By helping relieve the stress, loneliness, frustration and despair that can accompany persistent concussion symptoms, healing with horses can help you start to feel better. In March 2019, I am launching a twelve week program to offer those suffering from long-term concussion symptoms the chance to find emotional relief with horses.
Concussions are an injury that can be unpredictable. Sometimes they heal with rest and the slow return to activity that most health professionals recommend. Other times, they do not. Unfortunately for thousands of Canadians, concussions symptoms like nausea, dizziness, irritation, noise and light sensitivity, and exhaustion can persist for months or years without much improvement. People who were active and productive before, can find themselves struggling with the most basic day and learning to live operating at partial capacity. Inner turmoil can result when visits to the doctor's office don't show anything significant to be wrong. Some people may even appear "normal" for balance tests and other indicators of concussion recovery like the SCAT 2.
I was one of those people. I struggled for years feeling tormented and overwhelmed internally, but looking normal externally. Until I finally faced the fact that my life was problematic and overwhelmingly difficult, not because something was wrong with me, but because the concussion was effecting me more than I realized. With commitment, intensive internal healing which required me to stop overriding what my body wanted me to do, and to start listening to what made me feel good and be practical at the same time, my emotional health improved and I became more functional in the world.
Eventually I realized there was an emotional reason that I had created the head injury: I felt overwhelmed with my life, and uncertain about how to get through all I was involved in. I was in over my head, and so I literally checked out through the injury. Healing was about more than returning to my life as it was before. It required me to dig deep and learn how to choose things for my life that made me feel better. As I continued to do this, I felt better and realized I was finally making my life work. I knew how to listen to myself, and so decided I could "be here" again. It took eight years to get to that point. The next day my concussion healed, after an osteopath at a clinic I had been going to for many years did a maneuver to treat vertigo. After that I was back to myself. I could do the things I loved most again, like riding my horses and continued on a path of choosing what felt good to me. I ended up with a life I loved - as opposed to a life of forcing myself to do things that didn't feel good, because I thought they would get me somewhere, and fitting in things I loved around that. The concussion was hardest thing I had ever faced, and yet the best and most incredible teacher of how to be in the world on terms that worked for me.
Concussions can be an isolating and frustrating experience. Sensitivity to light and sound, and general tiredness, can make people spend time away from those close to them, and can mean they aren't able to enjoy the same social activities and circles as before. Moreover, coping with the loss of productivity in the work or home space, or even so far as a loss of timeline on when they can return to work, play and so forth, can make one feel unable to make a difference in their life. This can lead to feeling lost, hopeless, depressed and more.
People suffering from concussions can also feel misunderstood. With doctors not always able to measure the full extent of brain damage, what is actually going on can feel like a mystery. When patients lose of their baseline of what normal is, and have no real way of remembering it - only that they feel better, they can start to question themselves. They can forget where they are in the healing journey. People around them may just notice they are better, and not realize the extent to which the person is still struggling. Anger can result, or victimhood to the circumstances.
Paths to help people cope with the emotional repercussions of an injury that we are still learning how to remedy are important. I have designed a twelve week program of equine therapy, group sharing and concussion recovery mapping to help individuals who are faced with unresolving symptoms start to feel better about the circumstances they find themselves in. With relief comes improved wellness and quality of life. Some people may find their physical symptoms improve as their emotional turmoil decreases, as the mind and body certainly are connected.
Participants are encouraged to continue to work with anyone who has helped them in the journey, including physicians, osteopaths, neurologists and more. A multi-pronged approach to recovery is suggested.
Horses can help you find emotional support and acceptance when faced with life situations that push you beyond what it feels like you can handle. Horses are patient with us, and will sit gently with us, asking nothing from us but kindness back. They help us learn what it is to be truly kind to ourselves, and also help us open up to new feelings be it hope, less fear, confidence, reduced sadness, or joy.
Horses don't want us to be anyone else than who we are. This space they hold allows us to connect deeply with ourselves, as we open to letting their heart touch us. They have an innocence and largely pure nature that can remind us how love feels and learn tools to letting more into our lives.
This applies to concussion victims because the horses can help those who feel lost and separated from the life they knew, the identity they had, and sometimes their own friends and family, know what steady love is like. The accepting horse also creates a safe environment to open up in. In a session, we work on the ground with a horse and learn how to adjust our body language and internal emotions so that we are able to build a heart connection with the animal. In this process, feelings may come to surface including challenges someone is experiencing in terms of able to establish healthy connections in their lives, or fear that surfaces when we reaching towards a new goal. My work as the practitioner is to help clients see the changes in the horse behaviour, and understand what feeling within them could have caused the horse to move away. I work with clients to transform and accept the emotions that surface in the session - like fear, anger, frustration, isolation, not-deserving, sadness and more, so they are able to find a deep connection with a horse that wants to spend time together.
In a session, clients don't have to explain themselves to the horse, only learn to speak to the horse on it's terms, through emotional awareness, and then to trust in receiving the connection that already wants to be made. When we feel supported, it's easier to maintain faith, have hope and see opportunities for things to work out. Renewed with the strength and happiness that accompanies strong connections, concussion sufferers will have more awareness of their ability to create positive life outcomes. By having the horse help them receive care, and acceptance of who they are right now, it becomes easier to stop getting upset with what happened and start to move forward based on where they are at. Life becomes liveable in the present, as positive experiences remind the body of what feeling good is - and that it's possible in the now.
The horses are great teachers because they have an acute ability to read our body language and emotions, in a way that ensures their survival. What does that exactly mean? Horses are great at distinguishing what feels like the approach of a predator, including muscular tension in one's body, and what feels safe, like the energy of a herd-mate. They are programmed to move away from something that feel like a predator, and towards something that feels like their herd member. The herd is very important to them because horses can't see 360 degrees around their body. Living in a herd gives them eyes in all direction. Moreover, we've domesticated them which makes them more open to receiving us, as a herd mate, if our emotions become ones that feel "congruent". This is an important concept. When we resist or fight what we are feeling, this creates muscular tension, and so the horse moves away (as predators will tense their muscles before they pounce). When we accept what we are feeling, and allow the connection to happen, we feel relaxed to the horse, and it will come closer. In this way, a horse is a visual feedback mechanism for our emotional body. This makes it easy to talk about emotions, because we can put it in the language of horse behaviour. It's an indirect way in.
When people struggle they tend to bury their emotions. This applies especially to people who learned to be tough and push through pain, until the concussion won't let them anyone. The horse won't let you "push" your way to the heart connection, but asks that you develop emotional acceptance and be ok with how you feel during the activity. Moreover, the horse helps us see the value in acceptance because it will immediately open to connection with us, when we feel it. Then, they guide us a level deeper into learning to let in love and support when it's right in front of us, something which can be hard for people who feel isolated or fearful that is is being weak to let in care. For people who are go-getters and do things on their own, this is an especially powerful teaching. Horses help us see the impact our fears have, which is to push away what we want, as they mirror our emotions through their behaviour. Working with horses is an easy way get comfortable with emotions and relieve the stressful ones, through acceptance and then replacing them with comforting ones that come along with the rich experience of connection.
Healing vs curing
Benefits of developing emotional awareness
Healing with horses can help relieve the stress, loneliness, frustration and despair that can accompany persistent concussion symptoms.
isolation >> connection
seeing what they are feeling -- connect with body
listen to body - be in the world on terms that work for you
horse opens a safe space to explore feelings - notice what emotions happen when horses behaviour changes. Horses are non-judgemental. Accept you as you are, and ask that you accept your emotions. Teach acceptance which is critical to feeling better. Accepting where you are at, rather than fighting it.
Thousands of Canadians who have suffered multiple hits to the head are debilitated by their lingering concussion symptoms, for months or even years after their injury. Struggling with physical symptoms including exhaustion, dizziness, noise and light sensitivity, with no end in sight can lead to mental health challenges. Anxiety, depression, mood swings and more can pervade one’s life. Emotional trauma may result from the sudden injury, with sufferers being in denial or shock about what is really happening for them. They may feel powerless and angry about their current state. A loss of identity (e.g. with an athlete who cannot return to play), confidence and sense of control over one’s destiny, as well as the tendency to isolate oneself socially due to sensitivity, can severely alter the landscape of one’s life.
The solution prescribed by doctors is often “rest and gradual return to activity”. However this clearly doesn’t work in many cases, because ten to fifteen percent of victims struggle with the impact of multiple concussions for months, or even a lifetime! A new solution is needed. One that addresses the emotional complications of severe concussions, and opens the door to an improved quality of life for those suffering from this invisible injury.
Healing with horses can help fill this treatment gap. Research has found equine therapy to be successful in reducing trauma amongst children and war veterans. The healing power of horses can similarly reduce the emotional trauma associated with long-standing concussion symptoms. Alleviating the burden of trauma helps reduce stress and frees up energy for physical healing. I therefore hypothesize that by reducing the emotional trauma associated with longstanding head injuries (which is a barrier to physical recovery), healing with horses can catalyze concussion healing.
In March 2019, I am launching a unique twelve week program to utilize the healing power of horses to relieve the emotional trauma of persistent concussion symptoms. The program will be open to six participants, aged fourteen and up, and located on a private farm in Caledon, Ontario. Progress will be measured by success indicators developed in collaboration with top neuroscientists. Program bursaries will be made available thanks to generous donations, raised through a crowd-funding campaign or fundraising lunch.
If you'd like to participate in this program, please subscribe to my newsletter below and you'll receive an announcement when registration opens. We also invite you to schedule a complimentary phone consultation to learn more about how this program can help you.
Long-term concussions symptoms can severely limit one's ability to work, putting high quality horse therapy beyond the means of many who need it. Programs bursaries are therefore necessary to make care accessible. We are currently fundraising for program bursaries valued at $4500 each.
Press kit coming soon.