Friday, January 8, 2010

Horses, Boundaries and Dr. Suess

I am sitting here contemplating the relationship between codependence and horses. My friend, Carla Webb, is an Equine Guided Development™ facilitator and I am wondering how we can combine our talents to create a Creative Codependence™ à la horse workshop. It shouldn’t be too hard actually, horses are excellent teachers about boundaries and what does Charles Whitfield say about boundaries? "Co-dependence cannot develop without distortions in personal boundaries and a person cannot recover from any disorder, including co-dependence, without forming healthy boundaries." Well, guess I need wonder no more.

I visited Carla at her farm last August to get a better feel of the horses before my colleague, Heather Faris, and I taught
The Essence of ARC class at her farm. Then to we were combining horses with the subject matter… energy and mindfulness. I described the outcome of that meeting in my article Making the Invisible, Visible. Here is an excerpt from that experience:

In the next exercise,… [I wanted to see] how sensitive [the horses] were to changes in my energy field. I chose Babs, a beautiful, small in stature, Palamino. Standing in the centre, I grounded deeply and expanded my energy field while she cruised the inside perimeter of the round pen. Babs’ ears (the horse’s radar) constantly orientated towards me despite distractions from other horses, people sounds from afar and general life on the farm. I then called in my energy, pulling it down, deep within the earth, inviting her to approach me. When the invitation proved irresistible she walked the five meters towards me stopping about a body length away. Directly in front of me, I continued to pull in my energy, inviting her to come closer. She did not come forth. I ended the exercise and in talking with Carla was reminded that when horses respect you, they respect your boundaries. I wanted to argue the point stating that regardless of Bab’s respect for me, I had been inviting her to come closer. Then it hit me – the invisible had become visible. The defensive energetic boundary I had used for years to feel safe by keeping people away; the same boundary I had worked for years to be more flexible and conscious, was still yielding some power. In making that defence visible, Babs had opened up a door that I had not known was still closed.

Boundaries come in all forms: strong ones, rigid ones, vague and non-existent ones. Or, as Dr. Suess might say: short ones, fat ones, blue ones, red ones… or is that just fishes? Anyway, my point is, because horses are so sensitive to our inner states they also tend to fish out our boundaries, finding out where we really stand.

Case in point: In my first meeting with May, a rather “I’m here, whether you like it or not” kinda gal, I mean mare, she started rubbing her two-foot long nose against my body. It felt kind of nice, like a cat pushing against one’s leg wanting attention. The gesture went immediately to my soft spot and I went, ahhh, she likes me. Not so, said Carla, trashing my fantasy. “She is treating you like a fence post, her nose is itchy. Moreover, she knows you are not a fence post and this is her way of telling you who’s boss.” Oh, I said.

We quickly remedied the situation by having me push her away when she tried it again. By physically stating my boundaries, I told May that not only was I not a fence post but that my space was to be respected. May responded immediately – she stopped doing it. If I had been half-hearted about it her response would not have been so favorable, she would have kept pushing my boundaries. And there’s one of the beauties of working with horses: these 1000lb, long, tall and wide, enormously big, four legged animals respond to our assertions for space. They respect our boundaries if we respect our own need for them.

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