The Magic of Equine Coaching
This is the story of one person’s experience of equine coaching at Learning to Listen, in their own words. I hope you enjoy reading it…
What is equine facilitated coaching? It’s a conundrum I can’t answer – somewhere in the middle of science and the unknown where time becomes elastic and your truth is presented to you in a way which is both logical and WTF was that about, interwoven with a powerful energy which has the capacity to change your life if you open up to it.
Here's what I already knew about equine coaching...
I have had a few sessions of this phenomenon that is EFC. It has changed my life in the most unexpected way. Before I explain though you need to appreciate that I am a cynic when it comes to this sort of stuff. Not a complete cynic – I read my stars on occasion taking out the bits I want to be relevant to my life and am always apprehensive about working when it is a full moon as it always seems to be crazy – but definitely more of a cynic when it comes to this sort of stuff. My childhood and adolescent is attached to a big story and as a result I have built up layers of coping strategies which have ensured not only survival but on the outside a successful life complete with three beautiful children. I have seen several psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors etc over the years – a couple have been particularly helpful – but none have been able to get truly under the layers and address the demons that surface from time to time, showing no consideration to the current status of my life and threaten to jeopardise it all with the resulting anxiety and darkness that they bring.
The temptation to "go again"...
It would not be an understatement to say I was reluctant to stir the pot of faecal matter again with another well-intentioned person which at best just serves to bring up stuff I would prefer to remain in my own Pandora’s box. My typical pattern for reaching out for help would be to reach rock bottom before asking for help and then as soon as I was feeling a bit better with the old wounds nicely covered with a fresh sticky plaster to swiftly ditch that help. EFC was therefore not something I actively sought, and it was through work circumstances that brought me to the farm. A threatened breakdown in an important friendship was the trigger to stepping into some sessions, a mixture of talking and horse work (bear in mind too I am allergic to horses so don’t have a natural affinity for them).
My first session being coached...
The first session was pretty powerful – playing out the scenario of the failing friendship with an uncanny accuracy. I recall standing in the field unable to get the horse to move as he remained firmly rooted to his spot. He died from an illness a few weeks later on the same day as this relationship finally imploded. Nine months later with the beginnings of a reconciliation other stuff that had played out on the day, for which I had no answer to at that time, finally made themselves clear giving me an understanding of a complex relationship that was unsustainable in those dynamics.
My second session being coached...
The second session didn’t seem to match the power of the first. I had created a life for myself which required strong leadership from me, a role I was reluctant to take. Easily moved by people with people pleasing in my nature I find the role of leadership and the potential of upsetting people difficult to contemplate. I was unsuccessfully trying to work from behind the scenes and using others to lead for me and then becoming increasingly frustrated when they couldn’t execute my vision. This session was therefore about leadership. By being given the task of leading a particularly dominant mare with a tendency to go off and do her own thing at will it would show where my current leadership ability lay. To the surprise of both myself and the coach I led this black beauty of a horse as she gifted me with the knowledge that there is a true leader within me and it is simply a matter of developing those leadership skills to take me to where I need to be.
Then something magical happened...
Unbeknown to me at the time she also gave me another gift. Halfway through the session she displayed some behaviour which prompted my coach to ask the question:
“How are your hormones?” I didn’t really think much of it at the time except for the fact that my periods had been a bit irregular for the last 3-4 months and part of me wondered (from what I perceived to be a hypochondrial part of me) if I was starting to develop perimenopausal symptoms. I didn’t really feel ready to face this as a possibility for all sorts of reasons and went with the logical part of my brain which told me that this was most likely a consequence of the stress of the last few months and it seemed like they were starting to get back to normal anyway. So, I replied, “fine I think” and we left it at that.
And then I found out what really happened...
I subsequently had another EFC session after that which demonstrated my poor boundary setting abilities and as it was now approaching the winter months and life was becoming very busy, I stepped out of the coaching for a bit, armed with enough resources to do my own work.
Then 2020 happened followed swiftly by a nationwide lockdown. For me this wasn’t a gift of time, the nature of my work meant I was busy and working hard to continue to provide services throughout this time. I felt physically off too. Fatigued, feeling like I was walking through treacle, dry skin, brain fog and insomnia. Coupled with the fact that my periods had now been AWOL for 4 months I wondered if I was experiencing an early menopause. Trying to take responsibility for my own physical well-being, something I have not being great at doing in the past, I arranged for some blood tests. Due to the restriction of routine services a colleague of mine kindly took the blood for me. She herself had had difficulty conceiving and was contemplating a round of IVF so I returned the favour and took her blood for baseline tests.
A few days later my results came back – in essence I had raisins for ovaries. They were long past their sell by date and I was officially going through an early menopause. I called my coach in amazement recalling the behaviour of the horse on that day.
“That’s what she was picking up – that I was perimenopausal and my hormones were out of whack! That’s amazing.”
My coach replied “Yes I remember it – I thought it was odd as the horse was behaving as if she was fertile when she shouldn’t have been”
We explored menopause further and what that meant to me– the mourning of the loss of youth and the currency of fertility that as a society we value women by. It also felt odd to me – it had happened so quickly and as I said to my coach until a year ago, I had thought I was fertile every month. There was no indication that this would happen. In coaching style my coach posed the question “What does this mean to you?”
My reply was “Freedom. Freedom from the pressure of having to ensure that the fertility currency is worth something. Freedom from expectations of others. Freedom from the effect of changing hormones every month. A feeling that I can finally step into my power.”
And deeper still – freedom from choice or regret. I loved my three children and felt fully satisfied with three. There were no plans for any more. I am busy and just getting my career going after slowing down for having children, we have freedom to travel and time back to ourselves. There was also a deeper reason for stopping at three. I am one of four, the eldest. When I was nine my mum fell pregnant with her fourth baby. But this point in my life things were already going on for me which led me to behave in a way that definitely increased the stress for my mother. I didn’t want her to have another baby and expressed this to her. We argued and my behaviour was challenging. At one point my mother said to my father that “if anything happened to this baby it would be my fault”
At 37 weeks my mother gave birth to a baby boy. My brother was the first dead body I had ever seen and the guilt I felt for my behaviour was immense. I felt I had no right to be upset due to my behaviour despite my inner distress and fear that he may have suffered or thought he wasn’t wanted. What if he didn’t feel loved? It was the easier option to swallow this pain and package it away to the extent it was almost inaccessible even to me in not being able to acknowledge that this might have had more effect on me that I realised.
I also carried the knowledge with me that not all pregnancies result in a healthy baby, even if they progress beyond the 12 week mark. This ensured that each of my three pregnancies were associated with significant anxiety and detachment for fear that something may go wrong. I felt very lucky to have been blessed with three healthy children and did not want to roll that dice again especially knowing what could go wrong. I also couldn’t face that anxiety again.
Yet despite this a part of me wanted another baby. Like a desire to go and love on a Caribbean island. Something lovely. As I became older, I was aware of the ticking time bomb of my fertility with maybe a couple of years left where conceiving was a viable option although I knew we would not try again. So, when this decision was taken away from me I felt relief that I no longer had to even think about that. The decision was made for me and it was time to look forward with freedom.
I made the decision to start HRT and within days felt better. With that came a sense of peace. I was okay. There was also one night of ‘you know what’ where we threw caution to the wind safe in the knowledge that my fertility days were behind us.
2 weeks after that night I suddenly had an intuition that I may be pregnant. I watched in a state of disbelief as a faint line appeared on what I initially thought was a negative pregnancy test. The following text to Jo read something like
“What did you say about the horse? Fertile when she shouldn’t be? I am not going near them again!!!”
“What do you mean?”
Shows picture of pregnancy test – THIS!!!!
“WOW!! And there were two of them”
“TWO???? You didn’t mention that. I had better not be having twins!!”
I am not one who doesn’t like to be in control. Plans are my safety net. It was no wonder then that I wobbled with the decision to carry on with the pregnancy. In the end I couldn’t make a decision to end a pregnancy out of fear and a scan, to my relief, revealed just one wriggling baby.
As the pregnancy continued to unfold, I was able to go deeper this time and explore some of the feelings that pregnancy evoked in me. For the first time I experienced the beauty of surrender, which wasn’t wrapped in loss of control as I had previously assumed. Instead it opened up the numerous possibilities that may become available to me, different to the ones I had envisioned but better in so many ways. Freedom comes from surrendering and being open to all possibilities and trusting that whatever is thrown your way you will get through and it will add to life’s rich tapestry of experiences. Freedom also came in another way, a way I didn’t expect. Thanks to the wonders of modern science a blood test at 10 weeks revealed that the baby was a boy. I knew this already – my gut feeling had told me this from the minute I found out I was pregnant. Suddenly I found myself waking in the night, tears flowing freely with grief at the loss of my brother. And for the first time the nine year old in me had a voice, a chance to say how she really felt and for me to really feel her pain. The anger I felt towards her behaviour during my mother’s pregnancy started to move towards forgiveness – the love she could not show towards a new baby at nine was more a reflection of the love she couldn’t show herself. This pregnancy had a distinctly familiar feel to it – like I had been here before, which of course in some ways I had. In some ways this was a second chance to heal the 9 year old and offer her redemption. Instead of the anxiety and disconnection I had felt in my previous pregnancies for fear that something would go wrong this time I made the active decision to surrender to the outcome and wrap this pregnancy in love and celebration for what is here with me now. By surrendering I opened myself up to the freedom that came from the exact opposite scenario that I had imagined would bring me freedom.
It’s difficult to translate the power I felt in those sessions, only personal experience can do that. I also can’t tell you why those sessions played out in the subsequent months the way it did. Science will tell you that a woman 40-43 years with normal fertility for her age has a 2% chance of conceiving each month, compared to a 30% chance of a woman in her twenties. It will also tell you that there is a 50% chance of miscarriage in the event of pregnancy for the former age group. Furthermore 10 % of women with early menopause (defined as menopause occurring between the ages of 40and 45) will ovulate when starting HRT. Whilst it is not quite a miracle I got pregnant the odds were certainly not in my favour. Horses are prey animals and as a result use their intuition for survival. Perhaps the horse could pick up on my hormones. Perhaps it picked up on my underlying fear of another pregnancy against a hidden want to perhaps have another baby. I don’t know but just going along with the science bit for me feels like finding out that Father Christmas doesn’t exist – it kind of takes the magic out of it. Thus the ‘why did that happen’ is almost irrelevant, it really doesn’t matter. Everything we do in life is a choice, we only love our own lives and we choose the lens through which to see that life. I no longer think that science and medicine is the complete picture and the only truth that exists but instead choose to open my mind up to other possibilities and watch as life allows these to unfold with less fear and more love for myself and those around me. It’s a continual work in progress, we don’t stop evolving as a human and old thinking patterns and survival behaviours can all to easily resurface if you don’t continue to do the work. I have since seen the same horse since and I almost expected her to acknowledge the fact that I was now pregnant, but horses don’t work like that. There is no ego in the same way a human might take credit for it in “See I told you!” They work in the moment, presenting you with the truth of that moment and how you choose to interpret that is up to you. Sometimes it may take months or years for you to see what the horses can see it being so difficult it is for us as humans to sometimes live entirely ‘in the moment’.
As for the second horse who was fertile when she shouldn’t have been? The colleague that took my blood for me before I took her blood for her baseline bloods fell pregnant at the same time, citing it ‘a miracle as we didn’t think we could conceive naturally’. Take from that what you want – it’s your choice.