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Come as you are

Come as you are

Come as you are

9 September 2021

Jessica with ponies Astrid (left) and Roisin, her companions on the road to recovery.

By Jessica Morris

I’m a go-go-go person. As a journalist, deadlines tend to drive my days. But more often than not, my sense of hurry is driven by fear.

Much of that comes from a medical predisposition towards anxiety and depression, and I’ve ticked nearly every box in an effort to ‘fix’ myself – therapy, medication, deep breaths, mindfulness exercises, Pilates. All of these have been excellent tools, but none have ‘fixed’ me. Throw in a global pandemic and trauma on top of this, and it is easy to feel helpless.

So, when I tried equine therapy earlier this year, I was afraid. Equine therapy – the practice of therapeutic or psychological treatments involving horses–enhances people’s social and emotional well-being. Evidence shows it reduces stress and builds confidence, on top of a myriad of other benefits.

I had loved horses for many years and experienced their healing effects firsthand (or firsthoof?) when I was diagnosed with severe depression as a teenager. At the time, I would visit an old grey horse named Storm. And while I rode and groomed him, he would nurture me.

Today, I am a far cry from the little girl who used to ride that horse. But even with high-functioning anxiety, I still live with an irrational sense of fear. And as I drove 40 minutes to visit my new equine therapist in April, I was equal parts excited and apprehensive. Would equine therapy work for me? Was I too broken to heal? So, I prayed and asked God to do the work in me because I had nothing left.

When I stepped onto the paddock and smelt the scent of horses, those questions began to fade. And when my therapist led me through a grounding exercise, encouraging me to be present, I was able to live – and heal – in the moment. You see, horses don’t think about the future with a sense of fear or trepidation. They move with gentleness and security that comes from a deep awareness of themselves and everything around them.

I met Kit first – a tall black horse who is equal parts gentle and sassy. He came right up to me and asked for pats. As the leader of the team, I was moved by his sense of confidence. Then there was Astrid, a cheeky, white, two-year-old pony with an underbite. I watched her live in the moment, fully trusting the older horses to lead the way.

Most of the time, it’s Roisin, a mature brown pony who grapples daily with the little sister she somehow inherited. I observed Roisin exercise quiet confidence, setting up clear boundaries while still nurturing her charge. And then there is Lilly – the dappled, white and brown rescue horse, who always stands at the back of the herd, watching everything. By week five, she walked up and allowed me to groom her. She had just lost a foal, and I felt the immense grief and bravery that co-existed in her.

Over the weeks I have participated in equine therapy, I have experienced a deep sense of healing that I don’t fully understand. Research tells us that the heartbeat of horses and humans can get in sync due to magnetic fields, and as horses have a coherent heart rate most of the time, this helps us mirror their sense of calm when we are in an emotionally and physiologically coherent state. I’ve realised that God has used this to heal my soul and mind, and all I’ve had to do is show up.

In the Bible, God invites us to come as we are, saying, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew chapter 11, verse 28). I thought I was too burdened to rest, let alone heal. But as I’ve met these horses, I’ve experienced grace as these large, powerful animals accept me as I am.

In some clumsy way, I think that is a little like what God does for us. When we are exhausted and feel broken, he doesn’t ask us to fix ourselves. All we have to do is come to him as we are.

Special thanks to Equi-Tribe Equine Assisted Learning in Meredith, Victoria, for their help with this article.

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