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Rejuvenation January – Blog #2
I’ll provide some insight and honest background to what I believe the horses were picking up on today. I want to help change the mindset of what many horse people believe is “misbehavior” when they see horses trying to interact with people, because as it was noted today, many people would not allow so much mouthiness to occur with their horses, however there are many reasons as to why it does. Yes – it’s important that horses don’t bite us – which is why I backed the first horse off as he is known to be tough with his teeth, and why I corrected the second horse when he tried to use his teeth on the top of my head – but otherwise I was okay with what they did.
A little bit of background into what I have personally been going through – I have experienced mental health issues on an off since I was a teenager. I did experience some bullying and had my horse and my barn as a “safe haven” to go to after school most days. Ironically the bullying was mostly centered around how obsessed I was with horses, but I was so passionate that it didn’t phase my love for horses; I simply wanted to be seen and understood as someone who could work hard for something I loved. It wasn’t until I was 16 and started my own massage therapy business that I started to gain some respect from my peers, and then struggled again as my teachers tried to pull me into the traditional “university” route rather than understanding that I had my post-secondary choices already made in a self-directed educational journey.
I have had to battle an uphill journey the entire way through building my business, which has contributed to many issues with my confidence, self value and self worth, and it’s easy to feel daunted when things go wrong that are out of my control. Horses always sense this easily, however I’ve appreciated this and utilized their reactions to push myself to battle on and succeed.
Just six months ago in June of 2018, I was very unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis. I spent five days in the hospital and went through the worst pain that words cannot describe, including a spinal puncture without freezing, which is absolutely unexplainable. It was an enormous shock to be diagnosed with this illness and told that I was going to have to be off work for at minimum six weeks, but I did my best to remain positive and knew that something good would eventually come from it. I only remember the last 2 days’ stay in the hospital.
Three days after being out of the hospital, I had a follow up appointment with my family doctor to get more information about what my illness was, and what to expect my symptoms to be – very severe ongoing headaches, dizziness, brain fog, emotional irritability, and more. She told me it was very important not to hit my head because I had swelling and inflammation around my brain. On my way home from that appointment, I was rear ended and hit my head and sustained a concussion – literally the worst thing that could have happened at that point. I also injured my right shoulder, arm and hand quite badly.
Because of the brain injury that I acquired on top of the illness, my doctor has informed me that I am looking at possibly 2-3 years of an ongoing recovery. In six months, I have had only one headache free day. My right arm has ongoing nerve damage which has made massaging horses difficult (not impossible). I don’t remember most of last summer due to the brain fog. I had debilitating dizziness up until the beginning of December, when I began intensive vestibular therapy to correct vertigo and vestibular damage (brain damage).
Needless to say, there is a LOT of effects on my mental health due to both chronic illness and a brain injury. This was the second time I had been diagnosed with chronic illness, but I had JUST overcome the first illness from approx 4 years ago and then was put back at square one. I deal with anxiety/depression all the time. I have a very hard time understanding ambiguity (when people are not acting congruently with what they say). Not knowing when my pain levels are going to spike makes me very nervous, and simply living in pain all the time is very frustrating. I do deal with a lot of anger over my entire situation, although I try my best to channel that into the work I do and release it through positive outlets such as focusing on what I can be grateful for (which is so much), and spending time with the horses who help me balance out my emotions. Emotional irritability is very difficult because of the areas of my brain that were pressurized during the active meningitis flare-up, so that will be an ongoing process for me to work through. I can jump from being happy to sad in a moment and not have a clue why!
So, what were the horses sensing today? Here was my personal take on it:
Video 1: This horse is known to use his teeth sometimes inappropriately hard, which is why I set some boundaries right from the start. He is young and learning and has a strong personality. He focused on my lower abdomen for a while which may be picking up on some inner confidence and vulnerability issues. He nuzzled right into my chest where anxiety sits. As an actively tactile horse, he was definitely sensing my most active emotions.
Video 2: This gelding totally knew where I was feeling pain, in behind my eyes. This is where I get the worst of my headache pain. His mouthiness on the top of my head is comparable to mutual grooming routines that horses perform on each other. I only corrected when he tried to use his teeth as my skin cannot tolerate the amount of pressure that horses use on each other, but I won’t say that what he was doing was wrong – I simply needed to tell him my boundary and he was respectful after that. His motions were likely aimed at trying to relieve my pain. The push that he gave me in the stomach often is the same push that horses give each other to let them know that there is an emotion on that area of the body that needs to be balanced.
Video 3: This is the horse that I usually come to massage. He went right for my dominant massaging hand, which is now damaged, and ever so softly breathed on it and then gave a deep sigh. He then nibbled grass and came back. Horses use grazing as a means of relaxation for their nervous system. How often do we pull our horses off the grass when we have them on the lead rope? He also focused on my right shoulder which has been damaged. He is usually quite a playful gelding – but here you can see he couldn’t have been gentler. Notice when he moved up a few steps, he placed me directly at his right shoulder and bent it. Horses do not do these things unintentionally.
I hope this helps to be an eye opener to the truth of some behavior, which will be discussed further in the next blog. I’m happy to use my own story and life as an example, and encourage everyone to go out into a field at your own barn and welcome the horses to approach you and see what happens!