Do you see what I see?
As a constable with the VPD, I initially saw my role as a problem solver. From directing traffic at an accident scene to surveilling criminal activity and collecting evidence, police are called to fix things. Later, when I became a beat cop in the Downtown Eastside, I saw my role expand. The drug problems we encountered had no easy fixes. To remain relevant and be part of the solution I had to change the way I did my job. I started focussing on relationships. I slowed down, stopped what I was doing and instead of being a fixer I became a listener.
While I am no longer a cop and I live far away from the beat I once walked, the lessons I learned so many years ago are still relevant. In fact, they guide my life. Slowing down, sinking into an experience of inner quiet—stillness—is not only the foundation for communication and relationships but healing as well.
Despite this, I often struggle in describing the value of partnering with horses. We focus on relationships, I say, we build trust, we listen; we observe. There are no agendas when we walk with our clients into the barn or arena, no formula or check marks at the end of our time together. Our sessions are based on relationships and because each one of us is unique, every session is a creative and original process.
From the moment clients step onto the farm, our job as Equine Facilitated Professionals is to be attentive to not only how we, the facilitators, are feeling but how the client and horse is feeling. From there we decide the course of action. The key word is “we”. Although the facilitator is in charge of safety, “we” includes the horse and the client. Our most valuable teaching isn’t necessarily how to lead a horse but how to help the client attune to what they themselves are feeling and how this affects their immediate environment. What we are doing, in other words, is building relationships with our inner selves so that we can forge connections with the people and animals we are working with.
From the sidelines this can often look like nothing is happening. From the ten-year-old wanting to stop and “take in the moment” to the young woman standing in stillness, allowing the smells and bird song to take her back in time to her grandparent’s back porch … and the underlying grief in knowing they are unwell. Sometimes there are silent dialogues between the horse and client that looks like daydreaming and other times our clients just sit and watch, noticing what is happening within. In stillness one youth came into the realization how her own unconscious anger was creating distress in her horse. Much can happen when nothing looks like it’s happening.
It is not easy to let go and be still. It involves a measure of safety and trust. Some of our clients have never felt safe; others have never trusted. Life is hard when either is lacking. What we offer at Anam Cara is a place to explore these states of being. There are no judgements, no end-of-the-day tallies or must-dos. Instead we offer a sanctuary where facilitators, both human and horse, model inner quiet so that the myriad of things that weigh heavy on the minds of children and youth can release or, at least, be put aside for a while. We create safe spaces for our clients to navigate their lives. We turn off the noise so they can finally hear what they feel within.
In stillness we learn to trust ourselves and from there we learn about safety: who to trust, when to trust, how to trust. It is a state of being where we discover our boundaries and where we create the foundation for healthy relationships with others.
Stillness may look like nothing is happening but it is the bedrock of healing.