How I got here: my life and work with horses (part 1).

I’ve been a horse person my whole life–long before I ever actually got on a real horse.

No, I have never had my own horse. Unless you count my varied collection of toy horses–and I had quite the range… Miniature plastic horses that came labelled by breed, the fuzzy larger ones you could buy from the basket in my favorite toy store, the fancier breyer horses with their fragile legs, and soft, stuffed versions to sit on my bed. Not to mention the my little ponies, rocking horses, and even stick horses, often homemade with sock faces and yarn manes and tails. I even had a barn in my bedroom that my Dad built out of scrap wood in our basement.

I started riding at age 11, and that was that. I rode at home during the winter, and at camp during the summer. I rode with our college equestrian club and at the barns affiliated with both of the boarding schools I worked for post-college. I’ve ridden wherever and whenever I could, and I haven’t taken more than a few months off in almost 18 years.

Early on in this process I was lucky enough to land myself with a riding teacher, Shirley, who worked with a small group of girls for basic lessons during the winter, and taught therapeutic riding over the summer. I’ve had many wonderful riding instructors, and many of the women who I count as having the strongest influences on my life are the ones who I met through riding, but Shirley, she was something special. She passed away while I was in college, and I still feel that loss.

Shirley taught me how to ride, but she also taught me about the potential of human-horse connection, and I’ve been chasing a way to harness that potential ever since. During my senior year of high school I put together a paper and presentation on the impact of riding and working with horses–focusing on personal growth/mental health, and tying in what I had learned about Daoist philosophy (that’s a whole other subject, maybe this should be a series?). I’m pretty sure everybody thought I was crazy–but I knew there was something there.

A little over ten years later, I’m starting to find it. Last summer I began working as a counselor for an equine assisted psychotherapy program, which at some point between college and graduate school is what I realized I wanted to do. It just made sense.

That being said, I’m at the very beginning of this journey, and I often still have days where I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Every day is a challenge. But I know that even the bad days are opportunities to learn and to grow, to try something new and figure out how and why it works, to practice and practice and practice until the language and the process become part of me. I can feel it starting to pay off, and I know that my skill level is growing, but it’s a learning process, like anything else. And in order to do it well, sometimes you need to feel the pain inherent in growth. What’s the saying, two steps forward, one step back? Sometimes it’s the only way to move forward.

As I take on more clients and this process enters a new phase, I might be writing about it a bit more. So I’m trying to figure out if this is the right forum. In order to ease the transition, I’m including a few more photos than usual, mostly of rescues from an animal sanctuary I once photographed. Often these are the types of horses we end up using in therapy, so it seemed fitting.

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