“To create an effective learning experience, therapists must “trust the process” between the horse(s) and the client(s) and allow successes as well as failures, frustrations, and discouragements to happen naturally.” - EAGALA
Trusting the process is an easy thing to say and all EAGALA professionals know this is what we need to do. Doing it though, can be a difficult thing. We can have a session that is planned down to the last letter, or a freer flowing, “let’s see what happens” session, though we know (based on all previous experience) that we cannot predict what the horses or the client will do.
In a session we asked a client to build a space representing something to them and that it would be large enough for a horse to enter. The client spent time building a space but seemed reluctant and slow and sat down for a time in the space. He said “I want to shut them out (of the space).” The arena had plant borders on 3 sides and electric fence tape on one side.
He attempted to move a small brown horse into the space and it moved into the space and straight out again. He tried a larger white horse and it went towards the space but not in.
After this, the small brown horse and the larger white horse were walking along the fence line looking over the fence tape. The small brown horse was looking under the fence tape.
Before we knew it, the small brown horse put its head under the tape and ran out of the area knocking the fence down. The larger white horse ran jumping over the fence on the ground to join the small brown horse. The other horses in the field next to the arena, ran to the fence to join them. The horses appeared anxious whilst doing this, and all of us (client and mental health specialist) brought the horses back to the area. The client held the small brown horse whilst we were doing this. He admitted to having a panic attack and said he was having them throughout the session. He spent some time with the small brown horse and the larger white horse and we ended the session soon after this. He also mentioned that he thought the horses were saying, “get the hell away from here”.
The client was very anxious and wanted to “shut the horses out”, the horses were anxious and wanted to “get the hell away from there”. What ended up happening was the action of the horses leaving seemed to “break” the tension of the situation and allow a shift to happen. The clients panic changed to “real” fear and a need to “help” some panicking horses. He was able to process this further later and look at what it meant for him.
I'm fascinated to understand why we are continually surprised that the horses and clients come together with the process unfolding however it does. The horses are always in the present and always respond to whatever is happening in the "here and now".
So the consistent reminders by the horses (and the clients, often) to “trust the process” will likely be always needed in the work, despite knowing this is what we must do.