I want to share with you an experience I had with a horse named Cowboy.
On Saturday I spent some time at a ranch I hang out at when I can. The barn rats and owners were away at a show so it was pretty quiet. A couple of the kiddos who live there were being cared for by their grandmother and came out to feed hay at lunchtime. That's when I learned the news... the heartbreaking news. One of the beautiful horses I'd worked with just a few times had coliced and passed away. Additionally, another horse had been sent out of state on a trial to be purchased by a family. The herd had changed overnight (well, over a week or so). Imagine an Aunt and little brother you live with just gone.
The horse that is on trial's name is Spongebob! Yep, good ole Spongebob:-) He and Cowboy were besties. And I mean literally Cowboy would freak out if he wasn't with Spongebob in the barn or within 10 feet of him somewhere. They spent every day and every night together. And then, Spongebob was loaded into a truck and taken away. Cowboy hasn't seen him since. There's no way you can explain to a horse that their pal is being adopted.
I found Cowboy pacing in his stall with a new understanding of what was going on with him. My heart broke. He missed his buddy! So I decided to spend some time with him simply with the purpose of letting him know he was not alone and that he was safe - no expectations of performance or behavior. Just a pal to grieve alongside him. Horses are like humans in that way. They need their herd. They were created to exist in relationship. And he'd just lost his most important one.
I had concerns about allowing him to run free in the round-pen. When a horse is agitated, their stalls are often the safest places for them. Give them room to run, buck and kick and they could hurt themselves. I spent a little time evaluating the situation and decided he wasn't too hot and to give it a try. I put a halter on him in case I needed to bring him back in and slowly allowed him into the round-pen. And off he went! Running, running, kicking, running! Oh boy, had I made a mistake?!
As he was galloping around the round-pen he would stop suddenly at the same spot over and over again and neigh out into the rest of the ranch waiting for a reply from Spongebob. He stood quietly for a few seconds then starting racing around when he didn't hear the response from his friend he so desperately yearned for. I went to the center of the round-pen, crouched to the ground, and just began to breathe deeply and slowly. I asked Cowboy to come down to a walk in sync with my breathing. I told him he was safe.
After about 15 minutes he had slowed to a walk/trot with intermittent stops to cry out for Spongebob. I decided to slowly stand up now, and see what affect that had on him. Even just a small movement of standing up, making myself bigger, caused him to begin galloping again. I returned to deep breathing, asking him to walk, telling him he was safe, all while not looking directly at him. Once again, he came down to a walk and continued calling out to his friend.
At this point I'm thinking, "what can I do? What could comfort and maybe distract Cowboy for a few seconds to give him a safe connection?". I decided to gently ask him for attachment (asking a horse to be in relationship and connected with you by their own choosing). At first he ignored me altogether. In fact, the increase in the tiniest pressure caused him unhealthy stress. So I backed off and used my breath and my eyes to ask him to notice me. He did!! And then back to pacing, back and forth and back and forth. I asked again. This time I used my breath, my eyes and my voice and called his name, "Cowboy! I'm here!". After a few minutes of what appeared to be ignoring but I could tell he was paying some attention (slowed rhythm, twitch of his ear, etc) he stopped, looked at me and slowly decided he'd come meet me in the center of the round-pen. Progress!!! He touched his soft nose to my hand then slipped away back to the pacing. I continued to work with him until he connected to me about 15 times. He never stayed with me, never stopped completely when he brushed his nose against my hand. But he did come closer so I could rub my body on his as he walked away. Those were 15 interruptions to his panic and 15, albeit small, pieces of comfort.
This all happened in about a 45 minute timeframe. I was in the sun, my forehead was getting burned and I was pretty emotionally exhausted. I went and sat in a shaded area in the round-pen so I could continue to be with him, but also take care of myself. During the 15 minutes or so I was sitting he came by 4-5 times, nudged me in the head, shoulder or arm with his nose and walked away. He was just checking to be sure I was still there. He had stopped calling out to Spongebob and was now slowly pacing with his head hanging low. Part of me felt like that was him feeling some comfort and support. The other just wondered if he'd given up on Spongebob. Either way, he was now in a safer space emotionally. Sad? Grieving? Yes. But safe and processing.
I eventually had to bring him back to his stall and head home. He wasn't happy. Neither was I. But we'd done enough for one day, both of us.
Forward to Tuesday... I'm sitting in an EMDR session and told the therapist my quick version of my time with Cowboy. How beautiful yet heartbreaking it was. How intimate and personal that time was. And then we moved on. My thoughts were all over the place. Not much seemed to be making sense to me. Then toward the end of the the appointment it hit me! It hit me hard!
It's difficult to find words for this part... so many emotions and tangents. But here's my try.
I was processing some old trauma feelings when all of the sudden I WAS COWBOY! He was me! That had been my life. How often had I cried out for help with no response? How many times was I completely alone with no one to comfort or support me? How frequently was I terrified to even consider crying out for help? And then I lost my voice altogether. Cowboy helped me to see a deep, painful reality of my childhood - There. Was. No one. And I still needed to grieve this out.
Tears, sobbing, heartache. What a gift this horse had given me! I then realized why I felt compelled to sit with him, to hold a safe place for him, to let him know he was not abandoned. I also realized this was a significant breakthrough for me and my healing. All because of a horse (well, and God, of course!).
And THIS is why I feel so strongly about equine assisted therapy. I was simply interacting with a hurting horse and God was able to use that to bring healing into my life. How much more can he do for other hurting horses and hurting people?
I then began thinking about trafficking/sexual assault survivors. This is them, too! They are Cowboy, crying out for help. Who will answer them? (*crying, sniffling) Who will help them find safety, comfort and peace? Can you imagine how alone they must feel locked in a hotel room or on the streets or sold in their own homes with nowhere to run?! We must hear their cries. We MUST respond. WE MUST BE THEIR SPONGEBOB! (I know it's silly, but stay with me here!).
Please keep these victims and survivors in your prayers. Please pray for the survivors I may one day work with. Please pray for their safety, for comfort, for protection. And thank God for sharing His beautiful creatures with us to reveal the truth about Christ and the reality of the grace we have with Him. My favorite verse is Deut. 33:12. "Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders."
I pray you all and all the girls, boys, men and women being sexuallly exploited rest securely between his shoulders, tonight and every night.