A note from the author:
Due to the nature of this piece, the subject matter is extremely personal, and some details have been omitted for privacy. That being said, I attempted to share as much as I felt comfortable so as to transmit the experience as authentically as possible.
“I think it’s time for the horses.”
It had been 6 months of working with my therapist, and while nearly every week there has been noticeable progress, we had begun circling a blockage in my psyche that simply wouldn’t budge.
I ask her to explain a bit further. “Oh, it’s indescribable the way they move your energy,” she explains. “They run, they eat, they shit, they bite, they fight. We will go to them with something you want to work on, and they will show you what you need to see.”
Setting the Scene
The farm is in Villa Elisa, an hour outside of the city. We are four patients total, including my therapist who is attending all of our sessions with us to better inform our future therapy.
Before the first patient begins, the owner and facilitator Gabriela Abram (Gabi for short) asks us to sit at the small stone table outside of the stables, where she briefs us on a few key aspects:
“Horses are prey animals,” Gabi explains, “so they are extremely sensitive. One of the horses is the leader of the herd, and he will decide how this session begins and continues when we enter the pen. I will be asking you questions throughout to help prompt the scenes, but most of it will come from what we observe from the horses themselves.”
After the first two patients do their session, my turn finally arrives. We open the first gate, and close it behind us. We pause before the final gate that opens to the horse pen. Gabi looks at me and asks if I have any specific question or issue I wanted to work on. I tell her that mine is a bit ambiguous. It has to do with my relationship to masculinity, both in my relationship with my family and my relationships with men in general. She nods, and we open the gate and walk out into the muddy, empty field, dotted with just one dark brown horse in the distance.
We walk towards it, until we’re half the field away. The horse has turned to face us.
“He is the leader of the herd,” Gabi says. “How do you feel?”
“I feel judged. He’s studying me, and deciding whether or not I’m to be trusted.” The horse and I don’t break eye contact, and then finally it swings its head to the side and takes a few steps to eat something. We take that as permission and continue, navigating the muddy terrain as best as we can as we approach the entrance to the second horse pen, this one filled with horses.
Horses begin to approach us, and one by one pass me closely as they file into the pen we’re about to leave. The original dark horse corrals them towards the other side, but not before the smallest lays down on the ground suddenly.
“What does this remind you of?” asks Gabi.
“My dad, I say, and my brothers, and my mom.” Gabi has me identify which horse is which, and their age.
“I don’t think my sister is here yet,” I say, laughing. But just as the words leave my mouth, a beautiful white horse approaches me, then pauses and turns towards me. I pet its face. “Oh, there you are.” She too continues towards the other horses, but lags behind.
“I’m really proud of her, you know, she’s just started law school and has become such an amazing woman. She got married pretty young and I was judgmental at the time because it was so different from what I wanted…but she’s really making her own path. ”
Gabi nods, “It’s interesting that your mom is eating from a different side of the trough than your brothers and your dad.”
“Well, she’s also been doing more of her own thing lately. She was a homemaker for 20 years. Then she went back to school and got her teacher’s license renewed and started working again, and now she’s taking these creative writing workshops…I think she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.”
We continue walking into the horse pen, where several more horses are gathered in different clusters. On my right is a group of brown horses, all quite similar looking. On my left, white and brown patched horses are eating together, with others are somewhat obscured in the forest.
“These are three female horses and one male, says Gabi. “Who could they be?”
“My dad and his sisters maybe. His youngest sister died when she was very young, only 28 or so.”
Gabi nods thoughtfully. “That was the death we saw earlier, when that small horse laid down suddenly.”
Just then, another beautiful white horse a little ways away lays down suddenly.
“And what death could this be?”
“My grandmother, on my Dad’s side,” I respond. “She was this incredibly wise matriarch. I always felt very understood by her. Do you see that other small horse next to her? Well, she would do this thing where she would have her grandchildren over, one at a time for a weekend. Just you and grandma. And it was the most special weekend ever.”
Gabi nods, putting a hand on her chest. “I don’t feel the conflict here.”
She turns to my therapist. “Do you feel that? That nausea?”
My therapist nods, her eyes watering and doubling over. “I feel like I could throw up.”
“There is something else you need to move, says Gabi.” Do you have anything else you would like to talk about?”
I go silent for a moment. “Well, I’d like to know why I hate myself. Or at least, why I punish myself so much.”
And then, almost leaping out of me, I confess an episode from my early teenage years, where I had felt great shame and rejection in a moment of life where I probably felt more isolated than any other.
Gabi and my therapist both gasp as one horse suddenly snaps at another, and then turns away, giving the other horse its back.
“There it is,” says Gabi. “Do you see that? They are acting out the rejection and shame of that moment.”
I nod, feeling dizzy as the long-repressed emotions well up in me, coupled with the surrealness of my surroundings.
“I’m waiting for the next scene,” says Gabi. “There’s more to resolve here.”
But before we can do anything else, a new horse emerges from the woods, and moves towards the trees in front of us. It begins scratching itself against the trees, rocking back and forth slowly, and then faster, roughly.
“That is Guru,” says Gabi. “He is the oldest horse here, 40 years old. Most horses live for 25-30 years at most. He almost never comes into a scene. But when he does it is because he has a very important message.”
While Gabi talks and Guru moves his neck and back against the trees, I begin crying.
“He is cleaning himself for you. He is cleaning this shame and pain from your past.”
Guru finally finishes thrashing against the trees, and then walks past the different clusters to return to his place in the trees.
“He is telling you that you must leave this shame and guilt behind,” continues Gabi. “Your family is together, and they are well. But your path is apart from them. It is an important spiritual journey, and you must continue it alone.”
I am unable to speak for half an hour after the session, until I finally turn to one of the other patients (a close friend) to ask, “Did the horses make you cry too?”
She nods, we both laugh, and then lay back down on our blanket on the grass and look at the sky together.