As bodyworkers, we learn during our studies that stress and trauma that is not fully processed at the time it happens, and I mean fully processed and released, lives on in the body. It is stored in our tissues, organs and brain sometimes resurfacing as physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual (or any combination of the above) distress or illness. I doubt that any living being on the planet lives a life without several instances of stress and trauma. What that looks like for each being can be different and anyone else may not understand what comes up for another, especially when the other is of a different species.
I feel fortunate to have attended a very eclectic and unique school for human massage and natural healing. Even if I’d never received a degree, the healing process that I went through would have been worth every moment. I could probably use another go at it! We worked and practiced on each other every single day in our studies for months. Our teachers knew what would happen but didn’t necessarily tell us (or I just didn’t hear it). The days and then months of therapeutic yet intimate contact caused memories, some we didn’t even remember we had or couldn’t really define, to start bubbling up. At first, they might feel unimportant or simply an annoyance. Yet, they persisted. To complement our studies and the process we were going through, the school facilitated daily group processing time as well as a course or two in counseling which we could begin applying with each other. We experienced uncomfortable physical ailments and complete emotional breakdowns, yet we continued to process deeper. The experience was really life changing for me and I am forever grateful for it. That program helped me to not only develop greater empathy but gave me some tools to accept and allow the process to unfold in others.
When working with animals, these stresses and traumas will come up. What this looks like can be different for every animal and each time we provide a bodywork session. The processing can be pretty and relaxing like so many pictures we see of yawning horses or it can be ugly and fidgety when something unpleasant is bubbling up or we might not even notice it happening at the moment. Learning or accepting to not judge or try to name it can be difficult. We humans tend to want answers wrapped up in distinct boxes with labels so we can get them categorized and move on. This work doesn’t always come with distinct answers but it does have significant and powerful influence. Owners and trainers often want to know “what is happening, what do you feel?” Sometimes, the most sincere and truthful answer I can give is, “I really don’t know, but it sure is amazing”. Hopefully we can find our inner strength to hold space for the animal to process and release in the manner they need to.
What does stress or trauma look like for a horse? We can all identify the obvious when a horse has been abused or survived a horrible accident, but so many little things that we might not attribute can be a big deal for a horse. Yes, he might have gotten over it and we all moved on but there it is, hidden somewhere in the body; that first saddling incident that didn’t go just right, a dramatic ride in a trailer when there was an accident but no one was badly hurt, weaning stress or the loss of a pasture or barn mate, being stuck in a stall needing to move freely but can’t, gelding, vaccinations and deworming, being tied to a post while fraught with claustrophobia, facing something completely terrifying. These are things that commonly happen in the lives of our horses. Fortunately, as equestrians, we are coming up with better and more humane methods of managing our horses all the time but just like with us, stress and trauma happens. Conscious bodywork is a great tool to access little bits of stored stress, allow it to surface and assist processing and releasing from the body and psyche.
We take an in-depth look and provide a means to access stress and trauma in horses as well as several approaches to facilitating a release and letting go of the energy that might bubble up in MODULE #2 – EMPOWEDED EMPATHY.