Sitting with sheep
When I first partnered with horses in the field of Equine Facilitated Wellness I struggled with how to describe the work. What does it look like, is it the same for each client, and how do you know that it’s even working? I struggled the most with the latter: Does EFW make a difference? And if so, how would we know?
The other night I spoke to a group of university students. Although it was clear that the struggle to define EFW was still there, I now had stories that make it easier—moments that illustrated the magic of this work. Whether with horses or any of the critters on the farm, EFW is an effective therapeutic intervention and I was pleased with which how easy the wealth of my stories communicated it. Today was no different.
My client, “Abby,” arrives and as part of her usual routine, greets the animals with whom she has made a connection. I check in to see if she wants to ride and hear her contemplative response of: “hmm, not today”. We move on. I embrace her decision and applaud her right to choose how she spends her time at the farm. At the tender age of eleven, Abby has learned what took me years to understand: how to trust and know what feels good for her.
We head over to Glitter, our elder sheep who is struggling with being old. I walk Abby through the process of administering pain medication in a calm manner. But it is more than calmness we practice. Animals know when humans are present or have drifted away in our own concerns. Abby is well-versed in this from past visits. She seems to have internalized the message that mindfulness is an on-going practice. The animals, for one, don’t let her forget. We then let out the chickens including Rudy, the rooster. We give the latter a wide berth. His job is to protect the hens and we know and respect his boundaries. Ah, yes, another life lesson.
In the barn, Babs leans her head over the half door and earns a nose scratch while Lulu, the mini, shakes her head a short distance away. Next stop, the pigs as Abby and I step into their home. She has known the pigs since the little ones were born and comments on how big they have grown. We lay down with Indy and Andy giving them a good snuggle. They grunt with delight.
At Kidd’s paddock, the newest of the geldings, we stand with him and watch his eyes slowly blink as he relaxes in the morning sun. Abby reaches up to stroke the little part of his nose above the nostril. “It’s his softest spot” she says.
I follow her when she suggests we sit in the field with the sheep and chickens. We have never done this before and I feel my internal smile widen. With each session and on every step of our path, I provide Abby space to step into her leadership. It is Abby’s decision where to go and how long to stay. I intuitively know she feels empowered by this as her level of presence has increased over time. She is relaxed and gentle in her movements. There is no hurry or need to prove herself. Mindfulness is the unspoken goal; healthy relationships the natural outcome.
We bring two step stools and sit quietly in the sunshine watching, breathing, observing, and connecting. The sheep and chickens wander at will. They do not sense an agenda from us and therefore have little to fear. They come close, move away and munch and peck at the earth. We become like the grass and shrubs, a part of the field, an integral part of nature—a continuation of the life cycle.
In this place I feel connected and calm but also confident of the path I have chosen. The therapeutic value of this work may be, at times, hard to define but in this moment, there are no words to describe the value of just being present in this field and sharing that joy with one so young.