She was 15, referred through the court system. She’d been in foster care for 3 years and was a chronic run away (hence the tether), struggled with drugs and alcohol (the legacy left by her parents) and had been expelled from the last school she was in. She was a paradox, a messy mix of insecurity, low self esteem, powerlessness and “Hey! Watch me jump off the roof!”
She chose a large grey gelding for her partner and through the first few weeks of therapy, clearly projected her brokeness on this gentle giant. “He’s a loner” she proclaimed, “they don’t like him” she said of the horses in his group. “I don’t want to use the halter and lead–it’s too controling” said she who wore a teather. “Why won’t he trust me!” she demanded.
It wasn’t long until her need to quell her chaotic insides turned her demands toward riding him. My instinct was to let her.
It was a misty morning. He was already in the arena waiting for her. We walked down and I suggested she get a helmet for her ride. As she approached she gasped, “Shouldn’t he have something on him, like a saddle?” Perhaps no one had ever listened and respected her words, not even herself. I told her that, given her concern about controling him through the use of equipment, I thought she would never consent to the level of domination that would come upon him via bit and bridle.
Her look was one of disbelief and once again she spouted her projections on him. “He isn’t going to like this.” “He wants to go away”. As he quietly moved, keeping just a step or two out of reach she said “he is scared”, finally, a feeling. For quite a while she moved with him, she inched closer, he inched farther, until, the point of reconing, he stood, rock still by the fence for her to mount him.
Gingerly she inched up the fence, all the while projecting, but he stood, like a statue, as if he realized that this was the point of no return. And as she reached third rung of the fence, high enough to throw a leg over, she was confronted by an impermiable reality; she was paralized by her own fear.
Fully engaged in the moment, she began to confront her fear. Her motivation to advance so great, she asked for help and we broke down the challenge into bite size pieces.
She was unable to conquor her fear that day, but she came back the next week determined. Once again, they did their dance until he stood and waited. Once again she climbed to the third rung, but there was no more projecting on him. It was if she had connected with a part of herself that had been burried long ago, one that need to be freed.
Little by little, she worked through the process of trusting him to carry her weight. First she just leaned, then she lay across with her feet still planted and then finally, she rested her weight upon him. The look on her face was priceless. Her weight upon him represented a brokeness that had begun to heal. She could trust and she could overcome her fears. That day in her journal she wrote, “I realize now that there isn’t anything I can’t do if I put my mind to it”.
And she was right.