How Horses Transformed My Life - A Lesson in Healthy Boundaries
As part of my training as an equine guided learning facilitator, I had the privilege of learning by doing. As students we participated as 'clients' in sessions. While some of us may have thought we were going to 'role play' a fictional story, the horses often had other ideas!
In equine guided experiential learning,
the participant is asked to identify an issue or challenge she is processing. On this particular winter day nothing came to mind. Instead I stated that my intention was to be open to receiving whatever message Spirit; through my horse partner, wanted to share with me.
I was partnered with a fabulous bay gelding named Taylor Made who is spirited and highly intelligent. I had met this fine horse on previous occasions and always felt drawn to him. Others in our group found his energy a bit overwhelming, but I experienced it as a playfulness that attracted me immediately.
Once we were in the arena to work together, I tried to respectfully approach Taylor. I was not successful. Each approach was met with a vigorous head toss. Whether I attempted to approach the right or left shoulder, or from the front, this horse was pushing me away. The more he pushed me away, the more determined I became. Clearly he had other plans.
I decided to change tactics. Interestingly when I abandoned all effort, suddenly he was in my face! I had backed away and created my own bubble of space, and now he was invading it and trying to push me around. I found this very curious, and wondered whether this was his attempt to dominate me, or was there a deeper meaning to his actions? I backed away and set clear boundaries, using body language, personal energy and my knowledge of horses to let him know clearly where he was welcomed and where he was not. He completely ignored my boundaries and again attempted to encroach upon my personal space.
Each time I escalated my efforts to defend my boundaries, he would challenge them. This went on for several minutes while my colleagues observed from the edge of the arena. The lesson that Taylor was teaching took a while to sink in. When I acknowledged out loud that Taylor was forcing me to vigorously defend my boundaries, he suddenly ceased, as the lesson was complete. He slowly walked up to me, dropped his head, and allowed me to pet him.
Taylor showed me that my pattern is to allow boundary violations in order to preserve relationships. This has been a profound realization in my life. My tendency is to dismiss small insults and hurts, sacrificing my feelings and needs for the good of the relationship. The problem is that in allowing them to accumulate over time, the value of the relationship declines.
It has been five years since that lesson. I think about it often.