Over the last month, I have done weekly equine sessions with one of my girls. Often equine sessions provide rich metaphors that can be used in subsequent ‘talk’ therapy sessions, so I do not usually do equine sessions with this level of regularity. However, with this particular young woman, equine therapy has been helpful to work through some attachment issues that have previously been resistant to resolution through more traditional approaches.
In her first session, she was asked to identify horses who represented herself, her mother, and her father and to bring them together in the same corral so they could have a ‘conversation.’ She was able to easily identify each of these horses, and corral those that represented the first two, but not the third. Probably due in part to her lack of success in capturing the horse who she had chosen to represent her father, she became increasingly frustrated, as well as aggressive, in her approach. This seemed to have an effect very different from that which she had intended, and for the next several sessions this same horse was skittish at best, and downright ornery at worst. She refused to be caught.
I remember that we spent an entire session during which this young woman learned to approach a whole corral of horses with a lasso – not dramatically like we think of when we picture old Westerns – but gently, getting close enough that she could slip the lasso over each horse’s head and then lead each one around. She learned to attune to each horse, and I was amazed when later she was able to tell me the steps involved in this process. All of this from a girl who not only has attachment issues, but who has spent years repeating unsuccessful patterns in her peer relationships, as well, in what can only be described as failed solutions becoming the problem.
In our final session, her approach was so different that she was able to get close to the horse she had identified as her father, and “catch” her–not with a bridle or lasso, but simply by them both being able to quietly occupy the same space, nose to muzzle. It was a touching culmination of a month’s work, and a powerful reminder of the capacity of equine as a therapy modality to address attachment issues when other techniques have been unsuccessful.