In order to stop rushing through my life and find the balance I had been searching for, there was a very important (and difficult) lesson that needed to be learned: Boundaries.

Oversensitive. Overreactive.

Here’s the thing. I have always preferred to work with highly sensitive horses who have a strong flight reaction. Oversensitive, overreactive. This was my genius zone. Hence why Django and I had meshed so well (my previous case study mustang). But horses who were dull and *seemed* to lack respect (my analysis of it at the time), and pushed my boundaries were not my favorite.

“Willie finally showed me why.”

It was December in Indiana and I had just taken Willie to the vet to get his teeth done. He was put back on the trailer still slightly sleepy, which may have had something to do with the fiasco that followed. When I got home, I went to back him out (which I had done previously a handful of times with no problems) and nothing. He would not budge. I stood in front of him on the trailer. The harder I pulled on the halter or tapped him with the whip, the harder he pushed into me (considerably dangerous in the small area I was in as he’d push me up against the wall). I could NOT get him off the trailer… and I had a million other things I needed to be getting done. Of course.

“I was suddenly flooded with strong emotions and not just frustration, but rage…that was much more intense than what the event at hand was calling for.”

I decided it was best to remove myself from the situation and went into the house in a huff. At first I resisted my trigger, then I opened myself up to exploring it.

Memories surfaced of past traumas where I had not been able to set a boundary to protect myself in the most intimate way I can think of, when I was sexually assaulted at 15. I still have things to work through regarding this experience, but simply stuffing it down gave it a certain power over my life. By calling the memory forwards and diving into it with courage rather than stuffing it away into the shadows, I could shine light on the shadow and take away its power from subconsciously ruling my reactions. That day, Willie called forth my shadow for me to be able to look at it. It was the beginning of a journey that may never fully end, but it was a start.

Over the next few months that followed, I learned just how much of my current situation was a result of me being unable to set boundaries with others. In the spring of 2018, I started to have serious anxiety/panic attacks from feeling out of control of my own life…again from not being able to say “no” or set boundaries. Why was I always the “yes” girl? Every opportunity that came around it seemed I couldn’t say no. And that’s how I learned: Until you learn you can say no, you never really say yes. Hence I felt like my life was spinning out of control. I couldn’t break the breakneck pace my life was heading unless I learned to say no.

I’ve learned if you keep asking “why” you will finally work your way to the root of a problem, rather than staying on its surface. It’s like the never ending “Why” game little kids play that can drive an adult nuts. But it works. So I asked myself, “Why did I feel like I couldn’t say no?” I think this was a few reasons, but primarily because I didn’t value myself enough. I felt like I had to say yes to continue to get external approval since I had never approved of myself on the inside. There’s a lot of danger in living your life from the outside in.

“I wanted to learn to live inside-out.”

So I forced myself to start say no. And as I started saying no, I started feeling like I had some control over my life again. The anxiety decreased (slowly). I felt like I had been living my life so long for the approval of others that I had forgotten who I was altogether. I spent a lot of time trying to remember who I was and sorting out what my values were to act as my compass in the journeys that lied ahead of me.

What Is In The Shadows

Horses are so genius at showing us our shadows and the parts of ourselves that we need to look at–Like Willie did that day. Unfortunately, when we lack the bravery to dive inwards and look at them, we continue to project our frustrations on the horse and he bears the brunt of our pain and struggle. Horses have carried so much more than the physical weight of the human being on their back…for so many years. It’s time we release them of that burden and thank them for guiding us to awareness of the parts of ourselves we’ve been hiding.

Willie Lesson 2

How Do You Do That?

When I’m working with a horse and feel myself getting overly emotional or frustrated (aka triggered) this what has worked for me to get the message I need:

    1. Stop immediately and separate myself from the horse. This ensures you won’t take your emotions out on the horse or create an escalation in the situation. I breathe deeply (I’d recommend looking up some somatic breathing techniques).
    2. Feel into the emotion instead of resist it. When the emotion comes up that you don’t want to deal with, you’ll try to distract yourself through working, eating, facebook browsing, etc. I try to resist this urge and get present with the emotion if possible, which may require you to go into the house, your trailer or vehicle, a bathroom, wherever you might have some private space. I like to get present with it by asking myself what I am feeling. If you are really shut down to your emotions (like I was) it helps to go through a list of emotions and select one versus coming up with it from scratch. You can also ask what this emotion feels like in your body, what color it is, etc to get in touch with it. A note here, beware of emotional displacement that may confuse you about what you’re feeling (for example, your culture/social rules prohibit you from feeling sad/scared so you displace that emotion with anger, etc).
    3. Track where the emotion comes from and change the story. Every emotion comes from a thought. That means if you can change the thought loop, you can also change the emotion. When the emotion feels unjustified by the situation, that’s a red flag you are being triggered and something deeper is going on, calling to be explored. So what’s the real story behind what you are feeling? To unravel the stories, I ask myself questions like:
      When was the last time I felt this way?
      When was the first time I felt this way?
      When was the time when I felt this way most intensely?
      Asking yourself these questions should allow you to find a pattern of similar situations that led you to feeling this particular emotion. The next step is to change the story you’ve been telling yourself. I like to use a method I that was inspired by Warrior Goddess Training by Heatherash Amara to rewrite the story. I allow myself to tell the story from the victim/judge point of view (ego) where I explain how this thing happened to me or how I wasn’t enough in some way. Then I rewrite the story from the warrior point of view, explaining how this thing happened for me and how it serves my highest good. And if I can’t seem to understand how it happened to help me fully at the moment, I accept that and cultivate the faith that although I can’t yet understand from my limited human perspective, someday it will be revealed that my highest good was at work. That’s the definition of faith: trusting without knowing.
    4. Get the message of the emotion. Another helpful tool is also learning the language of emotions and what they mean (Linda Konahov calls this concept using emotions as information and I *HIGHLY* recommend her book, Power of the Herd). Going back to my example, I was experiencing the emotion of anger. The message of anger, according to Linda’s research, is that “a physical or emotional boundary has been crossed.” The intensification of the feeling is rage. So she proposes asking the following question: “What must be protected? What boundary must be established or restored?” Once you head the message of the emotion, it intensity will lesson and like a horse, you can “go back to grazing” so to speak.

I hope these strategies help you when you have a trigger surface! Willie has helped me heal by showing what in me is calling out for healing. I believe all horses will show this to us; if we are willing to listen.