Can Horses Understand Our Emotional Pain Better Than Other Humans?
The horse, tall and sleek, stood atop the crest of a hill, his ivory hue stark and lovely against the green of the pasture and the blue of the sky. It was early May in central Pennsylvania and the weather had been strange all spring, unseasonably cold and grey. A twister had even touched down at a farm up the road during a storm earlier in the week. It had chewed up trees, but on this property perfection ruled. The sun was bright and warm, the breeze just strong enough to ruffle—almost as if on cue—the gelding's mane. The only sound was the wind wicking through the long grass.
I was there at the invitation of Erika Isler, a life coach who pairs clients with horses in what's called equine-facilitated learning. The process, a way to sort of fast track personal growth, is becoming more popular, with trained practitioners springing up throughout the country. The best of them, like Erika, have been certified by Koelle Simpson, a "horse whisperer" and associate of Oprah fave Martha Beck, a sociologist and author. According to Erika, working with horses is "a laser-focused lesson in clear communication" for her clients, because horses are experts at non-verbal conversation and about 93 percent of the exchanges humans have with each other come without words, even though we're not very adept at understanding them.
"Horses are keenly aware of our unspoken feelings and are highly intuitive," Erika told me, "so if a client says to me, 'Yeah, I'm okay with this,' all I really need to do is look at how a horse is reacting to what's being said versus a person's energy state. If the words and the internal feelings don't line up, a horse will react differently. It's my work to point out the disconnection that is happening."
"Horses," she had added, "are natural and non-judgmental teachers, which is one big reason people really respond to this work with them. They offer us an opportunity to disrupt non-productive patterns and practice, in a safe space, other ways of being."
"Horses offer us an opportunity to disrupt non-productive patterns and practice other ways of being."
The afternoon began with a walk through the paddock, the grasses thick and long, tickling my legs, until we had positioned ourselves inside a group of about a dozen or so horses. They were enormous animals and beautiful, well-cared for, with shiny coats and muscular bodies. I stood in their midst, slightly dazed, watching them. Erika mentioned that all the horses in this pasture were male. She asked me to use my intuition to tell her something about them.
"It's terrible," I replied, giggling. "I mean, I don't have intuition. I'm an awful judge of character. It's one of my faults."
"Just try...what about that one?" She pointed to a massive chestnut-colored stallion positioned to the left of me, calmly chewing grass.
"He's the alpha," I replied. "Yep...he's the boss."
I don't know why I said it—something about the horse's size, sure, but also his strength and assurance. His energy. I was correct, Erika told me, adding that perhaps I had "better intuition than I imagined." She asked me to go to the horse, to stand next to him. I did, gently stroking his smooth flank, whispering to him, telling him how magnificent he was, how powerful. Feeling something nudging my back, I turned; another huge horse had come up behind me and was rubbing his long face against me. The stallion responded by pushing back against my torso and for a few moments I was held between the two animals, both, it seemed, competing for my affection. I was enveloped by male energy, a not unfamiliar sensation. Erika mused aloud about my boundaries, or lack thereof, that would allow two horses to overtake me in such a way.
But the horse that had caught my eye, the one that drew me to him, was the white gelding standing alone on the hill. I told Erika that there was something about the creature, regal, removed, that reminded me of an ex-boyfriend, one who had left me abruptly one day, after years of a passionate on-again, off-again courtship. I hadn't really recovered from the loss of him. I didn't know if I ever would. Erika asked me to approach the horse. As I did, he turned toward me, gave me what felt like a distinctly dismissive glance, and sauntered off, out of my reach. I looked at Erika, my jaw hanging open. That horse, I yelled to her, had just...dissed me.
"His name," she hollered back, "is Romeo. Now walk over to him again, and this time don't make eye contact when he looks at you. Just turn around and walk away."
I followed her instructions. Erika told me to look behind me. Romeo was eagerly following me. Unbelievable.
The little pas de deux was a perfect metaphor for the relationship between me and my ex. The first two years of our romance had been intense, filled with yearning and pain. He had broken up with me repeatedly—four times, in fact—each fracture coming when it seemed we had become closer, each break more traumatic than the last. The first time it had happened was just after we'd spent our first New Year's Eve together, at my friend's 150-year-old farm in Pennsylvania Amish country. I knew he'd fallen in love with me that night; much later he would confess he had. I took him out a couple days later, to a pub in my hometown, so he could meet some of my friends. I was elated that evening, flitting around the room talking to people, laughing. He turned cold, accused me of terrible behavior, of flirting. Confused, I confessed my love to him. He broke up with me.
And so it went. On again, blissfully happy for a time, united not only by incredible sexual chemistry but also our shared love of travel and careers as writers. Off again, for no real reason I could understand. What I believed would be the last breakup came a few months after we became exclusive, just after my birthday. He'd whisked me away for a wonderful meal and then to a B&B, where we made love with our usual passion, peering, as always, into each other's eyes, as if intent on discovering secrets neither wanted to share. He ended things not 48 hours later by telling me we were too different. We'd only hurt each other, he said. I was devastated. I believed him to be the great love of my life. Iknew—even if he could never verbalize it—that he felt the same of me.
I never asked myself why he repeatedly wounded me, it felt, down to the bone, in all the soft spaces that never seemed to heal right from the last time he'd done it. I never asked myself why I allowed him to do it.
Desperate for relief from my demolished heart, I took off for Ireland, the one place I wanted to visit more than any other, somewhere my career as a travel journalist had never taken me. I met a man there, a gorgeous, brooding Irishman with a drinking problem and a kind heart. I moved in with him. My stay lengthened from six weeks, to two months and finally to nearly three, when I returned to the United States just before I would have been classified an illegal immigrant. I had a conference to go to anyway, though I intended to return to my Irish boyfriend and the small fishing village in Kerry Country that had utterly beguiled me immediately after it.
But my ex-boyfriend was at the conference as well, and with the inevitability of the Titanic sinking after striking that iceberg, we spent the nights together there. I realized, to my great surprise, that I was no longer in love with him and told him so when he called me the evening before I left for Ireland. By the time I got off the plane in Dublin, message upon message from him had stacked up in my voicemail. When I finally broke down and returned his call he told me I was "the most remarkable woman" he'd ever known. He loved me, he said. He begged me to return to him. He continued to beg until, six weeks later, I finally acquiesced to his poetic appeals, which included the declaration that he wanted to die looking into my eyes.
I came back to the United States and promptly moved into to his tiny one-bedroom apartment, hundreds of miles from my friends and family. I loved him with a kind of desperate earnestness that made me overlook, or try to, his demand that I stop traveling without him and stick by his side, even though exploring the world not only gave me pleasure, it was my job. There were other things, too, that didn't sit right from the beginning. The wall he put up between us, the way he refused emotional intimacy, called me "needy," when I tried to talk to him about how I felt he was withholding himself from me. He had stopped looking me in the eyes when we made love, which hurt. So, too, did the feeling that when I was good, when I'd pleased him, he would open himself up, share a bit more of himself in the way I asked. I told him once that I felt like his "puppy dog," given a morsel when I performed to his liking. He responded by telling me that of course he would be more forthcoming when he was happy with me.
It was impossible for us to communicate. I felt like I was going was mad. I would try to explain how I felt, that I needed more from him, that I was lonely in this relationship. That I was afraid. He would tell me my feelings were unwarranted. Very quickly my Irish temper began to win out. Frustrated and terrified of losing him, I began to get angry, and often. I would threaten to leave him, frantic to get some kind of response, an assurance that he loved me. We would make up, but my feelings of self-worth, once so strong, continued to plummet. I would hate myself even as I said words I knew he wanted to hear like, "I want you to make me a better person." The subtext, always, always being that I was not good enough as I was. It wasn't long before I believed it. I felt, most days, like a terrible person, one that didn't deserve the man I loved so much.
I loved him with a kind of desperate earnestness that made me overlook his demand that I stop traveling without him, even though it was my job.
We continued on like this, me begging for us to get counseling, him refusing, saying "it would only make things worse" for three years. Me trying to figure out the best way to tell him I had a travel assignment, so I wouldn't upset him, so he wouldn't turn cold and shut me out. Me responding to it all with a hair-trigger fury that sickened me. Him telling me that I wanted drama, that I was manufacturing it. The strangest thing was that through it all, my love for him never lessened. We still, mostly, wanted each other with a fervency I'd never known. I never stopped feeling like I'd snared some great prize by winning his love, a great prize of which I felt unworthy. But it didn't matter how unhappy I was, how much of myself I lost along the way, I never would have left him.
Video: New Study Says Horses Can Tell Difference Between Angry, Happy Human Expressions
How to Get a VIN Verification
Will I Lose Weight If I Stop Drinking Soda
9 Unexpected Side Effects Of Figs
How to Work on a Disney Cruise Ship
Bill Gates, Ban Ki-moon launch Global Commission on Adaptation
Colorful Detergent Pods a Danger for Children
Papaya is native to the tropics of
The Romantic Side of Hair: Valentine’s Day Hairstyles
How to Act Around the Girl You Like
Create an Eye-Catching Logo to Focus Your Brand