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The Healing Power of Grief and Tears in the Loving Embrace of Horses

21 July 2013

 A few years ago I had an experience with my herd of horses which stays strongly in my memory to this day. 

The pressure and tension had been building steadily in me for weeks if not months. I was feeling physically isolated and the constant financial pressure involved with running a business single-handedly was getting to me. I was gradually finding the simple daily tasks of looking after the horses like giant mountains to climb, while simultaneously needing to be fully present and calm for my clients, no matter what I was feeling. 

On one particularly challenging day when the wind was blowing hard up on the hillside where the horses lived, the electric fence was down, again, and I was once more alone trying to rectify everything around me. 

Then, suddenly, something in me gave-way; I had reached breaking point inside and I was done with trying to manage and keep things together. 

I walked away from the fencing and away from the horses to the other side of the hill. I lay down on the ground, curled up on my side in a foetal position and started to cry. Actually, what I mean is that I started to sob. Those gut-wrenching, deeply seated tears that come up from your belly, which are utterly uncontrollable and overtake your entire being. I began to lose some degree of consciousness of my surroundings as I let myself drop down into this deep and seemingly bottomless chasm of pain and grief. Aching with loneliness and pain, I held myself and also allowed the earth to hold me as I finally surrendered: no longer holding on, or holding back, no longer able to maintain this vice-like grip on my feelings, or maintain the hard armour wrapped carefully around me much of the time. 

I completely lost track of time and even of my surroundings. After this had gone on for some time, I started to slowly come-to and I became aware that I wasn’t alone. The next thing I felt was a warm soft breeze on my legs. Slowly I opened my sore, tear-filled eyes and was amazed to find that my entire herd had come over and had very closely surrounded me. 

My two beautiful chestnut mares Connie and LP were standing very closely to me on either side of my legs. LP, the gentlest of all horses, was softly breathing on my bare legs. Each deep long breath was pouring out of her nostrils onto my skin and into my body. My other mare Connie, normally quite a handful and not always the calmest of horses, was now standing the other side of me, her head hanging low and her breath deep and long too, as quiet and as gentle as she could possibly be. 

My beloved gelding North Star, the leader of the herd most of the time, was standing in front of us like a sentinel keeping watch and seemed to also be keeping us all protected. He was literally holding the space for the healing that was now taking place between the two mares and me; like a protective father or a leader of a group. 

I allowed myself to rest feeling utterly supported and loved within this beautiful space my horses had created all of their own volition. Simultaneously supporting me and holding the space for my grief to pour out of me unabated at last. Without me asking anything from them, they had chosen to come over and stand beside me in my deepest pain. In this moment I was no longer their care-taker, they were instead taking care of me. 

This letting go was an enormous thing for me to do at that time in my life. To surrender fully to my grief and to find myself metaphorically held in the safety net they had laid around me was quite something for someone who likes and needs to be so in control of herself and her surroundings most of the time. 

Gradually, the sobbing and involuntary jerks in my body started to slow down. I managed to sit up and I wrapped my arms around my knees. As I sat there, breathing more slowly than I had in a long time, and allowing the horses to hold me in their total loving embrace of peaceful protection, something unusual and strange began to happen in my body. I could feel myself start to sway and rock from side to side. I began to wonder: Was I doing this? Was I moving my body? But no, I realised my body was, in fact, moving itself. And, furthermore, I could not stop it. Able to trust now in the wisdom of the body and of the horses as powerful healers, I decided to just let go and let my body and nervous system do what it needed to. 

As I sat there, I literally became aware of and could feel my energy running through my veins. And then incredibly, that this energy was changing before my very awareness. I realised I was probably experiencing a major clearing out of old stuck emotions followed by a major replenishment of a different kind of energy in my body. It was as if an energetic re-balancing or regulation was taking place. Something very big had shifted in me and it felt like an invisible force from within my body was taking over and doing something completely out of my conscious control. My body continued to rock back and forth, and side to side, for about 20 minutes. Then, gradually it slowed down until eventually coming to a peaceful stop. 

The horses stayed exactly where they were the entire time. Just standing, peacefully and contentedly. I began to yawn and focussed on noticing what this new energy inside of me felt like. I felt calm. I felt at peace. I felt cleansed. I felt lighter and I felt so utterly, utterly loved by these animals. It felt to me like my horses had held me in their invisible equine arms, like a mother might hold her distressed baby, gently rocking it back and forth until the uncontrollable sobs dissipated and her baby once more was at peace. 

North Star lifted his head a little and seemed to take in the change of energy surrounding all of us and then lay down himself, followed soon after by each of the mares. All four of us now lay on the ground and rested side by side, silently and peacefully. 

My eyes and awareness were much clearer now. I looked at the stunning view of the hills opposite and enjoyed breathing deeply and slowly, this was such a change to my usual rushed and anxious state of my nervous system. 

I left the field that day a changed person. I could tell that I had released some deep-seated grief that I had held onto since I was very young. My body and heart felt different. I felt new somehow and I felt tired but simultaneously reinvigorated. 

I was also left with no uncertainty about the alchemical power of horses to choose to support people to heal, of their own free will. To help old wounds be revealed and released, thereby allowing the powerful healing energy of total love to pour into us from their enormous, generous hearts. That day in the field with my horses I was healed of a particular part of my own pain. The source of my grief came closer to my awareness, rather than languishing in a deep, dark well underground, and my tears cleansed and revitalised my entire energetic system. 

The beautiful and healing part of equine facilitated learning and therapy is that, unlike many people, horses don’t steer clear of very strong emotions like grief. In fact, the very opposite is the case, every single time: Feel your real pain, especially your tears and the horses will come closer to you than before. They will wrap their big, loving hearts around you and tell you: Yes, it is perfectly OKAY to cry. To surrender. To stop holding on. In fact, it is essential to allow the healing you so desperately crave take place. 

I am immensely grateful to my herd for that powerful and unforgettable experience and the many other subsequent experiences that took place over our time together. But that particular time was quite something else and something I will never, ever forget and will always remain eternally grateful for.

If you're curious about experiencing the gentle yet powerful healing of Equine Facilitated Learning with me please get in touch here: Contact me

 © Angela Dunning, 21st July 2013, updated 10 December 2017 and 5 October 2019.

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