My Journey Through Grief

Jeanne and Shaq

I didn’t know the healing power of horses until I met a version of me who entered my life on March 11, when I was 15.

I call her the Defiant Me, as she was the one who refused to move, insolent and indignant.

The Good Grades me carried on with high school and tentatively defended the Defiant Me, though I would never have admitted it. I couldn't admit it, because I was ashamed; and I defended her, because she was more powerful than me.

Simply put, her searing outbursts of anger scared me. If I protected her story, justified her need to 'be left alone' and have people do things for her so she could hold vigil, then I might be able to be functional enough to survive and appear normal.

She held most of my power - all of it, really - and when she was in charge, I become the unworthy one. She was my creative fire, the one who was full of new ideas, the one who believed she was capable of accomplishing anything, but refused that rainy spring day to ever take action again until a most 'obvious' thing was done:

Bring Dad back.

I was literally breaking, fracturing into pieces, and the dull awareness that it was happening was beyond terrifying.

How Horses Heal

My journey out of grief was very slow but eventually complete, and the horses played a big, big role. Their strength and physical size comforted me after my dad died.

Being creatures that are always aware of their surroundings, they taught me how to be present and how to observe. Lacking an agenda, they taught me how to see without judgment; ultimately, they taught me compassion. As a result, I learned how to watch my own inner turmoil from much needed distance, a skill that enabled me to gradually reclaim my happy again.

When the Defiant Me thought she was alone, her appearance changed. Instead of gripping the angry I-Don’t-Need-Anyone mask, she became a quiet, underweight teenager, who carefully groomed the horses and arranged her dusty box of brushes. I noticed that everything had to be just so in her little world. She wasn’t ‘fine,’ as she claimed; she was fragile, alone, and desperately sad.

I felt sorry for her, found self-compassion, and slowly, with every visit to the barn, my anger softened. Anxiety was replaced with love, and a life with horses was promised, as I now had a debt to repay.

Equine Assisted Learning

Move forward several decades, and I was teaching every day, helping kids of all ages learn how to ride and reminding them to keep their head up and heels down, lest they be caught off guard by an unruly swirl of horse-eating leaves and given a close up view of the ground below.

Don’t get me wrong, my students progressed, and we had a lot of fun -- jumping, showing, game-filled summer camps -- but I eventually found myself searching for a more meaningful dialogue about our relationship to the animals and their profound ability to heal emotional pain. Simply put, I was yearning to share my escape from grief with others, just not fully conscious of it yet.

In 2012, I attended a clinic led by Greg Kersten and the O.K Corral. What's this..? 

I loved animals... I loved helping people find deeper connections with horses... and I loved watching others find their joy... There exists a way to do all this simultaneously? Enter Equine Assisted Learning. Not only did it fascinate me, my lifetime spent with the horses meant I was already naturally good at it!

I read the horses and find meaning for my clients, which enables them to then connect the dots of their experience. I provide the feedback they need in order to understand what the horses’ reflections are telling them about who they are in relationship, which always mirrors an aspect of the relationship they have with themselves. 

No, crushing grief didn't kill me like I thought it would, and the reintegration of self that I have since experienced has given me a powerful perspective to now support others.

The horses tell us so much, yet the message is so simple: "All is well."