Lily is approximately 15 years old, middle age for a horse. She is a lovely white mare whose mane is full of burrs and body is soiled with the remnants of a difficult journey. Lily walks with significant pain and stiffness which at this time is unevaluated. She came emaciated, pregnant and terrified, her arrival at the ranch an intervention in what was meant to be the last leg of her journey to slaughter. Coming to PEACE—food, shelter, comfort, care, all she could possibly need for life and that of her unborn foal, yet she resisted all contact and even food, shackled by a need which trumps all others.
The need which trumps all others is one often expressed, though indirectly, but rarely understood. It is given much attention by country, county, neighborhood and family yet most consistently violated. It’s at the heart of congressional bills, municipal services, and family dynamics. Safety– it seems simple enough yet we have witnessed both horse and human whose experiences have caused the very fabric of their being to be unwound and frayed so much that there is no longer a place or person that feels “safe”. It is a dark place where bearings have been lost beyond retrieval. It drives brave men to take their lives and starved pregnant mares to refuse food.
Safety is a primal instinct of preservation which connects all of us. Fight, flight, or freeze is governed in the brain in a place deeper than thought which when triggered, sets off a number of automated responses. When this button is pressed too many times or becomes stuck ON, basic processing codes begin to change such that the body is kept in a constant state of alert. The constant state of being ON is exhausting in every way making everything much more difficult. Help is hard to find and healing elusive; Even when the danger is long past, it feels very present.
Addressing this issue with horses and humans at the ranch begins naturally with emphasis on basics: breathing, moving, with no expectations or pressure. We take our cues from and seek to understand their definition of pressure. Mostly we do not understand but we can recognize via body language and responding accordingly to make things as comfortable as possible.
Lily doesn’t trust anyone to handle her in any way so creating an environment that will be best for her to heal and for her coming foal is a priority. There will be no ability to perform any heroic acts should there be a problem foaling. Learning and respecting her boundaries is the best we can do right now. For Lily this means no touching, no haltering, no going to close and the willingness to wait and learn what it will take her to come near—to the food not the humans right now. Taking pause to examine the motivation behind and change in direction is imperative to stay on track for the ultimate goal which is: For Lily to feel safe.
Feeling safe or regulation is the primary focus and governor our current approach for all the traumatized who come to PEACE Ranch. We cannot convince Lily, or anyone for that matter, that she is safe but we can hold the space for her while she figures it out.