Horses & Grief

Just a few years ago I went through the most difficult time of my life – the loss of my mother. She had been battling cancer for about a year, and was then gone from this earth too soon. Nothing in life prepares you for these moments. I’ve learned that everyone’s grief experience is different, even if you are grieving over the same person. Because of this, there is never truly one person you can talk to who ‘gets it’ the same way you do.

My experience with her loss was traumatic for many reasons, and my personality did not allow me to talk to others about it. I felt as if I were simply floating through life with a mask on, just letting the days of funeral arrangements, cleaning out her house and helping my father roll by. It was not until a friend of mine offered a trail ride to get away for awhile that I felt anything other than grief.

I swear, as soon as I stepped onto the grounds of the boarding facility my mind became clear. The smell of horses, dust and leather felt so familiar and comforting to me. Walking into the old barn to tack up a borrowed weathered gelding was like walking into Eden. My friend and I rode through the Texas pines on a short trail with a few clearings, and in these moments in the saddle I finally felt at peace. My mind only thought of my surroundings, the feel of the reins between my fingers, the motion of the horse’s back underneath the saddle and the anticipation of the horse’s movements. I was not thinking of my grief, I was only thinking of the present.

This is when I realized how much I needed horses in my life. I had always known that I loved to ride, and that I loved the horse, but I did not realize until then that I truly needed them. My husband and I moved to Georgia a few weeks later. I knew that I had to keep some kind of activity with horses in my life in order to keep my soul at peace. Through some searching I ran across a nonprofit that specialized in EAGALA model services. They use horses as co-therapists to assist those going through difficulties or suffering from conditions such as PTSD. The hypersensitivity of a horse is used as a tool to encourage people to problem solve and reflect on the way they react to life situations.

While I found all of this very interesting (especially now that I realized how much horses helped me heal), I just wanted to be around horses. I ended up volunteering as a horse handler for the organization. While EAGALA horses are never ridden in therapy, and left to interact with people the way they choose, the organization was hoping to use a few horses for fundraising activities that may include trail riding. My volunteer duty involved getting those horses more used to being handled and eventually ridden.

This task involved so much patience. If you’ve ever worked with green or semi-green horses, you will understand. I found that through working with these horses my mind had to be void of everything except the present. I had to be calm, quiet and be able to predict what the horses were thinking. Through all of this, I realized that although I was not necessarily participating in the EAGALA program offered at the facility, I was truly benefitting from the emotional and mental state the horses put me in. Although still grieving the recent loss of my Mom, I felt in control of how I would move forward in my life without her presence.

I now use horses as a method for coping for many life situations. Whether grieving a loved one, stressed out at work or just needing to let go, I find my way to the barn. There are many studies out there about the benefits of the horse and human bond. I had always felt it, but never truly understood it until in the face of despair.

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