Children and horses: showing us the path to sanity

I was watching out of an upstairs window when I noticed that one of the horses in my neighbour’s paddock wasn’t there anymore. Instead of that mare, there was a new horse. The first question that popped into my mind was: how long is this horse going to last?

Far too often I have seen horses being bought and sold again, as if they had no feelings; like objects which are put up for sale once they start looking used and unattractive, or because they have become too challenging.

In my experience, everybody will meet those people or animals who have some lessons for them. It is up to the individual to see and understand what the lesson in every given situation could be. Though, instead of seizing the opportunity, the majority of people just start complaining and feel victimised – for example when their horse is not submissive -, without understanding that they are at the mercy of their own ego. They might prefer to sell their horse or even, when deemed “dangerous”, put it to sleep, ignoring the fact that horses have their own way of communicating. I admit that they can be quite rough sometimes, but maybe it means that we haven’t been listening to all the other signals they were sending us. If we don’t listen or understand, they will escalate their communication methods until we do.

The same situation can be found in relationships between humans. Often people start complaining about their partner or child instead of seeing and appreciating the growth opportunity presented to them. Nowadays, a lot of children fall into the category “difficult child” or “not normal”.

From my experience, a child that challenges what people call normality, often scares those who are busy “surviving” in their life. Challenging children will, like horses do, ask the people around them to be flexible, to be “out of the box”, and to leave their comfort zone. As I have already seen in my work with horses, this request to adapt and to learn to be more flexible, frightens some people; for them, it requires too much effort, and so they prefer to change the people around them instead of changing themselves.

I also used to “survive” in my life, suffering, going on and on repeating the same mistakes without learning from them. Unconscious patterns would drive my days, therefor I would not be able to be in charge of my own life. Ultimately, I wasn’t responsible for my way of acting. Not being able to realise the abusive and controlling family environment I grew up in, I would imitate some of my parents’ “normal” behaviour in the rapport with my own children.

Then something happened which woke me up.

A couple of years ago, the youngest of my then three children stopped talking and refused to go to the kindergarten any longer. Various pedagogues started to create “boxes” in which they wanted to enclose my child, one of them being “autistic child”, a very limiting belief. I was lucky that, instead of being paralysed by the thought of having a child that was “not normal”, I had the strength to look into myself and I understood what I could do differently in order to help him. I did not want to become disempowered by any “experts” or run from one specialist to the next in order to find an acceptable “cure”.

That could have led to even more frustration for myself and my child, as I was intuiting that no brain dysfunction would have been found. Thus, I decided to sit and watch, just be there for my son and unconditionally love him for the beautiful creature he is. After almost a year he started to use words again, and then slowly I helped him to regain trust in the playgroup/kindergarten system.
Recently, he turned 7. Now he goes happily to school (grade one) and has many friends. But the most important thing is that his spirit and his character are still intact.

What had happened? After a while of being with him in a non-judging observing way, I learned to interpret most of his behaviour. I realised that with his special skills of a highly sensitive child, he had been able to grasp unconsciously that his playgroup leader was suffering from depression, something impalpable for us parents because she would always show a happy face during playgroup time. While I did not detect that something was wrong, the situation confused my son, who could not cope with the incongruence of his teacher. As he was not able to express with words the emotional turmoil he was experiencing, he decided to create a wall around him to defend his psyche.

The same behaviour can be observed in horses. Incoherence in a human approaching them usually drives them away, preferably to the other side of the paddock. Of course, different sensitivity levels result in different reactions. As in my son’s case, some children will react strongly to certain actions or conditions, whereas others might not show any response.

In The Highly Sensitive Child, Elaine N. Aron writes that about 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive people. She describes this personality trait: Highly sensitive individuals are those born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting … their brains process information more thoroughly.
While accompanying my son to kindergarten during a transition period, I experienced something that would confirm the above number of 15 to 20%. Apart from my son who suddenly lost his eagerness to go to kindergarten, other children started crying more often, some would even scream when being dropped off in the morning, while the majority didn’t seem to have changed at all.

A friend of mine who couldn’t find an explanation for her son’s sudden change in behaviour, started to see a psychologist. In the meantime, I noticed the helplessness of the institution. The kindergarten conveniently blamed the (highly sensitive) children for their irate behaviour. I had merely been observing what was happening, taking notes all along. Then I asked for a meeting with the principal and informed her of what I thought was happening. Subsequently, she decided to change the duties of one of the assistant teachers and, practically from one day to the next, all the children were fine. In my opinion, the assistant was suffering from burnout syndrome and some children picked this up. They reacted in order to protect themselves, by trying to avoid that person.

In the meantime, my son has further developed his skill of picking up incongruity, and he lets me know when the unease is setting in. I would assess his environment and visualise how to help him.

Going back to the above assistant: A pedagogue with a burnout syndrome or suffering from depression and/or acting incoherently can cause a lot of harm to children, both at a conscious and a unconscious level. The same applies to horses, who will try to run away from an incoherent human. Unfortunately, domesticated horses usually do not have a chance to do so and then might become so called problem horses. The human/owner will then seek help, looking for a quick fix. Maybe there is something like the pills which are being prescribed to “difficult“ children!?

How many animals and children do we still have to sacrifice because of the unwillingness to change ourselves? In today’s society the “quick fix, now!” option is sometimes the only one, fear driven people are able to choose. I also used to think that way, though I felt that there was more in life than just “surviving“, and therefor I decided to make a leap into the unknown. I am grateful for finding the courage, as I am now thriving in my life. My son is a talented healer, who, aged seven, already knows how to keep his boundaries free, ask for respect and look into people’s souls.

I don’t dispute that there are cases of children who need medical attention for them to function, though they should then undergo special medical tests and exams before they are given a prescription of some sort of allopathic medicaments. Sadly enough, sometimes people prefer to change what they cannot understand and cope with. I find that this is detrimental for the development of the human race. If so many of these challenging children are coming to the world, shouldn’t we assume that someone is trying to teach us something? It is up to us to make this leap into the unknown now and to start thriving in our lives; this is what the horses are telling us! Wake up, my love. You are walking asleep. There is no safety in that!

All the while, my horses keep on asking me during our “training” sessions: Is this what you really want? Are you sure?

In the meantime, I have understood that the horses have been training me all along, like my son did as well. I feel very blessed that I had the humbleness to accept their teachings. Through this process, both my son and my horses helped me to heal my character and my spirit, which had been broken by my parents and by some of my teachers to make me fit into the “norm”. I have become very aware and I am careful to never brake the character or the spirit of another being, be it a child or an animal. Respect, unconditional love, and the ability to listen are often enough to grow side by side.

In my work with horses, I help, for example, parents and teachers to understand how relationships between horses function, and how we can learn from their rapport. The “newly” learnt skills can then be used in day to day family lives, and in the corporate world as well. I am aware that some people don’t really understand what I mean when I say that horses and children are my teachers. I can learn from them because they don’t keep anything back, living out all their emotions naturally. They help me to find balance and wholeness, whenever I feel like loosing it. People working with my horses, who are ready for a change, will discover their real self behind the mask they use to wear in our society.

When people hear that horses are doing therapeutic work, somehow they connect it with mental or physical sicknesses. Please note that my work, Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL), is not restricted to any people; it is for everybody who is looking for something more in life.

Last year, I was blessed because I had the opportunity to employ my work in the corporate world. I was impressed to see how open managers are to EFEL. This gives me hope for the years to come, because when horses “teach” corporate leaders how to improve their working relationship with their colleagues and subordinates, they teach them to be compassionate, sensitive, patient, and aware of their environment, with a spiritual component
These adjectives are, in my opinion, all very important qualities needed in order to lead people in a productive and sustainable way. Far too often companies are looking for short term solutions, but things are changing as more and more people discover the importance of being connected with (our) nature and having an understanding of its mechanisms.