In my previous story Riding Wisdom, I wrote about how I began to learn about Equine Assisted personal growth. The one experience I‘d had from Epona Approved Instructor Leigh Shambo’s workshop had left me anxious for more. Somehow I knew that at some deep level that this work was the only way I could heal parts of myself that I had been unaware needed healing.
In 2002 I had the opportunity to attend an Epona workshop with author Linda Kohanov at Sandra Wallin’s Chiron’s Way Centre in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. The workshop with Linda and her Epona Approved Instructors did indeed awaken aspects of my psyche I hadn’t experienced before. From the moment I first asked for an intuitive message for myself while standing in front of the first horse, amazingly vivid and complex symbolic visions began to emerge. I immediately began to recognize these visions as aspects of myself, and my life challenges. Each experience through the entire week evolved and grew one upon the other, like a story unfolding. Two of the horses seemed to have particularly profound messages for me, and I knew that they were a critical part of the healing and gifts of awareness that were beginning to awaken within me.
The experiences with the horses became metaphors for my life experiences. Most importantly – this happened as a process of self-discovery that naturally unfolded in the context of a workshop – rather than from experiencing a series of “exercises” designed to trigger certain experiences. Each time I engaged a horse in the context of the workshop – with a facilitator’s guidance, Linda’s instruction, and the increased awareness of how to access my own wisdom, the visions I received in each encounter began with my request for the horse to help me define the vision further, and each time, I not only received an answer in some way, but a subsequent emotional or physical transformation also took place. I began to learn the difference between my what Linda defined as my Authentic Self and my False Self, and I began to access my own wisdom through the horses.
I witnessed equally miraculous transformations taking place in the other participants. I was truly inspired by the amazing gift of this work in the world, and the power it has to change people’s lives.
I returned home forever changed. I began to integrate the lessons into my life in a subconscious way – I reacted to situations and challenges with more inner strength, I was less afraid of making decisions. I had a new found confidence that allowed me to try new things. In emotional situations I was able to more clearly define what my feelings were and identify why I was feeling that way, and then I was able to make better choices by listening to my emotions, rather than thinking of them as something I had no control over.
My next work with Epona learning began when I signed up for the EASE program at Linda Kohanov’s Epona Facility in Tucson, Arizona. This workshop allowed a more thorough exploration of the work I had been learning, incorporating it into an educational program designed to allow the participants to experience both their own insights, and also more of an inside view of the different types of exercises that could be taught with horses as facilitators. Most students would go on from this to pursue an apprenticeship to teaching Equine Assisted therapy. I was content in just exploring the learning experiences for myself.
The workshops themselves were life changing. Yet amazingly, my insights and experiences didn’t stop when the workshops were over. Whenever I had the opportunity to be in the presence of horses, I was able to access inner wisdom that I had never thought possible before.
One of the homework assignments for the EASE workshops had been to take some riding lessons. I felt I had begun to heal my fear of riding, but really hadn’t considered riding as a lifestyle for myself. Though I had rescued several horses to live on my farm, I had never thought that riding would be a reality for me. But I was a dutiful student and so I signed up for riding lessons at a nearby farm teaching Parelli training methods.
The lessons I took gave me techniques, but I still struggled with one essential element, which seemed to elude me. When I was in an arena – with no definite plan of action or direction, I could never seem to create an enthusiasm for “what” to do. The idea of picking a point and riding to it never really seemed to make sense to me. It was like the arena was a black piece of paper and I couldn’t think what I’d want to create with the horse in that environment. I didn’t have enough tools, and I knew this was an important component to riding, but what I didn’t know was that it was also a metaphor for an important life lesson.
I then learned about riding from a horse named Hakomi. But she didn’t just teach me how to ride horses, she taught me how to ride life.
I had met Hakomi’s person, Lauri in an Epona workshop. I went to the ranch where Lauri boarded Hakomi. When we parked the car, we could see Hakomi standing in her paddock on a rise, looking over at us with complete focus. Somehow I knew, she was waiting for me.
Lauri saddled her and worked with her on the ground in the sand arena before riding, and then Lauri began riding her in similar patterns. I was amazed by the beauty of the dance they were creating. The harmonious image of the two of them working and playing together brought up a longing in me. I realized that this was the type of relationship I wanted to engender with my own self. I wanted to have a relationship with my inner self that reflected that same creative dance of ideas, goals, responses, and timing. Rather than the way I usually treated myself, by pushing myself or blaming myself for actions I had or had not taken.
As this emotion surfaced, Lauri and Hakomi approached me. Lauri said that every time she had let go of her focus in directing Hakomi that she would immediately turn and come to me – as if I was a magnet drawing her to me. I expressed my emotions of what I had felt watching them. Lauri dismounted and said that she felt Hakomi was asking that I ride her. It was like being asked to dance – in the most loving way – a feeling I had never had the pleasure of receiving in that way before from a horse.
I got into the saddle, and with the usual nudges and directions with the reins, I asked Hakomi to walk, but at first she was halting in her movements. My “false self” thoughts kicked in and I began to think thoughts like “I doing something wrong. She knows I don’t know how to ride well, etc”.
I didn’t have any fear, but rather I encountered that same dynamic I had experienced in the past in other riding experiences. In this large and empty riding arena – which direction should I pick? What exactly do I do that would be enjoyable for the horse and me? These were questions I didn’t have the answers to.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to choose a direction, I walked up to the gate and told Lauri what I was feeling. I said, “I can’t figure out what to do to choose any given direction. There isn’t an interesting path or a goal – so I don’t have the incentive to pick a place and go to it. When I try to select a direction – I feel like I go there with my mind, but I can’t get my body or Hakomi to follow.” Lauri pondered this. Then she said simply, “Go there with all of you.” I began to pick up the rein to turn Hakomi, and Lauri said, “Don’t use the reins – use your body”. So I looked at the other gate, which was diagonal to where I was, turned my body towards it and pressed with my legs like my riding teachers had told me to do. Hakomi stood there, unmoving. Lauri suggested, “I think you have to go there with everything in you.” I struggled to comprehend what she meant. Then I looked at the gate, and instead of thinking I had to physically manipulate my body and Hakomi’s to maneuver us into getting there. Or think of going there with my mind, I focused my will on the gate. I willed myself and it to come closer together as if we had a magnetic attraction; I looked forward to going to it with a joyful intent and purpose. And without any physical cue, Hakomi effortlessly turned and walked to the gate.
A sense of euphoria washed over me. I had done it! Now I understood what it meant when riding instructors say to pick a point and go to it. I looked at the other gate opposite me – and willed us to go to that gate… and we did. Before we got there, I wanted to turn and go back to the other gate, and Hakomi turned at my body, but also at the thought. We were walking, and I thought – I’d like to go faster, and she moved into a lovely, effortless trot. I laughed out loud. We turned and walked toward Lauri, who was standing there smiling at us. I dismounted, thanking Hakomi for the amazing lesson, as tears flowed down my face.
Something very, very important had just taken place in me. It wasn’t just the sense of accomplishment of doing a task. It was something deep and profound. I hadn’t quite realized yet what it was but I would know in time. What I did know was that Hakomi had led me there. I had always known that riding was a challenging and rewarding pursuit, but I had never known that it could be magic.
The following week I headed to a nearby retreat center to help Linda Kohanov teach a workshop. As I began my travels, rather than my customary tension, I felt an unfamiliar sense of ease. Even when challenges came up in my travel day – I just took them in stride rather than feeling out of control. As the days passed, I realized that I felt confident, centered, and most notably – safer; safer in the world.
Usually when away from home I was easily challenged by any kind of discomfort – either physical or mental. If I felt at all uncomfortable – too cold, too hot, hungry, or tired, I could become moody or depressed. These qualities had been a part of me for as long as I could remember, and I had orchestrated my life around trying to create a dynamic where I wouldn’t feel physically or emotionally challenged. But of course inevitably the real world would happen, shattering any sense of my fragile inner barometer of comfort, making me feel constantly vulnerable and at odds.
I realized that Hakomi had taught me that riding her in that way was a metaphor for life. To visualize the flow of life as a process of making choices based on desire. The process of flowing with shifting awareness from moment to moment, making decisions based on trust, with an awareness of the mercurial qualities of life. Somehow that experience had allowed me to feel more in control of my reality and my destiny. Like all of the experiences I had learned from the horses, the realization came after the experience – and the experience was so deeply ingrained at every level, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, that it was transformational.
The lessons that I have learned from my horse teachers continue to unfold. In the process, I have begun to rediscover a long buried source of wisdom within me. That first impulse to heal my fear of riding led me into pathways I never could have foreseen – to destinations that are unfolding with each step of a four footed beat.