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The Horse That Changes Lives

Today is National Mental Health Day, so I thought it time you hear the story of how a horse with trauma and a human with trauma, helped each other to good mental health.

Horses have such a powerful impact on an individual's mental health and state by simply being in close proximity. Working with a horse requires us to be totally focused on each and every moment, to notice what the horse is doing, and what we are feeling and outwardly displaying to the horse in order to modify ourselves to change the horse's natural response. To do this we must quieten our minds and be totally in the present. There is no space to be thinking of anything else.

This when done with practise can relieve anxiety attacks, depression and many other mental states, and silence the demons that are in our heads that often make up terrible scenarios based on the horror movies they play on repeat. Managing our mental state, interrupting those thoughts can be life changing. It then becomes a skill or practical tool that can be called upon when we are not in the horse's environment. My story is proof of that.

There was a period of my life when I was in the throws of PTSD. I had a horse named Duke that had also gone through the same trauma, and together we were a blithering, jumping dangerous mess. I wasn't aware of my own issues in the beginning but Duke obviously was. I was told he was dangerous, unpredictable and everything I was trying from my 14 years of horse experience didn't work.

In came equine assisted therapy, so we took Duke to get "fixed". The first session they said he was the most distraught horse they had seen, trying to climb out of a 2 metre high round yard. Then I entered the yard and by this time he was a dripping mess, running in circles all the time.

As I started working with him, Alison (my human guide) told me to breathe. Through gritted teeth, I said "I AM BREATHING." Of course I had been holding my breath waiting for something horrible to happen with Duke. I then immediately noticed this about myself, and I took a deep breath in and exhaled completely. At that exact second Duke focused on me and was paying attention and indicated he wanted to approach me, by licking and chewing. I continued to take deep breaths and exhaled slowly and my heart rate lowered very quickly. I invited him in and he lowered his head, and walked up behind me and we had our first real semi-relaxed moment since our trauma some 17 months earlier.

Duke was simply responding to my permanent state of heightened adrenaline ready for fight or flight, which normally drops down when the threat is gone but in PTSD this gets stuck up high causing adrenal fatigue. It took several more sessions to gain his complete trust again as a leader who would keep him safe, but it was the defining step in our recovery. Or should I say that it took several more session for me to practise the skill of calming down at will.

Today, I am mastering my emotions, moods and mind and Duke is our lead teacher in our Equine Assisted Learning programs. Proof that both horse and human can work together for great benefit. Duke is amazing with people with anxiety. It's as though he is saying. I know and understand what you are going through, let me help! He has expanded his skills training to leadership, team building and life skills, now helping many others change their lives for the better.

You can find Karen and Duke, developing essential skills for business and life at The Matanya Effect.

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