I ‘should be’ as brave as my Mum………..
I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t as brave a rider as my Mum. If I was nervous, she would say “You’ll be fine, it’ll be alright” and yet sometimes I didn’t feel alright. But I didn’t want to accept my feelings and I would often pretend that I was ok, I wanted to prove that I could be as brave as her. The irony is that I didn’t become consciously aware of that pattern until I had my very first experience of Equine Facilitated Learning as a 48-year-old!
Looking back, I can’t believe that I could have such a huge paradigm shift in the space of two hours in such a simple setting, in the presence of four horses, ably and sensitively supported and facilitated by Angela Dunning of Equine Reflections.
My first EFL experience
In the kitchen of a lovely old farmhouse Angela began with an introduction to her work. Then she invited me to notice how I was feeling. I remember that my eyes were fluttering, but I don’t remember what significance that held for me. Then we went outside to meet the horses in the stable yard. The idea was that I would spend a little bit of time in the presence of each horse and notice what feelings, body sensations, images, words or memories came to me. It was as if a part of my life unfolded before me, in the space of half an hour. I couldn’t deny my feelings of vulnerability in the exercise, it was something I’d not done before with four horses that I didn’t know.
In the presence of the first horse I remember feeling emotional and felt tears in my eyes. I can’t remember if I identified an emotion, all I knew was that I’d spent many years of my life suppressing my true feelings. Here there was a space being held for me, to be able to take the time to honour how I was truly feeling.
As I moved my attention to the second horse I had an image of my Mum. The third horse was bay in colour, dark brown with a black mane and tail and although it was a gelding, he reminded me of a mare that my Mum had bred (called Dusky) who had been a huge part of my life, who I had completely adored and with whom I had achieved so much.
What came next was a shock! This memory came flooding back and a story unfolded.
It was the memory of riding this treasured horse, Dusky, in three races, in three point to points and the emotions that came with it were fear and vulnerability. I was shaking by this time.
In that moment, I realised that riding in these races wasn’t my dream, it hadn’t been my heart’s desire. It was my Mum who loved racing. Mum had not had an opportunity to ride in racing herself but it was her passion and when she was given a horse to train to point to point, she jumped at the chance. She asked me if I would like the ride. I declined. I remembered feeling the shame of having to admit that I was too frightened.
Mum went on to gain a National Hunt permit to train racehorses and achieved great success, winning six races with one of her horses. During that time I enjoyed doing some of the galloping work at home. Several years later however, Mum decided to point to point one of her home bred horses. Dusky had raced as a four-year-old and afterwards I had show jumped and evented her. I had built a wonderful relationship with her. I totally trusted in her and her ability to jump and so when Mum suggested training her to point to point and asked me if I would like the ride, I agreed.
I went to the gallops, did the schooling over the steeplechase fences and Dusky and I were entered in the first race at the Mendip Farmers Hunt at Priddy, near Wells. I can’t even describe the level of vulnerability I experienced when I arrived at the first race meeting, it was a completely unknown world to me, with very few women at the time. Mum’s friends lent me their racing saddle and weights, they helped us saddle up and shortly after I was cantering down to the start on a horse that I loved, about to embark on a 4-mile race. What I didn’t realise was that I was doing so, not to fulfil my own desires, but to prove that I could be as brave as my Mum.
We cantered down the slope with the other horses and jockeys and then I presented Dusky to the open ditch, in front of the steeplechase brush fence. It looked huge. We went to the start, had our girths checked and then we were ready for the off.
I can still remember flying over the fourth jump and feeling the discomfort of having a pair of hooves, seemingly not so far from my face. I decided that the safest place was going to be in the lead. I made my way to the front of the field of five horses and amazingly after the third and final lap we were still in front and we won the race!
I remember feeling relief, all I wanted to do was get off, walk with Dusky, put her away, take her home and hide. For Mum and Dad, it was a huge joy and they were so proud. As my Dad said on many after dinner speeches in later years “not only did they breed the horse, they bred the winning rider”. I was very proud of my Mum and I genuinely felt happy for them.
Incredibly I rode in two further races with Dusky. On one occasion, it was at the same racetrack at Priddy and we were second. And the third time was at Taunton. This brought up another level of vulnerability, a different racetrack and a greater number of more talented horses and we were third! I can’t remember if there were any further opportunities, but I didn’t ride in any more races.
As I connected with this memory I could feel that my heart was beating quite fast, my breathing had become more rapid and I was feeling the vulnerability.
I turned to the final horse and I checked in again with my feelings. I felt completely calm, or was it numb, I couldn’t feel much at all. I interpreted it as peace, but later I realised that I had disassociated. I hadn’t wanted to feel those feelings of fear and vulnerability whilst looking at the bay horse. It was far too painful and so I’d shut them down.
This, of course, was just the beginning. I’d spent a lot of my life shutting my feelings down, not allowing myself to feel what I truly felt, to say what I truly believed and to ask for what I truly wanted. Now I wanted to learn more. I booked into a 2-day workshop with Angela for the following month and my journey began.
It was incredible that I had achieved something so amazing, through a desire to prove that I could be as brave as my Mum, but which had left me feeling relief rather than joy!
Four months after that initial session with Angela I found myself on a plane heading for Arizona. This time, although I felt vulnerable (travelling on my own to a country I’d not visited before) I was overcome by the excitement. This time I was following my heart and my dream. I had always wanted to travel and now I was following an inspiration to fly to the other side of the world and train with Linda Kohanov and learn to become an Instructor of Equine Facilitated Learning.
This journey has been completely life changing, revelationary and has brought me to a place that I can’t even begin to describe. I can now see that it was my Mum’s gift to be a brave rider and to have the ability to train horses for racing, not mine. My gift, which was revealed through this experience, is to honour my true feelings and to teach other people to do the same, so that they can access their own unique gifts and talents and lead a life that fulfils them.
So, when you have a decision to make my suggestion is to take some time to connect with your true feelings. Instead of doing what you think you ‘should’ do, follow the path of inspiration.