It always nice to hear from people that have used the services at Horses for Causes, one autistic boy came for therapeutic riding. Niall (not his real name) was not very confident, as with most Autistic Spectrum Disorders, he came with a long catalogue of problems, issues and difficulties. The team at Horses for Causes became firm friends with his parents and Niall’s siblings, we have always kept in touch.
Today Niall returned not for therapeutic riding but for another equine assisted activity, this time working from the ground. His mum told me that Niall had become upset over an incident at school, because he could not understand or process what had happened he had become quiet and withdrawn.
Niall’s two best friends at school had been fighting at school, they both lied to a dinner lady to get out of trouble, (one of the boys told his dad that he had lied to which his dad said don’t worry it’s ok) unfortunately in Niall’s black and white world social stories don’t cut it, there is no acceptance of ‘sometimes people do lie’. No matter how much his mum tried to explain to her son, Niall would get upset, he began to distrust his friends – what would happen if they lied to him too, he feared as they would get older they would get in trouble and why would a parent say it’s ok to lie?
I spoke to a co facilitator and discussed ways in which we could help Niall, it was so complex but as always we managed to pull something out of the bag.
The event or incident had happened before Christmas 2016, we were now in the middle of January 2017 – to go over the event was meaningless, although I am not from a mental health training background I am aware of cognitive behavioural therapy so we decided to look at thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Why do things leave us feeling the way we do, and why we react to them the way we do?
In the session we laid a triangle shape of poles on the ground in a small exercise pen, our equine aid was Dusty, a pony with lots of character. Our other visual aids are a handful of facial icons, similar to those smileys you have on iphones, these are A4 laminated sheets with colourful smiles, sad faces, angry faces etc.
We asked Niall if he could recall a happy memory and asked him to choose some faces that reflected how he felt at that particular time, then place the faces on the sides of the triangle. Each side of the triangle representing thoughts, feelings and behaviour. All went well until we asked about a sad moment, Niall found it difficult to explain and wanted mum that had been present to talk for him. I suggested to my co facilitator and Niall’s mum that we all come up with a sad or not so happy scenario. In turn we spoke to Niall and each other about their ‘sad’, each example giving a thought, how did that make us feel, what we did with that feeling. Obviously our intent was not to choose an example of bereavement so we became mindful and careful about our ‘sad’ stuff, but after each person had spoken, Niall would hug that person because I assume he thought it would make things better.
During all this, the facilitators had notice Dusty was trying to eat a holly bush, it was brought to everyone’s attention, Niall decided that it wasn’t very nice and Dusty should not eat it so went over tapped him on his side and told him not to eat it. Strangely enough Dusty stopped eating and followed Niall away from the holly bush. In any equine assisted learning session as facilitators we are always looking at what the horse does and relay more about our observations, Dusty takes a look at the triangle and takes a great interest in a smile icon, he walks around the triangle and then walks through the triangle and over some of the laminated sheets. Niall laughed, in fact we all did.
‘Dusty has just walked all over my thoughts and feelings”
But then Dusty returned to the holly bush.
We can guide our friends away from trouble but if they choose do whatever that’s up to them, unfortunately we cannot stop them! The message was simple and even for a young boy with autism it was easier to understand.
‘He’s a bit like my friend’
Thank you Dusty.
I’m a few years plus, into this exciting work, it’s a real gift to have the opportunity to bring together my passion for horses with my indoor therapy clinic and take it outdoors.
Initially I found myself grappling around in the dark and feeling deskilled and needless to say “trying too hard” and wondering what I was missing and why I found the work hard and staccato fashion, not flowing, no themes or patterns.
For months I projected my uncertainties and dissatisfaction with this innovative work seeking external answers. (I hadn’t realised how well I was blocking my way forward!) By looking for precise equipment, such as, poles, cones crates, boxes and so much more. (ah, now it will work!), but guess what nothing really changed. Ah! Now I know what it must be, my environment, of course why didn’t I realise this ages ago, this will be the answer! So I set off having new barn doors, tidying up, painting the stables, creating a specific therapy area in the barn and generally setting out my stall. Hey, guess what nothing much changed.
Throughout my journey into EAP, EAT and EAL I have attended workshops up and down the country, visiting regional meetings, joining EAGALA and completing part 1 and 2 in July 2014 both as an MH and ES. So now I must have cracked it. I’ve learnt about clean language, not getting in front of my clients, ground based exercises and so much more that I couldn’t do it justice to go into here.
But why was I still struggling? I just couldn’t seem to find the answers. I spoke to my supervisor, Sarah Urwin at length; her words of encouragement have been second to none. She would help me to demystify EAT/EAL. Alongside the support of my colleague and friend Sharon Wood (Director/Practitioner http://www.soarwesternvalley.co.uk) their messages have been for me to take my psychotherapy, counselling, coaching and supervision outdoors. Take my therapy out of my indoor clinic and into the stables, fields and all the elements of the outdoors.
So the next thing for me to do is to “BE” with my clients and my horses. I stopped “trying” and started “being”. By slowing right down and taking the time to breath and just see what is going on around me, say what I’m seeing or better still creating space for my clients to be able to take the space and say what they are seeing. By my observations and reflections of what I see and experience intervening where appropriate, facilitates the partnership between my client and the horses and enables the process of Equine Assisted Therapy.
Oh at last!!!!! I think I’m getting it.
We haven’t touched the equipment for months, so how can I be offering Equine therapy. Well let me tell you, I’ve been using the hay manger, horse’s behaviour as they eat and the projections and metaphors that were there before our very eyes. But now the client seems to be at ease with the process whether it’s about eating disorders, family dynamics, personal relationships, communication and so much more. How the horses muscle in and snatch the hay, eat at different places, is there a pattern are there changes and shifts etc.? Client’s being able to identify and see what’s happening with several aha! moments. Light bulb moments flashing about as if there is something magical happening, but no, it’s just EAT and EAP.
We move into the stables and learn about the horse’s eating needs and how my clients can observe behavioural outcomes from the horses before, during and after the feeding regimes. By simple changes in timings and patterns of the indoor feeding regime demonstrates control, agitation, restlessness and highlighting for my clients by the horses behaviours, issues they have never recognised in themselves before.
All of this work and so many more examples are underpinned by my knowledge and experience as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1995 and my life around horses since 1966 these together create a solid base for my clients to grow , learn and overcome issues with Equine Assisted Therapy.
I feel truly privileged to have found this developing model of therapy and learning. Equine Assisted Therapy is now an integrated part of my practice.
During a recent trip to Huddersfield I was reminded of an EAGALA event that took place at Derby Equestrian College where attendees had a snip of advanced training and the use of metaphors during an Equine Assisted Learning exercise. The trip was long and tedious. It was fraught with upsets and I hoped that the workshop scheduled for the following day would go smoothly. I had some idea of what was planned but nothing had really been set in stone.
Staying overnight in a beautiful stone cottage surrounded by rolling hills, fields and horses was EAH-equine assisted heaven or for me a haven. Looking out of the bedroom window I saw a large horse nibbling the fence. When the horse saw my face at the window it stopped momentarily then carried on gnawing. An equine specialist seeing a horse crib biting would automatically think of boredom or stress. Through EAGALA’s eyes what did I see? Frustration – the horse was frantically biting and gnawing, teeth on wood. It stopped again and looked to the left where a smaller brown pony, eating the grass, had turned away from the larger one. It didn’t seem interested in the large one, oblivious to its presence. The large horse returned to the eating the fence. A few moments passed then it made its way over to the brown pony. Unhappy with its presence the brown pony swished its tail and lifted a hind leg as if to warn the horse away. It lifted its head and turned to look at the horse. With ears pinned back the warning was clear -‘stay away-I don’t want you in my space’. The large horse stood and waited, then walked a few paces behind as the little brown pony walked away still swishing its tail. I wondered what the large horse had done to deserve being ousted by the little brown pony. Why was the little brown pony being so aggressive and mean? What had the large horse done to be treated with such contempt?
I continued to watch as the two wandered over to a nearby gate. The large horse walked alongside the small brown pony its tail still swishing and ears still pinned back. They turned their heads together nose to nose. There was no malice or squealing. There was no fighting but an acceptance of each other, a tolerance perhaps. It was as if the little brown pony was saying ‘I will share my space but on my terms only’ and other horse accepted that.
As nature called it was time for a trip to the bathroom. Another window looked out into a field with more horses. I was starting to enjoy this trip after all.
Two large cobby type horses stood in the shade of a tree enjoying the early morning sunshine at their fore legs and hooves, two miniature ponies were lying down, their legs and hooves tucked underneath them. I wondered how something so big could be trusted not to tread on something so small and not just one horse or pony but two of each of equal size. How did the miniatures communicate that they wanted to share the same shady spot? How did they make the large cobs aware of the spot they wished to lie in? I was witnessing the huge amount of mutual respect that had been established among this little herd.
I started to look forward to the day ahead. I would be meeting a wide variety of attendees, some therapists and some horsey people. What a coincidence that the agenda for the day was based on communication and trust. I had not seen the agenda but had already been pre-informed, not by my co facilitator but by the horses.
Thank Calypso, Cameo, Bobbie and the little mini.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
“Hi, my name is Dillon, not so much a horse for a cause, at only 13.1 hands high I am more a pony with a purpose.
I have been at Soar Valley Western Stables since I was 2 years old, boy did I have some issues. I trusted no one. Someone tethered me as a foal so as I grew, the head collar I had on at the time didn’t so I now have scars around my head. Do you think after that I was going to let any one touch my face!
Sharon and Malc have been kind, considerate and patient. They helped me overcome my fear and pain. Now I repay that kindness along with the others in the herd to help people of all ages, of all abilities and disabilities to feel good about themselves.
Our work is not hard, we are fed, groomed and looked after in a way that maybe alien to other horses. Whilst I live in a natural as possible environment, we are cared for and so loved by all our visitors. Some of our visitors do not speak, they make funny noises and they make strange hand gestures but because I trust Sharon and Malc, I know that they will not let any harm come to me.
My job is to stand and be groomed (you cannot beat a plastic curry comb over a rough winter coat!) and to walk with people to build their confidence. Horses look to humans for leadership (they think that they are taking the lead but I know different), for children I will happily let them ride me. I am multi skilled and from the amount of treats (usually carrots) I am much appreciated.
Whilst I am one of twelve equine delights, I must give a mention to the canine members of the team. Red the dog is always around to wag his tail and again make everyone relax. He had a very rough start in life and like me was cruelly treated as a youngster. For people who have serious anxiety problems, Red will sit down at their side and demand attention. His calm but clown like behaviour makes everyone laugh and installs confidence and trust. His friend Mae joined the family two years later, she also loves to be fussed.
We know our job and we do it well, please visit the web site www.soarvalleywestern.co.uk catch up with Horses for Causes on Facebook, on you tube Horses for Causes Equine Assisted Therapy, you can see us all acting as horses do, otherwise contact Sharon on 0775 3639228 or Malc on 07710 386498, we all look forward to meeting you.”