By Kimberly Cardeccia MA, LPC
Horses have a sentient nature. They have a wisdom that transcends what we humans can understand. One thing that they have taught me, over and over again, is to be aware of and listen to their plan. When the plan they suggest to me differs than what I had in mind, I default to their wisdom and knowledge.
A new client, a young man about 24 with autism, was scheduled to come out with his mom for the first time. I had intended to bring my horse Anny from the field into the arena to meet this new friend.
I walked out with a halter and lead rope to walk Anny in. As I made my way to her, Anny picked her head up from the grass she was eating and walked about ten feet away from me. This was not like her at all. I stood there a bit bewildered. As I did, another one of my horses, Keystone, came up and stood next to me. I scratched him, saying hello, and tried to figure out what to do next. Keystone had already facilitated a session that day, so I didn’t want to ask him to come in again.
I decided to get another one of my horses close by, named Harley. As I moved toward him, he also lifted his head from where he was grazing and moved away. Now, I was really confused, and was just standing there when Keystone came up behind me and gently nudged me with his nose. I again petted him, and decided to give Anny one more try.
Yet again, as I moved toward Anny, she moved away like a repelling magnet. I stood there in disbelief. Keystone nudged me from behind again, not quite as gently this time.
Fine,I got it. You are telling me you need to come in, I thought as I put the halter on Keystone. He walked willingly with me as we made our way out of the field.
We were nearing the driveway on the way into the arena, when the new client and his mom pulled up. When the car stopped, the young man jumped out of the van and hurried toward us. He took the lead rope from my hand and walked Keystone right into the arena.
Neither Anny nor Harley would have followed quite so willingly, I am convinced. They would drag a human unfamiliar with horses to the very best grassy places—the opposite direction of the arena, of course.
Keystone opened up the doors for a wonderful adventure for this young man, the horses, and myself. And, another amazing component was that from that day on, for almost three years, Anny was the one that paired with this young man. I learned to listen, and I am happy to say that I usually catch on a bit quicker these days!
Horses have changed my life. As they influenced, nudged, and inspired me, they also showed me how I could help others through what they shared with me. For over a decade, I have had an equine facilitated counseling practice. This wasn’t a dream job I’d had since I was young, I didn’t even know that a job like this existed, but it’s exactly where the horses have led me.
Not born into horses, so to speak, I was finally able to take riding lessons when I was 13. I learned how to ride at a wonderful camp, where I got more horse and lesson time by helping care for the horses and teaching lessons to the younger kids in the year round lesson program. It was a fabulous situation for me, and helped me develop my love of learning, and teaching, as well as providing time around the horses that I loved so much.
When I got close to graduating from high school, I started working for a dressage professional, which meant that I worked for the opportunity to learn and be around horses. I learned a lot about the biomechanics of movement for both horses and riders, which coupled well with my parallel decision to be a physical education teacher. This background in body awareness and movement set a solid foundation for the techniques and principles I use now to help both humans and horses heal.
I earned my counseling degree and left teaching in the public school system to open a private counseling practice. At this time, I also fell back into teaching riding lessons. I noticed that the people that hired me to teach them how to ride a horse started making personal disclosures to me and having conversations that got real deep, real quick. In fact, they got much more real and deep than those people that hired me to help them make changes in their lives through counseling. I also noticed that my riding students were reporting other changes in their lives as their riding and relationship with their horse moved forward. They would share changes in relationships, promotions or accolades at work, and other things such as reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
I had joked for many years that when my riding lessons were going well so was the rest of my life, but it was getting real. I started to research, explore, and investigate the ways that horses could facilitate healing for people, as well as how we humans can direct our own lives through our personal growth.
An aspect of horses that complements self-growth work is their prey nature. A horse’s existence depends on its awareness of congruence, or things looking as they should. If everything is still and calm, with the long grass in the distance waving slightly in the breeze, all is well. It is congruent. If that long grass were to start to move in a very disruptive pattern, it could mean that a predator was lurking, waiting to pounce. That grass would not look as it should. It would be incongruent. This incongruency could have the horse on high alert, or already fleeing for its life.
We humans have our own congruence. We can call this mind, body, and spirit alignment. Some of what we experience in life—challenges, traumatic events, losses, or physical injuries, can cause us to be knocked out of alignment. Interacting with horses can help release these tensions and resistances and allow us to be more complete and whole. By being aware of what a horse is communicating, and adjusting our state accordingly, we can create meaningful experiences and interactions that allow healing for both humans and horses.
Over the years, the horses have taught me a way to interact with them that I’ve termed Inner Journey Horsemanship. Horses are social animals, and depend on their herd to keep them safe. When we take a horse from their herd mates and work together, we become their herd. Horses are wired to figure out who the leader is. The leader is the one who alerts the others to life threatening danger. One of the most powerful aspects of becoming a compassionate leader to a horse is that whatever necessary skills are needed, whatever we might need to let go of, or whatever we might need to practice and refine, are the same skills we need to lead our lives in the direction of our choice.
Kimberly Cardeccia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has been involved with horses for over 30 years. She combines her training and expertise into holistic methods to help clients heal their mind and body connection. Learn more about her and her programs at her website, www.hiddenpromisecampus.com or by emailing her at kimhiddenpromisecampus.com.