How do horses help people who are bereaved? I have witnessed this happen many times and it is always profound.
Have you ever finally let go of your tears and let them flow only to have a well-intentioned person tell you “Don’t cry, be strong and move forward”?
I can promise you that if you cry in front of a horse, it will not tell you to stop crying and move on. A client came to see me as they were grieving the loss of their mother. We were standing in the barn one Saturday evening and ‘Georgia’ who is a large mare had her head out of her stall window and the client stood beside her weeping quietly. As this person was crying, Georgia just stood with her head beside the client’s head holding space letting their tears fall without offering “sage advise”. Like Georgia, I too didn’t speak and just let this person release their tears.
With the sounds of a dozen horses calmly chewing and the smells of the barn, this person stood weeping quietly and I stood silently by. As I stood there, the horses, one by one, left their hay, and put their heads out of their stall windows in support of this person. After this client stopped crying, the person stroked Georgia’s soft face and I invited the client to turn around. When they turned around, 11 horses had their heads out of their stalls showing their silent and thoughtful support. This person told me this was the most meaningful support they had felt in their grief thus far and no words were spoken. At this moment, I realized that supporting someone by just being there and not speaking is often more powerful than words can ever be. The horses taught me this that Saturday.
Another client who had lost their spouse was facing the next four seasons without them. We divided the arena into four sections each representing one of the four seasons. This person had the support of a lovely paint gelding called ‘Mojo’ as they walked through each season talking about how they could honour the spouse’s memory in each season. In the spring they could plant a tree to honour their memory. In the summer they would spend time in nature remembering their walks with their dog. In the fall they would use some of their spouse’s favourite recipes and donate the food they made from those recipes. As the client started walking to winter with Mojo by their side they stopped and told me this was particularly tough as their spouse loved Christmas. I encouraged the person to take a deep breath and just stand there until they were ready, reminding them Mojo would be there to walk with them. They stood for a time looking at the section representing Christmas and slowly started to walk. Mojo walked behind the client. Just before they were to step over a pole representing the Christmas season the person paused and at that moment received a soft nudge from Mojo encouraging the client to move into the season of Christmas. The client told me that nudge is what they will recall when moving through the Christmas season which will make it a little easier to navigate.
If you are facing the Christmas season and missing someone you love, I hope you can receive comfort in honouring that person’s memory.
Sue Dixon, owner of Partnering Horses with Humans, is a Certified Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator through Horse Spirit Connections and Cartier Farms (Dreamwinds), and a Registered Coach through Equestrian Canada. Sue and her beloved horse Egalie were the 2014 champions of the beginner division of the North East Trillium Hunter Jumper Association. Sue has a degree in Sociology from the University of Waterloo.
Sue has 33 years of experience working at a local corporation with leadership in quality and health and safety. Sue’s role with Partnering Horses with Humans is that of facilitator; helping clients find their own wisdom by tapping into the horse’s wisdom. Sue operates her business out of two locations and offers services and workshops to individuals, couples, families and workplace