Horses Can Lead Us To, Through, and Beyond Grief

The phone rings and the voice on the other end says they saw the Ravenheart Farms advertisement and felt compelled to call. As they talk I listen carefully, mind paying attention to what their needs are and what inspired them to make the call. I hear an array of similar reasons, generic such as: they grew up with horses but have been away from them for many years; they have always loved horses, clinic but are afraid of them; they have horses, but want to understand and deepen their relationships with them; they are inspired by horses in their visions and dreams; or they are experiencing some kind of change or loss in their lives and are grieving.

As the conversation continues I start to detect a familiar theme of loss. The losses range from the death of a loved one, the end of a significant love relationship, loss of their own health, illness of a family member or close friend, and an assortment of other losses, big and small. They are grieving these losses, and somehow, they are called to connect to the horses.

I identify with this, and although I can’t rationally explain it, I acknowledge my intuition and my own experiences knowing my horses will respond to their grief in a fully accepting and appropriate way.
Many of us carry unresolved grief. It can lie so deeply buried we are not even aware of it. But the horses see us through our hearts, rather than through our minds of reason, and are somehow able to reach through the masks and layers of protective barriers in which we have wrapped our grief.

According to a pilot study conducted by Alliant International University (California, USA), Professor Ellen Gehrke, and the Institute of HeartMath a horse’s heart rhythms reflect their emotional state and can respond to the emotional state of a nearby human. I believe that as humans we respond to this heart connection with horses in a profound and meaningful way, and that just being in the presence of horses can create a deep sense of well-being.

It is now commonly understood that horses can pick up minute physical or emotional clues in people. Consequently, they can see through our masks to sadness and grief, even if we are not aware of, or in any way exhibiting, these feelings or emotions consciously.

During the Horses, Spirit & Play workshops at Ravenheart, we begin the day with everyone in the circle pulling a card from the Way of the Horse card deck created by Linda Kohanov, author of Tao of Equus and Riding Between the Worlds, and Kim McElroy, equine artist. The beautiful images portraying equine archetypes and the wisdom themes in the messages are a powerful way to open the day, and the discussion that occurs in response to the cards we draw begins the process of connection and trust, as we share the thoughts and emotions the cards evoke in us. We take turns reading for each other, and although I use many divination cards in my workshops and with clients, I am unable to get through a reading for someone without becoming choked up and emotional and often need to hand the book over to someone else to complete the reading. In fact, Kohanov writes that, “I knew I hadn’t gotten to the essence of certain stories if I wasn’t crying while I was writing. Those tears let me know when I’d hit something deep and authentic. Sometimes tears express sadness, frustration, or even anger that needs to be released. Other times tears well up when you uncover a part of yourself that was buried under all that’s logical and socially acceptable.”

Horses can lead us on a path directly to, through, and out of our grief. They are sentient and intelligent beings that can take us on a journey of astute and compassionate care, while we safely release the sadness and grief, and gently support us as we move into lightness and freedom of heart.

At the close last summer of a weekend workshop that incorporated a number of equine-assisted learning activities, I designed the final activity with the intent to create an experience that would inspire a feeling of sacred celebration and connectedness with the participants and the horses, using music and dance as the vessel. Serenaded by Jane Siberry’s sweet voice singing Calling All Angels, each trio danced, moved, and celebrated with each other, along with my sweet and loving buckskin mare Sugar. As the music began and the first “trio” entered the round pen, the tears started to flow, both inside and outside the pen! Those on the outside watched with reverence as each trio moved through various levels of grief, sadness, joy, and elation and we knew we were witnessing powerful healing and transformation in these sacred moments.

Recently a friend shared with me her journey through grief and her deep healing with horses after the loss of her beloved husband:
“One cold and wintry day, a couple of months after my husband John had gone on to his new journey, I was driving home from work and as I entered my little village, horses and a glorious sunset met me. I knew I would be facing another night of going home to a place that was only a memory of what my life had formerly been. I stepped out of my car and into the pasture with the horses. I felt a sense of love and warmth all around me. The horses knew I needed healing. They seemed to sense the broken part of me and gathered around me. I stood with them until I was too cold to stay any longer.”

The horses my friend gathered with that night allowed her to connect to, acknowledge, and release a torrent of suppressed grief. Grief she was carrying not only for herself but for her family and friends. When she opened fully to her pain and vulnerability in the presence of these loving and gentle beings, she was able to move forward in beauty and peace. The power of her own healing journey with horses inspired her to take the steps and training to fulfill a long time dream of working with horses and people.

Carol Marriott is a Certified Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) facilitator and the “Lead Mare” at Ravenheart Farms near Humboldt, SK. For information, workshop dates, and/or private or group sessions call (306) 682-4641, email: ravenheart@sasktel.net

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by Bliss Drive Review