” but stopped… there is a moment where they state they feel stuck in this same cycle and inevitably I ask,
“Were you able to stay vulnerable?”
They look at one another and then at me,
“Kaia, I think we realized we aren’t always sure if we are being vulnerable.”
With a slight chuckle we kinda laugh… kinda.
I see this over and over again where we throw out words but we aren’t sure what they truly mean. We hear something like “vulnerability is key” but then we say to our partner “you make me feel like such a crappy person!” which isn’t actually vulnerability at all.
Many people think that dumping resentments is vulnerable or telling someone what we think of them, or telling our sad story but I would define these as neurotic ways of trying to connect.
In Gestalt therapy, there are six neurotic ways people try to connect but end up disconnecting. We call these contact boundary disturbances. They are -
Confluence, Introjection, Projection, Retroflection, Egotism, and Deflection
I am going to define each one here, give an example, and then give another example of a possible vulnerable statement that is about actually trying to connect to the other person instead of disconnecting.
Confluence is when we can’t see a difference between “You” and “I” anymore and everything becomes a “We.”
“We, this group of people, are mad at you for being so annoying!”
(versus “I am struggling to connect with you when you are saying that you don’t like anyone.”
“We are so toxic”
(versus “I am concerned that we have started to engage in a toxic dynamic here and I would like to try to change that.)
“We think all horse training should look like this, and if you don't agree, then you are obviously wrong and bad.”
(versus “I feel challenged when I meet someone with different views because I am uncertain if I can have different views from them without a fight or I start to question if my views are right.)
There is no accountability for how the relationships are playing out on an individual level.
Introjections are when we “swallow whole” ideas and messages that people have told us. These are very common in therapy because they are often told to us as children and we believed them.
“You are an insensitive jerk”
(versus “I have been triggered by something you said and I am struggling to talk with you about it”)
“You are a spoiled brat… worthless… greedy… difficult… (you get the picture.)”
(versus “I am realizing that I have some tough topics I want to discuss with you about how our relationship has been challenging for me.)
“Horses are just too sensitive and therefore shouldn’t be trusted”
(versus “I have experienced some tough moments with horses where I lost trust in my ability to connect and was was confused with what happened.”)
Projections are when we place what we are experiencing onto someone or something else.
“My partner just doesn’t understand how to be a good partner”
(versus “I don’t always know if I am being a good partner”)
“This horse is just a grumpy horse!”
(versus “I get grumpy around this horse”)
“They are the problem. If only they could be better, I would be fine.”
(versus “I need to take accountability for how much I struggle in this dynamic. So much is coming up for me, I feel hopeless and possibly scared of my role in the problem.”
Retroflection is when one holds back responses or emotions intended for the “other”, surroundings, or other people in surroundings and avoids expression of experience.
“I am ok with how that person treated me and everything is fine” (when this isn’t accurate.)
(versus “I am not ok with how I was treated and I am trying to be at peace with that.”)
Holding back tears while someone tells you that you are a failure
(versus showing them how much they are hurting you by allowing yourself to feel and cry in front of them.) *And no, this isn’t weak! It actually is very powerful! For another blog…
Standing in a horse pasture, trying to act like you aren’t scared when you are
(versus allowing yourself to be a bit nervous and breathe through it, which is much safer around horses than pretending)
Egotism is when a relationship is one sided and only goes one way.
“Well my day sucked and I am going to tell you about it” and not ask about yours
(versus “I had a tough day. Can we talk about it? And I would love to hear how your day was!)
“I need you to listen to me”
(versus “I want to share my experience with you so you can relate to me and I want to hear your side of the story as well so I can relate to you.)
“This is about what I need and want”
(versus thinking about the interplay in dynamics where we can’t connect if we aren’t aware of what others might need from us.)
Deflection changing the subject in a conversation.
“Oh my day? Well, how was your day?”
(versus “I am actually nervous to bring up how my day was because I’m concerned you will try to fix it and then I feel insecure.”)
“You asked me what came up for me but I think you asked me the wrong question! You are incompetent!”
(versus “I am feeling so out of control and upset right now and need help sorting out what is going on for me. This is usually when I lash out at people and then feel terrible about it so I want to try something different.”
“This horse just needs someone to get on it and show it who is boss because they aren't listening to me!”
(versus “I am really upset that I can’t seem to connect to this horse and I am feeling like I want someone to make it better for me instead of staying curious what is actually going on.”
One of my darling mentors told me once that he thought a surprisingly large amount of people have become allergic to vulnerability. When they feel it or see it, they want to run or crush it. It represents something too scary, too wanted, too dangerous, too powerful, too honest. It requires them to have to take a look inside as well and sometimes look at things they don’t want to see.
He mentioned the term “courageous conversations” where two people need to feel brave and heartfelt to be able to express themselves vulnerably and connect. Not everyone is up for the challenge but I can say, those that are willing, and find others that are willing, form beautiful and emotional bonds that heal wounds in a way most couldn’t even fathom.
Keep doing the beautiful work darling humans!
Homemade Nourishing Coat Conditioner
Makes 16 oz
2 tbs. fractionated coconut oil
2 tsp.vegetable glycerin
1 tsp. witch hazel
20 drops of essential oils
(we recommend lavender and peppermint)
2 cups distilled water
-Pour ingredients into a 16oz plastic spray bottle (glass will freeze in the winter) and shake before using on your precious horse
To Make a concentrate for 1 gallon of mix:
1 cup fractionated coconut oil
1/3 cup vegetable glycerin
3 tbs. witch hazel
160 drops of essential oils
1 gallon of distilled water
Spring Tip #1 Watch the birds
So many of the books that I pick up on outdoor learning start with bird watching. I never really got it. There is so much to notice - why the birds? But this spring, I started to learn more and watch the birds with different eyes. I learned that the beautiful barn swallows migrate to South America during the winter and then back to the farm’s old barn to have their babies. I learned what different owls sound like (look up barn owl) and now I’m familiar with the two great horned owls that reside on the property. I became familiar with how the red tailed hawks navigate the horrible winds we had this spring. But what I started to notice was how they are almost always around and how they prepare for spring in their songs, their gathering, their search for spring morsels. I stared to recognize some individual birds that have their routine and started feeling like I knew who was around me more than I had noticed before. Watching them, sensing the change and the busy spring energy without being busy, a calmness started to arise. Give it a try. Watch the birds.
Spring Tip #2 Be gentle with your thoughts
For those that don’t know this, spring is often a time when people have manic episodes if they are prone to them. Many people separate and struggle in their relationships come spring. Folks often have less patience, less energy, and are more chaotic during spring. Spring is historically a time where people wear their opinions more on their sleeves only for those opinions to become more subtle the rest of the year. Our thoughts are not inaccurate this time of year, they are just louder and we feel pulled to act them out, which might not always be the right solution. My tip is, just be gentle with them. Hear them out but take your time thinking about your next step. Come summer, you might have a different solution. Move slowly as you have time to decide.
Spring Tip #3 Keep it (surprisingly) simple
Humans are funny creatures, where we think if we have a tiny bit of energy, we absolutely need to spend it. It’s almost like we believe we have energy scarcity and we are going to run out at any second. So we spend it faster than we can collect it! And in the chaos we spend energy we didn’t want to spend! Like worrying about things we didn’t need to worry about or fixating on things that didn’t really matter in the first place. Spending time with horses and people in nature, there is a slow and surprisingly efficient speed that begins to take shape. It’s actually quite simple, eat when hungry, sleep when tired, play when motivated, bathe in sunlight (and mud)… and I know our human culture has complicated this but under all our rushing around trying to prove things, we are simple beings too.
Just because you have a surge of energy, doesn’t mean you need to spend it. Indeed, we become stronger when we don’t, when we sit with the wave and let it grow us.
Sipping tea after a morning ride on the horses, looking out over the fields and mountains, the sky flushed with clouds. You can often hear the birds talking to one another, the breeze and wind blowing the grasses and leaves, the occasional sound of human activity added to the chorus. Breathe in.
The first human comes in, a dark cloud over their head. They talk about disappointment, hurt, betrayal, heartbreak, feeling hopeless. In my heart, there is a willingness to meet them there, because we have all been there, and many of us just need our hand held so we can find our way out again. Times goes by, their heart feels broken open and full of life. Good bye lovely human. Breathe in.
Next person walks by. They are pulling away. Times goes on. They say very little, but they show everything. The horses nudge them, trying to understand why they are frozen and stuck. “I’m not sure” I whisper back. We walk and I ask them which way they would like to walk. They stand still. “I don’t know” and we talk about will, how we want to move in life, and the paralyzing fear is spoken to - “I am afraid of my own choices.” They tear up, but don’t cry. They make a choice of where they want to walk. I will see them next week, where we will decide together, me following their lead and supporting their journey to choose. Breathe in.
Lunch. A quick nourishing and a pause to give all the feelings back. Its’s time. Breathe in.
Next human. They can’t wait to play with the horses! Their flying feet prance out to the field, excited for what magic might unfold. The laughter and joy and excitement and questions are mimicked by the horses. Everyone is tuning in and the love for life is beaming. This experience is followed by a desire to connect deeper. In the stillness, they still feel the joy, but it is concentrated. They take that wisdom with them as we say good bye. Breathe in.
The next human comes in through the door. Flustered and buzzing, they ask to go for a walk. We meander to the open space where there is just land and sky. They breathe heavily while they talk and process, in their case, a sign that they are letting go of stress. They say they feel clearer, more able to see what they are needing in life. Good bye sweet human. Breathe in.
The last person comes in. They smile and light up. The feeling they bring is raw, open, like their heart lives on their sleeve. We sit for a while and have tea. They talk about their love for those around them, the sadness they carry for those who hurt and are in pain wishing they could do more. We talk about watching those we love betray themselves in one way or another, loyal to the wounds that have once protected them from harm. Clarity is not always a gift, it can painful to see the truth, but it helps when you know you are not alone in it. I will see them for our monthly time next season and we say good bye for the gratitude for one another. They leave. Breathe in.
The silence of the office, the land, the feeling of just me for a moment. I sit down and reflect upon the day. The rivers of hurt, fear, joy, stress, and sorrow run through my veins. I feel them vividly, creating movement inside. My breathe feels like it is deeper, like I am that much more connected to something outside of myself and I allowing that something to move me. I thank those folks who came in that day, thank the horses for their facilitation in those moments that matter, as well as the land for holding all that came up and helping to carry this river of feeling that runs through all of us.
*These are absolutely not based on actual clients but archetypes of feelings that we all have.
It’s fully fall at the farm - fall is a time when energy goes down into the roots as we prepare for the cold. Horses grow thick coats, begin to preserve energy, cuddle closer than they do in summer. Fall can be a difficult transition for us people - we go from moving and doing and wearing our selves on the outside to more feeling who we are on the inside. All therapists know, this is our busy time as people come in for all their wounds they feel vividly all of a sudden. This is a time to be gentle with yourself, to nourish your own roots and sit with yourself as much as you can. Here are 5 tips to help you sit with and embrace this fall of energy.
1. . You are going to have really crabby days where you realize all the issues of your life. Breathe through those days and try not to get hooked into believing you are a failure. We are not the best nor the worst and that’s the truth.
2. It’s okay if you don’t want to do a lot. Ask yourself, “how can I make today as simple as possible?” And don’t forget to be joyful of what you are able to do!
3. Journal - write down everything you are noticing, this might look like writing down all your “problems” but just notice which ones need to change and which ones you can accept. Cleaning the garage can wait…
4. Get out for a walk everyday. Yeah, it’s getting colder, but bodies are meant to walk around and experience the wind, the leaves crunching under your feet, the smells of earth and air… it’s worth insisting that you get out.
5. Embrace your wise self. We all have a wise self that comes out when we really need it. Call upon this part in dark times when you find yourself grieving, confused and hopeless.
Feel free to comment with some tips you would like to share as you dive into fall! We all have a wild & wise part of ourselves that instinctually knows things. What does your part crave?
Staring at the blank glass canvas in our waiting room, a now quiet scene with the sound of birds outside the window and the smell of cleaning supplies from the multiple cleans between clients, I pondered what I was thinking setting up the 55 gallon community fish tank. Yeah, it will be fun and pretty for clients to look at, but something else was pulling me in. No, not the underwater plants, the aquascaping of rocks, sand, and dirt, not really even having some lovely fish in our farmhouse. Suddenly I realized what was calling to me in this strange time, it was the creation of a system, not just a community but a creation of a peaceful sustainable system that is in balance with one another and all in a 55 gallon bubble in our therapy and acupuncture office’s waiting room.
For those that know my work, you know that I do mostly individual sessions and mostly with horses somewhere involved. But I have always been fascinated by groups and fell in love with the theory and practice of group psychotherapy. The saying goes that “we need to heal our relationship wounds in relationship”, and I truly believe we need to heal our wounds with people, well, with other people!
We have all known the pain of being pushed out from a group, be it middle school, or a group of friends, co-workers, a farm, even your family, someplace where you were hoping to be seen and accepted and for one reason or another, you weren’t. What most people don’t realize is that we are wired to want to be part of a group, no matter what. Deep in our brains, we know that being on the outside of a group can mean death. We don’t get food, warmth, connection, protection, all the essentials for survival. To survive, we will do anything to be accepted, including betraying ourselves and others, believing strange things that don’t make sense, and listening to any and all things a group leaders says so that we will not be pushed out. The problem with this, is that we can accidentally and unconsciously set ourselves up for Trauma. I use a capital “T” because it is that type of Trauma, the big kind. The kind of trauma where we end up down a rabbit hole and we lose sense of ourselves completely. We then must go on an “auto-pilot” to remain with the flow of the group, no matter how absurd, wrong feeling, and possibly abusive the power dynamic is. When we leave the group, or find another group, only then do we realize what a hole we were in and how far we may have strayed from ourself to fit in. We do this because we are human, and there is no shame in that.
I have always wanted to create groups as a healing modality for people. Whether it be a grief group, empowerment group, mental process group, couples group, or healing from groups group, and now that we are faced with uncertain times, I have paused all my group efforts in my practice. Which now brings me back to the 55 gallon hunk of glass I am staring at in our empty waiting room… this is where that energy is going, to an underwater world of fish, plants, earth, and water. Feels metaphoric, to say the least, as I think I now realize what was bothering my group work - Many group members were struggling to see our inner connected dynamics. Group therapy is about seeing how we impact one another, how my anger inspires you to feel to feel yours, unless my anger is targeted at you, then your instinct is to fight it and protect yourself. See, our dynamics are so subtle and yet so profound. There is such a fine line between hurting and healing, sometimes community and relationships don’t feel remotely worth trying. So many folks I work with, when they are asked to be vulnerable, they actually become neurotic. I define neurotic here as unwilling to come to terms with their truth, or the truth of the situation. When we think being neurotic is being “ourselves,” thats what gets us into trouble. And if no one challenges our neurotic self, how would we know what happens when we work past that barrier we have made?
We don’t value being in a group, hearing one another’s wisdom, their edges to try to connect, to sit with one another in the discomfort of healing. Communities take time and the creation of rules that allow members to be themselves at their core and to also hold space for others in their vulnerability and process. We value productivity and comfort and fun, which doesn’t really create a system that works. Everyone is breathing out and no one is breathing in.
My truest hope for this time is that we learn to sit back and reflect on our communities. Do we live in a sustainable one? Are we on auto-pilot with the group that is taking us away from our hearts? What is our role and are we asking for more than we are giving? Do you know how to sit and breathe in?
One last comment, it is absolutely a privilege to ask people of power and influence questions and challenge them on where they are leading the group, and it is also our responsibility.
I woke up to the news this morning of the closure of the schools in Colorado and the threat of harm to the children. It has been 20 years since the Columbine shooting. At the time, the shooting was unthinkable, two school aged children coming in and murdering their school mates. Sadly, this wasn’t a one time tragedy. Not only has there been a number of school shooting since but continuous threats that haunt our children. I can tell you from working with kids, school life has taken on stress that we can’t even fathom. Not only are children bullied at school with harsh remarks, emotional abuse, and are saturated in a culture of children that self harm, self hate, and disconnect, our children are bullied 24 hours a day through social media. A child wakes up and finds that they have been the source of ridicule on social media and now must face school with laughter and finger pointing, at least until the next victim appears. And to make matters worse, children are now walking around school wondering if at any minute, one of the miserable and hurt children around them is going to decide to take their hurt and anger out in the form of a shooting. This culture and this reality is not okay.
We are a culture that struggles to talk about the difficult topics in our lives. My husband and I sat down with our 5 year this morning to discuss why preschool was canceled. We explained was that some people hurt on the inside of themselves and they are not sure what to do with that hurt, so they want others to hurt so they don’t feel alone. We told our daughter that if she finds children who hurt on the inside, to be kinder on the inside of herself, let her heart melt and speak lovingly to others as they might not even know how to speak lovingly to themselves. Our 5 year old asked a lot of questions, mostly around why children hurt and how come they don’t let an adult help them in their hurting. These are good questions… in a culture that is an expensive one to live and wages are often low, parents now have to work full time coming home tired and unable to find time and energy to speak honestly and openly with their children. Days, weeks, years go by and our children are not finding clarity in how to release tension from their lives, how to process the hurt and abuse they see, and change how they feel from the inside out. They go to school, go on social media, they learn that if they pretend to be happy that is the same as being happy. They live a life from the outside in, instead of the inside out, and because of this, they live in anxiety for not feeling like they can be, and express, themselves. Our children are the most depressed, anxious, self-harming teens we have EVER seen. They need our help.
And our schools are not enough. They are not learning these skills at school and school is not meant to teach them resilience, boundaries, self-awareness, and kindness. School is a place to learn THINGS not WAYS OF BEING. We learn how TO BE from others, how to do with a sense of confidence, clarity, calm, and connectivity. So may years ago, I wanted to be a therapist to help our communities out, to help parents learn to have tough discussions, and to help our people sort out how to be the best version for themselves. I realize now that this can’t be left to the therapists. Not everyone believes in having a therapist or are afraid of the connotation of what that might reflect for themselves or their family, and yet, we need to provide more for our kids. We need them to know that this culture of trauma, of hurt, of pretending, this is not okay and we can do better. We need to show our children how strong we can be, how to not engage in drama, and how to speak to people in a loving way that also reflects how to take responsibility. I know the children I work with learn these lessons from the horses, what the difference is between forcing a horse to do versus building relationship and trust and asking. Even our children can start to understand the difference between DOING something with the horse and the FEELING behind what we do. If it feels good to be with us, the horse will and they will do so safely and relaxed. These lessons are a privilege to learn in life, but to me they are a necessity if we are to see change and health in this next generation. Parents, take time to learn how to be in true relationship with your child and take the time to be with them. If you are not a parent, spend time with your niece or nephew, friend’s child, just spend time with our children. Engage, play, laugh, make space for conversation. This will change perspective and how our brain functions and is medicine for the mind. We can help one another and not ignore the tragedy right under our nose.
Lately I have been having some wonderful discussions about the difference between horse training and therapy. As of May 1st, I announced that I would no longer be offering either horse training or therapy but that Spirit Horse will now combine the best of both. The feedback has been mixed (to my semi-surprise.) I know some folks believe that they should be kept separate, that our problems have no place in the saddle, and what possible good could come from talking in the tack? Trust me, I am no stranger to these comments and for me, my life passion is about respectfully challenging the ways we do things, the way we treat our horses, the way we treat our friends, family, community, and ourselves. Over the years, I noticed that we work with horses a little bit as if we were a prison guard - the idea being that they need to do what we want… or else. This works up to a point, but then the horse asks us back, “or else what?” and we need to respond. Since we often establish a relationship based on control right off the bat with horses, the response is usually “or else I hurt you.” The problem with this is that it turns very ugly very quick and we now need to communicate through pain. Once we start that path, it is very difficult to get off of it (but not impossible!). Don’t get me wrong, horses need boundaries, just like us. Boundaries are what allow us to get to know each other more and on a deeper level. We need to know the rules of relationship, the do’s and don’ts, before we can become more subtle and establish how we will be in our time together, but boundaries don’t need to be angry or aggressive. Indeed, they just need to be clear.
In the documentary, Path of the Horse, a woman named Stormy May goes on a journey to find a better way of working with horses. She goes around the world meeting some of the best horse whisperers of our time. For those interested in this work, it is a must see. Nevzorov, one of the last whispers she meets in Russia, is able to combine relaxation and power in the horse with partnership and the effects are breathtaking. What he is able to do with horses is simply beautiful and in total harmony with the horse. Upon reading his book, The Horse Crucified and Risen, which is a very controversial read, he states that he thinks only a very limited few are able to do this work with horses at liberty and with the horses’ permission. After contemplating that statement from Nevzorov and, frankly, many other horse whispers who have said the very same thing, I respectfully disagree. AND, I do think that in order to work with horses where we create partnership, mutual respect, and one with no violence or aggression going either way, we have to check in with our beliefs and mindset because at the end of the day, horse whispering isn’t something we DO, its a state of mind. If our mind believes that the only way we can get what we want is through force, by making it happen for ourselves, by being bullied or bulling, by either hurting or being hurt, we will sadly never get to connect to the horse, and maybe we might not even get to connect fully to others. We need to be wiling to change our mindset, to change our beliefs, and ride and work without arrogance and pride being at the forefront of how we handle difficult situations. Not everyone is ready for this work, but those that are will be asked to change their mindset of who they are not what they do with horses.
I think this is why you meet horse people who are fantastic with horses, and yet, you don’t see their students have the same ability. Teachers are teaching what they do and yet, when we do something from a scared, tense, or confused mental place, it doesn’t really matter what we do because it most likely won’t work or it creates other problems that we now need to solve. We are not sure what to do next so we try doing what we were told to do bigger in hopes it will work, pull harder, kick more, bigger tools, bigger anger. Now we are fighting the horse, fighting ourselves, and the only way out that we know is to try to do something else, that may or may not work. If we work with the mindset of the human, how to clearly and calmly establish the rules, educate the horse on what we are hoping to accomplish and get them on board with our plan, the sky is the limit.
So do I think that horse training and therapy shouldn’t mix? I think it is a shame they don’t. I wish we were asked to question our way of relating to horses more, be challenged to find a more harmonious way with them, a more harmonious way with ourselves! If how we treat the horse is a metaphor for how we treat ourselves, then no wonder we struggle with anxiety and tension as a culture. We treat ourselves like we are never good enough, like we can’t be trusted to listen to our inner voice, to the part in all of us that can let go and realize that we actually don’t have as much control as we think. That our power lies in our ability to let go, in our ability to ask for what we want and create boundaries around how we don’t want to be treated. I will leave you with a quote from the grandfather of existential therapy that I think speaks beautifully to the work we can do with horses and the truth we can experience,
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Viktor E. Frankl
Yesterday I was sitting in a field, watching a horse run around a small grassy space, shaking layers of dust and tension off into the crisp fall air. I was sitting crossed legged on the ground in the dried grass, listening to the almost quiet. I found myself getting lost in a feeling. Everything slowed down, my breathing, my heart rate, the hawk sat quietly on the tree nearby, the golden horse started to shine, and everything felt in balance.
If any of us has truly spent time in nature, not just being a tourist in nature, but really spent time letting nature wash over you, a wisdom to it all starts to emerge. Very rarely does anything push or force, yet everything is in movement. Whenever there is an opening, a spot of sunlight, a break in the trees, an exposed rabbit, there is something to step into that opening. Everything dissolves into something, the plants, animals, water, earth.
We often as humans become to obsessed with the energy of doing, pushing, talking loudly and quickly, “faster is faster” energy, this need to force things to go our way. We are closing in on opportunity, what we want, on our opinions, on this addictive rush to stay busy and light. Its a great feeling, heavenly almost. The problem with this energy is that it isn’t sustainable. We will burn out and try as we might to drink caffeine, exercise more, start a new project in order to get that feeling back, we won’t. It’s like a tree trying to grow without any roots. It simply can’t be done.
There is a saying that I like a lot for those that are crashing down from this energy, “The bad news is that you are free falling from the sky, the good news is there is no ground to hit.”
I hear that most people fear that if they stop being busy, of forcing things their way, they will become sleepy and depressed. The beauty of that busy energy is a greater sense of self, of pride, vision in who we are. To me, the “grounded” side of that isn’t giving up on ourselves, but more realizing there is no ground to hit. If we stop forcing things, we actually make more openings. By making more openings, we don’t spend so much energy and therefore we have much more energy within ourselves to work with. We become like an untapped stream, plenty of vitality and movement, but now waiting for the right moment to come out.
What I love about horses is that they seem to be masters at taking that grounded energy and using it to move beautifully in this world. I heard once that horses were thought to be the perfect combination of heaven and earth in one being, and that many horse cultures felt that way. I can’t say I would disagree but sadly we often don’t give them space to teach us that. We struggle with sitting and listening to the wisdom around us, feeling the nourishment we can take in with every breath, feeling the openings around us, and using the least amount of energy that we need to - which is actually very little.
An exercise for horse folks and non-horse folks - try doing something with your horse, whether it is sitting on them or leading them, and try doing it with while using the least amount of energy going out. Imagine you are going to keep all the energy within yourself and use the least amount of muscles you can. Take a breath, and then use less muscle, less energy. Instead of seeing what happens, see what changes. For those that don’t have horses on your journey, you can do this in an interaction with another person, with a different type of animal, or maybe even while opening a jar in your kitchen. Find that energy within and instead of having it leak out, let that internal movement make an opening. Get curious. What shifts?
Today is a special day in a long standing journey, today is Spirit Horse’s first year anniversary...
Spirit Horse had been a dream and vision of mine for over 15 years. It all started with a little red horse named Rubi, who I leased a decade and a half ago. Rubi was a firecracker of a little mare with a long list of issues that would put her in the category with most equestrians of dangerous and unsuitable. Needless to say, she wasn’t responding well to the more “conventional” methods of horsemanship and so my first set of questions were born; why do we train horses the way we train? What is our goal when we work with horses? It is to give us pride? Give us worth? To connect? To have fun? Through working with trust and connection with Rubi, I started working on trust and connection in other places in my life. As I watched my peers bully and tease one another to gain self importance, I saw riders bully and tease their horse for the same reasons. I also started to see a different way, a quieter way that wasn’t so obvious. I saw people who were at peace with themselves, living for bettering humanity. They weren’t the ones bragging or being critical of others, they were the ones riding their horse at dusk in the shadows of the sun looking connected and in sync with their horses at every moment. They weren’t living for pride but for true harmony and you could see it in their eyes, in the way they handled interactions, how their horses responded to them, and in just about every gesture they made.
These questions, these observations, sent me on a spiritual and psychological quest to understand the answers. What is it that helps people be in harmony? What do some people understand that helps them live in health? What are these secrets that allow us to live physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in a better place?
Using these questions and starting with a curiosity of our horse and human relationship, I wanted to understand the role of healing through counseling psychology. I added eight years of college, mixing in spiritual principles from Aikido, Tai Chi, Buddhism, the mystics, theories of the perennial concept with the framework and discipline of psychology. I was kindly given a job at a horse farm training and teaching while I also was able to work with an array of horse trainers that were considered some of the best in their fields. It was almost like having three seemingly separate paths; the journey to human wisdom, the knowledge of psychotherapy, and the art of horse whispering, begin to merge and Spirit Horse was born.
I want to thank the countless mentors and teachers that helped me combine these roads to offer a different way of working with ourselves, our horses, and our world. I have been so blessed to have the wisdom holders of these different paths teach me their art and I am so honored to be able to pass it on. I want to thank those who have supported the starting and first year of Spirit Horse, those who have lent horses, offered rides, made space, and got involved. Most of all, I want to thank those who have come to learn, to process, to discover, and to heal. Every one of you have inspired me, whether our journey’s crossed for an hour or I am blessed to see you multiple times a week, I appreciate deeply having been a part of your process.
I truly hope that this path that brought me to start Spirit Horse, these questions, the knowledge, the wisdom, the heart opening quality of this work is contagious enough that it spreads quietly and changes lives for the better, and that it puts seeds in our minds that we can decide to grow when the time is right. Thank you all again for being part of the community!
Kaia Livingstone is a psychotherapist who runs a private practice outside of Boulder, CO. She specializes in helping horses and humans bond in order to help them relate and connect on a deeper level as well as heal and grow.